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Narcissists Be Crazy!

Sorry, that headline was more fun than “Neuroscience Points to Empathy Deficit among Narcissists.”

You know how I’ve been saying here at Chump Lady that these people are wired wrong? They don’t have empathy synapses? Well, turns out more science is emerging every day that narcissists are quite literally wrong in the head. You weren’t imaging it.

According to the Journal for Psychiatric Research, people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) have less gray matter in their brains in a region that regulates compassionate emotions. (So when Anthony Weiner was singing “If I Only Had a Brain” he was closer to the truth than he ever knew.)

The left anterior insula region of the brain, generally thought to be involved with cognitive functioning and the regulation of emotion, has also been tied to compassion and empathy.

“This was already a region of interest for empathy, but for the first time, we were able to show that it is structurally correlated in the brain,” sid Röpke.

The researchers discovered that the degree to which a person was able to exhibit empathy was tied to the amount of gray matter in the brain, both in the healthy individuals as well as in those with narcissistic personality disorder.

The findings suggest that regardless of personality disorders, the left anterior insula plays an important role in feeling and expressing compassion, Röpke said.

This raises some interesting questions for the Reconciliation Industrial Complex. Like if you’re married to a narcissist — how can you reconcile with someone congenitally incapable of empathy? All that dialoguing you’re supposed to do, all that Joseph’s Letter crap where you implore them to feel your pain — it’s like asking a goldfish to knit a sweater. They can’t know how you feel. They don’t care. And your feelings clearly do not inform their actions.

Perhaps it’s not fair to say they don’t care. They cannot care. They’re limited. The gray fluff in their brain required to make them care is missing. Doesn’t mean they don’t know right from wrong, it means that if they do wrong, there’s no ding, ding, ding going off in their heads making them feel bad about it. Sort of like those rare cases of people who don’t have nerve endings — they burn their hands on stoves, break bones, all without realizing they shouldn’t, because they don’t get the pain signal to their brain.

I’m fascinated by the neuroscience behind personality disorders. On the one hand, it’s frightening, because we want to believe we have control of our character, that life is a matter of choices, and we come to the table as fully rational beings. On the other hand, have a stroke or a brain injury and poof! you can be quite a different person. Read the works of neuroscientist and essayist Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) — he catalogs numerous of examples of brain injury and how it informs behavior.

It’s an interesting age. I think we’re beginning to understand that not everyone is neurologically “normal.” We don’t all run the same operating system. Some people have empathy deficits and you can do an MRI and apparently see an actual lack of gray matter where empathy should be. Just wow! But it makes sense to me that there is a biological component to this phenomenon. I don’t think every cheater is a personality disorder, but I sure think a lot of them (especially serial cheaters) have these empathy deficits. If you didn’t, you couldn’t conduct a double life of any duration. There is a danger for chumps to assume that everyone has the same mental make up and cares about the same set of rules. To know that these deficits are real is useful information. If nothing else, you can stop blaming yourself.

It used to be schizophrenia was blamed on frigid mothers, until quite recently it was recognized as an illness of the brain. No more attributable to frigid mothers than cancer or diabetes.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I was once married to a hoarder. (Yeah, I know how to pick ’em.) Did a lot of counseling around the issue, this was like 20 years ago now — back when there was far more stigma about mental illness and next to no knowledge about hoarding. I used to get told things in counseling like “Oh you know how men are messy. You need to communicate, work out the division of chores.” Like this was possible and if we just had a rational discussion it would sort itself out. I look back and liken all that nonsense to the sort of therapy I experienced trying to reconcile with a serial cheater. “You need to dialogue.” Or to my then husband “You need to learn to be vulnerable and open yourself to love.”

Might as well ask a shark to tap dance. He wasn’t capable. I remember the good shrink, Janet asking him “How do you think that makes Tracy feel?” and he got this utterly blank look — like she asked the question in Swahili. You could see the gears didn’t shift. He couldn’t imagine. He was incapable of imagining.

Oh, he could pretend at remorse, but if you scratched very deeply, asked him to explain the emotion to you, what triggered it, what he thought of when he felt sorry — he couldn’t do it. He’d get angry or change the subject.

Similarly, my first husband couldn’t throw things away. He could not organize papers. He could write perfect strands of computer code, but he could not clean his desk. He could’ve spent years in therapy or with personal organizers all telling him how to throw junk mail away, or what about his mother made him want to hang on to moldy tennis balls — fact is — we now know that hoarders have neurological damage. You can do an MRI and see exactly what part of their brain is misfiring when they hoard. It wasn’t a matter of choice for him really, he was wired to hoard.

After years of that merry-go-round, I felt in my gut that asking that man to organize his mess was like asking a quadriplegic to get out of his wheelchair and walk across the room. It was almost cruel to expect these things he could not do. And yet I expected them. I felt angry and disappointed and robbed that he would not Make An Effort. Sometimes I accepted his blameshifting that it was me, and my terrible expectations of him. I wish someone would have told me — this is just who he IS. It’s not your fault. He cannot be the person you need him to be — walk away.

I hope this science gives similar comfort to chumps. The cheater in your life may be exceptionally limited — and that limitation is who they ARE. It’s not your fault. You didn’t make them this way, and as yet, there is no cure for a lack of empathy. So stop trying to fix it. They cannot be the person you need them to be — walk away.

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  • I have discussed this on Married to a Sex Addict for years. I had read basically this same info before; (maybe some other study) not that it doesn’t bear repeating because it does— over and over and over… until WE really get it.

    you can’t put back something that was never there to begin with.

    • I have to agree with this. I think narcs do have the circuits, but they aren’t always “on”. They don’t automatically have empathy for others, the way that most of us normal folks do. But occasioanlly, they do. Mostly, when it’s convenient for them, might I add.

      I can’t help but remember the account of Scott Peterson, the one who’s pregnant wife (Lacy Peterson) was murdered. Scott was convicted of the crime (personally, I think he hired a hit man to do the dirty work…either way, he is guilty as sin and plotted the murder, IMHO). He was labeled a sociopath, incapable of empathy, but I’m not so sure. In the hours following her “dissappearance”, he talked with Lacy’s mom about how she was missing. Lacy’s mom noticed that when he talked with her, he didn’t look her in the eyes. That was weird to her, because he usually did. It was something that struck her as odd and stayed with her long afterwards. Why would he not be able to look her in the eye? Because he was lying and at some level, felt guilty, and didn’t want it to show.

      I think that we as a society like to *believe* that hurtful people don’t possess empathy. Because the alternative is unthinkable – that they actually have empathy (at least some) but do bad things anyhow.

      • Hmmm, I’d say perhaps Scott Peterson was unable to look his MIL in the eye not because he felt guilty, but because he was scared about being caught. I think sociopaths feel “empathy” only when there is some reason that reflects back on THEM, not out of any true feeling for anyone else.

  • Thanks for the visual Chump Lady!!! Now when I see my husband sitting on his side of the couch with his feet propped up, I’m going to also see a giant goldfish with a pair of knitting needles!!

  • I don’t think my xH has NPD. I do think infatuation causes a little NPD-like behavior and blame-shifting and refusing to be empathetic.

    I remember asking him how he thinks I must feel, having been cheated on, and he just stared at me, “Well I’m not you, I can’t know how you feel.” In his case, he didn’t care to know. It would have taken away from his fun.

    • but that right there… is lack of empathy as I see it. Its not just NOT knowing how you feel… its the lack of any kind of thinking before he engages in this piggy behavior that’s supposed to stop him right in his tracks. Its the idea that he should be possessing that you would be devastated if you found out. He doesn’t care because he doesn’t know not to care.

      When he says that he can’t know how you feel… Its true. He really can’t. He can feel empathy, but ONLY on his terms and only in certain situations, but not for that of a woman. He’s totally cut off from it. And probably in a lot of other instances where he puts on a good show, but its not really real. Its not something he feels intrinsically. He’s just going through the motions.

      I went through this too or some variation of it. He didn’t want to know… He couldn’t go there.

  • I agree that they are wired wrong. I also believe that it is heredity. husband was a pig as was his father and brother. fathers first and second wife were both wired to put up with it as their fathers were unfaithful. along with a stepbrother of second wife. if I started to count the collateral damage it would be around 50-60. if the rumors are true not one uncle in the family was faithful and all the aunts married unfaithful men. no wonder I had nothing to do with them. after not seeing one for two years she commented that she “heard what happened and that these things happen” no wonder I look at my daughters and cry. they think I cry for him but really I cry for their future. it breaks my heart that they have that families genes in them.

    • Basically, ditto.

      I also see glimmers, sometimes, of behavior in my child that reminds me of the creature. It breaks my heart. Not only does she have a moral monster for one parent, she grew up observing and absorbing his behavior–and, perhaps, some of the genetic propensity, if not to cheating, then to being able to turn off feelings about other people.

      Genetic traits, as I understand things, in general, need to both exist in and of themselves–the wiring, and they need an environment in which to express themselves when it comes to behavioral or social things, and sometimes medical things (as distinct from, say, eye color).

      What this may mean for NPD types, maybe science will tell us someday. Thankfully, I don’t think either the cheater, or my child falls really into that category.

  • I have always felt that personality disorders are largely a matter of faulty brain wiring, and then a dose of environmental factors on top, NOT purely the result of mom being too critical or too much praise like most info on NPD says. I know too many clearly disordered people with normal parents and siblings. Look back far enough, and you can see a lot of the disordered had something “wrong” even when they were very young children. I also think the miswiring or whatever is screwed up in their brains is sometimes genetic and that is why you also see many families with generations of disorder. But whether genetic through the family, or just a screw-up in the brain of the individual, something is broken that cannot be repaired.

    When you consider how incredibly complex our brains are, it’s amazing that things don’t go wrong far more often.

    • Glad, that’s so true! How many times have we known someone who has seemingly “normal” siblings and parents, and yet they (the person) is NUTS? No abuse or craziness that went on, but others say that they were “different” as young children!

      I disagree that they are “broken”, though. That implies that they were whole at one point in time, and something happened to make them this way. I can agree in some cases, like abuse or neglect, but in cases that there are normal siblings or extended family and you got the rotten egg? No. I don’t think anything broke them, I think they were wired this way from the beginning.

    • My ex had a good family. They were appalled by his behavior (when they learned of it — he was of course secretive). In fact one of the things that gave me confidence about the relationship was meeting his family. He traded on that good impression of kind people.

      I never met his father, who died ages ago, but the man was a coal miner. Someone who went down a mine with a pick axe for over 50 years (he retired at 70, while the United Coal Miner’s negotiated a black lung settlement. He waited to retire so his widow could get more benefits). Every day he went into a pit for his family. His sister wept telling me this. “I don’t know how my brother could be so selfish. He wasn’t raised like this.”

      But there was an uncle, who was never spoken of. His mother would never say what her brother did, but whatever it was was unspeakable — he was excommunicated from the family.

      I wonder if sociopathy didn’t run in the family, and the uncle was one too.

    • I see this one-off pattern in my daughter’s newly discovered NPD cheater.

      His mother is almost saintly she is so kind, the dad is devoted to the family. He has an older brother who is happily married with twins, and a sweet, accomplished sister (who called the cheater, crying hysterically when she found out, because she would now “lose” the only sister she had).

      But now that the cheating and planned fraud have come out, people are coming out of the woodwork to tell us stories about him. The most telling was his own mother, who appeared on my mother-in-law’s door shortly after the “news” and stayed several hours apologizing for his behavior. But my MIL picked up on something interesting – his mother said they had warned him before the wedding that if he ever did anything to harm our daughter he would not be forgiven. So, perhaps they knew in advance of his NPD tendencies, and just hoped he wasn’t taking it out on our daughter?

      I recently contacted my sister who lives out of the country to give her the news. Now, she was only here 4 days for the wedding, and spent most of the time with me. But she wrote back to say a couple of things happened at the wedding that shook her up. First, she witnessed the cheater blow up at his sister over something incredibly minor and stupid. Said she thought immediately that he was a scary guy – his reaction was off the charts over something trivial. She also reported that several people had confided in her that he had “control issues”. Wondering now who that might have been – his friends? family? And who says that to the bride’s aunt at the wedding?

      In retrospect I think lots of people tried to give an oblique warning, but of course we all overlooked the hints. Anyway – he seems to be the “one-off” in his family. And I definitely think it’s nature over nurture. His brain is just wired differently, and not in a good way. He is a scary guy.

  • Why do I feel like he is happy with the OW? Why do I feel like the loser in this? Like he is going to be happy and wonderful with her after cheating on me and before me his wife? Is he going to be different with her. He has lied and lied to me…Will he change for her?

    • Hardtomoveon, I felt that way too, I still do. CL had a really great blogpost on this very thing (CL 6/19/13) about him being better for the OW, or changing for her. Read the comments, they are awesome.

      My question to you is the same that I have to keep reminding myself, each time I slide backwards—okay, say he comes back and promises to love only you. Can you trust him? He’s already proven to be a 2 time cheater, on you and on his ex wife….what makes you think he won’t do it to “New OW”? Do you want to live every single day wondering when he might see something new and shiny again…up and do this again?

      This isn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything to make him cheat on you. He’s not going to magically change “for her” or anyone else. Hang in there.

      • Thanks Abby – I also try and talk to myself. But at the back of my mind I feel like he’s off with her being the most wonderful bf like he was to begin with me. And that bother’s me…Maybe he’s changed. And I got the short end of the stick. I will read the post. How do you combat this sense. Is it true once a cheater always a cheater. He says he’s in therapy now… Trying to change and be a better person for her…When all they had was 10 days fucking and a year of texting. We had a day in day out relationship for a year and a half and this is the shit I get…Being left and cheated on after supporting him through everything. He’s just forgotten about me and moved on so fast. It hurts!

        • There’s the key-you had the regular, normal life and the new girl was the shiny toy who was having all the exciting times. Now that he’s with her it’s going to be regular, normal life…and he will get bored with that eventually and look for a shiny new object to sparkle for. Sure, he’s probably doing the good guy act for now but if he’s already cheated in at least two relationships chances are the new girl’s time will come as well. It may take awhile and you probably won’t give a shit when it does happen but I’d say it’s pretty certain it will happen.

    • It’s all fantasy and ego kibbles (best food ever) for NPD’s in the beginning. I too wondered WTF could she be doing that I wasn’t. But I wasn’t new I was the 63 year old woman ( and she isn’t that much younger but prettier) who had put up with him for 23 yrs and wouldn’t change her work hours because he told her to. Who sometimes contridicted him. When the newness wears off she will get the same rotten treatment you are getting now. Think of that and smile

      • Exactly. Smile and remember that real life always has a funny way of intruding into fantasy land. I’ve already seen some cracks between the soulmates but they’re desperately tossing spackle all over the place because if they split up then it means their love really wasn’t true or worth all the mess.

        I find it kind of amusing but to be honest, at this point, I just want him to leave me alone.

      • I almost drove myself crazy (er, crazier) thinking along those lines. We have been together almost 28 years (26 of them married) and it has been difficult for me to accept that he is NPD. However, everything I have read (and I keep re-reading some of it because I need to keep convincing myself that it is the truth because it is still so surreal to me) about covert narcissists could have a picture of my STBX next to it. I’ve used words like “Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde” and “Machiavellian” to describe him – to HIM (he took it as a compliment)! I told him that being married to him was like emotional waterboarding. His response was, “Really? Wow. You think that for real? That’s pretty bad.”

        I see him indulging with the new monied OW (not really new – someone from his past) the same way he indulged with the prior monied OW, only more intensely because her level of interaction is amped up. It was like observing two middle schoolers. The constant texting and calling was a red flag – it is listed as part of the narcissistic “love bombing” behaviors (they may both be narcissists – which brings two hyenas mating to mind). I remember early on when we were dating (prior to cell phones and texting) how often he would call me and the late night 2-3 hour phone calls. HE has not changed – just the technology has.

        No, she will not get someone “better” than who I had. She will get him. She doesn’t have “all” of him yet because he still has me around to expend his negative energy. Once the D is final, she will get all of him. Her money will leverage a certain level of control. But the devaluing, the remoteness, the casual cruelty and indifference, then the reeling back in if he feels in danger of losing his new and improved lifestyle will take place – because THAT IS WHO HE IS.

        She is getting an older him, so maybe some (or all) of his cheating will be curtailed because he may become less desirable – or not. He may get a prescription for viagra. Who knows? At the end of the day, she is getting someone who finds her MOST appealing attribute to be her deep pockets, and she doesn’t even know it. Or maybe she does, and that’s sadder still. Whatever the story, if the relationship is successful it will because they will feed off each other like two narcisstic jackals or she will be spackling like a mofo. As CL has so eloquently put it, “trust that they suck.”

        For me the bottom line has become as pertains to a relationship with him, what would be in it for me? And the answer is absolutely nothing (but more pain and sorrow) and really, that’s all the information I need.

        • Hahaha….my ex, when I first kicked him out, would text and text and text the final OW. And talk to her on facebook. And text some more. It was hilarious but also sad, because he spent most of the time he had with the kids that first year texting his soulmate, to the point that the kids got in arguments with him, asking why he couldn’t just focus on them. He said he deserved a social life and to shut up.

          It was weird to hear about and it sort of upset me until I realised I’d be irritated as fuck if someone was texting me fifty million times a day. Particularly since they work together. He actually told the kids how ‘cute’ it was to text while working, when their desks were just a few away from each other.

          Middle school all the way.

          • Maybe they are working on their Prom arrangements. Come on, give a little credit. It’s more all grown up than middle school. Sounds more sweet 16ish to me.

  • Ok, this touches on something I’ve needed some input on, and I know CL has experience with. How do you deal with the ethical dilemma of leaving a mentally ill husband (or wife)? Last time I left him, and said I had a divorce lawyer he sobbed every day for hours! The guilt is horrible. I have always done fucking everything to take care of us, I seriously don’t know if he can function, though I wish he would try! He carried on a four year affair, stopped working, all that super irresponsible stuff. Oh, his brother was the King of all hoarders, two houses full. My X seems reluctant to get diagnosed, I think he’s scared to find out. Anyway, any thoughts on what I do with all this guilt, all I want is to take care of me for a change!

    • I don’t think you can help him and I don’t think you have an obligation to waste TWO lives–yours and his–trying to achieve something that only he can achieve by himself IF he is motivated to do so. Your guilt is misplaced–you didn’t do anything wrong. Stop enabling him to behave badly.
      Some people have to fall over and over and over again before they learn to–and decide to–walk on their own.

      YOU CANNOT MAKE ANOTHER PERSON HAPPY. And it’s pretty presumptuous to believe you can. So stop it. Step away from the abuse and the abusive manipulation, and save the ONE life you are lucky to have–YOURS. You are obligated to make yourself happy, and you cannot do this by hosting a parasite.

      • You must be right, because he was always cranky, bitchy, critical and controlling (sometimes happy, but not mostly). I just have to get a break, I feel like Im going to explode if I don’t. I do think I will be much happier, all I want is a chance to experience that for like a year, before I have to deal with him again! Thanks for your input.

      • You cannot make another person happy…so very, very true. You can contribute to someone’s sense of well being and happiness but the core ‘being happy’ thing is up to the individual. And I think this is the root of a lot of this crap. My ex says he wasn’t happy, ergo it must me my fault. It had nothing to do with him or life or anything else. He wasn’t happy, therefore it was the fault of the person closest to him: me.

        Why is this? Because I spent two decades trying to make things work for him and obviously I failed–I got my shot at making his life great and it wasn’t as great as he wanted it to be so he needed to find others so help him figure it out.

        Now he’s still not happy and it’s still my fault because I haven’t slunk away like a good little doormat, taking whatever financial crumbs tossed my way. Instead I’ve fought for what I need and deserve and this, of course, is the reason for his current unhappiness.

        These people are fucked and view the world like children.

        • Mine, too, will always be able to blame me for his unhappiness. Child support ends in a year, and he never had to pay alimony. Then we will be completely separate. Already we do not speak to each other–ever. And I like it like that. But he will always be able to blame me for the failure of his marriage, for forcing him to walk away from his kids (he sees them a few hours a month), for forcing him out of the family home, for causing him to be depressed and feeling like a failure. That will always be on me, in his mind.
          And, truly, I don’t care. He’s welcome to blame me. See how far that gets him.
          My life goes on.

          • You’ve got the right attitude. When I first heard him say, during a shouting match a few months after dday, ‘What about what you did, Nord, to destroy this marriage?’, I knew there was something seriously wrong. Here was a man who got caught cheating, and then it turned out he’d been cheating for years. So I threw him out. And I told people why. And it finally got through to me, after thinking about things he had said and written to me, that he saw me telling people and throwing him out as the reasons for why everything blew up. It wasn’t because of his cheating per sé, it was my REACTION. If only I had kept quiet, let him ‘figure things out’, the affair would have played out like hte others and we would have gone blissfully into the future, me playing forgiving mommy and him looking for his next fuckbuddy.

            Once I figured that out I started caring less and less and now I’m like you. He wants to blame me for his problems? He wants to paint me as some crazy, bitter ex-wife? Let him. My life is moving forward and quite frankly I don’t give a shit what he or the few people he has left think anymore. He’s an asshole who not only cheated repeatedly (and in areas where it directly hurt me), he’s also been a prize asshole about money and everything else. So yeah, he can go cry to whomever he’d like. Not my problem and his problems are all his own.

      • HERE, HERE, Stephanie!! PattyToo – Everything Stephanie just said is spot on. Please read over and over.

    • I agree with Stephanie that you ought to save yourself………but I also understand how guilt can drive one to distraction. SO — if you want to cover some bases in order to make you feel better or get him started in solving his own problems, seek out an environmental MD or naturopath and start with hormone profile, neurotransmitter profile, and heavy metal analysis (mercury and lead) Drag him to the appointment, saying it’s this or divorce. Make sure his physiology is OK before trying to fix anything with words.

      More is missed for not looking than not knowing.

      • Wow, sounds like you know about this! We did just get divorced, I am VERY glad I got that done, I don’t want to be responsible for his mess-ups, some of them have been bizarre. We still have to sell our house we own, hopefully next month, then I’m not tied to him. Thanks, I’ll look into that stuff.

        • I mentioned before that my family had problems from mercury. There is an overwhelming feeling of not being able to cope, of being wretched and not worthy of being helped. If my twelve year old daughter had not been lying in a heap screaming about ‘not feeling like myself’, I probably would not have had the oompf to look into it and get it figured out. It would have been easier to just off myself.

    • He IS an adult, right? You’re also not his mother; You’re not responsible for him. No guilt, please. Save yourself! He sure isn’t going to. What if the shoe were on the other foot. hmmmm…?

    • PattyToo I struggled with this for a while too. Then I thought about it and decided that if my ex knew enough to hide what he was doing he must have known it was wrong. He knew it was wrong but he still made the choice to carry on with the behavior. Instead of choosing to try and treat his illness. Then I made a choice to take care of me.

      • Yeah, I used to say to him- how come you have such endless energy to spend on the AP, and on lying and covering up? It’s all so selective.

        • Well, it always goes back to that. If he had spent even 20% of the energy he spent on his various affairs on me and our relationship we wouldn’t be divorced. But then, I was there, I was steady, the hunt was over, I didn’t need to be charmed anymore because I loved him through and through. And he needed that high of charming a new woman into his arms, the conquest, to feel good.

    • Ok, let’s say you hypothetically had a spouse with paranoid schizophrenia. You love them and they love you, but they are prone to putting tin foil over the windows and have on two occasions harmed your children not recognizing them. Do you hope they get better as they continue to be a threat to themselves and others, particularly the family, or have them committed where everyone can be safe?

      Cheaters have done harm to their families. You can’t have them committed, but you need to protect your family by minimizing the harm they can do.

      Check out Away From Her with Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie. No one said doing the right thing would be easy.

      • I know someone who was married to a man with schizophrenia and as much as she loved him she ended up divorcing him because he would not stay on his meds and the situation was dangerous.

    • PattyToo — how do I deal with the ethical dilemma of leaving a mentally ill spouse? In my case, I dealt with it by realizing a couple things a) he wasn’t doing ANYTHING to treat his condition, despite being diagnosed by the best anxiety disorder clinic in DC. There’s not a lot they can do for hoarders, but there is some. He would not get help. Refused. Which, might be part of the illness really.
      b) He wasn’t all in the marriage, because of the illness or his character — to be married to him meant holding up everything by myself. I realized this wasn’t the true nature of marriage. He wasn’t capable of being a partner to me, and I deserve a full marriage. Someone could get injured in a car wreck — yes, I’d be there for him. Even if that person had limitations, I could love them. But this was different — he was never whole. He was never invested in the relationship. I was kidding myself.
      c) He felt no guilt being a terrible husband, why should I feel guilt leaving him?
      I did have guilt (as reflected in how long it took me to leave and the idiotically generous divorce settlement I gave him) — but in retrospect I wish I’d been more emotionally healthy.

      When I left, all I felt was RELIEF. Huge, huge amounts of relief — and the 12 years since then — he’s just became an even worse person. Whether that is illness or character, I don’t know.

      PT — don’t feel guilt about leaving him. He cheated for FOUR years, he doesn’t contribute — he checked out. It was not you. It was him. Lay your burden down. Marriage does not mean holding it all up yourself.

      • Chumps are not mental health professionals. We are in over our heads with real mental illness. By trying to fix this, you endanger your own mental health and that of your kids. In the end, a Chump is most likely to wind up enabling mental illness or addiction and is not likely to cure it. Real mental health professionals have far more detachment and can deal with disturbed folks in disciplined ways when necessary. Chumps, especially chumps with kids, are emotionally involved and will always have to just try to make peace with the disordered person. So, in the end, we are not/not qualified to fix others. The disordered have to seek that out themselves, and mental health professionals have the detachment to kick their patients in the butt once in a while, something an emotionally-involved chump can’t do.

        So, I’d say that if you find your partner is really disordered, then your moral obligation is not to stay, but to leave.

      • When I read how you felt about it, I’m so glad for you that you left. It was the right thing to do. Of course, I’m codependant, so for my own situation, it’s hard to have the clarity! Working on it.

    • PattyToo,

      I also had the same feelings of guilt. I think my ex may have clinical depression and maybe NPD, but I am not sure about that. But he refused to see a doc about it, and no counseling.

      In talking to my Pastor, who was tremendous support to me during the divorce, he made an analogy. If my ex had diabetes and REFUSED to change his diet or exercise or take his meds, would I still feel the same guilt? I cannot MAKE a grown man take his medication for diabetes, I cannot be the food police and restrict every piece of food put in his mouth. It is up to HIM to contol his diabetes. I can be supportive by shopping for groceries that are appropriate and watching what I eat — but I cannot MAKE him follow his diabetes plan. So if there is no guilt in the diabetes case since the control of treatment entirely lies with the patient, then why the guilt over trying to control treatment for a mental illness too?

      It is not your guilt to carry. He is the one refusing to seek help for himself. You can only help you, and if that means moving on (and I would after 4 years of affairs), the PattyToo, help YOURSELF!

        • That was helpful, Stacey. My ex NPD H sure ex-expected me to snap out of my depression and threatened to leave me if I didn’t get on another medication without sexual side effects. This was when few doctors even knew about the withdraw effects of newer antidepressants. I tried many times but became a weeping, near suicidal mess. I didn’t get much sympathy from him, just encouragement that I needed to find another doctor.
          He wouldn’t admit that his behavior–compulsive use of prostitutes, porn, alcohol and gambling. I go through phases where I worry about him. Therapist reminds me that he’s had every opportunity to change but doesn’t because he doesn’t want to. It’s hard to fathom that’s why I thought if I just explained it to him in just the right way, I could help him see the light. Trying to accept that it’s no longer my job or business.
          Thanks for including that analogy.

    • PattyToo, your situation strikes home for me.
      My father was mentally ill and physically abusive to my Mother. I am the youngest of five and was 10 when my Mother was finally able to divorce him. At the time you couldn’t divorce someone in a mental institution. A local judge (we lived in a small town) worked on the paperwork on the weekends when he was home.
      He did all the pitiful angles but towards the end all of us knew how to get out of the house in case of a fire (this was back in the 60’s) because he had told my Mom that he would burn the house down with us in it while she was at work.
      The last time he came to the house, he would have killed my Mother if she hadn’t had a hot iron in her hand and my sister hadn’t refused to leave the room as he ordered.

      After they divorced and my Mom remarried a decent man and we moved away I cried myself to sleep so often worried about my mentally ill father and his feelings.

      My older siblings told her they were so glad she finally left. Right before she did he was starting to hit my brother and he had never even spanked us before. My Mother made the decision that she couldn’t sacrifice all of our lives and well being for him.

      As an adult I finally came to realize that he had loved us as best as he could, he had been a damaged child and had grown into a very sick adult with contributing factors mucking up the mix.

      I’ve realized that my husband is also mentally ill and even if it weren’t for the cheating problem there are other issues that are unacceptable and I know I can’t give up the rest of my life for the man I imagined him to be.

  • Anna,

    You bring up a great point about heredity. On my STBXWS side, her greatgrandfather, when he came to this country, ditched his family in the east and started a new one out west. All of her fathers brothers had affairs as well as her father.

    When I spoke to my mother about my WW she couldn’t find any that she knew of on our side that had affairs. We have alcohol issues though. It may be genetic.

  • I absolutely agree that there’s got to be a combo of faulty wiring PLUS problematic upbringing to create a personality disorder. Baron-Cohen has been writing great stuff about the ‘normal variations’ in capacity for empathy, and if I read him right, he’s saying that if you get a person who is naturally wired for low empathy, and raise them well, lovingly and w/care, you get a somewhat clueless, somewhat socially awkward adult, who learns a lot of their politeness and consideration through rules rather than perception. If they experience significant abandonment, you may get a Borderline, if around narcissism, a narcissist, and in a frankly abusive family w/lots of anger and unpredictability, you get a sociopath.

    Here’s the book:

    It actually helped me a lot to start thinking of my then-husband as at least partly incapable, rather than just entirely uncaring and entitled. But the emotional abuse and entitlement became so obvious w/time, and the differences between what he was willing to do for his career and what he was willing to do for his family so extreme. it isn’t enough to think of him as ‘limited’. He’s actually a bad person, in so many ways, not only unempathic and uncaring, but dishonest (in more ways than just cheating, I’m seeing now), irresponsible, negative and nasty. But seeing the limitations also made it easier to realize that he’s not going to change – it’s not about insight, or willpower – not that he ever managed to hang on to any moment of insight about how his behaviours affected others and even himself, or ever put ANY willpower into being a better husband, father or person.

    It’s interesting that CL mentioned the lack of imagination; I think that’s my ex’s main deficit. He can pretty much figure out other people’s emotion if it’s right in front of him, but can’t easily imagine what came before, leading them to feel that way, or what might come after, depending on what happens. But he also can’t imagine how he felt in the past, if he feels differently now, or how he might feel in the future, if different from now. The clearest example is that if he’s not hungry, he has ZERO interest in shopping for food, preparing it, or planning for meals, and is quite annoyed by those activities, but when he is hungry, he will happily do all those things, even somewhat frantically. And if he’s hungry, everyone should eat right away, while if he’s not, everyone should wait to eat later (rather unrealistic when you have toddlers). It also leads to his being unable to remember that he loves someone, when he’s angry at them, or to make amends when someone is angry at him, if he’s not angry at them. Sigh.

    Just spent a couple of weeks visiting the ex’s FOO w/our kids (not the ex, though!). Interesting to see how similar to their mother his older brother and two younger half-siblings are in character, and by comparison, how similar the ex is to his narcissistic, violent, serially-adulterous asshole of a father. All grew up in similar circumstances (the half-siblings father was hugely emotionally abusive and entitled, although apparently neither adulterous or violent), yet the outcomes in their lives are so different, I really think the luck of the genetic dice roll.

    More info on the neurological stuff will hopefully lead to better understanding, prevention and treatment of personality disorders. But in the meantime, just one more reason to not only trust that they suck, but also trust that they will go on sucking.

  • Shew!! Geez.

    A Fan–Hmm. Well, this is what I got from the LA Times article:

    “Working with psychopaths is never easy, and rehabilitation that occurs in a psychiatric facility frequently fails in the outside world. Psychopaths are known for adroit social skills that allow them to manipulate people for nefarious ends.”

    “Because a psychopath likely cannot be ‘trained’ to summon up empathy to counterbalance manipulative and violent behavior…” that sort of sums it up for me!

    This goes also to the Journal of Psychiatric Research’s assertion that there is an actual decrease in grey matter of these people’s brains. There IS no “switch” to be flipped in some of them. Like being a savant–they are aware of some things, but unaware of others–and this can’t be changed, no matter how much you love them, talk to them, remind them, show them by example…there is no capacity to begin with.

    CL’s right–they are who they are, no matter the etiology—and it is not my job to babysit him, to remind him that he needs to “flip on the empathy switch” once in awhile (even if he had one, which I doubt). Sociopaths and psychopaths do not seek help, so where would this “training” be brought into the picture?

    Most of us can’t even get our cheaters to therapy to BE diagnosed. On top of that, it is 100% in the very nature of a sociopath/psychopath/NPD to distort and manipulate the sessions to their own ends. Nothing that they say or do can be truly verified.

    CL, you said that you felt it was “almost cruel” to expect these things of your ex when he was simply not capable. Isn’t this projecting your own empathy onto him–since he wasn’t capable of feeling these things himself, do you think he “misses” them or that he is even aware? Like you said–expecting a shark to tap dance. You can’t get angry at the shark for not knowing and even feeling badly that the shark can’t tap dance is sorta wasted on him too, because he isn’t aware that he doesn’t know!

    Isn’t this where all of us get into trouble, like you said? We blame ourselves for their behavior, because we are PROJECTING what we, as normal people with empathy would feel, if we did some of the horrible things that they do?

    This does go back to “untangling the skein”, doesn’t it? Why should I make myself crazy, always wondering if my narc is actually “capable” of empathy, or when should I remind him to “flip on the empathy switch”—that would mean that I would have to be glued to his side 24/7, being the empathy police, right?


    Walking away is right.

  • “You need to learn to be vulnerable and open yourself to love.”

    Might as well ask a shark to tap dance. He wasn’t capable.

    LOL! My cheater called me two nights ago, after I demanded an ‘honest’ conversation. Why I demand honesty from someone incapable of honesty is still beyond me, but anyway….he actually said this exact thing. I’ve never been vulnerable with anyone, never opened myself up to love. You loved me ‘fiercly’ Mel, but I just was never open to recieve it.

    In the same breath he also said he needed to realise he was in love with the other woman, and he has only finally accepted and let her go.

    And you know what….he almost had me. I got off the phone and thought….’poor dear!’ never known how to be vulnerable, never let himself really feel love, so he sought it out in the wrong place….how do I help him!!

    And then I stopped and realised it was probably all BS. He said he had read it in a relationship book. He didn’t stumble on this himself, he read it, and then he probably just regurgitated it.

    Mind Games

    • They’re very good at taking in info and then regurgitating it like it’s all theirs. Mine is a master at this. The kids will tell me some wise nugget he spewed at them and I sit there thinking ‘Yep, he heard that one from me’. It’s kind of funny when I think about it, but also sad. I can’t imagine not being able to gain insight into any situation in life by any means other than sucking it out of someone else’s brain. I used to think my ex was intelligent. I no longer think that. I think he’s crafty.

    • I realised belatedly that my ex used movies/tv/books to inform his emotions and behaviour. Quite scarey looking back.

      • Yep, Ex uses lines from movies. Not books, of course, because he has read exactly one book in his life (how did I end up with him again?)…unless I read something from one of my books to him. Then he’d grab on to it. Hell, he grabbed onto everything I said and used it as his own. Now all that is ‘wrong’ and what final OW says is now the gospel. Except she’s not all that bright so his ‘opinions’ now revolve around the gym, working out, work, the gym, work, thoughts on the neighbours, working out, the gym, work.

        I sometimes wonder if he feels starved for a decent conversation.

        • OMG… same here! It took me years to realize that X has no original thought. I was listening to talk radio one afternoon around a Presidential election. Both parties had their extremists going at it. Later that night, X regurgitated the EXACT soundbite from that broadcast, as though it was his thought. I called him out on it and he didn’t speak to me for four weeks. I think that incident was another brick in the wall… I had discovered that under all his fancy five-dollar words, the man is an imposter, incapable of thinking for himself.

          Our mentally ill son has moved in with X and his bimbo and her family for the duration. He was floundering at home after high school, and the choices were too much for him. Dad tells him exactly what to think. It sickens me to hear his father’s soundbites (from another source, natch) coming out of my son.

          • My ex is really good at impressions and can quote from movies verbatim. He should have been an actor…all his lines would have been fed to him. Plus, his on-set trailer would have had a ‘take a number’ sign by the door.

  • so here’s a question CL. if they are wired wrong, how do thousands of men/women come up with the same line and crap they shovel our way. it seems to be a common thread. same crap, different bodies. they could not have all read the same books. mine never read a single paper, book ( except the one just before he left about eating to stay healthy and young) nor did he ever watch documentaries or even talk shows. how did he come up with the same lines and games that other spouses use?

    • I’ve wondered about this as well. Over and over again I’ve read stories where strangers from across the world describe things their cheater said and I swear, there are times when it’s literally word for word what I heard. It’s a complete head scratcher how they all – or most – seem to follow the same script. But then, a lot of us seem to follow a script as well (except we are far more original in our comebacks and have much more highly evolved senses of humour).

    • There’s only so many ways to manipulate a person — and manipulators push the same buttons to get results. Those buttons are outlined really well in that Dr. George Simon book “In Sheep’s Clothing.”

      This shit can be catalogued. It has been, by professionals.

      It’s not that they have the “same story” – it’s that they’re using the same manipulation tactics.

      • I prefer to think they were all handed copies of Cheating for Dummies at some point…which would make Ex’s book reading at exactly 2.

  • This is a great post, and it actually applies even to those who don’t have some kind of neurological disorder. People are who they are, and they likely aren’t going to change. Asking them to be someone different — whether it be an honest, faithful spouse or even just someone who puts the toilet seat down, for example — is an unrealistic expectation (though, obviously, there’s a huge difference between these two example). As CL says, stop trying to fix it. We have to either accept who they are, warts and all, or get out. In the case of cheaters (i.e, abusers), the only real choice is to get out.

  • I always wonder though–I mean, we aren’t wired to drive, yet we learn (I hope) to check the rear and/or side view mirrors. (In fact this was a simile I used to try to explain to my cheater how to check himself for triggering me and not being an asshole.)

    He failed. Could not–Could not–flip that switch, and learn to anticipate that saying cruel, or even off handed things that reminded me of his affair would be hurtful.

    Yet, he’s a good driver–checks the mirror–clearly capable of learning and remembering a simple, repetitive instruction. Why is one possible, and the other not?

    On the other hand, there certainly are crap drivers, and skillful ones (driving in Boston regularly, I should know!)

    • Hahaha…Boston driving. I once got rear ended in Cambridge and the well-dressed middle aged lady got out to scream at ME.

      Anyway, driving a car is simply mechanics. You don’t have to ‘feel’ anything to do it.

      • yeah–that was what I was trying, I think. You know, “Just do it.” Don’t feel anything–(me spackling like crazy)– just do a routine motion. No feelings, just a mechanical thing.

        He had been so able, easily, to turn off all his feelings about me & daughter before….

        So it amazed me that even doing that was more than he could or would do. I think it was the lack of effort that was the ‘tell’; time to get out.

    • Named for Vera,

      Good point. Interesting comparison. But we should also remember that driving is a mechanical thing. And there are people who can’t ever drive or who get their licenses pulled because they can’t not drink and drive, etc. There are drivers who are so reckless/careless that they get people killed. There are folks who repeatedly get into accidents. So, I think this idea of bad hard-wiring works for driving, too.

      At least one narc man I know of has terrible road rage and drives very fast all the time.

      Anyway, while I like what you said, I think the evidence can be looked at another way, in a way that supports the “bad wiring” school of thought. In the final analysis, I think it’s a combination of upbringing and bad wiring, and the first can make the second much worse when it comes to narc-creation.

  • Wow.

    My husband definitely cannot empathise with me. And have I turned myself inside out trying to fix this.

    Time to walk away.

  • I still think old theories have their place: I believe the brain wiring is laid down DURING the failing to bond and clueless parenting.

    My MIL is the wierdest person I have ever met. ‘You look in her eyes, they were blue but nobody home’ – David Bowie.
    There is no doubt her schizoid lack of love and her devotion to Catholicism is behind a lot of my husband’s problems. My mistake was making those problems my problems! I regret the lack of love and the devastation of finding out my marriage was nothing, but I don’t regret my lovely children.

    • My ex MIL was an oerweening freak who still has her head up her kids’ asses. She’s very passively aggressively manipulative and has no friends, thus is all over her family. My kids are starting to clue in to her weirdness, thankfully.

    • If we could do one thing to help pull humanity up out of the gutter, it would be to treat our babies better. Starting in gestation.

      I mentioned the author Joesph Chilton Pearce before and his opinion that bottle feeding breaks the bonding and nurturing process. If your first intimate relationship with another human being has an artificial interface in makes sense that you might have problems relating.

      He also says that anxiety is the big killer of brain development. It puts the survival part of the brain in charge trying to find a way to cope with the anxiety. The survival part grows stronger and the higher brain functions that would allow life to be experienced in the unique human way (positive emotions and intellect) are stunted in their growth. Nothing more anxious than a helpless baby not getting it’s needs met. The anxious state really never goes away.

      Survival is eating, sleeping, searching for a mate and reproducing, competing with others for the same food and mates, and defending territory. That’s life for them. My ex is the super competitor. He appears smart, but isn’t really — he just knows how to stay on task. He does not experience life the same as I do, and can’t even grasp the concept.

      • I don’t agree about the breastfeeding, partly because some people are unable to breastfeed, some babies are adopted out or loose their mother at birth or any number of other situations where the baby grows up to be perfectly normal.

        But the stuff about survival mode is great food for thought. I sometimes feel like my kids, particularly the older one, feel this at times after what happened to our family. Their whole sense of security has really been shattered and it continues as my ex tries to fuck with me financially.

  • Wow reading all these posts this AM got to get to work! All of them so true.
    PattyToo: I struggle with the same issues. I have done everything to keep hearth and home together while he works. When I leave he won’t know how to manuver through everyday life. Hope the OW can help him. Your XH may have mental health issues but it is not your job to help him he doesn’t seek help himself.
    Nord: yes I too have done all I can to help him become a success in his life and it was not appreciated.
    One time about 2 yrs ago I hurt my eye very badly. My H was sooo considerite I was blown away. Then he told me how yrs ago he had hurt his eye and how he knew how much it must hurt. He could only emphasise because it had happened to him.

  • It seems to me that with personality traits, we get into a chicken-and-egg problem (BTW, I think it’s settled that the egg came first because there were creatures that were ancestors of chickens laying eggs before chickens, but forgetting that for one minute…):

    Is the “wiring” screwey because of the behavioural programming, or is the behaviour screwey because of the wiring, … or both?

    I say that because much of our behavior is habit-based. That is, we rely a lot on habit, and our concious mind (the part that identifies itself as ‘me’ and that is self-aware) may choose to engage certain habit loops, but… once we have a method of dealing with a given stimuli, circumstance, or particular kind of problem, we depend largely on habit loops that we have created that seemed to work (or in the case of addictions, were reinforced with some reward or pay off) to actually do stuff, and the self-aware, empathetic, part of our brain that does consider impacts and possible outcomes doesn’t need to be engaged.

    Have you ever accidently driven someplace you did not intend to go? I have. I have set out for the mall, got distracted and found myself blocks from the grocery store in another part of town. Habit.

    Consider this bit about gambling:

    ” But what was really interesting were the near misses. To pathological gamblers, near misses looked like wins. Their brains reacted almost the same way. But to a nonpathological gambler, a near miss was like a loss. People without a gambling problem were better at recognizing that a near miss means you still lose.

    Two groups saw the exact same event, but from a neurological perspective, they viewed it differently. People with gambling problems got a mental high from the near misses— which, Habib hypothesizes, is probably why they gamble for so much longer than everyone else: because the near miss triggers those habits that prompt them to put down another bet. The nonproblem gamblers, when they saw a near miss, got a dose of apprehension that triggered a different habit, the one that says I should quit before it gets worse.

    It’s unclear if problem gamblers’ brains are different because they are born that way or if sustained exposure to slot machines, online poker, and casinos can change how the brain functions. What is clear is that real neurological differences impact how pathological gamblers process information—which helps explain why Angie Bachmann lost control every time she walked into a casino. Gaming companies are well aware of this tendency, of course, which is why in the past decades, slot machines have been reprogrammed to deliver a more constant supply of near wins.”

    The brain’s wiring can change. But as we grow older, there is a tendency to rely on pre-existing habit/experience loops more and more (and these loops change how our brain works. Once something is codified into a habit loop, then the area of your brain that actually considers things in terms of cause/effect/impacts and which is self aware and empathetic… is not engaged. IMO, this is how bigotry, addictions, and even good behavior like neatness and fitness tend to work. It’s not only a matter of bias, but we also establish habit loops, and yes… that changes how our brains work because habits take place in a different part of the brain and involve different mediating parts of the brain.

    Can people change? Sure. Will they? Changing habits… is not so easy. Especially if they have been reinfornced life-long. Will engaging somebody’s intellect or appealing to whatever capacity for compassion they have for you work? Highly doubtful if you are confronting well-established habit-loop-reinforced behaviour.

    You are probably better off saying “This is who they are” than wasting energy trying to change them.

    Could most people who want to change do so, however? Yes.
    Do most people who want to change do so? No. Why, because taking the time to identify keystone habits and taking time to consider compassion and activate that part of your brain more often all require discipline and consistency for the reprogramming to work. It takes time, effort and consistency to change.

    • Interesting. It makes me think that you should get out of the habit of living with a cheater before your brain rewires itself to think that shit is okay.

      • Yes, there is that. I have said, “I didn’t like who I was becomming” in my marriage.

        • Me too. My normal baseline had moved so much, I was like a robot. Desperately clinging to what was important to me, while putting out fires he started (while he was re-lighting them, and lying about it!). Gross life.

      • It makes me think that you should get out of the habit of living with a cheater before your brain rewires itself to think that shit is okay.

        ChumpLady: ha ha ha ha ha! True dat. Dont’ they call it ‘traumatic bonding?’

        • I have actually read that there is a re-wiring that occurs in your brain. There is the dopamine effect that occurs in the beginning where you actually become “addicted” to your little steaming pile of Narcissist. Then there is the effect, and the longer you stay with them the worse it is, of the persistent and heightened stress – the fight/flight response. That’s where those PTSD symptoms come in. I’m a living example. I have been considering requesting cognitive behavioral therapy or EMDR therapy, but I’ve made some progress, so I’ve held off.

          CL, maybe you should add a line to your title, “Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life and Save Your Brain.”

          • I was thinking about this yesterday, because one of the kids was saying some stuff about what goes on at his dad’s place. I was doing the ‘mmm hmmm, that’s nice’ thing but what he told me got me thinking. Final OW seems to be reacting as I did to weird stuff. Probably her gut is screaming but she is hooked. He’s like crack and once you’re hooked it’s hard to put down the pipe. I was thinking back to when I met him and weird things would happen and I would literally convince myself that these incidents were ok, despite part of me thinking up ways to dump him. But I was already hooked and made some bad decisions on how to deal with some pretty odd stuff. When I look back it’s like I was in a haze, unable to be strong, when usually I’m really strong. It’s early and I’m not expressing myself well but yeah, the whole addiction thing resonates with me.

  • This makes a lot of sense. My ex-MIL is not a bad or crazy person, but she was not a woman who was close to or affectionate with her kids. I don’t want to say that she viewed her children as an accessory. It’s almost like she had kids because that is what was expected of her at the time (late 60s/early 70s) when she really wanted to stick with her career and focus on that. Instead, she left a promising career to be a SAHM, but she carried on with her life like she wasn’t a SAHM– going on long trips with her H and leaving the kids with a relative/babysitter, putting them in camps/activities that would occupy the kids all day (way before that was considered typical), etc. I think she would have been happier and more fulfilled if she had stayed at work and not had kids. She always seemed anxious and discontented.

    Anyway, she had two sons. Older son is wired right– he’s a happy, outgoing person who makes friends easily and is easy to talk to, personable, etc. His upbringing seemed to encourage his independence. Younger son (my XWH) is not wired right– he’s more introverted, socially awkward, and generally a “glass half empty” type of person. He once told me that when he was a kid, there were kids in elementary school who called him “psycho.” At the time, I thought it was just kids being mean, and XWH didn’t cop to any behaviors that were psychotic, but maybe they could see back then what I refused to see when I met him.

    I think that his brain wiring combined with his distant, detached upbringing (this is also a man who never said “I love you” to his parents… that just wasn’t done) did tamper with his ability to be empathetic. I remember him telling me shortly after DDay how HE felt “so much better” since I now knew the truth, and he was no longer carrying around this secret burden. I think I sarcastically and angrily thanked him for transferring the burden to me. But it’s been all about him from the start and what he wants– kind of like what his mother showed him when growing up, that she would continue to live her life without his interference– and when I got slammed with the truth of the A, it continued to be all about him. He was “sorry” (that he got caught), didn’t think he should have to pay so much CS, continues to put his needs first even now before his kids’ needs (shoving the OW-turned-Owife down their throats). He’s never once asked me how their counseling sessions are going. Not once. He needs counseling more than our kids do.

    I used to think that XWH was just selfish and not disordered, but after reading this post, I wish he’d go get help for the sake of our kids. He won’t, though, because nothing is wrong with him, and he didn’t do anything wrong. 🙁

    • When my oldest son cussed his dad out for the A, my ex told my son HE needed counseling. My kids were amazed by that. The problem wasn’t how my ex was acting, it was others’ expectations of him.

      • Yep, ex told my older kid to get therapy for being angry and not ‘getting over it’ on some brief timeline idiot ex had in his head. Apparently this drama was my fault, for not keeping quiet, for being upset, for throwing him out, for just about everything. It had nothing to do with the fact that he’s a serial cheater who finally got caught on a major scale. So sick. He needs help but he’s ‘just fine’, of course and it’s everyone else who has the problem (except for his enabling family, final OW and his two friends).

      • Same thing happened to one of our kids. He was accused of lying by his father, and when his son called his Dad out on his colossal lie, Dad told him it was “ancient history.” Blows my mind still that the DB bought a house and moved in with her and her family while still married, expecting his three kids to just roll with it.

        • That is exactly what mine did…but moved to a different state and wonders why his kids don’t want to talk to him everyday!!!

  • Does this mean that us, Chumps have too much of what makes us care in our own brains??

    • Good question! We’re probably overstuffed with gray fluff in the empathy centers of our brains, to our own detriment.

      • Even as a child I’ve always been one to feel sorry for someone and do whatever I thought I could to cheer them up. I see my own 5 year old son doing the same thing. Ive even joked about the next time I am attracted to someone I need to go the opposite of what I like because I don’t pick the ones that are good for me. I’m on #2 being a chump and they were both the “brooding” type and I was the cheerleader. I have often felt I need rewiring. I am praying that therapy and will power are going to help because not only for myself, but for my son I don’t want to ever be a chump X 3. This blog has been a HUGE help 🙂

        • I think there’s reason to be hopeful. If you think about the habit of trying to nurture and encourate others, if you think about part of why you do that, I bet it’s because their state generates a feeling in you, and if you manage to cheer them up or inspire them, then you get a kind of reward. So there’s a possible loop/circuit, right?

          The impulse to help and care for others isn’t inherently a bad one, right? It only potentially becomes a problem if you are dependent on the anticipated reward and that dependency leads you to engage in efforts, relationships or behaviors with negative outcomes, I think.

          FYI, on the neurobiological basis of rewiring:

        • I was a cheerleader to a brooder as well. Never again. I refuse to bear the responsibility of being someone else’s source of happiness and positive thinking. I’d rather be alone than do the heavy lifting of a relationship on my own.

          • LOL. Yea. It doesn’t work anyway. It’s like trying to be a stand-up comedian and playing to the same audience every single day.

            Sooner or later, they know all of your best material, and it doesn’t work anymore. 🙂 In fact, it only annoys them. At least that was my experience with trying to be the Court Jester.

            Better to pair up with somebody who is fairly good at self-soothing .

            • Well put! That’s actually how I have come to see my marriage: me being the super interesting person, full of ideas, thoughts, well-read, carrying the conversation (I’m generally pretty lively anyway), planning parties, making plans for fun with the kids….yep, I was a regular old cruise director for the family. And then I wasn’t because I started to face some issues of my own. Did ex pick up the slack? Hell no! He just went looking for someone else to entertain him. My show closed down and he went to another theatre.

      • Baron-Cohen does actually see empathy as normally distributed, like height, intelligence, etc. I’m betting most chumps are on the high end, very sensitive to others, and that the narcs sense that and take advantage of it. Well, after all, who wouldn’t want to be w/someone nice and caring and loving and empathic????? They’re narcissistic, not stupid!

        • Sometimes I wonder if I have excessive gray matter! At times I’ve wished I was less empathetic and emotional.

  • As a child of a narcissist and serial cheater, I came across your site when I was researching “no contact” as a coping strategy.

    I am 49 years old married mom., my parents have been (un)happily married for 52 years. We found out 16 years ago, when the woman showed up their house with pictures, that my father had been having an affair for over 20 years and had two children by this woman. She was married at the time and told the kids her husband at the time was the father. Despite all this craziness, my mother decided to stay. She sites religious reasons. She is old, and completely worn down by an abusive psychopath.

    However, it was relief to all us kids when we found out the truth. It just explained all the craziness and drama in our lives. Do you know what it is like to have a narcissist sociopath as a father????? Also, a common side issue with narcissist is that is very common for their spouses to become alcoholics, to deal with the depression of living with someone who will never change and never meet your needs.

    I have done tons of research on narcissism and read many of the books. My world view is that not everyone is nice, and some people are manipulative and always will be. I agree the high is the deceit. If you married a narcissist, they just manipulated you long enough to get what they want (cake). They tested you to see if you were “nice” or “forgiving”. It is confusing, since you know they can act that way if they chose. As time goes on, they just chose to act abusive, since they are convinced they have a steady stream of cake.

    My mother is an extremely kind person, and he gave her enough attention and told her what she wanted to hear until he sealed the deal and then she (felt) she was stuck.

    In Martha Stout’s book, “The Sociopath Next Door”, she lists the number on red flag, and hallmark of sociopaths. They are looking for sympathy, the pity play. Ted Bundy with the crutches. Teary FOO stories. whatever. The reasoning is these manipulators test chumps for their empathy, and realize they can victimize them to get what they want. It isn’t any more complicated than that.

    So, back to being the child of the lunatic. You grow up confused, with drama, and bottom line, your childhood is about your parents, and their needs, not yours. You use your energy to keep a low profile, and not reach out into the world and discover your strengths. You are taught to not make any emotional demands on your Narc parent, and in the future this leads you to have confusion in your own relationships. You grow up just trying to take care of yourself. You are denied medical care (I have to chirp in on the broken arm story. CL, your child was legally under his father’s care, and his lack of medical attention was neglected by HIM!) You become a pleaser, because that means less drama and less disappointment. You feel sympathetic to your nice parent, but it’s confusing. Your a kid! There are always financial dramas, because let’s face it, affairs and concealing them is expensive. He was always, and I mean always, in a bad mood. Having to lie about everything is exhausting, and your real family is a disappointment compared to your fantasy life. You spend your entire childhood being anxious.

    My father already had five kids when he was involved with this other woman. Would a sane person get involved with someone with five kids??? Of course not! Sane people do not have extramarital affairs. Apparently, my father that my mother was dying. She believed it. But, technically, everyone is dying.. right? So it wasn’t a lie? When she came to the house, she announced “your father is a liar”. We laughed in her face. Of course she is!!! Everyone who has affairs is a liar!

    Back to the childhood thing. After much therapy and book reading, I can recommend two books. One is “The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists”, and also “The Narcissistic Family” which is for therapists, but worth it.

    I am going NC with my father. As he gets older, and his cake turns to minuscule crumbs, he becomes more and more angry. He claims he “asked for forgiveness” and he kicked me out of the house when I went to visit my mother because he said “I was raised Christian, and Christians are supposed to forgive, and you haven’t forgiven me, even though I asked!!!!” Note that he didn’t say “he raised me Christian”. the responsibility is on me. Did you hear the screaming? He told me to never come back because I haven’t forgiven him. Wrap your brain around that one.

    So, my advice as a child of one of these situations, is make the lunatic responsible for their relationship with their child. My father hid behind my mom and seemed to be a respectable family man. He had access to every family event, social function, even though he has no relationship with any of his kids. He never did any of the work to make a real relationship. I resent my mother for having us continually interact with him in order to see her. I see this as enabling, and it has become intolerable.

    How do the narcissist end up? Alone. fewer and fewer people put up with their crap. Then they move into nursing homes, or find a church, where it is the workers job to be kind and then they get off manipulating them. I will not be around.

    Leave now for the sake of the kids.

    • Nancy. What a powerful post. Although my Dad didn’t cheat, and I love him for his positive qualities, he is a narcissist. And my mother has given her life to accommodating that fact. He gave her the five children she so very much wanted, and she gave him everything else she had to give in return (after following him around the country for his career for three decades, my mom, a registered nurse by profession, has spent the last 15 years nursing Dad through several chronic illnesses, at times spoon feeding him and turning him in bed to avoid bedsores, all the while listening to his grumbling and huffing about politics, What Needs to Be Done Around the House and How, and generally What is Wrong with The Goddamn World). I think you are correct that growing up around such dynamics contributes to the making of many chumps.

      You have clearly been through a lot, and thought about it a lot, and in the end come to a place of a lot of wisdom. God bless.

      • You have just described the potential future I was freed from by a silly woman who thought my ex was such a great catch. As much as the whole process hurt, not having to spend my declining years with that man is a gift from God as far as I’m concerned. I saw how it played out with his folks (exactly like yours) and could see it coming down the pike at me. Whew.

    • This statement really caught my eye:

      “your real family is a disappointment compared to your fantasy life.”

      My ex has obsessed with his married coworker and dreams of breaking up her family and having her as his wife. He loves her kids and sees them all living as one big happy family on a farm with our grown kids. He is hooked on one heck of a fantasy. After learning that, it made sense to me why he was so angry with me all the time after he got involved with her. He was comparing me to his fantasy wife and frustrated that I was in his way.

    • Well said! I can’t believe I ever thought for a second that I should stay for the kids. As far as I’m concerned, I LEFT for the kids!

      • For a kid’s point of view, you are doing everyone a favor by not enabling or providing cover for a narcissist. From what I’ve read, they never change. However, they do respond to boundry setting. They can choose their behavior. They act normal for a time. You are fooled by thinking they were normal once, it is really in them. They are not normal. It is all an act. They get tons and tons of feedback about their crappy behavior and choose to ignore it, and do what they want anyway.

        You were manipulated by them, due to your heartfelt warmth and empathy, into becoming their cover for a normal life. They groomed you. Other research I have read on manipulators, and if you think back, you will see it, is that “to charm” or be “charming’ is a verb. Watch out! Sociopaths like the way they are. They actually think they are better than everyone since they don’t have those messy emotions all those other fools do. They won’t miss you or the kids when they are gone. Just your meals, setting up family get togethers and the clean clothes.

        In the end, they are bored bored bored. The game winds down. They berate caretakers. They are pains in the ass until the end.

        I feel the positive side to this is now I have an extremely sensitive bullshit detector. It took me forever to figure this out, but I get along with everyone except manipulative people. I just call them out on their shit. I’ll stand up to school principals, cops, bullying kids, and the crazy moms that try to excuse their kids who manipulate my kids. I’m not afraid. I won’t back down either.

        Thanks for all the support. Chump lady, you have a big heart, and so much of the world thinks that these people are just misunderstood. Nope. They are doing exactly what they want to do. They just think they are so friggin special the negative consequences, which they don’t want to pay and is why they have fits when you tell everyone what terrible people they are, those consequences are only for chumps.

        • Wow,you are extremely insightful- good stuff!
          My X woke up one day, looked me in the eye and said ‘ I want to make trouble today!’ And yes, he was easily BORED. Oh, my god, somebody do something, he’s bored! These people are very strange, I wish they would just all go live together on Planet Narcissist and tear each other up! Ha!

          • Narcs are easily bored because they are empty inside. Without constant outside affirmation and stimulation, they don’t even feel like they exist.

            My ex could never bear to have any downtime or an unplanned moment. He had to constantly be doing something, anything, preferably with a large group of people. God forbid we had a weekend with nothing scheduled. He would go nuts and would always make plans with someone to do something.

            Unfortunately, that wore off on me over the years, and although I don’t plan a lot of activities, I find that I consider myself a boring person because I’m not constantly doing things like my ex. Just part of the way life with a cheating narc causes you to doubt yourself and wears away your self esteem and your very sense of self.

          • Yeah, the boredom. It led us to making some crazy life decisions because he needed new and exciting. And when that didn’t pan out he got new and exciting in his trousers.

        • YOu know what’s funny, Nancy? I’m like you. I stand up to people and state what I need to state. Ex wouldn’t do it. He’d rather pay a bill he didn’t owe than call the bloody company and deal with the mistake or whatever. So I would always do it. I did all of that stuff for our family, never him. And now I’m seeing that he manipulated me into handling all of that by passively refusing to do it himself. So if I didn’t do stuff it didn’t get handled. And I wonder why I was, by the end, a ball of frustration. Sadly, from what I hear, he’s pulling the same crap on OW already, where she gets frustrated and pouty but doesn’t confront because I figure she doesn’t want to rock the love boat. Poor thing, I really do feel sorry for her sometimes.

          • All of this is so true for me in my life it’s uncanny how you have been able to put words to this mess. It is helpful for me to know that others have had the same experience. For some time now, I have accepted and will say to people that I was raised by lunatics. Both of them too self-centred to raise five kids. My father was a serial cheater and my mother had mental health issues all her life but would say: “I tried counselling but I was smarter than every therapist.” She started to send me for counselling when I was about 13. I learned how to spackle and take care of myself from the beginning. Was expected to take care of her too. Is it any wonder I have spent the last thirty years with a narcissistic pos. I finally left a few weeks ago and I whole-heartedly believe that “leaving for the kids” is the way to go. But this shit sandwich is the gift that keeps on giving. I realize how I normalized covering for him, how I internalized his “boredom” as my issue (I must be a really boring person)and joined him in his criticism of everyone in his ploy to totally isolate me. I realize how I facilitated those “crazy life decisions because he needed new and exciting”, I took care of all the bills, made most of the money and he was happy to take part in the spending but totally left it to me when there were financial problems. ..and he blames me for everything. Even our 11-year-old has a keen bullshit detector and has expressed that she needs a break from him right now (to him directly in counselling). Yesterday she said: “I don’t understand why Dad is acting sad that I don’t want to see him. He went out almost every night and partied last year when he could have been spending time with me.” He blames me for turning the two younger kids against him because I wouldn’t let him tell them the “drifted apart” story.
            What I have discovered though is that because I have been in great need of support I turned to my siblings (who I had isolated myself from) and have been totally honest with them about the situation along the way, and they have responded ten-fold. Even though we were all raised by lunatics, somehow none of us turned out like them and they are loving me through this unconditionally in every way. This discovery has been an amazing by-product.

            • nottoobright,
              first, please change your name. you are bright, you were just manipulated. Having a narcissistic spouse is the same as someone who robs banks. You lose because every day they spend their day trying to get what they want from you!That is what they spend all their energy doing. Taking from other people.

              I think the aspect of what happens to the kids is important, and here is where you can control the narrative. Don’t sugarcoat other peoples lies!!!! I have two kids, and I make damn sure they don’t end up with friends that manipulate or use them. I grew up paying extremely close attention to what people say and see if it matches what they do. If it doesn’t, that person isn’t trustworthy, and it’s time to move on. In the book, The Sociopath next Door, Martha Stout says if someone lies to you three times, they are a liar, and that is the base of conscienceless behaviour.

              Your friend stiffs you for concert tix? Not a friend. Borrows things and doesn’t return them? Never chip in for gas, or say they don’t have money? Not good character, and that “friend” is using you. Watch for people’s lies, flattery, and also, how they respond when you say you have a problem with them. do they try to work it out, or do they have a fit? The flip side of that is to watch for people that are kind. Not just people that are “nice” ie friendly or pleasant, but truly kind. Who calls when you are sick? Who offers to help? Chips in for gas money? Thanks people who give them rides, etc. Make sure you have your children notice these behaviors in others.

              My sociopath father would only acknowledge positively the qualities of people that he had himself. He was well educated, so he snubbed anyone that wasn’t. He is totally vain about his hair, and notices that about other people. But, it took me forever, and your 11 year old daughter will be nobody’s fool because she figured your xh out so soon, but my dad never acknowledged kindness from others because he didn’t think it was important!!!!! He resents my mom having friends. He “thinks” everyone should like him, because he is “smart”, but they like her and it drives him crazy!!

              Isolation is another tool. In narcissistic families, the parents want the kids to fight, so they don’t band up against the parents and call them on their shit!! Both my sisters and I had fought for awhile, but figured out we were all just trying to cope and get through the childhood the best that we know how. We all have had counseling and struggled with anxiety disorders. However, now we all have each other’s backs when it comes to dealing with my parents.

              Another thing to remind your children is that adults do what they want to do, and don’t do what they don’t want to do. Your daughter was right. If pops wanted to spend time with his daughter, he would have. He didn’t. You don’t have to go that much into it, but don’t deny her reality (true crazymaking for kids) by saying he did, but couldn’t.

              My mother in law is a total narcissist and my husband refused to see it for the longest time. Her favorite line for not doing anything helpful is “I’m too busy”. She isn’t too busy. She just doesn’t want to. Don’t accept the lie. She has the same amount of time in the day as everyone else. Substitute “don’t want to” for “I’m too busy” and it all becomes crystal clear.

              David, the comment about averaging out their behaviour is spot on. In the Wizard of Oz books, it explains how this is so confusing to children because the kids are trying to please the parents, but the parent is a moving target. Maybe the parent was in a good mood because they just got laid by the AP, came home, and presents for everyone! yay! But the kid thinks its because the parent loves them, and will just try try try to please the parent again in hopes that the attention continues. The reality it isn’t about the kids, it’s the narcissistic parents.

              I hope my comments help. It has been soooooo painful growing up the way I didn’t and not understanding what happened. I finally self diagnosed from reading a book that mentioned narcissistic parents. My siblings and I have all read them, talked to our therapists about them and find ourselves counseling others whose parents are just as bad. So many people do not believe you could have such a shitty parent. But, back to the original point. It is letting the lies go unchallenged which is the basis of crazymaking. The truth will set you free!! The truth for the kids is the narc parent doesn’t (and can’t) love them, so move on and get your emotional support from someone who can give it to you. xoxo

        • More good stuff, Nancy. Great stuff, in fact!

          Narcs will always be nice…some of the time. After all, you can’t manipulate if you are always a jerk. An enabler/co-dependent will then say, “Well, your father isn’t ALL bad….” Well, of course not! He’ll be good when he wants something/when it serves him. But as Chump Son knows well, these moments of goodness, this hopium, is very fragile, for the true narc always reserves the right to pull the rug from under family happiness. That’s why these turkeys often will ruin a holiday. I’d bet that many of us Chumps can remember special occasions when the narc in our life just decided to “narc out” on the family, effectively torching a nice meal, a Christmas or a birthday. That’s their power. So, DO NOT AVERAGE OUT THEIR BEHAVIOR. It’s not a question of finding the mean. They are not consistent characters. In fact, they thrive on chaos and inconsistency, on creating the brittle peace that keep everyone on edge and that they can break whenever they like. This is crap for kids, terrible training for future relationships, and can leave long-term hurts.

          Chump Son

          • Wow Chump Son, you really hit the nail on the head. My stbx has done exactly that! I can’t even remember the number of times I spent pleading with him not to ruin holidays, trips etc. I would be scurrying around like Edith Bunker with a proverbial fire extinguisher (probably a pail of spackle) to convince him to “behave”. OMG – sick.

            • The Edith Bunker comparison is perfect!

              These folks like to wreck things. Then they’ll be good for a while. Then they’ll wreck another picnic, another family day, another holiday again. It’s their nature. We have to stop hoping and get off the merry-go-round……

        • Nancy,

          You are very enlightening. Somehow, this genetics angle (that kids of narcs or cluster B disorders might be narcs too) is threatening to me. I am a single mother of a 13 year old happy-go-lucky boy. Till his 10th birthday I and ex were together. Then about 1 years went in being in and out of reconciliation with my serial cheater bastard ex. He finally abandoned us for good. Naturally, my son and I suffered from immense pain during the whole process.

          There are two things I wish to bring to your notice. One, that I have been generally strong and financially stable and kind of a single parent for my kid, even when things were okay (ex didn’t ever engage with his kid). Second, I constantly fear that the monster gene should not be inherited by my kid. Chumpy me is very close to my kid. I dread…you understand what! I can’t just imagine the consequences of being dumped by my son someday.

          Therefore, I wish to ask you as well as David (who fondly calls himself chump son of a narc father) whether this monster gene is really inherited? Whether having a sane and caring parent matter? Whether abandonment of a narc creates a vacuum in the kids? I mean…yes, till date I have no reasons to fear (my therapist also says that my fears are baseless) but I am still quite afraid at this possibility.

          • Good question. I don’t know if it’s nature or nuture. Kids brains are pretty plastic, so a narc parent might create a narc or a chump. And the origins of that narc probably lie in a crappy childhood. I just don’t think we’ll ever know.

            Of course, good parents can have not-nice kids. So, it’s a mystery. Even so, all told, being a good parent is a lot better than being a lousy one.

            That’s not a great answer, but that’s what I know. I think my own father had a crappy childhood and tried to improve on that. Even so, I don’t think he was some great guy. These n-folks get adapted to a certain way of being that is ultimately defensive and, at least in his case, was ultimately based in insecurity. In the end, we chumps have to resolve not to try to save them, not to try to compensate for them all the time, but to work on ourselves and model good behavior for our own kids.

            I just don’t have a good answer for your question on origins. I puzzle about the same myself. The thing is, as CL says, you don’t want puzzling about origins to keep you locked inside a bad relationship. You can leave the relationship/distance properly and then treat this as the purely intellectual question/scientific mystery it is, all the while shaking your head in “Meh,” when you get there. (I’m more there than ever, though not 100 percent.)

            Anudi, it seems to me that you are doing well by your son. You are going to be a lot more of an influence on him than his father. Teenage boys are, well, teenage boys, so expect him to be somewhat self-loving and annoying as a teen. So don’t overreact to things he does. But just be supportive, and I’m sure things will come out far better than they would have had you stayed. I’m sure of it. Good job! He sounds like a nice kid and he has a strong Mom. And that’s most important.

            • When I said that kids’ brains are pretty plastic, I was talking about really little kids.

              I think you guy will do just fine. I got a good feeling about him reading your letter.

      • I agree! Sounds just like my STBX. Bug fantasy about all of them living happily ever after.

        I left for my kids. There were two personalities in our house – my stbx who was/is a narcissist and me the chump. At 10 years old I could see my child turning into a narc just like his dad. It was amazing to me and it scared me to death. I finally got out two years later. And after we left I saw my youngest who by that time was 9 acting like me. Scared, taking the abuse, and apologizing for things that were never his fault, to his older brother. Thank goodness for a great counselor who has helped the three of us work through what my dickhead ex put us through. I still have to remind my youngest that he needs to stand up for himself. He never saw me stand up to their dad when we lived together so he needs to learn it.

        I feel alot of these characteristics are learned and are passed down through the generations. What I don’t understand is why if these “bad” traits are pointed out the person has no desire to change the course of their life as well as the lives around them. I am doing all I can to reverse things and know damn well the kids would be much worse off had we stayed.

    • Nancy,

      What a great comment. Chump Son finds a lot that he recognizes in your letter. Affairs weren’t the issue for Chump Son, but an explosive, foul-mouthed narc dad and an accommodating Mom certainly were. Well said!

      I’ve read both the books you mention, and they are great.

      I also had a very similar experience with my father. I was expected to “forgive.” Of course, there was never an apology. Forgiveness was just demanded, and I was seen as deficient when I didn’t provide it on demand. These folks are off. Period.

      I can also really identify with your father hiding behind your Mom, even as he stabbed her in the back. Anyway, you are smart to distance yourself. I finally did, too, though it took me too long (25 years) to realize just what an empty sack of selfish predictability I was dealing with.

      Chump Son

    • Yes – the last OW carried on about how she had always “told the truth” but my cheater was a LIAR! Of course, she knew from the beginning that he was married, had 3 kids, where we lived, where the kids went to school, etc.

      Of course he’s a liar – that is rule #1 for cheating.

  • So, this is what I don’t understand. My husband ( serial cheater), has plenty of seemingly real empathy for our pets, our children, and his patients. He simply cannot or will not muster any empathy for me about anything.

    • My guess is that he doesn’t really feel empathy towards pets, kids, etc. More likely he feels a certain possessiveness, a sense that those things are *extensions* of him or reflect on him and so provide him with ego kibbles. You? You’ve seen behind the narc mask and so provide him no kibbles. No kibbles means you’re of no use to him, so he’s disengaged from that relationship.

      FWIW, my ex-wife was pretty good at faking empathy in certain circumstances for short periods of time. She was great at bringing home abandoned kittens, for example. But when they peed on the rug or became less cute and cuddly or needed to visit the vet for their yearly shots, she was done. In contrast, true empathy requires an ability to put yourself in the shoes of another and do what’s best for them even when it runs contrary to what feels good in the moment. And my ex wife S-U-C-K-E-D at that.

    • He is in control in his relationships with pets, children and patients. He doesn’t have to share power in a reciprocal relationship like he should in a marriage.

    • I’ve found that my ex could have some empathy as long as certain conditions were fulfilled;

      1) the person or creature he might empathize with was right in front of him and quite obvious about their emotions
      2) the ex was in a magnanimous mood and had no special need for attention at that moment
      3) the cause of any distress had NO connection to the ex, it had to be something entirely external to him and his relationship w/the person/creature in front of him.

      Any empathy that depended on the ex figuring out how someone might feel when not right in front of him, or that might make the ex feel bad about himself or his behaviour, or that might require the ex to allow someone else to be centre stage when he ‘needed’ that (which was most of the time) was not going to happen.

      • It is interesting – one of my children used to say that my STBX loved them as long as they were doing what he wanted them to do or they did or accomplished something that reflected well on him and made him look good. At the time I thought she was exaggerating, but she had a lot more clarity than me.

        I hate that any child would have to believe that about a parent, but particularly my own.

  • When my ex and I went to the first day of a two day IMAGO group marriage thing he was unable to validate my feelings in the exercises. He told me it was difficult to do that when he felt I was wrong. The therapist told me it’s not unusual for a person to have difficulty with this part and I should give him time. These were exercises where you say things like “when you do X I feel Y” and your partner is supposed to validate what you are feeling, in other words empathize with you. My ex could not do this.

    I’ll say it again, going to an MC kept me stuck much longer than anything else because she was so invested in “saving” my marriage despite how obvious it was that there was nothing to save.

  • I would also like to point out that alcoholics use the same manipulative tactics that cheaters do. Go to an Alanon meeting and you’ll hear the same shit you do on this blog.

    My ex is an alcoholic, when he isn’t drinking heavily he seems to be a good person so his mother thinks his drinking is the problem. What I found, when he went crazy on the drinking, is that his manipulations and abuse cycles become more obvious because he cannot lie as well when he’s high. I think he is mentally ill and the drinking just makes it hard for him to hide his true self.

  • From the beginning of our marriage I saw symptoms of an emotional deficit in my ex. However, I’m an extremely emotional person and in some ways I appreciated that he was always so even-keel.

    Anyway, one of the first times I really noticed my ex seemed to be missing an emotion chip was when he asked his mother at a funeral why his grandmother was sobbing. She’d just lost her husband of 40 years, but he couldn’t understand why she was so upset. I barely knew the man and I was sobbing. My ex, on the other hand, never shed a tear. Weird!

    Another time was when 911 happened. Most people were pretty upset that day, including me. Businesses in our area closed early and everyone was glued to the TV. Family members were calling their loved ones just to touch base and connect. My ex, on the other hand, stayed at work all day, never called, and even worked late. Over the course of the following days I wanted to talk about my feelings regarding what had happened, but he didn’t. All he wanted was for his football games to come back on. WTF?

    Towards the end of our marriage when I was so upset (as well as our son), my ex reportedly asked his counselor why seeing us upset made him feel bad. It was like he was experiencing empathy for the first time, but didn’t understand what it was.

    I do know that in my ex’s family the boys were shamed for showing emotion. His father was a stern and quiet disciplinarian who never shed a tear, even at his own mother’s funeral. He rarely talked to other members of the family, just like his own father. I think there is a genetic component to my ex’s lack of empathy, but I definitely think the environment he was raised in contributed.

    Unfortunately I’ve seen some of these traits in my younger son when he was younger. However, his wife seems to have made a difference in his behavior. Recently he seems more empathetic and compassionate. However, he is less emotional overall than me or my older son.

    I also think that the balance of power in a relationship affects this kind of behavior. The best thing chumps can do is work on our self esteem and believe that we deserve to be treated well. Many of us had childhoods that predisposed us to putting up with unacceptable behavior in others.

  • Oh, and another thing I just remembered. Once, my ex came home early in his career and told me he’d figured out how to get people to do anything he wanted. I asked what that was and he said, “I just have to act like I care.” I remember thinking that was really strange, and telling hime “No, you REALLY do need to care.” I think he was very good at “acting” like he cared as long as he got kibbles. He was so good he could have won an academy award.

  • I think one of the reasons it was so easy for me to fall into and accept the relationship with my STBX is that I grew up having crazy presented to me as something to be overlooked if it was family. My sister has some undiagnosed disorder and when we were growing up I was told, “your sister’s just crazy.” We had different fathers and I was told she was a little off because her father was a little off. She acted out in all sorts of ways but she was never persona non grata – we all just dealt with it. You deal with crazy on a daily basis and you become desensitized to crazy, unless it is someone carrying a bloody dagger and dragging a dead body behind them.

    Then you become somewhat educated about psychology and certain types of disorders, but unless you major in psychology, you have just general knowledge with a few specifics. Of course, you’re meeting people all the time who raise the hair on the back of your neck and you avoid them as much as possible.

    However, when I met my STBX, he didn’t act approach me in a Hannibal Lechter type of way. In fact, he presented himself to me as someone who was against the unbridled, unscrupulous pursuit of wealth at the expense of the downtrodden (maybe because at the time he was in debt with a piss poor credit rating). He had decided to hold himself morally and scrupulously beyond the seduction of the greed of the masses and lead a worthy, humane and giving life. He didn’t look or sound disordered in the least. It didn’t look like the crazy and it didn’t feel crazy, at least not in the way I understood crazy. I had never read about or studied narcissistic personality disorder. I thought narcissists were people who thought too much of themselves – and that certainly wasn’t him – until it was.

    There were all kinds of red flags that are crystal clear in hindsight indicating that he was full of shit. Of course, I ignored all of them and began my long career as the Vice President in Charge of Spackle. Even when it started becoming clear to me that he would espouse one belief one minute and then spout a diametrically opposed belief the next minute and come home from work espousing some crazy conflagration of both beliefs because he had a conversation at work with some obviously maladjusted and misinformed co-(or ho-)worker, I believed that he had transcended other mortals. Even when he would complain of being depressed which he attributed to needing to live in a warmer climate and used that as excuse to troll the internet looking at porn and later, looking for prostitutes, I compensated by giving him massages, trying to coax him into more sex, helped him do his paperwork for his job, continued to work my full time job and tried to alleviate as much “pressure” from him as possible, wearing myself down and out. I spackled, glued and duct-taped the relationship as best I could. The not normal became my normal. And in the process, I lost myself and practically my own sanity. I was pathetic.

    I came out of the relationship on the verge of suicide (which HIS supposed desire to commit suicide he used as one of his excuses for why he needed to have the last two major affairs, even though I never saw him put one plan in place or make even a feeble attempt) and went immediately into IC when I bought pills and alcohol to actually follow through.

    Every day, even though I still struggle, I KNOW I am better and will get to an even better place. I am happy that I am able to have genuine feelings and emotions, even those that are painful. Even though I got what many would consider the raw end of the marriage fiasco, I’d still rather be me than him.

    • YOu want to know why your ex’s suicide threats were empty? Because you didn’t figure out for him how he could do it, easily and with little effort on his part. You really dropped the ball there. 🙂

      • I like your style Nord and you’re exactly right. I sometimes forget how I was the workhorse and the moving force in the relationship.

        • Next time he threatens this hand him a well-thought out plan, complete with tools.

  • I was married to a passive aggressive narcissist for 42 years. I finally left after affair number 3 . I now look back at my pathetic life with shame. How could I be so stupid and desperate to stay. I am free now and no one will ever treat me like a chump again. Has anyone done any research on whether these traits are genetic? My ex has 8 siblings , 5 sisters and 3 brothers. His father had an affair after 39 years of marriage exactly one year after my EH started his first affair . My FIL married the affair partner and divorced her after one year. He couldn’t take care of himself so married again . That poor woman would listen to her husband call my MIL after to much drinking and he would tell his first wife how much he loved her. I have to give her credit my MIL would tell him to go to hell and hang up on him. He did this until he died. On to the ex sister in laws. 3 of them have had 3 marriages each, all marriages ended from their affairs. They marry the AP who is always a married man who leaves his wife and children for them The youngest SIL is on husband #2 again they were both married and “found love and divorced their spouses. One SIL is still married after 38 years and happy. Brothers are all on spouses number #2 all again first marriages ending due to cheating. One brother is gay , married a woman and cheated on her with a man !! My therapist said there is some family dynamic I was never aware of. None of them find anything wrong with what they have done including my ex . As one of the whore sisters said “husbands are not stolen they are lost , you need to learn how to please your man” Sick sick sick Hugs to all of you guys I wish I had found you earlier you have saved my sanity by letting me see I am not alone

    • My ex’s family has quite a bit of cheating: mother, father, sister…all have cheated…and all justify their actions.

    • My ex’s father is exactly the same kind of emotionally abusive, serially-adulterous fucktard as the ex, with the addition of violent as well (my ex tried that out, but I called the police the first time, then years later left w/the kids to a shelter after a second try. Bullies do sometimes respect clear boundaries).

      And I knew that, while his mother is a much nicer person in general, her side of the family wasn’t a lot better – one of the APs while she was married to the ex’s father was her own sister! And I recently found out that SHE (ex’s mother) is now an AP (at age 67 – yikes), but thinks it’s OK ‘because he and his wife have an understanding’. Ah, yeah …. Was it his wife who told you that?

      I can see how the ex might grow up thinking all this was pretty normal – and he was entitled! He managed to say the right things for a few years, but then it all crumbled ….

  • Is this yet another excuse as to why they behave the way they do? I am not buying into it. They know what they are doing, they make the conscious decision to do it, they do not care about anyone else but themselves. Yes, they do feel empathy, just not for us or for the AP even.

  • I think lack of empathy is exactly what is happening with my STBX cheater. He is not a great fit for the NPD stuff, though I fully agree cheating in general has narc features, always. He just really doesn’t get how anyone else feels, and so what’s wrong with at least making himself feel “better.” (He does definitely treat cheating and lying about it, as his Drug of Choice.) He finds angry people – me in particular – very, very hard to endure. He just wants to run away. He’s taken to telling me during the breakup that he will not “subject himself to my invective.”

    It’s truly a lack, because he was rather horribly (wonderfully, lol) dumped by a GF last fall and he had a massive breakdown – the breakdown is what led to my discovery of his nearly 3 decades of cheating on me. Yet, he cannot even remotely understand that I am WAY WAY more hurt, than he was by that instance of his GF getting a clue that he never had any intention of divorcing his wife, and starting to see someone else – and he landed in psych care for a month! But me – no, he doesn’t want to hear that things are not great for me, after all this trauma. He doesn’t have to “subject himself to invective.”

    Um . . . K. How very Above Consequences of you.

    Furthermore, he has pretty significant PTSD from military service (…he does come by that honestly, but he left it untreated for an inexcusable length of time.) He does, of course, cite it as why he “had” to cheat (gag.) (Also, way to minimize the work all the non-cheater, non-abusive military members deal with their PTSD.)

    All the trauma of my discoveries and bomb after bomb that dropped on me? He does not relate.

    I think this really opens my eyes a bit more.

    • Don’t buy into that shit about how he can’t deal with your anger. Review the times you have gotten angry and I guarantee he said shit to stir you up. My ex did that all the time until I figured it out and stopped reacting. He was telling me and everyone else I had “anger management” issues – that is bullshit, I never even raised my voice to him. Did I get angry? damn strait I did, so would anyone listening to him wax rhapsodic over his OW.

      • I got blamed for being angry and furious. Fuck that. I raised my voice, I screamed, I went a bit nuts. Why? Because my ex had been lying to me for years while I blissfully carried on, making plans for our future and doing all the heavy lifting and when I found out it was all a joke I was ENRAGED. And he couldn’t deal with it either. He actually said that my anger made him realise how great final OW was. Now she’s getting pissy at his shit, of course, but I think he’ll deal with it for as long as she’ll hold on.

  • Although my former marriage is a huge source of embarrassment for me now, my biggest concern is the long-term effects our fucked-up relationship has had and will have on our three sons.

    I discovered early on in our marriage that X was wired wrong. His imposter act is good for about two – three years, and that includes both personal and professional relationships. He’s on his seventh unemployment “vacation.” He gets together with his “best friends” every few years, tops. He is incapable of sustaining any long-term intimacy.

    But now I realize I put up with all his bullshit for so long because I am wired wrong, too. Our coupling served to feed each others relationship deficiencies.

    For me, my faulty wiring started when I was a kid. I am the second of six girls, and my father had his favorites. Try as I did (and boy did I try!), I was rarely one of his “good girls.” Add my inherent personality traits, and voila! The result was that I dated many losers and married one who — after an 18-month honeymoon — treated me like shit for the next 18 years. The feeling of inferiority is learned easily and early. In every one of my romantic relationships, I was fearful of not being good enough and abandonment. That fear kept me going back to the losers for more abuse more times than I care to admit. Talk about humiliating.

    I was 48 years old when I finally stood up to my father and told him he couldn’t treat me like trash anymore. I had spent the day taking care of him, and he snapped something nasty at me when I urged him to stay off of his feet while I went for his medicine. Talking back to him was the scariest thing I ever did up to that moment in my life.* The gut wrenching, face-burning, heart-racing, facing fear sensation was terrifying. It was the exact same feeling I had when I confronted my X about his lying and cheating two years later.

    Now, I worry about the damage I have done to my sons. I fear they think it is normal and expected for women to serve them, and that they can do whatever they want without consideration for her feelings or wants or needs. When my teens talk about girls, I hear a lack of respect or value for women that goes beyond today’s misogynistic lyrics and reality TV shows. And I hear so many of their father’s distorted, hateful, downright scary beliefs about my shortcomings and women in general that are regurgitated as facts coming out of my sons’ mouths.

    So, any ideas on how I cut those bad connections and begin the process of rewiring my kids? Or is it too late?

    * Dad sent me flowers the next day and called me to thank me for helping him and apologize for being such a thoughtless ass. It was a transformative moment for us, and we enjoyed a wonderful relationship until he died three weeks later. I am thankful for my moment of bravery and grateful for his heartfelt apology, both which put our relationship in an eternal state of grace.

    • It’s never too late Chutes! Speak to your boys. Teens are tough to begin with, I remember what I was like as a teenager. The hormones are raging. Teach them to respect women and explain to them what healthy love and happiness are.

      Engage them to speak with you to see where their heads are at.

      As long as there is breath in you there is always hope as long as your boys are open to listening to you.

  • Today has been a rough day as I think I move forward, I then suddenly fall back. The crazy these Fuckers cause to us is so crazy in itself. I haven’t felt anxious in months or like I was going crazy with a million thoughts and emotions going on at the same time.

    I was actually feeling better and ready to move on and start being happy again and the boom! This shit they leave with us is beyond bad and unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. The pain is so deep sometimes that I don’t know what to do with it except to try and figure out how the hell to make it go away. Then other days, I feel like myself again and happy and excited and laughing. The rollercoaster has to stop and I keep telling myself it will but WOW!!!

    When I read everyone’s stories and pain it overwhelms me sometimes as to the reality of what these Fuckers do to so many people. People who loved them.

    Some Days I feel so strong and others I feel like I am at a new level of realization and pain of what happened and it sets me back.

    Am I going mad or are all of you experiencing or have experienced this emotional rollercoaster and dance of four steps forward and two steps back?

    I really need a reply to this one today because all I want to do is cry hysterically.

    • Deborah,

      I don’t know if it will actually make you feel any better, but yes, I feel the same way from time to time and I never know when it will occur. It has only been a few months for me out of the house. I have been NC for about 6-7 weeks, as in I have not spoken with him, have not responded to the 1 or 2 text messages he has sent, things like that. I have been doing well in IC, making progress, coping, some days better than others, but a little over a week ago, I had a full out panic attack. It was so bad I was about to call my IC and request being put into an inpatient facility. For about an hour I felt afraid to leave the house (an episode of agoraphobia, which is just another manifestation of anxiety). I breathed and talked my way through it and forced myself to go to work, just refused to give in to it. It was not easy and I felt slightly disoriented the entire day.

      I have mentioned my PTSD symptoms in a couple of posts – they are very real and can be very severe. I no longer have a normal sleep pattern, so when possible, I just allow myself to sleep when I sleep. Some days I function on 3-4 hours of sleep. My concentration can be very poor, but not consistently poor like it was a couple of months back. I don’t look too far into the future because the picture is murky and thinking about it triggers too much fear and anxiety at this point. I have to force myself to look no further than a day or two ahead, and some days not even that.

      My IC pointed out (when I expressed my frustration regarding my inability to cope in my usual way) that I had experienced a severe trauma and, no, I was not going to be able to just rely on my usual coping mechanisms. The mental and emotional abuse was severe and carried out over almost 28 years and is not going to be overcome in a couple of months. Even though I am mentally clear that I no longer want to or can have a relationship with that pig from the bowels of hell (sorry Pigs!), I am still emotionally tethered to that relationship. My IC pointed out that those ties cannot just be severed and will take time to “unravel.” She pointed out that if I did not have the internal fortitude and the coping mechanisms I did have how much worse off I would be. The fact that you are able to express your feelings and frustration and are not being carted off screaming in an ambulance means that you are actually doing better than a lot of people.

      Yes Deborah, this feel likes hell on some days, still too many days for my liking. When you are feeling low and frustrated, sometimes it helps to look back to where you began and measure the PROGRESS you have made – how many days you have laughed your old laugh, the things that you used to enjoy that you have been able to begin enjoying again – even if it is not every day. You will discover that even though you may be not be where you want to be, you are further along than when you began. The fact that I am still here and functioning at all is a blessing and a miracle. Let’s just take it one day at a time, one step at a time and even if we take some steps backward, the most important thing is that we keep traveling forward.

      You will get through this, as will I. We will not give those knaves and scoundrels we were married to the satisfaction of seeing us fail, now will we? They’ve taken our past, corrupted our present, but we will not give them our future. Peace to you.

      • Chump Princess,
        Just continue doing your brave work…I believe…you’ll be okay in some time. Cheers!

    • Deborah,

      It’s been more than 18 months and while it’s a zillion times better i still get panic attacks every so often, I still think about it too much and I still wake up some mornings having either had a bad dream (or worse, a good one) about the ex or else I simply wake up after too little sleep and am scared to death.

      But it really does get better and you will be ok. I’m good most days but I certainly have my moments where I am completely knocked over all over again.

      • Thanks Nord for making me realize the severity of what happened and that it takes time and work to make it better.

        I still can’t understand how these people just go from one relationship to another like nothing happened at all. They stick their faces and bodies into a relationship and then before you know they are somewhere else.

        It’s like taking picture with a card board cut out not a person. Anyone can stand next to the card board cut out and take a picture and nothing changes for the card board cut out only for the person who is taking the picture with them at that moment.

    • Deborah,

      The roller coaster is real and I think it goes on and on and on for quite some time. I’m one year out from D-day and I still go up and down. I think you just have to realize this is the way it’s going to be and not fight it. It’s okay to feel bad, so when I do have a down day, I just feel bad, and I don’t beat myself up b/c of it. I know that tomorrow might bring a happy day.

      I also come here and read when I’m feeling weak; I look up old posts to. It helps keep me in the right direction when I’m feeling love towards my pig.

      It feels so good to laugh because I just wondered some days if I ever would again, so meet up with some friends or go to a funny movie. It changes your whole day the second you feel geniune happiness about something.

      Hugs to you!

    • Deborah, I’m way far out (divorce final 1.5 years ago, bogus reconciliation ended over two years ago) and I STILL have many days struggling with the disbelief, the pain, the anger and the general WTF happened. I get mad at myself because I really think I should be over it by now, yet not a day goes by I don’t think about the ex narc husband and the wicked things he did, and continues to do.

      It is definitely a roller coaster. I think it gets easier over time, but many of us have been permanently scarred. Though the wound heals, the scar will always remain as a reminder of the hell we went through.

    • Deborah, I understand how you are feeling. I remember one thing that helped me early on was to be like a little kid and draw smiley faces on the calendar when I had a good day. It helped me when I was having a bad day to see that I’d had good ones before, and to realize they would come again. Eventually I started having more good days than bad. It just takes time. Someone told me that going through this is like having open heart surgery, and takes about a long to recover from. A person who’s just had surgery will have setbacks as they’re healing, and you will too. It’s normal. Hang in there!

        • The wild rollercoaster ride is very real and goes on for quite a while.
          It DOES slow down, the highs and lows are not as bad after a while.
          Best advice I can give is to be kind to yourselves. It’s one day at a time.
          The degree of trauma we go through is huge. We are survivors, kicking and fighting against the shit sandwich being stuffed down our throats, but coming out on the other side of it does bring some peace after some time.
          I somehow turned a corner a few months ago – it’s due to this site – and time.
          Sending blessings and Care to you All!

  • Thank you Chump Princess! Peace to you as well!!! I do know we will get through this but today just sucks, I don’t know what else to say other than I don’t ever wish people bad because I do believe in Karma but I hope someone stabs him to death and before they do, I hope they beat the living shit out of him. I would love to watch that happen.

    He is the most revolting disgusting pig I have ever come in contact with in my life and that fact that he had me fall in love with him after I wasn’t even initially attracted to him, makes my stomach turn and burn with acid. The fact that I still am dealing with the shit bomb he left me with while he jumped into a brand new shiny relationship in a month or less of my leaving our relationship makes me ill.

    I wish us all strength and happiness with all of my heart!!!

  • I am beginning to realize that my ex was/is lacking in his ability to feel empathy but I think it is somehow compensated for in his ability to feel entitled.

    • They go hand in hand, don’t they? And while the low empathy may be at least partly neurological, the entitlement is learned for sure. But it works so well for them! As somebody said above, a few years in each relationship or at each job, then they have to move on, because people start to figure them out, the sparkle starts to wear off, people start to expect effort and cooperation ….

  • “It’s like asking a goldfish to knit a sweater.” Damn CL…you still crack me up. I haven’t visited your blog in many months, mostly because I just needed a break from all things related to infidelity. I was on overload. But I decided to check in tonight, and just had to tell you how much I love this post. My stbxh has 3 brothers and they are all decent men, good husbands, and excellent fathers. So I guess that let’s his late mother off the hook 🙂 I already knew there was something inherently wrong with my narc’s empathy-meter, but it’s nice to get scientific validation. LOL

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