I live with a woman who is much younger than me and who is a sufferer of both NPD and post Traumatic Stress Disorder – the latter brought about by rape when she was twenty and a subsequent “engagement” in which she was mentally and physically abused. I fear that the PTSD may have deeper roots – and that her abuse may have started in her childhood. Outwardly a most attractive woman in her late twenties, I realised eighteen months into knowing her that she had NPD.
Having saved her from her abusive “engagement”, we fell in love and we moved from Europe to Australia. At first the relationship together was strained – she displayed all the usual NPD traits – I almost sent her home a few times. We’d always agreed we could each have friends of the opposite sex, and as an attractive woman she used this to her advantage in building up a social network of good looking friends. She constantly tested her boundaries and on one occasion I asked her calmly to either treat me as an equal to her friends or leave by the next Sunday.
The strategy worked and she stayed; I knew she “needed” me and was reluctant to give up the one person who she could trust to feed her ego. Passing the responsibility to her to take action was the key, and the beginning of a long healing process.
I am a mature person – a divorcee with two young grandchildren so my role is essentially one of a carer and surrogate parent. Her PTSD means she cannot engage in sexual activity and whilst she is most flirtatious, this is just “snacking” to feed her ego. I’d love the relationship to be physical, yet the fact it is not does not matter to me.
Despite the twin whammies of NPD and PTSD, the relationship does work – and well. There is a strong glue which holds us together, and I “understand” her. When I met her I realised that her self-esteem was very low and I have spent almost five years building it back up. This is a gradual process and she is only too aware that conflict could destroy all we have achieved at a stroke. She avoids arguments and we can now tackle big problems by discussing them. She values highly the life we have build up together.
To keep sane, I have to live at two levels – a “lower being” – my position as an emotional provider when with her, and an “upper being” surveying things from above and keeping a constant check on reality.
It takes enormous patience, energy and strength of character, plus unconditional love to make it all work; yet I do see progress. I never expect her to be fully cured, but I have seen some big improvement in her character over the last six months.
First is anger – from a desperately angry person when I met her she has at last “chilled” and takes much more in her stride – with a calmer attitude she has a really good foundation on which she can build a new improved character.
Second is her self-esteem. Whilst outwardly over-confident, her inner self esteem is building slowly; serendipitously she works with victims of trauma and torture, so exposure to their world is making her value what she really has and her “socially worthwhile” job makes all the difference.
Third is empathy and respect. We’re down from the peak of emotional abuse – heading towards a calmer period where at last she now asks how my day has been and shows some kindness and appreciation. There is at last a sense of “we” and “us”.
Fourth is trust. I think this has been the hardest for her – but I see her trust is building quickly now.
I challenge her to do more, extend her own boundaries, support her and tell her when I feel uncomfortable with situations. It’s all about communication – I never say don’t – this is a red rag to a bull – I just let her know why I think it may be better of she doesn’t. Ironically, a recent push into modelling has been a great development – what better way feed her need for constant admiration and as her appointed “manager” she has unwittingly placed me on a higher plain.
Provided there is no physical abuse, I’ve found it is possible to live with someone with NPD. It’s been a challenge but like most challenges, immensely rewarding when it works.