Narcissist vs. Asshole (Part 1)
Can a narcissist be an asshole? Can an asshole be a narcissist? Absolutely! But the two words do not inherently mean the same thing, and it’s important to know the difference. So many women get divorced from assholes and talk about how their ex-husbands/partners are narcissists, which is not always the case. If you wonder whether your own ex falls into one of these categories, here is where they differ:
A narcissist lacks empathy. They are stuck in an emotionally arrested development state; in an adult’s body with a child’s mind. They have a protective mechanism and portray an inflated sense of self in order to hide the fact that they are an empty shell of a person. They can’t receive feedback and have no interest in resolving conflict. They live in a constant state of entitlement, and always have to be right. They thrive on drama and creating chaos, and belittle you to feel better about themselves. Does this sound like your ex?
Now an asshole might make different decisions than you – and piss you off to no end – but there is a thinking, feeling person inside who does have empathy.
When a marriage ends, a lot of emotions, grief, and blame will follow. Using the word narcissist is a way to label your ex and give you a reason for why you feel so terrible and angry, but it also leaves you stuck in a victim mentality.
So are you/were you involved with a narcissist or just an asshole?
Think about the following:
-How do they respond to any sort of conflict in your relationship?
-Do they show empathy towards you or your children?
-Are they constant and reliable?
-Do they show up when they say they are going to?
-Do you believe their excuses?
-Do they treat you with respect and kindness?
Arguments in a relationship are normal and healthy, but are you able to talk about them and find common ground? A narcissist will discard you after an argument and give you the silent treatment. Sometimes they will return to the relationship pretending nothing happened. They will compliment you again, might buy you presents and be really nice to you. That is a vicious cycle that will be repeated over and over, and that pattern doesn’t happen in a healthy relationship, even if you are with a person that can be an asshole.
In a healthy relationship, you come back together and can express to each other that what happened was really shitty, how that made you feel and you are able to hear each other. That is impossible if you are involved with a narcissist.
Narcissism is believed to begin in childhood, often by abuse or neglect, excessive parenting, maybe being the golden child who could do no wrong, or feeling unrealistic expectations from the parents. Narcissistic personality disorder, known as NPD, is a diagnosis very few narcissists will be diagnosed with since it requires the narcissist to actually admit they have emotional issues that they want to resolve. Usually, if a narcissist finds themself in a therapist’s office, they will put on a show, hiding behind a mask and being very charming and charismatic. Unfortunately, not all therapists and psychologists are trained in picking up on narcissistic traits, which can make you, as the partner, look or feel like the crazy one – which is the narcissist’s goal.
A diagnosis of narcissism is not an excuse for the abuse that narcissists project onto others – we must be clear about that. Abuse is abuse. But knowing for sure that someone is a narcissist could offer an explanation as to why they do what they do. Please know, however, that a diagnosis that your partner or spouse is a narcissist is not necessary to determine if you are in a toxic relationship.
It’s important to recognize that you have experienced abuse when you are or have been, in a narcissistic relationship. When you are victimized by a narcissist, you experience high levels of cortisol, which is your stress hormone. You are always walking around in this heightened state of flight, flight, freeze, and fawn, trying to please the narcissist, to keep the peace. You are living for breadcrumbs from this person but will take them, in order to avoid another disagreement and explosion.
The trauma experienced by being in a relationship with a narcissist shrinks the hippocampus in the brain, which is in charge of learning and memory. The abuse can also trigger internal diseases, such as chronic fatigue and physical pain. Living in this constant state of alert, walking on eggshells, is going to cause serious damage to your brain and body.
So why do people stay? It’s because we become trauma bonded. We start to believe it is our fault. That we can’t manage on our own. We might have children together and be financially dependent. I, Ina Hansen, was with a narcissist for 16 years. I left my successful business to be a stay-at-home mother, which was a mutual decision at the time. I knew I was married to a narcissist, but I kept coming up with excuses for staying. I told myself I was staying for my daughter and that when she was in college I would leave. Then a switch went off and I was able to step back and ask myself, “what am I doing to myself and my daughter by staying?” I needed to show my daughter that staying in a toxic abusive relationship is not a way to live! I started researching narcissistic abuse recovery, learned to detach, and how to set really strong boundaries. I knew he was always going to be in my life because we have a child together, but today I look at it all through a very different lens. I no longer give my ex the reactions or play into the drama.
Healing from a narcissistic relationship – or any toxic relationship – is not linear. It looks different for everyone. A lot of women don’t even realize they are in a toxic relationship until it’s over. They feel miserable and unhappy, and they know something isn’t right, but they don’t know how to get out. They are not ready. Often women get discarded for a new woman, and the decision is made for them. Often those are blessings in disguise.
A few tips for anyone who recognizes that they are in a relationship with a narcissistic partner:
– Don’t call the narcissist a narcissist to their face, and never say it in front of your child. The narcissist will NEVER admit they are a narcissist or believe it. If they are always making everything out to be your fault, then it doesn’t matter what they say, just don’t feed into the drama.
– Don’t yell at your ex in front of your child. Never put them in the middle. That is so damaging for them. Save your anger and frustrations for your coach, therapist, and friends.
– The best thing you can do as a parent is to lead by example and show your child that staying in a toxic abusive relationship is not acceptable.
Keep in mind that if you do have children, kids can feel the energy in the house. They feel mommy or daddy suddenly tensing up when the other parent comes home. They can feel if mommy or daddy is happy. As the conscious parent, here are the things you can do:
– Teach your child what it means to have a healthy sense of self.
– Teach your child how to acknowledge and understand what they feel on the inside and to trust that. This will help them learn to identify, “I feel this way when this person said that to me”, and “I feel this way when I’m around this person.”
– Let your child know they can always come to you and talk about it. Having open communication is key!
In order to break a cycle of toxic relationships, we must teach our children to stand up for themselves, even to their narcissistic parents, when they are not being treated right. That’s what we hope parents are able to model for their children – by standing up for ourselves and saying “no more”, we are helping to end the cycle of abuse.
Wherever you are in your divorce process today, start to focus on yourself! Find support or a healing program that speaks to you. The narcissist will never change and it will never get better. It’s hard to hear and hard to accept, but it’s the truth. Learn to trust that the universe (or whatever faith or spirituality you believe in) will have your back. When you learn to set boundaries in your own life, when you are able to detach and respond without emotion, the narcissist will lose interest in you because only then have you gotten to a place where you are no longer giving them the power.