If you're in a relationship with a narcissist, you need to make a careful plan — or your sanity and self-esteem can be destroyed. Read More
Let me share my own experences with a narcissist spouse.
Every time I try to discuss feelings with my husband, I fail.
Often, he tries to make me feel foolish for having feelings.
No, it's more than that.
Sometimes, it seems as if he doesn't love me.
Except... he needs me to support him and bolster his ego.
Love is something he just can't express or feel.
There are times I wonder if he loves anybody. (Luckily, I do
Zumba exercises, which keeps me sane.) He's such an egoist.
Even so, he's the only man I've ever cared for. I can't leave!
Rotten choices are all I have.
I don't know what my best option is right now. What do I do?
God, it's so painful. It hurts so much, and not just occasionally.
All the time!
Your column hits te nail on the head.
Start with therapy for yourself so you can figure out with someone else how to move forward. And I'm sorry you are having this experience.
I recently divorced after 23 years married to a Narcissist. So much pain, and heartbreak along the way, but perhaps the most damaging was the way his treatment of me caused me to no longer trust my own view of the world, of myself, or my perceptions of others. I can feel the pain and heartbreak in your short post. The first step is to get clear about your own truth, not his bullshit. If you can afford therapy, start with that - go alone. This was my first step in my path started in the 10th year of marriage. I found an exceptional psychologist who began to validate my perceptions that his treatment of me and the kids was truly horrific, emotionally abusive. Then, she gave me strategies and steps I could take to shore up boundaries and change my responses to him, that slowly gave strength. I will warn you that it did not make my marriage stronger, it stressed my marriage. A narcissist does not want his entitled world messed with! But it made me stronger. And by modeling healthier responses to contain the damage he was wrecking on our family and our marital relationship gave my children strength and clarity as well. Along with this, I read several books on narcissism to help me get real about who he really was, not the fantasy of who I wanted him to be or hoped he might "change" to become. Narcissists don't change. They don't want to. They like their life at your expense. The best of the books I found include "Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men" by Lundy Bancroft and "The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family" by Eleanor Payson. I have no relationship whatsoever with these authors, just that the books truly helped me see the truth. Eventually, I came to accept the reality that I had built my life around a one way relationship that was only ever going to cause me heartbreak and pain. When you feel solid about your experience inside it, can see him for what he truly is, you can decide what to do. My children were upper teens and so I planned my way out. I could not imagine growing old with him. I saved money for a divorce and that process took 14 months. This site has many excellent articles about Narcissism and they gave me peace of mind as I struggled through the process. I still recommend those books, since the articles are more like little boosters that pop up reminding you that you are not crazy, unreasonable, unlovable, or whatever the damaging messages have been. Post divorce . . . I am coming up on 1 year since it was final. 3 years of living apart. And, I could not be happier to be free of him, and the damage. I still grieve the loss of the dream of the life I was trying to build, but every single night when I lay my head down and every single morning when I wake up I am so very thankful for the peace in my life. No amount of money could buy this. No amount of security in marriage (there is no security married to a narcissist) could provide this. I am okay, and have the chance to have the best years of my life ahead. Good luck to you . . . you are not alone!
You can save yourself, but you can't save him. I left my npd/bpd husband 2 years ago, and he has tormented me to no end. We are finally divorced and he cannot contact/harass me any longer. I have learned a great deal and am stronger for it, but it's been hell. Get therapy. Find your sense of self. Learn to love yourself. Find your strength and do what you need to do. You deserve better. Narcissists are the most miserable people on the planet - run.
Thank you for the post.
It's quite clear that I am in a relationship with a narcissist. This man is very charming, successful with a big dose of arrogance. He possesses every traits of a narcissist. Yes, he is very injured and fragile. I love him but keep a distance. Sometime I caught myself studying him rather than relating with him!
At the beginning there were romantic element to the relationship, which is now replaced with friendship. My heart aches when I think about him and how I wish for a magic spell to help heal the painful past. I don't want to leave this "relationship" because I don't want to confirm that little whisper in his consciousness.
The thing is I think I also possess some traits of a narcissist, perhaps not in such a profound degree.
Perhaps I am attracted to him because I myself in him.
What would happen when two narcissists get together?
the fact that you are even wondering tells me you do not possess the traits to a pathological degree! Healthy narcissism allows us to consider what is best for us, to make decisions about what we want or don't want to do, or which career to pursue, or person let into our lives. Unhealhy narcissism is an entitlement that other people's needs are consistently less important than yours, and so these people exploit the caring givers in their lives, until its clear the giving flows one way.
Thank you for reassuring.
The emotional giving definitely flows one way. The guy has nothing to give, he is hollow.
Not an evil person however, just crippled ! He is a friend who happens to be very ill !
Sometime I do allow him to "reciprocate"--buy me a meal or give me some professional advise...he can give whatever he has.
I kind of like the analogy that the narcissist is like an out-of-control young child running around seeking approval.
Keeping a distance protects me from being his prey. His wife and children are always in my prayers.
Life is too long for him. too much pain to endure.
I cannot hate this person.
A French saying, " To understand all is to forgive all".
But what do we understand !
Healthy self-esteem - or a healthy sense of self - is NOT Narcissism. There is no such thing as "healthy" narcissism.
One of the manipulations that NPDs are so successful at is making the victim feel like they they have the problem - especially making them feel like they are the self-centered, or selfish one in the relationship.
There is discussion that the NPD needs a co-narcissist - but often they tend to latch on to those who are secure, stable and giving. If the relationship lasts any length at all, it's usually because the giver is so giving, so forgiving, and so easygoing, that they excuse, support, and continue to love/care. Or because there is only intermittent contact - or a relationship that can be maintained without true intimacy of any kind.
If anything, it is likely that the NPD is attracted to secure stable individuals because they "look" from the outside like the best features of the Narcissistic parent whose approval they could only get if they faked perfection, and whose approval they still crave because the NPD parent gave them the internal sense of being permanently flawed.
There are tools for measuring relevant personality traits. Some of the online ones will give a guide, or see a Psychologist for more in depth ones. Try doing a measure of your attachment style, and a test for NPD.
You just described my relationship with this part of your comment:
If the relationship lasts any length at all, it's usually because the giver is so giving, so forgiving, and so easygoing, that they excuse, support, and continue to love/care. Or because there is only intermittent contact - or a relationship that can be maintained without true intimacy of any kind
She would have me feeling so empty, drained, exhausted and frustrated that I began to withdraw and avoid her so that I wouldn't have to deal with those feelings anymore. This was long after repeated attempts at trying to share my feelings and garner some respect and understanding for my needs. She would fake it for a while, but it was transparent. I now believe she was simply unable.
Eventually, she moved to flat out refusal to feed into my "needy, childish behavior". That's how she viewed my feelings and attempts at having a relationship with her, at having some measure of my needs met.
She would pop up again from time to time, and we'd do it all over again, with less and less goodness each time, and accelerated failure.
Yes, and it's difficult to be "in there" and not have anyone else see the truth... They lie so well. The thing I didn't get, was the attributional aspects of the relationship: Behaviour of the loving supportive partner is seen as threatening, even manipulative by the NPD (because that's the reason they would do it). The NPD's behaviour is seen as troubled, bewildering, in need of love and support.... hence the relationship fracture.
However I still don't shy away from the fact that the NPD makes ACTIVE choices to hurt, to lie, to crush, to destroy the other party. Anyone who's saying "but it's a disorder, so they need empathy, understanding and help" - well read the above.
This article was interesting.
Thanks for this very interesting and informative article. Very much appreciated. I am curious if you have any thoughts on the distinction between narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder? Specifically, if someone engages in patterns of very calculated and extensive character assassinations of former colleagues, manipulation of evidence to make it look as though innocent people are unethical in order to cover her tracks, love bombing followers with songs and poems- then claiming to have just been "using them" when she is done with them. Where does someone who is obviously narcissistic cross the line into antisocial behavior? I guess the reason that it is important to me is that narcissism seems less calculated, and I am trying to figure out if the trauma I experienced was by someone who was just very emotionally devastated by childhood (narcissist) or someone who intentionally set out to prey on my vulnerabilities (sociopath). Would greatly appreciate your thoughts on where the distinction between the disorders lies.
Thanks for the nice thank you. The short answer is that sociopaths (those with Antisocial PD) have more deranged and dangerous motivations. The narcissist, on the other hand, is like an out-of-control young child without good executive functioning: They are so out of touch with themselves that they don't understand what the heck they are doing half the time. They are just running around the world living moment to moment, looking for praise and attention, and they create relationships in which they inevitably exploit those closest to them as a means of meeting their endless needs. The sociopath, on the other hand, is almost completely divorced from the ability to truly attach in a mutual way to anyone. The narcissist attaches but the attachment is extremely disturbed - but they are psychologically 'healthier' because at least they can attach, disturbed as the attachment relationship likely is. Hope this helps!
Thanks so much for your kind and helpful response, Dr. Meyers. And thanks to the other commenters for their insightful contributions.
Final thought- narcissists have a lot of anxiety, even though it is mostly unconscious (they don't even realize how much anxiety they have about their place in the world), while sociopaths have little to no anxiety. That is frightening, huh?
I'm still not sure that a core of super low self esteem is to blame for all narcissism. I think many do in fact simply feel they are superior to others and expect you to acknowledge it.
There is no real cure for this condition. Move on and save yourself the aggravation.
Psychology/Psychiatry loves it's taxonomies and divisions. They love categorising and dichotomising people. "The Narcissist" is the current favoured trend for attention for the narcissistic psychologist/psychiatrist who wants public attention. The reality is that the pathological narcissist is a very rare thing. Usually "The Narcissist" is a projection; someone wearing, not only their own narcissistic traits, but also wearing the narcissistic projection of the accuser.
Unfortunately, for those that love their taxonomies and dichotomies, people are not divided up anywhere near as neatly as some would prefer.
Just jumping on the bandwagon are you Mr Meyers?
Wow, that is pretty much all I can say is...WOW! My husband's 26 year old brother has been living with us for the past year and it's like you were describing HIM when I read this. Freaky!
It seems as though the article is saying that there's pretty much no hope for someone with this condition unless they're willing to commit to multiple therapy sessions every week. This guy can barely hold down a job (he's had 4 in 8 months)and because of this disorder I honestly think that most of the time he thinks there's nothing wrong with him, it's the rest of the world. How do you deal with something like that??? He's an adult, we can't make him get therapy. Do you have any suggestions?
We recently kicked him out of our home because he got verbally abusive with me when I was alone with him, he was threatening to hurt me, and then went in my house and kicked our dog. If these types of people don't get help how do they usually end up? I worry that he'll end up in prison or homeless.
Thanks again for the great article!
I've been reading psychology today's articles about being in a relationship with a narcissist. I have no doubt i was in one. I recently ended it up. We were together for 2 years, when i got sick of his constant cheating and bringing me down, i left. We din't talk to each other for one year. Then, a few months ago he contacted me. I was not worried because, after a long period of pain and regret about leaving him, i finally forgot him. We talked a few times after that but still no emotional attachment, than one night i was feeling down about some stresses at work and i reached for him. He was always telling me how he loved me and how i was the one but none of his actions made sense with what he said. I had permanent paranoid thoughts, 'he's lying' 'he's a liar' 'i know he's cheating' because he had many suspicions actions, he never leaved the phone alone with me, had a few passwords on his computer, never left me alone in the house, etc. So, one day, i found out it wasn't senseless paranoia; he had contact with other women. I confronted him and he still wouldn't admit it, i even had proofs, he kept saying i was hallucinating. So, i got sick again and left.. sometimes he sends me messages saying things like 'i'm still here, you chose to leave. i don't have the blame, you do.'
I tried to keep a distance but i got hooked again.. I have to make a huge effort to stay away from him and to not respond to his messages. It's just so irritating and frustrating that he doesn't see how he is. Worse, I feel sad all the time 'cause i feel nobody is going to fill the void he left. I try to keep busy, i do exercise, read, study and work but i'm worried about my emotional health. None of my friends get what i feel and they are getting tired of my confidences and my mood swings. Do you have any advice on forgetting a person like this?
Thank you so much for these posts, they are really helping understand the problem i have in hands.
hey there. it takes a really strong person to be able to continually deal with the constant toils from a narsie. I am married to one. I ignore his childish behaviour and usually he ends up calming down and seeing sense. I have though, only recently become strong to it - a decision I made (the other two paths were self destruction or leaving him basically) If you are concerned about the hole he has left then you need to respect yourself more as this person has continually hurt you - set your standards higher than that hun. my hubby is proud and hates to be shown to the world as anything but the perfect man. He has stuffed up in the past - online emotional affair stuff. It took over a year for him to finally answer my niggles about the instances, but now he understands that I will have ups and downs, need to be able to check his accounts to see that nothing is there, etc. This only happened because I had a cup of concrete and toughened up, really emotionally removed myself from him (hardest thing to do, only took one and a half days of this change) and he actually came to me and said that he wanted to discuss things and answer my questions. Still having ups and downs and doubts but I am more in control of sorting out these doubts now that I know we can discuss things without the reactional stuff from him. We still have other issues - particularly when dealing with issues of his son/and sons mother but I have accepted that this is a battle that is just worth leaving alone, and I have chosen to remove myself emotionally from his son as it is the only way to deal with that side of things. sorry - has turned into a rant, but I guess I am saying that as my hubby has been able to move a little with his actions it has made me be able to find coping strategies. From what you have said the guy you speak of is no where near willing to budge, accept, admit and ultimately he will be damaging to you, as you seem to be quite led and redrawn in by him. Look - I'm no psychologist by any means - take this as advice from a qualified chef - lol
Sara, my story is similar yours. I manage to get away and find some semblance of normalcy in my life, but then somehow always seemed to get sucked back in, usually through contact from her when she's being nice, and I'm feeling good and strong enough to stay disconnected, or so I think.
I find that I do still miss her during these periods apart, but it's usually not enough to overrun my resolve to keep away from her. I say usually because there have been exceptions in which I have reached out to her after breaks. The point is, it ends the same way every time. This article was a bit of a Godsend for me. I really had no idea of what it truly meant to be involved with a Narcissist until I happened across this article last week and felt that as though it had been written about me. I am coming to the realization that without them owning up to it, and seeking help, the situation is truly hopeless if you desire any sort of depth in your relationships. If you can even call them relationships. I think that if you accept this type of situation, you're actually stepping into an "agreement" at that point.
Sounds like the Psychologist who wrote this has been burnt one too many times and has a narrow perspective of Narcissism. This article is dripping with cynicism, self righteousness and ignorance.
"...would it be totally wrong to suggest that a person's personality is so deeply entrenched and all-encompassing, so intrinsic and fundamental to who that person is, that changing his personality architecture is actually impossible?"
Yes that is totally wrong. Lets look beyond the text book, and the boxes that people must fit in.
People continually grow and change, some for the best or worst. Consider someone with full a spectrum narcissistic personality, they have a near death experience and start accepting their truth thus making an effort to change their negative traits.. Think of the Husband that is about to lose his wife, Who then turns his life around to keep his family together, The little kid who grows up spoilt, believing the world revolves around them, to then be brought back to earth after experiencing challenges in early adulthood.
At the end of the day humans are incapable of a perfect, harmonious personality. Narcissism is present to some degree within everybody. We all have an ego and EVERYBODY has the power to change their mind set, No matter how deeply intrenched their hangups are.
Too often I have witnessed a trend within modern day psychotherapy making patients victims, helpless to their own mind... And I call bullshit!
Thank you for that comment. I was thinking the same thing! People are so easy to jump to conclusions about a person and put them in a box. The fact is, that is how work. We want everyone to have a specific box and if they don't fit they are terrible and should be cast out and never deserving of love? Everyone deserves love, many people just need to be given the opportunity, education and a little faith.
Children deserve love. Adults "deserve" to get what they give.
This article is speaking to those who have given to the point of being near completely drained. To the point of being abused so badly that they have begun to believe that their simple, human needs for empathy, respect, and understanding are irrational.
Sure, everyone should be given chances to be made aware of how their behaviors are affecting others, and given opportunity to educate themselves and change should they see fit. Problem is, so many of these people don't see themselves as having anything to change.
I agree with you when you say it's not impossible to change someone's behavior, attitude or traits but that person needs to be willing to change. In my case, I've known this guy for around 8 years and everyone who knows him have warned me of his intentions when we involved with each other. He doesn't have the ability of reflection or introspection to see he needs to change. I truly believe he only loves himself and is incapable of true love despite all the beautiful things he tells me and seems, superficially, to feel. I tried to talk to him deeply, i tried to punish him, it's like he lives in another dimension. He doesn't believe in my pure intentions because he doesn't know them in his heart, i mean, it's like he doesn't have theory of mind or empathy.
I need to know i can find someone who i can trust but i am growing cynic over time. What should i do with the feelings i have for this person when it just ends up in a void? And if he doesn't feel the away i do, why is he always looking for me?
He seeks you out because you are what HE needs (even though you need something different) He seeks you out because you put up with his behaviour. If you cant accept the way he is you either need to really harden up to his treatment or leave. To non narsie people you feel like you just want to shake them and go 'seriously - wtf??!!' but it really is the way they are and if they want to make an effort to change - that's great. If not - it wont happen. Sorry to be so blunt in my opinion (and please - this is just my opinion - many will have different views on this)
that is a short and sharp analysis but so very true, those on the receiving end of a narc (5 years for me)sometimes need it putting in plain perspective. You can spend years trying to figure out these complex creatures and you know deep down they will never change, because they can't, but you stay around hoping and praying but knowing deep down its fruitless to think they actually give two hoots about you on an emotional level. I left once, I couldn't take anymore, I started seeing someone else, a 'normal' person, and it was wonderful, for a couple of months...made me realise how truly dysfunctional the narc was. It didn't last with 'normal' person, maybe I just needed a break and some perspective. I went back with narc, only to find myself miserable again and drained, and realising that I am wasting my life away on someone who probably wouldn't even turn up at my funeral. Am in the process of leaving for my own sanity...
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Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.
When and how should we open up to loved ones?