Last week, I introduced the topic of Living with a Christian Narcissist. You might wonder, “is it even possible to be a Christian Narcissist?” If a core component of the Christian faith is humility, then how could a Narcissist truly be a Christian? That’s a good question that I have wondered about too. Rather than explain theological issues, my goal has always been to address the heartache that is caused by the sickness called Narcissism in the Christian home.
Two Caveats: 1) I’m glad that I’m not the boss of anyone’s salvation, so I don’t have to weigh in on whether someone is a Christian or not. 2) I’m using male examples of narcissists for simplicity’s sake, but narcissism that hides behind Christianity affects both males and females.
With that said, the point of today’s post is to help readers identify how it feels to live with a person who has the outward appearance of Christianity but lives differently behind closed doors. The family who holds this kind of incongruence often experiences a great deal of stress and anxiety. They might not be able to really put their finger on it, but intuitively, they know something is not right.
If you were to ask the people closest to the Christian Narcissist, you would hear them say things like,
- “Everyone thinks he’s such a good man, but living with him is really hard,”
- “People wouldn’t believe me if I told them the things he says to me.”
- “I feel like I’m being bullied, but no one ever sees that side of him.”
- “I’m constantly tip towing around his mood, worrying if something is going to upset him.”
- “I feel like he controls everything I do and say, and one wrong step will send him over the edge.”
- “He knows the bible better than I do, so I don’t really want to question or challenge him.”
- “For being a Christian, I don’t know why he thinks it’s ok to act the way he does. Maybe he is under a lot of stress, or he just doesn’t see how his actions hurt me.”
For the Wife: The wife sees what no one else sees. She holds her partners’ cognitive and behavioral dissonance inside herself. The conflict between what she believes him to be (a good Christian man) and what she experiences at home (a controlling and psychological manipulator.) She feels trapped in the middle of saving her marriage for her children’s sake and losing herself- a no win situation.
For the Children: The children intuitively know that dad’s actions and words at home are incongruent with his life in front of other people. They push against his control, they cower under his rage, and they grind against the command to “obey your parents.” They wonder about that other verse that says, “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children,” and if their dad knows what that means. Some shy away from conflict with him, and others argue fiercely.
For the Church Pastor: The Pastor of the Christian Narcissist sees what the narcissist wants him to see. The Christian Narcissist serves on the board, gives time and money, and even teaches a class at church. So when the wife brings her husband to the Pastor for marriage help, the narcissist has a ready made strategy to make himself look special, and his wife look like the real problem. The pastor may error on the side “giving grace” to the husband, and giving homework to the wife. Unless the Pastor is experienced with Narcissistic behavior, he may not see through the Narcissist’s charm, embellishments, excuses and manipulation. The wife goes home feeling more hopeless than ever.
For the Inexperienced Counselor: Not every counselor can see through the guise of the skilled and beguiling Narcissist. As a young and hopeful therapist, a couple of narcissistic personalities played me like a fiddle. Seeking training, discovering my own blind spots, and consulting with experts empowered me with invaluable wisdom that has informed my practice. If you are currently seeing a marriage counseling who doesn’t understand the complex dynamic in narcissistic relationships, consider talking it over with him/her or finding someone new.
For the Friend: The friend of the Christian Narcissist has been chosen because, by nature, he’s passive or loyal or both. The friend turns a blind eye to the Christian Narcissist’s character flaws and makes excuses for them because of all the other good things he does. If the Friend asked hard questions or held him accountable for harmful behavior, the Christian Narcissist would have the opportunity to see and possibly even correct his wrong. But, the friend most likely sees his role as “to just stay out of it, be neutral, show him grace,” and the Narcissistic Christian is easily let off the hook.
For the Christian Narcissist: The Narcissistic Man who calls himself a Christian has yet to let Christ fully intersect and transform his life. He has built many mechanisms of control, manipulation and deflection to keep himself from experiencing his deep sense of shame and fear of abandonment. If he were to humbly repent in full surrender to Christ’s transformational love, true change could occur, his shame could be healed and he would no longer need to hide behind his anger, intimidation, and control.
This kind of transformation is unlikely to happen quickly by way of a conversion or baptism experience. However, transformational change can happen through years of therapeutic intervention, Christian accountability and support, and psychotropic medicine to treat anxious rage and compulsions. All too often, the Christian Narcissist instead, mistakenly sees his ego as too sacred a cow to lay down, and pulls away just before God starts to work in his heart.
For the woman living with the Christian Narcissist: you’re not crazy, lazy or dumb. You may feel like you’ve lost your way or lost your voice. You’re not a bad Christian wife. Open up to one or two trusted people about how you’re feeling at home. Ask them to start praying for you to have strength and wisdom for your next steps.