Alice woke up crying. The reality of a previous night of fighting, slamming doors, and breaking plates came into full view. The house was a mess, her husband of eight years was gone, and she felt as broken as the plates. She could hardly recognize herself anymore. In the middle of the screaming last night, amidst the vulgar names her husband called her, he said she was a narcissist. Could it be true? Could he be right?
Alice had to grow up quickly. She was the eldest of seven children and her mother frequently leaned on her to help with her siblings, preparing the meals, and cleaning the house. It was a miracle that she found time for her studies but when she did, she excelled. However, the pressures at home frequently sank her into depression, anxiety, and perfectionism. So, when she met her husband, she seized the opportunity to escape.
Their relationship was instant attraction and connection. She was enamored by his good looks, charming personality, ambition, drive, and influence so much so that she overlooked his raging temper. At first, he only seemed to rage against other people, like his mother, but after the marriage, his rage turned towards her. During his episodes, she would remain calm, not react quickly, talk softly, and set boundaries. But with every explosion, she retreated further into herself.
Then, last night happened. He started raging at her over some misperceived embarrassment. Instead of being calm, Alice exploded. She completely lost it on him and matched his name-calling with name-calling and paranoia with paranoia. He threw a plate at her; she threw one back at him. Before it was over, there were broken dishes everywhere as he stormed out of the house calling her a narcissist.
Several years into their marriage, Alice went to a counselor for help and discovered that her husband was a narcissist. She learned how to manage her expectations of him and not take on responsibility. But that was difficult for her given her past. So, when he called her a narcissist, she stopped and took note. Could it be true?
Can a person develop narcissism over time? Yes and no. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is inherent and pervasive. A person is born with the tendency, then a trauma activates the disorder, and eventually, the person accepts this distorted way of perceiving the world. Usually, all of this happens prior to 18 years old and lasts a lifetime. However, traumatic brain injuries, strokes, addiction, and/or dementia change the way brain functions so a person can develop it late during adulthood.
Can I get it by being married to a narcissist? No. However, a person can learn to mimic narcissistic behaviors such as not apologizing, not showing empathy, and acting superior to the point that they look narcissistic. But this does not mean they have the disorder, just tendencies towards it. In order to have the disorder, a person needs to be evaluated by a professional who is trained to work with this personality type.
Why do I act like the narcissist? Think of it as ‘misery loves company’. A narcissist encourages narcissistic behavior by responding positively to other narcissists and looking down on those who do not have the same characteristics. Often when a person is trying to deal with a narcissist, kindness, empathy, and understanding do not work so they default to acting just like the narcissist to get their attention.
Why do I become so abuse? Sometimes in order to be heard, the other person might resort to abusive behavior. This is usually very out of character and is shocking when it does happen. But the narcissist wants others to be just as abusive as them. Because when they are abusive, they usually do not stop until the other person is equally abusive. Then the narcissist backs off and becomes the victim. This switch then removes responsibility in the eyes of the narcissist and places it solely on the other person.
What can I do to stop? The key to stopping narcissistic tendencies that are absorbed by being in a relationship with a narcissist is to know yourself. Not just knowing who you are but also knowing who you want to be, what your strengths are, and your weaknesses. Narcissists feed off people who are insecure and unaware of their gifts and talents. They like this type of person because the narcissist can then mold them into the person the narcissist wants. A strong sense of self and confidence is the best weapon against a narcissist.
Alice returned to therapy after that night and working on restoring herself. It took a few months to rediscover her personality but once she got it back, she was unwilling to let it go. She no longer fell for the abusive trap.