According to Dr. Craig Malkin, author of “Rethinking Narcissism” as per the video I recently watched, there are stop signs and reasons to leave a relationship with a narcissist.
Dr. Malkin says that the normal impulse is to run away from people like this and often that is a good idea. If someone is physically or emotional abusive that is a reason to leave and you may need professional help to get out. If they are in denial and can’t even say, “I think there is something wrong, I am having trouble here and it’s not going to get better”, that is a reason to leave. The third stop sign is if you see a pattern of remorseless lies and deceit. This can be a sign of severe psychopathy and they can be dangerous. You may require help to leave. I experienced everything mentioned at some point during my relationship with my husband. The physical abuse was a one time incident prior to getting married but it was significant. He grabbed my throat with both his hands and I scratched his face to get away. We were living in a condo at the time and we were in the end unit by the stairwell. He threw all my clothes down the stairs. I was wearing only a bathrobe and went to retrieve my clothes when he locked me out of our suite.
Dr. Malkin indicates that Narcissists depend on feeling special to feel good, to soothe themselves in a variety of ways instead of depending on people. He suggests that you can find out if the narcissist in your life has a capacity to share more vulnerable feelings and experience empathy, care and concern, if you open up and are vulnerable around them. My experience leads me to believe that my husband learned how he should act in certain situations. I believe he had an intellectual sense that he should be saying and doing something caring when in fact he didn’t feel those feelings. Anything deep and personal that I shared or displayed making me vulnerable only proved to me that he had no capacity for empathy, care or concern. I then learned to protect myself from additional hurt and rejection by keeping my true needs and feelings to myself.
Examples of why I did this is because I remember very specific times when my husband was so cold to me that the rejection and lack of care cut deeply.
There were 2 incidents that I recall before we got married. We were making Valentine’s Day dinner when I cut my finger very seriously. I went to the bathroom to run it under cold water. He came to see how it was and he accused me of squeezing it to make it bleed and to make it look worse. I was doing the opposite by trying to stop the bleeding. We did in fact end up in Emergency and I required stitches. Another time was when we played baseball together. I fell and broke my foot. I couldn’t get up and everyone came over from both teams to help me. Every single person on my team came except Dave. I was carried off the field and had to go to Emergency again. He drove me there. I eventually needed surgery on my foot. I had a huge cast and was taking Oxycontin. They wouldn’t even let him pick up the prescription because of the seriousness of medication and the doctor had to be called. I couldn’t get up and walk alone and I was in so much pain but completely stoned from the meds. He left me the next day to go and play golf. I remember it was later in the afternoon when he came home. I was in tears trying to get up just to go to the bathroom and I couldn’t even get to the kitchen to get any food or drink.
After we had been married for about 7 years, I remember sobbing in the tub on my dad’s birthday, 4 months after he passed. It was 3 weeks after 911 and I was 2 months pregnant (had just had a miscarriage before my dad’s sudden death from a head-injury after a fall) and I was feeling very emotional. Dave heard me and never came to see if I was okay. He made some comment afterwards and I told him it was my dad’s birthday. He just said sorry he didn’t remember but that was it.
I remember during the birth of our second child that I was feeling really badly because my husband was complaining at the hospital that it was cold, he had sore feet and that he had to help transfer me to the gurney to take me to the operating room. I remember feeling so guilty that I couldn’t push the baby out quick enough to ease his discomfort and annoyances.
After the birth of our second daughter he was so mad that I needed him to stay in the hospital with me overnight to help me get the baby in the night to feed her and change her. I just had a C-section. I begged and insisted he had to stay. He refused to stay the second night and he made me feel so badly for needing his help that I was fine with him leaving.
When I came home from the hospital, I was sobbing. They wanted me to stay in longer (I was definitely struggling physically following the surgery, had breast feeding issues and had passed some very large blood clots. The one my husband saw and the nurse noted was the size of a grapefruit. I thought my whole insides were falling out. I was also showing signs of post partum depression) but I felt I would be better at home as I got no sleep in the hospital. Before we arrived home, I needed items for me and the baby at the drugstore. My husband made me get out of the car and go into the pharmacy myself to get my prescriptions. I could barely walk let alone bend over and I literally could not stop crying. Several nights later, I was in a lot of pain with a blocked milk-duct. After doctor consultation, we were told that nursing was the only way to unblock it without surgery. I dreaded feeding her because when the baby latched it was agonizing. My breast was so infected I had a fever and diarrhea. I was shivering with the fever, sitting on the toilet and my husband came and gave me our new baby because “one of us has to get up and work in the morning.”
Another significant memory for me is after my mom passed away, he yelled at me for not driving my sister to the airport and for asking him to do it instead. When he came back a week later after I was left alone, with both my kids to look after, to clean out the rest of the house my parents had lived in for 50 years, he yelled again because I needed him to take some items to Goodwill. He had no idea how much work I had to do, how little sleep I had, the pressure of the time line for the house closing and how much stuff I had to get rid of let alone the emotional toil of the situation.
According to Dr. Malkin, one of the ways narcissists dodge feeling uncomfortable is to pass their insecurities onto someone else like a game of hot potato. They try to get you to take on the feeling they don’t want. One of their manoeuvres is to question your every move. They try to get over their own vulnerable feelings of not being good enough by making you feel like you are the incompetent one. They play emotional hot potato.
I definitely experienced this with my husband and realize now it intensified during his affair. One night he came home from work and questioned what I did all day. I told him one thing was that I cleaned out the fridge and that I pulled it out and cleaned behind it as well. I was telling him how dirty it was when he went over and accused me of scratching the hardwood floor by pulling it out myself. I constantly felt like I couldn’t do enough to please him.
Dr. Malkin specifically says they start to nitpick at you to make them feel better about what they’ve done.
I also remember him coming back from a trip to Vancouver and accusing me of not cleaning the kitchen while he was gone saying that the same dishes were on the counter. I told him they were new dirty dishes but he tried to insist I did nothing when he was gone.
I also vividly remember him so intensely angry over a coworker who allegedly lied to him. He said he was going to confront this person for saying he received after-hour calls that he went out on when he didn’t. I remember trying to calm my husband during his outrage. Meanwhile, he was the one lying about so many things to me, the affair included.
Recognizing and understanding more about narcissism has helped me to realize that I am so much better off without this man in my life. Love covers a multitude of sins and I did love my husband but the affair and his behaviour preceding my discovery of the affair and his handling of my feelings afterwards made it clear that walking away was my only option. Now that I have stopped loving this man as my husband, his sins are no longer covered in my eyes. I see very clearly. I never kept a record of his wrongs or brought these things up but again when I stopped loving him as my husband memories of these things come flooding back. It seems obvious to me now that this is a man who is not capable of true, deep and meaningful love with another human being. I don’t qualify the statement as him just being incapable of loving me because I am aware of enough examples surrounding our children and others who he should have deeper relationships with to recognize that I am not the problem.
Understanding narcissism better has helped me be able to distance myself and depersonalize my husband’s behaviour towards me. It is still painful, especially the betrayal and unfair and cruel treatment over the past 2 1/2 years, but I am not near as reactionary in response to my ex’s tirades, callousness and even his hatred towards me. It helps to explain some of his behaviour including the affair, his treatment of his children during our separation and his inability to accept his responsibilities in honouring our mediation agreement and the other legal proceedings.
It has also made me realize that the discovery of his affair was a blessing in disguise. I deserve so much better. I deserve someone who is capable of loving me especially in my weakness and vulnerabilities. Someone who actually cares about my needs and wants and desires me to feel special.
My ex’s ongoing behaviour has helped confirm that he does have deep rooted issues that will not be resolved by him leaving our marriage. One day the ‘other woman’ just won’t be able to make him feel special enough. This I am confident as I already know he has approached other women during his relationship with her.
In the storm and chaos that my ex continues to create around me, I am finally able to experience inner peace. My life is hopeful, happy and I am discovering new gifts every day as a result of my new life.