Over the years I’ve heard the despair and explanations from some of you who are living through the betrayal trauma of their husband’s porn use and infidelity, that he is also a narcissist, or has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NDP). His behaviors create much more stress to your circumstances and add layers of difficulty for you, on top of the primary issue.
The good news is that my Avenue Women’s Work ‘The Healing Choice’ includes identifying and dealing with this ‘personality’, helping you create safety for yourself, giving you the tools to change how you respond to his destructive ways.
Because of our world’s view of the disorder, you may have come to believe that it profoundly complicates your husband’s functional ability to address his destructive sexual behaviors. The thinking goes — he’s wired this way, he can’t help himself. The school of thought reflected in this statement is born out of man’s view. But it leaves out entirely God’s view of the human condition. God’s view and man’s view is the ultimate clash of two worlds.
Let’s start with man’s view. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a diagnostic term conceived by the American Psychological Association (APA). This organization of psychologists and psychiatrists focus on the workings of the mind, and its effect on emotions and behavior. For practically every limiting, debilitating or destructive malady or behavior, each is given a diagnostic disorder label and the specific criteria required for a diagnosis, as well as a thorough overview of that particular disorder, and catalogued into their working reference manual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
According to the APA, “Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder comprise only 1% of the population. They exhibit five or more of the following, which are present by early adulthood and across contexts:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Belief that one is special and can only be understood by or associate with special people or institutions
- A need for excessive admiration
- A sense of entitlement to special treatment
- Exploitation of others
- A lack of empathy
- Envy of others or the belief that one is the object of envy
- Arrogant, haughty behavior or attitudes
Other traits of narcissism and consequences cited by APA:
- Disregard for other people, and the damaging of relationships.
- Reacts to criticism or defeat with disdain or anger.
- Social withdrawal or the false appearance of humility may follow failure.
- The high-achiever may negatively impact their own success due to sensitivity to criticism.
- High rates of substance abuse, mood, and anxiety disorders.
- Impulsivity and high experience of shame.”
One does not need to have all these traits to be labeled with this disorder. Just like all ‘disorders’ there is a range of severity of the symptoms and its impact on the person and his environment.
If your husband does not have an official diagnoses, but you have been affected terribly by his attitudes and behaviors, you know it firsthand. There are many more persons in this undiagnosed category than the 1% diagnosed, cited by the APA, because few end up on the ‘couch’, as they don’t see the problem.
According to the APA, “treatment for narcissistic personality disorder can be challenging and difficult, due to individuals resistance to acknowledge problems. Psychotherapy may be useful to help individuals manage, rather than cure their disorder.”
I believe the APA limits themselves because they limit an entire aspect of our being. We are soul, body and spirit. Yet In their own words, the APA’s new website proclaims with satisfaction that “Today, as the link between mind and body is well-recognized, more and more psychologists are teaming with other health care providers to provide whole-person health care for patients.” Unfortunately there is a vital thing that is missing from their ‘whole-person’ care; it is the acknowledgement and understanding that each human is soul* —body —- spirit.
*The Bible uses the word ‘soul’ to describe our mind, thoughts, emotions, will, desires and more. (Often ‘soul’ is misused as meaning your eternal spirit)
For any person with this ‘disorder’ the issue is in part, a spiritual one, exalting one's desires above others, as a little ‘god’ who wants his way, and gets, or takes, to get his way.
God’s view of the description and symptoms of narcissism are quite like man’s. Proverbs has numerous verses on the narcissist traits of self-absorbed people. God’s larger view of this ‘disorder’ is described well in this verse:
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away.
2 Timothy 3:1-7
This scripture is talking about leaders of the church. Why is it that the leadership in general was plagued by these attitudes? I believe the issue is twofold, from two types of people — The prideful person seeks positions of honor, and positions of honor tend to make humble people become prideful.
It may be surprising that each one of us can find ourselves somewhere in this list of destructive attitudes, at least in some time in our lives. God simply calls each of these harmful devices of the heart individually as sin.
God knows that man is prone to be self-centered by way of the first prideful/rebellious act long ago:
The heart is the most deceitful thing there is and desperately wicked. No one can really know how bad it is! Only the Lord knows! He searches all hearts and examines deepest motives so he can give to each person his right reward, according to his deeds—how he has lived. Jeremiah 17:9-10
When you understand His view of human nature, then you can see that narcissism is just a catchword for someone that gives very little restraint on the evil desires of his heart. Who among us hasn’t been selfish, or wished harm on another, yet we restrain our behavior, or correct our own attitude, actions and emotions? That is what we are called to do as God’s children.
The Bible does not give us insight into the motives of the people referred to in these verses. The secular view is that man is intrinsically good, and there must be a force outside the person to cause him to become destructive. This is the exact opposite of God’s view of fallen man. In the simplest of terms, even if there is a force outside ourselves harming us or tempting us, He wants us to seek Him and fellow believers for help and comfort, not fall prey to false intimacy and sin.
We have found over the 25 years of working with men, that about 80% of them had childhood wounds or sexual trauma that created a gateway to use porn as medication and comfort. You’ll see in the following profiles how these ‘narcissistic’ behaviors can develop in a person.
— An adolescent rejects loving parental guidance, is disobedient to parents, without self-control, headstrong, haughty, becomes proud, brutal, a blasphemer, unthankful, unloving, unforgiving… aptly describing the prodigal son, becoming a seeker pleasure, without control, unholy.
— A man’s choice to use porn breeds becoming selfish, a seeker of pleasure, lover of himself, without control, headstrong, unloving, unholy, prideful, despisers of good…
— A man affected in childhood by a harsh father, or absent one, spends his life attempting to fill the void and prove his worth to himself and the world, becoming a proud, haughty, boaster. He discovers porn to be a comfort, and becomes selfish, a seeker of pleasure, lover of himself, without control, headstrong, unloving, unholy, prideful, despisers of good…
— A man sexually abused in childhood discovers porn to be a comfort, but it breeds becoming selfish, a seeker of pleasure, lover of himself, without control, headstrong, unloving, unholy, prideful, despisers of good…
— A man attracted to wealth to prove his worth becomes a lover of money, and breeds greed, selfishness, boasting, grandiosity, pridefulness, haughtiness, becoming lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…
The attitudes and choices end up inflicting pain on the individual first by their own natural consequences, and then on others. Yet we know that there may be underlying shame, sometimes born from childhood wounds, and also from our own sin as we make our way in the world attempting to do life on our terms, instead of God’s. God wants to liberate each one of us of shame, heal the wounds and overcome these self-harming ways of protecting ourselves.
While I understand the handiness of labels, I prefer to simply name the specific harmful behaviors being manifested, such as ‘manipulative', or 'lying', as example. The labels “narcissist” and “Narcissistic Personality Disorder" are simply shorthand for a set of symptoms, but end up labeling the person far beyond their current tendencies and patterns behaviors; these type of labels do a disservice as they are regularly used to infer the person is hardwired with this broad set of fixed features for life.
I do not subscribe to this notion, because thankfully this is not God’s view on it either. Rather than our personalities simply being “just the way we are,” we’re not ‘hardwired’ like science has believed for centuries.
We have the capacity to change our minds, and quite literally, our brain wiring.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2
I have hope for every husband so affected because I have witnessed firsthand so many men who have been transformed to a new person with a new heart, through our Avenue Men’s Work, 'Operation Destiny'. A man morphs into a more tender and transparent person and personality. Wounds are healed, walls come down, where love and intimacy have a chance to flourish, a turning point for emotional and spiritual maturity. Men who were assigned the narcissist label have changed their minds and renewed their hearts, becoming a new man.
While you can’t make this person change, you do hold a key that can be a catalyst for change. This is the same key that is utilized in the Avenue Men’s Work; to modify your interactions with the narcissistic person to break the vicious circle—to gently thwart their frantic efforts to control, distance, defend or blame in the relationship by sending the message that you’re more than willing to connect with them, but not on these terms; to invite them into a version of intimacy where they can be loved and accepted, baggage and all—if they only allow the experience to happen.
Those changes are easier said than done for the persons in closest relationship with him. Boundaries are paramount, and the primary boundaries are for your safety, and your ‘sanity’. You may need practical information on how to modify your interactions with him to break free of damaging patterns, and how to measure true heart change in him. If this describes your circumstances, and you’re not already receiving help, you will find guidance in our Avenue Women’s Work, ‘The Healing Choice’.
It is interesting to note that in both APA’s view and God’s view, the best help for loved ones is boundaries in its various forms. I have found again and again, that the best work in psychology is straight out of the Bible, though it isn’t a foundational resource. God’s ways work whether you believe in Him or not.
This last verse contains both a warning to us and a promise of blessing, to remind us who to put our hope in for our future. This verse is as much for us, in our circumstance:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They do not fear when heat comes; has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:5-8
So take heart, God shows us the way to go, we can walk in His courage and confidence when we listen for His direction.
In His Hope,
For over 20 years, Avenue has been providing guidance for women in pain. If you need this kind of help for your situation now, and want to talk with someone who has been in your shoes connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can learn more about Avenue and our groups at avenue.works. No matter whether you’re hoping to restore your marriage or divorcing, you will find the comfort, direction and healing you need through our confidential restoration groups. Be restored.