At this stage of my career I’ve had thousands of cries for help from women who have been narcissistically and emotionally abused. Most feel helpless and hopeless. They reach out to me and others searching for a thread of hope. As I listen to their many cries for help, women share their stories. They voice the years of struggle and the toll this has taken on them, emotionally, spiritually and even physically.
Most don’t believe they are able to articulate the impact the emotional abuse has had on them—the ‘brain fog’ and exhaustion have taken an enormous toll. Most believe they can’t share clearly what they are experiencing, only that “I feel crazy at times.”
Interestingly, once they begin sharing, their pain takes on form. Once they feel safe to vent the tragedy of the years of emotional abuse, their pain makes complete sense. Their minds and bodies have recorded the incessant stress and abuse and their pain is real. They long to be validated, understood and honored.
The stories I hear are varied and often have many layers to them. They are complex, spanning many years of married life. Many have been married more than once, with serious problems—trauma and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder– occurring along the way. They are filled with emotional and physical pain from troubled and often emotionally abusive marriages. Their stories, sadly, have been marginalized, glossed over, dismissed and unrecognized. Worse, blame has been shifted back onto them.
Their attempts to reach out for help have often failed—friends don’t want to get involved, family may take up for you, but this ultimately fails to help as well. Church family generally offers superficial responses. Women feel even more alone.
The common theme to the stories is that these women are desperate to be heard, by their husbands first, of course, but also by their pastors, friends and family. Not only do they want to be heard but they want their voice to bring change. Ultimately, they share what they want their man to know, want him to listen, validate and connect to them. They want change!
I’ve recently completely a series of videos on What She Wants Him to Know, which is a more complete version of what you’ll read here. I’m convinced that God does not honor the abusive man and that she is to be treated always with dignity and honor. I’m certain her responses, not always pretty, are cries for help.
Here are just a few of the requests she makes, hidden amidst those desperate cries for help:
First, see her as a separate, unique, individual. Women who have been narcissistically and emotionally abused feel marginalized, invisible and used for utilitarian purposes. In other words, they don’t feel valued for who they are, their unique gifts and for what they bring to the relationship. Always on the outside of his life looking in, they feel powerless to be truly heard and seen. They want their voice to be heard and for their man to make decisions in collaboration with her. Honor and value her, changing your life to reflect an active interest in her.
Second, see her cries, anger and hurt as cries for help. These women are crying out, sometimes quite loudly, to be heard. They are not just “losing their temper,” but rather gesturing, verbalizing, sometimes even acting out in an attempt to be truly considered and valued. Sit and listen to her, asking her what she needs and wants and then changing your behavior accordingly.
Third, take responsibility for the abuse, sit with healthy shame and apologize. These women want their man to own the magnitude of the damage they have done. They are tired of tepid apologies that are followed by more acting out. They are weary of promises for change, only to be followed by more bad behavior. They want a man to live out for “godly grief brings repentance that leads to salvation.” (II Corinthians 7: 10) Taking responsibility for abuse exhibits deep remorse and active plans and actions for change.
Fourth, see that she is probably right. For as much as men want to deny it, women have done a lot of emotional and spiritual work. They have read the books, studied Scripture, sought out counseling and begged for change. These women are wise and worthy of being heard and their words highly valued. Consider that she is likely right about much of what she is saying.
Fifth, dedicate yourself to depth change. These women want true, depth change and action. They are tired of hollow words. They want to see their man follow through with counseling, apply Scripture to his life and be the Godly leader he has been called to be. Seek true, depth change. Find good help and settle in for the long run.
Sixth, see that she wants the abuse to stop but also wants the true, relational, vulnerable connection to begin. After the abuse has stopped it must be followed by true, heartfelt emotional connection. Emotional connection is evidenced by vulnerability, transparency and accountability. Be the man who learns emotional language. Study her and show her you care enough to have a powerful connection to her.
Finally, invest in ongoing emotional and spiritual growth. Superficial change won’t do a thing for either of you. Find someone trained in narcissistic and emotional abuse and follow their lead. Make the emotional, financial and spiritual commitment to real change. Follow this up by a clear, decisive accountability plan, knowing relapse is a real possibility.
What do you want him to know? Please share your feedback with us. If you would like further help, we are here for you. Please send responses to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives as well as our newly formed subscription group called Thrive created for women struggling with emotional abuse.