Reply To: Endless Narcissistic Supply

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Clarity, in my amateur opinion your question almost answers itself. That is, as long as we’re aware of the many people who finally figured out, after a marriage lasting several decades, that the reason they were unhappy was that they’ve been married all that time to a narcissist! Not to mention the many children of narcissistic mothers and fathers whose parents never separated or divorced.

Clearly the narcissists in these families, however badly they treated their partners, never actually “discarded” them. And in all probability many of these narcissists—not all, but many of them—never cheated either; or if they did, it may have been only once or twice, not habitually and constantly.

The problem I see here that’s getting in the way of the clarity you need is the frequent stereotyping of certain classes of abusers. We’re told for instance that “typical” attitudes and behaviors of a psychopath include “X,” “Y,” and “Z,” which can be superficial charm, habitual lying, a tendency toward addictions of various kinds, an obsession with “power and control”—and constant pursuit of sex, among other vices. Similarly, that “narcissists” are prone to “devalue and discard” people coldly and without cause or warning after previously appearing attached to them.

The point is, all this is true as a pattern. But the pattern is far from invariable! I recall Donna talking about this somewhere not too long ago, pointing out quite rightly that the pattern of behaviors can vary. It’s much like any kind of disorder or disease. Any physician can tell us that a given disease does not necessarily always present with the same symptoms. There may be a rash, a fever, a headache, stomach pains, lassitude—but any of these may be absent, while there may be “odd, atypical” symptoms instead.

It’s no different with personality disorders, or with the larger category of abusers in general. It’s the pattern we have to look for, not precise conformance to a checklist. Some psychopaths are physically violent; many are not, and victimize people by subtler and more insidious means. Many psychopaths are ardent in pursuit of sex—which ironically makes them attractive to many of their victims. Yet I could tell you about a notorious serial killer, who I don’t doubt was a psychopath, who (despite having a girlfriend who liked him) was singularly uninterested in sex! He killed purely for financial gain. He didn’t seem to be gay either, though he could have had some other deviation we don’t know about. But some people just seem to have a low sex drive, whether they’re psychopathic or not.

In the same way, narcissists {whether psychopathic or otherwise) come in several varieties—Sam Vaknin has discussed “cerebral narcissists,” “somatic narcissists” and so forth—and he ought to know, being a psychopath and a narcissist himself! Often narcissists “devalue and discard” people; sometimes they don’t do that if their life partner remains “good enough” for their current needs.

With abusers in general, many of them do “devalue and discard” a current partner. But many abusers do the opposite, clinging to and often stalking the ex-partner after he or she has “discarded” them due to the abuse!

I’ve seen people on this site asking questions like “My spouse or partner seems to fit the checklist, except that he or she doesn’t do ‘X’ and ‘Y’; could he or she still be a ‘sociopath’/’psychopath’/’narcissist’ in spite of that?” The general answer is “yes”! If he or she fits the overall pattern, the absence of one or two “typical” behaviors doesn’t negate that diagnosis.

It’s equally important to realize that personality disorders are not necessarily discrete and different from one another, but can sometimes be collections of traits that overlap with one another. Somebody may for instance be diagnosed by a professional as “borderline personality disorder with antisocial traits,”</b, or something of that nature. So don’t be put off by the inability to fit your “ex” neatly into a particular category, if that’s what concerns you.

Looking at your other posts, I’ve sure one thing you must find horribly confusing is your ex’s contradictory, “Jekyll-and-Hyde” behaviors. You mentioned that he

would check in on my family just to see how they were doing, he made huge compromises for me, was hugely supportive and loving. We liked the same things, we laughed together, we went on adventures together, he planned elaborate dates (which I guess could be the love bombing part), but he also went to a therapist to get help, he admitted he had a problem. It just feels like the ‘good’ parts of him felt real and normal, way beyond the love bombing stuff.

Unlike some readers who commented on this earlier post of yours, I do not subscribe to the stereotyped view that his “good” behaviors were necessarily “fake.” They might have been, but they could just as well have been real enough at the time, especially if he had borderline rather than “psychopathic” traits, with frequent reversals of mood and attitude. However, that does not change the overall picture that he was personality disordered to a grave extent, and whatever the precise “diagnosis” may have been, never mind how “good” he was at times, the “Hyde” side of his behavior would always remain there and was unlikely ever to get better. He would always have been a threat to you. Be assured you’re doing the right thing by staying clear of him.

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