What to do when you can’t do anything


It’s Narcissist Friday!     

I remember one of the motivational speakers telling a story about a woman who really wanted to make changes in her life. She told the speaker that she wanted to learn things and write, but she had no opportunity. She said that all she did, all day, was sit staring at a brick floor while she peeled potatoes and hand-washed clothes. There was nothing she could do to better herself. The speaker asked her what kind of brick it was. She didn’t know, so she went back and looked more carefully. Then she decided to ask around and do some reading at the library to find out what kind of brick it was. Turned out it was some unusual kind of brick with an interesting story. She wrote up the story and submitted it to the local newspaper. She was excited when they printed it, so she told the speaker about it and he asked, “What is under the brick?”

Now, I know that I butchered that popular story, but the point is important. There are times in our lives when we feel trapped. We can’t think of anything we can do to change our circumstances. Whether your narcissist is a spouse, or a parent, or a co-worker, or a friend—sometimes there seems to be no way out. Yes, there are options, but nothing good. You really feel like you can’t do anything.

Narcissism and traps seem to go together. Many people, in fact, most people, feel trapped in their narcissistic relationship. The narcissist often creates the trap and encourages the feeling of being trapped. Control is the key component of any narcissistic relationship. The narcissist must control the victim. Being controlled feels a lot like being trapped.

So what do you do when you can’t do anything?

The obvious Christian response is that we should pray. I believe this and would readily proclaim it. I believe that God hears our prayers and acts according to His love in our lives. Praying gives the heart an opportunity to be heard and comforted, perhaps especially in those times when we feel alone. So pray first!

Then ask yourself if you are really trapped or if you have just been convinced that you are trapped. In other words, what options do you really have? For example, many people feel trapped in an abusive marriage. They can’t get over the psychological or spiritual hurdle of divorce, so they stay in the marriage. But there are other options. There are many things that can be done before making the decision to divorce. Moving out and living in separation is just one. Telling people who can help is a great first step, long before a divorce could happen. There are options. There may be an option that you don’t like, but is the right thing. Or there might be one that seems impossible because you have been told lies about yourself or the option so that you will think it is impossible.

One thing people do when their hands are tied, is to move and stretch the bonds to begin to loosen them. The beginnings of changes that lead to freedom might be very small at first. A few minutes to yourself. A conversation with a friend. A dollar hidden away, then two, and three. Reading a book, or an ebook, or a website. Asking people for ideas anonymously. A little pushing on the boundaries might reveal weak areas in the control, or might set up opportunities for further stretching later.

Never believe the either/or scenario. There are always options. Always. They might take time and planning. They might take real effort. They might take help. They might take small incremental steps.  But there are always options. Even those who are actually in prison can find ways to be free in their hearts and minds. Every time you come up against a wall, push on it or explore its limits. Look under it or try to climb over it.  And always be willing to ask for help.

And if you are absolutely convinced that you are trapped, and you have tried all of these things and more, then relax. I have counseled people for many years and I have often said that if you truly have no options, then you must be right where you are supposed to be. I don’t say that lightly (nor would I ever say it to someone in an abuse situation), but sometimes all you can do is wait. And sometimes people have to endure a little more before they push to find the way out.

What do you do when you can’t do anything? Go to the Lord who loves you and trust Him. Then start pushing. Wait and watch and work for change. Don’t believe the lies.


Filed under Narcissism

19 responses to “What to do when you can’t do anything

  1. Tee3

    Thank you, Pst Dave. Your articles are always a blessing and I always look forward to your Friday blogs.
    God has shown me in many ways that I’m in captivity, so I know it’s His will for me to get out of it.
    As you rightly wrote, I’m praying hard and I’m watching and waiting for the right time to leave this prison.

  2. Rachel

    Beautiful and brilliant post again! How much I look forward to “Narcissist Friday”! Thank you Pastor Dave.

    “And always be willing to ask for help.”
    I think this can be the hardest step, not because we are not willing, or because we don’t want help, but because we have been trained to be self sufficient through necessity. What do you do when you have been isolated from all support and have received no help from the person doing the isolating? You get on with it all yourself, what alternative is there? The burden of work grows and grows until you wonder how you are surviving under this crushing weight of work which is all yours. Then, it seems like an impossibility to reach out to those who have been steered away from you over a long period of time, or those who have watched your situation deteriorate and haven’t known how to help,because you didn’t talk about what was going wrong, because you were too tired and busy doing it all yourself, because that was the only option…..
    Does anyone out there share this experience?
    It takes courage, effort, nerve, humility, patience, to ask for help at this point. I think it is the right thing to do, because God wants us to help each other. But then, some people ignore the request, or pretend your situation isn’t what it is, or are too busy themselves, or don’t care or are too selfish. Then you feel knocked down again. And you don’t want to get up and ask again. But this is not the same as the N manipulating and controlling, it is the product of human weakness, so it’s ok to breathe deeply, try again, maybe with another potential helper, and see what happens.
    I think this has been an important lesson to me over the past months.
    Any thoughts on this, friends?
    Blessings to all this week 😀

    • Annette

      “… because you were too tired and busy doing it all yourself, because that was the only option …” Yes, sounds very familiar. When you are stuck between a rock and a hard place though, you’ll likely have to face the general disdain for weakness in a narcissistic society and a narcissistic church. The worst kind of spiritual abuse that ever happened to me was church leaders (malignant narcissists) telling me that I was “completely demonic” because otherwise I “would not have any problems in my life”. So you need to be cautious about whom to ask for help. Make sure you do not ask narcissists because they never do anything without strings attached. They are also prone to use anything they learn about you against you when the opportunity arises.

      • UnForsaken

        Amen! This is the article I’ve been looking for, and through much waiting, it is the conclusion I had to come to as well. It is a VERY tough place to be.

        Yes, it is Who you ask for help that needs perception, Annette! I am surrounded by what must be fools, because they all remind me of my N and his enablers. I would feel equally foolish to ask them for help. But desperation when takes over we blame ourselves for not being somehow better at seeing who they were, who we were really confiding in, trusting where there was no trust earned. We need to realize that our former “reality” was created by the N and it takes time to retrain ourselves into a new one. Our thinking, forms of communication, even being willing to talk to people we might not have otherwise felt safe around ( instead of the Really unsafe ones we felt were safe before )…these are all effected by a new reality it takes time to grow into. We simply Will make mistakes. But this new reality is a God-made one and there is room for us to be fallible. It’s nothing like trying on our own strength to be perfect for an imperfect N. God Loves us and will strengthen us as we go! ❤

        I'm still looking for that trustworthy person/people that might help, still praying as God says wait. It's been more than ten years, and most people here would blame me even if they new the truth. But He IS answering prayer. For me, it seems God gives what I need at the moment I need it, not when I'm trying to prepare for it. I specifically prayed for three things this year and He has begun to answer two of them in the first month. Yes, He has been listening all the while, but He waited for His "fullness of time"/perfect timing. It takes courage to speak up, it takes courage to keep silent, and that courage is all from Him. In the long run He is the One who answers and helps us.

  3. Annette

    Thank you for this timely post! Because that is exactly what I was praying about today. I have already done what you suggest and will see what comes out of it.

  4. hopefulgal

    I am in a marriage where my husband does not touch or kiss me. He will not discuss our finaces or plans for the future. Last October he told me that he was filing for a divorce in June 2016 after our son graduates. He has been threatening divorce since the summer of 2014.

    I have repented, asked for forgiveness, taken responsibility for my shortcomings, involved myself in significant healing classes and therapy. He walked out of marriage counseling because our goals were different. I wanted to heal our marriage and he wanted to learn how to get along for our kids sake. He has said that our marriage is just a piece of paper. Last week he said no to participating in a marriage intensive THROUGH Focus on The Family. He ignores my pleas for affection and common courtesy, like saying good bye when he leaves for work or telling me where he is going. He doesn’t ask me a thing about my life and daily activities…yet at night when it is dark and hidden he will show affection.

    My husband blames me for the state of our marriage and says that the easy he treats me is a result of my behavior in the last 12 years of our marriage.

    I am dying inside. Alone, rejected, humliated, shamed and blamed. .yet I pray for God to heal my marriage and the Holy Spirit to soften my husbands heart.

    I am scared. The therapist who we were seeing in the fall said that I wont blossom until I am free from him.

    • Savedbygrace

      Dear hopefulgal, I am so sad for your situation and that your husband s being no husband at all to you!.. I feel very angry that he is riding roughshod over all your attempts to reconcile.. and that he would so use you by getting what suits him by being ‘affectionate’ at night is abysmal! it’s great you have reached out here…I wonder, as Pastor Dave’s article says, what options may yet be before you if you take another look..??
      What support networks do you have as an individual? is there a girlfriend or family member you trust you could confide in? Can the therapist just see you and work with you- she seems to have shown some understanding of your plight?
      the one that leaps out at me is – why do you have to dance to his time frame ( ie June 2016)?? he has disrespected you and made his intentions clear and said the marriage is over.. what would happen if you decided it was in your best interests to separate right now and not put up with his abuse a moment longer ( if you are worried about your son, personally I think it would be a powerful statement to him and he may well be relieved for you!)
      you have prayed for healing..a marriage need two whole healthy individuals to come together to function well.. maybe God can start with healing you
      Praying for you as you consider your options..none of this is easy.. there will be pain whatever option you choose.. but some pain is more constructive then others
      Hope Ive not been too forthright in my reply bit I really care that you do not keep suffering.. how lovely it would be for you to begin to blossom.. maybe one of your options could be to start imagining what that might look like..
      God’s blessing to you xx

    • Kay

      I’ll just ditto. We’ve been divorced 32 yrs. I knew nothing of narcissm. 1-1/2 yrs ago The Lord led me to find a Christian woman who would hold my heart as He dealt with ME. I now know my children’s Dad really lives self-hatred and narcissm. So it’s not up to me to do more than pray for my children, their Dad, and to continue with The Lord as my Husband. MY entire life, and my children’s, has opened up to The Light God is shining on our hurting souls and Healing is infiltrating all the darkness we know is inside. We are changing by the day. Whatever their Dad is, God our Father is his Creator and has ALL of the answers for him. We family are making forward decisions for ourselves to glorify God. Their Dad will live and love, or not. He is not our concern except to pray, forgive, love and continue to walk out our appointed time.

  5. Savedbygrace

    You get on with it all yourself, what alternative is there? The burden of work grows and grows until you wonder how you are surviving under this crushing weight of work which is all yours.

    Thanks for putting this so well Rachel.. people who don’t get the subtleties of living with N abuse are quick to judge:
    the marriage counsellor: you just need to establish boundaries
    self help books: label you ‘co dependent’ or ‘people pleasing’
    the concerned family member: but you let him get away with it
    I have struggled with each judgement… trying to ‘fix me’ so that it would ‘fix us’… bit it is only when I reluctantly explored another option- separation, did I get out of the fog of abuse enough to get some clarity on the true dynamic of what was happening…
    Those who judge do not understand that alternatives have been explored , strategies tried out , boundaries put in place but to no avail and so we feel trapped and as you say we get on with it ( especially because as a Christian I was highly motivated to avoid separation/ divorce)… but at great personal cost.
    My wonderful DV counsellor told me right at the outset ” some people will get it, some people won’t” which was so helpful for me not to get too disappointed when people respond so cluelessly ( even tho I may still feel let down, I just think.. oh they’re one of the ones who don’t get it..) and I adjust my expectations of that relationship and seek out others who can truly walk with me through all this.
    Grace and peace to you all…

  6. Tee3

    Hopefulgal wrote ‘…yet at night when it is dark and hidden, he will show affection’ This situation applies to me and I believe to many of us in abusive marriages.
    After being verbally abused and shamed during the day, the N husband suddenly becomes affectionate at night and expects to have sex. I’ve told him that he hurt my feelings earlier and it’s difficult to have sex with him, then he gets offended and sometimes threatens me. The Christian counsellor once said I must yield to him when he asks because I’m his wife. I say we need to resolve and reconcile before sex, which he doesn’t want to do.
    Am I wrong for saying no?

    • UnForsaken

      You are RIGHT! You Must say “no”! Instinctively it feels bad because in this situation sex would simply be More abuse. If there is no mutuality in your decision, there is no relationship…in sex or anything else. If you can ever get away for awhile you will begin to not just feel this is somehow wrong ‘feeling’, you will begin to know there are deep scars that come from sexual abuse. Even if this angers and numbs you, it is the biggest step towards healing.

      I don’t know a lot about these things and yet know your counselor is way off base. Certainly they have never been through this or never dealt with it properly! “Because you are his wife? Um, how do the ‘correct’ morals of it change the ethics of spiritual equality? We all know demands outside of marriage are rape, being pushy, etc. But even if sex is in the scriptural context of marriage, that does not change the core need for scriptural mutuality in marriage! They have denigrated the marriage relationship to only be about the physical and “obedience” and it is much, much more. Tee3, you must have a healthy sense of self to be able to survive this and still keep your self respect intact enough to think these Right Thoughts. Way to go!

      Please go find another counselor! I believe almost anyone who really knows their Bible and Listens to God could be able to help you better than that ( i.e. enabling you out of abuse vs. perpetuating the abuse )! Sending you hugs and prayers. ❤

  7. Rachel

    No, no, no! You are right for saying no!
    This was my situation too, and now I have been out of it for some time, I am finding this is the hardest part of the healing process.
    This particular expression of abuse, the hellish behaviour during the day followed by, hey, let’s just carry on as if everything is ok now that I want to have sex, is so deeply damaging to the soul. It is a searing pain deep in the person that will take much time and prayer to heal.
    Tee3, you are absolutely right to follow your instinct which says that this is so wrong and to decline his offer!
    You are setting boundaries which say, ” I am a valuable and worthwhile human person and I will not be used in this way after I have been so dreadfully misused.”
    There has to be repentance from the perpetrator, forgiveness for the victim and only then can there be reconciliation which will take time. Meanwhile, how can a deeply intimate relationship take place? How can sexual intimacy, which is the fruit of a closeness on every level including emotional trust, happen?
    If I may be very outspoken, this particular pattern of behaviour made me feel like a prostitute; totally subhuman and only used as an object for a purpose, without any respect shown to me as a person at all.
    I am not surprised the Christian counsellor gave this advice though, as I think it is a common mistake that is made.
    After the event though, I still remain intensely panicky when I reflect on this issue and I think it contributes most to my symptoms of PTSD.

    Keep setting the boundaries, don’t be pressed to do things which make you feel used because he is threatening you. Protect yourself!
    Blessings on you and your situation. xx

    • UnForsaken

      I’m afraid you are right. It is common advice and some counselors are actually well-meaning about giving it. But how wrong they are!!!

      The denial that something is wrong when it is, confuses our sense of reality and human value. Even our relationship with God is effected, because as Mark pointed out, our first allegiance in obedience is Always to God.

  8. Rachel

    Sorry, should read “forgiveness from the victim” .

  9. Tee3

    Rachel, thank you for your comment. I needed to hear it because this is a subject that is not often discussed. It has confused me sometimes knowing that the Bible says my body belongs to him.
    And yes, I’ve felt cheap and like a prostitute. Believe me, it’s a very shameful and demeaning feeling.

  10. Mark

    Tee3, I understand this is really hard. The Bible seems to have all these statements about not depriving and marriage rights, but I think the core is where Jesus teaches about marriage. All these regulations are because of the hardness of our hearts. There are still cases, for example, where the husband’s withholding of a “certificate of divorce” is trapping his ex-wife. There are still cases where polygamy and the younger wife leave the older wife deprived. But now, the hardness of our hearts is trapping women on the flip side.

    Instead of divorce being used to trap a women by preventing her from remarrying after her husband deserts her as it was in Jesus’ time, divorce is being used to trap a women in a marriage where her husband is deserting her. I’m familiar with a church that split over this very thing. The husband was addicted to porn and was deserting his wife. The wife wanted a divorce. The church leaders were trapping the wife in a dead marriage by saying that porn wasn’t grounds for divorce, and while the wife was trapped, the husband was “working through his issues” which led the leaders to think that the marriage was going to be saved. But… she did divorce him, and as soon as the church couldn’t be used as a tool to trap his wife, the husband walked away. Many in the church recognized this for what it was, supported the wife, and ended up leaving the church over it. The leaders are still convinced they “did the right thing”.

    I think you can’t understand marriage in the Bible without understanding relationships in the Bible. The Bible says a reasonable amount about dealing with toxic relationships, yet we argue from the specific to the general rather than the general to the specific. As an example, look at obedience. The Bible says, “Children obey your parents”. If we argue the specific, then I can tell my child to cut her arm off and she must obey, but we don’t, we argue the general – we must obey God rather than man. So the word “obey” has to be understood within the context of proper obedience. In the same way, the teaching on marriage has to be understood in the context of relationships.

  11. Yes, the narcissist creates the trap and then encourages the feeling of being trapped. My husband forbid me to work, and then would threaten divorce constantly, asking me what I am going to DO? How am I going to LIVE?

    After reading this post I found some twine and made a simple bracelet with it. Every time I see it I will remember to keep taking those small steps in order to loosen the bonds a little more, until I am free.

  12. I use to read your blog faithfully, but between living what you write and having saturated myself with other blogs & books about narcissism & abuse, I just returned after many months away. This article is very much what I needed. It is so good. Thank you.

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