It’s hard to explain. Hard to explain to friends, to family, and especially to your church. People do not understand how your “charming” spouse could be so difficult that you would separate or divorce. He seems so likable! She volunteers teaching kiddos in Sunday School! He’s such a fun guy!
These people have NOOOO idea…
A spouse with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) or an emotional/verbal abuser is a chameleon. They are experts at putting up a false self or image to others. And they are a terror behind closed doors. The contempt, manipulation, gas-lighting, dishonesty, name calling, criticism, lack of empathy and abuse is destructive to your heart and soul. But when you are in the middle of it, with your brain in a fog from all the confusion and lies, and your heart in shreds from being torn apart so many times by your partner’s cruel side, it’s hard to articulate clearly. It’s also easy to be in denial. Because it’s that bad.Continue reading →
I’m grateful to be going through the Al Anon steps with a sponsor. I’ve gone to Al Anon on and off for a couple of years, and usually get something meaningful from the meetings. I’ve learned a lot from the wisdom of the group and from the Al Anon book, Courage to Change. But working with a sponsor is different. WOW. We are digging into truth that is brutal. We’re looking at my peace, or lack of it. Looking at my obsessive thinking, my selfishness, my fear, my desire to control.
I think everyone should go through a 12 step recovery program like Al Anon or Celebrate Recovery or Codependents Anonymous. We are all quite broken; but most of us are not awake enough to notice.
Before our divorce was final, my spouse pushed for reconciliation. Andhe used the Scriptures as the bully stick to put intense pressure on me. I heard things like “You need to forgive me. You are sinning against me and God by not reconciling with me.” Note that I only heard him apologize in general terms. I was not seeing any fruit of repentance – not even a grape. I didn’t hear a humble confession of how he had sinned against me. I wasn’t told how he would make amends. There was no evidence that he saw himself as the problem; in fact, he was still telling others the opposite.
Patrick Doyle in the video below explains reconciliation, and he outlines four things needed for it to work. This is the best information I have heard on the topic from a Christian perspective. If you are wondering if you should reconcile with an abusive person, this will CLEARLY explain when reconciliation is appropriate and when it is not. He also goes into boundaries, and why you need to be willing to put your relationship on the alter, or the person will continue to harm you. This may seem opposite of what we sometimes hear from the church, which seems to be ‘preserve the marriage at ALL COSTS’. However, that is not loving the abusive spouse or yourself well.
Narcissists don’t like boundaries. If you set a boundary, they will usually cross the boundary on purpose, to prove that you cannot control them. It’s like a challenge to them. Then, they will tell you how selfish or unreasonable YOU are. It’s crazy making, I know.
To help me set boundaries, I got specific language and ideas from books or my counselor. I gained confidence by “sanity checking” it with another person and confirming that my boundary was wise and healthy. When my boundary was crossed and tested, which it always was, I was prepared to stick to my consequence. Sometimes that meant walking away, or hanging up the phone, or not responding, or saying “never mind”.
One of the first boundaries I set was a physical one. I needed to feel safe in my own home. When my XNarc came to my door, I practiced that I could either answer or NOT ANSWER my door. I could choose to engage or not engage. If I answered the door, I decided I was not going to invite him inside. If we talked on the doorstep and the conversation didn’t go well, then I would ask him to leave. If he didn’t leave, I was prepared to tell him I was calling the police, and close the door. Then I was prepared to go and call the police. All of those steps may seem simple to some, but because my boundaries had been stepped on SO MANY TIMES prior, and I had been told how selfish and self-centered I was, it took me some time to work through those boundaries and have the confidence that they were healthy and normal and necessary.
There will be a day when I will say “It is well with my soul”and mean it.
After divorcing an abusive man or narcissist there is a season of healing. It takes work. Gut-wrenching work. Giving up resentments. Seeing our own fears and selfishness. Developing boundaries. Learning what love really is. Figuring out how we got here. Deciding where we want to go.
This is a journey. So I’m not keeping myself so busy that I don’t have time to think about it. And I’m not numbing myself with shopping or wine. (OK, maybe numbing a little with chocolate.) This quote by Henri Nouwen seems to describe well what we tend to do:
Listening to this song by Kristine DiMarco, I know I want to be well. Not just pretend that I’m well; not just say “Oh, I’m fine” with a weak, fake smile when people ask how things are going. I want to really have a deep-down joy and a peace about my life and the journey I’m on. Not because I like it or it’s easy, but because I’m starting to see it’s an upside-down blessing, and I really want to trust that He can redeem it. I want to stop feeling like a victim. Start focusing on the “new me” that I want to be. Warm. Vulnerable. Fun. Empathetic. Broken. Real.
Marriage counseling with an abusive or narcissistic spouse is not a good idea. I tried it. You may have, too. It simply gives the abuser another venue to blame, abuse, and project.
I dreaded going to marriage counseling. But thought I needed to go. I went prior to filing for divorce. I went after filing for divorce. I hoped the therapist would be able to do or say something to change him. That never happened. I also went because I wanted to “prove” to my church and our friends that I was doing everything I could to try to make the marriage work. That wasn’t worth the pain I had to endure.
“When there is no safety and no sanity, joint counseling is ineffective and often dangerous. If he can’t see his part or take responsibility for his own wrong thinking, beliefs or attitudes, everything ends up being the wife’s fault and her responsibility.”
“The abusive man’s problem with anger is almost the opposite of what is commonly believed. The reality is:
YOUR ABUSIVE PARTNER DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HIS ANGER; HE HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ANGER.
One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you – as will happen to any abused woman from time to time- he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.
Why does your partner react so strongly to your anger? One reason may be that he considers himself above reproach. The second is that on some level he senses- though not necessarily consciously – that there is power in your anger. If you have space to feel and express your rage, you will be better able to hold on to your identity and to resist his suffocation of you. He tries to take your anger away in order to snuff out your capacity to resist his will. Finally, he perceives your anger as a challenge to his authority, to which he responds by overpowering you with anger that is greater than your own. In this way he ensures that he retains the exclusive right to be the one who shows his anger.”
I love Leslie Vernick’s books and blog and have listed them on my HELPFUL RESOURCES page. She is a counselor, author and a wise Christian. She speaks with boldness and truth, and I like how she supports her views with scripture. Here is a post from her blog with excellent advice on divorcing a narcissist. She echoes a lot of what I’ve said here previously; I think you will find it helpful to hear it again in her words.
Today’s Question: My husband walked out of our marriage the day our last son graduated high school. In the course of this separation, God revealed to me that there was another woman. I found them together in their favorite restaurant and even recorded them and confronted them at their table.
We still meet with our Parenting Coordinator (PC). I find ours is fairly helpful. Here are a few ways I think this role can help in a high-conflict divorce:
She has us use a tool called “Our Family Wizard” (OFW) for all non-urgent communication. I was getting 10+ emails and texts a day, even after the divorce. (Before the divorce was final, I counted 33 one day.) While rude, contentious and intimidating, the emails and texts were never enough to go to court over to get a restraining order or other protection. But they were stealing my peace. So the PC ordered us to sign up and use OFW. Except for urgent matters, all communication goes through OFW. I check it once a day. We post all our emails, kids logistics, and requests for reimbursement on this online tool. The PC monitors our emails and coaches us individually on better ways of communicating. When there is an issue I need help with, I forward the email to the PC and ask her for help responding. It has dramatically cut down on the disruptions to my day. I also think my XNarc watches his words more carefully knowing that someone else is reading the emails. It is bringing things out of the darkness and into the light. Very helpful.
She meets occasionally with both of us in the same room to work through issues. Since I will not meet with my XNarc alone, and our emails tend to become circular and contentious, the PC is an excellent third party to meet with and try to work through problems. Because she is appointed by the court and can testify, if needed, her advice seems to be given more weight by the High Conflict Personality.
She helps me set better boundaries. She has given me the encouragement to say “no” and given me the words to say. Once of my issues I’m working on is trying to be too helpful and not wanting to offend. And thinking my words and explanations will make a difference. And…and….OK, I have a lot of issues….. (That’s why I’m grateful for Jesus each day!) Some examples of things I might say now:
One learns a lot about acceptance and detachment from Al-Anon. I stink at it, though. I think something in me doesn’t want to accept or detach – it’s almost like I need to keep fighting, keep striving to make things work better with my XNarc. Because it’s soooo BAD I don’t know what else to do. But that makes me crazy, because nothing really works when it comes to trying to work better with a Narc, so I come back full circle to acceptance and detachment. Here is a quote that I’ve cut out and pasted into the front of my Bible.
“Practice acceptance: You need to accept the fact that you will never win in the mind of a narcissist. You will not be able to change their distorted thought process regardless of how many times you remind them of the real version of the story at hand. You need to accept that you are not dealing with a rational, healthy person because acceptance is the key to moving forward.” Tina Swithin
Seething from yet another contentious email from my XNarc, I stopped and read this quote to get some perspective and serenity:
OK. So I’m trying to remind myself that NO MATTER WHAT I DO, HE WILL CREATE MORE CONFLICT. I know this doesn’t make sense. I’m a logical person and I honestly cannot grasp this. I keep thinking that my explanations will make a difference. That he will “get it” if I am logical and explain the facts. Nope. He doesn’t. Or maybe if I do what he asks, he will be nicer. Nope. He’s not. He wants to fight. He gets some twisted unconscious energy from the conflict with me. Bummer. For. Me.
Let’s remember in the middle of a ridiculous or difficult conflict that the Narc is thriving on the conflict and find a way to stop playing the game, if at all possible. Possibly not respond to the email. Possibly set a boundary and say “I decline to discuss this topic further.” Possibly refer the issue to your lawyer and let them handle it. Just remember, it’s not you. You are not the crazy one. We know. We believe you.
“You love to take broken things and make them beautiful.” What a perfectly fitting song by Ellie Holcomb. Let’s listen and remember these words on our journey of divorcing and healing from narcissism or abuse.
“I know I don’t bring a lot to the table, just little pieces of a broken heart.”
“There’s healing in Your name.”
“You say that you’ll turn my weeping into dancing, remove my sadness and cover me with joy.”
“Mediation with a Narcissist” is the post that gets the most views on my website, hands-down. I find that interesting. Mediation with a Narc is sooo very, very difficult. Note the multiple times I use “very”. I could keep going.
Since this is clearly a topic that readers are searching for information on, here is a “Part II” with additional musings and thoughts:
HAVE LOW EXPECTATIONS:
Sorry to say that as the very first bullet point…but remember, narcissists do not negotiate well, if at all. They win. They have an all-or-nothing outlook and are too competitive and controlling to tolerate a fair outcome. They think they are smarter and more important than anyone else in the room, and they sure don’t want to be controlled by you, or your lawyer, or the mediator.
My lawyer said that the judges in our town want couples to try mediation first, so most people schedule one day. So, depending on your judge, you might need to try mediation even if you know its not going to go well.
A friend of mine who went through mediation had FIVE different days of mediation before they reached an agreement, and then they only came to agreement because the narc spouse had an compelling business reason for finalizing the divorce.
In my mediation, we got almost nothing done the first day. My lawyer said the main benefit of that day was that we got my XNarc’s financial information and understood the negotiating positions.
We got a little closer our second day of mediation, but mostly due to my agreeing on some custody provisions that have turned into a huge source of conflict. We did not reach a signed agreement that second day, even though I made an offer at the end of the day. Of course my XNarc said he needed more time to consider it. Due to Narcs excessively high need for control, I really think there was no way he was going to agree to something Ihad proposed in a mediation environment.
Because of this high need for control, their need to win, and psychopathically low empathy, I just haven’t heard of mediation going well with this personality disorder. They simply do not compromise well. They think they’ve done nothing wrong and it’s really all YOUR fault, so they are entitled to a better outcome than the other party.
In summary, be prepared with realistic expectations for your situation.
Reading this excerpt in Bancroft’s book, Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That?, I just started crying. The first sentence touched me deeply. If you have been in a relationship with a narcissist, you unfortunately know what Bancroft is referring to. Words like “torn apart”, “your partners cruel side”, “nothing can ever put you back together again”, and “the pain will never go away” resonate, don’t they? I hope it’s reassuring, dear one, to know that someone can so accurately articulate the excruciating pain you feel. You are not alone.
Feeling Like You’ll Never Get Over This
“After enough times of being torn apart by your partner’s cruel side, you can come to feel like nothing could ever put you back together again, and like the pain will never go away.
But it will. You aren’t always going to feel this bad. Healing is a long process, especially when you’ve been harmed by someone you love. But the injured places do grow back together.
When I filed for divorce from my XNarc, there were apologies, but those lasted sometimes a few days, sometimes only a few hours, before the blasts and zingers would come. It was confusing at first to receive what seemed to be a heartfelt apology, only to be berated a short time later. This quote seems to help restore sanity:
“ACTIONS speak louder than words. We can apologize over and over, but if our actions don’t change the words become MEANINGLESS.”
So remember, repentance needs to be time AND stress tested. The fruit of repentance needs to be visible to all, especially you. The abuse, the control, the manipulation, the blaming, the raging – it all needs to stop. An apology, followed by unrepentant actions, is meaningless.
I’m really enjoying Lundy Bancroft’s book Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That? I wish I had read Bancroft’s books about 3 years ago. This is a person who gets what you are going through and validates your innermost feelings. There is something very healing about feeling validated on this journey.
I frequently felt like people didn’t understand the destructiveness of what I was going through as a Christian woman dealing with an abusive man. (And still go through post-divorce.) A well-meaning friend said she viewed it as a “communication issue” while another quoted scripture that “God hates divorce.” When you read Bancroft’s book, you feel validated that someone else absolutely understands the anguish and craziness you are going through due to his abusiveness.
Here is a daily excerpt from the book, titled “How Do I Make Conflicts with Him go Better?”
“You have probably noticed that I haven’t written about how you can resolve conflicts with your partner more constructively. That’s no accident. I don’t believe that a woman can make things go better with a controlling or abusive man by changing how she argues with him. Some people may say that you should bring things up with him in a very diplomatic, non-demanding manner, almost like you’re asking him a favor. Others will tell you the opposite: that you should be firm and no-nonsense with him, setting clear limits and boundaries about his behavior. You may be advised to talk just about how you feel, so that you don’t sound like you are criticizing your partner. Some people believe that you’ll reach him more successfully if you give him lots of reassurance that you love him and that you’re just trying to make your relationship go better.
I go to counseling once a week. If you have been married to an abusive man or someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), you know why. The fear, intimidation, manipulation, and crazy games they play are destructive to the feminine heart. I believe it SOOO goes against God’s desire for women. As Stacy Edridge writes, “…every woman is haunted by the question,“Do you delight in me? Will I be chosen, wanted, seen, fought for?” In the case of abusive marriages, the answer is devastatingly clear – your spouse is NOT fighting FOR you, he is fighting AGAINST you, and his intent is to harm you. It is shattering when you get out of denial and face the truth.
So at counseling last week, I was working through my anger with how my XNarc treated me.
“Come to see it as an upside-down blessing,” urged my counselor. “And accept that it may not change.”
OK, that’s really not AT ALL what I’m hoping to hear from this guy. I know from Al-Anon how important acceptance is, but to accept ongoing abuse, even after divorce, seems almost too much to bear. How long, O Lord, how long?
Sometimes, grief comes out of nowhere. We don’t expect it. We don’t want it. But it comes and takes our breath away. Disrupts our day. Perhaps our week. Waves of grief, crashing over our world. Waves we weren’t anticipating. It’s as if the bottom has fallen out of your life. It has.
When you go through a divorce, you should expect to be ambushed by grief. You are not crazy – you are grieving. This is so hard. The pain pierces deep within. It physically hurts. There are lots of tears. Deep anguish. It can take your breath way. I know.
We tend to do things to try to get quickly past the grief of divorce, but a friend warned me not to bypass the process. She said to feel it, process it, work through it, go to God. She skipped over the grief when she got divorced and had to come back to it, years later. She wisely told me to deal with it now, when it comes. Which it will.
The writers of Scripture knew and wrote about grief. Paul explains that we are not exempt from grief, but instead, he teaches how our grief is different than those without faith. He writes in 1 Thess. 4:13 that we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” King David wrote similar words 1,000 years earlier in Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Jesus echoes the grief with hope message when he speaks gently to our grief in Matthew 5:4, calling us blessed and promising comfort. As I grieve, I remind myself that I grieve with hope.
“I wouldn’t really call what he does ‘abuse.’ I mean, it’s not like he hits me or anything.”
Have you ever found yourself saying something along these lines? Many people believe that “abuse” only refers to physical beatings, the kind where the man leaves the woman with bruises on her body and swollen eyes. And they are badly mistaken.
Verbal abuse takes a huge toll on a woman, especially when it is combined with other injurious behaviors, such as controlling her or cheating on her. The put-downs, the humiliation, the ridicule — all of these can attack a woman’s soul deeply, sometimes more deeply than assaults do.
What are the key messages that verbal abuse sends you? His vicious words tell you that you are beneath him. He sends the message that you have no value. His insults and rejection work to convince you thatyou are not worthy of love. His verbal attacks teach you that everything you do is wrong. His arrogance and demanding treatment make you feel stupid and incompetent.