Living with a narcissist.
In my book Resilience – I discuss the time in my life where I lived with and was about to marry a narcissistic abuser. What led me to that point in my life and how I escaped might help you understand a little more of these particular personality types and their potential to unravel your life.
I’m drawn to the following description of narcissism “Narcissism can be conceptualized as a self-esteem regulation disorder in which narcissists are perpetually insecure about their status.” Interestingly, they appear on the surface to be highly confident, but eventually, you will realize that they are inherently insecure about themselves. The “hint” will help you understand this concept will be something simple. For example, when they are feeling fat,, they will complain about your weight! They devalue or criticize you to make themselves feel better.
The Narcissist in my life
The narcissist in my life was very charming, and he made a very good impression to start with. He was popular among those who did not know him very well and with workmates who did not know his particular behaviors in any depth. He had an innate ability to garner sympathy and empathy from people. Which had the express purpose of directing your thoughts to him and away from behaviors that you would not normally accept or tolerate?
In public or semi-public situations, the narcissist will often use charm to become the centre of attention. At a social event, for instance, the narcissist may often be found leading and directing the conversation. If I had taken the time to study him in a social situation, I would have observed the exaggerated gestures to keep the attention of the crowd: waving his arms, gesturing and other excessive body motions, exaggerated facial expressions, and inflections in his voice. This all works to the benefit of the narcissist, who can use charm to garner attention, admiration, and adulation.
The charm offensive
This charm offensive could be described as “the use of deadly charm”. Because the narcissist creates a good impression, he is then devastatingly successful at damaging the good reputation of others. The narcissist’s charm often enables the narcissist to belittle other people without seeming indecent, and many people will think that the narcissist is simply trying to help the people whom he is belittling. Even to the vigilant observer, it may be difficult to determine whether the narcissist really wishes to damage the character of the people being belittled, but the damage to them can be very real.
In abusive relationships, the narcissist’s “deadly charm” can cause the victim to feel very isolated. I clearly remember the isolation of living with a narcissist. I remember feeling fearful that if I talked to anyone about his behavior, in any depth, I thought that he would be able to charm them into believing I was the problem and not him. Some people describe a narcissist as a “great victory of image over substance” because they can get people to side with them before the victim has a chance to present her evidence to the contrary.
Narcissism and Criticism
Aamon, the narcissist in my life, endlessly criticized others, in public or in private. In public, though, his criticisms looked like genuine concern. He exaggerated other person’s faults, mostly by lying about them. I saw this behaviour cause others to develop negative emotions towards the people he strongly criticized. Even though it took me a long time to wise up to his exaggerations and half-truths, others picked this up quickly and avoided being in or around him.
I failed to recognize this until many years later and what appeared confusing at the time, was blatantly obvious in retrospect. It wasn’t until after the relationship ended that other people let on to me the extent of his denigration of others behind their backs.
Often, the narcissist will complain about something far in the past, over which the other person in the story, had no control over or couldn’t possibly know about. Aamon always phrased these notions in a way that made him look like the good guy.
For example, I remember the discussion about the break up of his marriage. His explanation sited his devastation at the discovery of an affair between his then-wife and a police officer. It was many years later, after a conversation with his ex-wife that I discovered the real reason! Yes, there was a police officer involved but only because his ex-wife had called one to the house after discovering him watching an 11year old visitor showering!! She ended the marriage that day.
Ammon could not bear being criticized about anything. His hypersensitive reactions were most disturbing after some years into the relationship, at a time when my rose coloured glasses were starting to lose their tint. If people outside the family criticised Aamon, he would take revenge by speaking ill of them. In the immediate family, he responded aggressively to any criticism levelled at him. I was privy to the plans he would make to exact his revenge at a later date. This behaviour scared me the most of all his behaviours, his need for revenge, just because someone was critical of something he said or did.
The Game of Narcissism
Ammons narcissistic behaviours had him pitting family members, friends, and workmates against each other. This was an effective tactic because he was so good at assessing what people’s triggers were. He would then go to the other person and let them know what the other person said or thought about them, causing mayhem between the two people and the greater group. This manipulation always saw people on the defense and directed the attention, appreciation, and dependency back to him. It also caused those close to him to be separated, so that he can more effectively control each of them.
A narcissist is not ever willing to accept any responsibility for what they do wrong. They view accepting blame as admitting that they are flawed and worthless. Aamon found it too humiliating to accept blame; he found it easier to criticize what I was wearing, my family, and mostly any dearly held beliefs I had than to accept blame.
I was labelled a prude one day when I discovered him secretly watching porn in the middle of the day when he should have been at work. This caused me to question if I really was a prude instead of insisting that what he was doing was wrong on so many levels. His incessant drink driving was another – he simply refused to acknowledge he was wrong, what he was doing was illegal and the consequences of his actions.
Another ploy of a narcissist is “gaslighting”. Gaslighting is the concept in which a person or entity, makes a victim question their reality to gain more personal power over that person. Your narcissist may be doing this maliciously to throw you off balance. Or, more likely, he’s simply responding to his need of the moment, forgetting what he previously said. Ammon used this technique continuously throughout the relationship. Saying one thing then denying he ever said it, usually in front of other people, making me look unstable. Subsequently, this caused me to question my sanity again and again. It is very destructive and damaging to the person on the receiving end of gaslighting. You need to pay attention to what you say and what they say. Otherwise, they will be able to convince you that you are indeed crazy.
As I mentioned before, Aamon had a problem with substance abuse. This is an easily identifiable trait of a narcissist, and often their substance abuse heightens their negative behaviours. Alcohol and substance abuse are inherently linked to narcissistic behaviors because of the difficulties they experience in trying to fit into a world. Their views are so different from everyone else’s. They often use drugs and or alcohol to cope with this and with the discrepancies between what their fantasy and their reality are. Many of you reading his will already know that mental health and substance abuse often go hand in hand and in Aamons case this was so.
During my time with Aamon, I also noticed that others would regularly get angry with his inappropriate, unethical, bullying behaviors. When I discussed this with Aamon, he would immediately dismiss these people as hotheads, being jealous of him, they were liars, or as having any number of other defects. After all, their anger was inappropriate in his eyes as he was not capable of doing anything wrong. This provided him with another level of denial and he genuinely thought that everyone liked him and wanted to be him. He would go to great lengths to make everyone, even the person who was upset, to feel that they are wrong
The narcissist will typically go to great lengths to make everyone, including the person getting upset, feel like they are in the wrong. He was always focused on the other person’s reaction to his behaviour rather than his own behaviour, which caused the reation in the first place. This then drew the attention away from his flawed personality and kept him in control.
A narcissist will be insecure about their relationship. Even when it is not your fault, a narcissist will believe some secrets have not been uncovered so they will stalk everything involving you to uncover the truth. Meanwhile, you will be accused of being insecure and having a guilty conscience. I remember clearly, early in the relationship with Aamon, that he accused me of having an affair with his younger brother. This was so far from the truth it was almost laughable. I barely knew his brother to talk to let alone have an affair with. Aamon then proceeded to tell his brother things that I had not supposedly said that backed up his irrational thoughts. At the time all this behaviour just confused me, now it cements my belief that Aamon was a true narcissist.
Tips on how to cope with a narcissist
- If you are spiritual, pray, meditate, and be mindful of all your surroundings at all times.
- Be strong. Resist the urge to give in to the narcissist’s charm. They will never stop trying.
- Get help! You will need others to support you during this time. If you can find a way to record or take pictures of any evidence of the dysfunctional ways of the narcissist, this will help you convince your family and friends of the truth of your situation. If they destroy your home, take photos, If they start cursing you, try to turn on your phone’s recorder, and if they write anything abusive, keep it and show someone you trust. Considering the narcissist is great at hiding who they really are, there will be few people who believe your accusations until they see it for themselves. It’s just the truth.
- Do not share your plans for leaving with the narcissist until you know you have a support system and a backup.
- If you can afford it, place hidden cameras in your home to record any abuse that could be happening to your pets if you have any. Narcissists are notorious for abusing animals, and you will want to know what happens when you aren’t home, trust me.