“He’s a Narcisssist”

by Annie Kaszina on September 13, 2009

Recently a number of abused women have told me that their abusive partner is a narcissist.  One or two have asked what I thought about that. 

First let me declare an interest: a long time ago now (happily) it struck me that my abusive husband might be a Narcissist.  Being even more of a technological dinosaur at that time than I am now, I duly scampered off to a bookshop and bought a book about Narcissists.   

I spent quite a lot of time poring over ever word: some seemed to confirm the hypothesis, some contradicted it.  Was he? Wasn’t he?   

It was quite confusing really.  If he was a Narcissist, then I emerged without blame, standing proudly on the moral high ground, the heroic dame who had tried to transform an abusive relationship and love a Narcissist into mental health.  If he was not, then the picture became murky, and I probably deserved some of the blame he was always quick to heap on me. 

I don’t think so. Nor do I care. It was irrelevant then, and it is irrelevant now – although I wasted a long time getting to that conclusion. All that really matters is that he was a destructive partner. 

Certainly there is an overlap between the behaviour of Narcissists and the behaviour of abusers: both groups fail to empathize with the people close to them. They can have similar rages. 

Still the incidence of Narcissists is, apparently 0.5-1% of the population, while 1 in 4 women, probably at a conservative estimate, will be a victim of domestic violence at some point in her life. 

Logic suggests, therefore, that there are many, many more abusers around than there are Narcissists. 

So, why would you need a label? Why did I want a label? 

The bottom line is this: I wanted a label so that people would have to feel sorry for me. I don’t feel very comfortable admitting to that now, because that is certainly not the way I choose to live any more. But that is the way I lived then. 

When you live in an abusive relationship – whether or not your partner is a Narcissist – empathy and compassion are rare commodities indeed. It’s very easy to end up feeling terribly sorry for yourself. Nor is it surprising if you do; nobody ever taught you how to cope in a chronically damaging situation. Nobody taught you how to survive when you are starving to death emotionally. 

Feeling sorry for yourself, and wanting others to commiserate with you, is a last ditch stand, an indication that you are holding on, tooth and nail, to a faltering sense of self. Just. It’s better than nothing. It’s better than giving up. But it surely is not good for you. 

Feeling sorry for yourself, living the “Poor Me” lifestyle is not good for you. (Nor is it good for the people who truly are close to you.) Living the “Poor Me” lifestyle makes you a very miserable and dull person to be around. It also reduces you to being totally dependent on external vindication. 

You may look for that vindication from your abusive partner or even, as I did, from a book describing the Narcissistic personality. 

Either way, seeking external vindication is a strategy that is doomed to failure. 

Why? 

It is one of those unspoken laws that when you are feeling lousy about yourself, you will attract into your life people who reflect that feeling back to you. Or, more correctly, you will only register the lousy feelings that some people are sending your way. 

The “Poor Me” stuff will, essentially, attract into your life people who will give you something to say “Poor Me” about. 

Now, I am well aware that you have had a lot of really painful things happen to you. I know, also, that painful things can be incredibly difficult to deal with. 

Does the “Poor Me” stuff make them any easier to bear? 

Not as far as I can tell. I have worked with so many women who have gone, in the course of one conversation, from despair to laughter and the beginnings of hope. 

What changed? 

Certainly not their circumstances. 

Their attitude changed. And with that change of attitude, their vision of their world changed. 

Suppose you focus on the fact that you have been in a bad relationship with a dysfunctional partner: you are placing your focus outside yourself on the thing that you cannot change. That will not help you to grow and move on. It will not even help you to feel truly good about yourself. 

What happens when you bring your focus back to yourself? When you tell yourself: “I have been/am in a relationship with a man who behaves abusively”? (Please note that there is no need even to say: “who behaves abusively towards me” because that goes without saying; behaving abusively towards his partner is an essential part of his ‘job description.) 

At this point you have a real choice as regards the ‘story’ you tell yourself. You can tell yourself: 

Because I have been in a relationship with this man who is: 

(N.B. What follows is a simple multiple choice.) 

  1. a Narcissist

  2. an abusive man

  3. immature and punitive 

My life: 

  1. is over

  2. is thoroughly miserable

  3. has been far from satisfactory until now

  4. is not over yet 

Having given this man so much of my life, I: 

  1. will never have anything else to give – I already know that

  2. am permanently broken, and will remain a monument to his awfulness

  3. am entitled to create something meaningful for myself

  4. have an awful lot of happiness to catch up on 

Other people can have a good life, I 

  1. can’t – because I’m different and less fortunate

  2. don’t know how to, yet

  3. wouldn’t mind a bit of that for myself

  4. am prepared to find out how to do it: it can’t be nearly as hard as unhappiness. 

Now, this may seem like an extreme, and possibly simplistic, way of arguing. But I really want you to see that although events and relationships in your life may have been tough, they will not create your future. 

Your thinking will create your future. Period. 

Yes, for a while you may have to work a little to undo those old negative thought patterns. Get a little help and it will all go much faster. Still nothing could ever be as much work as carrying around your load of negativity. 

There are no correct answers to the multiple choice quiz above. But there are better and worse choices. What choices will you make? 

 

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