Personally and professionally, I have dealt with narcissistic men in relationships, as family members, as clients, and in business. I like to study patterns that I see that continue to appear over and over again, as a psychotherapist and began to reflect on this when it came to the narcissist specifically; for this post. This is not research, just an observation that I have seen, heard, learned of. I do not work with the narcissist (except when they are part of one of my couples), so I often hear it from the partner. If I am working with a couple, I am able to listen to them when I do a family history and glean more from them with the questions I ask. You have read many articles on line, most likely, about the narcissistic relationship to the wife/girlfriend. This article is going in a different direction.
- Absent fathers and mothers who over-compensate. I am not talking about fathers who are not in the child’s life but father’s whose job takes them away from home for one reason or another. Perhaps they are in the military, are a minister, a sales person on the road, or run a business. The mother does their best to give the male child attention, to make up for the male adult not being home. Mother and son become very close. Mother focuses so much on endearing the child to her. Naturally, she doesn’t want the son to feel left out, especially if he is the only son. The son feels a need to protect mom, a symbolic husband/wife role forms. Mother turns to son about decisions maybe. Mother spends extra time hanging out with son. Mother dotes on the son and is proud of him. This can become “he can do no wrong,” over time and is seen as the “favorite” child. In the meantime, the son is not being taught how to be in relationship with a woman (other than mother). The son becomes an adult and is confused about “cheating” on the mother. A symbolic observation. I have heard of men who had erectile dysfunction or inability to come to orgasm which I feel is connected to this. An inability to completely “let go” with a woman. Often, they are not able to stay married or in relationships with women because the mother always comes first.
- In relationship to not “cheating” on mother, these men have platonic female friends whom they are ultra close to. Women who are their “bffs,” women who might be co-workers or colleagues in some way. Women that they travel with for work, for example, or share close confidences with. These women take precedence over the girlfriend or wife even. The man chooses the confidante over their own partner. These women friends often have their own boyfriends or husbands but loose boundaries with the narcissist friend. They may travel together on vacations. They may give lavish gifts for holidays. Spend time getting close to the narcissist’s family even (father/mother/siblings). This of course gets in the way of the narcissist having a relationship with the wife or girlfriend because now there is the mother and the female friend that take priority over them. If the mother dies, or is out of the country or state, the female friend takes an even stronger role. The sister could potentially be this best friend as well. Another reason why their relationships often do not last. Some wives/girlfriends are not interested in playing second fiddle. The narcissist does not see any reason why this should cause a problem in the relationship. Their needs take precedence over the needs of their partner. It is the partner’s problem that they don’t understand and “I have never slept with her.” This last statement is why the partner should not have a problem with this.
- No real close male friends. There are men who are in their life that they call friends but these are not close companions. These are men that they know who they get together with but the friendship isn’t necessarily a buddy they would call on a whim. This is what the female friend or mother is for. I would call it a superficial friend. The narcissist is not really “close” to anyone specific other than the female friend and the mother. They may say this is their buddy but if the buddy needed them often for support, chances are the friendship would come to an end.
- The father to the narcissist can become closer when the son is an adult. By this time, the father role is more of a friend than a father. They are equals. The son may reject father’s advice because he was never there growing up. Yet, he may try to impress father as an adult in the career force. This is about competing with the father who was the real “husband” to mother. It will endear mother to him even more. The son may want to work in the same profession even. If the parent’s have divorced the son is divided about spending time with father as his alliance is to the mother. The father can be in an awkward position here, feeling guilt for not having been there for the son and not being sure how to be close to the son. Father may try to overcompensate, or father may push away with anger (such as with a divorce) because he doesn’t know how to be intimate. In one example, the father told the adult son “Choose me or your mother,” when they were divorcing. The adult son said he didn’t want to choose but could not give up his mother (symbolic wife). In this case, the father abandoned the son completely and never spoke to him again.
- Sexuality with the narcissist – the girlfriend/wife is in the dominant role. This means, she comes to him, seduces him, instigates sex, is often more physical (touch outside of bedroom). She may determine how they will have sex and direct the time they are together. I am not saying it is not pleasurable, just saying that the roles are reversed. This is not to say it might not be different with someone who is interested in S&M and uses sex to manipulate the partner. I have listened to stories about this. In this case, sex is not intimate or making love, it is strictly to harm the woman, punish her, humiliate her, use her to get what he wants outside of the room. (Just a side note as I have had the S&M community take offense when I bring this up. There is a difference between two consenting adults vs. one adult manipulating another adult for purposes of harming).
- Anger Outbursts – Catch them in a lie (or gaslighting), stand your ground in an argument – especially about mother/father, push their buttons and you could see Mr. Hyde come out of the closet. I have known women who suddenly were shoved up against a wall, pinned to the ground, passive/aggressive hits from objects thrown (I didn’t mean to hit you), “I will never speak to you again” comments from aggressor, and of course weapons being used – intentionally (either threats or “misfires”). A person who has worked hard to lie, gaslight or pathologically believe something about themselves will not take too kindly to someone who has caught them. These are situations where anger has never turned to violence – ever. If you stay with them after this and they have not been in treatment, chances are, it will happen again. Enabling behavior has been taught now.
- Narcissistic traits vs. the personality disorder – The traits can be seen in a myriad of diagnoses and so it might not be the personality disorder. This is why you go to a specialist to consult with them and have the person in treatment (if possible) so they can determine what is happening here. I have had people tell me that a mentally ill person was a “narcissist” or that the addict was a “narcissist,” for example. Those traits will surface from these types of other diagnoses. Which comes first though? Let the therapist discuss with you. What will they be like on medication or clean and sober? This is something that we can’t answer until it happens. Is the man angry due to undisclosed sexual abuse or because of a traumatic brain injury or PTSD? I try to dig deep when I hear a man come into my office who says he was told he was a narcissist. If we find out what is really going on, then we can treat the problem and find a solution. If a man is coming into my office and addressing his own narcissism by taking responsibility for this, that is usually a good sign. I would like to say that most likely they are not as the narcissist does not take responsibility. It is always everyone else’s fault.
- There are many more specifics to the narcissists behaviors. I wanted to draw attention to the ones that aren’t discussed quite as often.
This is of course, just a sample of patterns that I have observed in my 42 years of being an adult female looking back and analyzing similarities. It is also over 20 years of being a psychotherapist and social worker, taking workshops from experts and working with survivors. I often will have women who have survived a narcissistic parent/partner do a spreadsheet of similarities in characteristics with their male partners. Then I have them highlight words that consistently come up. After they do this, I have them put their parents on the sheet and do the same thing – look for comparisons they can highlight with the male partners. With psychology, it is not a coincidence that there are patterns you will see over and over again, amongst clients that come from certain diagnosis or family lifestyles. This is not unlike stereotypes except that you try to wait and see what pattern emerges from the client first. Also, it is a character trait that they are establishing for themselves to learn and grow from. To be able to recognize the next time and be more cautious of where it might lead.
If you feel that you are in a relationship with someone who is a narcissist and may have all of, some of, most of these patterns present, make sure to find a therapist who specializes in working with survivors of narcissists. If you have trouble finding one, look for a therapist who works with narcissists and then ask them if they know therapists who work with the survivor. If a person does not specialize or understand this type of character trait, they can end up harming the client by misunderstanding the scenario that the victim is explaining and blame her in some way; though not intentionally. If your husband or partner is a narcissist, chances are he will not go into therapy. However, there are therapists who specialize in working with narcissists and you can look them up online and consult with them on how to get the partner into the room.
This is not the end all, just a reflection as I continue to educate others about what I have learned.