Relationships are such a critical part of our health as human beings. Being relational is one of the ways that we are made in the Lord’s image. While we certainly vary in degrees of how many deep relationships we need in our lives, we all need some, because we are fundamentally wired to know and be known, to live life in community, and to grow and learn together.
A typical strategy of narcissistic abusers is isolation. An isolated person is much easier to control, dominate, and abuse. One of the primary means of isolation is to sabotage personal relationships. This can happen in a variety of ways.
Ways an Abuser Sabotages Relationships
1. They Move Often and Don’t Build Real Relationships
This may be geographical moves or simply moves from church to church or community to community. It may be that they can’t keep a job (it’s always the boss’s fault), it may be wanderlust (they get bored), it may be that no place is ever good enough for them and they always find a reason to move on. However, what never gets said is that moving keeps the family off balance and makes building relationships incredibly difficult.
Some narcissists are incredibly charismatic and make a great first impression. They are charming and come on strong and are easily able to build rapport in any setting. Moving allows them to utilize this strength and then move on before anyone can see past the façade.
2. They Refuse to Be Around Certain People
Some abusers make it clear that they will not be around certain people. Often this can be family members of the spouse or close friends. Sometimes this process of alienation can begin early in the relationship or it might not begin until after the victim is deeply ensnared in the relationship. Often, the people they refuse to be around are people that feel like a threat to the abuser. Here are a few different types of people that an abuser might want to avoid:
- It might be people who are seeing the red flags that are presented in the relationship and are calling out the signs of abuse and dysfunction.
- It could be healthy people that would contribute to the growth and development of the person and family. Healthy people can be concerning to the abuser because their influence could cause the abuser to lose control.
- It could be people who make the abuser feel threatened because he perceives them to be better than him in some regard, which is unacceptable to a narcissist.
- Or it could simply be any people who would take the victim’s time and attention away from the abuser.
This refusal to associate with someone, could look like forbidding the wife from interacting with certain people, refusing to have certain people in their home, or refusing to go places where these people might be (it is important to note, that this refusal to associate is different than when a person sets necessary boundaries with someone who has shown a pattern of destructive behavior). This isolation could also include talking badly about certain people, slandering them, falsely accusing them of things as a way to justify the separation. When this happens, the abuser is generally kind and engaging with the person when they are around them, utilizing flattery and compliments to make it seem as though they really like them, but then they demonize that person to their wife and children behind their back. So not only does this isolate the victim, but it creates a lot of confusion.
3. They Spread Lies About The Victim
It is quite common for an abuser to “confide” in people that are close to their spouse and share things about her that are intended to call her integrity, mental health, and trustworthiness into question. These things are shared as though the abuser has a legitimate concern and is confiding with good intentions. It is not uncommon for an abuser to drop subtle comments and hints implying that his wife is not mentally stable. This serves him in the future, because if his wife seeks out help for the hurt and pain that she is enduring, his previous comments color what she says, and cause people to be skeptical that she is telling the truth. This is an intentional, deliberate strategy to sabotage not only relationships, but any place of safety for the wife and children.
4. They “Admit” Their Faults and Weaknesses In Order to Appear Genuine
Abusers never take true responsibility for their destructive behavior, but when it is advantageous to them, they can acknowledge wrongdoing in a way that appears to be sincere. It is common for abusers to “humbly” and “apologetically” admit to faults and weaknesses that they have when it will help make them seem sincere and further the façade that they are presenting. This is often done when they know that their spouse is going to (or has) reached out for help. The abuser shares just enough truth for the spouse’s story to be verified but includes all manner of lies about the surrounding details, particularly the part about seeking help and wanting to change.
This strategy works as sabotage, because it causes the listening party to be sympathetic to the abuser, as the abuser seems genuinely broken and repentant. The listener has no idea that this is a cycle that may have gone on for decades. The listener has no idea that there is no genuine brokenness or repentance. The listener has no idea that this seeming admission of guilt is simply another tool in the abuser’s tool belt. So, the listener innocently gives the abuser the benefit of the doubt, encourages the victim to see the best in the abuser, and often ends up re-abusing the victim with their well-intentioned but completely misinformed and misguided response. Now the listening party has become an ally to the abuser and the victim’s attempt to seek help has been completely sabotaged!
Recognize the Fruit
The strategy to sabotage relationships can play out in many ways and can be subtle or overt. The key to identifying it is to notice the fruit. If you are noticing a string of broken relationships, an inability to build depth with anyone, and a general sense of isolation; emotionally, spiritually, and physically, then it is likely that there is an intentional effort to sabotage relationships.
My prayer for you is that in recognizing these different behaviors in your relationship, you would be able to stand firm against them. I am praying that the Lord would bring safe people into your life. That you would know Him as your defender and the one who speaks out on your behalf. And that above all, your relationship with Him would be a place of life, safety, and love.