Narcissists in Long Term Relationships: A Case Study, Part 1
I recently received an email from a reader in Texas. I thought it might be helpful to share her experience with others, to see just how gradual and controlling a relationship with an abusive Narcissist can be. In so doing, I hope that many of you will see the similarities in your own relationships and take the necessary action before you lose yourself, like this reader did.
I met my narcissist Dave when I was 24. He was unlike anyone that I had ever been with. He was really smart and beautiful and so different in very strange ways. Although he was gorgeous, his mom was a doctor, so he was always praised by her, growing up, for his intelligence. He was a Cerebral Narcissist. Looking back there were raging, red flags, that should have been enough to have me running and screaming far, far, away from him, but hindsight is 20/20.
When we met, we worked for the same company. In the beginning he couldn’t get enough of me and he wanted to talk to me and be with me all the time. When we weren’t together, we were talking on the phone for hours and hours. He wanted to know everything about me. He couldn’t wait to show me his world and his interests. We would talk for hours and he would confide in me, telling me all about how abusive his father had been. How his father would tell him how useless he was and how day in day out he was emotionally and psychologically abusive. He said at the age of 5 he told his mother to leave him.
As I got to know him more, I discovered that he had a very peculiar relationship with his mother. I thought it was really strange, that a guy in his early 20’s would always be calling his mom, to tell her where he was and when he was coming home and would always say I love you mom. I thought it was sweet at first, but as our relationship progressed I began to see how unnatural and unhealthy their relationship was. It wasn’t sexual, but there was a weird dynamic. For her, he looked just like his father, (her deceased husband) and for him, she was a source of never ending Narcissistic Supply. She would always want to be with him, for instance, if we would get tickets to a rock concert his 56 year old mom would want to come, she would also be there on all of our vacations too. She would always buy him whatever he wanted and get him out of any financial scrapes he would get himself into. He could rack up $20,000 in credit card debt and all he had to do was ask and she would wipe it clean. This happened repeatedly. She always praised him, he was always so smart and he never did anything wrong. She would always refer to him as, “My big beautiful boy.”
When I first met him, he would talk about how he had no interest in sex, that he was a-sexual. We did eventually have sex and it was awful. For the next 10 years of my life I had awful, awful sex, which would eventually peter down to about once a month, if that. Although he was beautiful, he wasn’t sexy – not even remotely. He was very unemotional. There was no romance or closeness. No warmth or cuddling or intimacy of any kind – it was almost like everything was empty, that there was no heart or substance behind any of it. If we did cuddle in bed, it was usually me spooning him. We never kissed or hugged. We did call each other cute names, but that alone, does not a happy relationship make. Everything about him seemed robotic and unemotional.
He had other strange things too. He had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He was terrified of germs and of throwing up. He would wash his hands so much that they were always dry and scalely. He would pop Gravel pills and ginger supplements several times a day. He would explain to me that he hated losing control of his body. It was always on his mind and caused him a great deal of anxiety. He generally was an angry, moody person and would often say, “I hate everyone,” and he would constantly talk about how everyone was so stupid. He would call people mouth breathers, like they were brainless fools just taking up oxygen. He called all attractive women whores and had nothing but contempt for them.
He always had a swarm of women around him, but it was never sexual. He loved having, usually older women hanging around praising him thinking he was so brilliant. I never thought he would cheat on me because he was so uninterested in sex, but I was concerned because every time we were out with a group of friends he was always hanging off of any newcomers because he wanted their admiration and esteem. It did make me feel insecure, but despite my objections and concerns he kept doing it. He’d always have a good excuse though, he would say something like, “If I was in a group of strangers, I’d want someone to make me feel comfortable.”
As our relationship progressed, I learned quickly that it was all about him. We did what he wanted, vacationed when and where he wanted. He would spend money on his hobbies, without any concern for me, or whether or not we could afford it. Early on, he would quit jobs at the drop of hat if he wasn’t being admired, or he was feeling disrespected, even if we really needed the money. I can recall having a really good paying job that made me absolutely miserable. I had such anxiety about it, I would have full blown panic attacks and he wouldn’t care, he’d just say you can’t quit we need the money. He would never go where I wanted, he would never spend time with my family or friends, he had no interest in anything I had interest in.
Once he was done with a person he was done. He would cut you off without a thought, or a care and he would slew a string of curses, which often left me thinking how inappropriate and over-the-top that behavior was , based on what was actually done. I’ve come to learn that that’s called Narcissistic Injury, where there is a total over-reaction to any real or perceived threat to the narcissist’s alleged superiority.
It wasn’t long before I noticed some real changes in me and my life. He would often criticize me, my appearance, my interests, my friends and my family. Eventually he would drive all of my friends and most of my family away, leaving me completely isolated, without support and at his mercy. He always had to be in complete control. It was slow and deliberate and I didn’t notice it until I had no one left, not even my mother. He would experience a Narcissistic Injury and then he would verbally attack that person’s character, he would be relentless until I agreed and that person was no longer permitted to be part of our circle.
Nothing was about me and all of my needs and wants were about him and his needs and wants. I was miserable and before I knew it 10 years had gone by. He didn’t want children, so we didn’t have any. He didn’t believe in marriage, so we didn’t marry. My dreams were non- existent because I didn’t exist. Nothing about me mattered. It was like I was a shell of who I used to be. I was Dave’s girl and that was the extent of my identity. I later learned about co-dependency and that would describe me to a ‘T’. I had no identity of my own and I was completely enveloped and lost in my relationship with him and that’s how it had to be if I wanted to be with him.
It became a running joke just how selfish he could be. Our friends would laugh at his thoughtlessness, me too, what else could I do. I had always had an image of what my ideal man was and I knew Dave was far from it. It was always my hope that he would change. The thought of leaving never occurred to me, I had invested so much time and effort and also because who would I be if I wasn’t Dave’s girl? I would just continue to suffer and it seemed normal to me at this point. All of my family and friends hated him, that should have been a huge screaming red flag, but I was so lost in it, nothing else mattered, but him.
One summer many drastic things happened to me. I experienced the death of someone very dear to me. I lost my job and my health and I needed to lean on him. He became very distant and even more uncaring. I did begin to lose respect for him. My never ending admiration began to take the form of criticism and anger. All of these events evoked a kind of change in me and I wanted to focus on me and get myself in order. Then something happened that I never saw coming.
He came up to me on evening and he told me that he didn’t want to be with me anymore. To say I was stunned and devastated would have been putting it mildly. He swore up and down that there was no one else and I believed him. He said that he hadn’t been happy for a long time and that he should have left years ago. He minimized our whole relationship, he said people break up all the time and he couldn’t understand why I was so upset and emotional. He couldn’t get away from me fast enough. I’ll never forget looking into his eyes in such pain looking for something, anything that would show any kind of emotion, but there was nothing, they were completely dead.
A couple of weeks prior to this confession of his, we had been on vacation together. We had been intimate several times a day. There was no indication or anyway I could have seen this coming.
In a few months after our separation, I discovered that there was indeed someone else. A co-worker of his, who had been praising and adoring him for months and months. They would tell everyone that it was true love. She was married and she had two children. He hated children – he hated marriage, but within three months of leaving me she was pregnant with his baby and they were married and I never saw him again.
It took me about a year and a half of serious self work to lift myself out of the depression that ensued. The two most bone chilling parts of the whole experience were how easily he could shut himself off emotionally. How one minute we’re on vacation and being intimate and then as soon as we’re back he’s cold as ice. I learned that once he ‘devalued’ me as a source of supply I was easily discarded and replaced by a perceived better supply. I had spent months trying to win him back, but he had absolutely no interest. He had told everyone that there was no one else, I guess he had hoped to keep this woman a secret until enough time had passed, so he wouldn’t look like the bad guy. When I discovered her he said, “Are you trying to turn everyone against me?” I said, “I think you have done that yourself.” He blamed me for everything and would in no way take any responsibility for anything.
The second thing that so astounded me, was the ease at which I had handed over my power to this man. How easy it was for him to be in total control of me. I realized that I never would have left no matter how abusive it got for me, I would have stayed and taken more and more.
It’s been five years now since I’ve been away from him. I’ve done a lot of self work and come a long way. I’m so grateful to be free of him. In losing him I found myself and I will never again put myself in a situation where my needs aren’t being met and I have to chose between me and a relationship. Now it’s all about me.
While there are definitely differences in the duration of relationships between Narcissists, and differences in sexual interest between cerebral and somatic Narcissists, there are several things that remain constant. They all show varying degrees of the following:
- Lack empathy
- Exhibit selfish, controlling behaviour
- Have excessive need for admiration and attention
- Have a perceived sense of superiority and entitlement
- Exhibit unemotional and robotic behaviour
- Believe that they are special and unique
- Take advantage of others for their own gain
- Have fantasies about success and power and romantic love
As our reader points out at the start of her relationship she was a different person and had her Narcissist presented himself truthfully from the start, she never would have engaged further, but their control and manipulation is often gradual and easily justified. And once you are in the grips of a relationship with a Narcissist it is almost impossible break free, until of course they discard you. Had she decided to leave she would have been hounded relentlessly, but when you have been discarded the abrupt, unemotional and callous way in which you are left is utterly mind boggling.
There was a silver line though, as a reader says, “In losing him, I found myself,” but we’ll continue with more on that theme in part 2.