Posts Tagged: narcissism

Crazy Making Relationships

You know something isn’t right. Maybe it’s the baffling mood swings. Or maybe it’s the way your partner is cruel one day, then sweet and loving the next without explanation. Or maybe it’s the lack of self-awareness your partner has when it comes to how they affect those around them.

Last week, we talked about how sane people living in crazy family systems, end up feeling crazy themselves. Click here if you missed it. If you think you may be in a dysfunctional relationship with a dysfunctional person, reading it will help you feel less out-of-control and more grounded in reality.

What is a Personality Disorder? For our purposes, I’m going to condense a BIG and COMPLICATED topic with diagnostic considerations into a tiny little definition.

A Personality Disorder is a pattern of lifelong maladaptive behaviors.

Want to read that again?

A pattern of lifelong maladaptive behaviors. Basically, ineffective behaviors practiced over and over again for the span of life.

Personality disordered people are sometimes tricky to recognize. They may look, act and talk the same as everyone else you know, but at second glance, have some glaring problems. Maybe its the string of failed jobs, wrecked relationships, run-ins with the law, sporadic and unpredictable behavior, or addictions. These things are red flags to the casual observer, but if you’re in a relationship with a Personality Disordered person, you’ve heard 100 excuses for each one.




My hope is that after reading this, you will be able to feel less guilty, less self-doubt, and less blame for the craziness in your relationship. By recognizing common traits of personality disordered people, you can  get the support you need to make changes in your relationship. Here are common traits among all the Personality Disorders (For the folks who like the deets, here ya go! All Personality Disorders like Narcissistic, Borderline, Obsessive Compulsive, Antisocial, and Histrionic, but except Avoidant or Schizoid Personality Disorders- those are different.)


  • Self-Awareness Deficit: don’t recognize how their dysfunctional behavior may be negatively impacting others.
  • Self-Absorption: Consumed with their own pain or needs, they don’t value the importance of other’s pain or needs.
  • Unwillingness to Admit They May be Wrong: Defending, excusing and justifying themselves are constant mechanisms to keep avoid personal accountability.
  • Entitlement: feel entitled to and vehemently demand preferential treatment.
  • Compete Instead of Cooperate: there always seems to be a win/lose or one up/one down scenario. They use power plays with others to show dominance in intelligence, wealth, beauty, popularity, or power. They are unwilling to collaborate or cooperate.
  • Disinterested in Reality: Creating their own, unchecked and often self-righteous world view, unwilling to see things from other’s perspectives.
  • Emotionally Dysregulated: unpredictable mood swings, outbursts, cold silence or agitated anxiety keeps others walking on egg shells.
  • Lacking in Empathy: this trait goes hand in hand with superiority. Having empathy is the ability to metaphorically walk in another’s shoes and relate to how another is feeling. Empathy is beneath them.

With this line up, you can see how maintaining relationship with a Personality Disordered person can take quite a toll on partners and family members.

Partners and family will often feel exhausted being their constant source, anxious trying to keep the peace, and crazy with the mixed signals.

So what should you do?

The first step is to get some professional help. A counselor or coach who is knowledgeable about personality disorders will be able to help you set boundaries, communicate your needs, and follow through. Read the difference between counseling and coaching here, and sign up for an appointment here.

Next week, we will talk about the specifics steps needed in order to change the dynamics in the relationship. Stay tuned! (But if you need more help FAST, click here for more help on living with personality disordered peeps.)

He is Awful to Me, But I Still Stay: What to do if This is You

Do you recognize that your guy is not being good to you, but you just don’t feel you can leave?  Many women feel this way. They feel trapped between two bad options, 1)leave him and possibly make things worse, or 2) Stay and live in misery. Is this you? Maybe you’ve tried marriage counseling and waited patiently for things to change. Maybe you recognized that you were part of the problem (which is always the case) so you worked on breaking your own co-dependent patterns, but you don’t see him working on his stuff. Maybe he’s made promises he isn’t keeping, or the same old abusive or addictive behavior keeps coming back.


But you decide to stay anyway.


What your friends and family say…

Your friends ask you, Why are you still with him? You don’t deserve the way he treats you!

And you nod and say things like, “I know, I know, but…”

Your mom shakes her head and says, “Sweetie, you shouldn’t put up with this.”

And you nod and say, “I know, I know, but…”

You DO know that he should treat you better, but you DON’T know if you deserve better. Your self esteem has taken a hit over all these years.

So you stay. And stay and stay.

For all the women who are staying, I hear you. Once you get home from coffee with your friend, and hang up the phone with your mom, you start silently answering her questions. They probably go something like this:

Why You Stay

  • The kids. You tell yourself that you can put up with anything to keep an “intact home.” You don’t want your kids to go through a divorce. You know that his punishing silence, his verbal abuse, and his coldness will have a negative affect on them, but you just can’t see how divorce would be any better.
  • I’m not ready. Oh My Laundry, if I knew the secret to readiness, I would sell it on e-Bay. But I don’t’. Every woman must decide when she is ready for something different, something better, something true and pure and holy and good. I know that I have repeated the same old broken cycle over and over again in my own life. All people do this. I will keep on doing this until one day I say to myself, “I’ve had enough. No matter what it costs me, I’m not repeating this again.” Like the prodigal son having a come-to-Jesus-moment, the switch is flipped and I’m ready for change. I’m not sure how many cycles you will have to repeat before your come-to-Jesus-moment, but I know for certain, when you are ready, it will happen.
  • Things will get worse. You say to yourself, “If I start saying no, enough is enough, and stop- he’ll make things worse for me.” You’ve always known this.  That’s why you quieted your voice and needs long ago. Intuitively, you have known that if you started speaking up for yourself, following through on your boundaries, and acting as if you really mattered, he was going to pull an even bigger stunt that would trump your boundaries and fulfill your greatest fear of abandonment.
  • I can’t make it on my own. You say to yourself that you’ve become so dependent on him financially and emotionally, that you just can’t see how you could make it on your own. You think to yourself that independence would be impossible to sustain.
  • I Still See Hope: There are times that the dream of him changing blinds reality. Even though evidence shows otherwise, you want to believe that there is still hope that he will change. That he will really love you the way you need.

 amy's coffee

I am not writing this to talk you out of staying in a destructive relationship. Those kind of lectures just make a person feel guilty and week. GUILTY and WEAK, you are not! Through my work with women in destructive relationships, they must go through many cycles of deciding to stay-leave-stay-try-stay-pray- before they feel spiritually and physically released from their destructive relationship. I’m writing this to give you some coping strategies while you stay.

  • Pray. Everyday. No, don’t pray for your marriage. You’ve done that already. That’s a tired old record with a scratch. Pray everyday to have the mind of Christ. To be aligned with God’s word. To see God’s path and make bold steps to follow it. To be strengthened in hope, in faith, in love. Pray to cast out the worry, fear, self doubt and depression. Pray for spiritual and psychological protection. You ain’t got time for depression and abuse anymore.
  • Get Active. Feeling physically strong goes a long way to help feel emotionally strong too. Any act of kindness or effort toward yourself makes a difference, no matter how big or small. Walk, bike, swim, lift weights, join a class.
  • Read books on Co-dependency, Love addiction, and destructive marriages. Recognizing some of your own patterns and reactivity will help you make better choices in the heat of the moment. You know you can’t change him, but you can become the smartest, strongest, and best version of yourself possible.
  • Pray. Oh yeah, did I mention that already? Well, this time, ask your friends to pray for you too. There are spiritual things, behind the curtain of this material world that will not change unless your peeps pray for you. Call your praying friends to start praying specifically for the things you need. Asking friends for support is essential.
  • Invest in Your Own Thing. While you stay, make sure you are giving priority to your life, career, kids, and/or future. Get that extra education you need, go for that promotion, retrain and retool. Do something that broadens your world and your impact in it. Investing in yourself and your future gives you necessary power to re-infuse that syphoned-off self esteem.

Many women who decide to stay in destructive relationships feel impossibly trapped- like no decision they make is the right one. Well, I want to encourage you, that if you’ve decided to stay, for now, that there are still things you can do to help yourself. Any effort you put into helping yourself, even if it feels small, will go a long way.

Abusive, narcissistic, destructive relationships are terribly difficult to survive, and impossible to sustain while maintaining your own mental health. However, until you decide enough is enough, use these tips to help yourself day to day.


When the Narcissist Fools the Counselor

A few years ago, I was a member of a counseling association for Christian therapists and pastors. This association supported its members with continuing education, scholarly research and ethical guidelines for good practice. I went to a few of the national events and conferences and usually left smarter and more motivated.

One year, however, I got a flyer for an upcoming conference with the name of a plenary speaker from my area. He was wildly popular, and had written many books. Though this talented speaker had a large following, I knew a different side of him. A side of him only seen behind closed doors. I had worked with people who knew him to  be manipulative, abrasive and famously controlling. My clients and colleagues described him as someone who created a climate of fear through verbal abuse, arrogant bullying, and narcissistic control. I would think, “Note to self, avoid this bozo at all costs!”

So, when I saw his name and face on the pamphlet as a plenary speaker for my beloved Christian counseling organization, I was shocked. How could a counseling organization promote him? How could they invite a wolf into the sheep fold? Why couldn’t they see past his polished persona and see the wake of relational wreckage he left trailing behind him? I trusted this organization, and was baffled by their decision to invite him to speak at their conference. I thought to myself, “out of all the people in the Christian community, it should be the counselors who can see through narcissism. It should be the counselors who recognize abusers when we see them. Why are they drinking his kool-aid?”

confused me

I was prompted to write them a letter expressing my concern, but talked myself out of it. I thought to myself, “why would they listen to me? I’m a no-name,” and “if that’s the direction they are going, then good riddance to bad rubbish!” I’m sorry I talked myself out of it. Neither was a healthy or loving way to respond. Instead of communicating my concern, I just didn’t renew my membership that year. Kind of passive- aggressive, I know.

amy's coffee

I should have written that letter, if only for the bragging rights of later being able to say, “I told you so!” Because, about a year later that popular speaker was sent packing and was relieved from his position. He was also found to have participated in plagiarism and unethical use of donated funds. The victims of his financial and spiritual abuse came out publicly about their experiences, and the guy lost all credibility.

Why is this important to you? Well, if you’re living with a Narcissist, and you feel like you’re going crazy, and even the marriage counselor doesn’t see why you’re so upset- I get it. If your narcissist looks great from the outside- good dad, good Christian, good provider, good guy- then you may think no one will believe the pain you experience behind closed doors. Unfortunately well-meaning Christians, pastors, counselors, even whole organizations, can get hood-winkled, Bamboozled, and Cully-gulled by all the charming flim-flam.

oh brother doggy

Narcissistic people can be very convincing when they want something. They can shine the light on their good side so brightly, that it blinds everyone from seeing their bad side. When this happens, the spouse of the narcissist ends up feeling worse than before. The spouse may say, “I finally got him/her to go to counseling, and now he/she got the counselor to side against me. No one sees how she/he really is at home!”

What to do if Your Counselor or Pastor is Fooled:

Don’t chicken out like I did. Be brave and say what you need to say. It’s important for you to do the following:

  1. Address this trickery during your counseling session. The counselor cannot know what they do not know, so it is up to you address your frustrations. 
  2. Don’t wait for the pastor or counselor to rescue you, side with you, or confront your partner. Only you can do your work.
  3. Bring specific actions that you consider to be hostile, controlling, abusive, mean spirited, badgering or manipulative to the session, and talk about them with the counselor. Point out the kind of behavior that is unacceptable to you.
  4. Be honest about what is happening at home, and how you want help confronting these unacceptable behaviors.  

No, your narcissist will not like this, and may deny, cast blame or even retaliate. However, it is important for you to shed light on your relationship and get the support from professionals that seek to live in that light. If the counselor is still hesitant to recognize the destructiveness present in the marriage, then it may be time to find a new counselor. I would recommend a counselor who has experience treating issues related to domestic violence, co-dependence, and narcissism.


Narcissists Who Act Like Christians Part II

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.”


The Problem

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.

My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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