Am I married to a narcissist?
There are many kinds of people in this world, but perhaps none are so maligned as the pathological narcissist. Unfeeling, hurtful, sadistic, cruel and selfish, they are terrible spouses and disasterous parents. These people were never built to be caretakers. They are not capable of the love other people are capable of; indeed, many experts believe they are not capable of love at all.
If you are reading this, it's because you are concerned you may be living with a pathological narcissist. Please accept my deepest sympathies. You've probably already realized the person you thought you were in love with never even existed. It is imperative that you accept this, if you've not done so yet. You cannot change it. Your narcissistic partner cannot change it. It is what it is.
Here is a list of questions you can ask yourself to determine whether or not you could be living with a pathological narcissist. If you determine that you may be, you have a decision to make.
Does your partner seem to be two different people?
He's the good guy in public, and a sadistic, vicious terror at home. Sound familiar? If it does, you could be living with a pathological narcissist. The narcissist is extremely concerned with what people think of him and in public he is often a model citizen. At home behind closed doors, he is unpleasant, nasty, cruel or even physically abusive. This can be for any reason - or no reason at all that you can decipher - but it is most often when he does not get his way or does not receive the admiration he feels he deserves. He reacts with unbelievable rage when criticized - or when he thinks he was criticized. (This is one of the many ways we can differentiate between narcissism and healthy self-esteem: a healthy person can laugh off, ignore or even logically evaluate criticism because he is secure; the narcissist cannot do this because he is not secure.) He can turn on you like a snake in an instant, savaging you with terrible, hurtful words designed to make you feel two inches tall. His anger is explosive and often way out of proportion to what has happened. Nobody else sees this side of him but you and your children. The side everybody else sees is the side you fell in love with. Unfortunately, you now know it's not who he really is.
There is another type of narcissist; this narcissist often wants sympathy instead of admiration and instead of appearing as the good guy in public, he portrays himself as a helpless victim and weak. No one would ever believe this poor pathetic wimp is abusive - but he is, behind closed doors.
Does your partner try to manipulate others against you?
This is one of the hallmarks of the pathological narcissist. He lies about you to your family, friends and even your children. He spreads nasty rumors about you, he tries to humiliate you or shares your personal secrets all in an attempt to turn other people against you. The narcissist sees you as a rival for attention from these people and as such, he has to destroy your reputation so that they do not give you any of the love, admiration or attention he craves all for himself. He is jealous of any attention anyone else is given because he perceives others as better than he is. You are a good person who deserves love, admiration, respect and above all, attention. Deep inside, underneath all of his false ego, the pathological narcissist believes he is a bad person who does not deserve any of these things. Because of this, he desires to destroy your good qualities and "bring you down" to his level. Then he feels better because even though he doesn't deserve these things, now other people think you don't either. This makes him feel better and more in control because while he doesn't receive these things, now neither do you. This is especially horrible when children are turned against a parent simply because the other parent cannot stand that the children love that parent, too.
The weaker type of narcissist may not attempt to manipulate others against you in the same way. Instead of telling hateful, spiteful lies, they may tell lies designed to make them look like a victim and you look abusive but don't be fooled. This is not a case of "misunderstanding," or of a poor helpless little boy who just needs love and is acting out. The weak narcissist knows you are not abusive. He wants other people to think you are because he wants them to dislike you and feel sorry for him. Make no mistake about it: this is abuse.
Does your partner gaslight you or play mindgames?
Gaslighting somebody is the oldest manipulation trick in the pathological narcissist's book and they are very, very good at it. It's a form of crazymaking designed to make the other person feel unsure of reality. It keeps them off-balance and vulnerable to the narcissist's domination. It's a way of controlling the other person and the conversation.
Examples of gaslighting include:
- "I never said that."
- "I didn't say that. You said that."
- "That didn't happen."
- "You're trying to confuse me."
- "You're imagining things."
- "You're crazy."
- "You're lying."
- "You're just saying that to hurt me."
- "You're making that up."
- "You're trying to frame me."
- "You're too sensitive."
- "I never hit you."
- "I didn't really hurt you."
It takes a very strong person to withstand repeated gaslighting. It's an insidious form of abuse that undermines a person's very perception and reality to the point that they become totally compliant with whatever the narcissist says. The truly evil part is that the pathological narcissist often claims - to you and to others - that you are gaslighting him. Again, don't be fooled; he knows very well who is manipulating who.
Does your partner blame you for everything?
Part of the way pathological narcissism works is that it prohibits the narcissist from accepting or even seeing when he is to blame. He blames you. Always. It doesn't matter how much he has to twist things to achieve this, he always achieves it.
"You made me hit you because you are always provoking me!"
"I wouldn't have to act like this if you weren't so ________!"
"I wouldn't have cheated on you if you weren't such a bitch!"
"I would not have lost my job if I wasn't always worried about what you're doing!"
"I was late for my appointment because you didn't wake me up!"
The pathological narcissist is a champion blameshifter. He not only blames you for things he does, but he blames you for everything bad that happens to him. The fact that it is not remotely your fault doesn't matter at all. The narcissist wants to punish you for things you haven't done because his disorder demands that he punish someone and he simply cannot stand for it to always be him. The pathological narcissist has a brutal, sadistic superego that beats him with internal criticisms 24 hours a day. Because of this, he literally leaps at the chance to take the punishment out on somebody else. It's the only escape from it that he has.
The narcissist cannot take responsibility for anything. The weak narcissist will often phrase blame statements as evidence of how you are abusing, manipulating and controlling him. He knows this is not true. He is saying it so that he does not have to admit that he is the abuser, the manipulator, the controlling one. If he had to admit that, his image as the victim would fall apart and he fears that more than anything. When his partner reacts to the constant provocation, cruelty and abuse with an angry outburst, he victoriously twists the situation around to claim he is the victim and his partner is the abusive one.
Does your partner attempt to control everything?
Narcissists are serious control freaks. They not only want to control their environment, they want to control everybody in it. They want to control everything about their partner: their thoughts, their feelings, their actions, their opinions, everything. The pathological narcissist takes any expression of individuality from their partner as a rejection and a threat; they actively try to stomp this individuality out of their partner as fast as possible. The partner is told their feelings are hurtful, their opinions are intentionally contrary to what the narcissist thinks or believes, their thoughts are offensive and their actions are bad.
Everything the partner does is twisted against them into something bad. All their motivations are painted as cruel, manipulative and abusive. Everything they do hurts or somehow upsets the narcissist unless it is exactly what the narcissist wants them to do. Even when the partner has done everything "right" or is in perfect agreement with the narcissist, the narcissist may suddenly decide their partner's actions, thoughts, feelings or opinions are wrong anyway, and punish their partner for it. The partner is left hurt, confused and unable to understand why the thing that was OK yesterday is suddenly wrong today, or why agreeing with the narcissist is not enough. This type of cruel unpredictable behavior keeps their partner completely off-balance and makes them easier to control.
By systematically picking apart everything that makes their partner who they are, the pathological narcissist eventually controls their partner completely. He may also use standard forms of control found in most domestic violence situations, controlling through violence, dominance, fear and tantrums.
The weak narcissist uses all of these methods but he also may attempt to control things through the appearance of neediness, clinginess and insecurity.
"I need to know where you are at all times. I'm too worried if I don't know."
"I can't deal with you being upset with me. It breaks my heart."
These statements look like neediness, but they are not. They are manipulations designed to control the other person and dismiss their needs as unimportant when compared to the narcissist's needs: "You're upset with me because you say I hurt you, but talking about what I did wrong is upsetting me and that's more important than how you feel." What a partner may initially perceive as insecurity is often revealed over time as utter selfishness - the narcissist's needs come first. Always. Many narcissists use this "weakness" tactic to escape guilt and blame. The victim is demonized and called cruel for having feelings.
Does your partner believe everything revolves around him?
Narcissists are completely self-absorbed people. They are selfish to the point of almost seeming inhuman. They cannot stand for the subject to divert from them, even for a second. They will either attempt to direct the subject back to themselves or they will simply tune out. The narcissist can offer no comfort, no sympathy and no shoulder to cry on. Any attempts to force them to talk about your problems results in either the narcissist "trumping" your problems with their own and making the conversation all about them, or with accusations that you only talk/care about yourself. Similarly, any anger or unpleasant feelings you have toward the narcissist are rejected as only existing to hurt them.
Narcissists do not appreciate your feelings as actual feelings; they can only see their partner's feelings as existing simply to affect them. It's like the entire world is a movie and he is the star. His boss calling a meeting to address "problems with the team" is really only talking about him. The landlord who insists on timely payment is only insisting because he doesn't like the narcissist. Everything that happens is connected to them somehow; that's why they believe everything you do is intended to affect them, in either a good or bad way. Pathological narcissists do not not see their partners as individuals at all. They see them only as external extensions of themselves. In fact, they see everything and everybody like that. This is why narcissists perceive everything as directly related to them: to them, it is. It's their world - literally. We are just living in it.
Does your partner feel he is entitled to whatever he wants?
Narcissists believe they should have whatever they want, regardless of whether they actually deserve it or not. They want unconditional love, admiration, respect... it doesn't matter that they are incapable of giving these things to other people. They want them all and, quite frankly, for their every wish, want, desire and whim to be granted. Now. If people do not acquiesce to this demand immediately, they are painted as abusive and unloving. In the mind of the pathological narcissist, want and need are inextricably confused, leaving the narcissist with the feeling that he is being rejected and denied necessary sustenance, even over small things that should not be important.
The pathological narcissist does not care if money is needed for bills or rent. He may spend all of it on things for himself if you don't stop him. If you try to stop him, you will face his rage and possibly physical abuse for daring to get in his way. There may be a huge blowup over a bag of chips or a pair of headphones, with the narcissist screaming that you are abusive, cruel, twisted and evil because he can't have them. You're denying him. You are - as usual - forcing him to settle for less because you want to oppress and degrade him. This is his way of controlling you. He uses abuse to get his way and he may routinely spend all the money to create catastrophes in order to keep the family in turmoil and hurt people. He cares nothing for the needs of others. At all. All he cares about is what he wants.
Narcissists are often serial cheaters. They don't care how their partner feels. They only care what they want. They are often physically abusive as well, with the most abuse falling on the victim when she cannot do exactly what the narcissist wants at any given time. This is a lot of the time, because the narcissist sets his partner up in no-win situations where no matter what she does, it's wrong.
For example, the narcissist asks his wife to speak to his therapist. She doesn't know what to do, because if she does speak to the therapist, he will say she is trying to turn the therapist against him and sabotage his therapy. If she does not speak to the therapist, he will say she is trying to sabotage his treatment by "purposely withholding" important information. Either way, she is inviting abuse on herself simply by trying to do what he is asking.
He may tell his partner he cheats on her because she is "boring." When she reacts to this by trying to spice things up in the bedroom, he may laugh at her efforts or rage and call her a whore. Again, she invites abuse upon herself just by trying to do what he wants.
Narcissists believe they are special people. They often have very exact ideas about what they deserve or should have to do. It's very common for the narcissist to refuse to help around the house, work or do other things they consider beneath them. The reason for this is very simple: they don't think they should have to. Any attempts to get them to pull their own weight are met with explosive rage. How dare you try to turn them into your slave?! Who do you think you are?! You fascist Nazi dictator! The narcissist believes you should cater to him, and if you do not do so or if you attempt to create equality in the relationship, he will paint you as neglectful, abusive and uncaring. If the narcissist cannot have more than others, he feels that he is being horribly and maliciously slighted. He is not interested in equality at all. Not for himself and not for others. The narcissist is only interested in crushing others beneath his feet and whatever else can fill the emptiness that is inside of him.
Does your partner seem to actually like hurting you and ruining things for you?
This is another hallmark of the pathological narcissist. He actually enjoys hurting others, and he enjoys destroying things that other people care about. Sometimes you can even see it in his face, when he's done or said something especially vicious to you. He will say or do the cruelest thing he can possibly come up with and then stand there drinking your reaction in like wine. It's disgusting to see but there is no mistaking it: he's enjoying himself. He likes how much it hurts you and how good it makes him feel to do it. In a way, he is addicted to it. It's the only thing that makes him feel better. This is extremely important to understand because this is the reason he will never stop.
So are you married to a narcissist?
If you've answered yes to all of these questions, then the chance is very good that you are indeed living with a narcissist in your home. This is a big deal, because regardless of what he tells you, it will never change. It will never get any better. He can never be any different. You have to accept that and resign yourself to the abuse if you want to stay in the relationship. Regardless of whether he is a weak narcissist, a domineering violent narcissist, or the manipulative smooth kind who is only controlling you for your own good because you're "too stupid" to do it yourself, these things are abuse. Either resign yourself to it, or you have to leave the relationship. You cannot love him back to health. You cannot fix him. You cannot save him. You cannot stay, hoping it will get better. It won't. These are fundamentally broken people who don't want to get better.
Even if you aren't living with a pathological narcissist, your relationship is probably unhealthy at the very least and you should think about what you want to do going forward. Do you really want to spend the next 10 or 20 or even 30 years trying to please somebody who will never be happy? Do you want to spend the rest of your life with someone who does not value or care about your feelings in any way? That's no way to live.