In many ways, narcissists are all the same, but they can also show their narcissism differently. They all meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder with “symptoms” like exploiting others, lacking empathy, thinking they are special, and more, but some are more obvious. A lot of people have written about the difference between an overt and a covert narcissist, but there are many other layers. Some are more outgoing, some are more aggressive, some have other personality disorders too, some aren’t as bad, some are extra bad. Some, you might even be able to deal with,) but I sure don’t want to do that!)
The second narcissist I married was also a sociopath, so his problems were severe and became obvious very quickly, but the first one I married was so covert, that I didn’t really think he was a narcissist even when my therapist told me he was. He made himself such a sympathetic figure, that it was hard to grasp he was an abuser for a while, and I think that made things worse. With the second, I was able to say “okay THAT is enough, you’re outta here!” but with the first, I felt like I was going crazy. I tried and tried and tried to be “good enough” for him and always failed. By the end, I had no self-esteem left. When he finally discarded me and moved on without a care, I was angry that I had taken his abuse for so long, but I still wanted to try to fix him.
The narcissist ex, (who was more of a covert narcissist,) was very shy, had a bad childhood behind him, was an underachiever, wrote sensitive and beautiful songs, and gave me gifts frequently. He took me on trips, he brought home surprises, he called me hourly to check-in on me, he insisted I shouldn’t have to work outside the home, he bought me things I asked for, he took off work to go to doctors’ appointments with me, and he focused on me a lot. In many ways, he smothered me. Gosh, he sounds like a wonderful doting husband, right? So when he started criticizing everything I did, I truly believed I was as lazy and ungrateful as he told me I was. I took it to heart and believed I wasn’t good enough. One time, he was yelling at me and I locked myself in the bathroom feeling very worthless, so he took the door off the hinges and came in to tell me I should kill myself because everyone hated me. After a couple years of hearing him criticize me daily, I believed it. The sad thing is, many of the things that looked so wonderful on the surface were actually him controlling me!
For example, yes, he gave me many gifts, but each one had strings attached. No matter how much I thanked him, he would pout for a few days before he exploded and told me how horrible and ungrateful I was. It was so confusing. He didn’t want me to work, but he looked down on me for not contributing. I kept the house spotless, but he could always find a flaw. He called me every hour because he “loved” me, but he would interrogate me about what I was doing and he would get mad if I was not working hard enough. He dictated when I could get out of bed, eat and go to sleep. But, he was so giving and attentive, that the conflicting messages left me confused. How could he be abusive if he bought me a nice gift?
This brand of narcissist/abuser keeps us hooked this way. Our minds get confused by the cognitive dissonance: He can’t be bad…because he’s good. And he’s good but criticizing me, so I must be bad. But, it doesn’t feel right. Our friends and acquaintances see him doing good things for me, so they think he’s great. But, I live in fear and confusion.
Our minds race as we try to rationalize the two sides of the narcissist and make sense out of them, and we often blame ourselves because we want for this to make sense. Unless we finally learn that we are dealing with a narcissist, we are going to continue to be confused. This is because we are normal! We look at the narcissist’s behavior through our normal eyes and what we would do, so they don’t make any sense to us. We look at ourselves to try to fix the problem because it must be us…right? Wrong.
In many ways, the lighter narcissists aren’t as bad because their abuse is not as outrageous, but in many ways, it is worse for our heads. Because they aren’t abusing us in as obvious as a way, it’s harder for us to really name what is going on. Regular life doesn’t prepare us for this. When someone hits us, we know that is wrong, but if someone is criticizing us daily and making it seem like we deserve it, we are worn down gradually, plus, no one else sees it if they aren’t in the relationship. It leaves us doubting ourselves and it makes us more determined to make things work with the narcissist. I thought if I could just do the right things, he would always be nice and I would finally be good enough and deserve him.
In reality, he didn’t deserve me!