It’s become so common to hear the word “narcissist” used by clients in our office that we’ve taken a deep dive into the topic and decided to address the issue for anyone considering whether their spouse is a narcissist or is attempting to live with their spouse’s narcissistic behavior. What many consider narcissism is simply selfishness that corresponds with good ol’ fashioned meanness. It’s not uncommon for our office to see these traits alleged in divorce cases because where narcissistic selfishness goes, division and conflict aren’t far behind.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the proper term and is one of six personality disorder types identified in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic Statistical Manual). The DSM is a manual published by the American Psychiatric Association and utilized by mental health clinicians and researchers to diagnose and classify mental disorders. Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder include, among other things, a grandiose logic of self-importance; a fixation with fantasies of success, control, brilliance, beauty, or idyllic love; a view of oneself as extraordinary and exceptional; a desire for unwarranted admiration; a sense of entitlement; no empathy; or a display of egotistical and conceited behaviors or attitudes.
It doesn’t take much time on social media to understand why some might thing it’s a growing issue though. But is there more narcissism within our marriages? The answer to that question likely turns on whether narcissism is growing within our society. Some have argued that NPD is on the rise, however, others suggest there’s limited scientific support for this theory. A 2009 book by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., entitled The Narcissism Epidemic goes so far as to suggest we are living in a narcissism epidemic that is visible in all aspects of our American lives. They suggest this trend has spread to the culture as a whole and affected both true narcissists and even less self-centered people as a result of the consistent drumbeat of “me.”
A 2018 article published by three German academics suggests support for this “narcissism epidemic” stating:
Narcissism is increasing in modern Western societies and this has been referred to as a “narcissism epidemic.” The endorsement rate for the statement “I am an important person” has increased from 12% in 1963 to 77–80% in 1992 in adolescents. Recently published books feature more self-centered language compared with earlier publications. For instance, the personal pronouns I and me are used more frequently than we and us. Moreover, the use of narcissistic phrases such as “I am the greatest” has increased between 1960 and 2008. The rise of narcissism is also reflected in more self-focused song lyrics and a stronger orientation towards fame in TV shows. These observations suggest that narcissistic expressions within individualistic cultures have become more frequent.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is considered relatively rare in mental health circles, but that doesn’t mean you may not house a spouse that meets the criteria.
In arguing against the idea that Narcissistic Personality Disorder is epidemic in marriage, Glenn Sullivan, Ph.D. wrote a great article at Pyschology Today stating:
If your ex-spouse was selfish and mean, it’s okay to describe them that way and to not go reaching for a psychiatric explanation for their behavior…
There’s a saying in psychiatric diagnosis: “If you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” People who are selfish and mean are common, like horses. People with NPD are relatively rare, like zebras. There’s a reason why Taylor Swift wrote, “Why you gotta be so mean?” and not “Why do you have Narcissistic Personality Disorder?”
Regardless of whether your spouse is a true narcissist, or just plain selfish and mean, the results can be the same. You’re living in a harsh and difficult situation and it’s not going to get better without significant change. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a desperate cycle of conflict and fear. Maybe you’re the victim of physical or emotional abuse at the hands of your self-centered spouse, or they have put you into debt by their selfish spending, which then results in more emotional attacks on you for not doing enough to provide more. If you relate to this description, or if you don’t feel connected with your spouse, you’re constantly on edge and worried, you are being gaslit and invalidated, or you’re feeling isolated from friends and family and don’t feel like you’re in control of anything in your home, you’re likely in a relationship with a narcissistic spouse, or at the very least a spouse who’s selfish and mean. In the end it really doesn’t matter. Change is necessary.
If you’re married to a narcissistic person we recommend that you educate yourself on the topic. Learn your spouse’s tactics to hurt and manipulate and then set boundaries and learn how to guard yourself against such behavior. Boundaries in Marriage by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud is a good place to start. Abusive narcissists will feed upon the weakness of their partner and exploit it to their own ends. Don’t tolerate the insults, name-calling, and verbal tirades. And protect your children from the negative environment created by your narcissistic spouse. They are innocent and don’t deserve what comes with that environment.
If necessary, the attorneys of The Smith Firm are here to assist in removing you and your children from the environment created by your narcissistic and selfish spouse. We understand the desire to maintain a marriage and are supportive of efforts at reconciliation if desired by the client. If we can assist, you may confidentially email me directly at email@example.com or call us at (405) 843-1000. We stand ready to assist in any way we may.