Hard Hearts

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Almost as long as people have been throwing things at each other, we have used shields to deflect the attacks.  I suppose the first shields were wood and then leather and then metal.  Some balance had to be struck between weight and protective ability.  Rocks could be repelled with wood or leather, but arrows needed something thicker or stronger.  Eventually, shields developed into body armor, from the knight’s mail to the Swat team’s ceramic plates.  But in all of this the purpose remains the same—protection.

The Bible speaks of an interesting phenomenon that occurs in leaders, in marriages, and even in relationship with God.  I usually think of the Pharaoh of the Exodus when I hear the term: hardening of the heart.  What makes this interesting is that sometimes Pharaoh hardens his own heart, sometimes his heart is simply hardened, and sometimes God is said to be responsible for hardening Pharaoh’s heart.  How can they all be true?

Well, over the years I have explained this using the idea of hardening an egg.  What’s the difference between a soft-boiled egg and a hard-boiled egg?  The only real difference is time.  The natural process of the egg in the boiling water is to harden.  The longer you leave it, the harder it gets.   You could say that hard-boiled eggs are the result of someone not doing something (taking the egg out of the water). 

So, in effect, Pharaoh decided to stay in the hot water and God let him.  And the longer he stayed in the hot water, the harder his heart became.  It took the death of his firstborn son to get Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go—and, even then, he reneged on the deal a little while later. 

It may be that narcissism “boils” down to simple hardness of heart.  Over time the narcissist learned not to trust anyone, to protect his heart against real connections and love.  He learned that any good thing he got out of life had to be what he got for himself.  Others could no longer be people, certainly not equals with him.  They were something to use to get what he wanted.  The narcissistic heart is hardened against pain and disappointment.  It has learned to deflect attacks.  It has learned to stay apart.

Much is made of the narcissist’s lack of empathy.  In fact, lack of empathy is part of the definition of narcissism.  But the narcissist’s lack of empathy is not simply a shortcoming, it is a decision.  The narcissist does not want to empathize, does not dare to empathize, because to do so is to risk his heart.  Many people have noticed the peculiar desire the narcissist has for relationship and then the abrupt rejection of that relationship when things get a little too close.  Narcissistic relationships are supposed to give to the narcissist, but never expect anything of his heart.  This is why the narcissist both needs and hates people. 

Sadly, this hardness of heart seems to be communicable.  Children and spouses of narcissists can develop something very similar.  The way the narcissist handles relationships causes others to develop coping techniques and sometimes coping means to let the heart toughen against attacks and disappointments.  Often this manifests as numbness or apathy.  Some counselors understand that a particularly quiet and unresponsive client could be the victim of a narcissist.  The numbness is very similar to the narcissistic hardness.

Spouses of narcissists frequently ask whether their children are destined to become narcissists.  The answer is a strong negative.  However, the children may develop this hardness to protect their hearts from the manipulations of the narcissist and may appear to be narcissistic in their responses and relationships. 

I am very much of the opinion that a loving parent can affirm the heart of a child in spite of a narcissistic spouse.  Children do not require perfect consistency from parents, but they do need acceptance, affirmation and hope.  One parent can give that.

Protect your heart, but don’t let it harden against others.  Find people and activities and interests you enjoy.  Risk being excited and having hope.  You may have to have a “thick skin” in dealing with the narcissist and his manipulations, but don’t let that damage other parts of your heart.  Allow yourself to separate the narcissist and his/her problems from other areas of your life. 

And if you know someone who is cut off from friends or family or heart interests, find a way to be a friend.  Make a point to be dependable, affirming, and loving.  Narcissists often try to isolate their victims to keep them under control.  The relationship they have with you might bring the hope they need to survive.


Filed under Narcissism

17 responses to “Hard Hearts

  1. Prairiemom

    “Narcissists often try to isolate their victims to keep them under control. The relationship they have with you might bring the hope they need to survive.”

    Wow, this one is a toughie. I think the N can smell a healthy, supportive friendship a mile away and stop at nothing to prevent spouse and child from having it. When having healthy friendships are painted as a “betrayal” by the N, then it is very hard for a nice, good, person to take any joy in pursuing such a friendship. Anyway, that is the case with my dear friend who is married to an N, and the case for her son, as well.

    I am not sure how to be a support when any friendship my family shows to her or her son is inevitably a source of contention, which just the situation I want to help her to avoid. It grieves me that our love and friendship could actually make things worse for them at home. I have let her know that she and her son are welcome at our home anytime, that she can call, email, or come by anytime and I will be available, but that I do not expect her to call or come over if it is just too hard or if he makes her too ucomfortable about it. I am not sure what else to do. It is frustrating and so very disheartening.

    Sorry for the rant. Any advice? (And I do hope you are feeling better)

    • Just to know that there is someone close who understands and cares is so valuable. You can’t insert yourself in their relationship, but you can be ready when she needs you. She will know that you won’t reject her and that you will believe her when she needs you. Even if you don’t see her for a long time, she will know that you are there. You have to know that your friendship with her has a net benefit. She may suffer a little more because of it, but she will do so knowing she has a friend. It really does make a difference.

      (Still working on getting better. Slow…)

      • Repol

        My husband went through about a decade of being outwardly impossible when anyone showed me friendship. He really did punish me for someone else’s kindness toward me. And while that made things at home awful for me, I would never, never, never have said that the better option was for those friends to separate, distance themselves, or abandon me. He would always just find another reason to be unhappy.
        In that church that we left, the mentality really was “If it makes him uncomfortable, then don’t offer friendship to her. Retract and leave them alone.” And that was letting me die. Yes, it was bad if I was befriended. But without the extension of friendship, it was bad AND I was friendless.
        Be there for your friend, unless she tells you she needs you to stop because it’s causing too much trouble at home. Your friendship may just be the little sliver of God’s love enacted that is keeping her holding on in the midst of everything else. Keep offering it. Don’t take that from her too. Then, he kind of wins, and she just experiences a second loss. I know this first hand.

  2. Angela

    re-Hard Hearts- thank you for this. I have been obsessing about this very subject, as I find myself developing the attitudes of a N. All in the name of self protection! And my memories of having been this distant, (not safe to smile, speak, give, blaming others etc) as a child, and now here I am again. I go through the list of bad attributes and sickeningly see myself, and yet I can also see that I am fighting giving in to this with everything inside me, mainly faith in a loving God, and the wisdom I can glean from anywhere I find it…Bible, people’s experiences, etc, like each little gem is a piece of wood to hang onto in the raging river.
    (I saw an old picture from Victorian times of a woman being swept away in a storm. She was hanging on to “an old wooden cross” for dear life, and it kept her above the waters)..
    I have lost so much, and today I got an email from my friends son..the only friend who has stood by me (although hundreds of miles away, our only contact was email, as she too was afraid to call) had a stroke yesterday. Life is not fair, but God is. I don’t know why stuff happens, but stuff happens. It does nothing to change who and what God is. He still knows everything, even the precious sparrows that fall. But He knows how to catch them.
    So, its ok to have a heart that is able to break, as long as we have the Healer who is able to heal it and make it stronger than it was before.
    If I don’t allow my heart to break, I will never know how God can open new eyes, the eyes that can see the pain in others, the little sparrows that are unable to hold onto their branches.
    Your post has done much to restore me. Thank you, Dave.

  3. Angela-
    Like you, I protected myself with hard heartedness. Only when my heart could break was there space for Grace. That came about 5 years ago, after 33 years of being “a good Christian girl”. Now that I understand that only God is good, I am saddened by narcissists, but also see how my own defensive reactions to them exacerbated conflict. I think of the quote, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” (Ghandi)
    I will pray for you, that you would be willing to bear this suffering with the comfort of knowing that if you ask God to sit next to you in it, you will be given the strength to bear it. On the other side of suffering comes compassion- and from that place of compassion you stop feeling powerless. That new sense of freedom breaks the spell of control (or at least it did for me).
    Opening your heart after years of abuse feels a bit like being Charlie Brown gearing up to kick the football Lucy always yanks away. But here’s the thing- maybe there’s a new way to relate to “Lucy” that doesn’t involve “kicking a football”. I believe that if you ask God to fill you with his spirit and to let your heart break with His sorrow (not your own sense of injustice) you will find peace on the other side of tears. The answers will come. It’s ok not to feel like you can trust others. Focus on trusting Him and obeying His commandment to love. I think of the 23rd Psalm “Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” The spell the narcissist casts over his/her victims is fear. LOVE casts out fear.
    I only know this because I had to live this. Only in hitting my own bottom could I truly feel God sustaining me. And once that happened, the power of the N’s in my life over me has changed dramatically. They certainly can be irritating, but I no longer feel that they are my puppet masters.
    I am praying for you now.

  4. Sue

    I realize that I’ve started looking forward to Fridays to read this blog. It wasn’t until I read a definition of a N here that I realized it described my ex. The image of himself he wants everyone to see is more important than anything. It makes him incapable of true empathy and capable of real cruelty. Truly he dislikes himself and remakes his image every 4 or so years from young entrepreneur, to surfer bum, to fitness buff, to musician, to business guru to dancer…I suppose the list will never stop. He finally left me for someone else when I no longer believed he was on the verge of greatness–after he spent us $100k into debt to prop up his image. What I wanted never mattered and sadly, what is best for the children doesn’t even matter.

    What I struggle with, however, is that he is a very sensitive person. He truly sees when other people are hurting. He is kind to babies, and puppies and the elderly–anyone who has no power in this world. His eyes welled up with tears when I told him about our son’s friend who is hurting and has started stuttering during his parents’ contentious divorce.

    How can someone who sees the pain, not do anything to fix it??!! It is this pseudo-compassion that has kept me drawn to him and kept the hope alive that he can really change.

  5. Christine

    I believe they CAN CAN CAN change through Jesus Christ.

  6. prov31woman

    I found this post to almost be comforting. I came to the conclusion some time back that my husband of 14 years was indeed a narcissist. Although it made me sad to realize, I was relieved as well. I finally realized that everything WASN’T my fault as I’d come to believe. Although I firmly believe that it takes 2 to make a marriage and 2 to break a marriage, I wasn’t completely responsible for the state that our marriage was in. But one thing that I did have to learn to do in order to cope and to keep my own sanity, was to harden my heart to an extent. When these out of nowhere attacks came up, I would simply choose not to engage, & most importantly, not allow the hurtful and many times demeaning words to affect me the way that they’d done in the past. Although by no means a perfect wife, I was trying, & I AM a good person. I am a child of the Most High God, & NO-ONE can take that away from me. Of course everyone has things that they need to work on as a spouse, & God will show me those things. But in turn, I have to allow God to deal with my husband in His way and in His time. I’m the meantime, I’ve chosen to stay in my marriage and work at making it better to the best of MY ability, & to allow God to handle what I cannot. Do I hope that things will get better? Absolutely! !! Do I pray that God will piece his heart and help him find what he really and truly needs, Jesus Christ? More than anything! ! But at this point, with God’s help, I can hang on. I can gave face each new day with the knowledge that although my spouse is not the person that I thought he was, & will probably never give me the TRUE, UNCONDITIONAL Love and support that I crave, God will. He will give me everything that I will ever need, & that will be enough.

    • Repol

      One thing, for me, which has been particularly hard to deal with is that being in a relationship like this for so long (and more recently, in addition, a friendship with some very similar qualities) is that I have become a LESS forgiving person. When I first became a believer, I felt so clearly my gratitude toward God for saving me and forgiving me that I forgave very readily. BUT, I wasn’t tested over and over and over with the irrational abuse that comes from narcissists or people with some other type of personality disorder, and their unwillingness or inability to learn from the harm they cause has really hardened me in a way that I fear is now sinful, where it wasn’t the case before.
      I want to be able to forgive like Jesus. But after so long (almost 19 years of marriage, and another 4-5 of the friendship) I am struggling with being forgiving. I think way down underneath, I have some undealt with anger that’s just been covered up by hurt. I don’t like anger, and it isn’t my natural response. I am much more likely to be hurt than mad. I am much more likely to grieve than seek revenge. But there’s something in my now that wasn’t there before these people. I didn’t see it coming, and really, it’s only since finding this site that I can see much of what really was going on in those relationships. So now I need to peel my own onion back to the core to free myself somehow so that I don’t get hardened. I want to be safe. But I don’t want to be hard.

      • Fellow Survivor

        Repol, I don’t like anger either. And I am also more likely to be hurt than be mad. That pretty much sums up what KIND people are like. WE DON’T LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE. And we can’t understand how someone else does, or doesn’t care if they do. It is so foreign to the very fiber of our being that the thought of hurting people knowingly is unfathomable It is that part of us that yearns for the Second Great Commandment ” To love one another” to be followed by all. Although we are in great anguish and emotional pain for some reason we are governed in our hearts by the SECOND GREAT COMMANDMENT. Those that hurt us are not, sadly.
        We are governed by the Holy Spirit. It breaks my heart when I break the Holy Spirit’s heart. This is our gift. We care. We care when others are hurt and we want no part in hurting them. We care when we do stupid stuff, we just generally care about everything and how out actions relate to other people. Those that hurt us, again, do not, sadly!!

      • Fellow Survivor

        OK guys, I am going to vent here. I gotta let what is brewing in my heart flow out.

        I HATE HER.. I really do. I have not had hate in my heart for maybe forever. But I hate her. I hate the lies, the indifference, the not being there for me when I needed her, all the wasted money spent on her, all the nights I stayed at home taking care of our daughter while she went to her woman’s groups, for listening to all the stories about how horrible her dad was and now he is her hero, I JUST HATE HER. For months I have been struggling with the memories, the day our daughter was born, all the nights crying on my shoulder about how horrible her father was, the time I cornered a doctor in the elevator to get more pain meds after a surgery, I JUST HATE HER. The paper I wrote for her in college. All the times I went to pick up supplies for her classroom to make her life easier, the new cars I bought her when I was driving an old car without air-conditioning (in Texas) I JUST HATE HER.

        I could fill 20 pages with things I HATE her for, but the number one thing I HATE her for more than anything, I just HATE this more than anything, Is I don’t get to see my daughter every night I have a 17 year old daughter and its Sat night. I NEED to know when she is home. That is my job as a Dad. But because of my exes selfish, “I want to play with no boundries” new lifestyle I can’t. I wil always HATE my ex for that.

      • Fellow Survivor

        Side story. This past Monday is the transitional day. Monday nights daughter transfers from me to her mom. 4 nights ago daughter was supposed to be with her mom. I come home monday and find daughter doing homework at my house. I don’t ask any questions except ” may I get you dinner?” She says “yes” I get dinner. We watch “how I met your mother” ( a very inappropriate, but very funny show) one episode. She continues to do homework. About 9:30 PM I ask ” are you going to your mom’s tonight?” and she says, ” I don’t think I want to”

        As you may recall, the exes family is rich. Daughter has the entire upstairs to herself with her mom, and her Queen Sized Bed I am sure it is a fabulous place. Me, I still don’t have beds, but I do have two mattresses. And boxes of stuff everywhere. So, she stays with me. The mattresses are from daughter’s play room at the old house. I slept on pink Barbie sheets this week. Don’t laugh, they were what we bought for daughter’s sleep overs with her friends.

      • Alone

        There is also righteous anger, which is not a sin. Jesus had it when he cast the money changers out of the temle, but that is not the only time he expressed righteous anger. I think you need to see Love as the absorption of shame rather than Love casting away shame. You are not sinning in feeling righteous anger.

      • Fellow Survivor

        In Malachi 2:16 God himself says “I hate divorce” When I read that passage I can hear and feel God’s emotion pain when he sees how his children are hurting each other.

        I don’t feel like it is a sin for me to hate what has happened to me. Being angry with the situation and hating the things that happened to me actually are quite liberating. For so long I was focused on the “happy. good times” I had with the ex, but those times only happened when the money was flowing. When the money stopped flowing so did the good times. She told me she wanted to be married to a rich man so why I am I surprised. Dave’s post today (Monday the 14th) casts some light on this flesh pattern the ex N has.

  7. Penny

    Repol:-I understand what you are saying, & the dissonance you are experiencing. It is unnerving when you begin to truly see the lies and deception, & then struggle to resist the manipulation. It feels like you are being unloving or unforgiving or judgemental—and the N will certainly exploit that all day long and twice on Sunday. But, it isn’t revenge that you are after, nor are you picking a fight. I think I have read enough of your posts to know that what you are seeking is truth and light. You are seeking God’s face. Your heart desires God’s heart & blessing, yet He cannot bless the darkness. What fellowship has light with darkness? What you are resisting is being forced to walk in darkness and deceit, and to pretend that it is ok. It’s not okay. God calls us to the truth, and that eventually exposes the lies and deceit of the N. I found comfort when I looked at what it meant when Jesus “set His face like flint toward Jerusalem”. It means that Jesus understood His calling, His mission, and NOTHING was going to dissuade Him. In some small measure, you and I are also called to bear witness to His truth and light and redemption; when we begin to let His light shine on the harsh reality of the N, it feels…..hard. Un-natural. Unloving. And yet, we are guided not by “self”, nor are we called to simply endure abuse, but to expose the sin, through His Word and by His grace. We feel the first stirrings of “setting our face like flint” toward Him, and away from the N’s abuse and distortions and obscenities. When you begin to “put on the armor” it feels….hard. And uncomfortable. And foreign…strange. And yet, we are strengthened by His word, the sword of His Spirit. Like you, I do not want to be hard, but neither do i want to be exploited or to be a wimp. (If I am going to be exploited it had better be for the cause of Christ and not for someone else’s perverse pleasure.) I finally realized that I am not hard, but rather, have become strong. I have become a soldier. “Not by power, or by might, but by My Spirit”. I am strong in His Spirit. I am not hard. I am determined– to live for Him. I stumbled on this scripture study, and pray that it will bless and encourage you:


    Selah, my sister.

    • Repol

      Wow, Penny. Wow. There is so much clarity in that–all that you just said. I need some time to process that, but you have been given great wisdom.
      It makes so much sense to hold up that which I cannot (yet, at least) forgive and realize that it is because God doesn’t accommodate darkness. HE overcomes it, but never accommodates it. And I have been asked just to accommodate things that are very, very wrong. Some destructive. Others merely from apathy. But always, I am supposed to accommodate. Jesus set his face like flint toward Jerusalem because he knew that he would overcome the darkness by doing so. He had to face it, pass through it, but his actions would be completely effective for his own purposes. When I accommodate, it’s not his purposes or mine that are being accomplished. It’s just letting darkness rule a little longer.
      Thank you. I have so much to learn.

      And Fellow Survivor–I said the hate word recently too, to God, in my journal. I vented and vented and stated clearly all the things I wouldn’t ever let myself admit I hated. It was like scraping festering pus out of my heart with a steel-wool pad to do it, but it helped. I think God honors our honesty, even in confusing cases like these. I think I’m not supposed to hate, but God knows, and he knows whether it is justified or not too. EVEN IF IT ISN’T justified hatred (and God hates sin and its effects, so there is some justified hatred), being honest with him about it is key to setting it right. He can give you peace, and I pray you find it. I understand. If I couldn’t have my children, even for parts of the month or week, I cannot imagine how I would have peace. That is what makes these things so difficult. I am so sorry for the situation you are in. It is not supposed to be that way. I am thankful that your daughter knows your consistent love for her.

      • Fellow Survivor

        Repol, I just looked up the definition of “hate” in the dictionary and that pretty much sums up how I feel. I don’t feel bad about hating what has happened to my family, or me, or my daughter. The narc doesn’t care about anyone other than themselves. I would hate myself if that was the way I was.

        Its actually quite liberating to put a word to the emotions that I feel. I don’t love the ex anymore. I hate her and all that she has become. The girl that I fell in love with left the building many years ago, I just failed to or did not want to acknowledge the truth.

        My biggest regret is that my daughter has the ex as her mom. As Anna Valerious so aptly puts into words, “No life is a total waste, even the worst ones can serve as a bad example” I can’t tell you how many times I have had to tell the daughter “don’t treat your husband the way your mom treats me” “Dont do this or that that your mom does” She was the perfect example of how marriage does not work and the end result is divorce, every time.

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