A few days ago I received this email from Jacob who lives in Yorkshire, England, who read this blog and decided to tell his story. Only names have been changed.
I have come to a gradual realisation that I am indeed a narcissist. I am 57 and alone in the world except for my dog who is invaluable company since he is about the only one who is pleased to see me these days. Up until last year I was successful in IT sales but after a brush with pancreatitis I was sick once too often and I got made redundant. Fortunately for me there was a good package and I can manage financially, but in other ways I am lost, having screwed up my relationships and my dad is too old and lives on the south coast, over 200 miles away.
I know I don’t have the full-blown personality disorder since I have functioned moderately well in my life, but all though my life may narcissistic behaviour has been like a troll haunting me but I didn’t see it until recently. I guess, being older and having time on my hands and I was given a couple of books and read them. Dr Craig Malkin’s book “Rethinking Narcissism” really made sense to me and now I think I have an opportunity to live healthily with my tendencies.
How It All Began
My dad Stephen was born into a mining community in the north east, he was bright and got into grammar school. His dad, a miner and a decorated veteran of WW1 committed suicide when he was 18, killing any chance that he could go to university. Instead he went to work in the local “tablet factory” to support his mum and younger sister. My mum, Gwen, equally bright had been the eldest child of a large family and had been made to care for her younger siblings whilst her mum was shipped off to a mental hospital.
They were married at 21 and I came along 10 months later in 1960. Piecing it together now, it was clear they never wanted to be parents since they had not had a carefree youth and bore frustrated ambitions. I became to them an object through which they could live out those ambitions. Fortunately, I was bright at school and for years they pushed and pushed me to do better. I passed the entrance exam for grammar school, passed all my “O levels” at A grades, but nothing was ever good enough to earn praise and I don’t ever remember them saying they loved me or were proud of me.
Even when I joined the Army cadet force, but even there became a pressure to stand out and be the best. I got to be the youngest instructor cadet they had ever had. I used to go to my grannies often since she lived close by. It was carefree for a while until I had to watch my aunty Sue drink her “lemonade” out of a tea cup, begin to slur her words and fall asleep. She died of cirrhosis when I was in my mid 20’s. She too had “let the side down” and no one ever spoke about her alcoholism and death again. There was no examination in the family of what could have been done to help just blame for her weakness and I accepted it.
Starved of love at home I sought it elsewhere. Instead of studying for my entrance exams into medical school I spent my late teens cycling miles around the country and having sex with as many girls as I could. Sometimes this involved shinning up drainpipes in the middle of the night and “performing” after a 20-mile gruelling bike ride. On one memorable occasion, I managed three in one night and it was my boast for years. I was addicted to sex and attention. I was small (only 1.67 metres) and this made me work even harder on my body. I ran half marathons including some up the sides of mountains and trained on a wet sandy beach. I had a great body so it was easy to attract the girls.
Needless to say, I failed my A levels and was never allowed to forget it. Any love I was given by my parents was conditional on exceptional performance and I blew it big style.
I got a job in the NHS as an information specialist. I worked hard. But the best part of all was the feedback I got “Jake, you always manage to sort something out” and “You can always rely on Jake”. My job was the centre of my life, so much so that when my first child was due to be born by Caesarean I left my wife in the hospital waiting to be wheeled down to the operating theatre because my pager went off. I lied to her and said I wanted to get some lunch. I just got back in time to see my child born. I didn’t stick around for my paternity leave either. Paternity leave was for pussies in my book.
I went on working but carrying a photo of our daughter so that the female nurses who knew me would think I was super dad. My family loved me I am sure but I look back with shame now to think how I put them in second place because in technical terms they offered less “narcissistic supply” than my job. So many evenings I was the last to leave work and the first to arrive.
Somehow my wife’s love was not enough I needed more attention than she and the kids could give. It was the only thing we rowed about and I could block it out so easily with the heaps of praise I got at work for my “performance”. I was a workaholic and the payback was great.
I left the NHS for a B2B sales post that had an international dimension to it. I was a superstar my job was as a technical specialist in pre-sales so I had to be both knowledgeable and personable. In this much I wasn’t your typical narc working for “win lose” and my handshake was softer the Trump’s. I had to smooch them. As the sales got harder especially after the crash in 2008/9 and I could no longer run due to arthritis, I began to drink and gamble. The booze was a compensatory addiction and would silence the voices in my head that “I was not good enough” similarly the thousands of pounds I put into slot machines bought me oblivion. I somehow went from king to nave in the space of a few years. I had spent my 20s through 40s believing I was invincible and someone special but as I grew older the disapproving voice of my father resounded in my head.
The emptiness I had run away from swallowed me whole. When my wife found out I had gambled and drunk away all our savings and endowments she left me and still I didn’t stop not even when I became sick.
What goes around comes around
Strangely, life offered me a second chance in the form of a former member of staff of mine I had been kind to him, not out of the goodness of my heart but because he was good technically and I knew he could dig me out of problems. He had left the NHS just after me and had decided to go to university and read psychology as a mature student. Just after I was made redundant we bumped into each other and caught up on the last 16 years.
Very gently he explored with me his long-held conviction that I had narcissistic tendencies and it probably wasn’t my fault. I left the coffee shop and cried all the way home, probably the first time ever. A few days later he called round with the book. I haven’t seen him since but since reading the book, I am beginning to understand me. I can’t get my marriage back, but maybe I can build a relationship with my daughter. There is hope.
- Dr Craig Malkin: Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists Harper Perennials 2016