Opinion: Narcissism Left Me Confused

Colleen Sheehy Orme

There's a beautiful charm that masks the danger of a narcissist. It's why I held onto my marriage for too long. The exterior was captivating. It would make me temporarily forget the beast I was dealing with. Until I let my guard down or handled him the wrong way.

I remember the day we sat in our marriage counselor's office.

"You lack empathy," said the counselor. "It's a critical deficit."
"Why do I care if some dog falls through the ice on the evening news," says my husband. "Or if some stranger loses their job."

He didn't want to believe it.

My husband found the battery of questions on the tests we took stupid. The counselor explained these tests are widely accepted in the field of psychology. My husband still didn't care. We had been seeing the counselor for some time, the evaluation was based on more than my husband's answers.

But he still didn't believe it.

This is not uncommon for a narcissist. The critical lack of empathy precludes them from seeing outside their world and into the world of another. It prohibits not only the ability to feel the pain of others but self-reflection of any kind.

The counselor was a psychologist who would later give me two books to read.

One was about living with a narcissist and the other was about living with a passive-aggressive personality. I was in love with a covert narcissist. They are less obvious than the overt narcissist because they appear laid-back but are passive-aggressively controlling.

I knew intelligently and rationally who and what I was dealing with. But I stayed. Even after I knew the odds. An individual with a narcissistic personality disorder is rarely if ever rehabilitated. The reason is in the disorder itself. The aforementioned lack of empathy prohibits self-reflection or acknowledgment of this personality disorder.

It's one of the reasons narcissists are seldom diagnosed.

I continued in marriage counseling alone.

I wanted to learn about myself and what attracted me to a narcissist.

But I also wanted a cure for the narcissist. Despite being told the contrary. Emotion dragged me down and in towards the narcissist, as did my optimism, problem-solving tenacity, and spirituality. I believed in miracles and miraculous intervention.

The man I loved would defy the odds.

He would become the rare narcissistic unicorn.

The one and only cured of this horrific personality disorder.

I understood narcissism but I was in denial. I believed it but I didn't. I continued to see the best in my husband while at the same time hating his cruel behaviors. I rationalized he was unhappy or going through a mid-life crisis.

In reality, I had severely angered a narcissist. The escalation of his cold and cruel behavior was not attributed to my previously deduced simplicities. They were the result of crossing a person with an undeniably abusive personality disorder. I had told my husband I was unhappy and lonely and thinking of leaving.

I upset the narcissist's world and there would be a price to pay.

The mind and love can play tricks on you.

In the one hour, I sat in front of a counselor I was all in. I listened, I absorbed, and I learned about myself and what attracted me to a narcissist, and narcissistic personality disorder. I would leave that office intelligently minded. And then I would enter our home emotionally minded.

The rescuer and fixer within me were armed for the task ahead.

I would tell myself to keep praying, keep talking, and try to reach him. He must care. Somewhere down deep there's got to be a part of him capable of this attachment called love. He's going to have a change of heart and return to counseling.

But he was incapable of caring.

A narcissist doesn't absorb the feelings and pain of others. A narcissist only feels their own wants, needs, and angst.

I'm no longer in denial.

It took a decade in the counseling and research of a narcissistic personality disorder to fully understand the truth of this troubling disorder. The escalation of abusive behavior during our divorce solidified it. When a man is willing to hurt his own children to hurt their mother you can no longer turn a blind eye.

You can no longer make excuses for the ugliness hiding within a beautiful beast. As a journalist and relationship columnist, I have devoted myself to the study of love, relationships, divorce, and narcissism. I write about my experience with a narcissist because it is a complex and confusing and crazy-making experience.

The narcissist's charm alternates seamlessly with their crippling cruelty.

We live with and love two very different people. One makes us stay and the other makes us want to leave. One makes us hope for a cure and the other one makes us know it's impossible. This is why the majority who fall for a narcissist wait too long to escape.

I wanted a cure for narcissism because I wanted the man I loved.

But he didn't exist. A narcissist makes us fall in love with an illusion. Their consuming charm is arresting. Their coldness and cruelty don't come out to play until you've made a significant commitment to the narcissist. Once the narcissist feels they have caught their prey, the danger feels inescapable.

The word narcissist is popular.

It gets thrown around. But a narcissist isn't a jerk. A narcissist isn't a difficult personality. A narcissist isn't someone with narcissistic characteristics. A true narcissist has a combination of narcissistic characteristics along with an alarming and disturbing lack of empathy.

Narcissists are difficult to detect.

The naked eye can't see a narcissist. There are some counselors who can't adequately identify a narcissistic personality disorder because they don't have advanced training. This is how confusing true narcissism is. It takes a qualified medical professional, a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a counselor who is highly specialized in the area of narcissism.

I believed it was narcissism but I didn't.

I wanted a cure.

It only prolonged an abusive situation.

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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. She has spent more than a decade in research and counseling on the topics of divorce, relationships, and Narcissistic personality disorder.

Reston, VA
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