The Male Narcissist as a Worker and a Husband
By: Beth McHugh 2015
Although sufferers of Narcissistic Personality Disorder comprise less than 4% of the population, their influence on those they work with and those they live with is disproportionally large.
Let’s look at the case of Anthony. Anthony is, on the surface, a driven corporate lawyer and a family man. Married with four children, he began his career after leaving university with a little known law firm. Due to global financial stresses, Anthony was forced out of the firm he worked for and had to change direction. But not having specialist knowledge in this new area of law did not deter Anthony – in fact he ignored it. His lack of understanding of the nuances in his new field was picked up by others, but Anthony literally could not care less. Anthony was a good communicator, and he used that ability to steamroll others into his own way of thinking and also minimised any criticism by others on what was regarded as the “superficial level of his work.”
Meanwhile his wife, having been forced to move due to Anthony’s career, had the first of their children. Living in a new close-knit community, Jenny knew no-one. Anthony had chosen to live in this small town and commute to work in the city because he wanted to enjoy the seaside lifestyle at the weekends. But his wife was already pregnant when the move was made, she had no say in it, and the little town had no hospital. This was a concern for Jenny, both in terms of where she would give birth and also where she would find future employment for herself, as she was a nurse. Anthony had not considered this. But then, it was all about Anthony.
Because of the long days that Anthony had to put in to keep up in the new law practice in which he now worked, he was away from Jenny for the most of the week, only dropping into bed at weeknights. On the weekends, Anthony would go sailing to “relax.” By the time Jenny was due to give birth, she was essentially alone all day, isolated from the community, had no employment and was far from family and friends. Jenny gave birth to a baby boy, whom Anthony crowed over and shared photos on social media and at work. Anthony was happy and proud of his achievement. It was all about Anthony.
Meanwhile Jenny was sliding into postpartum depression and was not coping with the new baby. Her mother travelled interstate to help out for a fortnight but due to work commitments of her own, was unable to stay longer. Neither of Anthony’s parents was able to help out. Because Jenny was living far away from her friends and old work colleagues, she could not even hope for visits to break up her day or help out with the baby. She struggled on until, at six months, with the introduction of solids and the effort required in this transitional period, Jenny completely broke down and had to be hospitalised.
Anthony, however, continued on with his job. He was offered paid leave but refused it. Instead he took on extra work by enrolling in post graduate studies. He considered Jenny to be in the “best hands” when questioned as to why he was not taking leave to be with Jenny. Gradually Jenny improved. She then insisted to Anthony that they needed to move as she felt too isolated and it was too difficult with no public transport for her and the baby to get around. She enlisted the help of a social worker to address this issue with Anthony, who seemed disconnected from the pain Jenny was suffering, and was angry at moving from his “weekend retreat.”
The family then moved to the city where Anthony worked. Jenny wanted to live right in the centre of the city, close to beaches and health facilities. But Anthony thought otherwise. He purchased a five bedroom house for the family, but his thoughts were to live in it for a while and then rent it out to students at the local university. Jenny was frustrated at the lack of public transport, but at least she was now located in a major city and not an isolated backwater.
Meanwhile on the work front, Anthony was stepping on toes by writing and presenting journal papers at conferences which his work colleagues were aware was based on “fudged” data. When questioned why some data points were omitted in several of his graphs, he stated they “didn’t fit in with his theory so I left them out.” This is not what research is about. But when presenting his work at conferences, the audience was not in a position to question his work in any great detail, and as he presented in a confident way, Anthony was able to fool the majority of the audience. However, those who knew him well, also knew that Anthony was on a road of self-promotion and not research. He pestered people and picked their brains for the knowledge in which he was lacking. There is nothing wrong with this practice – it is to be commended. But the accepted convention is to acknowledge sources correctly and not pass it off as your own. This was foreign to Anthony. But then, it was all about Anthony.
Jenny went back to work for a few days a week and spent the rest of the time with her son at home. She began to form a network of friends and establish herself socially again. Then she became pregnant with her second child, which turned out to be twins. Due to her past encounter with postpartum depression, Jenny was at risk, but she had better access to health professionals in the city and she was monitored appropriately.
Anthony’s next move was to take on the presidency of a professional society of which he was a member, and he also did all the editorial work required. Jenny was now struggling with morning sickness, part time work as a nurse and a husband whose long work hours were now voluntarily increased, despite the imminent arrival of twins. The pregnancy and birth were uncomplicated but within six weeks of giving birth and with three children under four, Jenny slipped back into postpartum depression. Anthony’s response to all who enquired after Jenny was that “she got through it the first time, so she’ll be ok.” Anthony did not take any of his allotted paternity leave to help out, and both sets of grandparents were still too far away to help out with the children. Jenny ended up back in hospital.
This time she bounced back quicker but she was still faced with the care of identical twins and an older sibling who was experiencing the trauma of having been “displaced” not just by one sibling, but by a matching pair who attracted the typical attention from family and passers-by, as do all identical twins. Jenny had her hands full.
The years passed, the eldest child went to school, the twins to pre-school and Jenny went back to part-time work. Anthony decided his life was “unbalanced” and was too work-filled and decided to take up soccer. This required two nights a week training plus the weekend game. At the same time, he also decided it was time to move out of the city home and he bought a house on several acres well out of the city and moved his family despite Jenny’s protests. While this location was close to Anthony’s work, it was a long trip for Jenny to get to her rotating shifts required by the hospital. This caused more friction in the marriage but Anthony said he was quite happy with the situation and was unable to understand Jenny’s position. While Jenny was being treated as a pawn, and arguing about it, Anthony ignored the situation and concentrated even more on his career. His time at home was minimal and his children barely saw him, as they were in bed by the time he had come home from either work or one of his sporting activities or his editorial meetings. He got angry with the children when they queried his movements.
Another pregnancy ensued, and with the announcement of the expected fourth child, which Jenny wanted, she was nervous but happy. However, repeated requests for couples counselling were ignored by Anthony because he stated that he was happy and content and he could see nothing wrong. Anthony had now become a partner in the law firm he worked for and was thinking of going it alone and starting his own practice.
The last thing he needed was a whining wife and he told Jenny so. He repeatedly stated that he could see nothing wrong with the marriage, or his callousness over Jenny’s illnesses. He refused couples counselling. On the contrary, he saw her postpartum depression as a normal reaction to childbirth that did not concern him, required no assistance from him, and it would go away anyway, so why should he become involved. He could not see that his children suffered each time Jenny became ill, nor could he see that he was not playing any meaningful role in family life. He was an absent father whose focus was on himself and his career. His children were growing increasingly resentful, but Anthony blamed their poor behaviour on Jenny’s poor parenting skills. He was also putting increasing pressure on his eldest son to go into law. However this son wanted to be an artist, which enraged Anthony, and so the process of denigrating his son began.
At work, Anthony was causing increasing problems as others had to take up the slack of his slapdash work style while he spent time liaising with clients and taking all the kudos. Challenged by one colleague, he then set about undermining the work of that co-worker until the latter decided to move on. However, by this time, the manager of the firm was becoming increasingly aware of conflict surrounding Anthony and his co-workers. However, Anthony was clever and managed to deflect any accusations about himself back onto the instigator. In a firm of lawyers, Anthony stood out as being the most gifted in debating and devaluing, due to his well-honed narcissistic skills.
On the home front, Anthony was repeatedly unable to answer even the most basic questions about his children, including their ages and what class they were in. He joked that four were too many to keep tabs on. But he also had no idea as to their life aspirations or even that one had become pregnant at the age of 14. It was around this time that Anthony enrolled in a postgraduate degree without telling Jenny. Because of his work commitments, this course was slated to take him seven years. Jenny and his three eldest children were devastated and angry. Anthony refused to give up his soccer or his editorship and presidency, and was incensed that he was even being asked to do so. He stated that he “deserved his rest and recreation and that he deserved the right to pursue his career to great heights”. So, nothing changed. It was still always about Anthony.
Anthony subsequently did start up his own business, so that he “didn’t have to be told what to do or be hassled by idiots.” This took him away from his family even more, and he was completely estranged from one child and the others barely knew him. Any challenge from them was met with anger and any suggestion that he had failed them as a father was met with a tirade of cleverly-chosen words that were meant to harm and did harm. Anthony had failed to engage on any level with any of his children, the eldest of whom was now ready to go to university, and he was a new grandfather. He showed his typical lack of interest in his grandchild.
He met a lawyer at a conference and proceeded to conduct an affair with her. He was now juggling many things in his life: a new business, luring clients from his old firm, postgraduate study, a new lover, a wife, four children, a grandchild, his editorial work and his sporting commitments. Of course, anything to do with his family continued to be relegated to the backseat. But his children were now approaching adulthood and had opinions of their own. They sided with their mother, the only parent they had ever known and trusted. Anthony was furious. He instigated a divorce citing irreconcilable differences which was ironic because Anthony had never once made anyone, including his wife when she was so severely ill and suicidal, a priority.
Once the divorce was granted, Anthony married his lover. But she was a different sort of person to his first wife. She also had a law degree which is how they met in the first place. She was 25 years younger than his first wife, with a different view of how marriages look like. She wanted children and within two years, their first child was born. But cracks were beginning to show. This wife had expectations and was not going to take the back seat for Anthony as Jenny had. Arguments raged throughout the house, as Anthony found himself on the receiving end of challenges that would not go away. Anthony was out of control because this second wife would not let him be in control.
He called into old friends’ places who he had neglected for years, but quickly lost his good will as all he was visiting for was to tell people how bad everything was for him and he had no time even to ask how his hosts were.
Throwing himself into his new business, he became the source of mirth for his former colleagues by selling off some of the journal papers that he had written over the years, calling them “iconic classics.” In truth, they were just journal papers, no different to thousands that are published each year in many disciplines. But Anthony’s were “iconic.” It was all about Anthony.
Anthony’s second marriage lasted four years and, uninterested in children, his second wife has full custody which went uncontested. His first four children with Jenny have no contact with their father, but bear the scars of a life with a narcissistic father who could not love. His wife Jenny is a successful nurse-educator. She has rebuilt her life after therapy to deal with the fact that she wasn’t married to a normal ambitious man, but that she had been dealing with a narcissist. Her depression lifted, and she is at last happy with a brood of children and more grandchildren around her.
Anthony cuts a lonely figure as he approaches retirement, with five
children who he never bonded with and declining health due to decades
of burning the candle at both ends. It is at the end of the lifespan
that narcissists really begin to experience problems, unlike in earlier
years where they always held the balance of power. Anthony’s career
has stalled, and now he is showing signs of depression, which is common
for aging narcissists. Unfortunately for Anthony, having a personality
disorder makes it impossible for him to see outside of himself. This
means that he cannot see the damage he wreaked in his younger years,
the pain he caused, and because of this he cannot begin to atone and
perhaps receive forgiveness, because he will always believe he has done
nothing to be forgiven for.