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The Narcissist Pastor, Sexuality, and Marriage

This is a little long, but I wanted to be thorough.

As we have seen, the narcissist is a bundle of contradictions, fears, and rage. Narcissist pastors are no different. Since the vast majority of non-Catholic pastors are married, it is the marital partner who must figure out how to survive in submissive codependency, or get out entirely. There is no middle ground.

This installment focuses on narcissism and sexuality, which of course is where the spouse is most vulnerable. In addition to several published studies, tt draws heavily on a 2009 article by Salman Akhtar published in the April edition of Psychiatric Annals 39, no. 4 titled, “Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Setting of Pathological Narcissism.” 

While some narcissist pastors proclaim an almost prudish sexuality, “narcissistic sexuality is strongly associated with three specific types of sexual aggression (unwanted sexual contact, sexual coercion, and attempted/completed rape), and the likelihood of future sexual aggression. Narcissism is also positively associated with infidelity, including sexual exploitation, grandiose sense of sexual skill, sexual entitlement, and lack of sexual empathy (husbands only).” 

Mature love requires an intimate, sustained relationship with a romantically attractive partner with whom “affection and sensuality can both be expressed and received.” There must also be a “capacity for separateness, respect for the lover’s autonomy, and feelings of tenderness and care.” The narcissist does not understand or accept the last three.

“The individual with a narcissistic personality has not mastered these developmental tasks. Feeling deprived from the earliest periods of childhood onwards, he is seething with rage. This rage makes tolerating limits difficult. Tenderness and restrained sexuality is replaced by greed and cocky irreverence. This, as can be readily imagined, has a wide-ranging impact upon the evolution and sustenance of romantic and sexual life during adulthood.

Deficient in empathy, the narcissistic individual often fails to subtly convey his own desire since he assumes that his need will automatically be met with gratification. Instead, he simply demands sex or assumes that he has the right to exploit others. Worse still, the narcissist might deliberately overlook the partner’s sexual invitations in order to "sadistically withhold affection from them."

In essence, from the awakening of desire through foreplay to orgasm and post-orgasmic states, the narcissist finds sexual matters difficult. He cannot manage normal sexuality, which requires the capacity to simultaneously enjoy oneself and to pleasure his partner. 

The tensions of self-loathing, seeing the other person as an object to be exploited, and marital monogamy are too much for a narcissistic individual’s ego to bear. Marrying and staying married thus become difficult, the common result being serial affairs and multiple marriages with ever-younger women in the vain attempt to maintain his own youthfulness. 

“Narcissistic personalities tend to select individuals who, rather than help diminish their pathology, aid in retaining their aggrandized view of themselves. Marrying a socially prominent person helps the accomplished narcissist via boastful sharing (in essence, stealing) of the partner's talents and achievements. Marrying someone far beneath one's socioeconomic status can, paradoxically, also facilitate the stabilization of narcissistic grandiosity; one can constantly demonstrate one's superiority. Besides, one can also satisfy the covert masochism, which frequently accompanies narcissism. In such narcissistic marriages, ‘the partner is really a servant or a convenient fixture, and depreciation and resentment are institutionalized in chronic aggressive behavior’ (Citing Kernberg). Clearly, masochistic tendencies on the partner’s part secretly collude in the stability of such pathological marriages.”

“Marriage does not only bring a spouse in one's life but also his or her family. Cultivating and maintaining a receptive attitude towards the in-laws requires tact, resilience, and, ultimately, a deep sense of respect for the spouse's internal objects. The narcissistic individual lacks these qualities and thus ends up alienating the spouse.” The counter to this is to alienate the spouse from his or her family through emotional terror.

“Narcissistic personalities might damage their marriages by having extramarital affairs. Such damage might remain contained within the marital bond, if is a one-time occurrence, if the spouse has reasons and ability to be forgiving, and if the narcissistic individual himself shows the capacity for remorse. Otherwise the damage is severe enough to result in divorce. This is especially the case with narcissistic men who are habitual philanderers and whose spouses have psychically grown and become more self-respecting over time. 

“The onset of middle age also poses special risks for the sexual and marital lives of narcissistic individuals. The unmarried philanderer finds his diminishing sexual prowess extremely disconcerting. It threatens to de-link him with the sole avenue he has had available for connecting with women (mother-substitutes) and drawing sustenance from them. His ever-present subterranean inconsolability now bubbles to the surface. For the married narcissist, too, matters are not simple. Generally speaking, the inevitable diminution of sexuality during middle age is normally compensated by deepening of mutual regard, respect, and affection. For narcissistic individuals, especially men, the diminution of sexual excitement is, however, accompanied by a loss of interest in the partner. ‘Here, eternally youthful bodies are needed compulsively, regardless of the face, the person, and the attitudes with which such bodies relate to the (narcissistic individual)’(citing Kernberg). Hunger and greed of such proportions end up cannibalizing whatever emotional goodness does exist in the marriage.”

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