Does Narcissistic Personality Disorder qualify as mental illness? In my experience, I think it does. I'm still researching this disorder and intend to have a more definitive answer when I write my book.
Which brings to mind another question: if NPD is a mental illness, how responsible are these people for their actions?
In my experience with "my N", whom I refer to as "my Hero", he is not 100% responsible for his actions. I've been told by others that he's "playing me like a violin" or his lying and his abuses are his "modus operandi". While I agree that he (and other NPD) have learned that certain behaviors work for him, just as a rat in a maze learns certain behaviors result in a reward, I don't think that he "plays me like a violin", at least not consciously.
I drew on my prior experience with mental illness in deciding that my Hero was delusional. Someone who is delusional cannot be convinced that his delusions aren't real. I learned this from my brother, who was severely mentally ill, diagnosis paranoid schizophrenic.
My brother began exhibiting signs of mental illness in his late teens, early 20s. By the end of his life in his early 40s, he was almost completely living in a fantasy world. It was a rich, full world, but also one filled with deep despair. He lived off and on with our mother, who took care of him as best she could. There were nights when she heard him sobbing in his bed. There were times of great joy when he would set off on one of his imaginary adventures, very real to him. There were times when he would live on the streets.
One time, he got himself all spiffed up and asked Mom for a ride downtown, where he was to meet Brooke Shields, his (real to him) imaginary lover of the moment. She knew she couldn't argue with him so off they went. They drove around for awhile when he told her, "Here they are, let me out here." He got out of the car and sauntered over to a car that was parked nearby. What a surprise that must have been for the people in the car.
Another time she found him sitting behind a 7-11, crying, because he was supposed to meet Brooke, but couldn't find her.
Another time he came bursting into Mom's bedroom at night because he knew that she was hiding Brooke under her bed! These things were all very real to him. He would become angry or confused if anyone tried to argue with him or tell him that his fantasies were not real.
He scared people because he would say some really crazy things and many people do not understand mental illness. Fortunately, he was not violent towards others. What of these people who are obviously not of sound mind who ultimately hurt other people? The recent shooter in Tucson comes to mind. How responsible is he for the atrocity that he committed?
Many would argue that he should be executed and perhaps he should. He most likely cannot be helped. He probably won't ever understand what he has done, the tragedy that he caused. Should he be held accountable?
There is a real risk in treating these people or calling them "cured" in that even the most severely mentally ill can feign "wellness", even when they are not. They can fool even professionals.
As an example, my brother, obviously severely mentally unstable, was at one point sent to a mental health facility for evaluation. He was soon released because the officials there determined that he was not sufficiently mentally ill to be kept for treatment! He completely fooled them.
My sweet baby brother eventually took his own life. He had told our mother that God wanted him to come home.
Other members of my immediate family also suffer from severe mental illness: my other younger brother, my father and my youngest son. All in some way are delusional and all cannot be reached or convinced that their delusions are not real. My father took his own life in his 40s also.
I don't remember when I first began to question my husband's mental health but I began to see parallels to what I had experienced with my brothers. His grandiose thinking, his flamboyant spending , his terrible lies--is it possible he doesn't know what he's doing?
I searched my soul, I searched myself, I seriously pondered whether I was as nutty as Grandma's fruitcake and it wasn't easy, but I finally realized that I wasn't crazy. It took me almost three years to "diagnose" my husband as being Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but once I had that label, it became easier to understand his actions.
I began to suspect that my Hero's lies were actually delusions, a big difference. He would become very angry, frightening even, if I questioned something he said. I referred to the place in his brain where he stored his lies as "The Dead Zone". Whenever I probed The Dead Zone, a monster would appear. I found it fascinating. I began to disconnect from him emotionally and study him much as I would any science experiment. I still loved him, as I do even now, and I care about his well-being. I wanted to help him.
I believed that if I probed The Dead Zone hard enough, eventually I would penetrate it and the sickness would spill out. Once the wound was opened, it could be aired, discussed and conquered. I really believed this, and that was my natural arrogance. It didn't work.
He more and more fiercely guarded "The Dead Zone" and I eventually gave up the battle. But that left me in a quandry because I knew that I could not continue to live a lie. I've stated that I believe honesty is one of the most important things between two people, and I couldn't figure out how to live with the constant deception, whether he intended to deceive me or not. I'm excruciatingly honest myself, to the point of bluntness.
I also began to realize how damaging the lies were to me. I was questioning my sanity (I still am at times). I was feeling belittled, degraded and diminished. I felt that I was disappearing. I also realized I was becoming deeply depressed.
Finding information about NPD was the turning point for me. Still I thought I could help him, now that I knew what he "had". Arrogant, and wrong again. I wanted so much for him to see what he was doing and walk with me into the light because I knew I could no longer live in his darkness.
And darkness it is. I ache for him because I feel that he's in a prison of his own making, just as my poor brother was. I can escape it but he cannot. I feel compassion for the mentally ill, and that includes him. He's caused massive destruction almost everywhere he's been but I still want better for him. It is not to be and I have made my emotional escape.
In answer to my own question, whether or not the NPD is responsible for his actions, I have to say yes and no. It's true he has learned devious behaviors that have worked for him in the past, it's true that he has hurt many people through these behaviors while benefitting himself and it's true that at some deep level he may know very well what he's doing. However, I believe that his brain is misfiring, just as my brother's mixed-up brain was. He believes his delusions, which appear to be lies, just as my brother believed he was very much involved with Brooke Shields. My brother didn't lie--he believed, and I think a narcissist also believes.
A schizophrenic's delusions are generally so far out there, it's obvious there is something "wrong" with that person. But a narcissist's delusions tend to be closely intertwined with reality, and less obviously false, confusing for the "victim".
Help me write my book--I want to hear from you and hear your story. Perhaps together we can solve the mystery of the Narcissist.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.