is there hope for someone who is highly narcissistic yet falls short of actually having narcissistic personality disorder?
February 29, 2008 5:36 AM   Subscribe

you're so vain, you probably think this post is about you…

several years ago i was in therapy and have since become convinced that my father most likely has narcissistic personality disorder. unsurprisingly, i have a history of being attracted to and dating emotionally unavailable men and now i am beginning to believe my last boyfriend exhibited a lot narcissistic traits—just not to the extreme of a full-blown case of NPD: neglect in childhood and uneven parenting; highly intelligent, subtly arrogant and falsely modest but secretly thinks very highly of himself, and has a need to feel superior to others; incredibly charming and affectionate but then can switch it off and become completely devoid of emotion, almost inhuman and quite emotionally cruel; self-delusional, contradictory of the truth, a preposterous liar, and unable to recognize his own flaws and mistakes; needs relationships in which he is the hero or at least ones which make him feel superior; constantly searching for an idealized love, unable to sustain relationships for more than several months and yet always needing to be in one, etc. believe me, he's got the signs, so i won't go into all the details because they're only incidental to my questions. i ended up befriending his ex before me and in comparing notes, she told me that when i told her about my relationship with him, she felt that she was reliving everything she felt when he broke up with her. she was a psych major in college and also suspects the same thing of him.

anyway, i'd like to know if anyone else out there has dated, married, friends with, or been with any whatever capacity someone who exhibits a high level of narcissistic traits or narcissistic style but not full-blown NPD. what was your experience like? did you stay with that person, wanted to, or did you still have to leave them to keep yourself healthy? while i know that there is really the lowest rate of success in fixing people with NPD because of the very nature of the disorder and that the best one could hope for would be for the narcissist to learn systems of behaviours, is there more hope for those who fall below the clinical diagnosis of that personality disorder but (far) above what is considered a normal and healthy amount of narcissism? can they be helped through therapy should they ever recognize that they indeed need help? or are they just as hopeless as someone who actually has NPD?
posted by violetk to Human Relations (23 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, I have had a relationship with a Narcissist and I've learned that using the DMS-IV in your private life does more harm than good. Instead of cataloging people or labeling them, appreciate them for what they are or dump them for what you don't like. Also, personality disorders for the lay person (and even for not very bright psychologists) are a bit like horoscopes: they're so general and pinpoint so many common human traits that at one time or another you'll find them in almost anyone.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 5:48 AM on February 29, 2008 [18 favorites]

Trying to diagnose someone close to you with a psychological disorder when you're not qualified is never a good idea. And in my limited experience, it's something that psych majors do all the time with their significant others. Just before they become their ex-significant others.
posted by mcwetboy at 5:56 AM on February 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

i understand what both of you are saying but to be clear: it's not like, after he broke up with me, i went looking to diagnose him with some disorder in order to explain why. since the break up i had been too heartbroken and confused to be able to think clearly about it at all—same with his ex before me (the psych major)—she wasn't trying to diagnose him before the break up. we were both very suddenly broken up with when to all appearances, everything seemed to be going very well. it wasn't until recently (the break up was in early january) that i begun to suspect because of the similarities to my father (although definitely not to the extreme cruelty and abusiveness of my father) and then it was independently suggest by my (new) therapist after a month of my talking/crying about the ex.
posted by violetk at 6:05 AM on February 29, 2008

I have a history of . . . dating emotionally unavailable men

Yeah, don't do that. Whether the emotionally unavailable men have NPD or not doesn't really matter.

And for the record, I did date someone like this for a month before I wised up, and I never felt such a weight lifted off of me as I did the night that relationship ended.
posted by amro at 6:09 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm going to point out that you are still trying to fix him. You are still attached. The first thing you need to do is to take care of yourself now. That means figuring out why you are spending time on thinking about another person rather than yourself.

Then you need to go to therapy and work on yourself so that when a few signs show up you have the good sense to let these things go.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:37 AM on February 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

ironmouth, yeah, of course i'm still attached. it was devastating for me. but i'm much better this week than i have been the whole last month and a half or so. it still is devastating for me. and again, i am back in therapy to sort all this out.
posted by violetk at 6:41 AM on February 29, 2008

Hey Violet,

Just a suggestion, having posted something once and replied a lot to it, you're probably better off just sitting back and seeing what people have to say, unless there are clarifying questions. I speak from experience...people get kind of riled up when you are answering them back constantly.
posted by sully75 at 6:48 AM on February 29, 2008

I haven't been in a relationship with a narcissistic person, but I am one (not like to the extent where I have a disorder, I just know that I am pretty damn great), and I can tell you that if your ex knows that two girls that he has dumped are sitting around analyzing him and trying to figure him out then he will be delighted. Why give him the satisfaction? The narcissistic person is now in your past, so you don't have to worry about narcissism, except to the extent that you now know your tendency to date them and that you need to work hard to avoid doing that in the future. It is like you are saying "I was in the middle of the road and got hit by a truck. Now I am wondering how to convince that truck not to run me over anymore." Just get out of the damn road. Let that guy's next girlfriend worry about fixing him. He isn't your problem anymore. Just make sure that when the next version of him comes along, and being one of him, I know that we are a dime a dozen, that you avoid him.
posted by ND¢ at 7:00 AM on February 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

Your observation that you date people like your father is a very accurate one. I went through a similar thing except that I was dating people who were ambivalent like my mother and trying to win them over. The theory a therapist gave me was that, when we were hurt in a primary relationship as a child, we gravitated to people like the ones who hurt us. The idea we hold in this case, consciously or subconsciously (which shows up in your wanting to "fix" the boyfriend) is that, if we could just make the situation come out differently (in your case, fix Mr. Narcissist; in mine, be "good enough" to make someone love me), it would magically fix the hurts of our childhood. The problems are that: 1) The situation doesn't come out differently; 2) If it did, it wouldn't magically fix our childhood anyhow.

The only way you're going to heal yourself of the childhood hurts is to feel those hurts in a safe setting (thus therapy), then let them go.
posted by lleachie at 7:09 AM on February 29, 2008 [6 favorites]

Here's a website you might be interested in.
posted by OmieWise at 7:10 AM on February 29, 2008

did you stay with that person, wanted to, or did you still have to leave them to keep yourself healthy?

I stayed trying to fix him for a very long time, and then realized how much easier, how oh-so-very-much easier it was, just to walk away. Even in a single situation! Ie, I'm not saying "it was easier to break up than to change his entire personality," I'm saying "it was easier to go to walk away from the fight and go to the movies than to get him to change how he saw even one single, tiny, unimportant situation." Just imagine how infinitely harder it would be to change patterns of how he thought. (This was not NPD, some other issues, but since both are ingrained early on, I'd say it applies.) Hard work. Not worth it. It's why therapists make the big bucks. Plus, therapists can do it only because they've learned not to react, and you'd be too emotionally entwined and reactive to be any use to him even if he did want to change.

Ironmouth is right. You'll get a lot further in life working to improve yourself, rather than other people. And a good first start is to focus on your own feelings, thoughts, and motivations. Eg, when he acted "almost inhuman and quite emotionally cruel," what did you feel? what did you think? what motivated you to respond the way you did? Now that he broke up with you suddenly, what do you feel? how are you thinking about and analyzing the situation? what are you motivated to do and why?
posted by salvia at 7:52 AM on February 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Being a narcissistic person and having Narcissistic Personality Disorder are very different things. One is a lay judgment. The other is a professional diagnosis (regardless of how much stock one takes in the bad ole DSM-IV). Why does it matter whether or not some person with a degree would apply a certain label to this dude? If you judge him to be a narcissist, then just do the wise thing and stay the hell away.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:40 AM on February 29, 2008

Just logically, there have to be degrees of success in having relationships with people who show some of the conditions of NPD; if the APA intended to apply all of the disease's effects to people who exhibited a mild form of the disorder, they would have written up the symptoms to describe the mild form, not full blown.

People should stop condescendingly telling violetk to stay away from the ex and answer the question as asked. There's no indication that she wants to know this information to go back to the ex to "treat" him. She may just be curious about what might happen to such people, or be wondering how completely she needs to try to change her dating behavior (how much narcissism is too much to date?), or want the info for some part of her healing process that we don't really understand. So please just answer the question.
posted by onlyconnect at 9:22 AM on February 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Narcissistic people often have lots because our society rewards narcissism. Look at most of our political and corporate leaders - for a lot of them, I'd say they got where they are because of their capacity to make others orbit around them. As long as they're successful, why should they change? My experience is that these folks rarely have the capacity to be introspective enough to consider that they might need to change.

I can recommend a book for *you* though: Drama of the Gifted Child, by Alice Miller. It's a short book but full of wisdom about what it's like to grow up in a home with a narcissistic parent.
posted by jasper411 at 9:27 AM on February 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

onlyconnect—that's exactly it, thanks. i'm just very curious about what happens with people who don't have the full blown disorder.
posted by violetk at 10:32 AM on February 29, 2008

I had a "relationship" (I won't really deign to call it that) with an emotionally unavailable man with narcissistic traits. He was attractive to me because he was like my father in many ways, who I looked up to as very creative and hardworking, but who frustrated me because of his not being there -- physically not being present in our home a lot of the time, as well as emotionally not there.

This guy may have full-on NPD, but I'm no psychiatrist. There was definitely something not right with him. What I do know is that the time I spent with this person was frustrating, unsatisfying, and ultimately so heartbreaking that I went into a major depression. He left me to go be a hero for another woman, who he's not with anymore.

Moving on took a long time, but one of the things that helped was when I started asking myself: I grew up with a man in my life who never gave me what I needed, so why am I seeking to spend the rest of it with another man who won't either?
posted by medeine at 10:43 AM on February 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


Let me make a suggestion. Look at your life the last few weeks outside of these issues regarding your past boyfriend. What is going on? Is there an issue that is very important (say work) which you would rather not think about? Usually this is when we focus on "unsolvable problems" from the past.

You literally can't fix this guy. You never could and now that you aren't dating him, it can't be done or even helped. So your focus is away from things in your life that you can fix.

If you do need to work on these issues from the past relationship, the work should be on what you can do now, not what you could have done then or what you might do in the future if you got the chance.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:06 PM on February 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

violetk, your question can describe just about anyone, especially anyone in a relationship that isn't going well. Everyone who seems like they're not "falsely modest but think highly of themselves," can't be emotionlessly cruel, whatever, are putting on a front to sell you something.
posted by nasreddin at 12:46 PM on February 29, 2008

violetk did not invite either psychoanalysis of her own motivations for her question or exhortations to look inwards to improve herself or fix her problems with men. She asked a reasonably straightforward question (with explanatory backstory) about dating guys with some but not all symptoms of NPD. I think we should pay her the respect of taking her question seriously and trying to answer it, rather than assuming that we understand what she needs better than she does.

on preview: not directed at nasreddin.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:55 PM on February 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

violetk, Many thoughts that come up reading your post that I’d like to respond to. Too many really. But I’d like to try and respond. Apologies for the length. This is a subject I've been asked about privately in many a memail, email, MeFite phone calls from all over the world, so I might as well put a bit of it in writing, for reference. I hope there is something in this comment there that might be meaningful, useful or comforting for you. And if there isn't I'm sorry for taking up the bandwidth.

Abbreviations used: N= narcissist, Nish=narcissistically traited, Nparent=parent with traits of narcissistic personality disorder, NPD=narcissistic personality disorder.

There have been a number of threads in which I posted links, information, thoughts and my opinions on this topic:

Recognizing the difference between normal difficulties and personality disorders

Over-controlling parents

The BPD thread and the ASPD thread.

Healthier caring for oneself if one has been a caretaker to others.

First, how awesome it is violetk that you’re aware now! Woo hoo! This is a life changing and liberating awakening for you! The shackles are broken.

Second, and my attempt at a short response to your question “is there hope for someone who is highly narcissistic yet falls short of actually having narcissistic personality disorder?”

Yes. And no.

Yes, if they are not an N and might face their flaws with humility and empathic awareness they are hurting others and themselves, seek therapy or work on making deep changes in their character.

Yes, Ns can go to therapy and work on having healthier object constancy, work on behavior modification, work on rage management, on diminishing their compulsion of idealizing and devaluing, become aware of their pathological lying and grandiosity defenses. Or, should they struggle with depression or mania issues, mood swings, substance or destructive habit addictions, they can work on healing those. They can become, on the low end of the continuum, much less destructive to people around them if they seek help and sincerely commit themselves to working on healthier change.

No, because an N, even on the low end of the continuum, is profoundly flawed (this personality disorder is “rigid” and “all pervasive”) and unable to *sustain* healthy empathy, a healthy connection with others, unable to sustain enough integrity to be able to be honest at core. They are pathologically dependent on others for attention (narcissistic supplies) and the more attention they get, the sicker they become. Being around an N, as their child or spouse/partner, ultimately means not feeling their good will; it means being blamed for their stuff, it’s being drained of one’s life force rather than enjoying the warm, even if occasionally conflicting, life enhancing and uplifting benefits of authentic intimacy.

I have known Ns and Nish people to go to therapy but they have usually done so in order to learn how to manipulate others better. Or, if they are very low on the N continuum, they can do some core healing but they have usually left a lifetime wake of suffering behind them, people they have hurt badly, including and especially their children, spouses, co-workers, employees and neighbors.

You will have such a better life now you are aware about your father’s NPD and the repetition compulsion pattern in yourself to have, in the past, gravitated towards Ns or Nish people. As a result of not choosing an N as a partner you will not be a drudge, a broken human being after decades of incomprehension, not battered, not vampired of your lifeforce or your bank account, not nitpicked into total paralysis, not crushed with low self esteem, not seeking to self medicate with behaviors or substances so you can just get out of bed in the morning or get through the day, not scapegoated, not at your wits’ end, not dealing with kids you brought into the world now having to handle or cope with the burden of an Nish or NPD parent for the rest of their lives.

But this freeing awareness doesn’t come with a confetti celebration. Surprisingly, it may come with tears, pangs of fear and sadness. The software your Ndad programmed you with as a parent, the parental template, says it’s your job to caretake your dad’s wounded child self, that you need to be *his* parent. So letting go of any N or Nish person in your life may bring up ancient fears that you’re being an abandoner, being a lousy parent, leaving that wounded child of the other person behind. And with that fear may come the fear of being punished. Even fear of dying.

In speaking with others about having an Nparent, awakening to that or becoming aware that one is dealing with Ns or Nish people in one’s life, what comes up after leaving an N is abandonment depression, which can feel like going into an abyss. In the initial stages of what could be called a sort of an abyss of awakening, are doubts about whether the N really is an N, whether there is any hope for them, the abuser. Sam Vaknin calls this the malignant optimism of the abused. Imo, it’s an intense feeling that is quite worthy, because it’s an attempt to comprehend if the N or Nish person is without redemption, to really examine them and to come to terms gradually with the reality that they cannot be 'fixed'.

All of us human beings have flaws. If we rejected each other for merely being flawed there would be no human race. Some flaws are workable, some aren’t. Some flaws are rigid, all pervasive, destructive personality disorders of the Axis II Cluster B variety. What makes some flaws workable and others intractable and too savagingly destructive?

In order for a flaw (neurosis, compulsion, disorder, habit, fear, phobia, self-destructive or other-destructive) to be worked on, there has to be an ability for the person with the flaw to sustain a sense of self while being humbled and realizing the flaw needs work. Lots of flaws or disorders are very workable if the person wants to work on them, such as OCD.

The problem with people with an Axis II, Cluster B disorder is that they cannot sustain a true self long enough while coping with the humbling process. Paradoxically, they don’t have the strength of self, integrity of self. Deep at core they are too weak. To cover up for this emotional fragility, they puff up on the surface with arrogance, like a squirrel puffing up its tail when scared. So they *seem* strong, fierce but it’s a puff act, inflation on the surface, a cover-up. The thing is, if one is an adult child of an Nparent, one is hard-wired to buy into this act and the response is to think it is oneself who is wrong, crazy, bad, imagining things.

It takes a while to believe what one knows. And in knowing it, to cope with the feelings of loss, loneliness and isolation that may come up simultaneously, sadness that one is leaving the wounded child of the other behind, guilt even, that one didn’t do one’s job fixing, healing, nurturing the other forever. It’s not easy to come out of the enmeshment. It’s very hard. It may take a few intense years, even after physically detaching.

The pay off of going through the abyss of abandonment depression, as one comes to terms with the reality that the N really is an N or stuck in their N traits, is healthy detachment.

You included a trait that prompts me to think your exbf is more of an N than merely Nish. You said “a preposterous liar” on top of the emotional sadism, inability to connect with others for more than a few months, being “almost inhuman”, grandiosity, idealizing others etc. He may be on the low end of the continuum but those traits add up to an emotional abuser at the very least, ingredients to be a crook and life devastator quite possibly.

From a place of healthy detachment, a kind of inner no contact, it may be possible to have reasonable communication with an Nparent, while understanding that they are a person, not capable of being a parent. One needs to step out of the role of being a child and into the role of being only an adult, not emotionally vulnerable, in order to have any non-abusive communication with an N and even then, real caution needs to be used in protecting oneself from their innate ability to undermine, press painful buttons and jab or backstab. Ns have a sort of X-ray vision when it comes to their compulsive sadism towards those closest to them.

Disclaimer: I’d like to say I’m not a therapist, have no degree in psychology.

My credentials are 21 years of studying psychology on my own and with others, in the library, online and in conversation with other therapists who were abused by people with Axis II, Cluster B disorders, as well as 14 years of being in therapy; also spent 11 years specifically studying the Axis II, Cluster B personality disorders and the impact they have on those around them, particularly the adult children and spouses/partners of Narcissists and gotten a few basics together on the Adult Children of Narcissists (ACON) site OmieWise linked above. This is a field that is being pioneered. There is a small handful of authors or psychologists who have written books, not just for academics but reasonably easy to understand, about this topic.

violetk, it sounds like you already know this but for others I’d like to say that the DSM IV is basically used by therapists in order to be paid by the insurance companies, because a patient needs to be officially diagnosed, like with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), in order to warrant money from the insurance company. Or the DSM IV is used in court as part of sentencing a criminal. It has a practical and limited function with the very bare minimum of descriptors used for the diagnosis. Each time the DSM is published it is changed, amended, sometimes dramatically, as psychology is better understood with each successive generation.

NPD was only used as a diagnosis in the DSMIV III since 1980, to treat pathological narcissists. What has not been discussed at length in the psychology community is the usually devastating impacts pathological Narcissists (NPDs) and the Axis II, Cluster B disorders (NPD, BPD, ASPD, HPD) have *on those around them*.

For the last 25 years in the USA there has been a grassroots movement among those abused physically, sexually, emotionally or psychologically to discuss recovery from having been being abused. It has only been recently that naming the personality disorders of the abusers has been possible because information about these personality disorders has not been easy to obtain. It wasn't collected in much of a practical way. Now, on the web, it is.

Abuse is not just being an occasional jerk, a bitch or an asshole. It’s a *pattern* of *repeated* sadism, malice, ill will, exploitation and manipulation. That pattern may or may not be rigid and *all-pervasive*, which is what a personality disorder is. And if it’s all pervasive and rigid, it may fall somewhere on the continuum from mildly personality disordered to severe.

There are many aspects to psychology. There is the academic science, the study of consciousness, the applied aspects in social work or for abuse survivors, forensic psychology used in profiling criminals and the day to day use people make of it in understanding each other in all our many human transactions. It is not something owned by psychologists or people with degrees. Although to be called a psychologist one does need a degree.

It’s something all of us use in our lives day to day, as we do English. Some people have a degree in English, that doesn’t make them the only person eligible to speak or write. English can be used incorrectly, so can psychology. There is no hard and fast way to use psychology. Until a few years ago there was no certificate necessary for anybody to practice psychotherapy in New York State. Literally anybody could call themselves a psychotherapist. Having met a number of nutcase (and that's my technical term, lol) or really wounded psychologists and heard about countless others who are nutcases, I don’t think a degree in psychology means a lot in determining if the psychologist is an emotionally or socially healthy person. And there are gifted psychologists, who do know their stuff.

For example, Scott Peck, a noted psychiatrist and author, wrote in his Road Less Traveled (and has since said he would amend) that he thought it was okay to have sex with his patients, which I don’t and, frankly, think is a sign of a nutcase therapist, however degreed and even smart they are.

Judging anybody can be harmful, especially if it is incorrect, so, whoever is doing the judging a person with a personality disorder needs to do it with a *lot* of thought, carefully, intelligently, not rashly, not merely out of spite or dislike.

All that said, violetk it sounds like you would like somebody to say that your exbf is not a pathological narcissist, when, from your own description, it seems that you think he is, as if you want to be convinced out of what you actually know.

Psychologists say that children are narcissistic and pass through that phase, incorporating healthy narcissism. I have the controversial opinion that there is no healthy narcissism. Narcissism, imo, defines an illness, a pathology. There is, imo, no healthy illness.

There may be healthy attention seeking, healthy pride, healthy vanity, healthy occasional self-centeredness, healthy selfishness, healthy rage, healthy idealizing that happens in the early stages of falling in love or in emotionally balanced adoring of one’s child, healthy seeking adulation and praise, healthy amounts of emotional reserve, healthy occasional coldness, workable amounts of emotional unavailability, workable fear of intimacy, sane amounts of ambition and determination etc. However, a pattern of sadism, deceit, coldness, emotional distance is unlikely to be a foundation for a person to want to seek therapeutic healing. Healing and the hope to heal has to come from them, be *their* desire, not yours.

So, no, there is not hope *for you* for that person to heal. The hope has to belong to them, the willingness and it doesn’t sound like they are capable of that willingness. Nothing you can do can induce that willingness in them.

If you abandon your own needs emotionally, in order to maintain an enmeshment with a person who is an N or Nish, it puts you in danger of developing N traits. If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. You then will be little more than an emotional manipulator yourself, trying to 'manage' a person who is incapable of authentic or willing intimacy. It will be a dance of mutual manipulation, them for narcissistic supply and you for compulsively unhealthy caretaking a person who is unwilling or has no desire to heal and is incapable of having any authentically intimate relationship with you.

In the workplace with an N or Nish boss, that dance of you managing an N may be arduous but not necessarily deeply compromising. One may deal with or 'manage' an N/Nish neighbor, co-worker, more distant relative on a short term or limited basis but regular or prolonged contact with somebody with N traits is harmful to one's well being on lots of levels. The closer one is, the more dangerous it becomes to one's health. Some Ns have ASPD/Psychopath traits. Things can seem to go along okay and then they do something really horrible. Or, if one wants to detach from them, they can pull a smear campaign, which may have disastrous impacts in one's life. In dealing with a person with N traits one really has to be cautious the entire time.

The hope I think is in that now you know you may protect yourself from further enmeshment or enabling an abuser. And, more importantly, that, should you choose to have a child, you will know how important it is to marry an emotionally healthy partner and to both be emotionally healthy parents, especially in the first 6 years of the child’s life.
posted by nickyskye at 1:07 PM on February 29, 2008 [53 favorites]

I briefly dated someone with narcissistic traits, several years ago. Dropping him like a hot rock was a fine move, if I do say so myself. The basic problem there is that he was a vicious, self-obsessed heel on a regular basis. He later went on to screw over a long-time friend who was dying of lung cancer. Classy man.

Maybe someday he will become something else, and I wish him well with that. But as far as our relationship went, his actions had consequences, and those consequences included my well-founded distrust. Even if he got hit with magic fairy dust and changed radically for the better overnight, I was never going to fully relax with him. So that was pretty much that. It wasn't just that I needed to leave to "keep myself healthy" -- it was that I wanted to be better than just healthy. I wanted to positively thrive in my relationship, not just get by okay. That wasn't going to happen with him.

He may not be hopeless. My hunch is that he isn't, but then I'm an optimist. But his relationship with me was hopeless; in the end, my hunch that he's not unsalvageable was not a reason for me to stick with him. We all deserve someone who can help us bloom. I wanted to be with someone I loved, respected, and admired. (And, Reader, I did meet and marry him.) I can't quite respect a narcissist.

My father also had some severe mental illnesses that very likely included at least one Cluster B personality disorder. There was a while when I put up with a lot of folks' emotional baggage because I'd seen so much worse. I knew I could handle it, and therefore I felt something very like a duty to handle it. I sentenced myself to that. My feeling now is that I've done my time.
posted by sculpin at 1:42 PM on February 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

Hi violetk. I am currently dating someone who demonstrates many, if not all, of the traits you listed. I think it's been suggested that he's manic, which clearly is different, and I'm sure NPD has never occured to the guy but shit! He's a published writer, and I met him as an undergrad in the creative writing program (typical "i'm dating my professor" thing.) We've been dating for about a year and I'm still not sure how I feel about his narcisstic qualities. I mean, I adore the guy and try to accept him for what he is. I would be lying if I said some of those said qualities didn't attract me to him to begin with. He has a habit of contributing his shortcomings to some superior-artist's-perspective thing, a "I'm just not meant for this world" type of attitude. He has made some pretty quick and serious major life decisions that seem to stem from him thinking he should have anything he wants, when he wants it, because he thinks he deserves it.
The most jarring quality is the emotional light switch you mentioned. One night the guy is charming, deeply-caring, satisfying in every way, almost like the father I never had, and the next the only thing he's touching is the spin-wheel of his iPod. It's the inconsistency that is hard to deal with.
He is twice my age, and I know he loves the teacher-student dynamic in our relationship (ofcourse so do I) and it's clearly one in which he is the superior. I think he is as great as he thinks.
Also, his need to have his ego stroked on a regular basis drives him to harbor many close relationships with lonely middle-aged women. He is charming, and points out the remarkable things in otherwise unremarkable people; he makes them feel good about themselves. These women seem to come back via email or telephone once a month or so, as if they need a fix, and he dishes out lovely remarks about their goodness or humor or feet. Sometimes it's like he's a stand-in for their non-existent significant other. I'm totally cool with him having close female friends-- I have close male friends, particularly my male roommate. My concern is that he doesn't seem to realize how he is fueling these women's attraction to him, and creating potential threats to our relationship. And all because he likes abundant, varied female attention.
It's a day-to-day thing. Sometimes I forget what a thing it is, and sometimes it's all I can think about. Overall it is rewarding and brings me much happiness. I guess the problem for me has more to do with the forms his narcissim takes, the situations they put us in, and less to do with the individual traits themselves (i.e. comments such as "ofcourse I think you're good-looking, would I be with someone who wasn't?" or "That woman is my age-- can you imagine me dating her?" (Gees, those quotes are much worse in print. He sounds like a major league asshole.)
Ultimately, I'd say you each person probably has a limit on how much of it they can take.
I hope I gave you an idea of my experience, without relating to many irrelevant facts about the relationship, violetk.
posted by thebellafonte at 2:42 PM on February 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Yes, yes, I had a relationship like that. I did stay for a long time until I sought therapy on my own and realized that no matter what he had, he was never going to change. I was sick of feeling miserable and pouring all of my energy into catering to him. They don't think like most people so they do it with anyone. Everyone is an object in their world, not a person.

I also got more therapy after we broke up. Spent lots of time on my own, writing out my feelings. Took long walks, avoided dating people.

When I decided to get with the man who is my husband now, I did a lot of talking about expectations and he was very open to that. He is the opposite of other guys I have been with and very sweet. He wants me to be happy, he loves everything I do and there is no criticism or control. It's really nice to be with someone who treats you well.

This guy I had been with, actually contacted me via an old email address after I had gotten remarried and wanted to start more bs. I responded by saying "don't contact me anymore," and shut off the email address. I didn't want to continue on any drama anymore and I didn't care what disorder he had (and he had something). There was lots of charm but it was all superficial and covered lies, cheating, verbal abuse and many other things that most people don't even think of doing to others. When I discovered he had been asking other women to come home and have sex with us (without my knowledge or permission) and called him on it, he became enraged.

I'd say you are on the right track with your therapy and wish I could give you a big hug for what you've been through. Keep up the good work and realize there is hope for healthy relationships in your future. Think of all the freedoms and wonderful possibilities you have with your own future now that you are away from this person.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:24 AM on March 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

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