HOW many women have you heard complain about their spouses being cold and indifferent? He doesn't care about you or about the children. He is all about himself. He lives in the house, he is working but he doesn't help to pay the bills or provide food for the home. He doesn't help with the children's school fees, yet he will borrow money from you or he always makes promises but never keeps them. He doesn't see anything wrong with his behaviour. Sounds familiar? It could be that your spouse is suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, describes NPD as a "pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration, and lack of empathy (ie, unwilling to recognise the needs and feelings of others)". These behaviours begin during early adulthood and present in a variety of situations.
One means by which the narcissist's lack of empathy is said to be most apparent is in their sexuality. Intercourse is not about love, it is more about physical pleasure and the partner is just a means to satisfy that need.
Other features of NPD include:
1. Belief in a over inflated sense of self-importance.
2. Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty or ideal love.
3. Seeks recognition as being superior, special, or unique by others.
4. Seeks excessive admiration from others.
5. Expects a sense of entitlement.
6. Consciously exploits others to gain personal desires.
7. Lacks empathy toward others.
8. Envious of others and believes others are envious of them.
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes.
The disorder ranges from healthy (normal love and appreciation for self) to pathological (overly self-absorbed). The narcissist usually has fragile self-esteem and cannot handle criticism.
If your spouse displays five or more of the above behaviours on a consistent basis, then you could be living with a narcissistic spouse.
The narcissist flourishes in attention, so when a spouse cries, curses, quarrels, preaches, begs or pleas with him, she is only feeding his ego. When confronted about his behaviours, he will deny everything and may give the impression that she is overreacting. He may even criticise her for the very thing he is guilty of. The narcissist can be cold and indifferent or violent and abusive to their spouses and children but are usually likeable by friends and colleagues. They wear a façade in public, and portray themselves as very kind and charming, so others tend to love being around them.
The specific cause of NPD is not known, however, possible causes are linked to genetic factors, overindulgent parents, excessive abuse or neglect during childhood. The following are suggested risk factors for the development of the disorder:
1. Being overly praised, or being overly criticised as a child.
2. The inability to form appropriate attachment with parents or the child may have learned manipulative behaviours from the parents.
A few tips to cope with living with a narcissist:
1. Do not expect apologies, remorse or any real consideration from a narcissist for your feelings.
2. Criticising will not help as the criticism will only be brushed off.
3. Be aware that you will have to work hard at your self-esteem and that of your children, because the behaviours and attitudes of the narcissist may cause you to start doubting yourself; same for your children.
4. Set healthy boundaries (things you will/will not do or tolerate) and state them clearly so you will not be manipulated or controlled by the narcissist.
5. Having a support system is essential for you and your children.
6. Try to learn and understand the narcissistic tendencies.
Venese Madden, MSc, is an instructor in the Behavioural Sciences Department at the Northern Caribbean University in Manchester.