It wasn’t until counseling that Tim realized he was married to a narcissist. Again. And unfortunately, again. The narcissism in his first wife was obvious. Her obsession with power and control of his life and money alienated her from their kids. His second wife was so preoccupied with her appearance that he lost track with the number of plastic surgeries she had. And wife number three was on a six-month silent treatment streak with him.
Tim was a successful entrepreneur having started four companies, all of which continued to function well. While he was able to see narcissism in his employees and use to his advantage, somehow, he missed this ability in his personal life. Now with divorce number three on the horizon, Tim decided that it was time to figure out why.
Looking back over his marriages, Tim began to see similarities in how the relationship started, when the balance of power shifted, and what caused him to stay. His ego was boasted each time he attracted a narcissist. All of them were a challenge to win over in the beginning and having caught their eye, he felt confident, significant, and physically attractive. But there is danger in being lured in by a narcissist. What looks good now can have devastating consequences later as Tim found out, three times. Here’s how it happens.
- Magnetic attraction. The problem with being lured in by narcissism is that it is more like indulging in crack cocaine than taking a refreshing drink of water. The drug, like the narcissist, looks so appealing and promises to deliver an amazing high, and it does. Once it is lit up, it immediately exudes an exciting euphoric “I can do anything” feeling. Tim experience this right from the beginning of his relationships. But this is a short-lived fantasy shocked back to reality around month three to six of the relationship when the narcissistic crack wears off and the rage enters. Tim felt completely deflated yet he desired the narcissistic drug even more intensely.
- Control tactics. Each of Tim’s wives employed a different control tactic, yet all of them utilized rage to shift the balance of power. Tim was drawn in by the idea that if he just did this one thing (whatever the narcissist demanded), the fantasy of the narcissistic drug would return, and they would have the euphoria relationship again. “I want more, I can’t stand it” struggle is exactly what the narcissist is trying to entice. It is an abuse tactic called push-pull. A narcissist will intentionally draw a person in with their charm, then push them away by ignoring, pull them back in with gifts, and reject when there is non-compliance. Tim’s third wife was so talented at this that she had Tim accepting responsibility for behavior and not herself.
- Meets a need. Of course, none of this would be possible if the narcissist wasn’t meeting some hidden need. Tim’s own brokenness stemming from his relationship with his mother, also a narcissist, set the stage for him to marry like-kind. His desire to be validated by a person with nearly impossible standards fed his ego and comforted his mother wound. His wives instinctively knew this and took advantage of his brokenness for their own feeding of an insatiable narcissistic ego.
- Addiction forms. Before too long, the lure of the narcissist becomes an addiction. Just like crack cocaine, the drug takes control of the person just as the narcissist takes the other person. But the drug and the narcissist are fickle. The first high of engagement is never repeated despite the increased dosage. The deliverance of euphoria is promised but not achieved. Yet the other person craves more and more. It is a cycle that is hard to break because it means giving up on ever feeling that same level of high again. It is so difficult to see that it took Tim three rounds of marriages before he woke-up.
- Hitting rock bottom. Once the narcissist drug has gained complete control, Tim lost all sight of who he once was. This loss of identity caused him to hit rock bottom. The choices at this point are simple and clear: either remain this way or change. Remaining means allowing the attention-hungry addiction to winning. Changing means rejecting the drug and its’ effects. But desiring the change is not enough. It requires the hard work of self-evaluation, accepting responsibility, setting new boundaries, asking for support, and lots of determination.
Tim was finally ready to do the hard work of breaking free from the narcissistic drug addiction. He no longer wanted to engage in another relationship like his previous ones. Through many hours of therapy, consistent work on his woundedness, determination, and perseverance, Tim became a better version of himself and finally entered into a healthy relationship.