Understanding the Narcissist
You know when you’re building an Ikea flat-pack and you reach the point where you just want to hang yourself because the instructions don’t make sense, the pieces don’t align and quite frankly you can’t picture subjecting yourself to this torture for a single moment longer? This is exactly what it feels like to be in a relationship with a narcissist. While you stay in that relationship you will never get that flat pack built, you will always be confused, lost, and close to hanging yourself.
Towards the end of my abusive relationship, I began to educate myself about the behaviours that I was being subjected to, and I thought it might be useful to share some of the things that I learned. It’s so easy to say you would never tolerate an abusive partner, but it is so much deeper than that. Of course, if the first time you meet someone, they punched you in the face or admitted that they intended to manipulate and control you, you wouldn’t stick around. The problem is it rarely ever starts with a punch.
Over the coming weeks, I am going to share the more insidious behaviours, the things that we are all conditioned to accept. Someone displaying these behaviours might not necessarily be a narcissist, they just might have tendencies, or they might have learned it through witnessing that behaviour. But as you read through if you start to see a trend, if you start to feel like I am describing your relationship with every post, then you might very well have a narc on your hands.
I wanted to start with something called weaponised incompetence, and the reason I wanted to start with this is that it is happening under all of our noses, and we don’t even realise. It’s not just men that do this, although I will be referring to the offender as a ‘he’ simply because that was my experience. This kind of behaviour happens in same sex relationships, too. Some commentators wont label this as an abusive behaviour, or they might say it’s a grey area. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, anything that is done intentionally and causes emotional or physical harm is abuse. What gives one human being the right to harm another? Absolutely nothing.
Weaponised incompetence is exactly as it sounds; it is feigned incompetence at a task to force the other partner to do it instead. Let’s say you have a boyfriend, and you ask him to put a load of washing on while you’re at work. You come home and he didn’t do it, he tells you he doesn’t know how to operate the washing machine. Frustrating, yes, but you show him how to use it and then a week later you ask the same request of him. You come home from work and some whites have gone in with the darks and they are all faded and grey now. He shrugs at you with those round puppy dog eyes when you point it out. He didn’t know you had to separate the colours to keep them nice. Maybe you try one more time and ask him again next week. This time he forgets to take it all out of the machine and hang it up or dry it, so by the time you get home it’s a stinking pile of gross that needs washing again. He shrugs at you again when you get frustrated, it’s not his job, he doesn’t understand, and how is he to be expected to suddenly remember all these things?
You don’t ask him again. Instead, you do all the washing in your free time, so you don’t have to rely on him while you’re at work. He can’t be trusted with the washing, he’s terrible at it and just makes more work for you instead of actually helping so it just makes sense to do it all yourself, right?
Now, let me ask you what this boyfriend does for a living? He has a job, maybe he works in construction, maybe he is a manager, maybe he runs a business, maybe he fixes cars, or computers, maybe he works at a call centre. Whatever his profession, he is still stably employed, right? If he comes across something he can’t do at work, does he just leave it for someone else, or would doing that get him fired? So, this guy can manage his job just fine, he participates in training, he succeeds and brings home a wage.
But something about doing a load of laundry has defeated him?
He is more than capable of learning how to do the laundry properly. But through a series of calculated decisions, he has manipulated you into believing that he can’t do it and he can’t learn. What he has done is foist that task solely onto you, which now takes up more of your own free time. He gets to relax in his spare time, and you have to do chores. And all because he doesn’t want to do it, he would rather compromise your free time than learn how to share the load with you.
Once he’s done it with the laundry, he will slowly do it with every task that he doesn’t want to do, which will be most of the household chores, and the childcare.
He doesn’t want to get up in the night with the baby, maybe he can’t hear the crying right next to his face, maybe he tries a couple of times, but the baby won’t settle for him and each time he ends up dragging you out of bed anyway to help, he’s stressed out and the baby is distressed. Maybe you have a fight while emotions are all high, so next time you don’t bother asking for his help. You do all the baby wake-ups for years all by yourself to save the drama. He sleeps through every single night at the expense of your physical and mental health.
Are you beginning to see a trend here? Every time he shoves a task onto you that he doesn’t want to do there is always a toll on you. You start carrying the entire mental load of the household, you are tired, you are stressed, and you are full of resentment that you can’t quite vocalise even to yourself. He leaches off you like this slowly over a long period of time and you can’t quite track at what point you started doing everything.
He can’t clean the bathroom because it’s too complicated, but he can spend a whole Saturday afternoon fiddling about underneath his car, playing sports, or going out with his friends.
Weaponised incompetence; it breeds resentment which is the number one killer of relationships. Do not accept it. If you let him get away with it the first time, the second, and the third time then his sense of entitlement will balloon, and trying to get him to do anything around the house after that is going to be like banging your head against a brick wall.
And please do not accept the excuse that he has been at work all day, all week, and deserves some time free time instead of housework. It doesn’t matter if you are a stay-at-home parent, have a part-time or a full-time job, if you are in a relationship and living with another human being then they are also responsible for the running of the house. Being a stay-at-home mum does not mean you are automatically his unpaid house slave. Yes you can take on more of the day-to-day tasks that makes perfect sense, but you also deserve to have a break when he is home.
Let’s say he works a regular 9-5, you already get up before him because you have to get yourself and X number of children up, fed, and ready for the day. You are preparing breakfast, clearing up the remains of the previous night’s washing up, packing lunch boxes, and coordinating school bags and clothes. You have a thirty-second shower if you are lucky and bundle the children out the door for the school run, all the while thinking about the next step, the next task, and the rest of the day and the rest of the week. He gets up, takes his time in the shower, has only himself to feed and get ready, and has an amount of alone time on his journey to work, do you think he’s worried about the kids and the schedules and dinners and shopping and all the planning that goes into running a house?
He has a day at work that includes a lunch hour during which he eats at a leisurely pace, and maybe socialises with colleagues. How does your lunch look, stay-at-home mum? I have three kids and I know exactly what that can look like. Maybe you have a small baby, so lunch is a cereal bar and a packet of biscuits because you are stuck in a chair breastfeeding and can’t get up to make yourself anything proper. Maybe you have a toddler or two running rings around you, so you have to wolf something down in the kitchen quickly while they are having five minutes in front of the TV. Perhaps you made yourself a really nice toastie, then your kid comes along sniffing for a taste and ends up taking half away with them. And I know that not all mum lunch breaks are hectic, but the majority are. Sometimes the naps fall just right, and you can have something nice to eat and actually sit for half-hour and read or watch TV or scroll on your phone in peace. The point that I want to make is that lunch at home with small people is erratic and unpredictable compared to an allotted lunch hour in the workplace.
He finishes work at five, packs up, and has a quiet journey alone on his way home. You have been cooking, cleaning, planning, running errands, stuffing food in your face quickly or you wouldn’t eat, doing more school runs, preparing dinner, and looking over homework. He comes in and sits down amongst the chaos of a family home because he’s had a busy day at work and needs a break. And you know what, he probably has had an intense day at work I won’t invalidate that, and he does need a break. But sweetie, so do you. Let him have his hour of sitting and resting. After you’ve served him his dinner and started putting the kids in the bath or getting them ready for bed if you ask him to get up and help with the clean-up, if you ask him to do the kids’ bedtime so you can have a bath or a sit-down and he refuses because he’s been at work all day and you haven’t, then he is a selfish arse with absolutely no respect for your time or what you do for him and his children. If he does get up and help but does it with a passive-aggressive comment, then he is also a selfish arse with no respect.
The best kind of partner will want to do their fair share, they will appreciate you the way that you appreciate them because they recognise that you are a team. They won’t expect you to do all of the housework, or to carry all of the mental load. They won’t do a task terribly on purpose just so you feel like you have to do it instead. These things are calculated nastiness designed to trap you in this cycle of lonely domesticity. This is abusive because it steals your time, minimises your worth and compromises your emotions, and mental health over a prolonged period of time.
© Emma Stead