Do you find yourself walking on eggshells around someone in your life? As a believer, you are called to love others. But how do you love someone who is self-centered and lacks empathy to the point where it starts to impact your confidence and self-worth? As the Director of Counseling at the Abundant Life Counseling Center, I’ve seen men and women battle narcissism in a relationship, feeling abused, and leaving them wounded and hurt, doubting their identity in Christ and the love of God.
According to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), a narcissistic personality disorder can be displayed as self-centeredness, an exaggerated sense of self or self-image, and a lack of empathy toward others due to an underlying fragility in their sense of self.
To the outsider, these traits may appear as confidence and high self-worth, but family members may feel the critical behavior through emotional abuse and abandonment. The DSM-5 characterizes narcissistic personality disorder with at least 5 of the following symptoms:
- A sense of entitlement
- An inflated sense of self-importance
- Arrogant, egotistical, or haughty behavior
- Envious of others or believes others are envious of them
- Lack of empathy
- Preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Requiring excessive admiration
- Taking advantage of others
- Believing that they are “special” and can only be understood by other special or high-status people.
You may notice the individual placing their own accomplishments and priorities above those of their family, friends, and relationships. The self-absorbed personality trait becomes a clinical issue, going beyond normal disagreements in a relationship when it significantly interferes with the person’s relationships, job, or other important domains in their life.
Where Did the Term “Narcissism” Come From?
Narcissism is a Greek term coming from the mythological man named Narcissus. Narcissus fell in love with his own image while staring into a pool of water and later died because he could not stop worshipping the image. Just like Narcissus, individuals with narcissism have a high level of pride, vanity, selfishness, and a lack of empathy.
The lens a narcissist views life is from their own self-perspective, and they find it hard to view from an empathetic lens. When a person views life from this perspective, family members find themselves battling narcissism in a relationship and experiencing a great deal of emotional abuse and neglect.
One of the tactics a narcissistic person uses to feed their self-perception of grandiosity is through a process called gaslighting.
Gaslighting | A Tactic Used by Narcissists
What is gaslighting? Gaslighting is how the narcissist manipulates others to lose their sense of value or self-worth in the relationship. They use mind control and emotional abuse to maneuver through their needs. The person doing the gaslighting wants to have control of the situation and make the gaslightee suffer through their emotions. Narcissistic individuals portray themselves as the victim. They work to make the gaslightee appear to be the abuser and the one who is controlling and prideful, not taking ownership of their part, behavior, or results of the issue.
2 Timothy 3:1-17 says, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
Here are 8 things everyone should know and do when battling narcissism in a relationship.
8 Things to Know and Do If You Are in a Relationship with a Narcissist
- Understand that people may disengage from you.
People you know and love may look the other way and act as though it didn’t or isn’t happening through a process called “moral disengagement,” which is the process of someone convincing themselves that moral or ethical standards don’t apply to a certain situation or circumstance.
- Write in a journal.
When you are experiencing gaslighting, it can be confusing. Writing out your thoughts can give you mental clarity. Writing can also help you develop words and meaning around your distress and vulnerability.
- Don’t bear the burden alone.
Not seeking help in processing your emotions and feelings may cause anxiety. Processing the emotions and feelings can help you maneuver through the distress of the gaslighting events, and there is freedom in revealing your emotions. Burdens are often wrapped tightly around the belief that you lack control over your future. Revealing and processing the distress with a mental health professional can eliminate some of the anxiety you are experiencing. It will also help you to make sense of your emotions to overcome your sense of not being in control.
- Know that working to maintain an “everything is okay” image creates more stress.
We are hard-wired for belonging, and rejection is painful. While the narcissist is tearing down your self-image, building or maintaining your image can become very stressful and cause unwanted anger or hurt.
- Remember, you are not to blame.
Anger at the self is common, but you are not to blame. Due to the nature of gaslighting, it typically becomes a harder situation to maneuver if you depend on financial support, and fear of your survival becomes an issue creating anxiety and depression at times.
- Get a physical exam.
Painful, traumatic events, like gaslighting, can cause significant physical problems. Headaches, sleepless nights, an upset stomach, or other forms of physical distress can manifest themselves through stress.
7. Use the Word of God.
Battling narcissism in a relationship is not easy, and the Word can be your anchor of truth when you doubt who you are as a child of God. Find scriptures that resonate with you. Write them down and meditate on them daily.
8. Seek out a mental health professional.
We at Abundant Life have trained, licensed, and pre-licensed counselors who have helped many people through issues like these. Do not hesitate to reach out to the counseling center for help! Get more information here or call 816-554-0944.
What Does the Bible Say About Narcissism and Emotional Abuse?
Pride before destruction: In Proverbs 16:18, the Bible states that “pride goes before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” The angels that sinned fell into condemnation because of pride. They were unable to accept that the human nature in the person of the Son of God was placed higher than their value.
Haughty spirit before the fall: A man that carries himself above others is not one to accept the glory of God but rather looks to make himself equal to God or do ministry for his own recognition. When a man looks to his own wealth and stature, he tends to be prideful, and his vanity places him on the road to ruin. His life and family are affected by his fall. Nebuchadnezzar expressed himself in the haughtiness of spirit, and his kingdom departed from him (Daniel 4:30-31).
Swift to hear, slow to speak: James 1:19-20 states, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” All evil comes from Satan and all good comes from God. We are to rely on the Holy Spirit to keep us balanced. Scripture tells us we should listen more than we talk and understand how our behaviors and words can affect others in our relationships.
The narcissist uses anger and sadness as a tool to manipulate and control others. A quote from an emotional abuse survivor stated, “I knew that God loved me, but I couldn’t figure out why those I sought help from didn’t treat me as He did. They told me God had called me, as a wife, to suffer, and it was my job to suffer well. It was confusing because the character of God isn’t that of a cruel, heartless punisher.”
How to Battle Narcissism in a Relationship as a Believer with the Word of God
When a spouse is a narcissist, emotional abuse can be subtle and invisible to other family members. God built us for connection with one another, and the connection is paramount to building God’s kingdom. When spouses or family members are controlling, demeaning, punishing, humiliating, and work to isolate the individual, punishment can devalue and harm your physical well-being.
Here are 5 prayers from the Word of God that you can use when battling narcissism in a relationship.
- Recognize the abuse.
Pray: Lord, help me to recognize the difference between loving submission and slavery. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Love is many things: patient, kind, humble, selfless, and protective. Use 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 as a guide on what love is meant to be in a relationship.
- Run from the abuse.
Pray: Father, I am afraid to leave, but I know this situation is not God-honoring. Give me the courage to leave an unsafe relationship in Jesus' name, amen.
Many clients with physical abuse say the abuse is more emotional. God does not want you to submit to emotional or physical abuse as though it is an act of obedience to Him.
- Remember your identity in Christ.
Pray: When this abusive person wants to convince me I am worthless, Lord, help me to remember who I am as a child of God. When society says I am a bad spouse for abandoning the relationship, allow me to remember who I am in Christ and that I am not being selfish. In Jesus' name, amen.
If the offending spouse is not honoring God’s will for their marriage, Satan is whispering lies in your ear that your role is to be a sacrificial spouse. Remember your worth. Matthew 10:31 says, “you are of more value than many sparrows.” John 1:12 says that you become a child of God when you receive Christ. You are given a new identity.
- Receive healing.
Pray: Jesus, I am hurting. How do I heal from this grief? How do I learn to trust again, trust myself, to help me overcome all of this anxiety?
God is not the author of confusion but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). God promises you that you will overcome because He has overcome the world.
- Release forgiveness.
Pray: Lord, I am full of anger towards this person. I don’t want to forgive because I am angry and sad about what happened and our lives being torn apart. Lord, he has hurt my children and me, and I know I need to forgive, but I am finding it very hard. In Jesus' name, amen.
Remember that forgiveness is for your sake and benefit. Release the stress and load that you may be shouldering at this time. Jesus makes His stance clear: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Doug Geiger MA, LPC, NCC
Doug Geiger is the Director of Counseling at the Abundant Life Counseling Center. Doug has his Master of Arts in Counseling from MidAmerica Nazarene University and is pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Doug teaches in the Masters level Biblical Counseling department of Calvary University in Kansas City.