When a woman is in a relationship with an abusive, narcissistic husband, there are moments in the abuse cycle when she feels that maybe he will be able to hear her out. After all, he's apologized for what he's done and has promised to fix it- why shouldn't she feel like he is willing to understand how he's hurting her?
Often her attempts to share her feelings result in failure, and more abuse. He may discard her feelings, telling her that she's too sensitive. He may deflect and complain that she's always judging him. He may berate her for being a disrespectful wife. He may excuse his behavior and tell her he wouldn't react so badly if she didn't make him so mad. She often leaves the conversation feeling confused and helpless.
Why does he do that?
There's tons of psychological research on why narcissistic people struggle with understanding the feelings of others. Interestingly enough, the research coincides with spiritual truths we already know from the Bible. For example, from a psychological perspective, the basis of understanding the narcissistic mind lies in the concept that many have become codependent on their mate. Codependency means a person derives their sense of self, security, and happiness from another person (which, in the spiritual realm, we know is idolatry).
Now spouses don't always behave in ways we approve of and negative emotions can result. But because the narcissist's identity is rooted in their spouse, rather than in Christ, these negative emotions often cause the narcissist to feel intentionally assaulted and devalued. Many times, this is due to unhealed hurts that are often are rooted in childhood trauma, not the relationship itself, triggering deep-seeded fears and insecurities.
All this angst ultimately gives rise to blame and anger, and the narcissist uses controlling behaviors and abuse to stop the pain they are experiencing. These reactions are ill-fated attempts for the narcissist to manage their emotions through external means, rather than working within themselves with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Why confronting abuse may make it worse
So knowing all this, shouldn't we just be able to just help an abuser find wise counsel and help them find peace through a secure identity in Christ?
We certainly can pray this would be the case. But in many cases, confronting the abuse ends up making it worse.
It is often reported that recovery rates among narcissists is very low. Much of this lies in the fact that because the narcissist has created a habit of looking outward at others instead of inward at themselves, they often don't believe that they have a problem. The Bible confirms this phenomenon; Proverbs 4:19 says, "The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble." (ESV)
Proverbs goes on to discuss why abuse gets worse when we attempt to address an abuser's behavior with him. Proverbs 9:7-8 says "Whoever corrects a scoffer invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you." (NIV)
This passage tells us that a person walking with Christ seeks wisdom, and will be inclined to heed the gentle rebuke of other Christ followers. However, as we already identified, an abusive man is mired in idolatry, walking in opposition to the Lord and His instruction. He has put other people and things in the "God spot" in his life and when corrected, he is likely to respond with blame, excuses, and insults in an effort to protect himself.
So if talking to a man about his abusive behavior doesn't work, how can we deal with a person who behaves this way? Check out our follow up post entitled "How can a Christian Wife Address Her Husband's Sin?"
Have you found that addressing abuse one on one has been effective or not?
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