It is easy to spot abuse when it comes in the package of a man who stays out all night, drinks, uses drugs, is obviously having affairs, is irresponsible with money, can’t keep a job, and displays both verbal and physical abuse at home. Men with these kinds of characteristics can be labeled or diagnosed as having narcissistic personality disorder because they take no responsibility for their behavior or how it effects others in their lives. Although their life looks messy from the partners point of view, the narcissistic personality covers up his behavior by dismissing it and focusing instead on the faults of his partner. Although this type of narcissist may be a complete and utter failure in the real world, in his imaginary world he is destined for greatness and uses promises and a great sales presentation to keep his partner hooked in. But after many years pass and nothing changes the partner begins to realize that she can’t built a life on empty promises and initiates change.
With the high functioning narcissist, the story is completely different. He is often very responsible in the real world, has a good job, owns his own business, good with money management, has good credit, owns his own home, is highly intelligent and creative, may have long-term marriage or relationships histories, is involved with his children, takes excellent care of himself physically and he may also be a prominent member of society, the church, or involved in personal or spiritual growth.
With a high functioning narcissist it is difficult to detect the abuse and the dysfunction. In fact partners of this type of narcissistic personality often come to believe they are the problem. Even if the high functioning narcissist does have an extra-marital affair he will make his partner believe she pushed him to it. Sometimes it’s even the partner of the narcissist who is led to having an affair because she isn’t getting her needs met at home. This isn’t surprising since regardless of his appearance in society, her needs aren’t important to him. In fact they are a downright nuisance.
In my case I had two relationships with high functioning narcissists. They were both calm, cool and collected most of the time while I was an emotional basket case. Next to their “perfect” appearance I faltered with my obvious displays of imperfection which included frequent illness, depression, mood swings and inability to function at work.
I came to the realization I was dealing with a narcissistic personality after I left the first relationship. I was a mess for over six months and didn’t seem to be getting better. On the suggestion of a friend I went to see yet another therapist, she recommended to me, who told me my ex was a narcissist! She hadn’t met him and didn’t say “he may be a narcissist” she told me flat out that I was dealing with a narcissist. She obviously had enough experience to detect the symptoms in the partner of a high functioning narcissist. Armed with this new knowledge I set out to heal from the most subtle kind of abuse I had ever experienced.
When dealing with these highly intelligent, high functioning narcissistic personalities they are constantly outsmarting and even brainwashing their partners re-enforcing the suggestion that the partner is the one with the problem. The partner experiences loss of energy, loss of personal power, declining self-worth and finally the loss of her ability to function in the world. She has completely lost her grip on reality and has been absorbed into the narcissistic reality. Normally she comes to the realization her partner was narcissistic after the relationship has fallen apart. By this time she has often already been replaced by someone he deems as “having her act together” since the former partner obviously didn’t. This only contributes to her feelings of worthlessness.
As I look back on both of my narcissistic relationships I realize that both men initially really admired me and wanted to be near me for my “light.” But once I was drained of my “light” or life-force energy he began to lose interest in me. He never took responsibility for any of the issues in the relationship.There was a subtle form of control going on. He didn’t have any “real friends” of his own so he followed me into my social situations and withdrew into the sideline to observe me interacting with my friends. He would come home after work because there wasn’t anything else to do. He preferred his artistic expression to socialization. This is what allowed him to shine and be admired by others.
Neither of my ex’s had great social skills but seemed to feed off my contacts instead. And feed is an appropriate term because it seemed they felt superior to most of the people I interacted with. But because of my draw as a musical performer, I was initially placed in a high position, lifted up, admired, adored, intently listened to, and sexually devoured with a great passion.
Of course my own egoic nature loved being showered with attention and affection, especially since I didn’t feel I received much in my childhood. I was a perfect mate for these idealistic narcissist’s who gained heightened sense of self-worth as a result of being in my presence. However, if I ever expressed dissatisfaction in the relationships, or anything having to do with my needs being met within our union he would react with a put-down of me rather than seeing the possibility that he was contributing to the problem. Normally I experienced a voicelessness, never really feeling seen or heard, which was what I had experienced as a child. So instead of telling myself that I deserved to be seen and heard, I would plummet into those familiar old emotions that reminded me that I wasn’t really worthy enough to be truly visible.
The stage was the only place I was really allowed to shine and be seen. It was my only true platform in which I could express myself and be heard.
Having a true voice within a narcissistic relationships was never possible. I couldn’t get angry, or express dissatisfaction without being subject to the typical accusations of having PMS or being hostile. Narcissistic behavior is crazy making and it enrages us, yet we can’t safely express our inner rage without being subject to accusations of our many faults, or having the issue of our concern completely ignored while the focus is turned to our reaction of the issue.
I had an affair once out of my own deep need to be loved and treated kindly. This was after my second narcissistic relationship was starting to fall apart. He approached me when I came home after staying out all night and asked me where I had been. I told him the truth! He broke down crying and asking me why I would do this to us and I had the horrible experience of witnessing my own reckless behavior’s effect on this man whom I loved. I told him I was very sorry and he didn’t deserve that. I explained that I felt justified at the time because our relationship was in trouble but I realized now how wrong that was and I would never do that again as long as there was even the appearance of us being together. I think I felt worse than he did because I was ashamed of my own behavior.
However had the tables been turned I’m sure I would have been just as guilty. It would still have been my fault and I would still be the focus of the conversation. It would be about how he was pushed to do it because of the way I treated him and how he couldn’t allow himself to get close to me anymore because he couldn’t trust me. He would attack me to alleviate his own guilt and have no compassion for my experience of betrayal.
This is the difference between a narcissistic personality and one who is not. A narcissist can’t put himself in his partners shoes. He can’t imagine what it might be like to be on the other side of the situation. He can only see it from his own perspective, which is a perspective that completely lets him off the hook and puts 100% of the responsibility upon his partner.
In my situation, my affair only validated his opinion of me as untrustworthy. He had never trusted me because whenever we would fight and he would push all the responsibility upon me I would withdraw from the relationship. I recoiled out of my own self preservation. Sometimes I ended the relationship altogether out of my own frustration. But I still continued to return to the relationship and he would welcome me back with open arms and for a brief moment all was forgotten. For a short time I was beautiful to him again and he was loving towards me.
The cycle continued until I just couldn’t stand it anymore and finally I ended the relationship for the last time. When he realized I was serious this time, his narcissistic devaluing and discarding of me began. The horror I experienced within the relationship was nothing compared to the devastation of leaving. It was during this time that I had to come to the true realization that I had been living a lie and had invested years of my life enforcing this illusion. Suddenly his image of the consistent partner gave way to a rage that I had never before seen in him, yet intuitively I always sensed it was there. He completely cut off all contact with me, even though we lived on the same property. He ignored me and treated me as if I was invisible, the thing I hated the most. I wanted to communicate with him and process through the ending of the relationship as I had done in other, healthier relationships, but that door was closed to me. There would be no closure.
The second time I found myself in a narcissistic relationship I suspected I was dealing with narcissism once again, especially since I had been studying it for years. One might wonder how I could have missed it or why I stayed so long. If you’ve ever heard the story of the boiling pot where a frog is placed in a boiling pot and it jumps out but when they place a frog in a pot of cool water and slowly bring it to a boil the frog dies. The temperature change is so slow that he doesn’t realize what is happening.
When I entered the second relationship the water was cool and there were no obvious signs of narcissism. In fact in many ways he was very different than the first one. My first narcissistic partner was emotionally closed and the second one was emotionally open, a huge difference. But what I found was that the more emotionally open one was more prone to emotional explosion and I could sense the volcano preparing to erupt. But still even after it erupted he didn’t ever lay a hand on me. He knew better. Instead he bottled it up inside and gave me the silent treatment. I would hear him slamming boards and doors and swearing but he never touched me. He was high functioning! There was never any real evidence of abuse. The abuse was like the frog in the pot. It was so subtle and slow that I didn’t recognize it as abuse until I woke from my illusion and realized the water was boiling. I jumped out just in time to save my life.
The abuse came in the form of constant invalidation of my reality until I came to invalidate my own reality. I lost trust in myself and my ability to know what the truth was in any given situation. I became dependent upon him for his version of reality so I could make sense of what was going on in my life. In the end he told me he wanted me out of his house and I said “wait a minute! This is my house too!” He said “No it isn’t!” It was then I realize how out of touch things had become. There was no way he was going to convince me that this was his house. We purchased it together. It was ours! How long had I been allowing him to undermine me and impose his version of reality over mine? How long had I been slowly leaking my power and energy to this false illusion?
In both of my narcissistic relationships I was replaced immediately which surprised me since I had developed a belief that we had this deep soul bond that was irreplaceable. And maybe on some level it was irreplaceable! Because although they moved on quickly, their new situations didn’t last long. Perhaps the new partners detected the dysfunction early on and weren’t so willing to jump into my old shoes. Maybe I was special to them because I was an ignorant frog, who just didn’t realize when the temperature was rising. Perhaps it was because, through it all, I am really a beautiful person with a lot of love to give and their cup was too shallow to contain it. Maybe after all is said and done they realize that I truly did love them and their fantasies that someone else could easily fill my shoes didn’t measure up against true reality.
I will never really know the truth of what they are thinking, believing or feeling. I only know my truth and this is what is important. I have learned to trust myself and my inner voice that guides me on my path. I can now spot a high functioning narcissist not necessarily from far away, but up close and personal. There are a two signs: He doesn’t believe he is at fault for anything. He has a certain air of superiority. There are also other obvious signs such as haughty body postures, eccentricity, a charismatic presence, highly confident appearance, intense and invasive sexual energy, a casual interest in me in order to get something they want, in some I notice a need to constantly talk about themselves, others are quiet and introverted.
The most important detection devise is the way I feel. I feel anxious, drained, on guard, inadequate, frustrated, and confused. I think those are the kind of signs we need to listen to the most. How do we feel? Once we learn to trust our own feelings we stop selling our reality for the narcissistic illusion. It is then we are able to call back our power and stop playing into the hands of one who doesn’t have our best interest at heart.