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When to separate from a narcissist

by Kristen Zuray

Having a relationship with a narcissist is so complex. It’s like a yoyo being strung along with the chants of “I love you, I love you not”. At some point the toll that this game brings on the psyche is very detrimental to emotional, spiritual, and physical health. It can destroy relationships, usher in depression, suicide ideation, and poor health. I recently had a therapist tell me that women of domestic violence admitted to fearing the psychological abuse more than the physical abuse. Bruises and broken bones can heal, but the psyche takes years of work to undo the damage that has been created.

Unfortunately, when victims have turned to the church to help, the spiritual leaders have inadequate understanding of narcissism. They lean into verses that focus more on being the submissive wife, honoring your parents, forgiveness, and bitterness. Without understanding the fullness of the abuse, they have unintentionally placed the burden of reconciliation onto the victim while giving more power to the abuser.

If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist and are not sure how to protect yourself while still honoring God, this article will dive into the Biblical principles that will help you determine whether you should cut ties with a spouse, parents, or any other relationship. This article will primarily focus on the parent/adult child relationship, but the principles can be applied to any relationship.

Narcistic parents thrive on the verse that tells children to honor them, but conveniently, they forget all about God’s command to not provoke children to wrath (Ephesians 6:4). God has given the responsibility to parents to nurture, love, and care for his precious little ones. In essence, they are to be an example of Him! When narcistic parents abuse their young or adult children with silent treatments, verbal put downs, and twisted Scripture, they are creating a distorted image of God’s fatherhood that creates a life- time of pain for the child. It may have a devastating eternal effect on this child’s soul. No wonder Jesus was very clear on where he stood with anyone abusing a child- it would be better if [they] have a large millstone tied around [their] neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. (parenthesis is mine) Matthew 18:5-6 NLT

No matter how they abuse, there are no exception clauses following the command to honor these parents. The way a narcistic parent manipulates these verses is by demanding that they have input in every aspect of the adult child’s life. There are to be no boundaries between them and their son or daughter, but this is not the correct way we honor them. As children become adults, God needs to be the center of their lives not the parents. God does expect the adult children to:

1. Pray for them. Pray for God to reveal truth to them and to bring healing to their wounded hearts.

2. Forgive them. If you don’t do this, the pain of their abuse will continue to inflict you.

3. Don’t enable their bad behavior. If you want a Christ-centered relationship with them, hold them accountable to repentance and true reconciliation.

4. Live to please and obey God even if it means that you are going against their will.

You can still do all these things even if you must cut ties with them. It seems harsh and goes against the Biblical command of restoration, so where does the Bible stand on this? Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 5:9-12 (NLT):

When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church wo are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, ”You must remove the evil person from among you.”

According to Matthew Henry’s Commentary on this passage, he says, “Christians are to avoid familiar converse with all who disgrace the Christian name. Such are only fit companions for their brethren in sin, and to such company they should be left, whenever it is possible to do so. Alas, that there are many called Christians, whose conversation is more dangerous than that of heathens!”

Going back to the previous blog that explains psychological abuse, it is safe to assume that a Christian narcissist’s “conversation is more dangerous than that of heathens!” Because they claim to know God and proclaim to speak truth, it becomes more difficult to understand the subtle twists and manipulation of Scripture that they do to empower themselves. This wreaks havoc for the adult child to have a healthy relationship with God as their Father or Jesus as their husband.

Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV) The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy;drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

If you read the whole chapter of Galatians 5, you will see that it is written for believers. It talks about living in the freedom of Christ, living by the Spirit’s power, and not giving into our sinful desires. Our spirit and our flesh are at war with each other, but through the power of Christ we don’t have to allow our flesh to win. It is a choice that we all face! “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear…” (v 19 NLT). Did you see the description of a narcissist in verse 20? If we follow our sinful nature, we will be prone to hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, division, and envy. If a believer allows the Spirit to lead them, then their life will produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary warns to watch against these sinful behaviors.

The apostle concludes this chapter with a caution against pride and envy, v. 26. He had before been exhorting these Christians by love to serve another (v.13) and had put them in mind of what would be the consequences if, instead of that, they did bite and devour one another, v. 15. Now, as a means of engaging them to the one and preserving them from the other of these, he here cautions them against being desirous of vain- glory or giving way to an undue affectation of the esteem and applause of men, because this, if it were indulged, would certainly lead them to provoke one another and to envy one another. As far as this temper prevails among Christians, they will be ready to slight and despise those whom they look upon as inferior to them, and to be put out of humor if they are denied that respect which they think is their due from them, and they will also be apt to envy those by whom their reputation is in any danger of being lessened: and thus a foundation is laid for those quarrels and contentions which, as they are inconsistent with that love which Christians ought to maintain towards each other, so they are greatly prejudicial to the honor and interest of religion itself. This therefore the apostle would have us by all means to watch against. Note, (1.) The glory which comes from men is vain glory, which, instead of being desirous of, we should be dead to. (2) An undue regard to the approbation and applause of men is one great ground of the unhappy strifes and contentions that exist among Christians.

Isn’t this description fitting of a narcissist? Another verse that challenges the Christian narcissist is 1 John 4:20:

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.

In other words, believers who say they love God but have hatred towards their children, spouse, and others are a walking contradiction. You cannot have love and hate at the same time. It just doesn’t work. They are liars. If you look at 1 John 5:21, it says, “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.”

Whether it be a narcissistic parent or spouse, they have interwoven themselves into your mind, heart, and soul. Their will prevails, and the fear of losing whatever love and acceptance you may receive can become greater than God. They want the control of your life. They want your adoration and your praise. The Bible is clear, keep away! It is also clear what your responsibility is to this believer who is choosing to live in this sin. 1 John 5:16 says to pray for them. That’s it. That’s the end of your responsibility.

It's a tough realization to accept that setting strict boundaries or even cutting your loved one off is a good thing. Remember this, you cannot change them only God can. If you don’t see God changing them it’s because they are willingly choosing their pride rather than surrendering themselves to Him. So, there’s nothing you can do. What God does want you to do is to forgive, pray, and separate giving Him space to work with them.

For more information on how to honor your parents, I recommend these articles:

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