A stereotypical narcissist is a domineering man who intimidates his submissive wife. However, not all narcissists are men; not all victims of abuse are women. Some men experience devastating abuse from female abusers. The people involved in these relationships might be slow to recognize what’s actually happening because of the prevailing stereotype.
C.S. Lewis brilliantly describes a situation of female emotional abuse in his short masterpiece, The Great Divorce. In this book, various people from hell are allowed to visit heaven, where they encounter someone from their earth life. The people from hell attempt to continue their narcissistic, manipulative behavior in heaven with tragic and comical results.
In the following excerpt, a woman describes her marriage to a man named Robert.
The details may differ, but the feeling resonates with a tired familiarity. Female emotional abuse is not so singular after all.
…what I went through with [Robert]. The ingratitude! It was I who made a man of him! Sacrificed my whole life to him! And what was my reward? Absolute, utter selfishness…It was I who had to drive him every step of the way. He hadn’t a spark of ambition. It was like trying to lift a sack of coal. I had to positively nag him to take on that extra work in the other department, though it was really the beginning of everything for him. The laziness of men! He said, if you please, he couldn’t work more than thirteen hours a day! As if I weren’t working far longer…I had to keep him going all evening…
She mocked his ambition to write a book, drove away his former friends “for his own good,” and started “entertaining properly.”
“Nor more of his sort of friends, thank you. I was doing it all for his sake. Every useful friend he ever made was due to me….it wasn’t my fault if [the younger men] liked me better than my old bear of a husband – used to laugh at him.”
She goes on complaining until she is reminded that her Richard is in heaven. She must decide whether to stay in the place where Robert is (heaven) or whether to go back to the shadowy, predictable world of hell. Her sense of victimhood blossoms to such a point that she, as an individual in her own right, simply disappears:
“But if I’m given a free hand I’ll take charge of him again. I will take up my burden once more. But I must have a free hand. With all the time one would have here, I believe I could make something of him” ….[The woman’s ghostly figure]which had towered up like a dying candleflame snapped suddenly. A sour, dry smell lingered in the air for a moment and then there was no [woman] to be seen.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, 25-50% of those diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorders (NPD) are female. Female narcissists, or females with strong narcissistic tendencies, are just as damaging and toxic to intimate relationships as their male counterparts.
Why would a man stay in a psychologically abusive relationship if he, unlike many abused women, doesn’t rely on his spouse for financial support? Research shows that men stay in these kinds of relationships because of depression, a sense of duty, and true concern for their partners. In addition, men reported the notion that they wouldn’t be believed if they said they were being abused. Stereotypes about masculinity dictate that men aren’t the ones in relationships who experience abuse – it’s expected to be the other way around. “It is a hard stereotype to work against,” reported Alyson Huntley, lead researcher on the team which investigated why men stay in abusive marriage relationships.
Domestic abuse is not limited to physical abuse; it can be physical, emotional, verbal, or financial. Imagine, for example, the 70-year-old man with no retirement or savings of any kind because his wife spent money aggressively and became irate and threatening whenever he pressed for details. Imagine the 40-year-old man treated as a passive, supporting actor by his imperious wife, who jeers at him in public, and scratches and kicks him in private when she doesn’t get her way. Whenever he says he’ll leave her, she tearfully promises to reform, love-bombing and guilt-tripping him with practiced persuasion.
Like narcissistic husbands, narcissistic wives commonly refuse marriage counseling or therapy. If they agree to therapy at all, they might endure one or two sessions but then excuse themselves from any more interference. They don’t see themselves as needing counseling and view their partner as the broken one in the relationship.
If any of these examples or descriptions hit home for you, you may be considering divorce. As a male seeking divorce from an abusive, disordered female, you might face bias and disbelief. Your story might be doubted; you might be accused of exaggerating and making things up.
An experienced divorce mediator who has an understanding of NPD and other personality disorders will help the process go as smoothly as possible. Get the help you need and start grieving and healing your way toward a better life.