When the ancient cartographers ran out of knowledge about a landmass they were mapping, they often labelled the area with “here there be dragons.” It was a scary unknown with who-knew-what kind of weird critters, maybe barking spiders the size of lawnmowers. It was best for them to say the worst and hope for the best, similar to what many doctors still have to do now. If the worst happens, they’ve covered their butts. If it doesn’t, then everyone is usually happy and relieved and they forget about that “worst” scenario. Or, give it a little time, and it might be thought of as foolish or silly, as we do today when we think of Antarctica as possible dragon country. Makes some sense, I suppose; they would need all that fire-breathing wrath to stay warm.
This isn’t the case with narcissists, however. They are dragons. Real live fire-breathing flying reptiles with very bad dispositions. They unpredictably swoop in, lay waste to everything in sight, and then swoop out again. And when one finds oneself in a so-called love relationship with a narcissist, well, there’s nothing there except trouble and heartbreak, baby. There’s no possibility of a real life version of Shrek or a romantic version of How to Train Your Dragon. It’s cute when it’s on-screen, but there’s no connection to reality at all – they’re cartoons, remember? – even if you’re out there hanging on by one fingernail and hoping that your narcissist is going to suddenly start to love and respect you in return.
Unfortunately, most narcissists are also misogynists. My apologies to all the men out there. I don’t mean to be offensive, but it is a fact that 72% of narcissists are male, and of that number, 91% are also haters of women. (I also have to acknowledge that there is some shifting of these numbers depending on the source and there are also growing numbers of female narcissists, particularly among the under 30 age group – the numbers I’m using here are an average.) For the most part, the research says that these men were likely abused or neglected by their mothers or other significant female figures in their lives, but my experience tells me that there is at least one other issue going on as well and that this issue results in a form of misogyny that is quite layered.
Once we were married, it over time became evident to me that my former narcissist husband is a latent homosexual. (Please be aware that it is NOT my intent to suggest that narcissism is any more prevalent among the gay population than it is in the general population.) He may have acknowledged his homosexuality to himself at some point in his life, but even if he did, he then stuffed it so far away that to him, it became a nothing. Obviously, ignoring one’s sexual orientation is going to be a serious problem for even the most otherwise well-balanced individual, but coupled with the personality issues associated with narcissism and you have an explosive combination – an extremely unstable, volatile, love/hate relationship with half of the population that manifests itself in immature and adolescent acting out, temper tantrums, jealousy and envy.
In “Peekaboo, I see Me” I wrote about the fact that at some point early in their lives, most narcissists have had the ability to feel empathy turned off. The narcissist I was married to demonstrated a classic case of this. I have independent evidence to confirm that his mother eventually became a severe alcoholic who barely functioned and who may have committed suicide (I have been unable to establish the veracity of this part), that his father was distant and uninvolved, and that a younger bother died at his father’s workplace while playing unsupervised around dangerous machinery.
In the meantime, “Harry” says that he faced a social reaction from some of his peer group – they ostracized him at the insistence of their parents because of the instability of his home life. I say “some” of his peer group because it seems from much of what Harry has told me that he also had friends; maybe, however, he fixated on those who decided that they didn’t want to or couldn’t socialize with him, and maybe I will never know the truth of this portion of his life; the differing accounts are obvious.
Nevertheless, Harry’s youth was difficult and tragic and it’s easy to see why he turned off his ability to feel for others – there was just too much hurt, anger and pain; it was a lot safer to distance himself, to grow a protective armour that would deflect anything else that might damage him, and to re-invent himself and his background. While ignoring the fact that his father was at least indirectly responsible for his brother’s death, Harry re-invented him as a sort of Superman who had tried to cure all of his family’s woes while battling an evil, violent, alcoholic spouse. For any independent, objective person, it’s clear that both parents had severe issues and were equally responsible for what happened to their sons. For Harry, however, it was black and white – Dad good, Mom bad. For the narcissist, nuance doesn’t really exist.
Into this mix comes the question of his sexual orientation. Not to say that it’s easy now, but back in the 70s it was a much more difficult proposition to deal with. Harry has tried to model himself on his version of his father as a manly hero-saint; homosexuality is completely verboten to him. Even now, with his father long since dead and with the much greater acceptance that we have today, he would find it impossible – Harry is completely invested in his invention and in any event, is incapable of self-examination. He has dedicated himself to being straight, just as he has dedicated himself to his hatred and fear of women.
However, there is an obvious inherent conflict in this position: to be “straight” he has to demonstrate a love of women, particularly to get what he really wants from them, which is to re-create the mother/son bond. Confused yet? It is confusing, and completely illogical, but that is the narcissist.
So, the narcissist goes into the charm offensive and wins the woman. He has specifically chosen this woman because she is a mark, a target and a trophy, but also because she has demonstrated an ability to take care of him – she has money, resources, energy, a job. He tries to enact that classic scenario of reproducing the same set of circumstances and hoping for a different outcome, namely that this relationship will somehow heal how he feels about his mother.
Was Oedipus a narcissist? Maybe.
In the meantime, he has to try to maintain the fiction that he’s a real partner who is sexually interested, when for him, the woman is a huge turn-off because of the very certainty that she’s a woman, to say nothing of the fact that he has visualized her as a sort of mother-figure, and this results in resentment and a personally directed resurfacing of his intense hatred for women. Make no wonder he can’t stand himself.
To get out of the bedroom and to dump responsibility at her door, he then starts to invent reasons why she is sexually undesirable, ranging all the way from inexperience and lack of technique to too much experience and too much technique. While she tries to think this over and figure out what went wrong and where the person she first knew has gone, he continues to dish out his hatred for women in calculated and strategic amounts that are designed to keep her off-balance; no sooner has she commenced re-building then the dragon swoops in with a fresh assault. The next thing she knows, there’s no chance to re-build, there’s only a quick moment to find cover, any cover that will provide temporary relief.
He has to empty himself of the hate he feels for her because she’s a woman, because of his envy and jealousy of her normal life, because he hates himself for hating her. He blows up, he rants and raves, he threatens, he spews vitriol. It’s one rage dump after another. And unless she gets him out of her life, that is what her life will be.