Dear Abby – She Wants A Divorce From the Husband Who Hid His Vulnerable Narcissism (Emotional Abuse, Extreme Pessimism, Victim Mentality, etc) While They Were Dating
What an interesting and informative letter to Dear Abby (I’ll get to the actual link and letter below, but I had some comments to make about it first).
It appears to me that the woman (who calls herself “Worn Out Wife”) married a classical Vulnerable Narcissist (sometimes also called a “Covert Narcissist” or a “shy” or “closeted” narcissist). The guy has all the usual traits for one.
From what I’ve read on the topic, when Narcissists of all varieties date someone, or are trying to win someone over (could also include a friend or co-worker, not just a romantic prospect for marriage), they start out trying to win you over – they will use what is called “love bombing,” mirroring, etc., and in the love bombing stage, they turn up the charm and fake compassion and fake kindness to a very high degree.
Narcissists of all types lack empathy, are highly entitled, rude, and abusive in private with those closest to them. (Well, that’s generally how it goes; not all narcissists exhibit or practice the same usual narcissistic patterns or behaviors as other narcissists.)
“Love Bombing” can appear different depending on the type of Narcissist we’re talking about, and sometimes a Narcissist with one predominant style – a Grandiose one, for example – may dabble in a few of the Covert Narcissistic type behaviors, or vice versa.
The Grandiose ones are known for being really charming upfront, while the love bombing of the Covert (Vulnerable) Narcissist usually involves them playing on and exploiting your empathy and heart strings by presenting themselves as a great big victim in life, whom everybody has hurt or let down at one time or another.
Early in a relationship (whether dating, friendship, or workplace) Vulnerable Narcissists will go on and on about all the heartaches and set backs they’ve experienced from their childhood into adulthood – they therefore get you to pity them and want to help, rescue, and save them – and at least initially in a relationship, the Vulnerable Narcissist will pretend to care deeply about your heartbreaks and pain in life.
(But Vulnerable Narcissists don’t really, truly care about your feelings or your problems – they only pretend to care in order to draw you into a relationship, and some do this to get you to share YOUR personal problems with them, so they can weaponize your shame, regrets, and vulnerabilities against you later.
They may occasionally pretend to care as a relationship drags on, if they are interested in holding on to you, so they may toss you the occasional “crumb” of empathy. But they don’t have any empathy for you and don’t genuinely care about your pain or problems).
(Getting you to pity and feel sorry for them also causes you to lower any normal boundaries you may usually have, and you let this toxic person into your life. Sociopaths and psychopaths also play at this same game.)
It sounds to me like this woman’s husband is predominantly a Vulnerable type of Narcissist but that he used more of the usual Love Bombing techniques of a Grandiose one while he was dating this lady.
Once they got married, though, he didn’t feel the need, or have the energy, to keep maintaining the false mask of “Mr. Charming,” “Mr. Sensitive, Mr. Kindness,” chucked all that aside, and only THEN (once he had her) allowed his true Vulnerable Narcissistic nature to appear,
which consists of a super sour, pessimistic, bitter, “negative nancy” attitude, with a huge side order of victim mentality, along with common Vulnerable Narcissistic behaviors of constantly complaining, joy killing, and constant fault finding (of a spouse, or whomever is closest to them privately).
And yes, as this woman says of her husband – he’s miserable – Vulnerable Narcissists are usually miserable people.
Vulnerable Narcissists truly, honestly think they have life harder than other people, they believe that God “picks on them” specifically, they believe that others haven’t had as many obstacles in life as they have had, they further believe that if only God, or people, had given them more chances and breaks in life, they could’ve been more successful.
Vulnerable Narcissists also tend to be jealous of other people – other people’s success, homes, marriages, beauty, achievements, etc.
Another thing I learned about Vulnerable Narcissists from reading works by psychologists who specialize in Narcissism is that they will only show interest in, or want to talk about, topics that are of interest to them personally.
If you try to bring up a topic that you’re “into,” but that the Vulnerable Narcissist is not, they find that boring and will usually ignore you and not have anything to say. They will either fade away, leave the room, or try to pivot the conversation on to a topic that they are interested in.
Vulnerable Narcissists only get interested and animated regarding topics that they’re already interested in themselves.
I certainly experienced that dynamic with (Link): an online ex-friend who seemed to be on the Vulnerable Narcissist spectrum (she also exhibited some of their other well known traits). I’ve also known a few other people in my life who’ve had the same, or similar, behaviors.
And no, no matter how hard you try to make the Vulnerable Narcissist happy, it’s never good enough.
Whether it’s with a Covert or a Grandiose, no matter how hard you try to win them over, make them happy, or appease or please them, they will always find something to nit pick about and criticize. They will sometimes move the goal posts, so you can never, ever win.
In her letter, the lady says this:
He has taken the things away from me that I love — flowers, gardening, pets, books, friends, etc.
I wish the letter writer had elaborated on that portion a little more, because I’m not totally sure what she means.
I have a few Narcissists in my own life, and I do know that once they find out what your hobbies are, or a goal or dream you have, they will mock it and make fun of it to the point (and the Vulnerable Narcissists may complain about it to the point) that you get rid of those hobbies, dreams, or goals.
You may find it easier to cave in to their wish that you stop doing X (whatever X is) then to listen to your Vulnerable Narcissist husband, boyfriend, sibling, or whomever it is, bitch, moan and gripe about the same thing repeatedly (whether it’s doing X or having a pet in the house or whatever it is),
until their non-stop complaining about it drives you nuts, and so you will do anything to get them to shut the hell up, to stop the complaining about it (I also went through that with the ex fiance of mine).
I’m not sure if that is what the letter writer was getting at or not.
Lastly, people should stop blaming women for marrying abusive or controlling men.
I’ve seen so many Christian preachers victim-blame women who write in for advice on Christian television shows (or podcasts, magazines, or blogs) on what to do about their abusive marriage, and many preachers will shame the woman and say,
“Didn’t you see what kind of man he was before you married? You should have. Now you’re stuck with him.”
The problem is that a lot of abusive people (including women, not just men) HIDE their true abusive natures while they’re dating.
This is also true in other areas. That is to say, if someone is a pathological Narcissist, they’re usually not going to advertise their Narcissistic attitudes and behaviors openly at church, friendships, or in jobs – they will only reveal their nasty behavior in private around a few select targets,
or, if they’re the leader in a church or boss at a job, where they know they are immune from consequences, they may openly emotionally and verbally abuse their staff, for instance.
But concerning marriage, most abusers conceal their controlling, constant fault finding, verbally abusive behavior (and other terrible tendencies) during the dating stage, and only allow it to show after they marry the person and/or know that the person they’re in a relationship is committed to them, is financially and/or socially dependent on them (many abusers isolate their targets from friends and family).
Most people are not going to walk freely, knowingly, willingly, and openly into a marriage to someone they can see and know is controlling, constantly critical, a user, or abusive.
If the abuser quite openly abused and behaved obnoxiously during the dating stage, no woman would ever marry these guys – that’s why abusers pour on the charm and hide the violence or psychological abuse until AFTER they marry.
This is very much a “bait and switch” phenomenon, where the Narcissist lies about who they are; the Narcissist presents upfront one way, while in the dating stage, but then differently, after the person is in their clutches.
As such, the Christians who still advocate for the “permanence of marriage” view, or ones similar (that don’t allow emotional abuse, for example, as a grounds for “biblical” divorce) are in error.
I don’t think most Christians have bothered to study Cluster B personality disorders or Narcissistic Abuse at all. Perhaps if more did, they’d be more open to re-interpreting the Bible and realizing God doesn’t expect anyone to stay married to an abuser until death.
And this is not a problem just in marriage – I don’t want to get into it too much here and now, but where abuse and mistreatment arises in the workplace or in friendships, Christians are also ignorant clowns who end up doing a lot of damage to targets.
For example, if you’re being bullied in your place of employment by a jerk, depending on the particular circumstances, it may be very counter-productive to take the usual, naive, un-workable Christian advice of “turn the cheek and pray for the enemy” towards your workplace bully.
The reality is, most bullies have to be stood up to. You cannot sit back, be passive, be loving to your workplace enemy, just pray that God removes the bully, and hope things just work out.
If you’re dealing with a “Cluster B” bully, the best way may be to go “grey rock” on that individual and then try to change jobs as fast as you can.
Here is the letter from the lady who seems to be married to what sounds an awful lot like a Vulnerable Narcissist:
by Dear Abby
January 24, 2023
My husband and I have been married for nine years. While we were dating, he was kind, considerate and loving.
After we married, he turned into a chronic complainer, something he later confessed he had been hiding while we dated.
He talks to me like I’m trash and then gets nice when he wants something.