Is He a Narcissist? It Doesn’t Matter.

“Nice people don’t necessarily fall in love with nice people.” ~ Jonathan Franzen, Freedom”

Ten years ago, when I found out my husband was a sex addict, the word “narcissist” was just beginning to surge. Now, divorce attorneys joke that every woman who files for divorce is fleeing a narcissist (and every man, a crazy woman – but that’s another post). The word is tossed about with reckless abandon, but for those who’ve fallen victim to a bonafide personality disordered individual, it’s not a laughing matter.

In a relentless pursuit to regain some equilibrium after the complete upheaval in my life, I poured over magazine articles, consulted research on PubMed, scoured Google, hauled evidence before my counselor, and completed online questionnaires in search of the answer to my most pressing question: Is he a narcissist?

I just knew if I answered the narcissist question, I could wrap the devastation in a neat little box and get back to my life. I didn’t yet comprehend that my life as I knew it was gone forever – slashed violently into two fragments: before and after.

More than all that, I deeply hoped that an answer would provide me with some rules and predictability so I could steer my children away from any more pain or, worse yet, similar fates. I naively thought I would finally understand why he did what he did, and why he did it to me

I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter. What matters is what he did and what he didn’t do. What matters is the contempt he poured on me daily. It matters that my needs, desires, hopes, dreams, and fears were ridiculed and treated as inconveniences. It matters that he misrepresented himself before and after entering the marriage, and in doing so, repeatedly risked my very life.

That’s not love. It’s not even friendship. It’s the systematic devaluation of a human being you’ve promised to love and protect for life.

The answer, it turns out, was not “Yes”. It was, officially, “Yes, somewhere on the spectrum of Sociopath and Narcissistic Personality Disorder”. I have my answer …… and I still don’t understand.

STD’s and Stirrups on a Monday

“I’ve hit the ground. Gone right through it. Never in my life have I felt this. Nothing like this. I’ve felt shame and cowardice, weakness and strength. I’ve known terror and indifference, self-hate and general disgust. I’ve seen things that cannot be unseen.

And yet I’ve known nothing like this terrible, horrible, paralyzing feeling. I feel crippled. Desperate and out of control. And it keeps getting worse. Every day I feel sick. Empty and somehow aching.” ~ Tahereh Mafi (Destroy Me (Shatter Me, #1.5))

There have been many traumatic moments in this journey as a sex addict’s (ex) wife; this one took me completely off guard.

On a Friday night, my husband revealed to me that he thought he “might be a sex addict”. By Monday afternoon, I was up in the stirrups at my gynecologist’s office being checked for sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s). I’d borne 2 babies by this point in life, so a little pelvic exam/pap smear was nothing to me. I had no reason to think this would be any different, but it was … this time it was very different.

As I lay there in the most vulnerable of positions, I felt deeply violated – not by the doctor, but by my husband and the hundreds of strangers he had secretly invited into our bed. As I was probed for the germs of men and women I’d never chosen nor even met, I began to feel filthy and used and worthless.

The reality and gravity of my situation crashed in on me, and I began to sob convulsively. For the first time in my adult life, I couldn’t pull myself together. The doctor finished quickly, sensing correctly that I needed to crawl back into the safety of my own clothing.

And then, somehow, I drove myself home, where I got into the shower, sank to the floor, and wailed while frantically scrubbing my body. I couldn’t get clean enough.

If you discover that your spouse is a sex addict, please know that getting tested for STD’s in a timely fashion is extremely important, but it is not an emergency. You’ve likely been unknowingly at risk for years, so it’s okay to take the time necessary to arrange for someone to accompany you to the appointment. This is not the time to prove how strong you are by going it alone.

Help Me!

“She had a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach, like when you’re swimming and you want to put your feet down on something solid, but the water’s deeper than you think and there’s nothing there”
― Julia Gregson, East of the Sun

As I went through discovery ten years ago, even Tiger Woods, who would make “sex addict” a household word, had not yet been outed.  Back then, we spouses were marginalized, labeled co-addicts, treated as if we were to blame, and taught to focus on the addict’s recovery needs – a model of treatment now known to further intensify and increase the trauma already heaped upon us. Not only did it not help, it was like handing a drowning man a life vest made of lead.

In keeping with this flawed model, within a few weeks of my husband’s very limited disclosure I was packed off to a weekend intensive group for partners of sex addicts (get this, it was run by a sex addict!) There, the moderators focused like laser beams on our faults and shortcomings, teaching us how we could and should support the addict and understand his pain.

Support him? I wanted to scream “He’s had a lifetime to get used to the idea of his secret little world and focus solely on his own needs. To hell with him and his needs! Somebody please look at me and see that I am drowning! Help ME!”

That weekend, we walking dead were actually taught that we should check our husband’s sheets and underwear every day for evidence of wet dreams, as that was a good indicator that he was no longer “acting out”. While I refused, many other wives seemed to think that was a valid suggestion.

To this day, it makes me sick for all of us. A sex addict promoting such advice to a defenseless and broken spouse at their most vulnerable time in life is unconscionable.

Please don’t misunderstand this as judgement. I made many, many other grave mistakes, but checking his underwear just didn’t happen to be one of mine. I have my share of shortcomings and faults  (you know, because I’m a human) – the type of faults these men like to falsely equate to their secret “mistakes”. 

I’ve since learned that my faults had nothing to do with his hidden addiction. His deviancy began in childhood, and was well into it’s maturity long before I met him. Unbeknownst to me, I just happened to be the unlucky one he thought could rescue him out of his sickness.

Some might say he preyed upon my naiveté. In my defense, it must be said that  many sex addicts are personality disordered, gifted at deception and manipulation. They tend to focus like a laser beam on capable, competent, loyal, empathetic, trusting women. Apparently we’re magnets for liars.

Thanks to the groundbreaking work of Dr. Omar Minwalla, author of the article “The Secret Sexual Basement” we now know that the discovery of a partner’s sex addiction causes deep trauma that needs immediate, appropriate treatment.

I suggest you read it thoroughly and make certain that any counselor you choose is familiar with this particular sex-addiction induced trauma model as well as personality disorders.

It could mean the difference between truly moving on and being stuck for years as your mental and physical health decline.