Hi Dr. Vaknin – just wanted you to know that your work has been really helpful for me, and I continue to learn a lot.
I am really sorry – this is going to be long.
My husband of 7 years (together +10 years) has strong narcissistic traits. We have not yet been to counselling and so he has not been formally diagnosed, but I strongly feel he is an overt cerebral narcissist.
At first, he was a gentleman, polite, easy going, and seemed crazy about me up until we got married (though sadly I must admit, there were red flags that I ignored when we got engaged). Since the honeymoon he has been immature, confrontational, demanding, controlling and dramatic. He has told me many times over that the marriage is over and that he never loved me and he wants a divorce, only to later reverse those comments, and say “you know we both say things we don’t mean in the heat of the moment” and “we will always be together, because we were put on this planet for one another”, etc. We’ve now reached a point where he does not even say that anymore. He is no longer hot and cold with me – he barely speaks with me, he is visibly disgusted with me and acts as if I am essentially just his maid and cook and our childrens’ caretaker (he makes me feel less than human). He is physically, verbally, and financially abusive. Despite this, he regards himself as being victimized by me, and is not afraid to share that with me regularly (as well as with his support system). I believe he is capable of walking out on me at any moment. This wouldn’t be as bad if we did not have 2 small boys together that would be completely devastated, as I would be. I have a flicker of hope that therapy could help, but I have not had an opportunity to attend couples’ counselling with my husband yet. He has agreed and I am going to move on that, however, I am fairly confident he views it as an opportunity to receive validation that I am the only problem in the relationship. And he is very convincing.
My husband generally does not like people. While he is bright, he puts himself above others to the point where there are very few people out there that he considers 'at his level' or worth his time. This causes issues for him at work too (he got fired from his previous job last spring since he went on a mission to expose his 'incompetent' boss, and the majority of his incumbents considered him a tyrant and very difficult to work with). He has no friends, because he likes to associate with very few people.
The root problem that I think actually exists, lies with my husband’s upbringing and his unwillingness to accept ‘newcomers’ into his life (including me). Even when he had my complete trust and admiration, there was something very cold about his heart. Now I see that he really does not care for anyone except his FOO. His FOO (also narcissistic) is highly enmeshed. They basically hold a grandiose elitist mentality, and act like they are a part of an exclusive club. I have always welcomed the notion of extending my family and loving my inlaws as if they were my own blood…but this is not a reciprocal notion. My own FOO has been dismissed and severely mistreated by my husband/his FOO. They have been working hard over the years at creating a family feud of sorts (except my family doesn’t fight back, and they try to accommodate them as best as they can, to keep the peace for my sake). This family basically seems to watch all others (from the inside of their own 4 walls) with contempt, judgement, jealousy, indifference or disgust.
I think my husband, because of his upbringing as well as his family’s current hostility towards me, feels as though he has to choose…and he always directs his ‘loyalty’ and love towards his FOO. He cannot handle being ‘different’ from his family in any way. They all live near us (he and they would not have it any other way), and since getting married his family has encouraged him to treat me like a villain or enemy, and pit him against me. This has strained our marriage tremendously because my husband has never positioned me well to his family, he never shows them how he cares for me, and he allows them (even encourages them) to attack me without ever standing up for me, justifies the reasons for their attacks or denies it ever happened (saying it is in my head, or I overanalyse all situations).
He is the youngest of 4 siblings, and all are married with children. All adult children’s lives (and now their childrens’ lives) centre around their parents (ie. my husband’s mom and dad). There is no desire to have a social life or let anyone else in, or do anything else with their time…doing anything else with their time is essentially a waste in their eyes. They have been taught that having friends is bad. Life revolves around pleasing their parents, and this means praising them, obeying them, treating them in a very special manner, and putting them above anyone (including their spouses and children), and criticizing/demeaning others who just can’t compare. It is obvious to me, that they consider themselves to be more important, intelligent, decent and of a higher calibre (above all of their inlaws, relatives/extended family members, and everyone really!)
When we were dating, they seemed to be fine people to me, with a very clean life and presented themselves as a very ‘close’ family. I did actually feel in my gut though that something was a little off with them, even before we got married, but I just chalked it up to our different cultures. If asked, my husband and his siblings all had a wonderful childhood, all turned out successful in their professional lives, all are happy and get along with one another…not a ‘typical’ narcissist’s background (ie. sexual/physical/verbal abuse, addiction, sibling/parent in-fighting, etc.). But I am still able to point out who the golden child is, and who is the flying monkey, etc. It now seems they feel they owe their complete ‘loyalty’ to their parents, which means not devoting themselves to others in a genuine way, not liking others (maybe this would be taken as loving parents/siblings less?). But the adult children do not seem to resent it or think there is anything wrong with it. Their house is filled with love for one another (although it feels very formal, unnatural, and slightly competitive too…and possibly underpinned with a true fear of disapproval). They all live in a bubble, and are made to hate all others. Their idea of a fun discussion at the dinner table is making fun of people they barely know, or criticizing their acquaintances and relatives, etc.
Spouses of the adult children are a means to just extend the narcissistic supply and all must comply to the covert narcissistic matriarch (queen B) of the family it seems…the other 3 spouses (married to my husband’s siblings) all act like mutes, pure people pleasers and completely comply with their spouses (=my MIL’s) every desire …and very keenly do so (or maybe they just learned the hard way, and I just never heard about it?) That leaves me – the black sheep, who has threatened the family's unity and has caused one too many personal offences. I live life under a microscope and she feels slighted at the most ridiculous things (ie. having had to arrive late for a casual birthday party because of work made her feel “mortally wounded” in her words, or recently hosting our little boy’s birthday party at a play space vs. cooking a gourmet meal in our home this year like she would have preferred - what a fuss she made, every single sibling called my husband within 20 minutes of the party evite being sent out!)
She is overtly aggressive one day, but then the next day she’ll act like my ‘best friend’ (while quietly giving me jabs or teaching me the correct way to live and do things). She loves to use guilt trips and acts like a victim on a regular basis (she loves to cry for her childrens’ sympathy – and they then act colder and more aggressively towards me for ‘making’ her cry – by just my very presence). She tries to keep me and my husband apart as much as possible. She discourages him from seeing eye to eye with me on ANYTHING and she does not allow him to help me when I need it…as women are supposed to serve their husbands in her view (hypocritically though, because her own daughters are treated really nicely and fairly by their husbands, who are very attentive and bend over backwards for them).
My husband and his siblings are extremely protective of their mother, and think she can do or say no wrong, that she is literally an angel. Meanwhile she regularly attacks me behind the scenes and tries to regulate my actions by telling me I will lose my husband if I don’t do things her/his way. She bosses me around and tries to control my every action (encouraged my husband and his siblings to keep at me to quit my job and become a SAHM). She has called me a bad wife and mom, and tries to encourage me to leave all things of my ‘old’ life behind (FOO, school, religion, views/thoughts/feelings). She uses triangulation to get what she wants (for even the most petty things) and there has been an obvious smear campaign against me. In recent months, I called her out (in a very gentle way, no names or direct reference to narcissism or anything like that) but said she was causing a lot of problems between her son and I, making big issues over trivial things and that we were at the cusp of divorcing so please stop adding fuel to the fire...well that made matters worse. The hatred the family has for me now literally oozes out of them, and she attacks me constantly...she plays the victim card harder in front of her family (crying at Christmas for no reason telling me how she loves me and I hurt her so much, and that I am going to give her a heart attack etc.), meanwhile she is cold and bossy when it is just she and I. Things are also much worse between my husband and I now too. Because of this woman, I am unrecognizable...my life is completely falling apart.
I know this might sound like it is just pure hatred for my MIL (the kind that many DILs feel for their MILs), but it truthfully isn’t. I was happy to extend my family as I generally like people and get along with everyone. Was I ever shocked at our wedding reception, when my husband’s older brother made a speech like this (verbatim): “My mother is the mama bear, my brother is the baby cub, and his new wife….well she is the hunter…a gorgeous hunter, but a hunter nonetheless. My mama loves my brother, and my brother loves his mama”. My wedding guests gasped and were completely stunned. And that set the tone for our new life together! All I wanted, was to love and marry her son and for us to build a life together...but I have felt like an interference to her since day one. And now my husband does not have even an ounce of love left for me.
So as you can see, I feel my husband’s mother calls the shots in our life, and has even turned her own son against me. I think she actually does want us to divorce (but instead always acts as though she wants to help us save our marriage, and that if I follow her advice it will be saved). I think she may secretly want her son to be completely available to her (not shared), to possibly take care of her…a wife and kids just gets in the way, especially since I am a different type of person, a social butterfly and have a bit more of a free spirit mentality (unlike the other spouses that have sacrificed completely to comply and treat her like the goddess she considers herself to be). The thing is, even if my husband and I separate, I don’t think he will ever resent her for it…he will resent me and will rationalize it as, “we just didn’t make eachother happy or we were too different, etc.” (he has told me these things before).
Obviously as a spouse who is not accepted by husband’s FOO, I have had many opportunities to learn and see them for who they are. My husband and his family feed off eachother and enjoy the drama of hating me. I believe I have replaced previous relatives there were the black sheeps (ie. my MIL hated her now deceased MIL, my FIL hated his long deceased FIL, my MIL and FIL generally do not care for their own siblings and maintain a very distant relationship with them…lots of discord amongst extended family members). Also there is something extra I consider weird about them - my MIL and FIL, each have siblings that got married to one another (ie. two brothers married two sisters; MIL's sister married FIL's brother). And my husband’s family has encouraged that again in the next generation, amongst their own kids (ie. before my husband’s brother got married, he was encouraged to date his BIL’s sister). No blood relations, but breaking the Christian rule of affinity. I know this is not totally uncommon, but for me, that type of relationship is a little too close to home. I am not surprised though, as these people just like to keep their social circles really tight, and only like to affiliate with a select few people that they can tolerate.
I am sorry my story and question is so long winded, but is this type of exclusive, enmeshed family of narcissists common? I have not come across a lot of information on this type of family background, as usually I read about narcissists with very dark abusive upbringings, narcissists that hate their own families, etc. That is just not the case here. It has caused me to doubt myself at times. While it is not an obvious ‘abuse’, I still think my husband and his siblings have been deprived of a normal life and that they have been socially/emotionally stunted because of their parents isolating them/restricting them. I would really appreciate it if you can please share your thoughts. I really don’t think my husband has any love left for me, as there was really never enough to share in the first place. I feel hopeless.