I was the only 30 something year old in the course. The rest of the college kids looked to be in their late teens. I was thinking that I was closer in age to the professor than the students and then suddenly, in the pages of the textbook, I saw my ex husband.
I had unexpectedly come across the very portrait – or should I say diagnosis – of the man who had made the last decade of my life a very sick merry-go-round. After that ride I was left broke, emotionally wrecked, with two kids and starting college at age 32.
But I was rebuilding, and I knew at that point that knowledge was power. I wasn’t afraid anymore of what I would find out. So there, sitting in Psych 101 at community college, I finally met my real ex husband.
When a naive and depressed 19 year old meets a charismatic and funny 22 year old, she doesn’t think too hard. This man had been an urban “legend”, he knew everyone in Chester county and apparently they all knew and loved him. In his circles he was famous for being the life of the party. He had a commanding presence and he knew it. (see #1)
He quickly had me wrapped around his finger and I never got to see the inner workings of his personality until later when all the angry shit was hitting the fan. Didn’t know shit could be angry? Oh it can.
So let me share with you what I learned in case you have not yet met the real partner you are with. Consider this NPD 101 and you don’t even have to attend class to pass.
You see only 1% of the general population has this disorder, so although many claim that they are surrounded by narcissists, the fact is that you will only meet about 3 to 4 people like this your entire lives. And thank goodness for that.
In order to be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) a person must have at least 5 of the following 9 traits.
- They have a grandiose sense of self.
- They are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited wealth, achievement, love, power, brilliance…
- They believe they are special and can only be understood by other people who are special. Not by the ordinary people. They look down on common folks.
- They demand excessive admiration. They crave it. They need admiration like others need air.
- They expect favors and have a high sense of entitlement. They don’t feel like the rules apply to them. They expect others to comply with demands and things will not go well if they do not. They do not tolerate disagreement or criticism but demand submission.
- They are interpersonally exploitative and feed off of others for their own end. Every “gift” or “kindness” comes with strings and is expected to gain them something.
- They lack empathy.
- They are envious of others (even their partner) OR they believe that others are envious of them. But either way there is always envy involved.
- They are arrogant, haughty and proud.
This person will have many gifts, but humility is never one of them.
A person with NPD will exploit ANYTHING you have in order to preserve himself, they will suck you dry and once drained they will kick you to the curb without another thought. I did not know people could act like this – I grew up with normal, kind parents and normal, kind friends. I knew nothing of this twisted way of being.
People with NPD do not experience empathy therefore they cannot understand the pain they cause and therefore the remorse they may occasionally conjure up is only (see #6) to gain them something.
The admiration and respect that they crave (see #1,3 and 4) are “owed” them and if denied will be met with rage.
If you attempt to raise you voice of express your displeasure you can expect either a stone wall, the silent treatment or to be chased back into your “box” where you belong (see #5) – but NEVER will they hear you out and change based on your “hurt” feelings. Don’t waste your breath.
They will be very selective about who they will listen to or take advice from. Usually they have few real friends since finding someone as special as them is hard to do (see #3 again). We saw many therapists over the years, and even ones who started out OK eventually became “stupid” and not worth his time. They weren’t special enough to understand him.
#7 especially baffled me. It didn’t compute. But this is because I fit the norm. See, many times the NPD will latch on to someone who is a caretaker, most likely a codependent who doesn’t recognize unhealthy right away when they see it, or who naively thinks they can fix unhealthy. In general, NPD partners tend to be VERY empathetic people, which I was. So for me the idea that he knew he hurt me, knew I was in pain, and would do NOTHING blew me away.
The fact that he KNEW the kids and I had no insurance (he wouldn’t give me the cards) and needed to go to the doctor, yet he withheld them on purpose…baffled me. He would withhold money, communication, love… I remember my mother bringing me a bag of bread and toilet paper at one of the boys soccer games because I was out of those most basic necessities yet he wouldn’t give me any money to go shopping. I was being punished. And he felt nothing. He was there cheering and laughing with the other parents like nothing was wrong. I remember the night he threw our cat out because it had peed on the boys bed again. The cat had never been outside but without consulting me he picked it up by its head, growled at it like a demon dog, and flung it out into the night. He then yelled at me and told me to sleep in the unfinished basement. While I was down there I could hear him laughing loudly at the television. No remorse. No empathy. Nothing. See #9.
I’m sure my ex still thinks I am an idiot. He thinks most people are. He would talk to me like I was a 5 year old whom he needed to lecture and teach. He made it clear that we were not equals in any way. It was his way or the highway. I remember being shocked when I would hear other women talk about being mad at their spouses or expressing displeasure to them. This was not allowed in our home. If I even started to raise my voice I would be cut off and deemed hysterical and told that when I could talk to him respectfully he would listen. Not until then. He would hang up on me and then I had to apologize for getting upset.
He ruled me and the boys with a simple look, a tense up of his muscle, his mere presence. We were always on eggshells – especially me since I wanted to spare the boys from any altercations with their dad.
I remember my 5 year old crying because his dad would beat him at video games EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. He couldn’t let the 5 year old win ONCE. (See all the damn numbers. I mean what is that???)
I know that you will have a million examples and they will seem unbelievable as you begin to share them because narcs act in such a counter-intuitive manner and so against the norm of what we know and were raised to be like. Maybe the narc is your mother. Maybe your boss. The interactions will be unique to your relationship, but they will be consistent with the above outlined 9 traits.
This is here to help you to piece it together and to know that you are NOT crazy, that there is hope for you but that it will NOT come from them.
Understand what you are dealing with and take it from there – but be very careful. Their sense of self is skewed but also very fragile and when messed with there is no telling the reaction you will get. An attack on their sense of self puts you in the target lock. Be smart about what you share and do. Learn on your own, grow on your own, develop a strong network to help you.
You do not have to live your life captive to their disorder. There is hope!