Remember when social media basically imploded during the series finale of HBO’s The Undoing? Same. And if you haven’t had a chance to watch it just yet, we won’t spoil that wild ride of an ending, but we do recommend being prepared to hold your breath for literally the entire episode.
What we will spoil though — you’ve been warned! — is that the marriage between Grace and Jonathan Fraser (portrayed by Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant) is nothing but a house of lies. Of course, if you’ve been watching the show you already know that, but the extent of their marital problems is fully revealed in the finale. At the core of it is the revelation that Jonathan is a sociopath, narcissist, and just all-around jerk.
The transformation his character goes through is quite jarring. After all, at the beginning of the series he’s depicted as a devoted husband and father with a big heart. He’s a respected oncologist who works with child cancer patients, and manages to make them laugh even when their prognoses don’t look good. How could someone like that turn out to be so, well, terrible? And how does this all play out when you’re married to, or in a relationship with, an individual who demonstrates these characteristics?
“Covert narcissism is far more difficult to detect because it can masquerade as a kind person in the initial stages of the relationship,” Katherine M. Hertlein, Ph.D., a relationship therapist and professor with the couple and family therapy program at UNLV’s School of Medicine, tells MadameNoire. “They are very humble on the outside to others, but they definitely have an ego underneath. They start out as mild-mannered. You may initially feel good, but over time those thoughts shift to They don’t seem to understand me fully and there’s something that doesn’t feel right.”
Is this beginning to sound familiar? If so, read ahead for Hertlein’s advice on how to spot this toxic behavior early on and cut ties with a sociopathic narcissist for good.
First of all, what is a sociopathic narcissist?
It’s important to note that sociopathy and narcissism are two different constructs, although they have traits in common and are both personality disorders. Specifically, narcissists suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, and sociopaths suffer from antisocial personality disorder. “In both conditions, the individual suffering from the disorder does the same thing over and over again, irrespective of the appropriateness of the behavior, the contingencies of the situation, or the negative consequences of it,” Hertlein says. “They lack the ability to self-monitor and self-correct in a given situation. In narcissism and sociopathy in particular, common behaviors include their contempt of others, their exploitation of others, and lack of empathy for others.”
What are the differences between sociopathy and narcissism?
The differences are in their traits and diagnosis, Hertlein explains. “Narcissism is characterized by their arrogance,” she says. “They believe they are entitled to special treatment, are exempt from life hassles and what would be normal consequences of their action, and demonstrate rage when they are insufficiently admired. Those with antisocial personality disorder are still exploitive of others, but are also deceitful, callous, irritable, do not take responsibility for their own actions, do not conform to the law, disregard the safety of others, and lack remorse for their actions.”
Does technology affect the behavior of a sociopathic narcissist?
Unfortunately, the short answer here is yes. Thanks to the Internet, social media, and the ubiquity of smartphones, sociopaths and narcissists can now wield more power and manipulation in a relationship than they’ve ever been able to before. “Technology makes it easier for the narcissist to control you,” Hertlein says. “They can more easily spy on you, they can lie about where they are with simple texts, and can more easily engage in hostile withholding and the silent treatment. On social media, you might pick up the overt narcissists with the rage and distortions in their tweets and posts, but the covert narcissists will be much harder to detect.”
What makes dating a sociopathic narcissist difficult?
It all comes down to their lack of empathy and their cognitive distortions. Often, their distortions about events are rooted in some level of reality, so they convince you that any issues between the two of you are just differences in perspectives, and that you, in fact, are the one who sees it wrong. This is otherwise known as gaslighting. “It is highly dangerous and manipulative,” Hertlein says. “When you call them out on the distortions and lies, you get hit with them punishing you so you learn not to question, and accept the line of baloney they are feeding you. In other words, they condition you to ignore your intuition.”
How can dating a sociopathic narcissist become potentially dangerous?
Because of all the gaslighting, you eventually lose trust in your own experience of the world. And that can lead you down a very dangerous path (we’re talking to you, Grace!). “Because you have to keep telling yourself to not question, and that your gut is wrong,” Hertlein explains. “They control you while being disinterested in you. Narcissists are highly abusive, and also often engage in a pattern of punishment when you do not honor them in the way that they think you should.”
Is it possible to break up with a sociopathic narcissist?
While getting rid of these people is indeed possible, it’s not going to be easy. That’s because narcissists engage in a cycle of abuse in order to get you back. And they’re willing to do whatever it takes to feed their own ego. “They need you in their life so they can feel superior,” Hertlein says. “When someone initially breaks up with a narcissist, the narcissist sets forth on a path to win them back. We as the victim get confused because we think the narcissist wants us back. They don’t. They don’t care about you at all. What they lost at the breakup is someone who admires them — that is why they seek you out again.”
How can you stay broken up with a sociopathic narcissist?
To make the breakup stick, going into a strict no-contact mode is absolutely essential. Any effort you give them will be exploited in order to win you back for their sake, not for yours or the relationship. This can be especially tough for people who are trauma-bonded and have a longing to be with that person. “As the victim, we secretly want to be ‘love-bombed’ again, and have a chance to make things different,” Hertlein says. “But it will not be different. For those who share children and cannot afford to go no-contact, the recommended technique is called gray rock. You give them no information about you or your life ever, and always stick to business or details as it pertains to the children. Also, get yourself into therapy. You will have to recover from the trauma of the abuse, see it for what it was, and recover from the betrayal, and restore your sense of confidence.”
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