The Tattoo

It’s Narcissist Friday!     


A while ago I wrote a response to an email and suggested that a relationship with a narcissist is like a tattoo. I have always chuckled at the definition of a tattoo as “a permanent record of temporary insanity.” Some would describe their relationship with the narcissist in the same way.

Sometimes you don’t get to “just walk away.” Sometimes there are children involved. Sometimes a whole extended family revolves around a narcissist. And sometimes you feel so scarred that you just can’t seem to let it go. Like a bad tattoo, the narcissist continues to define you long after you learn the truth and decide to establish some distance.

There are, of course, processes to remove tattoos. They are usually painful and imperfect, but many try to take that route. Others just wear more clothing to try to hide what they now view as a bad decision. But both of these are ways to try to hide the past from others; they do little to change what the sufferer sees in the mirror and remembers.

Today it appears to be more effective to cover a bad tattoo with something new. There are good artists who can take what you have and make it into something beautiful, something that looks different and better even to you. Imagine that heart with his name transformed into a butterfly that just emerged from its cocoon. I understand that the ink from the new art actually blends with and transforms the old. In other words, done correctly, the new art really does overcome and remove the old.

I often get the question: “How can I move on?” The answer is to take the first steps. Begin to live a new life apart from the narcissist and the pain. You are not limited to that life. Even if there are things that tie you back to it, you can begin a transformation in your life that will allow you to become a different person—perhaps the person you used to be or the person you have always wanted to be. You still can make choices.

“But I will always remember.” No, not really. Not with the intensity you feel now, at least. Those memories will fade as new ones take their place. If you go back, you will probably be able to remember the pain. Even then it will be as though it happened to someone else, facts without the same feelings. The facts will still be there, much like the old tattoo, but those facts will no longer be the focus of your heart.

How does this work, in a practical sense? Make your new home yours and have fun decorating your way. Find new friends, new people in whom you can invest your life. Join new groups, get new hobbies, serve others in a new way. Go back to school or just take some classes. Change your hair or your style of clothing. Watch different television shows. Go to different movies. Read new books. Risk new relationships and projects. And everything new that you add to your life will blend with the old to give a new and more beautiful picture.

“But what if I stay or can’t really separate?” You can still begin to build a new life. It will be harder, but you will find health in making your own decisions and separating your need for affirmation from the person who will not give it. Take the definition of your life away from the narcissist. Choose how you will respond to him/her. Choose your own interests and goals. Ignore the criticisms and manipulation as best you can. No one has the right to define you except the Lord Himself.

Yes, the past is still part of you. It will never really go away. But you don’t have to see it and think about it all the time. Eventually, your new life will have memories of its own, more recent and more clear. The old tattoo will still be there, but you won’t see it. When you look in the mirror, you will see the decision you made to become something beautiful, something free.


Filed under Narcissism

28 responses to “The Tattoo

  1. Georgette

    Thank you Dave! I needed to see this! I needed to know that I can get past this.

  2. A second thank you as I sit pondering in the silence of the night without any intrusions from the narcissist or his triangle that are doing all that they can to keep me entrapped. The pain in my heart can only be felt by God and through Jesus my only escape from the relentless pursuit from the narcissist and his tribe (my own family much to the pain of the betrayals that they refuse to see through him when it is staring them in the face they are like robots finely tuned to mett out the same abuses like a pack of hyena’s).

    Escape I must yet whom are those that I escape? y own family that the narcissist is leading like the pied piper, they follow his cues and it is making me physically sick, actually feel like vomiting and ask them to stop and they don’t seem to understand how much pain they inflict with their petty gang bullying and that my body is failing under their verbal abuse and games.

    Your post has helped to remind me that there will be a way through as I cling to Jesus to walk me out of this mess.

    • Sunflower

      Have you heard of ‘flying monkeys’? I just read that this week and looked it up. Very fitting, especially in your case. I find it gives it a little bit of humour, too, when I think of these people as flying monkeys.

  3. Cookie

    Thank you for this encouraging post! I really needed this today. We may not always be able to leave a relationship with a narcissist, but we don’t have to let them define us! Get on with life and be who God made you to be! Such a good reminder!

  4. Tammy

    Pastor Dave – Beautiful word picture!

  5. Sylvie

    Thank you, thank you! I just subscribed this week, and got this in email today. What a breath of fresh air and hope! This is exactly what I needed to be assured of! Thank you again, and God bless you!

  6. contendingearnestly

    Thank you, I love this, it brings much hope and encouragement. I have been married 41 yrs and am 2 1/2 yrs into the process of divorcing a narcissist. There have been times in this process that healing and moving on seemed impossible, but, I am finding, just as you suggest, as I create a new life apart from him and figure out who I really am, freedom and healing is possible. I remind myself continually, God is always in control, even in the midst of chaos, and Jesus is the One who is always faithful, always trustworthy.

  7. Pamela Kay Shalom

    This is an Excellent article. I especially LOVED the Very Last sentence !! God Bless you, Pastor Dave !!!

  8. This spoke to me deeply as I continue to deal with my NPD ex at work. You aptly pointed out that I needn’t seek his affirmation to feel whole. In fact, I try to avoid his approval. His script does not define me.

  9. onmyway

    Pastor Dave and others- I can’t thank you enough for this blog and your writing about narcissism…I am “trying to heal right now” after separating from my narcissist husband of 12 years( been a little over a month). Though healing is hard when we still have a lot of contact- we have 2 young children together and I am staying with my parents who live very close. I know this road is long and painful but I sometimes don’t know if I can take anymore…I experience a lot of self -doubt anxiety now and I find myself questioning God often…I have felt so much guilt and shame in this relationship- and when I try to find comfort in the gospel sometimes I feel worse because I keep hearing that ” I deserved to die” I know that is NOT the full gospel at all…but I can’t help but feel (in my dark moments) that that means I deserve abuse…I know this is awfully twisted thinking but this is what my mind in tormented by at times…I want to just REST IN HIM..but sometimes Christian talk like ” I am totally depraved and I need to constantly die to myself” makes me feel more guilt and shame! Can you help?!

    • Postbellum

      Dear onmyway, “take heart, for I have overcome the world”, Your saviors own words for you. I understand the fear and despair. I left one year ago with four children in tow. It seems you need to separate things in your head. Yes we are depraved, no good thing in us. However, you are also redeemed, his own, with no righteousness of your own. But you have His righteousness imparted to you through the work of Christ, and “His divine power has given us everything we need for a Godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness”. 2 Peter 1:3. Your new identity lies in the one who redeemed you NOT what the narcissist thinks of you. How ever he made you feel about you, how ever you feel about yourself, is not as important as your value in Christ. Now , align your thinking with what God says about you. Every time a thought pops into your mind that is self-defeating, do not entertain it for a second. Replace it with scripture. Begin to see those thoughts as an affront to you and your children. The overarching message in Gods word is that you are loved deeply and accepted, neither of which the narcissist is able to understand, much less give. Don’t waste your precious energy on someone like that. Your children need you to value yourself so they will value themselves as well. God tells us “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with distress, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christs sake; for when I am weak,
      then I am strong. ” 2 Corinthians 12:9. Don’t confuse a matter that has already been settled on the cross, with the doubt, confusion that comes from your narcissistic husband, and the Enemy. Our God is not a god of shame.
      Please know that right now, everything is so fresh. It is a long road, but it does get better. I felt physically ill for months after I left, lost a lot of weight, struggled with all kind s of stuff. I have no support, no family, few friends because of isolation from my former husband of 22 years. My church didn’t believe me when I finally broke my silence and asked me to leave the church, he had already ingratiated himself to them , all while disparaging me and my character. I have lost so much, but I have gained even more- things of eternal value. So many lessons from my Heavenly Father, teaching me dependency upon him. You will not only survive this onmyway, but the Lord will grow you do very much! Take your thoughts captive and know you are not alone. Hugs

      • Onmyway

        Thank you. This is all so encouraging and helpful!!

        I am one who was already prone to guilt and self-blame. Then I married my narc husband who guilted and shamed me .. it became a terrible cycle…there are times when Jesus is so present and palpable.. and other times I wonder if he is cruel… but only because I feel so much shame..even now I wonder if I am a failure if I don’t return to my husband..

        Thank you so much..

    • Mary27

      Onmyway, I’d like to recommend that you meditate on these verses from Romans 8. I hope they encourage you as they have encouraged me.

      What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom.8:31-39

    • onmyway, I would encourage you to read some of the posts here that don’t have much to do with narcissism. Discover who you really are in Christ. There are series here, like Grace 101 and Words of Grace that you will find helpful. Here are just a few that focus on personal righteousness. Also, feel free to write to me through the email on the contact page. It takes me a while to answer, but I will do my best. Here are some suggested posts:

      • Onmyway

        Thank you so much. I already read some posts and am comforted. But why is that Christian’s can make you feel so much shame???

    • Dear onmyway,
      First, congratulations to you for having the courage and bravery to leave an abusive narcissist. You have realized that a “marriage” to a narcissist is not a marriage at all – it is merely an “arrangement” whereby the narcissist targeted you as his next victim to selfishly meet his needs. Narcissists are predators, and it is no surprise that he targeted someone who is “prone to guilt and self-blame.” I am sure you are also extremely kind, giving, and forgiving. These are the wonderful characteristics of the women that Narcissists target, and then use these characteristics against them.

      A Christian marriage is a relationship in which the husband loves his wife with the sacrificial love that Christ has for each of us – protecting her, cherishing her, encouraging her, and loving her so that she blossoms and flourishes in glorious splendor because of his love for her. Loving her so much that he would even die for his wife. (Ephesians 5) And as we are talking of love, let us get a clear definition of what that looks like: it is patient, kind, not envious or jealous, not boastful or vainglorious, and not arrogant or haughty. It doesn’t demand its own way, is always just and righteous and truthful. It believes the best about the person and acts in the other’s best interests. (1 Corinthians 13).

      If you were married to a Narcissist, none of these things is true. They don’t “love” anyone, rather they use others as objects as a means to their own selfish goals. And they certainly are not capable of a marriage. So, please do not feel guilty about leaving someone who never has and never will love another person. They are incapable of love, empathy or having a conscience. However, they will use the word “love” and “I’m sorry” and “I’ve changed” to get you back into an emotionally abusive (if not physically abusive) relationship. Don’t buy it.

      You are not a failure to refuse to return to your husband. In fact, given how Narcissists go from bad to worse (confirmed in Romans 1), his abuse will escalate over time, and it will be exceedingly difficult to achieve everything that God has planned for you if you do return to him. Dying a slow, agonizing spiritual and emotional death at the hands of someone who cannot love is not exactly the definition of success. Having said that, the average woman returns to her husband seven times before leaving for good. We so want to believe their promises to be better, and it takes time to get to the point that we realize a Narcissist is either unwilling or unable to change.

      Second, please know in your heart of hearts that Jesus loves you so much that he came here to earth and died a horrible death on a cross to take away your sins so you can have an amazing, close, Spirit-filled relationship with God. Yes, we are all sinners, but you have repented and follow Jesus as Lord, so he doesn’t even see your sin. He just sees you as he created you to be. Please don’t confuse the eternal judgment that God has for people who refuse him in the day of judgment with the abuse you received from another human being. You did not deserve it and no one has the right to abuse you and be unloving – much less a husband who promised to love, honor and cherish you above all others. We are called to love. God is the one who judges. And I might add, He will come down hard on evil people who intentionally and continually sin by abusing others. (1 John 3)

      Finally, true Christians don’t make you feel shame and guilt. True Christians who have the Spirit of God in them see you through God’s eyes – a wonderful creation with amazing gifts and talents. If people are guilting and shaming you, these are not safe people. Dump them as friends (they weren’t friends in the first place), ignore what they say, and seek affirming, loving, safe people (who may or may not be Christians). I highly recommend seeking your local domestic abuse shelter. Every case of domestic abuse has emotional and verbal abuse, and some cases also include physical and other forms of abuse. The shelter has people specially trained in all forms of abuse. They will understand and help the healing process in ways your church and “Christian” friends don’t.

      You will feel that the process of leaving the bondage of a Narcissist is like the Israelites leaving the bondage of Egypt. Don’t look back like they did. Satan’s biggest weapon is fear. Don’t let him win. Look forward like Moses, Joshua and Caleb. Rely on God’s promises and know that he goes before your to fight for your promised land of rest.

      • onmyway

        Charlene- just what I needed, a compassionate, grace filled response. Thank you! I do think some of the Christians are well meaning…it’s just I can’t help but feel if you haven’t been in a relationship with a narcissist…it is hard to understand..
        Then it doesn’t help that I am mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted about 80% of the time…just trying to make it through each day..

      • Dear Onmyway, You have discovered yet another truth about being in a relationship with a Narcissist: if a person hasn’t been in a relationship with a Narcissist (or their first cousins the Sociopath and the Psychopath), they simply cannot understand. They are used to dealing with normal, healthy people – and a Narcissist is not normal. What works for dealing with normal people does not work when dealing with a Narcissist. (So you can throw out all those marriage books that you have on the shelf. The advice they give won’t work with a Narcissist, Sociopath or Psychopath.) When you come across people that don’t understand, or ask questions like “If it was so bad, why didn’t you leave earlier?” or “Why didn’t you just tell him to stop that?” or “It couldn’t have been that bad, maybe you misunderstood. He seems so nice. We all sin. Why don’t you forgive him?” – you know these people are unable to offer compassion, validation, or worthwhile advice. If they are well-meaning but ignorant, you may wish to put your relationship on hold until you get through this (and you will!) If they are mean-spirited or simply don’t care, it is a great opportunity to “cull the herd” of friends and keep only the positive and encouraging ones. You have pointed out yet another reason to get in touch with a local domestic abuse shelter – they understand when others don’t. We really cannot expect our friends (who, for the most part, don’t understand narcissism or abuse) to serve as counselors and therapists until we can function properly again (which can be years) – it is just to big a burden on them.
        Be gentle on yourself. You are under Satan’s attack. Of course you will feel exhausted! Put on God’s armor (Ephesians 6), which has never been more important than now. This is also a good time to “cull the herd” of unnecessary commitments (the PTA, volunteering at church, room mother at school, etc.) and just soak in God’s loving presence. You will find that singing out loud to praise and worship songs and hymns will lift your spirits and help you focus on God and his promises rather than Satan’s attacks. Why? Because Satan hates to hear it when we praise God. He is allergic to praise and worship! He will flee, and you will be able to feel God’s presence. Making it through each day is a major accomplishment at this stage. You are in a spiritual battle. Ask any veteran who has been in combat, and they will tell you that making it through a day was huge. Many veterans of our recent war in the Middle East now celebrate “Alive Day” – the day that they came very close to death, but by God’s grace, lived instead – and it changed their lives forever. Those of us who have escaped Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Psychopaths may want to do the same – to remember the day that, by God’s grace, we escaped and left our old lives for a new life without abuse. My alive day is April 6, 2012 – Good Friday. I left a mansion in affluent Lake Forest, Illinois with only an overnight bag and went into hiding for over two years. God has carried me ever since. And He will carry you too.

  10. guardyourheart

    We have to keep trying something different, we may come across other possible destructive individuals but should be able to recognise them quicker hopefully and do something differently this time. I took some classes and met some new people. Signed up for a masters level one year class but the lead tutor has these destructive traits we talk about here… I disagreed with him a couple of times and he doesn’t seem to recognise that someone might have a different opinion now he seems to pick on me even though I try not react or say anything any more in the class. He tried to humiliate me and put me down in the class. Thinking of making a complaint and asking for refund, not really willing to tolerate it any more. Has anyone had experience with possible narcs in academic environment ? I guess the good thing is that I am learning how to think differently, taking a stand against it, moving on and keep trying…

    • Annette

      Guardyourheart, narcissism is quite prevalent in the academic environment. Consider what narcissists value: image, power, money, maybe sex … It’s good you’re taking a stand against this tutor’s inacceptable behavior.

      • guardyourheart

        Annete – thank you it really means a lot to have some acknowledgement, going to send the complaint ask for a refund and sign up at another place to study. I can see though this now and can do something. Please pray that HE is glorified and turns this for good.

  11. A very timely post for me. Thank you, Lord for using this blog for healing the broken and weary souls. ❤

  12. Ann E Rogers

    Signed divorce papers yesterday; final hearing next week. I will be officially free of my “narc” at last even though I know God is sad (like me) about the death of my marriage. But I know He got me out of that horrible situation. Your article was perfectly timed (isn’t that the way God works?!) With the end of the 33 year marriage comes no more abuse, the moving on, and making new memories…the healing. “Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are good…think on these things.” “Behold I make all things new…” So many great and precious promises in His Word. Thanks for your words also, they are such a blessing!

    • Postbellum

      Hi Ann, I am sorry for your loss. Loss of marriage and the loss of the time spent with the narcissist. It must have taken great courage on your part to deal with that situation. I left last February after 22 years, and we are just now finalizing. Divorce is always something to be grieved, though even more so when there has been abuse and torment. I have realized the Enemy wants to keep me caught up in the sadness/loss/regret/what-if cycle. However, I am really struggling with paralysing fear of the future; mostly I fear that I will have to watch the effects of our situation play out in lives of my 4 children, being financially strapped , and the possibility of being alone. Conversely, I have a tremendous sense of relief without my abuser here constantly blaming, intimidating and confusing me. I was amazed at how much fog I was living in just to cope with my environment. It is wonderful now to have my brain working properly again. Your reference to Philippians and thinking on what is true and lovely is so important, for the assault is primarily on the mind- this we must protect. Praying for strength for you as you heal and move forward.

  13. Kristi Carsten

    Hello, That is absolutely beautiful. Thank you so very very much ! K

  14. Penny

    “My sheep hear My voice”.
    The narc hears primarily their own voice and try to drown out any others.

    Yet, recently this has helped me focus on what’s truly important.
    As long as I can hear the Shepherd’s voice, I can discern truth & reality, and separate from the narc.

    I can hear His voice, turn toward the Cross, and away from the narc.

    Thanks, Dave.

    • Annette

      “The narc hears primarily their own voice and try to drown out any others.” That’s why they are so prone to monologue.

  15. hazelnut

    Pastor Dave, it was a relief to hear “make your new home yours, find new friends, join new groups, serve others in a new ways, build a new life, and find a life apart from the pain.” I am doing exactly those things and moving into a life of enthusiasm and fulfillment. I would also add how important it is to find a competent and compassionate therapist to move through the grief of the loss of a relationship that seemed so hopeful and perfect, and then later, dealing with the betrayal and deception. I now live many miles away from the one who demonstrated these character traits which are labeled narcissistic. Thank you for writing your weekly Friday posts of wisdom, experience, and insight. You words help me, so much, to understand what happened.

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