Are you with a narcissist?
Latest stats show there are an estimated 4 million people in the UK with narcissistic personality disorder. Here, Closer investigates what to expect if you’re involved with one of them….
Whenever Lorraine butters a piece of bread to make a sandwich, it reminds her of her time with ex-boyfriend Rob. It’s been seven years since he left her, but she’s still haunted by his behaviour. Rob would refuse to eat any sandwich if there were patterns from the serrated edge of the knife still visible in the butter, and would belittle her if she didn’t get it right.
Now, mum-of-two Lorraine looks back and can’t believe she put up with such a toxic relationship with a narcissist. Experts define a narcissist as someone who lacks empathy and expects special treatment, as well as having problems regulating their emotions, and are prone to angry outbursts. Lorraine, a support worker from Lancaster, trod on egg shells during her relationship with Rob, constantly worried he’d fly into a rage.
She says, “We met in a local pub and, like most narcissists, he was charming and made me feel special.”
Sara Davison, a divorce coach and expert on narcissism (Saradavison.com), explains, “In the last year, the number of people contacting me about narcissistic abuse has trebled. Narcissists have no empathy and are calculating and manipulative – but often extremely charming, too – that’s how they reel you in and make you feel desired. They then move on to make you feel terrible about yourself, shredding your self-confidence. They thrive on feeling admired and worshipped, and if they feel anything other than that, they will punish you by withdrawing or getting angry. They break down your boundaries slowly and make you feel like you’re going mad. Soon, you have little idea of what’s ‘normal’ any more. They are very exacting and can’t take criticism, often going into fits of rage if everything isn’t exactly as they want it.”
Rob broke up with Lorraine after four years together. During that time, he cheated on her up to three times.
She recalls, “The first time was only a few months into our relationship. He went on holiday and told me I couldn’t come because it was pre-booked and the hotel was full. When he came back, I saw photographs with another woman in them. I confronted him, and he told me that I was mad and she was just a friend who happened to be there, too. He was completely convincing and, somehow, I ended up being the one who apologised.
“On the other occasions, he again denied it, and then gave me the silent treatment. I knew he’d cheated, but he made me doubt myself so much that I ended up blaming myself. I felt as though I was going mad.
“And it wasn’t just the cheating – everything had to be done his way. I remember once buying a different brand of furniture polish to the one he preferred and he sulked for days. On another occasion, we went to my friends’ wedding reception. A lot of people came up to me to say it was nice to see me, but after half an hour,
❛THEY ARE CALCULATING AND MANIPULATIVE, BUT OFTEN EXTREMELY CHARMING, TOO❜
he insisted we leave – he just couldn’t stand the attention not being on him.
“When he finally left me for a younger woman, it was a relief. I’d tied myself in knots trying to keep him happy, from spreading the butter correctly to lining up shoes in the right way.”
Another woman, Becky, 40, who lives in Kent, was with her husband Juan, 43, for 11 years, and had a daughter, now nine, with him. She says, “When we met at a party, he appeared to be everything that I’d ever wanted. We both worked with horses, and he’d tell me how much he loved them and me. It seemed perfect.”
But slowly, Becky realised her relationship was toxic. She explains, “Juan would lose his temper over the smallest of things, such as if I hadn’t folded the washed sheets into perfect squares. And he would punish me by withholding money. He would buy himself steak and eat it in front of me, while I’d have to visit a food bank afterwards.”
Two years ago, she left him after a terrifying incident where he ended up killing her dog. Becky remembers, “By then, I was vomiting constantly from the stress. I’d had to give up work and was dependent on him. I was isolated from all my friends and family.”
Even now, two years on, Becky isn’t free from him, and she’s struggling to make children’s services – who are involved because of their daughter – take her problems seriously.
She says, “He’s in a new relationship, but he still wants to have a hold over
me. I’m terrified of spiders, yet on our daughter’s last birthday, he sent her a framed stuffed giant tarantula. He was sending me a message – that he could still press my buttons from a distance. I’m worried about our daughter being in contact with him, but social services dismiss my concerns. He has charmed them, just like he charmed me at the beginning. My advice to anyone who suspects that they may be dating a narcissist is to get out as fast as you can.”