I’ve gradually realised that my husband is a passive aggressive covert narcissist. Here is what I have learned about how their minds work and my continuing journey to figure out my part in this.
I must be a very slow learner in terms of relationships and/or I have a lot of negative emotional conditioning to bring into conscious awareness and overcome.
My son’s dad is a hyper aggressive individual who pretty much constantly engages in veiled aggressive maneouvers designed to maintain the maximum power differential. I eventually realised I was dealing with a “covert aggressive” personality as described in George K Simon’s book In Sheep’s Clothing. The custody battle was extremely traumatising and catastrophically damaging to my life in general; emotionally, financially and to my career. I was doing well as a research fellow at a college at the University of Oxford but I couldn’t sustain my career dealing with the fallout from that relationship.
In my current marriage I have gradually realised that my partner is a “covert narcissist”. I kick myself and think “Not again!”. I occasionally berate myself for having got myself into this position although ultimately this only adds to self-sabotage and is not helpful. Instead I am focussed on accepting where my choices have led me, seeing clearly what is in front of me and understanding my past and observing my own reactions to the present.
My marriage is not universally terrible but my partner is a narcissist as such the relationship is neither based on a real mutual connection and neither is it emotionally safe.
The big reveal came when I discovered he had placed spyware on my computer. I had got a new job after a period of isolation and for whatever reason he suspected something. I found the spyware almost immediately. I am a researcher in machine learning and artificial intelligence so I do know how to use a computer! I was disgusted and felt violated. He had violated my trust and took me for a fool. When I confronted him he initially denied it but I had found the executable for the key logger he had hidden. The real glaring red flag came when I challenged him about it and sought an apology. He put up massive resistance to a position he should have been backing away from. The apology never really came. The contrition was not there. He felt the need to tell me “He could do it if he wanted to and I wouldn’t know anyway”, and that “I should know he is dangerous” and when I pushed and pushed for the apology all I got was that this computer that was aparently mine “was his anyway”.
I told my friend and she told me to “Get out!”. Even her ex-husband phoned me up to tell me I should get out. I knew I should get out. I was ready to leave. When I thought of leaving on a gut level I felt a deep sense of relief. The thought of my son’s dad in the background and that if he knew I was on my own again he would go on the offensive though frightened me and was a real risk to me financially and emotionally. Then I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter. So here I am.
When I write it out and make it real I feel bad but that is the situation and I need to face it. I have a daughter now and I’m not planning on leaving. For the foreseeable future I will stay whether or not that is wise.
The relationship is not universally terrible. There is very little overt conflict. We live in a big house in the countryside and things have the appearance of being stable. Add to that my husband has just been diagnosed with a serious kidney problem which means optimistically he only has 8 years before needing a transplant which complicates the picture. He cannot admit to having any vulnerability of needs of any kind so he stoically insists on just getting on with it. He has the guilt trip card now to justify anything. I need to figure out how to deal with that aspect.
There is huge emotional detachment in the relationship. I have realised this is just how he is and anything else was an illusion. I need to step out emotionally to preserve my sanity but then add something like an illness which will require my active support and the picture seems to get even more complicated.
So I stick around and try to look after my own mental health without falling into resentment. It is hard though. Since having our daughter he is barely engaged. He does not look after her at night. He gets up at 2 pm most days and plays World of Warcraft 3 nights a week at the moment. Sometimes I think who would put up with this. I try to set boundaries but it is not my strong point and I get massive resistance. He is immovable. It is so draining. He mentions his illness and I capitulate. I resent it when he gets up bright as a button at 8 am to welcome the workmen into the house but he will not get up to help me get my son into school. I got up with the new born baby with her screaming in the car to take my son to school while he stayed in bed until 2 pm when we just had her and he refused to get up. He just does not have the feelings of guilt or shame that a normal person would. He puts up massive resistance and pushing and maintaining boundaries is not my strong point.
I signed a prenup upon his insistence that I am entitled to none of the house which has a mortgage outstanding. Really if I write it all out I think what the hell am I doing? I get into relationships where I am grateful for scraps and just subsume everything and anything. Add to that his newly diagnosed illness and I am even more confused.
I try to look reality straight in the face. If I had been able to do this then I guess I would not be in this situation. It seems like this is an essential component and key area where I am going wrong. Self-trust, intolerance for bad behaviour, clarity and self-respect. These are the areas I am very weak in. I am continuing to try to look at myself, to take the focus completely off of him and get centred but it is difficult in this situation. I do sometimes wonder if I should just leave. I think of some of Pema Chodron’s words that when people start to make progress meditating they can enter a period of heightened neurosis where they might look at the fact they are in yet another abusive relationship and fall into viewing it as some kind of karmic journey when in reality they should just get out. Sometimes I am very confused.
I’ve gradually realised he is a passive aggressive covert narcissist but the realisation has come too late. The person I am interacting with is entirely fake. I can feel it in my gut but several things have recently come together which explicitly spell it out to me which I guess is a step forward.
In his childhood, his step-father was very abusive. It was obvious to him that his step-father was an a-hole and he learned how to covertly fight someone much stronger than him. He became a master of the covert power struggle. He became a master of passive resistance and passive aggression.
In his teenage years he developed his persona. In his words “My image was everything”. It was a projection that he crafted obsessively to protect himself. The idea was “don’t attack me, attack my image”. He realised that he could “direct people around like robots” when he was a young teenager but knew somewhere there was something wrong with this. He could sense intuitively at least that there was something not quite right in his narcissism and placed limits on himself. He decided that this persona should be “the good guy” and “the protector”. He crafted his image. In reality he entirely lacks emotive empathy. He intellectually understands how another feels but by his own admission he does not feel it. This was another “Wow really” moment for me piecing it all together. He prides himself on this. He says “The people you should worry about are the ones without the power. Not the ones who can do harm but choose not to”. It certainly doesn’t feel like that to me.
As the years passed he amassed a legion of followers where he was the “God” of an online role playing world. He has his adoring fans. He still has them as leader of a WoW guild online. I notice however he has no supportive peer relationships. The only relationships he has are in the online world where he is “God”.
Over the years he says that “He just became the image he had created”. When I heard him say this I thought “Wow OK”. So it really is true what they say about the narcissist and the false self-image. This gradiose, superior, conceited false persona they talk about. You see the cracks in it. It doesn’t make sense. You feel it in your gut that something is wrong. But here he is literally telling me that is how it is. In one way that was very helpful to me because it relieves the cognitive dissonance and shines a light on what I am dealing with. People who end up with narcissists pride themselves on being empathic but are we really? I think there are two cardinal sins: 1) confusing attention for love in the initial love-bombing phase and 2) falling in love with an image. When you see them for who they are you find you can’t love them but you continue to kid yourself.
So that is one piece of the puzzle in place. Now I need to figure out what it is about me that means I end up in these situations. Bringing all the focus off the relationship and onto my own inner world helps and I have moments of increasing clarity. Lots of people with these kind of issues are still surrounded by difficult people and I am one of them. I need to work on boundaries and seeing things clearly and to maintain my outside interests. I will go back to work soon after my maternity leave and it will be important to break my isolation and maintain my outside interests and see how I feel then.