Most of us find it hard to believe that anyone would have evil or selfish motives. As Christians, we’re taught to be servant-hearted people while caring for others as much as we do ourselves. In Sunday school, my young children learned the acronym for J.O.Y. meant, Jesus, others, then yourself. But as hard as it is to connect extreme selfishness with a Christian, narcissists do exist, even in our churches.
“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.” (Luke 6:43-45)
When we don’t see the wolf in sheep’s clothing, missing the red flags, we can become entangled and find it hard to separate from them. As Christians who extend grace and mercy to people in our lives as an act of love, it’s even harder. We feel guilty and selfish for thinking of ourselves by asserting boundaries as an act of protection and self-preservation. And we make excuses for the narcissist’s behavior only to see the pattern of evil and abusive tactics repeating itself over and over again.
When you’re finding it hard to separate from a narcissist, these could be the reasons why.
1. We become entangled from the beginning.
Narcissists use a tactic called “love bombing” to entice and ensnarl their new dating partners. He/she often discard previous relationships in order to make room on the pedestal for a brand new relationship. The narcissist’s new victim is the best thing that every happened to him/her – a “soulmate” – although he/she may have stated this in all previous relationships as well.
The relationship probably moves along very quickly so the victim doesn’t have time to see the red flags or assert boundaries. Even if we do, the narcissist often manipulates to get around any boundaries in his/her way to getting what they want.
Also, many narcissists prefer to rescue his/her victims. I’ve seen a narcissist help a single mother, whom he hardly knew, purchase a new car that she couldn’t afford otherwise. Or the narcissist asks to borrow money to create a financial dependence that you may not be willing to walk away from.
After you’re emotionally and/or financially entangled, you may feel more comfortable becoming physically intimate. You owe him/her or he/she owes you, so now you have a long-term connection.
2. Our focus became all about him/her and the relationship.
Narcissists love to be at the center of their partner’s attention. They often get angry when you focus on yourself or other relationships – even with God or your own children. In order to keep the relationship peaceful and together, you slowly start devoting all your attention on pleasing the narcissist and giving him/her what they want to keep the peace. We often hope that this will help the narcissist become more loving and caring towards us as well – by example.
Once the relationship ends, you realize your entire life had been revolving around this other person and you’ve depleted yourself until you have nothing left to give. You may not even know how to take care of yourself anymore or to make important decisions in your own life because the narcissist held the power and control of everything.
After breaking-up with or divorcing the narcissist, you need to turn your entire focus onto healing yourself and being okay in your singleness for a season (or many years). This is to prevent you for entering the same type of relationship in the future.
3. We keep holding on to hope that he/she will change or come to Christ.
As Christians, we know that God performs miracles and answers our prayers. We ask with expectation and have hope that we’ll see changes in our lives, our relationships, and in the lives of others we’ve prayed for.
We remember those beginning days of the relationship, when the narcissist was on his/her best behavior and doing everything to make you feel loved and cared about (the love bombing from #1). We believe the well-meaning advice that if we pray more, love more, and give lots more grace that he/she will come around and be the person that we met. Or we pray that he/she will surrender their life to Christ and fill their empty hole with God’s love.
We might even lower our expectations, holding on to hope, that things will get better.
Narcissists are takers, searching for the givers of this world. Christians are good targets for these types of relationships. The narcissist is good at faking being kind and generous and using Christian lingo to fool others, but their motives are really only selfish. The narcissist is only thinking about himself/herself and acting in a way that gives him/her what he/she craves.
4. We carry shame from things we did while in the relationship.
Often the narcissist is a very skilled manipulator, pushing you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do outside of this relationship. You could have agreed to break your own moral standards, felt obligated to ignore moral reasoning, or even did something illegal, all to keep the peace with the narcissist.
He/she may even hold that information over your head, as emotional blackmail, to keep you trapped in the relationship and/or feeling shame. You may feel pressured not to share what is really going on in the relationship – especially abuse – because you know he/she will share the embarrassing or illegal things that you’ve done with the people you may need for support. You may feel trapped when you have no one to turn to and emotionally process with, and the narcissist is angry that you’re talking about him/her with other people.
Not allowing you to seek relationship help or support from anyone else besides the narcissist keeps you trapped in the relationship, especially if no one is telling you that this is an abusive relationship.
5. We know he/she’s capable of lying and turning people against us.
The smear campaign may have already started. The narcissist in your life may have already told friends and/or family things or lies about you. Because of his/her charm, they may have convinced others that you are controlling, crazy, or have lost your mind. He/she may have shared your secrets so now you’re embarrassed and not sure if anyone will support you leaving the narcissist.
The narcissist usually shows his/her lying side early in the relationship. And you probably heard horrible things about his/her past relationships – it’s never the narcissist’s fault. We may excuse, justify, or minimize everything, especially when younger and inexperienced in relationships. But the truth is, a person with integrity doesn’t need to lie about anything. People who have things to hide are habitual liars, protecting their image from being destroyed by the truth.
If a narcissist turns people against you, remember that your character and their true character will always come out. Just be your authentic, honest self, and allow God to protect you.
6. We stay for the children or we want to protect our children from time alone with him/her.
Many women (and probably men too) stay with the other parent because we think this is what’s best for the children. We don’t want our children to be “from a broken home” as they say. Or maybe we just don’t want to do childrearing or be alone. But the fact is we just want to keep our family together, so we hold onto hope, pray, and wait for God to fix the situation – which keeps our children trapped in an environment we cannot control.
Also, we may feel that it’s safer for our children if they do not have to be alone with the narcissistic parent. They could be moral and legal lawbreakers or addicts (not seeking treatment and recovery) so we stay as a way to protect our children from the same harm we have received. Sadly, this type of environment 24/7 is not good for children. Just like many abuse victims, children do develop physical and emotional problems, caused by living in an environment where abuse (even adultery) is present.
After divorce, you can create a more peaceful environment in your own home even if you have to share custody with a narcissist.
7. We don’t know if you have God’s “permission” to divorce.
Not all narcissists commit adultery. And many Christians believe the only reason you have God’s permission to divorce is if there is proof of physical adultery. Even then many pastors say, “Try to reconcile.” Or if you do divorce, “You must remain single until your ex-spouse dies.” (I’ve heard this many times since my divorce in 2013.)
This is a lifetime punishment for the innocent party who shouldn’t be held accountable for what their spouse has done. God may hate divorce, but innocent people in the Bible weren’t punished for life. They may have had “consequences” for their actions, as most people do face many consequences after divorce, but God didn’t withhold this love, approval, and purpose from these people.
If a divorced person did not sin in their marriage or cause the divorce, why do we continue to punish them as if they did, even knowing how God forgives sinners?
8. A narcissist’s conduct is his/her responsibility, not yours.
We get entangled with a narcissist and stay entangled by not understanding God’s love for the disparaged and the downtrodden. Making an evil-hearted person servant-hearted is not our cross to bear. The day I was given the title of divorced, I left the responsibility to help “fix” my (now ex-) husband at the cross.
“For we are each responsible for our own conduct.” (Galatians 6:5, NLT)