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How does one spot a midlife crisis vs. narcissist or psychopathology?
…I think my husband is also a narcissist in addition to MLC because he seems to feel no remorse.
My answer to this question is going to be a bit round-about. There are Haters out there who are not only negative toward cheaters—I get that—but toward Standers as well. Apparently we are weak and delusional doormats living in denial. As a Stander you sort of need to accept that sort of thing; it comes with the territory. But I recently read a comment on another blog where the commenter claimed that maybe it is our own arrogance and that perhaps there is more than one narcissist in the situation. Though the commenter could have been to the alienator, to me the context seemed to be about the betrayed spouse.
Really? My husband had an affair and my simple (and not uncommon) desire to repair and save our marriage somehow means there is some higher likelihood that I am not merely delusional, a narcissist? I get the delusional or in denial accusation; it has validity for many, but narcissism? Seriously? Well now that sounds logical—pardon my sarcasm. Clearly the commenter knows nothing about narcissism.
Sin or Psychopathology?
Or perhaps it is not my desire to save my marriage, but my insistence that Chuck’s sin of adultery does not mean that he is severely flawed beyond repair.
This same commenter included a generalization of betrayers that is unfortunately common. They are character disordered.
Again…really? If that is the case, then we are all character disordered because there are many sins we have all committed even if adultery is not counted among them. Though it is true that men and women with character and personality disorders cheat—and probably at higher rates and I have confidence that such people are more likely to be serial cheaters—it is in no way even close to the truth that cheating is a litmus test for a character disorder. Give me a break! That’s like saying that all rectangles are squares. Um, some rectangles have two unequal adjacent sides.
A man who was monogamous for the first 30 years of his marriage has an affair and suddenly this means he is without question character disordered? Those first 30 years of monogamy and stability in a loving marriage mean nothing? Or a woman who has an affair in the first 5 years of her marriage and then she and her husband work together to repair their marriage and she never has an affair again, but according to the generalization, she has a character disorder. Her years of monogamy and efforts to make amends were apparently irrelevant.
It’s absurd generalizations like these that make the Unconditionals so important. Where is Forgiveness in that mix? I saw only a biased judgment based on the pain felt by experiencing betrayal. I get that pain, really I do, but I am not going to let it make me bitter and I am not going to let it give me a superiority complex—I am not a better person than Chuck because I remained sexually faithful. Trust me, I have flaws and I’ve sinned too—and like any flawed human, I continue to sin.
Personality Disorder or Midlife Crisis?
So back to the main question: Is it a personality disorder or midlife crisis? Or could it even be both–someone with a personality disorder who is having an MLC?
Honestly, it’s relatively simple. Personality disorders are evident in early adulthood—teens or twenties. Has your spouse been exhibiting the behaviors listed in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual for a personality disorder since adolescence or early adulthood? Or are these relatively recent behavioral changes? Unlike a personality disorder, a midlife crisis is not permanent. Many consider personality disorders to be permanent conditions which may always need management.
But there are some of you out there who are dealing with a spouse with a personality disorder and/or instead of MLC. Maybe you’ve ignored or dismissed the signs, or maybe they were subtle while life was going well. So think about the times when life was not going well, how was your spouse then? I recommend that you review the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s description of Personality Disorders for a more clinical and accurate understanding; what I am going to review are merely some of the things I might look for or notice in someone’s story.
Have you noticed the following behaviors or attitudes at various times throughout the years you have been together? You may notice them as a regular part of who they are now in MLC, but look to history. In addition, do you now use the words violent or cruel to describe your MLCer on a regular basis? It is normal for the spouse of an MLCer to describe their spouse’s actions with those words, but typically those extreme words are used infrequently and they are specific to isolated incidents rather than as generalizations of the MLCer themself.
- Lack of concern or caring during your or someone else’s illness—no empathy.
- Anger—possibly volatile (emotionally or physically) when things do not go their way.
This may seem out of character to you, but it is actually regular pattern.
- Demonizes and blames previous partners for all that went wrong in the relationship
They are now or will do this to you as well.
- Bullying or threatening behavior, may escalate to physical violence.
- Able to wear a mask—so others will not see the Monster.
- The need to win at all costs.
In a marital break-up this may mean…
- Legal Harassment: may keep the LBS in court for a variety of petty or even non-existent issues.
- Refusal to meet in the middle or agree on terms.
- Accusations against the LBS such as unfit parent or spousal abuse—extreme projection.
- Wants to punish the LBS: hopes for the spouse to die, be in pain, be alone and without love, get what they deserve…
- It’s personal. MLCers are not vengeful; rather their actions against the LBS are motivated toward self-preservation. A narcissist may simply be motivated simply to make the LBS you miserable.
- Continues to escalate and escalate and escalate…
Monster is not typically a state an MLCer lives in for the entire crisis or even all of Escape & Avoid. Monster is a self-preservation strategy rather than a delight in cruelty. If you recognize these behaviors, but they have been present for an extended uninterrupted period and the motivation seems to be to delight in cruelty, you may be dealing with something more serious than MLC.
MLCers may seem cold and emotionless, but often that is a façade to cover extreme emotionality; they attempt being cold but maintaining the mask is difficult. Narcissists, on the other hand, may be emotionally flat, though they are expert mimics and can fake having feelings and emotions, but when they appear cold and emotionless, they really are.
Yes, MLCers get worse because they go deeper into the tunnel and it is sometimes their behavior that worsens, and sometimes the LBS’s pain as the affair continues. A narcissist will escalate in order to keep the LBS’s attention and focus and to make the LBS suffer.