How Organized Religion Primes Women for Relationships with Narcissistic, Abusive, and Predatorial Partners

I’ve discovered over time that I’m a magnet for narcissistic personalities. This is not to say that all people who with whom I connect are toxic. But I’ve learned the hard way that I have to be vigilant.

Although I could get into stories about the types of personalities I’ve “bonded” with in the past, the question is, how did I get here? How did I become the type of person narcissistic and excessively selfish personalities find attractive? The type of person who needs to be needed, and feels empty if she’s not being used?

As with most things on this blog, the answer is: organized religion.

Particularly in fundamentalist Christian cultures, girls pick up some unhealthy messaging early on:

There are certain things women can’t (shouldn’t) do – only the men can.

Women are born for one destiny: to marry, have children, clean, and cook.

Women should let men think for them. Women’s views and opinions don’t matter, at least when compared to men’s.

When a man violates a woman, it likely at least partially the woman’s fault.

Women need a man to guide them spiritually.

Women need a man to be their “Protector, Provider, Prophet, and Priest” (according to Voddie Baucham).

Women cannot trust their intuition – the voice of the Spirit within. They need a man to interpret and decide things for them.

These sorts of teachings and beliefs are incredibly damaging, and can compromise a woman’s defenses in detecting or responding appropriately to abusive partners or potential partners. Women (and especially Christian women) learn to be people-pleasers, say “yes,” smile, apologize and take responsibility for others’ actions and problems, and put up with everything quietly. This is a toxic way to raise girls, and it runs against the example Jesus set for us in His treatment of women.

As with the curse upon Canaan (whether an allegorical story or the actual origin of the world’s ill treatment of people of color today), the curse upon women of their husbands ruling over them (whether the garden story is allegorical or actual) is not something we should seek to perpetuate. The fact that these curses were declared does not mean that that’s how things should be in a healed world, or the way God wants them to be. Telling people how things will be (as God did in the garden) is prophecy, not an endorsement of what will transpire. Jesus wept about the suffering spawned by sin and the curse.

Jesus is breaking the curses on women and on people of color. He is moving in the heart of society to release them and raise them up to their rightful equal standing in society – including in Christian culture. (Although a lot of progress has been made for women in Western culture at large, in fundamentalist religions, things are still relatively in the dark ages. Women are viewed as lesser beings with more limited places, roles, and spiritual understanding, and they often bear the brunt of blame and shaming. This dynamic is not different from the people being told that the government has to make all the decisions for them – it is tyranny. Women suffer from spiritual tyranny. The voice and power of the Spirit within them is often silenced – quenched.)

I’ve seen many Christian women who grew up in highly strict, fundamentalist culture – or even went through processes like courtship/betrothal (the systems and formulas that were supposed to “work” and produce long-lasting, healthy marriages) – end up in abusive marriages in which the men mistreated their families and/or became unfaithful.

I know nobody’s perfect. We are all capable of anything – of messing up in any way.

But I wonder why these women were attractive to their men in the first place. Did these men believe that these “good girls” would put up with anything? Not see through the lies? Not believe they had a voice or place to challenge their husbands? And why did the parents so heavily involved in their daughters relationship choices – the ones supposed to have all the wisdom in helping their daughters choose partners – not see through the lies, or foresee what these men would become and do to their daughters?

This goes to show that 1) Even the best of marriages with the best of partners can turn sour and potentially abusive/toxic when life gets rough, and 2) Some of the most toxic men are often also some of the best con artists and actors. Even the wisest of people cannot always see through the mask.

This is why it’s not enough for the parents to be doing the majority of the thinking and advising. If a woman is told that she should trust her parents, and that her own thoughts and perceptions – her heart – are deceitful, why will she even bother to think critically? Or even if she wants to, will she feel “allowed?”

What would help? If Christian women were encouraged to think, question, and examine things for themselves – taking the primary role in decision-making and getting to know potential partners, and not fearing disappointing their parents in discarding anyone that gives them a bad vibe, or being expected to let their parents or the men in their lives to do most of the thinking for them – would go a long way.

Christian women need to have a standing in life in which they are allowed, able, and encouraged to be independent, confident, direct, honest, bold, tough-minded, and to choose their own paths, know their own goals (even if their parents would have chosen something different), and know that they are on an equal standing with men.

Most importantly, women must be encouraged to listen to the voice of the Spirit within them more than the voices around them – even of their parents. Jesus must be allowed to come first – before the so-called “spiritual heads” surrounding a woman. If women are not free to listen to the voice of God above all else – if they are trained to gate and suppress their intellect, intuition, and strength in subservience to others – predatorial men will notice.

Christian women need to be emboldened to know their own minds, so that they end up with someone who is compatible with them (and not just – or necessarily – with their parents). After all, they are the ones who will be making decisions and doing life with their future spouse. If that individualized unity is not present in the couple, there will be issues down the road.

This article is not to shame Christian women who have ended up in toxic relationships, nor those who may have erroneously guided them. Again, no one’s perfect, and even our best of decisions and efforts can still end in the worst of results. Life is unpredictable.

But Jesus empowered women. He released women’s voices. He first told women to preach the gospel to men. He received financial support from women and was accompanied by women in His ministry; He didn’t tell them to go home and cook. Jesus associated with a Samaritan woman who had had five husbands and was cohabiting with a man other than any of the five – an outcast religiously and ethnically. He had only words of life and love for her. Jesus grew up learning from His mother. At His death, He ensured His mother was cared for. Jesus changed His mind when the Canaanite woman begged Him for her daughter’s healing – He changed His mind because of the persuasion of a woman. He let Mary sit at His feet and learn – a “man’s role” in that culture. He applauded the extravagance of the woman anointing His feet – He didn’t disdain her seeming impulsivity and generosity as a “woman’s weakness.”

Jesus demonstrated great esteem and respect for women, and lifted them up in society. We should do the same – not only for the safety of women today, but for that of our daughters, and the decency of men in the future. Our men and women of tomorrow should grow up with mutual confidence and understanding that they are equals, and learning to treat each other as such.

As women, Jesus is our primary Provider, Protector, Priest, Husband, Friend, and Guide. He is our Shepherd. And He absolutely comes before any man in our lives – whether we are married or unmarried.

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