My experience being the codependent of a covert cerebral narcissist – the patterns
This post is about repeated and deliberate abusive behaviour I experienced from Raghuram S Godavarthi aka Raghu aka godavar. I once more want to clarify that the “covert cerebral narcissist” is a descriptor that fits closest to what I experienced over the years and not a clinical diagnosis.
This post has been edited and updated for clarity and coherence. A previous post describes the story of how the relationship progressed in a more linear manner.
I am trying to explain some of the repeating patterns that I experienced and how they altered the balance in our relationship.
But before I begin, I want to repeat that I am not claiming any halos here. Unlike most victims of manipulators, I was neither entirely powerless, nor as unaware of the manipulations and over the years I have challenged them repeatedly, only to no avail. Yet, I continued in the relationship. I want to focus on things about me that contributed to this situation first. This isn’t so much about pointing fingers as a situation that is no longer sustainable.
Lack of a sense of “normal”
Having experienced demeaning and dominating behavior from my father and then alcoholic nuisance and abuse at the hands of the husband, my idea of abuse was largely about a dominating person, who may be loud, insulting, or unable to control his drinking. I failed to hold my boundaries against polite and subtle manipulation, even after recognizing that it was happening and objecting to it. I did bounce back after each time he got me to a devastated low with stronger boundaries and eventually they were strong enough to force him to choose to leave.
To be honest, other than the times when I was really hurt and depressed, I failed to recognize the gravity of what was happening till I realized that what I was being subjected to was narcissistic abuse and just how serious it can be.
Having a strong sense of self probably helped me stay resilient and happy unless actively being targeted, so for the most part, in public, we appeared to be a happy couple. He never abused me in public, and was unfailingly charming. I was cool.
The manipulative patterns
A shrinking relationship, disorders galore
While the relationship began with a sense of excitement and discovery, it started shrinking with almost clockwork efficiency where every few months, an aspect we could connect with intimately kept being arbitrarily withdrawn. His fear of intimacy guaranteed that any time he was trusting and vulnerable with me would be followed by some or the other way to shut me down hard with something that would hurt me bad.
The man who was sensitive and charming when the relationship began, stopped connecting on an emotional level altogether. Silent treatments, refusals to answer, flat out evasions became the norm. When I tried to find out what was happening, he told me he finds it difficult to express emotion or to even be aware of what he is feeling.
I tried to understand him, to help him find words for something I’d like to know, he wasn’t interested.
He stopped stating any kind of preferences. Do you like this or that? Indifferent shrug. He explained it as him being a perpetual fence sitter. He guards the most casual of preferences from an intimate partner with all the zealousness of a country’s leader guarding nuclear missile codes from enemy spies. Nosiness guaranteed instant hostility.
He would trigger a conversation about something we both had opinions on, and if my opinion so much as differed from his slightly, he would clam up and refuse to discuss the subject further. I gave up on engaging in intellectual discussions, because he wanted a yes man, not a spirited discussion of any depth he didn’t already have expertise in.
He blamed avoidance of conflict to explain his inability to speak the truth. But it is more than that. It is compulsive lying. He has created conflicts with unnecessary and trivial lies.
He blamed lack of emotional awareness for not realizing that his first affair was developing an interest in him. No one trips and falls into a vagina. There are many deliberate interim steps. It did not matter. It was his truth and he was sticking to it.
Then came the asexuality to explain the disinterest in intimacy altogether. Every time I thought I adapted to one door slamming in my face, it was time for the next one to slam. So in that sense, the relationship itself slamming shut was inevitable – there are just so many doors you meet a loved one through.
Asking him about his cheating results in an instant dumping. Like you may be back from buying household supplies a couple of days after he told you he wants to grow old with you. Ask about affair and “I want out”.
Each time I attempted to help him address these seemingly insurmountable difficulties, I seemed to be the only person interested in resolving these issues. In the process, desperate to understand what was going on with these strange behaviors, I discovered terms like Alexythimia, APD, AvPD, Demand Avoidance…
Each time, I also came across Narcissism. And dismissed it as a possibility. After all, he was so humble, wasn’t he? And surely he couldn’t be being so cruel to me on purpose! This was something my mind was simply unable to believe. It did not make sense till I read about the covert narcissist with the conspicuous humility.
In the meanwhile, I also started getting taunted for always trying to find something to fix about him, which actually wasn’t true so much as I was bewildered and trying to find an explanation for what was going on. Why was what seemed to be such a beautiful relationship only shrinking and shutting down, no matter what we did?
It is never his fault. No matter what goes wrong. An entire group of people can be wrong, but he is innocent. He can and will use things you are vulnerable about in order to make you feel guilty. For example “I want to leave because of constant crises in the relationship. You pointed out we keep hurtling from one crisis to another.” Quite ignoring that he literally invented the crisis out of thin air if we seemed happy together. Usually in the form of shutting me out in some way to send me into a bewildered search for what was wrong. But instead he meant my son’s surgeries, my father’s illness and death…. I mean really? A child needs surgeries so you, who pretends to be the loving father want out because too much crisis going on? How about not creating clusterfucks deliberately?
Or say… when I said I needed to quit smoking or lose weight. If I ask for accountability on something, he’d tell me to focus on quitting smoking or weight loss instead. Anything you said can and will be used to shift blame on you if you try to hold him accountable for anything. Even if entirely unrelated.
Evasive melodramatic apologies
He does not like admitting he was wrong. He does not like apologizing. He never expresses regret for anything he did. However, his super polite affect requires him to apologize when openly called out on some wrong. The “accusation” need not be what normal sane people think is an accusation. Even refusing to play along with something he suggests can be taken as one. There is a formula.
Instead of apologizing for the specific wrong pointed out, he will apologize for something ridiculously huge, so that the person accusing him, is forced to actually downplay the magnitude rather than receiving the apology.
He: Why don’t you go to this event?
Me: Nah. Not really my thing. You go ahead.
He: I’m sorry. I will never ask you to go anywhere again.
Two problems with this. First is that my refusal was for one specific event, not a refusal to go anywhere he ever suggested again. And second, most people faced with that extreme apology will be hooked into apologizing for making him feel so comprehensively rejected like that instead. Except, we never did. By responding as though we did, he forces us to defend something we did not do and ignore what we actually said. Neat dodge, eh?
Needless to say, that “I will never ask you to go anywhere again” is false. He will. It is just a way to turn a refusal or criticism into an apology by the other person and has absolutely no real intent behind it.
A variant is the extreme “clarification”
Me: I felt hurt when you did this. And you do it often.
He: Have I caused you nothing but hurt in the time we have been together?
Again, this tricks the person into reciting the good things about him and dropping their original complaint.
Lies, gaslighting and more lies
I was not very aware of him as a liar before the first affair. No one actually checks to see if they are being told the truth without reason. The sheer flood of things that didn’t add up with that affair forced me to see that I was being lied to. Repeatedly, relentlessly and without remorse. There were lies within lies within lies. Small ones, huge ones, unnecessary ones.
Every time I suspected he was lying, he denied it. Without fail. And then he usually tried to make me doubt my sanity for doubting his honesty with increasingly intricate “proofs” of his lie. Much later, they would turn out to be lies, of course. By then, I would have not only suffered from the lie, but the cruelty in making me doubt my own sanity for even suspecting it.
There is no way to tell how many shoes are waiting to fall and no amount of requests, demands, conditions, threats to tell the truth were actually answered with anything I didn’t already know or a lie I hadn’t exposed so far. Only to discover something new and devastating a few days later. That trip he was taking because he was so stressed and needed time alone? He had made plans to take the other woman with him. That night when he told you he had gone for a walk after dinner and left phone behind and thus couldn’t answer? But he wasn’t. When confronted with that, he said he was stressed and needed time to himself, so phone was in his bag, charging from his laptop so he couldn’t answer – he was willing to show me how it was possible to charge it like that in case I was ignorant (like REALLY?). In the end, he had visited his affair partner after telling me he had broken up with her.
That job he sacrificed for you? Well, he was asked to resign – he lasted that long because there was a staff crunch with multiple pregnancies among their teams. He told me his boss was unreasonable and demanding and I am pretty sure he used the kid’s surgeries and stress of a long distance relationship to explain his work performance.
I have lost track of both truth and lies. When he speaks, I have no idea whether he is telling a lie or what actually happened.
All attempts to clear the air with good old truth telling and setting the record straight lasted only as long as I nagged him and rarely resulted in him confessing to any lies. He even met a friend with me in an attempt to bring a sanity check to a relationship completely depleted on trust and made no mention that he was already involved in a new affair.
At least these are the two affairs I know of. Given his track record, the ones I don’t know of could be from zero to infinite.
He is attracted to the pain of others
Several of his friendships and relationships have been with women who are vulnerable after a previous relationship, have an illness, have a vulnerable child, and so on. He bonded with my severely disabled son more and more deeply than with me and literally got a lot of his unacceptable behaviour tolerated by being there as “support”. So if you are a woman hurt from a previous relationship, influential AND living alone…. you’re a magnet.
He also actively causes pain by reminding of painful events, subtle put downs, taunts and such.
Exaggerating own contributions, dismissing others, envy
He is extremely prone to describing what he has done for others, showcasing his help as a sign of his character, keeping it alive with repeated self-referencing in conversations. At the same time, he completely ignores what others do for him.
For example, while trying to heal our relationship one of the times, I once asked him what he would like me to do that he would recognize as caring or loving or enjoying things together. He said that he loves reading and said that I never share books with him. This was absurd, as I had shared over a dozen books with him at that point. He didn’t remember any of them.
He had been trying to get me to watch films and videos with him for a long time and after his first affair, at some point when conversation was not an option that went well with him, I adopted this. I quickly learned that he would start watching the film, then simply ignore it and get busy on his phone, missing the plot altogether. He had no recollection of several films we saw together later.
He insisted on putting the son’s hospital bills on his card, as it got him points. I later helped him pay this off to the best of my ability and he insisted that as a parent, he wanted to spend for the child. Later, he would reference these as things he did for us, as though he paid for all the expenses on his own. At the same time, he has no recollection of endless expense and efforts put toward getting a specialized diet to control his blood sugar without medication. He has no recollection of the early days of our relationship when even as a struggling single mother, I shouldered the expenses of the household and ensured that he did not spend while he was here, because he was usually broke. He did not start contributing to anything till he got his high paying job, and alarmed at his constantly high credit card bills, I suggested he start a habit of contributing toward household expenses. I have given him money on occasion before the job. He does not remember. He does not remember any expenses toward accommodating his needs in the household. He does not shoulder household expenses exclusively. My mother, he and I contributed. However, if I wanted attention from him, he had no time for “my demands”, because he was busy “putting bread and butter on the table”. No recognition that all the adults in the home were doing it and I was also ensuring the management of said home and meeting everyone’s needs in addition to that.
This was not limited to the home. I was astonished when one day he was bitter that he had put five years into the struggle against Aadhaar and no one cared, but TM Krishna could sing one song and it was a big deal. I was surprised because…. it is a good thing if a star backs the cause you are passionate about, right? Why the anger?
He is not able to recognize good in others, and not able to recognize himself as anything but perfect, though there is no shortage of exhibitions of humility or demonizing himself in an outrageously illogical manner that is designed to sound fake.
No concern for the feelings of others
In any given situation, he will do what makes things easiest for him. If avoiding a confrontation about him cheating on me means that running away is easiest, he will not care that a child loses the only father he knows. He will not care that a woman who has loved him through a hell of a lot of his crap is hurt. He will not care that his hopeful parents who had thought that the son that worried them had finally settled down will be devastated with this utterly horrifying behaviour. All that will matter is that his perfection has been questioned and to reject the situation rather than appear imperfect.
Women that interest him
He has always maintained that he has strictly platonic relationships with women. Except, I somehow doubt that he makes intimate enquiries of everyone he knows – did you eat, sleep, how’s your cold, I could come over to visit, want to catch a play, cute nicknames for each other, regular good night messages… these are saved for single, confident women who live independently and have the potential to introduce him to more people to network with.
From there to an affair, in the second instance, and according to him was a mere post-lunch hug that went on a touch too long and they both realized they wanted the same thing. This is basically grooming. Setting the stage and normalizing his presence in a woman’s space so that the smallest action can tip the “friendship” into a relationship.
His denial of any interest in the women is also part of the pattern. Nothing happened, right? So basically, unless you catch him red handed, he can be fishing indefinitely, and as a partner he committed to, this was not information relevant to me, apparently.
Extremely touchy about criticism
Even criticism you may not think of as criticism, disagreeing about dinner plans, or having a slightly different opinion on something… including an inability to take a joke – he sees it as an insult. Like honest jokes, not taunts. And out of the blue you are bewildered wondering where the extreme defensive and accusatory reaction is coming from. It is basically designed to fool you into thinking it is your fault and train you into not offending his sense of perfection again.
Forget about constructive criticism being accepted. He may superficially thank you, but it goes right out the window.
This man goes into sullen silences that convey fury when thwarted in any way. But can actually break out into violent actions – often addressed at himself as well. Hitting own head, hitting wall, slamming door and walking out…. to the point where I had to talk to him, because he was scaring the maids as well as my mother after an incident where my mother asked him something (and she can be irritating) and he walked out in a rage and slammed the door till everyone jumped, leaving a wary silence behind.
The relentlessly polite man can scream with rage in his own room.
This is very intimidating, not in the least because he also towers over everyone else at home.
His response was “I’m not harming them”. Really? A sudden, violent rage does not harm them? What are they supposed to do? Wait till you one day hit someone? Accidentally? On purpose?
Nisarga’s old maid is frail as it is. She really does not prefer interacting with him, though the rages are quite rare and usually triggered by his own actions. Like spilled a glass of milk. Hit self violently in the head for being clumsy!
He is very aware of his rages and that he is unraveling. After his idea for a protest was hijacked by others in a way he did not approve of (as opposed to conducted by them as he suggested), he was so furious, he admitted to not being safe to be out in a crowd.
Relentless need for socialization
This, I believe is the narcissist’s constant addiction to supply of adoration. Whether it is book clubs or theatre groups or activist groups or protests or friends visiting from out of town or some play screening or….. you get the idea. If there is an invite, he will go.
This harms literally everything that needs sustained effort in his life, from jobs to relationships by giving the most important and enduring aspects of life the utter dregs of his energy – to do when there is literally nowhere left to go.
In terms of energy to nurture our relationship you can add absolutely anything he can find to do on his laptop and phone after there is nowhere left to go. Which basically means that his attention is almost never available to me. He does not get into bed or stop attending his phone unless he is utterly exhausted. His energy is completely drained by his relentless addiction to securing the attention he needs.
Why am I listing these out?
Because these are seriously problematic behaviors he does not appear to have consistent motivation to resolve. It isn’t just about me being a difficult to please, demanding partner, as he’d probably prefer the world believed.
This is an actual problem he refuses to recognize or address and in the process inflicts repeated pain and rejection on me and I genuinely believe that this is not about me, but the only way he knows how to be that will cause hurt to whoever ends up caring about him.
And some questions that have been asked of me since.
Is this about controlling him
Do you hate him?
No. I do love him. I just don’t want him to have the power to hurt me anymore, because he does not use it wisely.
WHY don’t you hate him
I don’t know how to hate someone in whom I have invested so much of myself, shared so much with and been enriched by as well. No one is black and white.
While Raghu has hurt me badly and often, he has also made this home his own, cared for my son as his own and sat outside endless operation theaters waiting for him to come out safely. He has brought filter coffee to fertilize my precious plants, done his best to support us in trying times. In his own way, he has shown caring over the years and no matter the problems, that does not go away.
Hating him would be as good as calling the last five years of my life a mistake and they were not. I am my own person and enriched and evolved in my own ways and when the times were good with him, he also was a part of this journey.
If you are certain he is a narcissist, why do you even want to give him so many chances.
To begin with, this is not a clinical diagnosis, merely the most fitting descriptor I found that covered the range of issues plaguing us.
If he is a narcissist, it isn’t by choice, though his manner of resolving his challenges IS unethical AND a choice. I doubt being as he is is easy for him, and as someone who does love him and has a pretty strong personality, I have no problems shouldering some of the load, including if he ends up hurting me IF he actually wants to not hurt us and is trying to change.
Nobody promised that life or love wouldn’t hurt and if that hurt is part of loving them, so be it. I am resilient and have seen a lot of shit in life and have the capacity to endure through to better times AND live AND love, BUT
So why is it over then?
It is over because there is no attempt even to address the problems, beyond the most temporary, shallow efforts that evaporate off at first opportunity.
Even if I see whatever his problems are as a handicap, including the supposedly incurable and relentlessly malicious narcissism, if he does not want to fight them, then it is not my business to fight them. I can stand by his side and take any accidental hits that result when his efforts to be better fail, but not be the punching bag for his refusal to change.
All I can do is caution other likely targets who could end up as collateral damage and perhaps not be able to make so much sense of the bewilderment that ensues.
What would it take for you to accept him again
A lot of well meaning friends are asking this. Frankly, as he is, he is toxic and I don’t want him back. The only way I would accept him back would be if he convincingly took measures to change, expressed regret for his behaviour and showed signs of valuing what we had and could have.
It would take seeing at least two weeks of DAILY efforts to address problematic behaviour without anyone having to beg him to do it. It has to be HIS goal not something he does as a favor to me for a day or two. Not something he does to please family or friends and get them to believe his latest “sincere attempt”, because then it will stop the minute they look away. Remember, this is a master at pretending.
It will take him respecting me as he should. It will take him stopping lying, grooming women for attention, cheating on me. So far, he has shown no concrete desire to do any of this or even remorse for entering a child’s life and abandoning him literally on whim.
You get what I am saying? I love the man, but I will not risk my child for anything. And loving the man also means wanting the best for him, not enabling deceitful behaviour. And loving myself means that I don’t accept being conned.