“I’m sorry I was late, I was waiting for you to call. You said that you would call me when you wanted to be picked up.” This sentence sounds plausible, and to a normal person that might not be 100% sure that they are right all of the time; it would work as an explanation for lateness. Liars, by their very nature lie. Instead of saying the truth, which might be as simple and telling as, “I didn’t feel like going to get you at the time we agreed” this lie pops up with no effort.
Most of the behaviour of a narcissist is less than honest, not just the words that they speak. Narcissists have learned how to behave properly by paying attention to what society expects. They know to bring you gifts, when appropriate, for instance. They can devise ways of making themselves look considerate and caring and above all, they understand that if they mimic “nice” people, they will appear to be nice.
The charming, engaging and complimentary person that you met recently might in fact be a narcissist. It is very confusing, because when you think of a pathological personality you expect the deep booming sounds of music in the background, the devious side glances and the “tells”. This is a misleading stereotype to bring to the mix. Anyone that has been in a relationship with a narcissist remembers being totally wooed at the beginning.
Even therapists find diagnosis difficult because narcissists have learned how to present the facts in ways that make them look good. If a child of a narcissist does not want to be in a beauty contest, the mother might accuse her of being ungrateful for everything that has been contributed to her daughter’s success.
Apologies are just as hollow. Asking a narcissist to say that they are sorry for something, might get the desired response. It may be more like, “I’m sorry I didn’t make you happy” which is a manipulative way of saying, “sorry I hurt you” or it may be a direct apology. Unfortunately, the element missing here is the understanding of why the narcissist should be apologizing in the first place. Since they seldom feel that they are responsible for anything, they may have learned to apologize simply when asked as a social convention.
Sabotage often appears plausible. “I would’ve picked you up when I said that I would, but I had trouble with the car.” This might take the form of an excuse that would appear to be an accident. It is only after a pattern of “car troubles”, “getting stuck at work” and “bad traffic” starts to form is their deceit seen and recognized for what it is. Since the narcissist will chose someone that is forgiving, these excuses can go on and on for a very long time.
Another tactic that allows the pathology to go under the radar is their ability to undermine your self-confidence. It does not matter what you are unsure about, that will be the cause of all of your problems, not something that the narcissist did. They do not drink too much relative to how much you overeat. They do not spend too much; look at all of the money you spent on groceries! It is not that they are uncaring; it is that you are too needy and on and on it goes.
The difficult part is when you try to tease out the “normal” from the “pathologic”. There are many aspects of this. All couples fight, but the relationship with a narcissist is extreme. Are the ups and downs of your relationship more extreme than others? The way that you can tell is that when there is a fight you are past upset. You are way more exposed and vulnerable than you should feel after a fight with someone that claims to love you. Physical violence, undermining your self-confidence, belittling you and name-calling can all be red flags. Also, the good times are just as extreme with elaborate plans, total engagement and special thoughtful gifts. This all sounds wonderful, but being on a rollercoaster is not.
Patterns emerge, like they are often late, forget things you’ve asked them to do, lose things that are important to you, are suddenly unavailable when you wanted them to do something with you and on and on.
Apologies are seldom, if ever given unless requested. Since they do not recognize that they are at fault, they do not spontaneously apologize, or the apology still blames you, “I’m sorry you got hurt”, for instance instead of, “I’m sorry I hurt you.”
All of this is an attempt to illustrate how murky the waters can be when you are in a relationship with a pathological narcissist. It comes down to recognizing whether or not you are happy. A relationship with a narcissist has an impact on your entire life because you spend so much time trying to figure out what happened and what is going on. You question yourself. If you spend a lot of your time worrying about how you act; wondering if you are losing your mind; trying to remember what happened; or trying to figure out what caused the problems, you are likely with someone pathologic.