A few days ago, I received a desperate phone call from my dear friend, Angie. Her narcissistic ex-husband texted life-threatening messages to her new husband. This wasn’t the first time she or him had been threatened, however this time the intimidation tactic was specific, graphic, and within the realm of possibility. The police were notified and appropriate protection was put into place to ensure her family’s safety.
But the question remains: How does a narcissist go from appearing so charming and innocent to becoming harmful and dangerous? Most narcissists utilize verbal abusive tactics to get what they want in fits of rage, some do long-term mental and emotional abuse, and still fewer escalate to murderous acts. Yet, there is a very small population of narcissists that do commit heinous acts of violence like homicide, murder/suicide, mass murder, or familicide. So how does this happen?
Delusional Beliefs. One of the magic ingredients is a delusion. According to Wikipedia, “A delusion is a belief that is held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary. As a pathology, it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information, confabulation, dogma, illusion, or other effects of perception.” To meet the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for a delusional disorder, the delusion must last for at least one month, not be related to schizophrenia, have no otherwise bizarre behavior, and not be related to substance use.
For my friend Angie, her narcissistic ex-husband has believed for several years now that if her new husband was dead (or out of the picture) then he would become the hero and could earn Angie’s love back. He truly believes that he is protecting her from her “bully” husband. No evidence to the contrary has been able to dissuade him from this belief.
Delusional Thinking. Having a delusional belief in and of itself is not problematic. However, when that belief is then normalized within the person’s thinking and communicated to others, it can be. Angie’s ex-husband believing he is her hero is not dangerous. However, when he tries to convince others that his perception is accurate and everyone else’s perception is false then it becomes a problem. The more people he can get to agree with his delusional belief, the more real it becomes.
Angie’s ex-husband did this several ways. First, he used flattery (told her she was great for giving him kids), twisted religious prophecy (claimed to be able to predict the future), deception (claimed to have text messages from their kids disparaging her husband), and forced teaming (making her choose between her kids and her husband) to make his point. He texted multiple people different things in order to gain more support for his delusional thinking.
Delusional Threats. After failing to gain adequate affirmation for delusional thinking, some narcissists escalate to threatening comments. The lack of affirmation is the key. Narcissists need a constant and consistent supply attention in order to maintain their self-imposed superior status. Any decline in this can cause them to go into a rage. Threats are an abusive tactic designed to intimidate others and prove their superiority.
When Angie’s ex-husband’s efforts failed, he resorted to mild threats that turned more severe. He began with name calling (called her husband a bully) and intimidation (said there was nothing that scared him). Since he failed to get a rise out of anyone, he advanced to veiled threats (“I have been waiting for this day), reminders of his abilities (“I was trained by the best police force in the world”), and finally more direct (my dad was killed this way and you can be too).
Violent Acts. Unfortunately, some narcissists will take their delusion beliefs and thinking to the final level of acting out their threats. This tends to occur sometime around the mid-life crisis point, after a significant loss such as a career or family, and/or around a life defacing moment such as a criminal charge or conviction. They usually test the waters first by stalking their prey to ensure victory and recognition. These stories litter the media as typically no one suspects that they would be capable of violent acts.
In the past, some of Angie’s ex-husband’s delusional threats have resulted in dangerous acts to others. He frequently reminds her and her family that he is watching every move. And while she personally has not experienced violence, his previously harmful behavior is a strong indicator of future action. Anyone who has experienced a delusional escalation to the level of threatening remarks should reach out for help, be cautious, and get away immediately.
The purpose of this article is to help others involved in a relationship with a narcissist to be aware of how delusional beliefs can lead to violent acts. This has been printed with permission from Angie in hopes that others will be more aware and the loss of life will be minimal. As the saying goes, “better safe than sorry.”