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, 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, you are crazy, and unfortunately narcissists can deliver their wrath in such a way you may begin to believe it. Don’t. Believe. It.
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 the Books and Blogs under our HELPFUL RESOURCES tab. 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.