“You will never get the truth out of a Narcissist. The closest you will ever come is a story that either makes them the victim or the hero, but never the villain”
Shannon L Alder
I’ve lost count of the number of times the term ‘narcissist’ has been offered up to me as an explanation for E’s actions and behaviour. According to Wikipedia, narcissism “involves a pattern of self-centred, arrogant thinking and behaviour, a lack of empathy and consideration for other people, and an excessive need for admiration” and I freely admit that E’s personality and behaviour pretty much ticks every one of those boxes. However, I resisted terming E a narcissist, because, actually, all of those behaviours are subject to quite personal value judgments (who decides if someone is actually arrogant, or that sometimes they just seem bit over-confident?) and they’re also generally indicative of someone who’s just a bit of a wanker. Frankly, if we labelled every person who presented as arrogant, self-centred, constantly in need of admiration and lacking empathy as being a narcissist, we’d be diagnosing a massive proportion of the population with NPD.
However, someone posted the quote above on Facebook a few days ago and it made me see E in a whole new light. I realised that he never once accepted that he could possibly be the bad guy. I know we’re probably all a bit guilty of this – nobody wants to admit they’ve acted wrongly, and it’s perfectly natural to look to excuse yourself or find a reason that explains why you acted badly. We’re all the heroes or victims of our own stories, but most of us are able to be honest and admit it when we’re wrong (even if it takes a while). In every story E told about himself, he was either the hero, or the victim and, I’ve realised, the truth was frequently a stranger to his narratives.
Of course, he was aided and abetted in this by me. I believed every word he said. When he told me about his ‘psycho, unreasonable, manipulative’ boss in Singapore, who had forced him into a disciplinary hearing because of something that happened at work (I genuinely forget what), I accepted that this woman must be as psychotic as he said she was and never wondered if in fact she might have a point. When he painted his company as the villains who wouldn’t pay our shipping costs or clear his taxes (taxes he should have been paying himself) when we left Singapore, I emailed them and tried to stand up for him. The response I got suggested that we were unreasonable and had a huge sense of entitlement. At the time I was angry and hurt, but of course, they didn’t know me, they knew E. I never questioned if E had negotiated the shipping costs properly, and that his MD’s comments about entitlement might be based on his experience of E’s behaviour.
Whenever he did anything wrong, E was the victim. When he lost £2,000 gambling online just after Youngest Daughter was born, rather than addressing the fact he was gambling and throwing away money, he told me a tale of a man desperate to fix a mistake and win the money back for me and the kids. I actually felt sorry for him. I was angry, and did ask him to leave for a few days so I could get my head round it. However, I forgave him and I then paid the £2,000 (he’d put it on a credit card of course) from money we’d reserved for a new kitchen.
Of course, he also painted himself as the hero of every narrative he recited. When we moved to Singapore, he told me he was the one person responsible for setting up the whole Asian business for his company. He told me he’d negotiated a deal which meant we could live out there comfortably, and that, because he had shares in the company, when the Singapore office became a huge success, we would be paid dividends from this and we’d be rich. He’d been selected for Singapore because of his business skills and his ‘fame’ as an auditing tutor (in fact, he volunteered to go to Singapore, because he really wanted to go, I have no idea what deal he negotiated, but the debt we got into out there suggests it wasn’t a good one, and he wasn’t the head of the Singapore office – he had a boss, who was the actual CEO).
What’s grimly fascinating is that when he had his affairs, he somehow managed to paint himself as both victim and hero. He was a good man, forced to do a bad thing because he had been overwhelmed by his feelings for whatever woman it was he was seeing (and, obviously, because his relationship with me was so terrible – he was also heroically honourable for sticking with me for the sake of the kids). I still have copies of the emails he sent describing the affair with K in 2007, this is how he describes being unfaithful to me: “I have never felt this strongly for anyone, and it scares me a little. But there is no doubting it. At 37, I am no fool – this is something big and it is not going away” of course he blsmes me: “My home life has been a little ‘strained’ for about 5 years, but with children – well, it has stuck together somehow” adding “all pretence of us being a couple ended some time ago” (in the five years he’s talking about we had three children, so forgive me for suggesting that we were, actually, well, a couple).
In his summer 2015 email to O, explaining why he hadn’t contacted her, not only does he use my Mum’s devastating cancer diagnosis to try and keep her dangling, but he also lies about an expensive hotel stay, funded entirely by my Dad (who carefully planned it to ensure everyone had a bed), to make him look like the long suffering hero saying “with limited hotel rooms available, I spent each night sleeping in my car” adding (get your tiny violins out) “I was tempted to walk out when it became clear the hotel car park was my bedroom” and explaining (ever honourable) “that is a point for me to save for a little while until things settle“.
According to E, he is never to blame for anything. When he stopped paying child maintenance in November, this was not his fault, it was mine. His email to me lamented the fact that I had not responded to his email demanding that I sell the house and kindly explained “I am sorry I have not yet sent any money this month. Until we have a way forward, I cannot continue to keep getting into more debt and we need a solution asap. In fact we needed it 3 months ago when I asked that we sell the house, so now we have gone past the point where there is any more time left.” He couldn’t pay the child maintenance, because I’d given him no choice.
His letter to my solicitor was an absolute tour de force of victim-hood, referring to this blog as “abusive online content” and demanding that I only share my thoughts with close family and friends. He even suggested his personal debts he has are debts “from the relationship” and that therefore he should receive more than 50% of the equity from a house sale and heroically mentioned his new wife and how he now has other responsibilities and well as his kids. This of course, was the last time anyone heard anything and since then, he’s not only stopped paying child maintenance, and defaulted on the Secured Loan, but he’s refused to communicate with anyone about the one thing he apparently wants – which is to sell the house.
In the meantime, he’s wrecking my credit record, forcing me deeply into debt and his actions could mean the kids and I are made homeless, but I’m willing to bet that the story he’s telling P is one of his heroic struggle against the terrible circumstances I’ve put him in.