Is he a narcissist? Or just terrified? Does this get better?


New Registrant
My boyfriend is a survivor. We are currently broken up to take some time to ourselves and get the treatment we need to heal - him from his past and me from him (though I would never phrase it that way to his face as it would hurt his feelings). I am really struggling with keeping his healing front-and-center in my mind. I am really struggling sometimes with not just seeing him as an abusive man.

I’m a survivor of my own traumatic past as well (repeated rape, DV, extreme abuse as a child) but I’ve been in therapy for decades and it’s helped me learn to cope fairly well, considering. This will be his first time in therapy and he’s mostly coped with life through a combination of sex addiction, manipulating women, lying, and raging. Lately, he’s very distant and cold most of the time. He has terrible rages. He is perpetually grumpy, aggressive, and openly rude. He yells horrible insults that attack me as a person, as a woman, as anyone of value. He intentionally says whatever he thinks will damage me the most as a person. I’ve been compared to his infidelity partners more than once - but he has to be able to believe, meanwhile, that I was a virgin before we met, or all Hell breaks loose. I sometimes wonder if he’s just macho or if he’s legitimately insane. His possessiveness of me makes no sense as I’m not the one cheating and he knows that. He invents fights about nothing - just to rub other women in my face or bring up how I mentioned that I had an ex once, years ago. It’s bizarre. (My gut tells me it’s due to his own projections of his guilt over his out-of-control sex addiction but I could be wrong.)

We’ve decided to take several months off until he gets better (his idea, along with his doctor - he said he’s been pulling away to keep from hurting me even more because he knows what he’s doing). Why not just stop doing it? I have PTSD, too. I’ve been raped and I’m not trying to have anonymous sex while attacking a safe sex partner. He told his shrink he doesn’t think I’m safe and she said, “She *obviously* is so you need to take some time off from the relationship until you learn that.” I don’t understand. I’ve never cheated. I don’t hit him or force myself on him or pressure him for sex. I’m extremely open. I don’t know what else he wants from me. I can’t be good enough to earn being treated right and I’m not tolerating being treated like shit forever.

I asked him if he just wanted an open relationship and he shut that down immediately. He said he doesn’t even like the other people, they’re gross, I can see that they’re unattractive and sketchy (they are). I asked him why he doesn’t just stop, then. He says he doesn’t know. He insisted it’s “just cyber.” I’m not sure if that’s true but hopefully he’ll tell me the whole truth someday.

He has these moments of incredible clarity and vulnerability when he says he’s so sorry for everything he’s put me through, he loves me so much, he’d do anything for me, and he just needs time to heal. Those moments are fewer and farther between at this stage of his recovery and I want to believe they aren’t just fake. I think they’re who he really is, underneath the trauma - but I’ve dealt with a very high number of (diagnosed) psychopaths in my life and I don’t want to just be endlessly abused. Is it real? Is he really hurting or just fucking with me? Why is he “who he is” so rarely around me anymore? When will that get better? Is this just our life now?

I asked my shrink if he was just messing with me and she said “That’s a thought distortion. He loves you - albeit in his own perverse way. He loves you as much as he can love right now. He needs help.”

He has a lot of the symptoms of narcissism but not all of them - and I don’t know how much of it is trauma vs. addiction vs. a real problem that will not go away. We’re taking a break but I’m not sure if he really loves me or if he just wants to leave the door part-way open while he goes out to pursue 79 different strangers on the side.

Is he just a narcissist? His shrink had said to give it a few months and it will get better. Is that a real thing? Does this get better with time? My own shrinks keep telling me to leave for a long while or forever and that it’s abusive. How long does it take before it gets better? A year? Two years? Five?

I love him very much and that’s why I’ve stayed despite knowing everything that’s been going on. But my trauma response has been very different from his. I don’t understand where his behavior comes from or what it accomplishes in his mind. How is he safer? How does he feel better by pushing me away? How does he feel better by hurting me when I’m safe? He told his shrink he’s not sure I’m safe and I understand in theory what that comes from (family trauma) but I don’t understand-understand.

He says that I can’t have empathy for his situation and I think that’s true. I don’t understand the horrible things he’s been through. I want to be there for him. I want to help. I want to be close to him because that’s the only thing I know to do - to hold someone, to cook for them, to tell them they’re going to be okay when they cry. He doesn’t want any of that. He doesn’t cry - he screams and threatens and breaks things. He insults and cheats and sex-chats with *really* gross women on his phone. He says he hates me because I can’t show him that I understand. I can’t even imagine how much he must be going through right now. I want to learn and to be there for him. I don’t know how to be there for an angry, screaming, verbally abusive cheater who doesn’t even want me around. What am I supposed to be doing?! Is just giving him space enough? How do I stay there for myself and keep from just getting torn apart by this, as well? I feel like I’m drowning.

He used to be different. He’s always been a little distant and grumpy but it used to be charming. It wasn’t like this. Ever since he told me (I was the first person he ever told), he’s been attacking me and telling me I’m “unsafe” and I’m “going to use it against him.” What a scary, terrible way to see the world. What the Hell would anyone even gain by hurting someone in that way?! I’ve never done anything like that and I don’t know where these false beliefs about me come from.

Have your own loved ones gotten better with a few months or years of treatment? Do they lash out at you all of the time? Were they able to overcome sex addiction? Is this typical?


Firstly I think that anything I say must be filtered through the realization that I to am a victim. My opinions maybe skewed because of my experience. I'm replying from a person who is still early in my healing.

The fact that you two are taking a break is a very healthy (and safe) step for you. You stated that you are working on you because of him, that into itself is a indication for you. That you have been through so much is a common thread through a lot of members here. I know what it's like to have someone care for be berating and cruel. However that isn't narcissism that is sadism. It is apparent that he really doesn't know where he's heading now. I realize you have emotions for him. I'm not the one to ask if he is toxic, that you have to go into therapy and work on you because of that should tell you something also. Sometimes you have to stand by yourself before you stand by somebody. The tragedies in your life may have left you open to being tolerant to handling abuse from somebody who says they love you.
Because his reasons for lashing out at you are to keep him safe, allowing him to continue in said behaviors

It is very compassionate of you to stand by him, but sometimes that doesn't keep you safe. This should be your main goal your safety. If you need to take a break perhaps a permanent break until he can show that he has addressed his behaviors and his thought pattern and working on changing them it's better to keep him at existence.

Being alone hurts sometimes, however it's better than suffering the emotional pain, belittlement and wondering who he is going to be with next. Keeping yourself distant perhaps permanently is not only for your mental well-being it's your physical well-being and health as well.

Staying with this person in my opinion is not emotionally, spiritually or physically healthy thing for you to do. Do he right thing for yourself. Him take a path that leads away from him.

Please keep safe.
Have your own loved ones gotten better with a few months or years of treatment? Do they lash out at you all of the time? Were they able to overcome sex addiction? Is this typical?

All his actions can be considered typical for a lot of male victims *prior to dealing with the abuse issues*. If he's been in treatment working on his abuse issues six months to a year you should see some positive movement there, if not I would seriously question the value in holding on.

Do you or should you continue to invest your time & love in someone who is hurting you? There is so much unknown here like how much time you have invested in this relationship, how entwined are your lives together? Are you living together, do you own properties jointly? Do you have kids together or do you have kids who are now emotionally attached to him? If your age was 28 vs 38 or even 58 would have bearing too. Could he be dangerous? Do you not deserve more, to be treated with more respect & dignity? Hurt people hurt people but at some point they know the hurt they are inflicting on others. If he knows he's hurting you and continues to do so unabated I would question his treatment & his ambition for healing and making a better life for the two of you. Is it healing he's after in treatment or is he using it as a cover or excuse for his actions?

Does he know about this website? He should be here in addition to his therapy sessions. Sometimes more is more, like in more healing tools.

I was never a demonstrator of my feelings such as hitting, yelling or destroying things. I was very closed off and cold, I could be very blunt, cutting with my words or expressions even in casual tone (as I've been told). I finally started dealing with my abuse issues in secret in my ninth year of marriage. About five months in I decided it was time to tell my wife about my abuse and the work I've been doing about it. She was surprised at this revelation but also surprised me with a revelation of her own. Her's was of her be over me, over my walls & callus coldness. She said that she had decided to leave me months earlier but just hadn't had the nerve to pull the trigger...yet. She assumed that my coldness was because that I was seeing another woman and lost love for her. I was shocked by her words, In my own mind thought that our marriage was fine and dandy. She did say that she did notice a change in me as of late but didn't trust that it was anything good, she assumed that I was up to something. She was happy that I told her, it answered many of the questions she had about why I acted the way I did. Things were then very good between us. It took a year and a half for me to feel good about myself.

As much as I hate to see another survivor in pain, if you were my sister or daughter, I'd tell you that if you didn't see a light at the end of the tunnel now with some positive movement after six months to a year of working on it, make a clean break while you can, life is too short.


I'm a survivor who used to abuse people to cope. I have reactive attachment disorder. Sometimes what happened to us makes us cope by taking out what happened on those around us. I know what it's like to build up emotional walls so people don't get close. Sleeping around gives a feeling of power and control. You also feel desirable because other people want you. It invalidates that feeling that you aren't good enough to love because of what happened to you. He's working out issues albeit on other people.

I think getting out the relationship was the best thing for you both. I'm realizing that when you have a trauma background and you understand it, communication is that much more important when it comes to intimacy. You need to know what you are dealing with and yourself well enough to be able to handle anything issues or complex feelings that may come up.

Just heal and focus on you. He needs to figure out his issues himself. It's not your responsibility.