To be selfish is human nature. I would even venture to say we have all done narcissistic things before. But the occasional narcissistic behavior is a far cry from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or even severe narcissistic tendencies. So, based on this, how would I know if my husband is a narcissist or just selfish?
To answer the question, “Is my husband a narcissist or just selfish?” we first need to realize that most of the time when selfish people are called out for their selfishness, they will feel bad and apologize. They will make it right. A narcissist, however, will continue to gaslight and excuse their behavior, without any kind of empathy for your feelings about their behavior. Over time, as their pattern of behavior materializes, it is often obvious whether your husband is a narcissist or just a selfish person.
Based on my personal experiences and research, let’s take a deeper dive into the subject. Hopefully upon reading this article, you will have a clearer picture and be better able to assess your own situation.
Table of Contents
What the American Psychiatric Association has to Say About Narcissism
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR), published in March, 2022, by the American Psychiatric Association, there are 9 criteria that a person with Narcissistic personality Disorder will have at least 5 of the following 9 criteria:
- A grandiose, monumental, or elaborate sense of self-importance.
- A preoccupation with fantasies, inventions, or roles of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, ideal love, or any characteristic that sets them apart from society-at-large.
- Believing that they are more special or unique than those around them and cannot associate with anyone that would “drag them down.” They can only associate with those they perceive as high society, celebrities, CEO’s, or other larger-than-life people.
- They require excessive or constant admiration.
- They have an unreasonable sense of entitlement. They expect automatic agreement of anything they say or do and immediate compliance without any questions or resistance.
- They are exploitive of anyone around them–family, friends, neighbors, work associates, literally anyone they come in contact with. They will take advantage of others in order to achieve their own ends, without seeing the other people as people with feelings, opinions, or needs of their own. They can only see what they personally need to get out of the other person.
- They lack empathy toward others. They are unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others. Even when others communicate their hurt or need, the narcissist will outright reject that person’s feelings or needs.
- Often, they are envious of others or believe everyone is jealous of them.
- They show arrogant, pompous, superior, condescending, self-important behaviors or attitudes, belittling others constantly in order to raise themselves up.
When evaluating these behaviors, you may find that sometimes narcissists do show caring, empathetic behavior. For example, covert narcissists especially need to be seen as good people. Religious narcissists need to be seen as servant-like, sacrificial. Other narcissists also seem to be empathetic and caring at times, but all of them share this in common: they are not feeling that way toward those they show caring and empathy to. It is their means to get what they know you can give them if they can make you believe they care.
When Husbands Go Beyond Selfishness
Most husbands are kind people that will show the occasional selfish behavior. Some husbands can be very selfish at times, but still love and care greatly for their wives. And then there a few narcissists that go way beyond selfish streaks. They choose to be selfish to the point they don’t know their wives exist beyond what they can get out of them.
Let’s clarify that paragraph, because there is way more to it than just acts of selfishness. There are behaviors that are rooted in selfishness but shoot out in many different directions. Picture a spoke on a wheel. At the center is selfishness. But you could go even further back and say that the very center of the center is shame and abuse that cause the narcissist to only be able to exhibit selfishness and self-absorption to protect the damaged being inside. Then each spoke is a different way that self-protection manifests. And these behaviors are what differentiate narcissism from selfishness.
While selfishness is one person wanting to get the most of things for themselves, narcissism requires that person to be so cold-hearted and cruel that they don’t care what damage they do to someone in order to get whatever thing or position they desire. If they want the world to see them as the best, they have no problem destroying the person that will prevent that. But most of the time they will do it behind closed doors so very few people see the actual beast behind the “greatest of all time.”
Let’s take a look at some of those behaviors.
Gaslighting is when someone tries to make you think something that is totally against reality. At first the victim knows better. But as the abuser gaslights more and more, it erodes the judgment of the victim, causing them to think they are emotionally unstable, or even completely crazy. They can become unsure of even the most basic things.
This term comes from the movie Gaslight. My absolute favorite is with Ingrid Bergman and Charlie Boyer. Ingrid Bergman actually earned an Oscar in this role!
Anyway, when you watch this movie for the first time, you will easily pick up the obvious gaslighting behavior. But there are so many layers to the gaslighting and narcissism, that the more you watch it, the more you will pick up. And you will be amazed at how well the writers represent what narcissism looks like in real life. You will also be amazed at how little it has changed over the years. Truthfully, narcissism has remained largely the same throughout history. That is one reason many people believe that narcissists are demon possessed. The behavior, words, and tactics of narcissists are so eerily similar, regardless of nationality, age, or even time period in history that the narcissist is from. For more on whether narcissists could actually be demon possessed, check out my article by clicking here. And for more on the movie, click here or on the movie pic below:
Even some of the most selfish people you know will still feel bad for others. They will feel sympathy for those who experience loss. Or they may even feel empathy for someone who is going through a difficult time. The difference between them and a narcissist is that the narcissist cannot feel empathy for someone no matter how hard a time that person may be going through. They may have just lost a close family member. And the narcissist will complain that they have had a bad week because they didn’t get the promotion they wanted, not understanding why the person who just lost the family member isn’t catering to their grief over a difficult job.
It isn’t that the person isn’t grieving with the narcissist who lost their promotion. But at the moment they are feeling such a deep grief that they need to spend some time looking inward. The narcissist can’t allow for that. And they will let that person know that they should not be thinking about their own loss.
I know that sounds vague. Let me give you a more specific example that is actually an experience I had with my narcissist. My personal counselor was on sabbatical for three months. So I was assigned to see my then-husband’s counselor because he knew our situation and by that time my husband had tested positive for narcissistic behavior. My session with him were generally around how to deal with a narcissist and regain my own emotional health and sanity through the process. His sessions with my ex were more along the line of if he was a professing Christian, he had the responsibility to believe when others were telling him his behavior was not right toward his wife and family, even if he refused or couldn’t see it.
So, one day in my session my stand-in counselor told me that he couldn’t even get my then-husband to pretend to have empathy for me. He went on to say that he set up the following scenario:
Picture you and your wife coming in for a session. Your wife is wearing flip flops. And I am using crutches because I have broken my leg. Once you both sit down, I get up and head over to the door to shut it for privacy. I get my crutches and proceed to the door, but on the way, I mistakenly crush your wife’s foot with one of my crutches. I apologize profusely to her because I didn’t mean to hurt her. How do you feel about what has just happened to your wife?”
Are you sitting down for the answer my ex gave him? I hope so! He said that my foot never should have been in the way to start with. The counselor said he had never seen such a brazen display of non-empathy in all of his years of practice. And at that point, we both knew that there would be no way my ex would ever show me any empathy today.
Interestingly, the day I wrote this article, I got an email from my ex showing the same level of non-empathy regarding a financial/support issue with his children. And we have been divorced some time now. That exchange with the counselor was about 5 years ago. Short of never hearing from my ex again, I will never get out from under his contempt for me.
Narcissists are Inherently Cruel
Selfish people can be cruel at times. All people can be cruel at times. And then we feel very badly about it and apologize to restore the relationship. This will not happen with a narcissist unless the apology will get them somewhere closer to the target they are pursuing, whether it be the good graces of a new source of narcissistic supply, or a boss at work in a job they can’t replace at the moment.
At first, the cruelty may seem like a misplaced joke or that they are just kidding. But then, over time, it becomes harder and harder to pass it off as a joke or well-meaning statement worded poorly. And then, finally, you realize, it could only have been cruelty.
My ex would do all kinds of mean things behind my back. Some things I realized right away. Many I didn’t find out about until years later. And some I am sure I will never know about. And that is fine. I don’t want to concentrate on all of those things that happened. And at the end of the day, I know that God knows and has my back. He will take care of things in just the right way–better than anything I could do.
Here are some examples of the cruelty I experienced from my narcissist:
- Throwing away important things to me (game pieces from childhood games, important receipts while leaving the insignificant ones, etc).
- Running over my flower beds with his truck and then laughing about it while the kids watched him and telling them not to tell Mom (of course they are going to after you tell them not to!).
- Threatening friends and family members with evil eye looks or low, growling words when they are alone in the room after I left.
- Asking the kids to explain themselves when in trouble, then punishing them severely for “talking back” to him when they were only answering his questions.
- Changing emails with different organizations so I would not get important emails, forcing me to miss important events that he would then show up for and tell them he had no idea why I wasn’t there.
- Turning me in to church elders for made-up offenses. Fortunately, the church leaders saw what was going on and refused to participate in his cruelty and abuse.
There are so many more examples, but these will give you a good idea.
Narcissists Will Never Apologize
No matter how wrong they were or even if you have black and white absolute proof, the narcissist will not apologize. Although, once again, if they stand to gain something from it, then they will. But as soon as they get back to you alone behind closed doors, they will rescind their apology and let you know how wrong you were to put them in a position that they were “forced to apologize” in.
Granted, it is difficult for many people to apologize. But a genuine person will when they realize they are wrong. A narcissist will only do it when their back is up against the wall.
Even when my narcissist was backed up against a wall, he wouldn’t apologize for what he had done. He would give some vague apology about he was sorry that I felt badly about something he did. But then he would tell me how I needed to apologize to him for putting him in a bad light. Flipping the tables is yet another narcissistic trait.
When my ex was removed from our home by our church leaders for abuse, he wrote every member in the church an email explaining how he was an innocent person and his family and church had falsely accused him of things leading up to his removal from the home. While most of the members saw the narcissism in the letter and absolute lies, a few believed him.
Nevertheless, he ended up leaving the church and finding another one that initially agreed to work with our leadership. As part of his healing protocol, they made him write a letter of apology. He did. And it basically said, “I am sorry for writing those emails because my church has told me to apologize. And I still maintain that I am right and everyone else is wrong.” His church accepted it as a valid apology, then gave him grounds to divorce me because both my church and I did not let him back into the house to continue his abuse until he showed signs of actual healing and a positive report from counselors. (That particular church did not believe that women have the right to protect themselves from abuse but must continue to submit to an abusive husband because it is not her place to tell her husband what she can or cannot do.)
It will be fairly easy over time to know whether your husband is a narcissist or just selfish based on his ability or non-ability to sincerely apologize.
A Narcissist is Controlling
There are type A personalities, and then there are narcissists. They have to control EVERYTHING. They need to control what people think about them, say about them, do with or to them. They can only be seen in the best possible light or they will not be able to function. If someone saw them in a negative way, they would have to obliterate that from their life. And they have no problem doing that in any way that gets the job done fast.
Narcissists may disown friends, family members,n coworkers, or anyone that is a regular in their life, but not before making their life a living hell. That way the offending person won’t be able to come back at them ever again. If their whole life becomes too much for them to keep under control, they will go find an entirely new life.
That is exactly what happened in our family’s case. My ex divorced me, and has no contact with the vast majority of his children, ranging in age from 11 to 31 at the time this article was written. He has 3-6 hours of visitation a week that is court ordered for his 11-year-old son. And that is how he holds what little control he can over our family still. All while having a whole new family, new job, new church, new town, new everything. And they all think he is an amazing father and Christian man in his community. It is maddening when one of my kids tells me that people praise him for being such a wonderful father on his Facebook for Father’s Day. (Not a single one of them that say that have ever met any of his children–they just listen to his empty words and believe him.)
A Narcissist Lies Incessantly
Everybody lies. Some people lie more than others. But a narcissist lies about everything. All the time. And usually without any good reason. They just lie. It keeps everyone on their toes. They don’t know what’s coming next. And they can’t figure out what just happened in the verbal exchange they just had with the narcissist.
You will know the whether your husband is a narcissist or just selfish when even after showing him the evidence of his lie, he still continues to lie. Once in a blue moon, you will get him to admit he was wrong.
In my case, I reduced all communication to texts, emails, or in a location that a counselor, lawyer, or church leader was present that could verify the conversation later. Once this happened, I figured he would stop lying because he would be too easily caught. But he didn’t! He continued to lie. But then, when I would show him the proof in a text or email of what he had actually said or done, he would apologize profusely for the “misunderstanding.” He would then say he misremembered and he would have to look into why he misremembered so often.
That was such a lie in itself. He had a memory that surpassed mine in his sleep. He was incredibly sharp. And he could remember every little thing I said or did when he wanted to hold it against me. But he would claim he couldn’t remember something that didn’t even make sense to forget. It was all games. And he would keep changing the rules to make sure he could declare himself the winner. But what did he really win?
I could literally write a book with more ways that a narcissist goes above and beyond a selfish husband. But since I can’t put all of that in one article, this should give you a good idea of what patterns to pick up to be able to distinguish if your husband is a narcissist or just selfish.
You can also take the quiz that I created by clicking here. It will help you to discover patterns to see what narcissistic traits your husband may have. It is important for you to realize that just because your husband has some of the traits of narcissism doesn’t mean that he is a full blown narcissist. We all have traits of narcissism from time to time. But if we are emotionally strong, we will correct those behaviors and heal the affected relationships. It is when people continue to use those behaviors and refuse to heal themselves or their relationships that it turns into toxicity and narcissism.
When a Narcissist Appears to be Apologetic
I spoke a little bit above about the fake apologies of the narcissist. But I want to expand a little bit on it.
Narcissists can appear very apologetic. They use apologies just like everything else. They keep it in their bag of tools to use when they know it can benefit them. Sometimes even narcissists need to look humble in order to get away with their manipulation and control.
While they won’t generally try to look humble on their victims, they do need to show it to the rest of the world. That way, when a victim tries to explain the abuse, others won’t understand why they could have such problems with him. They will actually think that the problem is with the victim. And that is how narcissists can abuse victims for years or even decades before their behavior finally comes to light.
A narcissist will also apologize to others to further abuse their victims. Here is an example from my life that actually occurred many years ago.
My son was a junior in high school. He was very involved in his church youth group. And he was scheduling prayer meetings and other entertainment events on top of the regularly scheduled youth group events. Our church did not have a dedicated youth pastor at the time. It was a ministry that parents would volunteer for.
To make things easier, my son created a Facebook group. And he invited all of the students in the correct age group as well as parents that frequently helped. One of the parents, however wanted to be in control. So she went to the church leadership and complained. Then she started an opposing group and invited everyone in. My son ignored the whole thing and decided not to get involved in the drama. Which drove the drama-laden helicopter mom over the top. So she went back to the church leaders and tried to make them force my son to shut down his Facebook group.
There was a meeting with the leadership, of which my husband was an elder. And he stood in support of the other parent rather than his own son! When I spoke with the pastor later, he said the whole session was confused by my husband’s response and tried to give him every opportunity to stand up for his son. But he refused, citing the need to “keep the peace and purity of the church.”
My son was incredibly upset, and by that time it was kind of the last straw for him with his dad. But his dad wasn’t done with him yet. He then scheduled a meeting with the mom and her husband so that my son could personally apologize to her and “clear the air.” And by that time I was so angry that he would put his family in such a bad position. We apologized. My son walked away from youth group. And everyone was happy. Except for the students that were left that watched the fallout.
The mom ended up using all of the youth group fund for an event she and her son wanted to do that hardly anyone else was very interested in. And the parent standing in as the current youth group leader took her lead and ran with it. One of the last youth group meetings my son went to ended up being a 45-minute tirade about students will not be allowed to “mutiny” the youth group and they will do what the adult leaders want them to. And with that, the youth group lost half of its students overnight.
The pastor didn’t find out about the youth group lecture that led to the mass departure from youth group until about a year later. And by that time, the parent leader had moved away so there was nothing that could be done. But the three narcissists working as a team did significant damage to the church that they never faced consequences for. They are now in three different churches now, likely still doing their damage behind the scenes.
Where to go From Here
So what now? Is your husband a narcissist or just selfish? It may take you some time to know for sure, but you can indeed know for sure. Finding a counselor that is experienced in narcissism can help you sort through things much more quickly. And that counselor will help you learn ways to heal yourself emotionally after experiencing the abuse of a narcissist. But even if he is not a narcissist, a counselor can help both of you get back on the right path. It is a win-win regardless of your situation.
Find some good books to read on the subject. The more you read, the more it will all make sense to you. And if your husband is a narcissist, you will be amazed at how everything ties together. You will feel like whoever wrote the book you are reading has been hiding in your home watching you all this time. Because narcissistic behavior is eerily similar no matter who the narcissist is. Their playbook is the same few plays.
My go-to book throughout this process and now to the many people I have worked with online and in my local support groups has been The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick. She will help you to distinguish between whether your relationship is destructive or just difficult. And then she will give concrete advice to help you make your own decision on how to move forward with your relationship confidently. Click on the title above or picture below to find out more about it. It was single-handedly the best resource I used!
You found this article online. And there are tons more. Click on my articles section above to see more. Or just hover above the articles tab to see the different categories and find the one that suits you most at the moment.
And know you can always contact me here. I would love to know how you are doing. What you are learning. And how you are growing through this! Feel free to comment below if you have a message that you think others can benefit from!
If you found this article valuable, I think you will also find the following articles valuable:
- How Narcissists Use Religion to Control and Manipulate You - December 26, 2023
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