Chloe is one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. She goes far out of her way to help other women when she knows they’re having a rough time. She volunteers at a soup kitchen and women’s shelter. Most people think of her as confident and talented and they would never imagine that she’s married to a narcissist. She doesn’t complain very often, but every few months, she calls me to talk about the latest insane episode with her husband.
Chloe has kicked her husband out of the house before but he’s also locked her out. The neighbors aren’t sure what’s going on next door, but there’s never a dull moment. One night her husband opened all the doors and windows in the house before he left and Chloe woke up to a freezing house feeling vulnerable to intruders. Another time he refused to let her go out the door and leave for work until she removes a butter knife from the sink and put it in the dishwasher. Another time Chloe prepared lasagna so it would be ready to heat up when her family got home from church. Because her husband was jealous of her singing at church with another man, he refused to attend the service. When she and the kids got home, he’d eaten half of the lasagna.
Chloe gets frustrated, exasperated, and sometimes angry, but most of the time she’s depressed about her marriage. She questions if she actually has a marriage — it seems her role is more of a zookeeper than a wife. On good days she’s full of empathy for her poor husband who she believes had a hard childhood and is lonely without her in his life. He might not be as lonely as she thinks, but her empathy for him is why she can never leave him for good. I wonder if the real reason she can never leave him is that she continually makes excuses for him. And he keeps up his bad behavior because he knows she’ll put up with it.
Chloe thinks about her husband nearly every hour of every day. Her husband rarely thinks about her at all except when he needs her to fills his needs for narcissistic feed which include but are not limited to food, sex, or money.
Chloe’s husband seems incapable of taking care of anyone but himself, but the reality is that he chooses to live a very selfish existence. Every time he blows up and leaves, he comes back to Chloe because he knows she has a compassionate heart and if he can get her to feel sorry for him in some way — it could be as simple as him saying he’s hungry or as complicated as him needing her to bail him out of jail after he got in a fistfight with their neighbor. Whatever he does, Chloe feels sorry for him and rushes to rescue him.
Chloe and her husband are in a dance. You might think Chloe is a nice woman who is a victim of narcissistic abuse, but it always takes two to tango, Chloe is contributing to her own abuse simply because she’s an empath who wants to help others and one of the people she “helps” the most is her abusive husband. We might say such a marriage is made in hell — but the reality is that such a marriage continues to exist because Chloe is an empath. If she would stop having empathy, stop trying to help, or fix her abuser, her narc husband wouldn’t be able to continue his destructive work in her life.
Chloe is a nice person with a big heart for hurting people, but she needs to remember that she is only human with limited resources. Perhaps you’re a lot like Chloe, maybe you feel the pain of others even before you feel your own. It’s is a beautiful thing to be a compassionate person, but remember to have compassion and empathy for yourself too. It’s nice to help people worthy of love, but don’t be like Chloe and become a victim for love.
Cherilyn Christen Clough has been preparing for a pandemic her entire life. She knows what it is like to live in isolation. She spent most of her teen years living in the Montana wilderness washing hands with her germaphobe mom, hiding from society with her survivalist father, while baking bread from scratch and canning huckleberries over a campfire. You can read more about her strange childhood in her Memoir Chasing Eden. If you want to know her secrets for surviving narcissistic abuse you can sign up for Little Red’s Survivor Tips.