I have a question: my soon-to-be-ex is a megalomaniac, socio-psycho-pathic compulsive liar. He lacks empathy and borders on sadism. No, no border. He’s a sadistic sick bastard and remains utterly unapologetic, and justifies, deflects or plain doesn’t care about who he hurts on the way. “Every guy” has 3,000 hits of live lesbian butt sex on his computer (you stupid b*tch.) He is an alcoholic bully who barely hid his cocaine use… or his cheating near the end. When I found clues (baggies of coke, bitch’s britches) he either gaslighted or acted imperious and unaffected. I don’t know how he has time to work but he does — so he can miser away “HIS MONEY” and rage if anyone implies he’s less than generous. He’s a sparkle plenty Industry Turd, which comes with its own dimension of narcissism. He is an augmented narcissist.
Anyway, the question: There’s a tendency in this consciously uncoupled culture to overuse the diagnosis of the week or toss about half-assed concepts based loosely somewhere between Dr. Phil and the Urban Dictionary. When the psych told me I was suffering from P.T.S.D. it sounded so self-indulgent and trendy I was embarrassed. But as it turns out, true malignant narcissism and psychopathy are serious hazards that wreak havoc on those of us in its wake — whether the owners cheat or not. Not that cheating alone isn’t enough, but it seems like almost all of our cheaters here suffer some form of this?
I read a ridiculous article yesterday about “thriving after an affair.” The author’s Donna Reed approach to this abysmal prospect made me wonder: Is there any such an animal, just a normal guy who fucked up one night when he was drunk, say, who is not by definition narcissistic or sociopathic? Not that I’d stick around in any case, but I wondered your thoughts about this.
What about men who cheat and their poor wives don’t have a clue after 30 years? Maybe they cheated but don’t necessarily have a dual diagnosis? I guess it’s possible, but cheating — just like FORGIVING, Mz Thrive After The Affair — is a choice. There are undeniable traits of narcissism in cheaters, but they couldn’t all be DSM diagnosable… could they??
Sadistic? Unapologetic? Compulsive liar? My advice is: don’t wait around for a diagnosis — get the hell away. You don’t need to know what flavor of fucked up it is, you just need to know if this behavior is acceptable to you in your relationship.
What I like about Dr. George Simon’s work is that he untangles this particular skein so well. He views it all through the lens of “character disorder.” And character is something that is built over time, and while I suppose it’s more malleable and influenceable than personality (which you’re born with), it’s a slow thing to change. I like looking at this problem in terms of character disorder because it focuses purely on the ACTIONS of the person — the way their character is being demonstrated. Versus the more nebulous idea that they may be this or that diagnosis (NPD, Borderline, Histrionic, etc.)
The problem with a diagnosis like “sex addict” for instance, is that by giving it the label of addiction or mental illness some chumps will excuse the behavior. Oh, I can’t hold him responsible for his actions — he’s a sex addict. Implied there is that his actions are not a matter of choice, or personal responsibility, but part of a larger syndrome that He Just Can’t Help. He’s under the sway of powerful FOO issues that compel him to do Bad Things.
And being chumpy, by God, it’s our job to help, right? We can’t let them down! In sickness and in health! We’ll just get him the proper diagnosis and the right sort of help, and this can be fixed. Chumps buy the cake speak sex addicts spew that really they’re very sorry and need help, so just hang with them (and don’t impose any consequences) while they work through this ugly patch. What kind of person walks away from a sick person who wants their help? A HORRIBLE person, that’s who! And so a chump stays stuck.
Now, a cheater gets a diagnosis like sociopath or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, okay, there’s more a sense of Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter. But so few of these freaks get diagnoses. Why? Because they don’t tend to stroll into shrink’s offices looking for help. (Perfect people don’t need help.) If they wind up there at all, it’s probably because some chump dragged them by their ear. If that happens, being manipulative FWs, they’ll use therapy as a way to pick up new terms to mindfuck you with, or they’ll work on snowing the therapist that their cheating and lying is all your problem, and you’re the one who’s really sick. Or equally at fault, take your pick. Sadly, from what I read here, that happens all too often. Shrinks don’t see through the disordered. (Again, Dr. Simon riffs on this topic quite a bit — you can read more at his blog.)
So that puts the chump who is faced with a freak in the position of doing the arm chair diagnosis. Gee, it looks like a freak, it cheats like a freak, and it checks 12 items off on the Hare list. I think it’s a sociopath!
If you find yourself checking items off the Hare list and having A-ha! moments — your relationship is over, okay? Get OUT. Quit untangling the skein of their effupedness. RUN!
Now to the question — is there a mythical cheater who just has a one-night stand and is immediately very sorry? It’s possible. I think cheating is on a spectrum. And I also believe infidelity is culturally influenced. In some places, it’s tolerated and not considered all that aberrant. (Well, only for men, of course.) And consider, plenty of awful things have been culturally sanctioned that we now find repellant — slavery, beating children, homophobia, etc. Was everyone who hit their kid with a belt mentally ill? Every slave holder? Everyone who laughed at a minstrel show? No. They were part of a sick culture.
But even in times of sick culture — there are those who demonstrate empathy and those who do not. People whose heart goes out to the victims. Slavery had the Abolitionist movement. I imagine there must be mothers across time who felt if you hit my kid, I’ll take you OUT. And people who didn’t laugh at minstrel jokes. There are people who will always demonstrate character, even if it means swimming against the cultural tide, because they see the hurtful costs associated with certain accepted behaviors.
That’s why I think it’s important for chumps to speak up and describe the real costs and fallout from being cheated on. Drop the euphemisms and be specific. That’s how we change the narrative, CN.
In every age, in every culture, there have been narcissists and sociopaths. And my opinion is that these people are wired this way and have been since time immortal. Some people used their lack of empathy and cool reserve to become field surgeons, and some use it to become murderous dictators, and some get rich on Ponzi schemes. But these people have always existed. I think we’re kidding ourselves to think we’re all neurologically the same, and see the world in the same way. We don’t. Some people choose to be predatory. Without adaptive anxiety, you have some advantages.
How do we protect against freaks? By judging people’s demonstrated character over time. Not their sparkle. Not the pretty words they use. But by how they treat us and how they treat others. Do they connect? Do they feel empathy? Do they put me or my children in harm’s way? Do they take responsibility for their actions?
When we know OUR boundaries, it doesn’t matter what manner of freak you’re dealing with — the one-night stand drunk or the practiced serial cheater — if you know yourself, you know what you’ll tolerate or not tolerate. You see what it is, and not its “potential.” You’ll know your worth, and you won’t stick around for abuse.
I think the labeled freaks, the sex addicts, the NPDs, the sociopaths have agency. But also, it’s not personal. They’d play ANYONE for a kibble. You looked like a good mark, so if it wasn’t you, it would be someone else. It’s just what they do. It’s liberating to realize that. I’m quite certain my cheating ex was as crazy as a March hare. He deliberately conned me and hurt me. And he did it to women before me, and women after me. I don’t need to know what DSM flavor of crazy he is — I just know my life is so much better without him.
Is every cheater an NPD? Who knows? I doubt it. But everyone who cheats has behaved narcissistically. Infidelity is based on entitlement. If you’re comfortable with entitlement, if it doesn’t nag at your conscience enough to make you change your behavior, if you can carry on a double life, and you can react to the discovery of years of infidelity with rage and blameshifting — you’re a piece of shit.
That’s my diagnosis. And here’s my prescription — leave the cheater, gain a life.
This is an updated post.