Okay, yes, he did say silly things like, “I know I’m going to be famous someday,” and “You’re lucky to have such a sexy boyfriend,” and “I look better than most of the guys that are in movies right now.” Mostly, I’d be amused. Sometimes I’d be annoyed. Often I’d find it intellectually curious. Did he really think these things or was he trying to convince himself? But I was often just confused: Is my boyfriend a narcissist or not?
It wasn’t any annoying comments he made about his own appearance that finally forced me to face the painful truth.
The Narcissist-Psychopath Hybrid: When Narcissists Are Dangerous
The criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) include grandiosity and fantasies of success and power with no achievements or laboring toward them to back up the fantasies. People with the disorder are constantly comparing themselves to and feeling envious of others, and perceiving others to be envious of them. They believe they are unique and entitled to special treatment, admiration, and obedience. Some also lack emotional empathy and have a willingness to exploit others for their own benefit.
Not all narcissists have all of these characteristics. Some may be more or less manipulative than others. Some may feel more or less entitled than others. The ones who have less empathy and a higher willingness to exploit are the dangerous ones and share more in common with those who have Antisocial Personality Disorder. Many psychologists believe the two disorders exist on a spectrum with narcissism at one end and psychopathy, which is a sub-type of Antisocial Personality Disorder, at the other end.
People with Antisocial Personality Disorder, like those with NPD, also show a willingness to manipulate and exploit and have a lack of empathy, but they also tend to show a lack of respect for laws, norms and morals and will engage in impulsive, irresponsible behavior to serve their own ends. In addition to lacking empathy, they also lack remorse for what they do and show a high propensity to deceive, lie pathologically, and disregard the safety of themselves and others. They are unconcerned with what others think and can be aggressive and hostile.
At the intersection of the two disorders lies people who have traits of both narcissism and psychopathy. These individuals have the motivations for engaging in exploitative behaviors of narcissists, but the willingness and capability for doing so of psychopaths. The main motivation of psychopaths to manipulate others is for enjoyment, yet narcissists who share the traits of remorselessness, aggression, and ability to deceive and manipulate with psychopaths are not necessarily exploiting for the sake of exploitation itself. They are thin-skinned and have a fragile sense of self, and having these traits enables them to construct and re-construct their own reality to preserve their view of themselves as superior and ensure that they come off in a positive light. The damage done to others is either collateral, necessary to keep egos afloat, or purposely meted out as punishment for perceived slights or criticism when the narcissist’s ego is threatened.
The So-What Part
Narcissists whose behavior slides into psychopathy are called malignant narcissists.
At this point, they are no longer amusing or annoying. They are dangerous.
I am concerned specifically with the behavior of malignant narcissists because if they have the right blend of psychopathic and narcissistic traits, it allows them to stay inside the colored lines just enough to go undetected while still causing immense harm.
Because they are more concerned with appearance, their behavior is usually law-abiding and their manipulations are more hidden. Their own vanity generally keeps them floating just enough below the radar to protect their machinations, and the charm of the overt ones throws people off the scent. They are like magicians pulling off the biggest cons right before our very eyes– and then erasing the fact they ever took place.
So Was My Boyfriend a Narcissist?
I knew none of this time at the time I encountered him for who or what he truly was.
I saw underneath who he presents to the world. I shall say that he purposely unleashed it on me. I’m almost certain no one else in his life has ever witnessed it, because if they had, they would have come away from it a different person as I did. I haven’t talked with many people about what I saw. A few people know some cursory details. Only he and I know, however, how the world slid into absurdity, became unrecognizable, and then was never the same again.
We were living together and scheduled to go on a week-long vacation in the Caribbean for my birthday. The weekend before we were scheduled to leave, I discovered that he had lied about being engaged. I had also learned a few other things that were more minor in comparison, but, overall, what I discovered was that he had created a false persona for me about who he was for over eighteen months.
His response when I confronted him about it was breathtakingly remorseless and emotionally violent. “How does it feel to be used?” he said with a smirk.
I wanted to break up with him, of course, and he wouldn’t move out. He insisted he was on the lease and had already paid rent through the end of the month. To make matters even more baffling, he came in trying to offer an explanation for all that had happened and was cycling through moods ranging from hostility to begging me to stay with him. I wasn’t about to do that and told him I would find a new place and move out the following month, and his response was that I couldn’t because my name was on the lease and I had to pay the rent. He then pondered the possibility of moving out the following month in June, but only if I would go ahead and go on the trip with him that we had planned. In his mind, he would use it as an opportunity to make things okay between us again. In my mind, I saw no choice but to agree to go and hope he would amicably keep his end of the deal to move out when we returned.
But then things got a whole lot worse.
Two days before we were to leave, I learned that, in addition to everything else I had just discovered, he had been cheating on me with his ex-girlfriend the entire time we had been together, and conversations I saw between the two of them were pretty damaging. He was telling her personal information about me, calling her the love of his life and discussing marriage with her (despite the fact that he was engaged to someone else and that he lived with me and had discussed marriage with me as well).
I went into shock and had no idea what to do at this point. I did not feel safe revealing the new information and demanding that he leave immediately or in refusing to go on the trip, given his volatile reaction to the other information I had confronted him with. I felt I could no longer predict his actions because I didn’t know anything about him. I decided the best thing to do was stick to my original plan to go on the trip and just keep it to myself that I knew about the cheating and wait for him to move out when we got back.
Well, I didn’t have the emotional strength for that. I was so upset, I wasn’t eating and I was getting sick. I couldn’t behave normally and I had had no time to process anything. Being around him was further traumatizing me. I ended up telling him I knew about his cheating with his ex.
That is the moment when I found out what he was.
The Mask Falls Off
I didn’t have a name for it, but he became in that moment right in front of my eyes the man who had been capable of doing all of the things behind my back I had just learned about.
I have no other word for it other than a monster.
He was raging, he was ugly, he was cruel, and he knew it. He laughed when he let it come out and he enjoyed it. He told me he was going to do everything he could to torment me– and he did. “I know how to trigger your bottom,” he said.
In just about every possible way you can cause damage, it was done. The things he said and did are things no person should ever say or do to someone ever and especially to someone they claim to love. But I knew then that he did not love me. And I had loved a ghost, a placeholder for this thing in front of me now.
For seven days, he tortured me in a place where I could not escape. I dissociated and I came back a changed person.
One of the worst parts was that there would be times when he would pretend as if nothing had happened. I remember sitting in the bathtub in our room, in water that had turned cold, in a state of disbelief about something that had just taken place before he had stormed out. He came back into the room holding a coconut.
“Look what I brought you, baby,” he said, cheerful.
I just remember looking at it, scared to take it and scared not to.
“A man with a machete was cutting them open outside,” he said.
It had a straw in it. I took a sip and the sweetness of it hit my stomach coldly, made me feel sick. I set it on the edge of the tub. His face fell.
“You don’t want it?”
“I do,” I said quickly. “I just want to savor it.”
Then the hate would burn in his eyes again.
There was an aura to that week that can only be described as colored black. Sometimes when I try to picture him moving about the suite angrily, throwing furniture around, it’s as if he is scribbled over with black ink.
I sent passwords to family members and friends for my phone and computer in case I ended up missing. I told them how to claim my life insurance.
I Know Who He Is
I was going to talk about some of the details of what happened, but I can’t. Not yet. It’s been two and a half years. I can’t even sink into it and write emotionally about it.
Seven days is a long time.
You can put that mask on. You can wear it in front of a thousand people. You can re-construct reality all you want.
But I know what you are. I will always know.