Category Archives: Narcissism – One Woman’s True Story of Marriage to a Narcissist

Here There Be Dragons

English: Picture of myself, I am a narcissist....

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.

Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, I’m a Narcissist and I Don’t See You

Narcissism
Narcissism (Photo credit: JasonLangheine)

I’ve already discussed how the egocentrism of narcissists leads them to construct lives where they target others who can provide them with attention, constant confirmation of their flattering self-image and who can also act as  garbage receptacles for all the negative thoughts they have about themselves. Last time, I looked at their insatiable need for re-invention, a by-product of the fact that they feel so empty and keep searching for something to fill themselves. Narcissists are essentially empty; they are in the never-ending process of divesting themselves of the negativity they heap upon themselves, but often, they can’t keep up, an over-flow situation arises, and they vomit that chaotic mass of self-hatred all over those closest to them. I refer to this outpouring or vomiting of self-hatred as the rage dump. There is no warning that this will occur, although if you are exposed enough to a narcissistic individual, you may begin to recognize some of their triggers.

Their triggers are things that may seem to have no logic attached to them, although there is usually some sort of connection to their own self-image. For instance, if the narcissist has or has had a weight problem, he or she can explode if encountering others who, in the opinion of the narcissist, has the same problem, although the individuals in question may not really have a problem at all. When the corresponding rage emerges, the narcissist does not care where he or she is, or who might hear. The narcissist I was married to had, years before I met him, overcome an extreme weight problem through gastric-bypass surgery. The self-hatred he carried around for having developed the problem in the first place was never in any way addressed through counselling, and he constantly flew into rages over what he considered to be the gluttonous weaknesses of others, including me. This rage could be anything from a series of rather loud, sarcastic comments delivered in restaurants and intended for total strangers to hear, all the way through to shouting, spitting, boiling condemnations delivered in the most vitriolic and foul language and in any venue, either public or private. It was, in fact, a public explosion of this type that was the catalyst for our final parting of the ways.

He also had a serious issue with people who wear sandals. He frequently trumpeted his opinion that no one wants to see dirty, filthy, calloused feet with thick yellowing toenails. I eventually realized that what he really despised were his own feet, and because he felt that he shouldn’t display them, no one else should display their feet, either. Remember, it’s not possible for someone else to be better than they are.

Their rage can manifest in other ways, as well. Any perceived challenges to their intelligence can spark angry tantrums that are off the chart. I once had the temerity to follow up with further information on some investment advice that my former husband wanted me to follow, and he ripped into me with the ferocity of a hurricane. This rage occurred over the phone, so I was accorded some measure of safety; however, his reaction and the words he used to describe my “behaviour”  were extreme. I had “betrayed” him. I had “abandoned” him. I was “disloyal and treacherous”. Before hanging up, he shouted, “F***k you! F***k you and the horse you rode in on! And f***k Carrie [the person who gave the financial information]! I was left shocked and reeling.

It’s not uncommon for narcissists to feel that they have had the “best” education, that no one has worked harder to succeed than they have, that no one has overcome more obstacles than they have, that because of their great intelligence, they were able to conquer the serious disadvantages of their upbringing that would have stymied a lesser person. They will often convince themselves that this is true and will spend a lot of energy on trying to convince others of it as well, even if there is much evidence to suggest that they are no smarter or have not had to overcome anything more than most of us. Much of this problem derives from the fact that they cannot accept themselves as ordinary, and as part of their constant re-invention, they are compelled to manufacture a past that makes them feel special, noticed and different.  They also believe that these qualities entitle them to weigh in with authority on any topic, whether they know what they are talking about or not. In the case of my former husband, I would have sooner taken financial advice from a chipmunk. At least they know about winter storage. The sad fact is that the complete totality of his knowledge about money is an adolescent ability to spend it, particularly on himself.

The unpredictable nature of these rage dumps can leave the recipients feeling dazed, exhausted, and vulnerable, but it also gets worse. Because most of us look for rational explanations for things, we will be left confused: there is no apparent logical reasoning for the behaviour that we have just witnessed unless we start to take it upon ourselves, a dangerous situation that together with the narcissist’s talent for projection, can lead to a vicious circle of mental abuse. So, what is the reason for these rages? The reason is that they are compensating. They want recognition and respect for being smart, intelligent, an authority, but they are insecure about it. If someone questions something they say, they fear that the questioner might be right, and therefore, the only way to re-establish a sense of superiority is to stomp on and intimidate the source of this discord. As a result of this reaction, the very things they desire – respect and recognition for their abilities – is completely lost to them and the loop begins again. The rage they feel at themselves must be eliminated, directed outward, and at the people who are the most likely to take it and the least likely to deserve it: those who are unfortunate enough to, for the time being, love them.

As Gertrude Stein Said, “There’s No There There”

Gertrude Stein at "Les Charwelles," ...
Gertrude Stein at “Les Charwelles,” June 12, 1934. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The life of the narcissist is also defined by his or her ability live a chameleon-like existence of on-going change. They adopt whatever they find pleasing and claim it as their own, particularly if there is any kind of mileage or attention to be gained from it. They will exploit anything that they deem to be useful. If, for some reason, they suddenly find it helpful to be Buddhist, then they will “become” Buddhist. If they can absorb extra attention from it, they will make a show of their “religious beliefs.”

They are “special” in other ways, too, and because of this, are deserving of notice and admiration. They may be related to a royal family. They may have survived an airplane crash. They may have received an award for bravery. Their parents may have been (choose one)saints/alcoholics/impoverished/abusive/scorned/wealthy/inspirational … the list goes on. Whatever it is they say their parents were, you can depend on it that it’s unlikely to be true. It is, however, likely to be grandiose and dramatic and either the best or worst of its kind. Narcissists don’t ever do, according to them, anything small. They just choose descriptors in that moment to suit the audience they have so that they can accomplish their agenda. And the agenda is always the same: compensation for the emptiness they feel and a cover for the fear that they have of having that emptiness found out.

An extension of the construct that they live is the fact that they carry very little with them, either concretely or emotionally. They often have little or nothing at all in the way of family contacts. Because their family members know them and their history, they will certainly not be able to pass themselves off as Buddhist, will they? So it often occurs that narcissists will eliminate family contact, either because they are constantly inventing  new personas to go with the new people in their lives or their family members are of no further use to them. Sometimes family members themselves will cut off contact because they can no longer tolerate the narcissistic behaviours.  There might not be much in the way of friends, either. If there are, the contact will be decidedly infrequent and not really of the quality that most of us would describe as friendship.

Another symptom of their rootlessness is the fact that often, they don’t own much in the way of material possessions; any major assets are likely to be fully encumbered by debt. I know of one situation where the narcissist showed up at his significant other’s home with only a single cardboard box of possessions; he didn’t even own a suitcase. Because of the constant need for re-invention, they are frequently on the move and therefore can’t manage much in the way of possessions; it becomes easier for them to own as little as possible. At most, there will be a storage locker somewhere containing old, cheap, worn furniture that the narcissist has fixated on as being valuable and special because he has good taste and is never wrong. These items will not even have sentimental value, only the value that he has assigned to them because he chose them.

So, as Ms. Stein said, “There’s no there there.”  They have no sense of themselves. They do not do their own thinking. They are incapable of self-examination. They constantly take from others – beliefs, possessions, money, hope, faith, charity, whatever they need in the moment to exploit the person or people with whom they are currently interacting. They give absolutely nothing in return. They are parasites who are always searching for a new situation, and once there, will attempt to consume all available resources before either moving on or being forced to move on. They are a plague that the rest of us have to endure; it’s up to us to be vigilant so that we can minimize the damage as much as possible.

Peekaboo, I See Me

Portrait: 73/365 "N is for Narcissism"
Portrait: 73/365 “N is for Narcissism” (Photo credit: Twaize)

Last time in “I See Myself, Therefore I am” I discussed how the narcissist generates a sense of self through an often invented mirror image and also through unremitting attention-seeking. They believe themselves to be completely empty or at best shallow and although they are afraid that others might discover this about them, they also believe that everyone else is just like themselves. This metastasizes into one of the worst evils about narcissism: the notion that all others operate in the same way that they do. Although this sounds contradictory, given that they’re worried that others will learn about their emptiness, they cannot abide the fact that most people do have an interior being and are, to some degree or another, concerned about the impact they may have on others. Narcissists just don’t accept this.

This type of projection is poisonous and crazy-making. Because narcissists at some point in their lives were damaged (or perhaps were even born that way) and had their ability to feel empathy turned off,  they all come to the conclusion that everyone else has had the same thing happen and that no one is capable of feeling  for another. The narcissist believes that essentially, we are all walking around lying about our feelings for others; at best we are pretending. Even though they have an inkling that this might not be true, as evidenced by their fear of having their emptiness found out, they behave as if it is true. The result is this then: every relationship they enter into is nothing more than a battle ground where they fight to inflict damage before it can be inflicted on them, where everyone is an enemy to be controlled and defeated, and where no one is to be trusted unless he or she can be absolutely subdued and mastered. All must be viewed with suspicion, because remember, we’re all waiting to do the same to them.

You might be wondering, then, why with this level of projection going on, they might ever enter into a relationship in the first place. Don’t forget that they’re empty and need attention to feel that they actually exist; therefore, they must have someone to provide that for them, so then the search begins. Their method of choice for winning people over is what I call a charm offensive. They can charm the birds right out of the trees. They compliment excessively, especially in areas where you might feel a little weak, they do little things for you, they buy you thoughtful presents; they make you feel valued and appreciated. They will walk over burning coals, hike through deserts or scale glaciers for you. They are charismatic and winning. They will make you feel like you are the only person who matters to them because you are the only person who matters to them. You are a target, a mark, a trophy, and they have a lot invested in you. And once you start to believe them, then, well, then everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world starts to tilt, because then the projection starts.

Very slowly, they begin to point out the things that are wrong with you, and because you have decided to trust them and also because you relate to others with thoughtfulness and empathy, you seriously consider what they have to say even though these negatives may be completely foreign to you. It might start with a suggestion to change your hair colour, or alter the brand of perfume you use. These “suggestions” are initially subtle and insidious but they continue to grow, both in volume and degree of importance. The next thing you know, your best friend whom you have known for 20 years is a pathetic a**hole who makes your life completely miserable. You have no taste in clothes or furniture and completely lack any sense of style. Your new car is a cheap piece of crap. Your new home has all sorts of things wrong with it. You have never worked hard in your life and you chose your career in order to be paid as much as possible for doing as little as possible. Your neighbours are a bunch of yelping harpies. You’re a miserable, fat lazy whiner who does nothing except sleep. You’re a tight fisted cheap skate. You have absolutely no idea what hardships are and would fail if you ever had to face any of them. You achieve your happiness at the expense of everyone around you. You’re a sexual adolescent who is clueless about intimacy. You don’t appreciate me.  You refuse to share. You’re stupid. You’re cruel to me. You’re a vindictive liar. You have no idea how to love anyone except yourself. You’re worthless, useless and a complete waste of skin. It would solve a lot of problems if you didn’t exist.

Do you see the projection? This is what they think of themselves. They swim in a vast cistern of jealousy-inspired hatred – hatred for themselves and hatred for all those people out there who seem to be better than they are, so they set out to prove that no one is superior to them, and they tear apart anyone with whom they become involved. Apart from stealing whatever they can from you, that is their raison d’être. The upshot is that unless you extricate yourself from this downward spiral, you wind up in a completely isolated deathtrap of a relationship with only a dim awareness of the fact that once upon a time, you had a perfectly good life.

For part three of this very lengthy definition, I am going to quote Gertrude Stein, who famously said, “There’s no there there.” She wasn’t referring to narcissists at the time, but as a succinct description of what they are, or perhaps I should say what they aren’t, truer words were never spoken.

I See Myself, Therefore I am

Narcissus
Narcissus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my first entry I discussed the fear that can permeate life and how it is often viewed in a negative light. Like most things in life, however, it is both good and bad. Fear and a lack of trust in my own judgement lead me to an entanglement with a narcissist, but before I got there, the groundwork had to be laid. People don’t become the targets of narcissists overnight. There is a long apprenticeship program that precedes it; there is a softening up which allows the object of a narcissist to rationalize, to make excuses, to minimalize the behaviours that define the narcissist. I have come to realize that there were at least three people in my life and one in particular who exposed me to the normalizing of narcissistic behaviours.

Before I get to a discussion of them, however, I need to start going over the definition of what a narcissist is. I’ll caution you that this is my definition, borne out of experience, reading, thinking and discussion, and involves multiple parts. It is very personal, but because narcissists are such a “type”, you will be able to decide if this describes someone who is either already in your life, or whom you have reservations about admitting to your life.

That statement leads me to a digression, but an important one – if you suspect that a narcissist is trying to become a part of your life, slow down now. Even if you have only the tiniest suspicion, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of taking your time to determine if this person is someone whom you can ultimately trust. If the person is opposed to slowing down, beware, because that’s enough of a reason to question the speed with which this person is trying to enter your life, and frankly, if you’re reading this because you’re worried about a possible involvement with a narcissist, then there’s a good chance that you probably are.

The original Greek story from which we derive the term narcissist concerns a young man named Narcissus who falls in love with his own reflection. Because he cannot stop looking at himself, he eventually dies and turns into a narcissus flower, the name of those same beautiful blooms that we see around every spring. It’s important to note, however, that he falls in love with his reflection, not with himself.  Narcissists do not feel that they have an inner core; they essentially see themselves as completely empty inside. This is why they focus so intently on exteriors. To them, if it looks good, then it is good.

They devote huge amounts of time to “assessing” the perceptions of others; their conclusions are that others see them in the most positive of lights: they are handsome/beautiful, they are smart, they dress well, they are cool, they drive the most interesting cars, their homes are showplaces, they are smart, their partners are good-looking and also dress well; did I mention that they are smart?

For the narcissist, there are two types of people: himself, and everyone else who wishes they were him. When narcissists return from outings, they report numerous examples of people gazing admiringly at them and their partners, of people approaching them for dates or complimenting them about their looks or clothes, of people hanging on their every golden word and opinion. It’s unlikely that any of this is true; the problem is that they often convince themselves and attempt to convince others that it’s true.

When kissing a partner in public they put on a show worthy of Hollywood. The act of sending flowers must be concluded in some forum such as the workplace so that colleagues and associates can see how expensive the flowers are and can comment about what a great guy he is for sending them.

They are so self-absorbed that in short, unless someone is looking at them, paying attention to them, complimenting them, they don’t exist. Thinking is useless.

The serious Darth Vaderesque dark side to all this is that for them, constant attention validates their existence, and the worst part is that they project this belief; for them, everyone else operates the same way that they do.

Is There a Narcissist in Your Life?

Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of F...
Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of Falling (Photo credit: epSos.de)

I’ve considered this blog for a while now. Thinking about it – mulling it over, noodling. And then I realized that the very reason that I’ve been holding back on starting it is the reason why I wanted to start writing it in the first place: fear.

We live with fear all the time. Fear of being alone. Fear of looking stupid. Fear of not being accepted. Fear of being dumped. Fear of being wrong. Extreme cases of fear get their own category; we call them phobias. Agoraphobia: fear of leaving safety. Acrophobia: fear of heights. Arachnophobia: fear of spiders, not to be confused with Arachibutyrophobia, which is a fear of having peanut butter stick to the roof of your mouth. We even have a name for a fear of the northern lights: auroraphobia. And by the way, not all words describing phobias begin with the letter “A” although there does seem to be a lot of them.

Then there are all the famous pronouncements about fear that we are supposed to soak up during childhood so that as adults we aren’t stopped by fear (I have a lot to say about being stopped by fear; I’ll come to it later if you’re willing to wait): The only thing we have to fear is fear itself (Franklin D. Roosevelt). Fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind (Dale Carnegie). He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat (Napoleon Bonaparte). Pretty ironic, considering what happened to him. Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world (Ralph Waldo Emerson). We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than reality (Seneca). Good stuff, really, but the fact is that fear is often maligned.

It’s a biological imperative that’s designed to keep us safe so that we can procreate and ensure the survival of the species. If we don’t fear things, we will fall off cliffs after being bitten by spiders because we were fearless enough to leave our safe abodes so that we could watch the northern lights in the middle of an otherwise very dark night. And the worse part is that we won’t be able to cry out for help because we will have peanut butter stuck to the roofs of our mouths. Why then, does fear get such a bad rap?

Almost universally, we see the conquering of fear as heroic, romantic, swashbuckling. It seems that if we don’t dump our fears, that we’re somehow wanting, somehow less than human; we’re anemic, watery cutouts who don’t deserve to be trusted. We will fall apart at the most inopportune time and become needy of rescue ourselves.

We judge others based on how well we perceive them to be handling fear and we are unreasonably proud of ourselves when we feel that we have overcome fear. However, it can be liberating, freeing in a way that allows us to really live, to be able to leave our houses knowing that there might be cliffs and spiders out there and that the northern lights are a marvel, not a menace.

The fact is that we need fear, but we can’t let it get the better of us – we have to use our judgement about it, but that’s where it gets tricky. That’s where uncertainty and hesitancy creep in, causing us to second-guess, to look for answers, for direction. If that weren’t the case, then we wouldn’t have a huge industry selling self-help materials. Therapists of all stripes would disappear. Life management courses would tank. The idea of asking a friend or elder for advice would become quaint.

We would all know what to do, all the time. And I’m glad that I don’t, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have gone on the journey that I did when I married a narcissist. I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it and about what I learned about myself and about fear and about how it has helped me to find happiness and contentment in my life.

So if you would like, join me and I’ll tell you all about it.