Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The short answer is, it depends. A true narcissistic personality is utterly conscious of the ways in which they are manipulating and hurting you. And they simply don’t care. More than that, it gives them pleasure, a sense of superiority and control. It is a big part of their psychopathology. Other abusers, who don’t score highly enough on narcissistic traits to be labelled with full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder, may simply be repeating patterns they learned in childhood and in subsequent relationships. I say ‘simply’, but the process via which it happens is far from simple, nor is it simple to unravel and to heal.
Mostly though, people don’t fit neatly into two separate categories – pathological abuser and ‘ordinary’ abuser, for instance. Personality traits aren’t ‘either/or’, but exist on a bipolar continuum, meaning they range from mild to severe, depending on the person, and also on the circumstances or environment in which that person acts. So…looking again at whether or not abusers do what they do purposefully…I can’t make that assessment for you, but may be able to help you fathom the answer as it relates to your personal situation.
On blogs and discussion groups you’ll find professionals and lay-people alike debating this question and coming out in favour of one side or the other. So how do you tell the difference?
- Look for the lies
If your partner consistently lies, chances are they are fully aware of what they’re doing. There is one school of thought that suggests narcissistic personalities are so adept at deceiving themselves, they actually believe their own lies. I have rarely witnessed this to be the case. There’s a reliable way of finding out, however.
If you catch them in a lie, bring it to their attention in a non-accusatory way. Simply state the truth and that you are aware you’ve been lied to. Then wait for the reaction.
The abuser who is aware she is lying will immediately go for the jugular – yours! It will be swift and brutal. (If you don’t keep your wits about you, you’ll be the one who ends up apologizing.) The response you get will likely have absolutely nothing to do with the point you’ve just made but will be something pulled out of thin air to deflect from their own guilt. They will, instead, hark back to the past and throw some perceived, and entirely irrelevant misdemeanor of yours in your face. And because you care about how they feel, you will likely take the bait. It’s a trip to hell.
2. Their body language and facial expression will reveal the truth.
There’s a phenomenon I have come across countless times during my discussions with targets of emotional abuse. There is something soulless about the eyes and expression of an abuser who clearly has sadistic tendencies. Their eyes will go black. Their facial expressions will be incredibly cold. There is something ‘frozen’ and reptilian about the face that looks back at you. You’ll feel chilled to the bone and very frightened, even if he/she has never laid a hand on you. Trust this instinct.
3. Your tears and genuine emotional pain will not move them.
This hardly needs explanation. If you find yourself genuinely in pain and trying to reason with your abuser, tears in your eyes, your heart breaking … and it fails to move them … they are very aware of what they’re doing. In the words of my own abuser, ‘I knew what I was saying and doing was wrong, and it wasn’t true … but I just wanted to stick it to you.’ He felt that was a perfectly reasonable explanation. I’ll go out on a limb here and disagree with numerous ‘experts’, many of whom have never experienced this first hand, and say it’s utterly inappropriate to excuse these people on the grounds that the poor things don’t have the capacity for empathy. Oh dear, isn’t it sad? They don’t have the capacity for intimacy. They’ll never really experience real love. While that may be true, abusers in this category don’t value things like intimacy – so they aren’t suffering at all. You are. And they don’t give a hoot.
The Bottom Line
Does it really matter if they’re aware of their effect on you, or not? You can’t change them. In fact, from the point of view of ‘tough love’, leaving them to it may give them the only chance they have of facing their demons and becoming better people. It’s not your job. Not your circus. Not your monkeys. The harder you try, the more you will fail. Narcissists already think you are in their lives for one reason only, and that is to make them the centre of your universe. The harder you try, the more you are feeding them what they want – the popular terminology for what you are to them is ‘narcissistic supply’. You are being sucked dry by an emotional vampire and therapists and researchers agree that the chances of positive change are very, very small.
Do you want to waste years of your life hoping for the unattainable?
Letters To My Sisters said:
This describes my sister’s to a T….still ashamed of how stupid I have been for such a long time. I just didn’t see it.
Miss Min said:
The shame doesn’t belong to you … but to your tormentor. But that’s what we do, isn’t it? Feel the toxic shame, just for being ‘real’ and vulnerable. xo
I am5 months pregnant with my 2nd child and have just recently kicked my husband out after 14 yrs of this behaviour. Our son is my reason for doing so. If this behaviour is learned from childhood then I don’t want my sons to become what their father is.
Problem is now he keeps calling me crying that he’s scared he’ll lose his son and I stupidly make every effort to have him spend time with our 16 month old and it’s like he’s here every day and if not that he calls the same time every night to make sure “Bub went to sleep o.k.”
He tries flirting but it isn’t touching the sides as I’m so used to it but the thought of having a 2nd baby on my own scares me so much but I’m also scared that being in such a vulnerable state right now that I might break and let him back in.
I hate this, I just wish the games, blame and confusion would stop.
Miss Min said:
My dear Nay, I’m very sad to hear of your suffering and I truly understand. I raised two daughters on my own with almost no support and it isn’t easy. But I can assure you it was the best decision for me and my children and I don’t regret it for a second. I won’t kid you – it’s tough and I have no doubt you’ll shed a lot of tears along the way. Yet I feel as though I’ve grown as a human being so much more than I would have if I’d stayed where I was being stifled and manipulated, belittled and abused day in and day out. To stay any longer would have destroyed my soul and that would have been the very worst thing for my daughters.
Your children need you to be as strong and as whole as you can be. They need at least one parent who is calm, rational and genuinely loving (the love of an abuser is never genuine). What your ex is doing right now is called ‘hoovering’. He’s using everything in his manipulative repertoire to ‘love bomb’ you and hook you back into the relationship. Whether or not this is a conscious act on his part isn’t really relevant. He’s pushing every single one of your buttons and knows exactly how to cause you maximum guilt and fear. And yes, he will project a hundred percent of the blame onto you, knowing how easy it may be to use your maternal love against you to win you back. Many, if not most, women cave in at this point because, like you, they’re extremely vulnerable and their partners have invested a lot of time in making sure they’re confused. Many feel they don’t have a grasp on reality at this point.
You sound as though you’re a very aware and intelligent person. That will stand you in good stead as you reach out for support and read as much as you can about emotional abuse to educate yourself about what’s really happening. It can be so hard to see through the fog when you’re in the thick of it.
I know you have the children to think of but as you’ve already ascertained, your ex-husband’s presence in their lives will have quite a devastating effect on their emotional development. If you didn’t have the children, I would immediately suggest you go ‘no contact.’ That means exactly what it says – you break ALL contact with him to give him no opportunities to wear you down. However, that’s not exactly possible with children. You can, however, limit that contact quite severely and therefore lessen the impact on all your lives. You’re under no obligation whatsoever to answer the phone or even the door if he knocks on it. You can block his number or simply turn your phone off until you’re having a good day and are better able to cope. There’s no need to talk with him more than once a week. The thing is, you need to take control of this situation and turn it around. You have every right to live the kind of life you want to, instead of falling in line with his wishes. You are a precious human being whose soul and heart need nurturing and healing. Your future is likely to be much brighter than you can imagine at this time. You may meet a new partner in time. You may discover talents you never thought you had and would not have been allowed to develop while under the same roof as your ex. I’ve done both those things.
I’m writing quite a lot because I truly care. I hope you get this message. Please reach out to the online community. They’re so supportive and you’ll find you’re far from alone, which is half the battle. Please let me know how you are and if I can help you in any way. I’ll be keeping you in my prayers, Nay.
Love and light.
Pieces of Bipolar said:
A big thank you for writing this piece. It’s come along at exactly the right time in my life. I’m involved with a guy who was married to a narcissist for 9 years. She is literally killing him – 2 suicide attempts. As they have kids together, she’ll always be a part of our lives and we have to learn how to handle her. So thank you very much!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Miss Min said:
Hi! I’m so sorry I just found this comment. My email provider slotted it into the wrong place and I’m just going through, clearing out spam etc … and there I found you. It’s gratifying to know this article struck a chord with you and that you took the time to let me know. How’s your situation coming along? Any improvements? It’s never going to be easy…but I hope and pray for your strength and also that your partner stays strong. These narcs know how to apply the pressure, push every single hot-button and generally cause chaos. Love and light.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Reblogged this on Me: Finding the Missing Pieces and commented:
OMG how do you know my ex so well? and our relationship? wow what a great post, and thanks for letting me reblog.
Miss Min said:
Hi kat! These people just fit such a clear profile once we know what to look for. Thank you for reblogging my post – much appreciated. And I’m glad you found it helpful. Hopefully, you and I will never be caught up with someone like this ever, ever again. Knowledge is definitely power.