I've always felt different and out of place, like an alien amongst other humans. Although I grew up with a twin brother and friends, I felt that I couldn't truly connect with people. I was out of place. Even in big crowds, I felt alone, and I stood out. This developed into paranoia because I then felt like everybody was watching me.
My earliest memory of this was when I was eight years old. I was playing on the monkey bars in school with my friend, and he fell and cracked his arm. He was right beside me crying, and I remember not caring while he was screaming. In fact, I felt that his emotions were an inconvenience to me, as they were getting in the way of my needs. Our gym class ended early because of it, and I remember thinking, "This sucks, what do you want me to do?" I was angry because he was in pain, and that pain interfered with my life.
As I got older, I had felt even more disconnected from people as my friends were getting into relationships and I didn't understand why. I remember thinking, "What makes you love somebody so much that you can hold their hand?" I felt that public displays of affection were fake because I didn't feel that way about anybody.
But this soon changed as I realized that I wanted to live a "normal" life. The desire to be married and have children grew because I thought that I could use it as a disguise. I wanted to look human, so I made a plan that I'd go to school and get a good job, get married, and have kids and that would make me fit into society's standards of a good life.
Before meeting my wife, I had a son with another woman, and I realized that the narcissist pattern of love-bombing, breaking up with someone, and quickly moving on to someone else had become a habit for me.
I didn't think about love when I was 19 years old. I thought that love had nothing to do with marriage or children. Of course, that began to shift when I met my wife. At the time, I didn't know that I was a narcissist. When I met my wife, I truly felt that I loved, and still do love her, so we got married in 2015, but she already suspected that I was a narcissist as I would not acknowledge or respond to her emotions.
I constantly talk about rock bottom from a narcissist's perspective because some people tend to think that one event led me to get a diagnosis, but it was an accumulation of factors.
In 2017, when I was 32, I was financially broke, I had dropped out of school, so my education was suffering, I had kids that I couldn't properly look after financially and emotionally, and my wife was unhappy. It felt like all these meteors were heading toward earth and were about to crash.
Am I a narcissist?
But one specific event allowed me to evaluate my life. One day, my wife had gone to the gym and I had to watch my seven-month-old son. I was trying to do something, and he was screaming and crying. I was becoming angry with him because I didn't understand why he was screaming and crying because again, his emotions were an inconvenience to me.
I began yelling, "Why are you crying? This is why I can't do what I need to do in life. You kids, my wife, your mom, you're holding me back!" Within that moment, I didn't realize that my wife had come in, and was watching me yelling. So we got into a big argument and I told her to leave. On her way out, she said, "It's so damn hard living with a narcissist." I quickly called her narcissist back and told her to leave.
I was extremely mad, sitting by myself at home. But then I began to get curious about her calling me a narcissist. Prior to this, my definition of a narcissist was a conceited, cocky, and arrogant person. But I didn't understand why my wife specifically used the term narcissist, as there are many other curse words or insults she could have said.
So, out of curiosity, I looked up narcissism online and found the term, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). After researching the symptoms, I instantly knew that it was referring to me. It felt like something clicked, as I had been asking myself why I had felt weird and emotionally disconnected from the young age of eight and at that moment, at the age of 32, the answer was right in front of me.
Shortly after, I reached out to my wife and told her that I believed I was a narcissist, and that I was going to attend therapy in order to fix my life. So, I joined a self-aware narcissistic personality disorder Facebook group in March 2017, and six months later, the Facebook group advised me to find a therapist. I sent an email to a therapist saying, "I have narcissistic personality disorder. And since becoming aware of it, the inner thoughts are debilitating and pretty much killing me from the inside out. I need help."
In October 2017, I was matched with a therapist and a few months later, in early 2018, I was given a diagnosis of covert narcissistic personality disorder, which refers to someone who craves admiration and importance and who lacks empathy toward others, but is typically less extroverted.
I had to work hard to be more open, honest, and vulnerable, not just with my therapist, but with my wife because a lot of the things that had happened in our relationship stemmed from our lack of communication. She didn't feel comfortable enough to communicate with me as I'm very vocal and tend to be hot-headed. My wife has left me a couple of times. She left at the beginning of the pandemic, in 2020. I had been in therapy for almost three years when she left the second time; because I missed four therapy sessions back-to-back as I became mentally drained.
Life As a Narcissist
Although my life became better after therapy as I was in a better place financially and with my career, I was still emotionally unavailable and therapy still didn't feel like it was fulfilling at first. One thing that a lot of narcissistic people, including myself, can experience is a common thought that nothing is ever enough. So although I was more financially stable, my marriage was going well and the kids were healthy, I would naturally feel like it was not enough and that I'm not doing enough. So I'd internally punish myself which resulted in me being unhappy.
So of course, my internal unhappiness was projected onto my wife and I wasn't there for her emotionally, as I was disconnected. I was 32 years old when I got diagnosed, I had 32 previous years of being who I was, as opposed to only five years of therapy, implementing new patterns of behavior, so naturally, it is difficult.
I work hard to show people that I love them. I'm capable of empathizing more than I did when I was younger, thanks to being in therapy for a few years. People think that I'm cured or healed but I try to raise awareness of the fact that narcissism doesn't go away. I learn how to just alter my behaviors enough to manipulate myself to do things that are beneficial to me, as opposed to being self-destructive and destroying other people in my own interpersonal relationships. I feel like I now have what they call cognitive empathy. I understand what people are feeling. I get it. I can't put myself in those shoes. It's hard for me. And honestly, now, I don't want to, because I can see that too much empathy can sometimes cause pain.
Before therapy, I had a lot of friends. Growing up, I was charming, charismatic, and funny, so people liked being around me. But right now, I'm actively choosing to not be around other people, not because I will harm them, but because I feel like it's good to surround myself with my family and close people. Being with my twin brother while growing up allowed me to fit in as he was always around. He's not like me. That's what I tell people all the time, it shows you that you can grow up in the same household, but have different experiences.
Where some people grow, others shut down, and that's what I did. Certain traumatic events happened to me as a child that made me promise myself that nobody will ever be able to hurt me again, so I put up the shield in my youth and it's still sometimes up now.
What People Misunderstand About Narcissists
There is a common misconception that narcissists ruin people. People think I'm horrible, but not all people with personality disorders are bad. Do narcissists do horrible things to people? Yes. But non-narcissists do horrible things to people as well. My own existence shows that I'm challenging this misconception. Another common misconception is that narcissists are the devil. It's funny to me now because I make jokes about it, but I read the Bible, and I pray to God every single night.
I began a podcast in July 2019, to encourage more men to get into therapy due to the impact it has had on my life. Generally, the idea of men going to therapy is looked down upon, not by women, but by other men. Usually, men would be told to go to the gym, drink a beer or ignore their feelings. That's why the initial goal was to speak of the positive effects of therapy. But in May 2020, I began making TikTok videos while on my way to therapy, raising awareness of some common narcissistic personality disorder traits. Soon, these videos gained a lot of attraction as people were intrigued by the discussion. I now have over a million followers on TikTok, while still using YouTube as a platform to raise awareness.
Some believe that there's no hope for most narcissists because they don't have hope for themselves. They don't want to get help as they don't know what to work on or what to do. That's because deep down inside, they may not want to deal with certain traumas as they don't want to be perceived as weak, or vulnerable. But for me personally, speaking of my disorder makes me feel stronger. It makes me the world's best narcissist. It sounds grandiose and delusional, but it works for me, and with that, I've been able to help validate the victims and survivors of this disorder and some of the traits that come along with it. That has always been my goal, to raise awareness of narcissistic personality disorder, and to validate the people who may have been victims of it.
Lee Hammock, 37, from Reidsville, North Carolina, is a self-aware narcissist bringing awareness to NPD, as well as encouraging more people to get into therapy using his social media platforms.
All views expressed in this article are the author's own.
As told to Carine Harb.