April 22, 2020 – Arlington, Washington
My friend Karen when she flew off the handle would say.
“You’re a narcissist, just like my mom!”
Did she even know what the word meant? Determined to find out, I opened my browser that day in February 2020 and did some research. It turns out that most of us are narcissistic, selfish to some degree. It’s human nature, part of the survival instinct. But there are those who take it to the extreme, the ones who suffer from NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). Most commonly due to childhood trauma, they have created a false persona or mask. While their inside voice screams insecurity, vulnerability, and sensitivity, their outside persona projects self-confidence, kindness, and generosity, The mask can change, depending on who they’re dealing with. It can be controlling and manipulative, or it can be kind and self-sacrificing. While diagnosis is possible, narcissists rarely admit they have a problem, so they don’t seek treatment. I scrolled down to view common behavior traits.
People with NPD…
- Expect special treatment (feeling of entitlement)
- Exaggerate their achievements, talents, and importance
- Are easily offended and feel rejected with little provocation
- Have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships and have few friends
- Take advantage of others to achieve their goals, without regret or conscience
- Lack empathy and disregard the feelings of others
- Seek praise and positive reinforcement from others
- Are perfectionists
- Control and manipulate
- Don’t take responsibility for their actions
- Often suffer from anxiety
- Exhibit explosive anger
- Are highly critical themselves, but can’t take criticism
- Show inconsistency between words and actions
- Suffer from substance abuse problems
- Act impulsively without evaluating the implications of their actions
- Cope poorly in stressful situations
- Have trouble making decisions
This was Brent to a tee, tick, tick, tick, all the way down the list. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I had been on this earth for 69 years, and never heard of NPD? How could I have missed this? Yes, he was critical and negative, with a hot temper, but I had always blamed it on homelessness, his years of living on the streets. Later on, when things got really bad, I knew Brent had problems. But I continued to make excuses for his behavior until the end when I broke down and left Arizona.
When I met Brent, his was broken from living on the streets. It wasn’t until he began healing that his negative side emerged. Though it happened gradually, there were warning signs I missed. In our early phone conversations, he talked endlessly, about himself and his adventures. Rarely did he ask about me. Later, when he complained I wasn’t paying attention to what he said, I turned it back on him.
“So, what exactly do you know about me? I’ve told you a few things, but I bet you don’t remember. How many brothers and sisters do I have? Where was I born?”
He couldn’t answer, nor could he see the irony. So he continued with his criticisms.
“You don’t know that the White Mountains are in Arizona? I’ve told you so many times about living in Greer, how much I loved it. Why don’t you ever listen?”
“You need to quit taking things so personally,” I replied. His anger made no sense to me, especially since I had told him I sometimes had attention issues.
It’s confusing living with a narcissist, and they like to keep it that way, keep you on your toes. Everything you say can be used against you to support their critical statements. Early on I revealed that I was raised in an environment that left me overly-sensitive to criticism. Now when he criticized, he could turn it back on me.
“You’re too sensitive,” he’d say. “I’m only trying to help you.”
So I closed up. If he was going to use my weaknesses against me, I wouldn’t reveal them. Towards the end of our relationship, I did open up one last time. That morning I’d taken a wrong turn, driving to Tombstone instead of Elfrida.
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but…”
No, I shouldn’t have said it. The next time we argued, he hit below the belt.
“You’re so fucking stupid, you couldn’t even figure out which way to turn…”
There were warning signs galore of his lack of empathy, in the stories he told, the statements that slipped through his mask:
“My ex was so drunk, she passed out on the floor. We just rolled her under the pool table.”
“He’s dumber than a rock, just like his mom.”
His controlling ways didn’t bother me at first. I like a guy who stands up for himself. But they grew to be excessive and they weren’t always obvious. When we left camp to run errands, it was always on his terms. While claiming to be “securing camp,” he’d bask in the sun, smoke weed and “get in the flow.” I would wait in the car. It was comfortable in there and I could browse on my phone. “You’re pressuring me,” he’d say. Meals became an issue as well. I wasn’t cutting the tomatoes thin enough, I wasn’t cooking the hot dogs the right way. Often, he didn’t eat with me. Though he knew dinner was ready, he’d play on his phone until the food got cold, then re-heat it. Though I didn’t see the extent of his manipulation, I didn’t sit there and take it either. We argued constantly.
“If you want the tomatoes cut that way, you can cut them yourself !,” I’d say, offending him even more.
The fact that I shared some of his narcissistic traits didn’t help matters either. I was overly-sensitive to criticism, impulsive, and I ran when things got bad. Much of the time I was mired in a mass of confusion. Was it me being too sensitive or was it Brent being too critical? He exploded one day because I was “flip-flopping,” but he was far worse. His goals changed constantly. One day he wanted to pursue his social security disability claim, the next day he wanted to join the carpenters’ union. One day he wanted to go to Arizona, the next day he would find an excuse to stay in Washington.
I ignored the negativity at first because he was fun to be with, he made me laugh. Twenty years had passed since I had a partner to share things with, and Brent was up for anything. He was full of life, spontaneous, and he gave great back rubs. So what if he wasn’t the perfect partner? Then the scales tipped. The bad outweighed the good now and, though I knew it was time to leave, I stayed.