For years she has disappeared in the relationship. This is what has to be done to keep the peace. There are so many ways he knows to punish her into this reality. She feels invisible. Stuck. Voiceless. She has lost herself and wonders if she can ever “be” again.
She reaches the point of no more and begins to speak. She begins to happen. She begins to live as a person with thoughts and experiences that are her own. No more is she willing to exist solely to avoid conflict, keep peace and avoid his punishment. He doesn’t hit her but sometimes she wonders if he might. He intimidates. He shouts. He throws things. He threatens. He apologizes. He asks for forgiveness. He is kind and nice and mean and predictably unpredictable. He uses his size, his money, his volume, his emotion, his anger, his kindness, his strength, his religion, his Bible to make sure she knows her role. He will play the role of hero, or villain, whichever one will keep himself at the center of her world with him in control and her an extension of his ego. He promises. He betrays. He is easily offended. He is insecure. They have sex and she feels used. There is no intimacy.
She begins to set boundaries with him. She determines what she will and won’t permit in her life anymore. She decides to manage herself, her thoughts, her inner world.
She begins to grieve the lost years of invisibility and slumber he named submission.
The new boundaries are unacceptable to him. They threaten the illusions of power and control. He will go to counseling. He will do anything it takes to keep her. But his goal isn’t to change so she can become. His goal is to appease so they can return to the status quo.
He is sorry. He says so. Why can’t you forgive me so we can move on?
But he does not grieve for what he has taken from her. He does not grieve the her that could have been had he made just a little room for her voice, for her being. To him, she is not a her, she is an extension of his self awareness. He experiences her but he has no reciprocal awareness of how she experiences him. She is a character in his story but she isn’t allowed a story of her own and he isn’t a character in any story but his own.
His repentance is a manipulation to lure her back to the status quo. His discomfort isn’t a result of empathy, a realization of her pain and loss. His discomfort is that her voice and personhood is no longer working to support his need to appear significant, powerful and in control. He feels out of control and he will go see any counselor if she will then give control back to him. His repentance is an expression of his own experience rather than a response to seeing and valuing her experience.
He is a narcissist.
I most often hear this story where the man plays the narcissistic role. But I’ve heard the story plenty of times the other way around and it is equally tragic. We need to begin to understand this self-focused fear-rooted way of perceiving reality that plagues so many relationships. Narcissism is a blindness. It is a limit in how someone perceives reality. They are blind to the other person’s personhood. They live without awareness of how the other person experiences the relationship. They live with no responsibility for how they affect others but hold others to high accountability for how they affect them.
Some people are Narcissists all the time. Others some of the time. Selfishness is the root of sin and our disconnection from God, so this is no new problem. There is no answer but death to self. There is no answer but the cross. You cannot make anyone go there. You can only go yourself.
I’ve seen some go and die and rise again completely new.
For more from our 10 part series on narcissism, check back next week or read previous posts: