Perfect, After All?
Perfect, After All?
Many years ago, I requested that my then-husband and I attend marital therapy. After years and years of covert, hidden abuse, I thought I was losing my mind. I had reached a point where my fragile sanity was questioning whether I was making the abuse up.
This is what happened when we entered therapy for the first time.
I sit down on the sofa first, my husband sits in the seat opposite before standing up to remove his jacket and stare idly around the room looking I know, for somewhere to hang his precious clothing. I note our therapist clocking this. He takes my husband’s jacket and hangs it on the back of his door.
My husband has shown his hand.
I wonder to myself if our therapist has noticed the first clue of my husband’s character — his unmistakable self-importance. As the three of us have never met before, I know he will be absorbing every cue, both verbal and non-verbal.
I am stiff as a board — my body is tightly wound up; clusters of agony from our 12 years together: heartbreak, tension, and anxiety and trepidation are scrunched up like a ball of old paper. My mind and my soul are heavy with anguish.
When our therapist asks us what has brought us here today, my husband — the love of my life answers coldly —
“Well I think Charlotte should tell us as I don’t even know myself.” A disinterested scoff leaves his possession.
He has shown his hand again. How he — the smart and cunning one — doesn’t realize is beyond me. Despite the depth of heartbreak moving my soul, I still see him for all that he is — deeply self-loathing, and fervently motivated to prove that the opposite is the case to a human being that he has never before met. That cause is more important to him than his loyalty to his own wife.
I wonder to myself: Don’t you think our own therapist can see through you?
I feel for him. And I am reminded why we are still together; because I have forgiven a thousand sins in the name of empathy and understanding. I have chosen him above myself from the day we united.
I open my mouth to speak and struggle to find voice. Heaving arrests my form; you can hear it in my vocal chords — the hoarseness coming from difficulty breathing, deep in my diaphragm.
I tell the room in between heavy sobbing, that I love my husband more than life itself — that we have been together for 12 years, but we are broken. I tell the space in front of me, that my husband is aggressive and passive-aggressive, that I can’t discern what is real anymore and I don’t remember what is normal from what is not. And I say that I no longer feel safe in our union, that my spirit has been under attack for as long as I can remember.
I break down. I literally, cannot cope.
For all the seriousness of my words, they are underscored by a fear that our therapist will view me as the perpetrator and my husband as the victim — cognitive dissonance running amok and wreaking havoc in my broken mind.
Our therapist spends time listening to my husband’s response, which I don’t recall. I just remember that he was complimenting him — on his intelligence, and his power. My husband was confused, I was not. I knew what he was doing — road testing his instinct that my husband may have NPD.
I know my husband agreed with our therapist’s compliments, but he so dislikes being swindled, or rather — having somebody one step ahead of him, so I see the cogs of his mind whirring fast — trying to establish or verify the authenticity of our therapist’s comments.
I don’t remember exactly, but I think around 40 minutes in, our therapist suggests that taking a personality profile test may be useful — for us to understand each other better. We both agree to take the test.
I know what’s coming.
We spend the next week apart, and seven days later we return to our therapist’s little room, our eyes not meeting once as they have done day after day for eleven years.
Our gentle therapist tells us the profile assessments are complete, and he will now hand us our spouses report to read.
I feel like something or someone has died and he’s announcing the death to us much like a surgeon does to grieving loved ones in the waiting room, when he has failed to save the life of their beloved.
Our therapist explains we will then swap and read our own reports, and discuss whether each one is commensurate with our own perceptions, of each other, and of ourselves. We acknowledge the instructions silently and take the reports he hands to us.
I read the first paragraph in milliseconds before collapsing into uncontrollable grief. I can’t cope with what I am reading. My brain hurts, my spirit is splintering for certain. This is a pain like I have never known before.
The assessment of my husband confirms that he has Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
In this micro-instant, I think my heart shatters into a thousand shards. A million thoughts and fears race through my mind.
I am heartbroken for my husband; the little I know about this disorder tells me that NPD is borne out of suffering and neglect in childhood. What fate befell him as a child?
I am heartbroken for myself too — as I thought it was me that was the source of all our problems; years of covert gas-lighting have totally eroded my sense of reality, I have come to believe that everything my husband had said over the years is true —that in his words — I am “the damager of everything”.
The bittersweet pain of relief is literally overwhelming. I finish reading the three pages of his report, whilst he is still reading the first of mine.
Over the course of the following weeks, I watch as our therapist so carefully ‘handles’ my husband’s personality disorder. He is clear, firm, and plays along to all my husband’s character flaws; his need to be seen as all-powerful, supremely intelligent and superior, and his need to be seen as the victim.
Our therapist plays into his hands. And this is for one reason and one reason only – that were he not to, he would lose this client – my husband would have abandoned the process of therapy if our therapist had tackled him and his personality issues head on. Instead I watched in admiration and awe, of how skillfully he brought out unconscious drives and behaviours in my husband.
In the end, I asked my husband for a divorce. He never returned to therapy after that moment – entirely normal for someone suffering from NPD. Why would they need therapy, when they are perfect after all?