I have a question.. knowing that narcissism can be on a scal

NowImNarcFree's picture

I have a question.. knowing that narcissism can be on a scale with some people just being selfish on one side, to full-blown NPD on the other, do you think all narcissists have a dark side to their relationships?

A couple I just met is having marital problems, maybe going to divorce. They are good friends of my boyfriend, who describes the guy as a "low key narcissist." I pick up that sense from him too, but he's never done anything harmful to me or my boyfriend, so it comes off as an annoying personality quirk. There's no visible "dark side" to it... but I know through my experience with my ex that things can be MUCH different on the inside. My bf describes the wife as a strong person that can kind of "manage" his difficult personality type, and thinks they're good together. The couple is splitting up over something that seems relatively minor, making me think it's really about a deeper issue and that was just the symptom.

It made me think about what my situation with my ex looked like from the outside. My in-laws were soooo grateful that he found someone who could "put up with him" and his behavior. I think I was seen as a level-headed person of some substance... the voice of reason around my ex and extremely patient. I could imagine our mutual friends saying, "I could never live with him, but they sure seem good together!" And my ex's narcissistic traits were pretty obvious too, but they were laughed off. He'd tell outrageous jokes (often offensive! But in the way that people can laugh it off and think he doesn't really mean it.) and be the center of attention, but he'd also do favors for people and was popular. But those things--visible from outside--weren't the reason the relationship was so bad. People didn't see the inside of it: the walking on eggshells, gaslighting, undermining my confidence with severe criticism, sexual demands, insults, name-calling, rages, adult temper-tantrums... this complete picture of secretly tearing me down and isolating me. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

So looking at someone else's relationship and seeing those same "outer" you think that means there is something insidious on the inside, too? Or can it go either way if he is really only a minor narcissist? I wonder if it's just a trigger for me that I will always suspect the worst out of people with these personality traits, or if they really share the same awful sides as well.

I don't feel like I'm close enough to the couple to really reach out at this point, but I do want to be alert to the situation if it's something I can offer support on, because I know how confusing it is to be in it. What would you have wanted mutual friends and onlookers to do in your situation?? Do you think your mutual contacts could ever see the "dark side" of their behavior or did they only see the charming persona?

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Sep 12

@NowImNarcFree Hi, I hope you’re doing well. I’ll try to answer your question and explain the best I can. First of all, no one will ever know what really goes on behind closed doors of a marriage. Unless one of the partner’s writes a detailed description, and even then you can’t know the exact dynamics between two people in a relationship. From what you said about your boyfriend describing him as a low-key narcissist, it sounds like he might be a covert narcissist. The reason it’s so hard to know the circumstances regarding an individual’s level of narcissism, is because the range on the spectrum is so wide, and you don’t know where that person would fit on the spectrum, in terms of severity. It’s important to realize that the low end of the spectrum is what’s referred to as a healthy level of narcissism. All normal/average people fit in there, as we all have some narcissistic traits, as part of the ego, and it’s not only selfishness. On the other hand, the farthest end of the spectrum includes the most severe levels of human pathology. Malignant narcissists, who have socio/psychopathic traits combined with narcissistic traits are at the farthest end. Those are the ones who have no conscience or moral compass. They feel nothing for another person, and regard them as objects to serve their needs. NPD narcissists fit in this category as well. This group has the darkest sides possible in human behavior. However most are master manipulators and very skilled at imitating, mirroring, and pretending to display genuine emotions. They often can convince people that they are perfectly normal thinking and feeling human beings. So with the two extreme ends, the narcissistic spectrum includes the widest range of human behavior. Without knowing exactly where an individual fits on the spectrum, it’s not possible to give you a precise answer. Personalities are extremely complex, and when interacting with another individual, as in a couple, the dynamic of that combination may be different than any other dynamic. So, it’s like asking does every human being have a dark side, or a potential dark side, if the circumstances are right?... My ex-husband was a very subtle, quiet covert narcissist. All of our family and friends, his co-workers, and even strangers thought he was a great guy for 30 years. His manipulations were so subtle and insidious that I was not aware of a lot of it until years later, in hindsight. It became obvious, at the end of the relationship, that the dynamic between the two of us was toxic and dysfunctional. But I have no idea what his relationship with his current wife is like, since we’ve had no contact in years. But I am sure that what you see on the outside is vastly different on the inside, as most relationships are. But since the higher-level narcissist is operating through a fake persona, nothing is what it seems in most cases. I’d also agree that if the reason for the divorce seems minor or superficial, it’s almost certain that the real cause goes much deeper. As far as supporting the couple, who you said are not your close friends, my advice is to just be there to talk and/or listen. I wouldn’t pry or ask too many questions. Sometimes we don’t know what might be a trigger for someone else. You’ve been a great supporter here for quite awhile, so you know how to be supportive. In my experience, the people around us never saw his dark side until it was exposed at the end. I was glad for the validation of my mother living to see his true character. She had sided with him all along, and that was very hurtful. But I believe somehow the truth always comes out at some point........

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