What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?

What is going on?  What in the world am I dealing with?

That was the question I asked myself two years ago.  My pastor had used the word “narcissist” to describe my husband.  I was taking the kids to camp, I was exhausted from the never-ending conflicts we were having, I knew something was terribly wrong and nothing I was doing was working.   So I decided to stay out of town and away from my husband for that entire week.  (I can assure you that really enraged him!)  I spent the whole week researching “narcissist” and “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” or NPD.   What I found shocked me, made me sick to my stomach, and also helped everything make perfect sense.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5),  a narcissist has at least 5 of these characteristics:

  • Has an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Exaggerates achievements and talents
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.
  • Believes that he or she is “special” or superior and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special people (or institutions).
  • Requires constant or excessive admiration.
  • Has a sense of entitlement, i.e.,  automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
  • Takes advantage of others to get what they want
  • Lacks empathy- has an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

That’s the official definition.  However, the more I dug into the nuances of these definitions, and read the stories and experiences of others, the more I understood the “real-life definition”.  It made the past few years make sense, and I gained some sanity.  I was married to a narcissist, and his anger, rage, manipulation, lying, twisting of facts, implying that I was crazy, saying I didn’t care enough, and fear of being abandoned behaviors were all symptoms of that personality disorder.   I talked to a trusted friend and expressed my findings and concerns.  Her sweet husband, who is a Staff Psychiatrist at a major university, sat down with me and shared with me more information about NPD and what I was dealing with.  I took copious notes:

  • It is impossible to please a narcissist
  • They will insist that you make them your priority.
  • They are control freaks.
  • They are easily hurt or rejected.
  • They set unrealistic goals for themselves and those around them.
  • Don’t expect an emotional relationship – understand that you will never feel close to them.
  • If you start to get close to a narcissist, they will push you away. They will do something to create distance.
  • If you criticize or challenge the narcissist they will respond with a defensive fury or rage.  It’s like they want to destroy you.
  • Narcissists may also try to charm you to get you back b/c they want your attention.
  • “Gas-lighting” describes how a narcissist attempts to make you feel crazy by telling you that you said or did something you didn’t do.  Or tell you that a situation you thought was good was bad.
  • Remember, you have zero influence over them, and asking them to change is like asking for a river to flow backwards.
  • It is totally and completely emotionally draining dealing with a narcissist. They suck all the energy out of the room. They are like a black hole.
  • There is no “cure” for narcissism.

Please, dear friend, pay attention to that last bullet.  If you are like me, I thought I could somehow “fix things”.  (I’m probably a diagnosable “fixer”.)  If I could just explain, defend, get someone to meet with him, get to the right counselor, get our pastor to say something, pray hard enough, etc., then I could somehow get my husband to understand what his problem was and want to change.  Please know this is simply not going to happen.  From what I’ve read, people with NPD are not “cured”, but a very small percentage learn to modify their behaviors somewhat.  This is because narcissists rarely enter treatment and, once in treatment, they progress very slowly and usually drop out of treatment.  They seriously don’t think that anything is wrong with them and nothing, NOTHING you say is going to change that.  In fact, if you say something, it will probably trigger their shame and unconscious fears of exposure or inadequacy and cause them to react with even more rage. They will likely launch an attack on you, saying YOU are the one with the problem,  and unfortunately narcissists can deliver their wrath in such a way you may begin to believe it. Don’t. Believe. It.


narcissist divorce

For the spouse of a narcissist, this is sobering news.  I believe what Al-Anon teaches about alcoholics also applies to narcissists: “You didn’t CAUSE it, you can’t CONTROL it, and you can’t CURE it.”  So you need to educate yourself, remind yourself that you are not the crazy one, think through the options and decide what YOU are going to do with your life.  Check out our Helpful Resources page.   Start practicing some of the “Healing from Emotional Abuse” ideas.  Gear up for a difficult but worthwhile journey.  It’s unlikely you will ever change the narcissist; but you can change and heal yourself.




4 thoughts on “What is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?

  1. I’m afraid this sounds a lot like my spouse. I’ve been in a very difficult marriage for 4 years now, and I’ve been trying to please my husband b/c I believe that marriage is for better or for worse. There has been a bunch of “worse” though, and many of the things you list here are involved. Thank you for the information – I have a lot to think through.

    • I hear you Tiffany. I was married for 8 years and did all I could to make the marriage work. I was starting to think that I was going crazy and my self esteem was so low. My ex is a passive aggressive narcissist and would withhold all aspects of the marriage for weeks and months at a time. This was his way of punishing me and teaching me a lesson because, I was not meeting his unrealistic expectations. This article hit the nail on the head and after I left, I myself did some research as well. I nearly passed out when I learned about NPD and exactly who I was dealing with. With much counselling, prayer and confiding in close friendships, I am healing from the past abuse. I had no choice but to retain a lawyer and proceed with court. Narcissists do not negotiate nor have the same rational thinking as you and I. I pray that you will seek wise counsel and also, dig deep into Gods word. That is what got me through the war zone of my marriage and God is still my strength now. Take Care

  2. So..what if you don’t “know ” for sure your husband is NPD. People have said to me he “probably is one” and I have read up and sooo many of the signs are there..but a lot of NPD’s don’t end up in a therapists office so can’t officially get diagnosed..then what?

    So just some quick background- I have been married for 11 years- woke up to the realty of emotional and verbal abuse for the past 11 years 2 years ago…have been struggling ever since…I have been standing up and working on myself – I see some behaviour change–and finally after 2 years of boundaries and consequences I see some openness..but now what? I still want out sometimes or at least separation but feel I can’t now that he is actually showing some signs of change? can you help me out here with some advice?

    • Dear Benedicta,
      First, I am so, so sorry that you have endured 11 years of emotional and verbal abuse. That is damaging to your heart and soul. I am glad you have woken up and become aware of the reality of what is really going on.

      I would recommend you read the book “Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft. I have learned so much from the book. I think it will help you think through your needs and your sanity. It will help you heal from the gut wrenching and mind numbing effects of living with a Narcissist or angry/controlling spouse.

      As far as knowing for sure if your spouse has NPD, not many of us can get an official diagnosis, because, as you state, not many with NPD get a psychological evaluation. In the end, I don’t think it really matters. Whether he is NPD, or an “angry and controlling” spouse, if he is abusive, that (and the impacts on you) is what needs to be dealt with.

      I pray for your health and for healing from the trauma of being with an abusive partner.
      Love and blessings,

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