Hi! I'll be glad to help you with this issue.
First, let me say it sounds like you've put up with a lot for a while now. And this is actually the key to my answer to you that you need to consider and think about. I've worked in therapy quite a bit with people in relationship with narcissists or who've recently left a narcissist. It's often very devastating to their sense of self. This is because a narcissist takes over your sense of self: everything is about him, his needs, his hurts. And so when he needs it, he can be very charismatic, charming, and alluring. Then when he doesn't need that, he can be a bully, mean, and belittling. And thus the other person loses her sense of self; she's always "dancing" around his needs and moods.
When I get this question, whether in therapy or here, it is always coming from a lot of pain and hurt inside. And I'm so sorry you're going through this. It is very difficult, disorienting even, I know. And so your question is whether he can be truly sorry while he acknowledges his condition and actions. But the question behind that question is:
Can a narcissist truly care about another person; can he feel your hurt, can he feel any true caring for you?
This question reflects so much pain and it's so hard. Because I think you know that the answer is this: that the meaning, the clinical definition, of narcissism is based around the narcissist NOT being able to feel another person's point of view directly, only based on his own needs.
And this is why a narcissist will not accept help. Why not?
Because narcissists never believe the problem is in them. The problem is always in YOU. So if they ever seek help, it is only to get what they want. Then they stop coming to therapy once they've convinced the people who have forced them to get help that they have tried. And all the while, they keep doing what they believe they should be doing.
I'm concerned more about you. What do I mean?
You've put up with a lot and you are considering putting up with more. Clearly you love him but he's using you up. You recognize that right now he needs you so he's desperate. I need you to understand that he is not going to change because of your giving nature. Your goodness is not going to one day make him see the beauty of also being a good person. Narcissists don't change like that. It takes years and years of therapy. And so all he sees is someone to use. You're a good person and if you stay, I can understand: you've invested a lot into this relationship and you may decide at this stage in your life that you're willing to live in a stormy relationship.
Let me remind you of what you know within yourself is true because you've experienced it:
It is very difficult for people to imagine how pervasive NPD is. They tend to keep doing things with the narcissist as if he's normal. Then they get burned and they are very hurt. He will alternate charm and invective. You will be hurt. You are a normal person and have a view of personality that we call "whole". Your view does not allow for what has happened to his personality: it has become "fractured". What do I mean?
Let's use a parable of a house. You understand personality as being an open plan. There is the main big room where everything in the personality is and there are some smaller rooms off the main room, but they all have open doorways so that there is a unity there. If a person reacts from one of those smaller areas in his personality, it is coherent with the rest of the house, it fits into the decorating scheme of the main room, etc. It's all unified.
He isn't like that. He has different closed rooms. When he says something to you, it responds to some need and "truth" of a certain room. When he wants something else, it responds to a different room that contains that "truth". They don't have to agree for him to feel he is being okay and truthful. Because they are responding to different needs in him. Like different closed rooms.
You would not be able to feel whole that way. You would feel rather creepy. Well he doesn't feel whole. But he doesn't know how to feel whole. And he doesn't know what feeling whole is like. And this by the way is part of what makes him charming to women: they (and you) get their "I can fix him" module all tingling because they and you can sense that broken aspect. But....you would be messing with locked rooms that are protected by fire breathing dragons...
If you choose to leave, I am going to recommend a wonderful book that you need to read even though it is geared toward pure narcissism:
It is called: Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life by XXXXX XXXXXez-Lewi.
You have a right to make your own life. Being on your own may be hard but if you resist the temptation to isolate yourself and put yourself out there socially, you can be fine.
But if you decide to stay, what can you do? Well, I am going to give you two step program that has had success in my practice for loved ones of people with personality disorders. You are already considering leaving and even before I begin with what you can do, I have to tell you that most people I see who are married to or in a relationship with narcissists, if indeed he has this personality disorder, do wind up divorcing. They are charming at first but then they are so controlling and belittling that it is intolerable. So, if you choose to leave him behind, know that I will support your decision. But you may want to try more ideas now, so here are the best ones that can help for at least a little while.
Step 1. You must accept that you cannot change him. This is the heart of the matter: what you see is what you are going to get for a long time (see step 2) if not for the rest of him life. Your job and your goal is to learn how to accept him the way he is and not be affected negatively by him. Yes, this is a tough, big job. But that is what he needs. You cannot be his therapist; you have to accept that this is how he deals with the world and that your job is to be there for him and with him without you getting too hurt by him personality difficulties.
Step 2. You can encourage him to seek professional help. You know better than anyone that even encouraging him will probably not go over well with him, and he won't go, so you have to go back to step one!
So, that is your situation. Acceptance is the key. Making sure not to get too wrapped up in his negativity and his rigidness is vital. This is the way you will be able to continue in your relationship with him if you decide to stay.
I'm going to prescribe a couple of excellent books you can get on how to live with a narcissist. Because you are not going to change him. What I wrote to you above is even more what you must stick with. But these books WILL help you as they have been tried and I've seen them have good effect if you follow the suggestions of the authors. They are both easily available online:
1. The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship by Eleanor Payson. This is a great book that will help you with the lack of self-esteem that living with a narcissist or being close with a narcissist will do to you.
2. The Object of My Affection is in My Reflection: Coping with Narcissists by Rokelle Lerner. This book is newer but is extremely clear and insightful and has helped people since it came out 3 years ago.
I don't encourage people to stay with narcissists, but it is your decision to make. I wish you the very best and support whatever you choose to do in this difficult situation!
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