The day my eyes opened.
I had been married for 17 years. I knew that I was frustrated and that things were not right. We had two boys, ages 15 and 13. My husband was verbally and emotionally abusive, and those two boys were paying a high price. Our oldest was extremely angry, and our youngest was quite insecure. For years, I had talked with my husband about the way he interacted with them, as well as with me. But no matter how much we talked or what was said, nothing ever changed.
Sure, we would have some good times together. We had evenings that were successful and happy. We had the occasional weekends where his anger stayed in check. But I came to the realization that I was hanging on to those all-too-rare times and pretending that they were our reality. I was desperately trying to build a home and raise kids around that illusion. It wasn't working!
I remember well the day I told my dad, a preacher, about my frustrations and concerns. Shockingly, he told me that he had seen the issues all along. He saw my husband's arrogance, anger and complete lack of compassion. He knew that our kids were suffering because of all this and told me that I needed to start getting help. Through the persuasion of my friends and family, I finally agreed to go see a therapist. Was I ever in for a shock!
Upon meeting him, I began explaining the scene in my home. Only a few minutes into this, he asked me if I knew the word "narcissist." I said that I had heard it but didn't really know what it meant. As he described narcissism, I realized that he, not knowing my husband, was absolutely describing my marriage. I spoke up, "I thought narcissists were loud and boisterous. My husband is quiet, reserved and borderline anti-social."
That's when he told me that narcissism comes in various shapes and sizes. One's own personality has a lot to do with this. He suggested that I do some research on narcissism. He recommended a few books, one in particular to get started. The book is titled The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists. I bought it on the way home and started reading that night after everyone had gone to bed. In the middle of the first chapter, I put the book down and simply sobbed.
Finally I knew that someone out there understood. I knew that I wasn't crazy here. Something was really wrong! I didn't know whether he was fully a narcissist or not, and I didn't really care! I just knew that these were the ways he was treating his family and it was NOT okay!
Though this was a wonderful validation for all my frustrated feelings, I quickly ran into inner turmoil. How can I help him?? How can I show him so that he can change his ways? I discovered many sources telling me that narcissists can't ever change. Well, I thought, if that is true, then he is certainly not a full-blown narcissist. He can change. I just have to find the right words, the right book to recommend, the right scenario for a break-through.
So I poured everything I had into helping him see. And I mean everything! I firmly believed that I was going to love him out of this. I wrapped both my arms and my heart around him. In a moment of wonderful connection, he even reached a point of opening up to me and telling me all about the abuse he and his mother had suffered. He cried, and I cried with him. This was a 2-hour ordeal. He told me things I had never known. I felt closer to him than I ever had, and I was so incredibly grateful that his heart was opening. "Finally!" I thought. We reached that magical point of a break-through. We reached the source of all his internal anger and insecurity.
Was I ever wrong!! Even before the conversation ended, the shift came. He slammed the door to his heart right in front of my face with such an intense anger. It was like someone had flipped a switch. I was so stunned!! I could not even comprehend what had just happened. I cried to him, "Honey, this is the closest I have felt to you in years. Please don't shut your heart back off!" He angrily responded, "I don't even know what that means!" He slammed the door and stormed off. How is this possible? I left in complete shock. I cried for the rest of the afternoon, alone.
I had made myself so vulnerable to him. I had cried with him over the abuse he had suffered as a child. I told him that I wanted to support him so much, and that we could get through this together. I suggested that he get help to work through it. I ripped my heart open and offered sincere compassion to my husband of almost 18 years. Yet he took my soft heart and stomped it under his feet.
Maybe they were right. Maybe he can't change. After this day, I still tried various approaches to help him see how much his words were hurting me and the boys. But every attempt to talk to him was thrown viciously back in my face. Everything was either my fault or theirs. The further this went and the more I read on narcissism, the more convinced I became that this was in fact what I was dealing with.
When I came across a description of covert narcissism, it all became crystal clear. No, he wasn't the outgoing and loud narcissistic type. In fact, he was rather withdrawn and anti-social. He didn't yell and scream, but rather ran from a fight. But he made it all too clear that everything was my fault and my job to fix.
Whether an individual is overt or covert, extroverted or introverted, simply doesn't matter. The narcissism inside them is the same, and the damage they do is extensive! The end of my story with him is still being written. But I am here to tell you that there is hope and there is life after a narcissist!