What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder & How to Know if You’re Married to or Living with Someone with NPD

Why Use the Term Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Having had a family member (or two) with narcissistic personality disorder and having walked recently very closely with several women in narcissistic, abusive marriages, there are some important things I want to clarify surrounding the term itself, which some Christians do not like to acknowledge, especially the “disorder” part.

Most of us have some degree of narcissism (self-love) but I’m referring in these posts to a person whose extreme narcissism has caused disruption in the lives of the people around them, which clinically classifies it as a “disorder.” I will say “narcissist” hereafter for simplicity.

I am not describing typical relationships or marital conflict where two normal people have an issue to work out, both admitting their areas of weakness and working toward conflict resolution. This is something completely different and the narcissist does not behave like a normal person.

Does the Bible Address it?

Many Christians and Christian counselors do not like to use the term narcissistic because they feel it’s important to simply address the sin at the root of the problem. I disagree with the rejection of the term because terms help us to classify things clearly and simply. There is a biblical name for the narcissist. It’s called a “fool” and “scoffer.” The secular name that has been given to this type of personality trait (even though sin is certainly at the root) differentiates them from others in a meaningful way that is easier to understand and discuss, because there are common, recognizable traits associated with the name.

If I say I’m a diabetic, you know what my symptoms are without my explaining it, and in general, how it needs to be treated. Terms are important.

What is a narcissist (again, the extreme form, considered as a disorder):

  • One who has an enlarged sense of self and almost no empathy for other people. People, to them, are a means of getting something they want, usually to feel powerful or admired.
  • They show great frustration (sometimes rage) at the slightest criticism. They often take something not meant to be critical as criticism, surprising the one who offered it. This causes a “walking on eggshells” effect.
  • They have an unbelievable ability to turn arguments back onto you. They can be dead wrong, but by the end of the manipulation, you are questioning whether you really understood the situation clearly. Taking blame for anything is something they rarely ever do. They will blame you, however, for things, even if they are irrational. They will blame you for their anger too and expect you to apologize.
  • They might be generous to those outside their home, or do acts of charity, but it is usually to be admired, not because they genuinely care. At home there is very little kindness or acts of service.
  • They will use your weaknesses against you.
  • They want to do what they want to do without any opposition. Opposition triggers the shower of insults/rage and they train their victims to become afraid of rocking the boat. Most of them end up married to peace-makers for this reason.
  • They are usually charming, friendly and naturally charismatic (although not all are). Often people outside the family have a hard time believing they are treating their spouse/children in a harmful way.
  • Things are usually good if you don’t ever confront the narcissist, disagree with him, embarrass him or expect anything from him.
  • They are bullies.
  • They have a sadistic nature wherein they are not moved by your tears or pain. They genuinely can’t feel empathy.
  • Often people married to (or living with) narcissists feel like they are going crazy and experience extreme degrees of stress.
  • If they are backed into a corner, they will easily play the victim.

Many women (and some men) are in a marriage like this but haven’t ever put a name to what they are dealing with. I think it’s another important reason to use the term. There is simply something comforting to a person when they see their problem spelled out and named. It’s confusing when you’re in it.

One of the hardest parts about getting help is that often people do not believe that the friendly, charming, successful person you are describing is capable of abuse. The narcissist has an uncanny ability to hold the victim in check-mate, creating what feels like a helpless situation. They are clever and usually quite articulate, easily manipulating others. And they have no problem lying. I’ve even seen one spouse accuse the other of being a narcissist (and was believed by all) when she was, in fact, the narcissist.

And the sad reality is, there are no easy answers, even if you can find good counselors who believe you. I will be discussing what I think about what to do if you find yourself married to a narcissist, and also how to handle other family members who are (parents, children, etc). If you have any other helpful descriptions to add to this list, or comments in general, I’d love to hear in the comment section.



17 Responses to “What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder & How to Know if You’re Married to or Living with Someone with NPD”

  1. J says:

    Thank you for writing about this.

  2. Mandy Friend says:

    I help run a Christian moms of large family group on FB and it is SHOCKING how many of these women deal with mental and spiritual abuse in the form of this. And devastating how many subject themselves to it repeatedly because they thing that’s what ‘submission’ looks like and that they shouldn’t get help or get out. Thanks for covering this!

    • Mandy,

      It is shocking how prevalent it is and how there is so little help for them. And I do think it’s easy to believe staying/submitting is the right thing because the other option is that their entire world blows up in front of them. And that’s never an easy option either. It’s easy for us to stand on this side and wonder why it’s so hard to leave. But when you’re in it…there is so much at stake. I’m learning compassion with that as well.

  3. Kelli says:

    Really looking forward to your thoughts on this.

    • Kris says:

      I’m so sorry. I left my home with my 3 children 6 months ago. It’s been so hard but I feel so much healthier now just getting to the other side. I will be praying for you and your children. You are so strong.

  4. Kris says:

    I believe the Lord let me see this article that you are
    Writing…. I left my home with my 5 children last week and this all sounds all too familiar …
    I’m interestedTo See
    What all the you have learned on this matter ! Thank you for
    Writing This !

  5. Patti says:

    I was born into a family where the Father and Mother both had issues in this area. I was one of several sisters and had no brothers. I was singled out in my family as their scapegoat. As I grew up my sisters were taught to distrust and abuse me as my mother did. My father wouldn’t protect me most of the time. My sisters were also neglected, but not singled out for abuse. I ended up in three bad marriages as an adult because I had been conditioned to accept bad treatment and to second guess my own sanity. I had children with only one father, and when I finally got up the nerve to leave that abusive narcissist, he alienated my children from me and then brought them to my abusive family on his joint custody time and my own family joined in with the alienation of my kids from me. I am in my fifties now, and have been trying to restore my relationships with my children, but my oldest just can’t get past all the lies that my ex and family have told her. This personality disorder is the worst thing I have ever encountered, and I have suffered terribly from the effects of it on my life. If I could help anyone to recognize and to avoid becoming involved in any way with people who display these traits, I would.

  6. Liz says:

    Another resource.. unholycharade.com

  7. Sarah says:

    I have a mother with border line personality disorder (that is cousin to npd). I have done a lot of therapy on this and will be interested to see what you say. I have actually stepped back from the church because they can’t handle accepting mental illness and it’s sad. I hate how people say: if you prayed more. Tried more….. or that God will just heal it if you only believed. It’s like saying to someone without a hand… if only you tried harder to grow it back.

    • Kelly says:

      I think the church, at large, really needs to be educated and you’re right, they don’t want to talk about or get messy with it. I think some strides are being made but there’s a long way to go.

  8. Reba Burl says:

    This rings true for me. A friend forwarded me the article. I’m still in the thick of this manipulation and don’t see any steps out but I’m glad you’re writing about this.

    • Kelly says:

      Reba–I’m so sorry. The Lord will help you out. But getting out, I realize, is a very hard thing. You have to hate/fear what you’re in more than hate/fear being out.

  9. Paula says:

    Wow, this all is, very sadly, so true. I had no idea what narcissism was until confronted with it personally, twice now, in the past few years. It is so hard to understand, so incredibly crazy, and so terribly deceptive and destructive. The hard part is, like you said, that to others, the narcissist seems so absolutely charming and charismatic to others, that YOU are seen as the crazy one.

    Thank you so much, Kelly, for addressing this for the Christian community.

  10. Kelly D. says:

    Wow. This describes my husband to a T. I will be following this with interest. Thank you so much for this, Kelly!

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