Traits of an Abuser: Understanding Narcissism

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 

During my relationship with an abusive boyfriend, this passage of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 13:4-6, messed me up. And not in a good way. 

As I was searching for healing for my broken aching heart during that destructive relationship, I often came back to this passage. As my ex-boyfriend had convinced me, I believed I was the problem, and kept measuring myself against these words. Was I patient enough? Was I kind enough? Was I self-seeking? Was I keeping record of his wrongs? Was I protecting him, trusting him, hoping and persevering for him? And I strived to be better. 

This description of true, genuine love is powerful. It paints two pictures - one of a love that is pure and of God, and one of a selfishness that is destructive. One is a picture of the self-sacrificing love of Christ, and one is a picture of what we’re discussing today - narcissism. 

Abuse goes against all sacrificial and genuinely caring tendencies, which makes sense why many abusers suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). 

NPD is generally characterized as an inflated sense of self with a deep need for attention and admiration, often accompanied by a strong lack of empathy. No one really knows how NPD develops - some believe it’s neurological, genetic or a result of a dysfunctional upbringing. Though it is classified as a personality disorder, it never justifies abuse - but it does help us understand why abusers abuse. 

So yes, it is good to use 1 Corinthians 13 to judge our owns hearts (because remember, we all have the capacity for evil!), but we must keep our eyes open and use 1 Corinthians 13 to also judge those who claim to love us. 

Love is patient, love is kind. 

Because narcissists have an absurd sense of self-importance, their needs are always critically important. Everything in the relationship must serve them; it doesn’t make sense in their minds to do anything to serve their significant other (unless that in turn serves them) because the only needs that matter are their own! 

Let’s revisit the story of my good friend Liz and her ex-husband Ralph. During their entire marriage, Liz would ask him for romantic gestures, just little ways for her to know he loved her. Instead of reassuring her of his love through actions, he would argue that she was just being ungrateful and inconsiderate of his own needs. 

A month after she finally left him, she agreed to meet him at a cafe to talk. He arrived with a grand bouquet, a handwritten letter and told her that he had read her favorite book. She felt violated, because she saw right through his intentions - he would only ‘try’ if he thought his own happiness was at stake. 

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 

Because of their inflated sense of importance, narcissists believe most people around them are inferior. They only associate with people who they deem ‘worthy’ of their company. They constantly put down others and criticize people openly. They see themselves as above rules, ethics and sometimes even the law. 

In relationships, they are often jealous, seeing their significant others as a possession they own, something only they are allowed to have. 

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking… 

Above all, the narcissist is self-seeking. Everything they do must, in some way, serve this illusion they’ve created for themselves. Oftentimes, those suffering from NPD will be so consumed with the idea that they live in this perfect reality where they are the centers of their universe, that any ideas that challenge their constructed reality will be ignored. 

This often includes denying things they said or did if it contradicts their perfect image, or ignoring the desires and wishes of their partner if those desires step outside their idea of the perfect future. It’s a difficult phenomena to explain, but if you’ve ever been in a relationship with a narcissist, you’ll understand. Anything that contradicts their illusion of perfection simply does not exist to them. is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 

In the narcissist’s attempt to maintain their illusion of perfection and self-importance, they will blame everyone else for their problems. If you for one moment even suggest they could be the problem, their defenses come up and it is all-out fight mode. For these fights, they will not only keep record of the wrongs you do to prove their point, they will bring up all the amazing things they’ve done to convince you that they have been angelic and can do no wrong. 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 

As I’ve said before, narcissists believe they are above the rules and will often make unethical decisions outside their relationships. They are often the perpetrators of psychological abuse, using lies to justify their actions and dismantle the arguments of others. 

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

Loving a narcissist will always leave you broken, empty, scarred and alone. Love cannot exist when there is this level of selfishness. 

Massive healing became available to me when I realized my ex-boyfriend displayed narcissistic tendencies. Everything just clicked, and I finally understood. That was why he told me he was going to marry me the first day we started dating - that was the only way I fit into his idealized reality. My dreams and passions had no place in his universe, so they were neglected and put down, leaving only room for his own ambitions. He could see no wrong in himself, which is why the blame was always shifted onto me. 

After I came to this realization, my mind was able to stop reliving the past and breathe. I finally understood why his love hurt so badly. I finally understood why he treated me the way he did. I even understood why he started dating me in the first place. 

I felt the anger and resentment start to fade. His actions still were not justified and his treatment of me was very clearly wrong, but understanding softened my heart towards grace, and grace softened my heart towards forgiveness. 

As I said in last week’s post, victims of PTSD often experience an overactive mind as their brains play the experience over and over again, trying to assess the danger in order to avoid similar situations in the future. If you relate, consider this - even in reading this post, as your mind gains some understanding, you will begin to experience rest. As you relive the experiences with this new knowledge, your mind will begin to breathe as it says, “I understand.” 

There is so much beauty in truth, though truth often resides in pain. 

But truth - blessed truth - holds the key to healing.

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