Fooling Me

It’s Narcissist Friday!   


Little things.  A hint here.  A hint there.  Something isn’t quite right.  This isn’t what it was supposed to be.


But it’s alright.  He didn’t mean it.  I didn’t hear it the right way.  Things will change.  Everything will be wonderful.


Others don’t understand.  They say that because they are jealous or because they aren’t really my friends.  If I am okay with it, why can’t they be? 


We are just getting to know each other better.  Everyone has little things that rub others wrongly.  I’m sure it’s just a quirk of his personality.  


If others would just try a little.  He’s not really the way they say.  If they got to know him, they’d see him differently.  They are the problem.  They are so unfair.  Give him a chance.


It’s me.  It’s my fault.  I do dumb things.  If I just hadn’t said that.  If I weren’t so stupid.  He has a right to be angry.  Maybe it’s good for me to have him so I can do better.


 No one knows for sure who said it first: “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.”  I am convinced that narcissism takes advantage of the tendency of good people to deny negatives in their lives.  We don’t want something to be what it seems, so we re-decorate it.  We convince ourselves that it is something else.  We were taught to think positively, to believe the best about people. 

So the narcissist becomes a friend, maybe even a lover.  Gentle words or captivating personalities break down natural barriers and we open our hearts.  It isn’t long before the narcissist is an integral part of who we are.  And then we have a problem.  There were clues, but we ignored them as the narcissist moved closer. 

Just give most of us enough good to want a thing and we will take care of denying the bad.  That’s what a narcissist uses to cultivate a relationship.  The clues are there, but the bait is so attractive that we ignore the dangers or excuse the bad behavior. 

If the old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” is true, then perhaps we should not be so quick to dismiss the first time.  Maybe, once someone fools us, we should learn something about that person and use that information to protect ourselves in the future.  After all, isn’t that what the saying is supposed to be teaching us? 

But that’s part of the problem.  When the narcissist “fools” a victim, he or she quickly pushes to the second step.  Instead of “shame on you,” the victim is pushed to “shame on me.”  And, when it becomes “my fault” a strange set of dynamics begins.

You see, most of us are programmed to see good in others and bad in ourselves.  So we tend to see the offenses of others differently than we see our own offenses.  We are taught to overlook what others do to us, to offer excuses for their behavior so that we can let it go.  But few of us were taught how to overlook our own actions.    All the narcissist has to do to get us to continue to deny the truth is to get us to believe the whole thing is our own fault.  We move quickly and easily from “shame on you” to “shame on me.”

I have heard victims of physical abuse blame themselves.  I have heard victims of sexual abuse blame themselves.  That’s a form of denial.  When the fact of the deed can no longer be denied, we deny the true source.

And the abuse grows in the culture of denial.  The victim denies.  The family denies.  The church denies.  The business denies.  As long as denial continues, the cruelty grows.  Narcissism thrives in a culture of denial. 

I want to be careful here.  Two points.  I am not suggesting that every offense is grounds for divorce or even for the end of a relationship (except, perhaps, for physical abuse).  We are all flawed and we do hurt each other by our words and actions.  I am saying that these things should never be pushed into the darkness.  They can often be forgiven, but they should not be ignored. 

And denial is not forgiveness.  I know that many people grew up in a denial culture where things were swept under the rug for the sake of forgiveness.  But I will ask simply, “If it is denied, how can it be forgiven?”  No, shine the light on it and then forgive, if forgiveness is right.  But admit the truth.

From talking with victims of narcissism, whether in families or marriages or even organizations, I have come to understand that denial is part of the equation almost from the beginning. 


Filed under Narcissism

42 responses to “Fooling Me

  1. Thank you for these thoughts – so helpful to learn these things.

  2. Rox

    I really needed to read this post on denial today. I’ve had “no contact” with my N former best friend for two months this week and am just on the brink of getting him out of my head and stopping wanting him back. Like this piece says, I spent close to two decades giving him the benefit of the doubt, while he covertly undermined me by “suggesting” that everything was my fault. I’m torn between despising him and feeling very VERY sorry for him; who’d want to be such a monster? I just don’t want the fact that I now know what Ns are (I didn’t know such people existed.) to make me bitter and paranoid about dealing with people. How do you protect yourself from these vampires without thinking that everyone is like them and will one day surprise and turn on you. What should you do when you see those first signs? I confronted him from the beginning and his excuses were plausible. When they stopped being plausible, I overcompensated, such that there had been some miscommunication. How can you know, in the world of second, third, and fourth chances, when you should give doubt and not benefit, without sacrificing your own humanity?

    • Jennie

      Rox, how can you now and protect yourself from these vampires? In my experience, it’s learning to trust your gut instinct. You get that niggling feeling, but instead of sweeping it under the rug, you take it into consideration. It doesn’t mean drop the relationship and run. Take it as a caution. Don’t throw yourself into a relationship right away. Take the time to get to know the person slowly, giving yourself and who you are just a little at a time, so that IF you get that “no way-time to back out” feeling, you won’t have invested too much of yourself in the first place.

      You see what you said up there? “You confronted him from the beginning and the excuses seemed plausible” You confronted him because you knew something was wrong. And the excuses were NOT plausible, but SEEMED so. In other words, your gut instinct was right, but this fellow changed your NO into a yes, probably more than once. His words, charm, expressions, whatever, convinced you against your better judgement.

      I would encourage you then that you DO have those instincts, so now you have to learn to trust them. It’s hard. You want to be nice, to be kind, to do right by people, but those are exactly the kind of characteristics these sharks prey upon. They are looking for people like us. And if they can change our no to a yes several times, they KNOW that they have us where they want us.

      Trust yourself first, and them only after a fair amount of time when there has been no niggling feelings at all.

      • Rox

        Thanks, Jennie! I needed that vote of confidence. It’s difficult to see what’s what when a N has spent so much time readjusting what you know to be true. You’re right, I need to trust myself and God. Your reminder is appreciated more than I can say. God bless.

  3. prodigalkatherine

    “If it is denied, how can it be forgiven?”
    This is the best argument I’ve ever heard for “doing the work”- as in – confronting what happened directly and changing course so it can not keep happening. It’s the path to freedom.

    Forgiveness can only come after a full understanding a renunciation of the evil behind cruel behavior that is calculated and not accidental.

    • UnForsaken

      This post spoke to me on several levels. I was raised in a denial atmosphere but also a nihilistic one. Evil was denounced, but focused on, so it seemed more real then the total truth – which always includes some Hope.
      My mother personifies “cheerful” denial, and most of Everyone else I know are at least somewhat that way. Depending on how bad it is, how can I believe in their trustworthiness? But, I’ve been that way too, and it’s an uncomfortable feeling to not be able to remember how I did it. : }
      Thanks again , Pastor Dave, for just making true statements and sharing them with us. Denial is such an ever-present danger in seeking God first.

    • prodigalkatherine

      Dave, I couldn’t get the link to work.

  4. Richard

    An N is your spouse.
    At first denial is used to cope. As time goes on depending on the victim we either search for answers or shrink away. If we look to see what is really going on we will find what we are looking for…If the student is ready the teacher will come! It all takes time for the truth to be clear. Involves looking at ourselves as well.
    The real answers don’t come easy. Handling the abuse is more complicated than anyone can anticipate. There is no setting boundary’s or setting limits or communicating effectively. After a while its back to denial and waiting for something to happen. Years go by. More learning and finally because of self preservation you must sneak away to recover your dignity and identity.
    With time and faith, healing takes place and we like who looks back at us in the mirror.

    • Susan

      Omg you just described my life.

      • Jennie

        Mine too 🙂 And you know what I’ve found? We won’t see the truth until we are ready to accept it, and sometimes it takes a lot of working behind the scenes on God’s part before we are actually ready to see truth, accept truth, take hold of truth and live in truth. And THEN He will give us the courage and resources to do just those things.

      • UnForsaken

        Jennie, So true!

  5. Patty

    Any advice on dealing with 2 daughter in laws who are sisters. They are mean vindictive and have emotionally abused my daughter and myself. They will not allow our dons contact. We had concerns before they married but thought it was immaturity. After reading your website we see it us deeper and serious. They have cut themselves off from all 6 siblings. We have tried to talk to ask forgiveness and let them know we love them. They continue to be cruel. At Christmas there was incident where their mom and one if them sent hurtful text 17 year old daughter. We asked them to not send texts and put boundary there. Since then our boys will not text or call. It is devastating and we miss them.

    • Jennie

      It sounds like you’ve done what you could. In the case of a narcissist, it’s been my experience that whatever you do, you have to do for yourselves. You cannot do things in hopes of changing the N. You’ve put up boundaries where needed with the inlaws, You’ve told your sons you love them. I have no idea why you asked forgiveness unless you’ve specifically done something wrong to them. Don’t ask forgiveness if they are the ones being cruel. Do not feel shame on their behalf, because it will only hurt you and not make them any better people. In fact for many N’s, asking forgiveness when there is no need sends them on a power trip.

      As for your sons, they’ve made their choices and you cannot change those. You said, “They will not allow our sons contact”, but that is not true exactly. Whether by hook or crook, fear or threat, subjection or dejection, your sons have chosen not to contact you. They could just as well go against their wives’ wishes and contact you anyway, but they’ve chosen not to for whatever the reason; because they agree, or they disagree and are too afraid to say anything for fear of rocking the boat. It is still and always will be their choice.

      I would encourage you to always be truthful with your sons, not because you want results, or because you want them to change, but because all people deserve the dignity of the truth. And without truth, there can never be any hope of change. Tell them you love them, you miss them, you have problems with how their wives are treating all of you. Tell the truth in love and for their benefit, and not out of spite, or anger, or malice towards their wives. Remember that Jesus called Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. THAT is just how important truth is. It’s one of His names.

      A wise counselor once told me that when staying the same becomes harder to bear than changing, then you will change. If they are “being held hostage” by their wives out of fear or confusion, then this will apply to them too. When the fear of staying in the situation becomes worse than the fear of leaving the situation, they may leave; and if you’ve tried to maintain that relationship with them, even at a distance, you will be there for them. (((hugs)))

      • Patty

        Thank you for those words. I know them on my head just need to get in my heart. I keep rereading this post and all the posts to remind myself that we are not the problem. We are wiling will embrace these sons and their wives but could no longer allow the girls to tell us how to parent how to do our lives even to the point of who we could be friends with. You are right the boys have made a choice. I feel like God has said hide ,wait ,leave the door open. The prodigal father never coaxed the son to come home. But is very hard. Just the other night our 17 year old daughter saw the boys and their wives and was rebuffed ignored and treated rudely. She said mom I really miss my brothers.
        Praying we can keep our focus on God. I read in another post about this. Praying Truth the boys were exposed to growing up will be there. Praying those girls will be freed from a family bondage and dysfunction. The girls parents have now cut their relationship off with our family. Again thankful for this site and knowing we are not alone. Deciding to invest in out 4 kids at home, grandson and 2 other boys and wives. Taking one day at a time. This has distracted us too much.

      • Jennie


  6. Whisper

    Yes, I’ve use denial to cope with my N husband. It’s a way of avoiding the truth about the horrible emotional abuse in this relationship. For example: I will attempt to have a regular conversation with my husband about family, current events or even cooking. When I dare to give an opinion, he contradicts me and goes on the attack verbally. I do my best to stay calm & to not get caught in the battle. I question myself–“Did I say something wrong?”–“Was my tone of voice a little sharp?”–“Is he suffering from another Shingles attack?”. I will withdraw again and wonder what I did wrong.

    Even though I’m living with N abuse, I find my strength in the Lord and am so grateful that He lead me to this site. It’s a source of strength & encouragement.

    I am learning to bounce back when attacked and blaming myself less. Understanding how & why the N behaves the way he does has been insightful & empowering. I can often predict his behavior & not let it tear me down. Praise God for that.

    • UnForsaken

      Thanks Whisper! I couldn’t help chucking a little at your hope and “excuses” for your N. They sound Just like mine! Only for me, I wonder if he’s finally getting diabetes. Not yet, and oddly his moods tend to be after a balanced meal. Just love hearing you having the same reaction ….because we both know it’s our caring hearts, wanting something normal! Thank you for your humor, and the truth you shared. Hugs!

  7. Onward

    After grappling with the signs, one of the first heartbreaking realizations that I accepted was that I would never have an honest, intimate emotional relationship in my marriage. This was a hard truth but its acceptance opened my eyes to other painful realties of being married to an N. The truth might hurt but if you allow it, it will set you free.

  8. HDG

    Pastor Dave this post is so ‘right on the money’ when it comes to denial and self blame. The longer a person tolerates this behavior the more you blame yourself and the harder it is to believe you deserve or will ever have anything better. Your value is soooo diminished by the N-but here is the truth -you are valued and loved by God nothing else matters.

  9. prodigalkatherine

    We are fooled partly because we are praised for the very behaviors that contribute to denial. Our N is increasingly critical about every little thing- so when we are praised for our “loyalty” it feels like finding an oasis in the desert. Mine would praise my “constancy”- as he had mood swings that led him to abuse me, he’d say with a hangdog expression- “I am a complicated man, Katie. So difficult to love. But somehow you love me.”

    Comments like that made me feel validated- like he felt bad about the cruelty of the night before- yet it never seemed to stop the next “acting out” of old emotional pain on the current closest target- me.

    We respond to abuse with the fruits of the spirit. We’ve been conditioned to- having heard that a wife should influence her husband with a quiet and gentle spirit. The result is that they don’t fully grasp the severity of the abuse because it seems like we’re “fine”. I overheard my ex husband telling a friend- “Having a Christian wife is awesome because they don’t stay mad at you. They just go read their bibles or whatever and its all good.” Talk about feeling like a fool.

    But the hard thing here is- we are the ones who regulate the emotional temperature of the home. Fighting fire with fire is simply not an option. I’d love some feedback from Pastor Dave to explain just how a Christian woman who is married to a narcissist should respond. The bible says we should forgive seventy times seven. But what if our husbands are abusing that goodwill? What if we are played for fools until there is nothing left?

    • Hi Katie!

      I really appreciate your question here. It is a question straight from the heart. You have probably gathered that I resist answering things like this, but you may not know why. The truth is that every person’s situation is so different because every person is different. Some are able to handle the continual back and forth with the N and stay strong. They may not be happy, at least not in the way I would think of happy, but they do it. Others have to get out. It may not be physical abuse, but it is certainly emotional and psychological abuse. They die a little with every exchange and have to leave to survive. But if I say that a wife should leave such abuse, I am pulling the rug out from under those who want to and can stay. And, of course, if I say they should stay I could be pushing someone into stress they cannot handle.

      However, I do believe that a part of the battle for the Christian wife is to acknowledge the truth about the relationship. Even if no one else understands, you have a name to put to this enemy and there is great value in learning about it. In the past I have written about how Ns are predictable, if you know what to look for. He will always try to come out on top in an argument, for example. He will resist any situation where he will feel vulnerable or inferior. Understanding these things can help in dealing with difficult situations (holidays, for example).

      You ask, “What if our husbands are abusing that goodwill?” Well, they are and they will continue. And, yes, you will be played for fools as long as it works for the N. There are a couple of options even in this. First, you can separate the abuse from your identity. This is important to do whether you stay or leave. Just because he treats you like dirt does not mean you are dirt. You can know in your heart that you are a valuable and good person, no matter what he says. Yes, it’s hard if his attacks come often, but you can run to the Lord for reaffirmation even more often. Do not accept the lie!

      Second, you can make it clear to the N that you are not accepting the lie. The arsenal of the N is actually pretty small. They have only a few tools to use against us and when we understand them and mitigate the damage those tools can do, they have little left. In other words, since you see the same tactics over and over, find ways to deal with them. I am not saying hand it right back in an argument (unless that works for you) but maybe walking away or just ignoring the comment or something else.

      I think it is important to reestablish who you are in the relationship. Find the way back to yourself and stay there. Being a Christian wife who will stay positive and find the way past all the crap is a good thing about you. Your husband’s comment hurt, but it is a positive comment on you. To be able to move past the anger (which only eats at you, not him) and find your strength in your relationship with the Lord is something he may take advantage of, but never understand. You have so much more than he does. And your children will be influenced by your strength and faith. They will.

      Those who stay in N relationships must understand that this will be a long-term struggle. It may not end, but it can be managed. Ultimately, your relationship with the Lord is the primary source of love and affirmation for you. All other relationships are secondary and dependent on that one.

      Again, this is an important question and I am happy to struggle with it with you. Please ask more and I will try to respond as I can.

      • prodigalkatherine

        Thank you for not offering a stock answer. I really appreciate your willingness to evaluate each situation on its own merits.

        I’ll be honest. I’m a lot less conservative than I used to be. I am more cynical (sometimes) than I want to be. That being said, the faith that remains has been forged and purified through the trials of experience.

        No part of me considers myself an “innocent” victim. But I’m a woman who has for the most part claimed the promise of “when you seek me with your whole heart you will find me.” I am the grand daughter (and great grand daughter) of prominent evangelicals who would be furious if I were to ever “out” the family secrets. Without belaboring the point I will simply say that the patriarchs were narcissistic and with each successive generation, the focus shifted from faith to image to a larger degree.

        Like a good eldest daughter I attended Wheaton College where I met the scion of another prominent evangelical family. Because of my guilt surrounding premarital sex, I rushed into an ill advised marriage at 20 to stay “pure”. In many ways, the family I married into was very similar to the one I left. There was a lot of pressure to have sons and to make the family look good. My one ally was actually the family matriarch- the grandmother who recognized the infighting of all the women in the subsequent generations over money/image/turf. I remember tears in her eyes as she said two things to me “dear- I know what they’ve (meaning the family) done to you”- and “nobody but us knows how cruel these men are”. After bearing 4 children I faced that I was married to a man who was far more interested in the social status his family background offered than matters of faith. He also had extramarital dalliances that the family enabled (a mistress stayed at the family compound the summer after I gave birth, as an example). All that seemed to matter was the outside- not the heart.

        After four marriage counselors and feeling my own heart begin to harden after I was repeatedly pressured to enter the open marriage/swinging lifestyle, I asked for a seperation but told none of the secrets. My ex husband appreciated my “don’t tell” policy and we had an amicable divorce even though in the initial stages I was threatened with having the children removed because I was an unfit mother. But the cost of freedom and keeping my kids was an unbelievable smear campaign.

        I wish I could say that that was my last N experience, but I had 3 more relationships with men who “talked the talk” and tried to pressure me into marriage but outside of the very Christian words spoken at church, they all had a dark side that I have referenced in other posts. I don’t say that to play the victim, but to point out- there was something seriously wrong with my radar because I kept getting exploited by character disordered men. Now I am single and not sure I will remarry- not out of bitterness, but because I recognize that my first calling is to raise my kids in a godly home, not to find the perfect man.

        The vibe I get from other contributors here is that none of us left narcissistic relationships frivolously. There were years spent on our knees, trying to cultivate that gentle and quiet spirit. Instead of a husband’s heart change- we were rewarded by physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse.

        God has been instrumental in healing my heart and helping me find the strength to lead a family (a role I never wanted). But it has been such a hard road. Still- God has been faithful to me and both me and my four children are ok today. But it took being separated from the male N for the strength to grow. I do still believe in that dream of the Christian man leading a home- but my experiences have taught me that not everyone gets to follow that script- and if you value that script above all you are participating in an idolatry of sorts.

        I worry for other Christian women who are currently being beaten and getting venereal disease from unfaithful husbands. I am saddened by the churches silence on abuse. praying does not fix this dynamic unless the narcissist opens their heart to God’s healing presence.

        As a leader here- I think you need to talk about about the dangers of staying because the church urges this. Meanwhile women and children are abused. Where is God in this?

      • “I’d love some feedback from Pastor Dave to explain just how a Christian woman who is married to a narcissist should respond.”

        Perhaps I misunderstood what you were asking for. While I do not feel that it is my place to tell someone whether they should stay in an N relationships or leave, I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture on either side. It is not easy to leave these relationships. Some have paid very high prices. I have recently been indirectly involved in some court cases that disturb me. Ns often get everything they want and do incredible damage along the way. However, leaving might still be the right thing to do. Getting away may be the only way to find health again. It may also be the best thing for the children.

        Staying may also be very difficult. The battle doesn’t end until the N says it does. That end, after all kinds of investment, can come suddenly and definitively. You may find that you have tried so hard to keep things going only to have him/her dump you with little comment and much cruelty. However, staying may also be the right thing to do—for you.

        Yes, I believe the church is often compromised on the subject of abuse—at all levels. From the Catholic church to the local church in my hometown, leadership has effectively denied and ignored way too much. Personally, I would not use the opinion of any local or national church, any local or national Christian organization, or even Christian family to make my spiritual or moral decisions. There is just too much compromise.

        There is something about the church organization that attracts Ns and other users. The group that should be the Body of Christ is all too often the tool of Satan. There is a special anger in my heart against church and Christian organization leaders who misuse people and cover up sin. (For those who have not done so, I encourage you to read the series of posts at over the past two weeks. Start with the first one and read all six. Then read some of the comments from those who try to cover it all up. Disgusting!)

        But none of this is against the Lord and His love for us. Just because people misuse His name and His church does not mean He is to blame. He still loves us.

        So the only answer I have is to encourage victims to go to the Lord and believe in His love. He will lead you. The problem, of course, is that so many only hear the voice of family or church. They never have heard the voice of the Lord. If I tell people to follow Him, they think He is saying the same old thing they have always been told by family and church. So, one on one, as people write to me, I try to encourage them to listen for His voice and ignore the rest. That’s hard, as you know.

        For the record, and I wish more would read this, I believe that any woman who is physically abused should leave. So many normal and right boundaries have been broken at that point that staying is just too dangerous. The same is true if the children are being abused. It doesn’t happen often in N relationships, but it shouldn’t happen in any. Also, the psychological abuse of gaslighting, scapegoating, and other N tactics is damaging and cumulative. What I mean is that the effects of these build in your life until you may lose the strength to act or even make rational decisions. If you are unhealthy, even psychologically or emotionally, you must get help. If that means getting out of the relationship, then you might have to do that. If it means standing up to the N and causing him some grief, then you have to do that. Find a good counselor or even a good friend—someone who will believe you.

        I have never met nor communicated with a person who left an N marriage “frivolously” and would never assume that someone had done so. And, yes, there are dangers in staying. Don’t underestimate the cost of staying. It does not get better. I have yet to see a real case where someone was a valid N and changed. It could happen. It probably won’t. Does God answer prayer? Of course, but most of us have noticed that He rarely answers our prayers to change another person. I honestly don’t think He works that way.

        I grieve when I read the stories here and other places. The problem of narcissism is not a joke or a fad in our culture. But I also know that the way of peace and health is in Jesus. He is all I have to offer. Psychology has all but given up on narcissism. Victims are told simply to get out of the relationships, but they so often find themselves back in another one. The value and identity we have in Jesus is the only way I know to be able to stand before the N and refuse the lie.

      • prodigalkatherine

        I appreciate your clarification that if there is physical abuse you should leave. That’s helpful. At a mom’s group at a Baptist church I attended back when I was married to my ex, I was concerned to see one of the women who broke down in tears talking about the abuse told by the group leaders to “pray harder” and “this is part of God’s plan”.

        I don’t want to get into the whole complementarian/egalitarian debate here. I’m not a biblical scholar and I don’t know greek or aramaic or anything beyond the spanish and german I learned many years ago. I’ve been taught that my voice doesn’t matter because I have not been called to lead so my voice simply brings confusion to this debate. I will readily admit- I do not know what God’s will is in terms of women submitting to men. Narcissists aside, no man is perfect. Every marriage is hard. Especially when children enter the picture and a woman is spread so thin trying to meet everyone’s needs and also honor her husband.

        But I know that of my hopeful group of close friends at Wheaton- here are our outcomes after buying the “marry a Christian man and submit” urging that we not so subtly had pounded into us. Of the six of us, 2 are now divorced- there’s me, and a friend whose husband ran the family into debt, ran off with another woman, broke my friends heart as she still tries to love him with Christian love. Another one of us died of breast cancer last year after a heartrending marriage that included being given venereal disease and physical violence. There’s one who remains a mystery because she wasn’t able to come say goodbye to the friend who was dying because her husband wouldn’t let her- but 5 years ago she talked about physical violence and extreme control. There’s one happy story- a marriage that she says is happy (and I believe her, based on her countenance) – but it comes after a physically violent relationship at Wheaton College where she was forcibly raped and beaten and had bite marks on her shoulders. (She had the courage to confront her abuser and Wheaton disciplined him by asking him to take a hiatus until she graduated- but the authorities were never involved).

        When I look at pictures of us- we were young women who had the world by the tail. Yet all of us have always defined ourselves in relation to a man. Our destinies seem tied too closely to whether that man walked with God or turned away.

        I think of the reformation, when Martin Luther and John Calvin (and so many others) sought to change the idea that men had to go through a priest to have a relationship with God. The protestant mainstream rejects this idea completely and talks about a personal relationship with Christ. Yet- this really only seems to apply to men. In subservience (submit to your husband as to the Lord) that comes with the hierarchical approach to gender relations within the church, the husband is effectively set up in the role of priest who has absolute authority over the parishioner (wife).

        This strikes me as a departure from the dynamic Jesus had with women- with Mary and Martha who he encouraged to set aside chores and just listen. Jesus saw women as full human being who have souls just as valuable as men. But I don’t believe that you pick and choose what to believe based on preference. Other New Testament texts (Ephesians in particular) outline God’s plan for marriage. So I don’t want to throw the baby out wit the bathwater here.

        Dave- you are a pastor. You have no doubt wrestled with this. Can you help me and others understand how to understand (beyond physical abuse) where the line between individual responsibility/relationship and marital duty lies? I have temporarily solved this by having an extended “friendship” with a man who I keep very much at arms length because I am scared to enter into a marital relationship ever again after repeated abuse. Yet- I am so lonely and while I am so fortunate to get to raise my kids, it is hard to sleep alone, with no one to share burdens with.

        My question is broad, but perhaps it is the jumping off point for a post so a long answer is ok- How is a Christian woman who very much wants to have Jesus as the Lord of her life supposed to cope with the aftermath of the N relationship? Should we stay single until death (my post marital experiences have made me wonder this) or does God want to see us in a mutually fulfilling love relationship? What is God’s best here? It is so lonely to walk alone- but the prospect of facing another N relationship is not ok either. What is next for survivors who want to keep Christ as the head of our households?

      • Katie and all,

        Several years ago I wrote an article in a private context on submission which I never published. Some of you might appreciate it. Please don’t repost it without checking with me, but I think you will be able to make comments on the page. Please let me know if you have trouble viewing it.


  10. HDG

    Prodigalkatherine another timely post, unfortunately what you speak of is all too familiar. Praise for loyalty,love,forgiveness,all very positive qualities.”I’m fine-it’s ok.” We had good times mostly in public. Then came mood swings,secretiveness ,cruel behavior,asking forgiveness.”I am so blessed to have you in my life” “thinking about the way I treated you made me physically sick.” All these WORDS followed by more&more frequent episodes always behind “closed doors”in MY home.I avoided spending time at HIS,this alone should have been a red flag.For so long I was in denial! Actions truly do speak louder than words.I too would like some advice how to

    • HDG

      OOPS! accidently hit wrong key. I would like advice on how to react.Even though I have asked for no contact I still have empathy and Christian love for him.

  11. Jennie

    Dave and Prodigal….so many things you’ve said resound in me. YES! God answered my prayer for my husband by changing ME! Who knew it would work that way 😉

    Also for readers who do not post, I’ll tell you a bit about why I left my husband in case you need to hear these things. I realized that he was an N about a year before I truly understood what that meant. It was a Focus on the Family website, that posted an online quiz about emotional/psychological abuse. I took that quiz in my quest to understand my husband’s behavior and came out overwhelmingly positive for such abuse.

    At that moment, I realized that the marriage was hopeless, and that he never loved me and never could. It shocked and rocked me to the core. But more importantly, I was suddenly terrified about him finding out that I knew this. So terrified in fact that within a week, I and our four children had fled to a women’s shelter in my area. I had never before that even contemplated leaving him, rather I had determined to be “a good wife” in spite of it all. The thought of me inadvertently mentioning to him what I knew and understood him to be, absolutely frightened me to death. I was horrified at what his reaction might be to that, he guarded his image to that extent.

    Anyway, my point being, that if you feel fear, that palpable awful fear that narrows the focus and shortens your breaths, leave now. Whether he’s ever hit you or not (mind did only once with no apologies). Iif you get the sense that he may turn violent, LEAVE. Your God-given gut instincts are trying to tell you something.

    Also, Katherine, you mentioned that “there was something seriously wrong with your radar”. This was explained to me very well by my counselor of 4 years. She said that we are drawn to what is familiar; the root word of familiar being family. What we knew in our family, we will walk towards as normal. One of the reasons I left was that I wanted my children to have a new normal. I didn’t want their BS meters (as my counselor called them) to be broken like mine was in my childhood. When your BS meter is broken, it reads normal instead of abnormal with these Ns. I want my kids to recognize “the lie” as soon as they see it, because forewarned is forarmed. We need to be as wise as a serpent (and know their sneaky, lying ways), but as innocent of them as a dove.

    Great conversations here in this place! Thanks Dave!

  12. HDG

    One way to determine what may be happening in your relationship is to know the legal definition of abuse. Here is a link to help those who need it.

  13. Repol

    So, my meter is really reading something.
    We go in about 2 weeks to meet with the accountant to start the process for filing taxes, both for his business and our family/personal. I received my tax statements today, and that reminded me that I never heard a word about such tax forms being processed for the man who assists on a contract basis for the business. I asked and my husband said he wasn’t sending him a tax form because he paid him cash under the table all year.
    Where did the cash come from? Our personal savings, which he wiped out last year without my knowledge? (Money that was set aside for medical emergencies and to feed & shelter the kids if either of us lost our jobs.)
    What kind of jobs might he be doing to earn cash that he doesn’t report as business revenue? Some suggest he may be gambling or selling illegal substances, which would possibly account for the savings wipeout and his sketchiness about where the money went.
    Is he doing something illegal now with his business? What if he gets audited? Will there be fees? Even legal action? And even though I am not associated to the business, am I complicit too, as his wife?
    My gut is churning. I know he’s not being honest. Is this the final straw, the sign that it’s never going to be secure, life with him? I have absolutely no trust left for him. I believe he is dishonest to his very core.

  14. Penny

    Would love to jump in here, but my head is spinning off its axis. My “primary” N (MIL) has once again [predictably] attacked using money (I sooo understand, Repol, that money/finances is a predictable style for many Ns) and at the same time, my “Christian-college” sister (Yes, I sooo get they, ProdigalKatherine) wrote me an email which stated “If you throw a rock at a fruit tree, you don’t get a rock back, you get fruit. Fruit drops down and feeds & blesses the one who threw the rock. It returns good for evil.” Huh? I wanted to scream: “I AM NOT A TREE (or any other object)!!!” It is not evil to be hungry, but it IS evil to be abusive. She has chosen to stay in a marriage that protects her “pastor’s kid” husband as a community patriarch while she sacrifices her own kids and her own voice to do so. She chooses his controlling, abusive, enmeshed family over her own siblings, and all in the name of Christ. Perhaps the church has so tolerated, ignored and coddled abusers that even when we are objectified, even when we are attacked & abused primarily to control & wound we are taught to respond with “fruit”. Yet Jesus Himself said it would be better to be drowned in the sea that to harm the vulnerable. Jesus Himself told his disciples to flee to the next town if they were not welcomed, and to take the Truth there; they were to keep speaking the message but they were not required to simply absorb the abuse and rejection. They were instructed to speak the truth, not cover up lies. I guess that’s the problem: the N’s entire life is a lie. I for one am so weary of the lie.

    • prodigalkatherine

      Penny- I understand your frustration with your sister, yet I also understand how your sister may feel she must deny her own heart to “obey” the men in authority over her. It is instilled very deeply. I question the wisdom of teaching women that if they become wives they must surrender their voices and sense of personal agency.

      • Penny

        Agreed, and sadly so. We are on the same page. Your comment, “we respond to abuse with fruits of the spirit” jumped off the page at me, b/c I had just received the email from my sister. Her comment was followed by a disturbing theology of being “so sinful” herself that she has “no right” to “criticize anyone” , but must “always forgive, always love, always edify”, etc., etc., etc., yet she did not say in relationship with others (reciprocity). In other words, she is just to absorb the abuse & the onslaught b/c she has no intrinsic value to her husband or family. Where are we told to absorb abuse for the pleasure of an abuser? She described no reciprocity in relationship[s], only subservience to maintain the false image of her husband to the public, much like you described in your first marriage. Oddly, there was also no reference to “being dead to sin and alive in Christ”. Her entire focus was on “her sin” (and her “self”–kinda narcissistic of her?) but she never mentioned atonement or redemption or regeneration or righteousness–that when God looks at those of us “in Christ”, He no longer sees our sin but our salvation: “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8). Obviously, b/c we still live in this world we are still sinful, but the Apostle Paul refers to this in Galatians 2, when he “opposed Peter to his face” b/c Peter got the law of grace confused with works: we are justified by faith, not by works, or else “Christ died needlessly”. Peter obviously understood Paul’s opposition and was better able to proclaim the truth. In reading her entire email, it was obvious to me that she identifies more with her sin rather than with Christ, thus her voice has been shouted down, she is daily accused and condemned, that she isn’t worthy—and I know where it comes from. She is not allowed to speak up or disagree or contribute or have an opinion that is valued—the very opposite of what Christ modeled for us as believers, and specifically for husbands. It is pitiful. We constantly hear “judge not lest you be judged”, yet rarely hear what Peter wrote later: “judgement begins with the house of God” (1Peter 4:17). What I call “accountability”, she calls “judgment”, what I call “natural consequences” she calls “retaliation”, what I call “reciprocity” she calls “criticism”. The church often teaches this, endorses this, expects this and conveniently calls it “submission”. Is submission “giving TO” or “giving IN”? (I.e.: If you “submit” a term paper in college, you are giving it TO someone, not just regurgitating lectures, or “giving in”). I so agree with Dave, that “if it is denied, then how can it be forgiven?”. If Paul can oppose Peter for the sake of truth and light, then why not wives? If Peter writes about it, shouldn’t we/they take notice? The entire purpose of light is to dispel darkness: truth always sheds light, denial results in darkness.

    • Fellow Survivor

      Penny, I don’t know if this post will help but it does touch on the church and its rules. It is a very well written article about Grace.

      • Penny

        thx, brother. i love this sentence:” I am very much concerned about your lack of desire to exalt Christ before the eyes of people who are so hungry for the truth which sets free.” That is straight out of Amos 8;11,12:

        “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
        “when I will send a famine through the land—
        not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
        but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
        12 People will stagger from sea to sea
        and wander from north to east,
        searching for the word of the Lord,
        but they will not find it.”

        I am so grateful for the blessings here on this blog from Pastor Dave, for the Truth that is spoken, for the Bread of life, the Living Water, Light of the world, the Word….for those of us famished & thirsty.

    • Fellow Survivor

      Penny, this is a link the the Anna Valerious blog where Paul is instructing Timothy to ” turn away from the characters” I think you will like it. She does not pull any punches

      • Penny

        Ahh….how I love Anna V, and I especially love this post to the point where I have saved it to read and re-read. This is something we so rarely hear from the church or other believers, and yet Paul is pulling no punches and neither is Anna V:
        ” Malignant narcissists fully justify and excuse all of their evil behaviors. They have turned their unrighteousness into righteousness in their own eyes……constantly and persistently rejecting the moving of the Spirit on your heart will convince the Spirit to leave you alone. He is left with no way to reach you. That equates to being unredeemable. It is the unpardonable sin. When you have twisted your sensibilities to the point where you call light darkness then you will discern the light of God shining on your heart as an evil impulse. You leave even God with no way to reach you at that point. The only sin that can’t be forgiven is the one you won’t confess to.”

        As Pastor Dave said, “if it is denied, how can it be forgiven?”

        Thx, my friend.

  15. Lesley

    Thank you for shedding light on this difficult circumstance in so many of our lives. I had/have a hard time accepting this as a Christian, but my DH certainly seems to be a N, though probably on the “light” end of that spectrum. Anyway, I was just diagnosed with cancer and he makes some inappropriate remarks trivializing a very painful incident in our past (where I was ready to divorce him). I address it the next day (almost 24 hours later) because of other crap he is doing and he tells me he didn’t have “time” to apologize yet. You have helped me find my courage. I told him calmly that his excuse was not true and not fair to me. Not a good reaction from him at first, of course, because it is all about him and his needs and how dare I hurt his feelings by speaking the truth? Same old, same old. But I am fortunate in one sense though, because he does pray and seek God in his life as he is able. So I have peace for now. I feel compassion for these other women and their circumstances and pray for God’s peace on them, as I know they may not be able to speak as I did. Again, thank you for this blog. Peace and grace to you.

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