Much of the talk around narcissism concerns behaviour. Many new clients describe their ex’s as ‘narcissist’, especially in the US, where the word has taken on a whole new meaning. Sometimes, the label is falsely given to people (by codependents) who maintain healthy boundaries and individual purpose and sometimes, it is largely correct. However, we should never forget that there is an official diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder and these people have relationships like the rest of us. Just what is it like being in a relationship with a real narcissist who has been diagnosed and wears the ‘badge’, so to speak?
As part of my Codependency Stories Podcast series, I invited people to talk about their experiences as a codependent. One lady who had recently ‘found the light’ (her words), wanted to contribute but on the condition that she wrote an anonymous letter rather than let anyone hear her voice. This was for her own safety as she was sure that she would be recognized and would face consequences. The account is harrowing and tells the story of a twenty-three year marriage that she felt trapped in and unable to leave due to her self-esteem ‘being stripped away’. She is a highly creative, intelligent individual who is bemused that she allowed this for so long. Some might say that she had a choice and they would be correct but until you are involved with such a personality, one should reserve judgment. She is in long term therapy to recover from the emotional, physical, financial and verbal abuse she suffered. She claims that she has lost a major part of her will to carry on and still fears reprisals from his family and friends, who he has largely convinced that she is the problem and he is the victim. This is her account, mostly a summary of journals and notes she made during the relationship. Names are not used and places have been changed as per her request.
Things were different in the 70`s. The whole concept of narcissism was not the same as now. We had players and ladies men and lovable rogues. In a way, they were celebrated and tolerated and that’s just the way life was. When I met him, he was just like that. He had a reputation but he was irresistible. He knew just what to say and just what to do and I quickly fell for him hard. The first six months were like a whirlwind and I had never felt so free. Everything was available in huge quantities. Sex, understanding, romantic focus on me and the occasional getaway, often as a surprise. I thought all my christmases had come at once.
My Mum and Dad were not so enthused. I came from a well-to-do background and they had other plans for their only daughter. They refused to meet him and this caused a rift. I had a huge argument with my Dad who I accused of controlling me and we didn’t speak for a while. Yet, my new boyfriend said `we don’t need them’ and said ‘I should see them for who they really are’. At the time, I believed him and cut them off. I wrote an angry letter saying that if you don’t accept my boyfriend, you won’t have me. About one year into my new relationship, the same happened with my friends, until there was just him and me, the ‘greatest love story in the world’, as he put it.
At this time, my father was still putting money in my bank for me (a sizeable sum every month). He wrote to me and made it clear it was for my living expenses and shouldn’t be ‘given away’. Of course, it was. He had no money and couldn’t keep a job so I paid for everything and asked my father for more when it ran out. Later, I would find out that debts and loans he had taken out (in my name, forging signatures) would come back to haunt me.
About one year into the relationship, he started to drink and heavily. He would come back inebriated every weekend in the early hours and start an argument, using excessively abusive language, calling me a ‘rich tart’ and ‘a snob’. One day it happened for the first time, he hit me and gave me a black eye. I left and went back to my parents, telling them that he was away on business and I had fallen in the house. The truth is, he was laying on the sofa drunk every day and the place was a mess. Three months later, I met him in the town we lived in and the whirlwind continued.
He looked smart and back to how I had first met him. He said ‘I know what I did was wrong and I got help’ (Subsequently, I found out that ‘help’ was living with another woman for two months until her family intervened). He wanted us to try again and I said yes. I drove to my parents and picked up my things. Life was again great for a while, back to how it was. He complained that my parents had kept me away from him and he ‘could never talk to them and if I loved him, then nor would I’. He was so convincing about our future plans, I agreed and never contacted them again. My Dad died two years later and I wasn’t welcome at the funeral but he had left me a huge sum of money as inheritance ‘to provide for my future’. I was 19 at this time and had no idea about money. I spoke to him and he said we should buy a house and start a business, which we did.
We had our first child, a girl and he suggested that I stay home and look after the child and he would ‘run the business’. Two years later, a second child came and then a third. We had five in all and looking back, this was clearly a plan to keep me at home and allow him access to the finances. He took no part in childcare because ‘business is good and he had no time’. We argued about the fact that I had no purpose and I wanted to be part of the business my father’s death had paid for. He didn’t argue with me at all but would throw hideous insults and blame in a cold, calculated way and then shut down, often smirking as I went into rage. We didn’t see eye to eye at all. His demands were excessive and I was conditioned by him not to expect anything. I just kept trying to fix things and gave up my rights easily.
Then one day, he told me he had spoken to the family doctor and I had an appointment in two days. The doctor said that my husband was concerned about my violent behaviour and while he does his best to protect the children, he couldn’t do everything, plus run a business. The doctor suggested I take Valium to ‘calm my nerves’, which I did. I stayed on medication for over 25 years.
Life was desperate for me. I had to concentrate on the kids with no help and I went into deep depression, often not wanting to get up in the morning. He was never home and when he was, the atmosphere was all about his needs. I look back with absolute horror about what I did to keep in favour with him. It felt like a drug. He never shouted or raged but could cut through my heart with a word or phrase placed carefully in the conversation and always reminding me of how ‘sick and difficult’ I am. The one ray of hope was that he appeared to be working hard. Then, one day, I took a phone call from a loan company who wanted to talk to him. I said he was not at home but they could talk to me, as his wife. They stated that if a loan repayment of 10,000 USD was not met within a week, they would start proceedings to foreclose on the house. I said wait, I know nothing about a loan or one secured on the house. He said ‘Are you sure? You countersigned the loan agreement as guarantor’. I was horrified and didn’t know what to do. I called my mother and she came.
We confronted him and he broke down saying the pressure of the business and looking after his sick wife was too much. When I stated that he had never looked after me, he told my mother ‘See, this is what I deal with’. My mother said that she wanted the accountant to look over the business and if he didn’t agree, she would call the police. The family’s accountant found that the business had been leveraged and there was no money (This was my inheritance money). He said there was three loans attached to the business (in my name) that amounted to 350,000 USD (A giant sum in the late 80’s).
I wanted my money back but he said it was all gone and he coldly said that he had spent it on ‘wine, women, song and a gambling habit’. No remorse, no sorrow. My mother arranged for the loans to be paid off and took me and my children to her home. I heard nothing more for four more years. Then he appeared again, looking as dapper as before. Full of confidence and driving a new car, wearing a suit and looking like he had no cares at all. He turned up at my workplace and asked to talk and we went for a coffee. This was going against my family’s wishes but I was intrigued again. He told me that he had been diagnosed with a personality disorder (I found out later this was NPD) and that meant that he was sick and couldn’t help doing all the things he did before. He was now on medication and felt great. He was very convincing and I was FUCKING stupid.
I once again went against my family and went to live with him in his one bedroom condo. I took the two younger children with me (what was I thinking!!). My mother made it clear that she would not help again if I made this decision but I did it anyway. My mother died five years later and we never healed the rift.
Life with him quickly went back to how it was before. Me paying, him never there, drinking but he also started getting physical with me. One day over an argument about money, he pushed me and I fell breaking two ribs and sustained a broken nose. I called the police who came and took him from the house. They later returned and said that he claimed I was ‘sick’ and had fallen on purpose to frame him. They arranged for me to see a domestic violence counselor and she helped me to see what was happening and find a safe framework to leave and protect myself. I never looked back. He was charged with assault and given a two year sentence, suspended on mental health grounds as long as he takes up therapy. He had convinced everyone he was sick and the victim.
How do I feel about myself? Stupidity and shame. I have gone against everything I hold dear in my life and the people I love for the hope of a future that was never going to be there. He often makes attempts to contact me through friends but I will never entertain that again…..ever.
I am in long-term therapy to deal with what he did to me. I don’t know when it will stop. I can’t see myself in a relationship again but hope to try one day. Not all men can be like him.