A Therapist’s Guide to Living with a “Narcissist” – Chapter Four

I was sick at the time of our appointment.  The next day, I received (at work) an email from Sally.  What follows is Sally’s original email, my response, and her response to my response.

Next session, I want to discuss with Sally, her comment, “He makes me feel horrible about everything I do…”


I was at my home and away from Bob for the past week and a half.  I came last night to stay the week with him and I noticed all morning I was feeling bad about myself. Everything from I made his coffee wrong to I opened the window blind wrong.  I realized that I’m constantly apologizing and feeling like a f*ck up, even when I didn’t do anything wrong. His way of doing it is that he doesn’t get angry, but he’s more passive aggressive (Bob: “there’s way too much cream in my coffee” Me: “here, take my cup, I didn’t add as much cream”. Bob: ‘no, it’s fine, I’ll drink it…”) I insisted multiple times to switch cups to make him happy.  He has an amazing way to make me feel horrible about everything I do. I know if I ever brought his attention to it, he would argue and probably have a narcissistic response. I wish I loved a man who was maybe a bit more relaxed and just…happy.   – Sally

Be aware, it is not my intent that you two break-up but the more we talk, the more you will see things about him that you don’t like. This always happens in therapy….people talk in therapy about things they don’t like or want changed.

Your comment at the end of your email struck me…”I wish I loved a man who was…” Love is both a feeling and a choice/decision.  We feel love for a person and then decide to create a life with them, i.e., move in with them, cook supper with them, get coffee for them, run errands for them, etc. But, just because you love someone, that doesn’t mean you have to do what your heart tells you or what you should do because you love them. My point is that your comment suggests that because you love him, you are somehow stuck with him. You are not stuck because you love him.  I have no doubt that you love him but I also believe you could love a number of men and be just as happy with them.  But be aware, if you left him and met and fell in love with another, you would have a different set of issues/problems to address and, depending on that person’s response to your comments/complaints, you two would either continue to have or not have such struggles and/or stay together or break-up. This is not a matter of “wish”. This is a matter of decision and action. Some women will respond to this with “I can’t (speak up/break up with them), don’t want to hurt their feelings.” But they can continue to hurt yours? I believe you can see how, if he reminds you of your mother, how it could be easy to think of this as a matter out of your hands as opposed to something you can address and change (In childhood relationships, we often had little power. We can forget that we have power as adults when in a relationship with someone who reminds us of one of our childhood authority figures.).

Your observations about how you felt when around him were disconcerting and important. Do you want to feel like a “f**k-up” when you are around him? If no, have you told him this is how you feel when you are around him? Has he tried to change his part of that situation?  You can change how you speak to yourself. If you ask him to change and he doesn’t, then you have a decision to make.

Here is a suggestion…the next time you prepare him a cup of coffee and he makes a comment that if was prepared wrong, ask him if he wants you to prepare a second cup for him. If he says no, then indicate that if he continues to complain (directly or indirectly, and you are the judge of that), you will leave the room. If you do this, you must do this without tone, sarcasm or threat. The point here is boundaries; making it clear that you will not continue to endure his disapproval, especially after you offered to correct it and if he tries to continue this, you will leave, the situation at least. This move requires you trust your decisions and act on them.   – Ed

That’s a big part of why I stay, I love him, but also, no relationship is perfect, no man is perfect, and I am not perfect, so if it’s not these particular issues…which new issues will they be with a new man? Bob has taught me value in perseverance in relationships; a value that I think is lacking in our society. But on the flip side, I don’t want to rely on the idea of perseverance in an unhealthy or detrimental relationship. So, for me, it’s about figuring out which one I am doing, persevering or staying stuck.

Boundaries are still difficult for me probably because of my mother. I don’t remember having “boundaries”, so I think my way of compensating was to hide things and emotionally close off from her. I still do this.  – Sally