I think I caught the narcissism early...what to do?
May 22, 2014 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Recently I started a relationship with someone who I now suspect has narcissistic tendencies. I feel like I should do something, but not sure if I should try to help him.

I really do love this guy a lot. We were friends for several months before taking the leap into dating. When we first started out, we were both getting out of bad breakups (I wrote about that breakup earlier this year). He was there for me and we became very close. Four months later, we were together.

Looking back, I see that he was trying to be everything he thought I needed him to be. He still displays loving/doting behavior, but now we're going through extreme ups and downs. One day we will be talking and laughing so freely with each other and I feel I'm on cloud nine. The next we're arguing over something that is somehow usually my fault. He does a good job of making me feel like whatever we are arguing about is my fault. Even now I wonder if something is really wrong with me that we're always fighting. The only reason I question his view is that it simply doesn't feel right.

I knew about the condition before meeting him because I've learned a lot about codependency. I thought that I had recovered enough from my codependency to give another relationship a try, but little did I know that my shortcoming is what attracted him in the first place. :(

Here's the thing though: I don't believe he's a bad person. During good days, he is genuinely happy to be with me. His life has been seriously rough, and has included homelessness and his father and best friend dying within months of each other. I'm being very careful not to jump into "I have to save him" mode, but at the same time I want him to know that he may be up against something serious like a personality disorder. I know that narcissists don't take criticism or bad news well. I don't know if I should try to bring it up with him or not. Should I?

We are on "break" from the relationship now (initiated by him), and I think that's a good place to be. As I said, I also have my own issues with codependency. I've been seeing a therapist and reading Codependent No More. I don't want to end my relationship, but now that I see how things are going, I think it may be the best thing. it breaks my heart...but should I at least try to let him know that he has narcissistic tendencies? Maybe he could do something about it? I feel so emotional right now. I really do love him, and I really did think he was "the one."
posted by Cybria to Human Relations (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
No, you should not try to tell him anything about a diagnosis you think may apply. That is not going to end well, for just so many reasons.

See also: Gaslighting. Before you decide there is something wrong with you, you should consider whether you are being gaslighted into thinking this is all your fault.

Please break up with this man and stay broken up.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:04 PM on May 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

Whether or not your boyfriend is, at heart, a "good person" or a "bad person" (if it is even possible to make that type of distinction!) has nothing to do with whether he is a good person or a bad person for you to be with at this point in your life. It sounds like you've figured out that at the place both of you are in your lives right now, he's not good for you, so let that be enough and don't try to psychoanalyze him or 'fix' him. No one in this world is going to change until they recognize they have a problem and personally choose to change that, and this is an especially true fact of life when the negative information is coming from an ex. At this point, you should go your separate ways and trust that he will take the steps to get help if and when he is able and willing (just as you are doing).
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:12 PM on May 22, 2014 [10 favorites]

No. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Don't diagnose people. Lay off the psychological terms and books for a while.

Decide you are better than a guy who wants a "break" from you.

Rev the engines, go over the next hill, leave him in the dust and stop caring what happens to him.
posted by quincunx at 4:14 PM on May 22, 2014 [19 favorites]

End it, end it, and end it. You don't have to believe he's a bad person to recognize some very unhealthy trends in the relationship. You can't "save" him, but you can make sure you stay out of what sounds like a bad relationship for you. It's unlikely to be a coincidence that you two gravitated toward one another as codependency and narcissistic behavior patterns are dysfunctions that tend to mesh together well. Beware that the same dynamics are also in play in a platonic friendship.

Your work on your codependency issues and your work with your therapist is where you should focus your energies. Don't diagnose him and don't get into protracted discussions of why you're making the break permanent. Make a clean break and move forward with your own life.
posted by quince at 4:19 PM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Looking back, I see that he was trying to be everything he thought I needed him to be

Now that is a slippery slope to go down. (I know from experience). Why would a person do that? Maybe he's inexperienced in relationships, or maybe he is trying to ensnare you, or perhaps both. "Ensnare" may sound like overkill, but rest assured, that is exactly what narcissists do. The person he really is is likely not someone who will end up adoring and doting on you at all.

The next we're arguing over something that is somehow usually my fault. He does a good job of making me feel like whatever we are arguing about is my fault. Even now I wonder if something is really wrong with me that we're always fighting. The only reason I question his view is that it simply doesn't feel right.

It doesn't feel right for a reason. He is trying to keep you off-balance, make you question yourself. Please listen to your intuition on this.

And if he has "narcissistic tendencies," those tendencies tend to fall under the general category of "not giving a crap about people." He is not going to care that he has narcissistic tendencies. In fact, he probably already knows (and will just get angry if you call him out on it).

I don't believe he's a bad person. During good days, he is genuinely happy to be with me. His life has been seriously rough, and has included homelessness and his father and best friend dying within months of each other.

You sound like a caring, compassionate person. Sometimes it is easier emotionally to explain away a person's bad behavior rather than calling a spade a spade. Please don't take the way he treats you personally. If he is manipulative/abusive/narcissistic/selfish, he would be the same way to any other woman. I would like to share this quote with you: "Just because your pain is understandable doesn’t mean your behavior is acceptable." -- Dr. Steve Maraboli

And this is just my layman's opinion from dealing with people with "narcissistic tendencies": they don't want to be helped, they want to be better than you.

I don't want to end my relationship, but now that I see how things are going, I think it may be the best thing

Trust yourself.
posted by sevenofspades at 4:31 PM on May 22, 2014 [16 favorites]

It really doesn't matter what the label is, if this is something that can be diagnosed, whatever. If you end up on a "break" with someone who you've only just started a relationship with, if you're already fighting on a regular basis, it's not going to get better. The first couple months of a relationship should be smooth sailing--they're the point where you're still just getting to know each other. The fact that you're already talking about him being "the one" AND already talking about these fights being a regular thing is not a sign that this is going any kind of a functional direction. Let it go.
posted by Sequence at 4:38 PM on May 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Review what you know about codependency, then reread your question.

Here are the red flags I see heralding codependence:

You call it a recent relationship but say you're in love.
You both just got out of bad breakups. (Four months is NOT enough time to heal from what it sounds like you dealt with.)
He was trying to be everything he thought you needed him to be. (Do you love what you think he thinks you need him to be or do you love him?)
Extreme ups and downs.
He makes it feel like everything is your fault. (Nooooope. Not cool.)
His view simply doesn't seem right.
You say you're avoiding the "save him" mentality, but this question is about how to save him (and the relationship?) from his armchair-diagnosed personality disorder.
You thought he was "the one."

There's a lot of black/white thinking coming through here. You just simply need more time to heal after your last breakup. You need to focus all your energy on YOU, and later, on why you attract or are attracted to relationships that don't maximize your self-esteem and that suck away further at your self-doubt.

Let this one go. You can trust yourself on this.
posted by mibo at 5:30 PM on May 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think that's a good place to be.
I don't want to end my relationship
These are... contradictory. He has already ended your relationship. Should you choose to get back on the roller coaster ride is a different matter, but remember, you only control your end of things. And yourself. Take care of yourself.
posted by sm1tten at 6:04 PM on May 22, 2014

Your urge to diagnose him, then let him know about what your diagnosis is, then see how he reacts to that, whether he thinks he could do something about that - seems so very 'I need you to need me' codependent to me.

Your willingness to question that instinct, to perhaps just let it go, is a really good sign that you can get past the codependency.
posted by Dashy at 6:30 PM on May 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

You want to help him. You have codependency issues. You are the worst person in the world to help him because you have codependency issues. Help him by staying away from him and getting yourself healthy. And then try to find a mate that doesn't need saving. Because you know how this story ends- you give and you give and you try to make it work because his happiness is what you base your self worth on and he is never happy so you try harder. This doesn't sound like much fun to me. Make a new story. What I have noticed during my codependent times is that I stand much taller when I am not trying to bend down to fit in someone else's shadow. And when I stand tall, I am much more useful to the people in my life.
posted by myselfasme at 6:59 PM on May 22, 2014 [17 favorites]

1) You're not qualified to diagnose him with a personality disorder, and you certainly shouldn't "break the news" to him that he has one (even if you're right that he does);

2) He can be a basically good person (even with narcissistic traits! Narcissists can be interesting and fun in a good way too!), and someone you enjoy a friendship with, and still be a terrible, terrible long term romantic partner (there are sprinters, and there are long distance runners, when it comes to relationship capacity...and a lot of charming, fun, basically good people struggling with a tough past are sprinters);

3) You could go hands off but still supportive and finally get him to seek therapy and even hand pick the perfect therapist for him (ask me how I know!) and you still won't make him over into a great partner, if your hunch is right about his relationship style being on the narcissistic, "wounded boy" side of things.

Relationships aren't supposed to be this hard, this early on. Stay on that break (at least romantically), and 6 months from now (or much sooner) you'll be shaking your head at how much thought and work you were prepared to throw at a situation that essentially wasn't compatible for either one of you.
posted by blue suede stockings at 7:09 PM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know it hurts, and I promise you that some time & perspective will reveal that he did you a favor by breaking up and you dodged a huge bullet.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:54 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Read this old ask: "Dating Warning Phrases" and see how many you have heard from your (ex?)boyfriend.

Also, this was a great comment made a few days ago for someone asking a similar question to yours:

"Kind most of the time" is utterly insufficient. People who are truly kind are kind even when arguing, when getting poor service at a restaurant and when cut off in traffic. People who are kind "most of the time" are manipulators who can turn it on and off to get what they want. "Cruel a little of the time" is an unacceptable trait for a happy relationship, in my experience.
posted by dawkins_7 at 10:56 PM on May 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

Dawkins_7, I've heard him say quite a few things that should have set me off in the beginning. Actually they did set me off, and I was avoiding him for a time. But then over time the concern over the red flags dwindled beneath the glaring light of my loneliness. But I should replace "loneliness" with "lack of person to attach to."

Wow. This just keeps getting better and better. :(
posted by Cybria at 7:34 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

He doesn't see anything wrong with his behavior. Therefore he will not change and you cannot help him change. Break up.
posted by desjardins at 10:06 AM on May 23, 2014

It was hard for me to finish reading this question because as it went on, the alarm bells got louder and louder and louder. I beg you to break up and stay broken up with this man. I wish more than anything I could take back the hellish two years of my life I spent with and then recovering from a man who sounds much like this one.

Seriously, I would not wish a narcissist on my worst enemy. Reading your update - FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCTS. They're leading you in the right direction.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 2:00 PM on May 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Cybria -

As others have said, you're catching the warning signals early. You're not only recognizing that it doesn't feel right, you're reaching out for validation that it is not right - that sure enough, these ARE the red flags you've been warned about via therapy and education. It's hard to change deeply-rooted patterns of behavior (ask me how I know!) but you're doing it, right here on Metafilter. Follow your better instincts, and then give yourself a metric shit-ton of credit for doing so despite the discomfort. May you find the strength and courage to keep fighting the good fight on behalf of your own sanity and quality of life.
posted by Lycaon_pictus at 8:01 PM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Cybria, I'd like to validate your feelings by saying that it is no wonder you are confused about what to do. The interaction between the co-dependent and the narcissist is both a dream and a nightmare, in my experience.

I think you capture the need perfectly: "lack of person to attach to." I think there is so much projection going on in this type of relationship that caring for him IS THE SAME as caring for yourself. This is why co-dependents need people: because we have misplaced our sense of self.

As to why we go the way we go, and narcissists go the way they go -- well, this is a great mystery but for practical purposes all I can say is that as much as we want them to be like us, they are NOT, and they have no interest in changing, only in encouraging you to take pity on them so they can continue to maintain a sense of the importance of their existence by viewing themselves reflected in you. This is why they get so angry when you do anything that puts a ripple into the way you are reflecting them. They aren't just mean and selfish; they are fundamentally disordered in the way they perceive our shared reality.

I wish it were not so. I have had to give this to my higher power, and realize that I'm allowed to take care of myself first and give the rest to G_d. And that I exist independent of anyone else. I promise if you sit in the stillness you will not be alone, even though that may be exactly what you fear most.

CoDA has helped me tremendously. I wish you the best.
posted by macinchik at 1:06 AM on May 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

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