by : Stacey Steele
Is My Ex A Narcissist? Am I A Narcissist? Narcissist In Love Part I
*stories from the therapy room are composites and do not reflect current or past clients.
It has become trendy to use the label ‘narcissist.’ First, a valuable lesson, just because someone hurt you or let you down does not mean that they are a narcissist. Just because you hurt someone else or choose to implement boundaries does not mean that you are a narcissist.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a part of what the American Psychiatric Society calls a “Cluster B Personality Disorder.” It is a set of symptoms that are so deep and pervasive it becomes a part of who that person is, hence, a personality disorder. The causes are varied, however likely stem from invalidation in early childhood through abuse or neglect OR excessive praise and indulgence. Two opposite sides of the pendulum, but both sides have caregiver responses that do not match the intensity or are appropriate for the situation, over or under validation and protection.
Not everyone with a Cluster “B” Personality Disorder has trauma in their background, and not everyone with trauma has a personality disorder. Though personality disorders are stubborn, that doesn't mean that there is no treatment. Psychotherapy and skills training is an effective means of managing the disorder. Unfortunately, those who may have a narcissistic personality disorder do not seek help until their world has crumbled apart, and their relationships are in shambles. They come into the therapy room bewildered and dumbstruck, “Why did they leave me?’.
Therapy and ‘getting help’ can also be used as another means of controlling when a personality disorder meets with sociopathic behaviors (such as anti-social personality disorder). Early in my career, I worked with a couple where at first glance, it seemed that the man was a victim of a cold-hearted woman who had continual emotional affairs. In my naivety, I took this at face value until it became apparent that there was a narcissist in the room who used therapy as a tactic to manipulate his wife. The meek and passive man in my counselling room was manipulative and controlling with his wife and family.
A well-respected professional, he painted a picture of his beaten-down wife as a sex-starved jezebel who did not care about her family. In reality, she could not make a move without him following her. His actions included not letting her use the bathroom alone and depriving her of sleep until she would admit to sins she did not commit. In this case, I asked the husband to seek individual therapy before continuing with couples counselling. As he stormed out of the therapy room, his wife gathered her things and mouthed “thank you” as she left the room. We got her help with a local women’s shelter, and I hope that her now ex-husband has gotten the help he needs.
This form of narcissistic behaviours in a relationship is quite common, with the narcissist leveraging their masks in society to gain control and power over someone. It can be the result of a deep-rooted fear of abandonment or entitlement to full access to another person's life. It can be in any form of relationships, including same-sex, polyamorous, friendships, family, and at work. Covert tactics include threats, gaslighting (aka ambient abuse), isolation, and targeted campaigns to discredit their victims. Overt tactics are what we typically think of when we think “abuse” such as physical, sexual, verbal and emotional.
Does any of this sound familiar? Have you experienced a break-up? Maybe you were hurt badly. It may knock the wind right out of you. You didn’t see it coming. Even if your relationship ended mutually, or maybe you were the one to stop it, there may not have been abuse or ill feelings. The term ‘narcissist’ is a buzz word that gets thrown around and just because you are angry, it does not mean your ex is a narcissist. BUT if they were, know that you are not alone, and it is possible to heal.