Competitions can be fun. They challenge the skill, stamina, and determination of the participants, they promote healthy comradery and social engagement.
Or at least they should.
Many times, however, competition gets out of control and becomes more of a power play, a one-upmanship, a display of vulgar and unwholesome opposition.
People with unhealthy narcissistic traits tend to view life as a competition—and they must always be the winner. If not—if they feel they’ve lost, or someone might be better at something than they are—all hell breaks loose. And that’s putting it mildly.
In one of the most well-known biblical quotes, St. Paul reminds us that “love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor. 13:4-5).
In other words, love isn’t a competitive sport where there is a clear winner and a definite loser. Yet this, strangely, is just how someone with an abusive mindset views every aspect of his or her life—including love, romantic or otherwise. If you’re in a toxic relationship, this may sound familiar: your partner gets jealous if you show love or even friendship toward anyone else, no matter who that “anyone else” may be—including your children and other family members, or even your pet.
It’s as if they see love as a commodity that could easily run out. If you give love to another, that means you have less to give to them.
And they want it all. Every last drop, plus more.
It’s exhausting to be in a relationship with someone who holds this attitude. It rips away at the core of your humanity because it makes you feel as if your love is defective or inadequate.
In the mind of an abuser, sharing your love with someone else means they’ll get less—and they can’t tolerate that.
I had a reader recently ask me:
My ex never liked me. I actually broke off our first engagement, because back then I was still strong enough to do that. But then he pursued me as if I was the love of his life, professing his devotion and begging me to take him back. Why did he do that, if he didn’t even like me as a person?
Anyway, I fell for his tactics, and ended up marrying him. As soon as he had me back, it was the same story. He didn’t treat me right during our second engagement, either. Deep down I think I knew he didn’t like me, let alone love me. But it wasn’t until after the divorce that I finally faced it. My only question is: why did he marry me?
Sadly, what this reader describes is far more common than uncommon. This is the typical profile of a typical abuser. I responded by telling her:
It sounds like your ex may have married you because he needed to win. You were a conquest, not a love. Think of it like a toddler. How many times have you seen two toddlers playing together, and one has a toy that he’s focused on. However, after a while he gets tired of that toy, so he tosses it aside. Once he does that, the other toddler grabs the toy and starts playing with it. It’s only then that the first toddler decides that he must have the toy back. He has to have it—not because he really wants it, but so no one else can have it and so he can claim to be the “winner.”
In the black-and-white world of a narcissistic abuser, all of life is a competition–even love–and he has to be the winner, no matter what the cost. Even if the cost is you. Because, sadly, in the end, only he counts. And like a toddler, he simply cannot share.
Most victims become utterly confused when trying to figure out the mind of an abuser, yet the key is quite simple:
Stop trying to think about their motives from a normal standpoint.
As a mental health professional once told me, “their brains are broken.” Somewhere in their childhood, their emotional development was stunted. This means that they tend to perceive the world, and everything in it, as a toddler-like competition.
To them, any situation is win or lose—and they must win, always and every time. If they don’t, they perceive themselves as bad, defective, unworthy, unlovable, or a combination of those traits.
They can’t deal with the shame they feel inside the depths of their innermost selves, so they lash out at others as a way to cope with the pain. They blame everyone else. They pretend they’re the victim, and convince themselves that this is the “truth.” They accuse, they shout, or they inflict the silent treatment. They’ll do whatever it takes to bring the attention back to themselves and to ensure they’re the focal point in their intimate relationships.
To people with such a mindset, love is like a candy bar. I realize this is strange analogy, but black-and-white thinking does tend to be confusing for those of us who perceive the world in colors. The black-and-white thinking of an abuser is perplexing, to say the least. The way they perceive life—and love—is sadly limited.
If you give half of a candy bar to your child (or mother/sibling/pet/friend/fill in the blank), then you’ll only have half to give him, and he wants the whole thing. He doesn’t understand the concept that love expands, so the more we love others, the more love we have inside, and the more we can give him.
“Better a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov. 17:1).
There is no enduring patience in such a relationship, because enduring patience is at odds with the abuser’s idea of love. To be patient means to allow others to be human, to have differences of opinion, or to disagree—and those are all huge “no-no’s” in the mindset of an abuser.
True love is the ability to feel joy when the one you love feels joy, and to weep when they weep—without making it all about you.
Kindness without honesty is nothing more than psychological and emotional manipulation.
Love is a duet, not a competition. We give to our beloved, he gives to us; this blends and merges until the giving and receiving become one, swirled together in a perfect harmony of friendship, trust and authentic devotion. If this isn’t present in your relationship, there isn’t a true relationship.
Love from Jesus should serve as a mirror and example of earthly love. All too often, however, this doesn’t happen—not due to a defect of God’s love for us, but because of our own human failure.
Love is patient, love is kind. Always. Love isn’t conditional—it isn’t patient when it wants to be, yet irritable or rage-filled at the next turn.
That’s not love. That’s a self-serving emotion and agenda. And it isn’t from God.
To hear me speak about healthy relationships versus abusive relationships, the Catholic meaning of marriage, the red flags of abuse, and so much more, listen to my recent interview with Michael Snellen of Catholicism for the Modern World: