It's Difficult to Spot a Narcissist

Colleen Sheehy Orme

"Oh my Gawd, he looks like a Kennedy," says my aunt in her thick Long Island accent. "He's so handsome. Don't let him get away."

I lean into the conversation since my mother is less enthusiastic.

It's not that she doesn't like my boyfriend, it's that she doesn't want me to move away.

But her sister's approval is a hall pass to commitment. It's okay to get engaged because if you don't Gawd knows who might snatch this man up. Hurry before some other woman stakes her claim.

No one spoke of narcissism decades ago. There were no alerts. No alarms. No personal proclamations and warnings. Let alone articles signaling the existence let alone the dangers of Narcissistic personality disorder.

I was a baby in the emotional woods.

I had conquered my 'bad boy' idealizations, I had matured into liking the 'good guy.'

The kinda man who would treat me right. And I stumbled upon him in the unknown mecca of Scranton, Pennsylvania. A tiny coal town my mother had deposited me in when I failed to gain admittance to other schools.

But hey, I'm a believer. Everything happens for a reason. I was meant to inhabit these mountainous four years. I was destined to meet this man. My life is playing out gloriously. I love him and he loves me. Or so I think.

I immediately understand something is wrong.

We are married for a year and I no longer recognize my Scranton sweetheart.

He is filled with a foreign entity. Brutal cold cruelty that honestly is hard to adequately describe. It has to be experienced, to be lived to comprehend the depths of its depravity.

I won't lie.

I want to run. I don't care if we are connected by vows.

But I am far enough away from home to keep me in place.

My twenty-something mind convinces me it's good we live just far enough from my family. I am fully aware my relationship would end otherwise. I absolutely know I would run to my mother or sisters many times over.

I remain but again, understand something unnatural exists.

I tell my husband I never married the man I dated.

But I don't understand what this means. I feel trapped within the commitment I have made. The younger me who was dating would have been bolder, less tolerant, more indignant. She would have slammed the door in this stranger's face.

They say you should listen to your gut.

The body's alarm system.

If something is not right, it alerts you.

I dismissed it. I married a Gawd, a Kennedy doppelganger, a chosen child, a pedestal yielding live male lottery prize. My life was destined to be charmed. I attached myself to a charming, disarming handsome tall drink of water.

And when I was no longer thirsty...

The rest of the word was, they never lost their fascination with him.

Even when they heard the troubling abusive word called narcissism.

Successful people who are outwardly pretty and socially captivating trick people. It's an optical illusion not of magic or stages but of social interactions, cocktail parties, work, and ball games. Narcissists move too quickly for their gimmicks to be exposed.

My Scranton sweetheart was eventually diagnosed with Narcissistic personality disorder.

I walked down an aisle with someone who never existed.

My guy, my love, my heart was as internally cold and empty as he was externally warm and full.

I struggled to make sense of it. And if loving a narcissist was brutal, escaping one was horrific. Not only because the narcissist is an abusive adversary but because Narcissistic personality disorder is an alarmingly acceptable mental health disorder.

Success and charm make otherwise rational people unable to recognize the danger.

Despite the fact, survivors are speaking out, telling their stories, articles are being written, additional research is being done, and awareness of a discerning lack of empathy is being heightened. There's still no true hope for those who have attached themselves to a narcissist.

There is no Al-Anon for families who experience this mental health disorder. Primarily because there isn't a group of foundational narcissists admitting to having a problem in the first place. Therefore, there can't be an offshoot of rehabilitation when no one claims to have it.

And like every true bully, there's a family hiding behind them.

Who refuses to acknowledge and shut them down.

And then there are the enablers who see the best in them as we once did.

Not to mention the complexity of this disorder which requires a sophisticated professional to adequately recognize and diagnose it. A psychologist, a psychiatrist, or a highly specialized counselor in the field of narcissism.

Add the narcissist's inability to believe they are one, and it can feel hopeless. If only the narcissist presented obviously instead of keeping their secret in the confidence of those who love and live with them.

If only it wasn't so frightening.

And we could say, "Oh my Gawd, there's a narcissist."

Whatever you do, let them get away.

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Colleen Sheehy Orme is a National Relationship Columnist, freelance journalist, and former business columnist. She writes about love, relationships, and self-restoration.

Reston, VA

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