The word narcissist seems to be the new trendy word to describe someone with “less than stellar” qualities. Often, it’s used to speak derogatively of a person, referring to them as being selfish, cocky, manipulative, deceptive, or is just plain toxic. While those descriptions are not far off from some identifying qualities of a narcissist, it does not actually mean they in fact, are a narcissist.
So how can a woman know if she is married to a narcissist? To answer that questions, I believe it’s important to first define what a narcissist is, understand the different types are narcissists that there are, and to understand the spectrum of toxic behavior and deviancy that they may possess.
The Narcissistic Spectrum
Beyond the typical type of narcissists that I wrote about in a previous Esther Company article, there are also variations, or subcategories, under each type. I often refer to this as the narcissistic spectrum, which is a measurement or chart of sorts, to describe the degree and severity of toxic behavior.
While narcissists often have deep roots of rejection, abandonment, and shame, they often manifest in different ways. On the lowest end of the spectrum, there are simply wounded people who operate in various hurtful and dysfunctional ways. On the highest end of the spectrum, the most severe and full-blown expression, are psychopaths who operate in the most malevolent ways.
In order to gain clarity on what is happening within your marriage, it’s important to identify if in fact your husband is a narcissist and where he may fall on the spectrum. While only a licensed professional can officially diagnose someone as having narcissist personality disorder, there are many indicators that can shed light on the true nature of a person.
The Difference Between a Narcissist and a Wounded Person:
Before we dive into learning about the different kinds of narcissists, it’s helpful to acknowledge that not every toxic person is a true narcissist. It can be hard to distinguish the difference between the two, as a wounded person is likely to manifest some similar toxic tendencies, such as either being emotionally distant or excessively needy. They often have difficulty respecting boundaries. They may act self-absorbed, controlling, egotistical, and selfish, while lacking the ability to effectively convey empathy.
Though a wounded person can often display similar tendencies as a narcissist, their motives are very different.
A Wounded Person Often Has the Ability to:
- Self reflect
- Admit wrongs
- Express genuine remorse
- Demonstrate consistent change
- Produce tangible fruit of repentance
- Make restitution
- Build back trust lost
How Can You Tell the Difference Between a Narcissist and Someone Who is Simply Wounded?
This can often be a gray area because covert/vulnerable narcissists often come across as portraying a genuine sense of remorse and will make bold promises of change. They are even able to cry on cue.
Pay attention to their actions. What is the pattern in your relationship? Is it cyclical? Do they have periods of change only to revert back to chronic lying and their usual destructive behavior? If so, you may in fact be dealing with a true narcissist.
Pay Attention to:
- How they react to your boundaries. Do they honor them? Get mad? Coerce you to cross your own boundaries?
- Do they care more about your feelings and the damage they have done or do they minimize the issue being more concerned with quickly restoring the relationship and making their needs and desires the main focus?
- Do they push you to “forgive and forget,” without actually giving a genuine apology and taking real steps toward restitution?
- Do they have a track record of lasting change? Fruit can take time to grow but it will eventually show.
While a wounded person may exhibit toxic behaviors, they also can demonstrate a heart of genuine repentance, sincere empathy, and a desire for growth.
Vulnerable / “Victimized” Narcissists
The words vulnerable or victimized and narcissist aren’t usually words one might think should be connected. Often the word narcissist conjures up images of someone who is cocky, brash, demands attention, and is selfish.
While that would be true of overt narcissists, not all narcissists act grandiose and entitled. I have heard overt narcissists described as being ‘thick-skinned.’ On the flip side, vulnerable or victimized narcissists can be to as referred as being ‘thin-skinned,’ meaning they are extremely sensitive.
While overt narcissists would never admit to being dependent on anyone, and are oblivious to deep feelings, a vulnerable narcissist often expresses their toxicity in more subtle and covert ways. Their self-esteem is dependent on others admiring them and their emotions can be volatile if they don’t achieve this external recognition.
Some Characteristics of a Vulnerable / “Victimized” Narcissists might be:
- Hypersensitive and have easily hurt feelings.
- Have difficulty dealing with any criticism or failure.
- Feel depressed, empty and useless.
- Believe themselves to be better than others, though usually won’t say that outright.
- Withdraw from social situations when jealous of others, believing what they have should be theirs.
- Blame others or deflect guilt, even if they are at fault.
- Paint themselves as the victim in previous relationships, including family.
- Struggle with pride and rejection, feeling like everyone is out to get them.
- Set goals based upon on gaining approval from others.
- Feel shame when rejected.
- Will twist rejection as a mutual decision, as a way to reduce feelings of shame.
- Unwilling to recognize the feelings and needs of others, unless it benefits them.
- Usually only have superficial relationships with people who will boost their self-esteem.
- They often appear humble and willing to help anyone, if they have an audience and get recognition for it.
- They are always looking to receive more than they give.
- Little desire for change, unless it’s temporary to benefit their agenda.
Sociopaths generally go without being noticed and tend to be charming and intelligent, while underneath they are predatory in nature. They often lack morals and are highly impulsive. They are also often described as “hot-headed.”
Sociopaths have a distinct disregard for others that is not always obvious, as they are highly skilled manipulators. Generally speaking, sociopaths do not have the ability to experience the full range of human emotions. They do, however, learn to recognize emotions and how to mimic them when needed.
Sociopaths typically are not interested others, but they can appear to be caring, loving, and empathetic to get other people to do what they want. Since they usually have difficulty forming close relationships, like in a marriage, these relationships are often based upon control and manipulation.
A sociopath can recognize that lying, cheating, and stealing from you is wrong, but it usually won’t stop them from continuing their behavior.
Some Characteristics of a Sociopath Might Be:
- Inability to feel most emotions besides anger and rage
- Disregard for the rights and feelings of others
- Exploitative for personal gain
- Lack of empathy and morals
- No desire to form close relationships
- Impulsive and enjoy inflicting harm on others.
Psychopaths are often the most malevolent out of all the personality disorders. They can be quite charming, intelligent, and good at mimicking emotions but underneath they are usually cold, calculating, and sometimes even dangerous. They enjoy inflicting harm on others with no shred of empathy, and sadistically use humiliation to maximize the effect.
They seek to create chaos in your life in order to deflect attention from the life they are actually living. For example, they will often admit to their wives or counselors that they are addicted to pornography. That admission is simply a tool to look sincere in their desire for help and restoration of their marriage, concealing their much darker and sinister actions.
They are not afraid to cross moral boundaries and know just how far to take something before it’s technically breaking the law. There are those who become so depraved that even then, doing something illegal is not beyond them.
Some Characteristics of a Psychopath Might Be:
- Intelligent, charming, and good at mimicking emotions.
- Cold, calculating, and possibly dangerous.
- Aggressive and impulsive
- Can maintain a job, family life, and even a double or triple life.
- Challenges authority figures, rules, and actively promote themselves.
- Uses seduction (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) to get what they want.
- Makes bold, risky decisions without regard to rules and ethics.
- Withholds important information in a way that is detrimental to you.
- Highly manipulative.
- Competes instead of cooperating.
- Distracts with drama to conceal their dark ways.
Clarity is Key
Clarity is key when trying to understand why your marriage is painful and destructive. Knowing the kind of narcissist you may be dealing with (or if you are simply dealing with a wounded person), can help you develop a plan and take necessary steps toward healing and freedom.
Making sense of what you are experiencing will allow you to validate the pain you have endured. It will also help clear the fog of abuse, that seeks to keep you trapped in confusion and oppression. Clarity is often a key that can help set you free.
While clarity is a key, the ultimate key is Jesus! God is not deaf to your cry and is not blind to you pain. Jesus not only came to annihilate sin and death, but to give us true freedom and resurrection life! I am praying for God to release fresh clarity, wisdom, grace, and peace in your life. I declare that every area of your life that has been sabotaged or held back to be unlocked. May the powerful presence of Holy Spirit flood you even now, filling your heart with courage and boldness, as you follow His leading in your life.