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Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Part 1

Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Why Can’t We Talk About Coping With Our Gay Spouses’ Mental Health Issues? Part 1

By Kristin Kalbli

Recently, a fellow straight spouse contacted me to express frustration over a response she’d received from a closed online support community for victims of narcissistic abuse. In a bid for more tailored support from this group, the straight spouse mentioned that her narcissistic abuser happened to be her closeted gay husband, and that there were nuances to that experience that differentiated it from that of typical heterosexual narcissistic abuse.

The moderators of the closed group told her “not to mention sexual orientation because there is no link between sexual orientation and narcissism.” She was immediately shut down, and she felt marginalized and invisible, condemned for and tainted by the faint whiff of having said something “wrong.” She was shushed, and shamed, and scolded by the admins; then she was ignored. She said she felt like she “could only tell one part” of her story. Only half her story was legitimized, the narcissistic abuse survivor part. The other part of her story, the gay husband part, was not welcome in the discussion.

And that’s a problem. Not all straight spouses were married to closeted LGBT people who were also narcissists, or sociopaths, or Cluster B types. But many of us were and are. And we face an uphill battle in getting support as women and men recovering from the narcissistic abuse of spouses who are simultaneously closeted or in-denial homosexuals.

When we try to tell our stories publicly, or build awareness around our uniquely traumatic marriages, we run into the circled wagons of the progressive LGBT ally community (I am one, by the way), and the therapeutic community who assiduously guard against any conflation of homosexuality with mental illness. It is a common experience for a straight spouse to be rebuked by a therapist with the refrain, “there is no link between homosexuality and mental illness.”

This rainbow wall of silence is extremely uncomfortable with any conversation that links the words “gay” and “narcissist”; it is bordering on offensive to utter the word “homosexual” in conjunction with any personality disorder listed in the DSM V, let alone the word “sociopathy”. And to do so is to risk raising the ugly specter of homophobia. It harkens back to the ugly days when homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and homosexuals were persecuted (often tortured) in the name of treatment for their “conditions.”

Back in the day, gays were thrown in asylums, confined to psychiatric wards, and subjected to “aversion therapies” which included traumatic electro shock therapy. Today, in religious circles, the harmful practice of gay conversion therapy, which has no efficacy record whatsoever, is based on the premise that being gay or lesbian is inherently disordered (from a religious, if not psychological perspective). And in more repressive foreign countries like Russia and Uganda, where homophobic violence is state sanctioned, the discrimination and trauma those LGBT communities endure is more likely to be the understandable cause of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Given the history, this reticence to talk openly about people with severe psychiatric illnesses who are also homosexual or bisexual is largely understandable. Therapists are accurate when they point out that scientifically there is no causal link between narcissism (or any mental illness or disordered personality) and homosexuality (or any sexual orientation). And there is no equivalence between homosexuality and mental illness. One is not the other. Period. The American Psychiatric Association rightly disavowed that homosexuality was a mental illness in the 70’s. And some supporters of LGBT people (like my friend’s online support group) diligently police those associations and call out any hint of a connection in an extremity of caution.

So this dark and damaging history of the harmful linkage between homosexuality and mental illness lurks just behind any conversation about our specific kinds of mixed orientation marriages – marriages to closeted or in-denial LGBT people who also have narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies or personalities. Our mental health culture is gun shy when it comes to talking about personalities in which narcissism and homosexuality exist simultaneously (even if causally unrelated), lest there be any whiff of conflating being LGBT with a psychiatric disorder.

This schism is exemplified by another straight spouse’s experience: she recently shared with me that in her search for appropriate therapy for her family during and after divorce, once she “said the ‘g’ word, the whole tone changed.” She was “lectured about homosexuality and mental illness.” She was told that being gay was not mental illness and that she should “heal herself by advocating for gay rights.” She was admonished to be more sympathetic to her gay husband, and when she tried to articulate the nuanced challenges of living with a deceptive gay spouse, she was told by one therapist, “it’s the narcissism, dear.”

We already know it’s the narcissism, not the gay, that precipitates these harmful behaviors. But there is also an alchemical reaction between the narcissism and the homosexuality that manifests in unique ways in these marriages that must be addressed, not dismissed.  Yet patronization and dismissal are present nonetheless in some therapeutic settings. It is as though therapists and allies forget that being LGBT does not inoculate a person from having a psychiatric disorder; that although homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder, some homosexuals have psychiatric disorders, just as some heterosexuals do.

Where does this leave the straight spouse who not only grapples with healing from the deception and betrayal of the closeted gay or lesbian spouse, but also the gas-lighting and script flipping, or sometimes even intentionally sadistic mental and sexual torture? The two cannot be teased apart. We cannot separate healing from a narcissist and healing from a gay spouse. These two dimensions of our spouses’ personalities do not exist in monolithic silos, as though column A is filled with the issues and damage caused by the fact that our spouses were secretly gay and kept it from us, and column B is filled with the issues and damage caused by the fact that our spouses were sadists or narcissists.

We cannot tease out the healing of these traumas either. Medically there may be no link, but behaviorally, they are intricately and intimately linked. And we need a therapeutic response from professionals who  have the courage to recognize that.

The Straight Spouse Network thanks Kristen for her perspective.  We invite straight spouses to share their stories, experiences, and thoughts with us in this space. To find out more, please email the editor at janet@straightspouse.org.

28 Comments

  1. Our office hired someone who must have been a narcissist, all talk and no show, but it took time before it was obvious. At first, he came across as very professional, dressed well, spoke the right lingo, he was charming and friendly, but it was all on the surface. Whenever it came time to deliver, he’d come up short with one excuse or another, never that he made a mistake. He became more of a pest than charming, and so frustrating to work with. His girlfriend didn’t see him the way we did, it was like the Emperor’s New Clothes, we couldn’t figure out what she saw in him, or why she couldn’t see how fake he was, but they were the talk of a lot of office jokes and gossip. As far as his work went, he could have put a tape recorder and a cardboard cut-out of himself in his office, and been just as useful. Probably more useful, at least that wouldn’t be interfering. He wasn’t merely inept, he was disruptive without being blatant, and he didn’t last a year. My boss nailed it, she said, “His opinion of himself exceeds reality.” I don’t know if his girlfriend ever woke up or not, but we all saw it. Whenever I hear the word narcissist, that’s who I think of.

  2. I am the person who spoke with Kristen about “its the narcissism, dear”.

    The comment was made repeatedly in therapy sessions by my therapist, whenever I tried to discuss the real life problems of being forced to coparent with an abusive narcissistic man who denied his sexuality and yet had an openly gay companion who presented a real threat to my children. The man was grooming my son, and aiding and abetting the whole “don’t tell mom” thing.

    My family was forced to live the lie. My kids were forced to live the lie that their father wasn’t gay and mom was crazy for saying so.

    There was no possibility of discussing the threat to my son, because oops, gay men apparently do not molest children how dare I. We were forced to live the lie. My kids were forced to deal with gay in denial and a potential predator.

    The predation did not happen because I yelled and screamed and exposed his communications with my son to as many people as possible. Teachers, pediatricians, neighbors, clergy. And my therapist. But oh, that’s too bad, are you sure…well, yes, he’s a narcissist, but…lots of bemused smiles, polite dismissals, backing away.I went as public as I could, and the man backed off. Of course I am the bitch because I “outed” my former husband in anger, fear, and desperation. Because to acknowledge what I knew had broken up our marriage – the lie that I lived with him for 15 years and two children -was socially unacceptable. Its the narcicissim dear. Its all society’s fault.

    The reality of homosexuality in the household would not be acknowledged. My status as family bitch however, was confirmed. Somehow that is more comfortable for many.

    It was necessary for MY healing to have the acknowledgement that SOMEBODY believed me that my ex husband was gay and that he was endangering our children with his poor judgement in companions. But no. This other way – perpetuating the lie, and proclaiming “it’s the narcissism dear” is more comfortable for others.

    • Rosa, in case you don’t know, there are 4 situations in which a therapist is mandated by law to break confidentiality: reasonable suspicion of child abuse, elder abuse, suicide and homicide. But the standard is “reasonable suspicion,” not speculation. If you offered credible proof (more than a suspicion), and the therapist failed to assess and report, you should report the therapist to the state board immediately. But if the therapist had reason to find your story not credible, and she can document her reasons, she is not obligated to report. It comes down to whether or not she believes you.

      You can take other steps to protect the child. Local police, schools, doctors and hospitals ALL are mandated and have protocols for this, you don’t have to rely on your therapist. If you have proof or first-hand knowledge that molestation took place, report it to the authorities. When I was a substitute teacher, I reported suspected child abuse a few times. This is their full time job, they are experienced, and serious reports are always taken seriously, always. But CPS agents and therapists are trained to assess for false allegations too, and they don’t take kindly to having their time wasted on marital disputes. It happens often, and you don’t want to get on their bad side that way. Don’t be the wife who cried wolf. If it’s real, report it; if not, then stop it.

      Your therapist may have spotted inconsistencies in your story as red flags. No molestation occurred because you intervened, but then you spread accusations anyway. But did you take additional steps to protect the child? Has he been seen by a doctor or a child specialist? Have you filed an official report with the police? If you’ve told this same story but seen no action taken, it’s not because there’s a widespread conspiracy to protect child molesters. Something is missing.

      • This was a while ago.The kids are grown now. My oldest son who was the target recognizes the predatory behavior now.

        Yes he was under the care of a psychiatrist at the time.

        No there was no “credible evidence” for the police-the emails and greeting card that had inappropriately intimate but not obscene language were apparently not enough. The pediatrician agreed with my take on it as reasonable, but squirmed at the prospect of becoming more involved due to the possibility of a lawsuit. The pastor told me that I was overreacting, since more straight people molest children than gay people. In short, he didnt believe the officially designated crazy family bitch either.

        Clap hands clap hands. Daddy had money and mommy had none. The more I spoke, the more everyone scurried to cover their asses.

        Out of loyalty to his father, my son did not show me the full extent of the email conversations in accounts I had no access to (yes, I monitored a 13 year olds email, proof again of my psychotic smother mothering to be used against me in court albeit unsuccessfully) He showed me after the divorce was final.They were far more specific about how he was all grown up and needed to get away from his evil mom, and have special time with this man.

        After this man showed up at the high school to “visit” my ex while volunteering – right at dismissal when I would see him, and my son saw him being given a school tour like an honored guest -I again raised hell and was dismissed as “its a divorce, she’ll say anything.” But to cover their butts, they asked my son what HE wanted. He said he wanted school to be safe from conflict and didnt want the man on campus. That was fine with me as it meant he was safe. It infuriated his father, who punished me with more frivolous litigation.

        A court appointed counselor who was supposed to craft our joint custody arrangement dismissed my so called proof (emails and notes) promptly.”Some women will say anything in a divorce.”

  3. “We already know it’s the narcissism, not the gay, that precipitates these harmful behaviors.” Then why did she bring it up in the first place, unless she was assuming sexual orientation was partly to blame?”

    “We cannot tease out the healing of these traumas either. Medically there may be no link, but behaviorally, they are intricately and intimately linked.”

    Who says we can’t tease them apart? We have to try.

    Can you explain what you mean by behaviorally linked? Say there are three male narcissists, one straight, two are gay. One gay man is out and partnered, the other is closeted and straight-married. Are their behaviors the same or different? What’s different between the out and the closeted gay man? Between them and the straight man? What about lesbian and straight women’s narcissism? Are there differences between the gay partner and the straight spouse traumas, or are they traumatized the same way? Do we need to create different categories of narcissistic trauma, one for out gays, one for closeted gays, and one for straights?

    I wonder if the therapist who said “It’s the narcissism, dear,” was truly declaring the gay topic off-limits, or was she teasing the issues apart to help the client distinguish them, but the client took it the wrong way and didn’t ask? That would be a good question for her to take back to that therapist and talk about and clarify.

    It sounds more like a misunderstanding than a reason to indict the therapist as too pro-gay, or anti-straight spouse. This isn’t a contest. The concept of “too much pro-gay,” which is how this article reads to me on a second reading now, smacks of jealousy and closeted homophobia. I worry it could make us appear as homophobic and bitter as people say, in spite of how we insist we aren’t. We can make our message clearer: “we need support too,” not “they’re getting too much.”

  4. I hope I can state this clearly in 2000 words. The writer is correct up to a point. Mental illness occurs within the gay population just as in the population at large. Competent professionals are trained to recognize it.

    She offers anecdotes of friends whose experiences weren’t acknowledged and then writes off the entire mental health ‘culture.’ She also defines the mental illness ‘a priori’ without explaining how the diagnosis was derived. Others list observable symptoms that apply to a wide spectrum of disorders, but by themselves are not sufficient to make this diagnosis. Assuming the wrong motive for the symptoms, a misdiagnosis exacerbates the problem, as the writer’s friend experienced.

    The distinguising feature of narcissism, ‘sine qua non,’ is a need to be seen as superior without proof. If the subject doesn’t present with that, whatever else is present, a diagnosis of narcissism is premature at best. Just for fun, how might a narcissist describe his closet? It would be ‘the biggest and best,’ ‘the greatest closet ever,’ ‘for special people like me,’ ‘a masterpiece, the envy of all closets,’ and so on. He’d expect to win a design award and when he doesn’t, it’s because the idiot judges don’t see his genius. Of course this sounds absurd, but that’s the point: narcissists lie, manipulate and exaggerate to look superior, not to hide. In time, most people figure out that he’s ridiculous but annoyingly visible.

    Yes, mental illness exists in the gay population, but contrary to this writer’s opinion, it is very much recognized, studied, and taught. Entire journals focus on the topic. Apparently the writer didn’t test her assumptions, nor does she address the complex process of making these diagnoses. I won’t speculate on why that is, but it is a concern (and I won’t be surprised if I am the next to be labeled a narcissist). I don’t doubt anyone’s experience, but the reasons for them are rarely as simple and broad as she…

  5. I can go along with a lot of what this is saying, because I experienced some of it too, but I disagree with her saying narcissism and homosexuality cannot be teased apart. I would say that they “must” be teased apart, otherwise we just stay confused. (I also agree that it’s the homophobia, not the sexual orientation, that is really the problem.) Isn’t that the point of this article, to tease all of this apart? It helped me see what I was dealing with in full, and it helped me understand the different ways that I wasn’t helping the situation, because I didn’t really understand it like I thought I did. My therapist gave me an analogy, it’s like trying to adjust a secondary color that never turns out right. But a secondary color is just a mix of primary colors, and once you know that, you can figure out what to do. Purple is a mix of red and blue, so to get yellow, you have to take out the red and mix some green with the blue instead. If you don’t know that, anything else you do just makes an ugly confusing mess, and the more you try to repair it, the worse it gets. That’s why you have to tease all these issues apart.

  6. To illustrate why it’s critical to

    a) use the correct words and use them correctly,
    b) ask if you can improve the way you present your ideas,
    c) welcome feedback so that you can make corrections,
    d) make sure your facts are correct and flow logically,

    I present “Exhibit A:”

    (I hope the link works.)

    The misunderstanding due to the lack of commas is obvious; this was probably photo-shopped by a prankster and then circulated. So we can blame the comma thing on the prankster. But there’s another, more subtle lesson here. It’s how the words and the concepts were presented in the first place that allowed the prankster to pull this off. If it had been written like this:

    “Rachael Ray finds inspiration in her dog, her family and cooking”

    there is less room for misunderstanding, and the prank wouldn’t have worked. So how did this happen?

    For whatever reason, the magazine editor made a mistake in judgment, choosing to put “cooking” at the top of the list instead of the dog, and nobody questioned it – even though it’s a magazine for dog lovers. I’m willing to bet they pay a lot more attention now to their wording, phrasing and presentation. I’ll also bet they have it proof-read by a neutral, not involved person and they get feedback before going to print. Suggestions to double-check your facts, or to reconsider how you present an idea is not an attack on the author or the idea.

    We’ve been wounded, and then misunderstood for it because we were in pain. Let’s not add to the misunderstanding by being defensive, obstinate, close-minded or blind to our mistakes, or unwilling to consider other possibilities. Ask for the feedback.

  7. Thank you for this article, the comments and dialogue — all an important part of shared perspectives. My own history is similar to the authors. Years later, writing my story was therapeutic, but my editor and agents indicated it’s not what today’s readers want.

    The wave of openness toward LGBT identities has brought a welcome cultural shift. But caught up in the wave is the parallel story of straight spouses, too often left out of the story. In my own experience, the secret world my ex-husband kept hidden played off of and fed his narcissistic tendencies.

    There’s no one story, and no best way to tell any story. When we keep sharing and listening we all learn alot. Most importantly, we need to extend open arms to everyone’s story.

  8. Gunther, I am saying the act of being in the closet and marrying a woman in order to appear straight is narcissistic. Having no concern or care about what this will do the the person you marry. The lack of empathy is narcissistic. Lying and deceiving the person you marry by not revealing your true sexual orientation is narcissistic. The act of deceiving a person into marriage is narcissistic in itself.

    I am only referring to closeted gay people who marry straights. I think there is a link to narcissism. This is my personal belief. I don’t think all gay people are narcissist, or closeted gays who remain single or marry the same sex (the sex they are physically attracted too.) but for one to pretend they are in love with you and sexually attracted to you and enter into a marriage with you promising to love you, knowing they can never have those feelings for you is narcissistic.

    • So true. Thanks for sharing…you and I have a lot in common.

    • This might come as a surprise, but the diagnostic instruments don’t utilize your definition, Debra. There is much more to it than that. This is the danger of diagnosing without supervision and training. Your definition would not pass examinations for two reasons. You’ve defined the disorder by how it affects you instead of the client, and you are confusing symptoms with their causes.

      Do narcissists lie? Yes.
      Do closeted gay men lie? Yes.
      Are they the same lie? Yes.
      Do they tell the same lie for the same reason? No.

      By definition the narcissist wants attention. That is what a narcissist is. Not craving attention = not narcissist. To a narcissist, a lie is a tool to get attention. It may or may not hurt someone, but that’s the price of getting attention.

      The closeted gay person fears attention. He avoids it, and tries to blend in, to be seen as normal, to not stand out. Exposure and attention terrify him. His fear might hurt someone else but that’s the price of hiding.

      The lies might be the same, the hurt on others is similar, but the motivations are different. Hiding starves a narcissist but it’s the closeted person’s safe-room. The closet is the opposite of grabbing attention.

      I read a blog that said “I believe it’s the years of lying that causes them to become narcissists.” That’s 100% backwards; the equivalent of saying, “The patient vomited so much that he caught the flu.” It defines the symptoms as the cause, it’s a misdiagnosis and potentially harmful.

      Don’t make the mistake of diagnosing someone based on how it affects you, and don’t confuse symptoms with their causes. Either mistake is a ‘FAIL’ and candidates for the orals exam who make such errors are flagged as “a danger to the profession.”

      Then what disorders do involve hiding, cause pain and damage relationships? Read up on the controversial history behind “Ego-dystonic sexual orientation” diagnosis. Cure homophobia: that’s the disorder.

      • I don’t believe closeted gay husbands Fear attention. They fear people knowing they are gay, but they like attention all the attention because after all it’s all about them. They have a hidden agenda. The behavior is still toxic to others. Not all narcissist are the grandiose conceted type. Those types are easy to spot. Some narcissist are covert. The end result is still the same, they both cause damage to people they are involved with. Years of living in the closet in a marriage to a straight person I’m sure causes harm to the closeted person as well. Years of denying their true nature and suppressing the feelings that feel natural to them. It’s the actions of the closeted gay person that is narcissistic in nature. I’m giving a diagnosis. I’m not a doctor. I am expressing my own experience. This experience is not unique to many many str8 spouses have suffered from the toxic narcissistic nature of these marriages. Perhaps one day this will be studied further. But for now it’s not politically correct and people are called homophobic at the very mention of this topic, so unfair.

        • I meant I am not giving a diagnosis. I am not a doctor. You can hardly see the words you are typing on here, so please forgive the typos.

    • If it isn’t narcissistic hen what is it, right Deb?

  9. I’m curious to know how your friend presented herself to the online group when she said, “there were nuances to that experience that differentiated it from that of typical heterosexual narcissistic abuse.”

    What is “typical heterosexual narcissistic abuse?” Those words alone are dismissive and insensitive. We’d object if anyone described our experiences so breezily as that.

    And what does “differentiated” really mean in her context? She was on thin ice if in any way she insinuated that her damage was worse than theirs. If there was even a hint of that, how did she expect them to react to her insensitivity? How would she know what the differences were unless she had experienced their experiences too? There is no measure to compare pain between two people, gay husband or not. Presuming to know their experience of pain and comparing it to her own was offensive and rude.

  10. I believe there is a link between closeted gay men who marry women and narcissism. Perhaps one day it will be looked at closer by researchers and the medical professionals. I think they don’t want to look at it because it’s not politically correct. I did find a study that was done. I will share here.

    Narcissism and homosexuality

    n 2010, behavioral scientist G. Rubinstein undertook a study on narcissism and self-esteem among homosexual and heterosexual male students at Netanya Academic College in Israel. The results were published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. 2010;36(1):24-34.
    Here’s the journal article’s abstract:

    According to orthodox psychoanalytical theory, narcissism and homosexuality are strongly associated. This association played a major role in pathologizing homosexuality. The present study compared self-esteem and two measures of narcissism among 90 homosexual and 109 heterosexual male students, who filled in a demographic questionnaire, Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, and the Pathological Narcissism Inventory, which addresses both grandiose and vulnerable subtypes of narcissism. The hypothesis, which is based on the Freudian connection between narcissism and homosexuality, is supported by the results, indicating that the homosexual students score higher in both measures of narcissism and lower on the self-esteem measure, compared to their heterosexual counterparts.Intra-psychic, as well as environmental, interpretations of the results are suggested in the discussion.

    • Perhaps some homosexual men who marry straight women ate full-blown narcissists and some rigorously adopt narcissistic behaviors as the only way to make their lives work for them. Being successful at narcissistic behaviors is key to their survival.

  11. “Our mental health culture is gun shy when it comes to talking about personalities in which narcissism and homosexuality exist simultaneously (even if causally unrelated), lest there be any whiff of conflating being LGBT with a psychiatric disorder.”

    From the bad experiences of two people, you are drawing this conclusion about the entire mental health culture? And you’re saying THEY are the narcissists? Wow.

    You just maligned the entire mental health community with your broad brush stokes, do you realize that? Are you yourself trained in mental health treatment? I wouldn’t have made it through this without my therapist, and her patience in educating me and differentiating between homosexuality and mental illness. She was right to do so.

    And have you also noticed, mental health practitioners also do not link heterosexuality with narcissism? or with any other personality disorder? That’s because sexual orientation has nothing to do with personality disorder. You think you’re not being homophobic while you try to define homosexual mental illness yet you avoid heterosexual mental illness? You aren’t homophobic necessarily, but in making special cases and exemptions for homosexuality, without discussing or comparing your examples with the same issues in straight people, you revealed that you are hetero-sexist.

  12. “But there is also an alchemical reaction between the narcissism and the homosexuality that manifests in unique ways in these marriages that must be addressed, not dismissed”

    I don’t know what you mean by an “alchemical” reaction; alchemistry was junk science from the Middle Ages. It connotes the same kind of junk science discussed here. We need to be careful of the words we use. That is part of our problem in our message not getting heard.

    I agree that it wasn’t handled well, but the group members for Kristin’s friend were accurate if they were objecting that homosexuality was the issue. Nobody ever says that heterosexuality is the cause of problems in straight marriage. The real issue is the internalized homophobia, the self loathing, the learned self-hatred that we instill in our LGBT children, along with the belief that being straight is better than being gay. That is the problem, not the sexual orientation.

    We have to name it accurately if we want to fix it. This article is suggesting very subtly that “while narcissism is bad, it’s even worse when combined with homosexuality.” That is poorly worded and inaccurate. What we need to say is “narcissism is bad, and even worse when combined with internalized homophobia and self-loathing.” We can’t say we support LGBT and then say homosexuality is a problem. That’s why they don’t trust us or believe us. It’s the reaction to homosexuality that is the problem. We have to watch our words.

    Unintentionally, articles like this offend. I don’t suppose a gay or lesbian was asked to proof-read it first? This is why we need to stop talking among ourselves and invite dialogue with LGBT individually and get their feedback. If we were to read a similar article from an LGBT point of view that said “heterosexuality” is the cause of our problems, or leads to personality disorders, we’d be just as offended. Isn’t that obvious?

  13. Thank You Thank You for finally recognizing that narcissism and homosexuality can and does exist. A narcissist should not be given a free pass for thier behavior simply by hiding behind thier homosexuality. Its not fair to the straight spouse to have to “celebrate their bravery ” for coming out, in the midst of actively decieving and destroying other lives. And the straight spouse shouldn’t have to fear being labeled a homophobe for addressing the damage the narcissist has caused. My narc actually uses his homosexuality as a constant victim card to completely exonerate himself of his actions.

  14. Thank you so much for this well written article. It describes so well what straight wives and husbands are faced with. Yes many of us experienced the narcissistic gay husband or wife. From what I have experienced and witnessed it is a very common issue among straight spouses. When you think about it the act of hiding your true identity and deceiving another in order to appear straight is very narcissistic.

    • This is precisely what worries me – the danger in lay persons diagnosing someone they’ve not met, assessed or interacted with or seen in session. Your husband may have been narcissistic, Debra, but it does not follow that all married gay men are, not even a high percentage of them, If they are closeted, how can they be counted and measured?

      Hiding your personality is diametrically the opposite of narcissism. Narcissism is about grandiosity, exaggeration. It is not about hiding, it is about showing off. They don’t want to hide. Narcissists want attention, and the more the better – that is how the word and the behavior are defined. If he’s hiding, it’s not narcissism; it’s something else. Somehow this word became the de facto explanation within the straight spouse community, but it’s the wrong word to describe the behavior… the same way that “dry” would be the wrong word to describe the ocean.

      I’m not trying to start an argument here, I am trying to help define the issue accurately so that it leads to best solution.

      An example of a closeted gay narcissist? Think Liberace – he denied being gay to the end of his life. But he was flamboyant, attention-grabbing, outrageous and always performing, center stage. He certainly wasn’t hiding who he was… just denying it.

      • Gunther, not all narcissists are openly grandiose. My ex (who is still in the closet) is extremely introverted and seemingly shy. Perhaps that’s why it took me decades to realize that he was a narcissist. With him it took the form of saying things like “nobody else could do my job, they wouldn’t last a day” and “I’m smarter than everyone else on the faculty,” a fact he could not possible know. But as far as I know he only said those things to me. Everything was always my fault, too, another narc classic.

        And he didn’t want attention on the job; in fact he bragged about how he loved keeping a low profile, dressing down for his position so that he didn’t look like the big shot he was. YET, he reveled in and bragged about how many people didn’t realize who he was in the hierarchy then found out later after he subtly and publicly humiliated them.

        He would often wear a “disguise” when we went to his casual work functions then laugh about how nobody recognized him. Well, he was wearing a hat, sunglasses, and casual clothes, not the lab coat most people usually saw him in. At the same time, although I wasn’t aware of it then, he was having sex with other men in public places. I believe he was so self-confident in his ability to not be recognized that he took the risk and it gave him a thrill. I also think that in his narcissism he doesn’t think he will ever be caught.

        So, yes, narcissists want attention, but not always in the obvious way extroverted types do. My ex would come home after work and expect me to show deference to him. He once told me that I obviously had no idea how important he was. But of course I did – I knew his title, job description, and salary. That was no secret. But apparently I didn’t provide enough narcissistic supply.

        Covert (or introverted, or vulnerable) narcs look like nice people to the rest of the world and can seem very modest and unassuming. But behind closed doors they’re different people.

  15. Where was the group leader when your friend was being “shushed” by everybody else? I can’t imagine that happening in the group I was in. Didn’t the group leader establish Communication Rules upfront? Our group leader handed out a list at the first session, and she always reminded us at the beginning of each session about the rules, plus how many sessions were remaining, and a quick review of our last meeting, and then it was open. But it wasn’t a free for all, she enforced those rules like a traffic cop – that sounds too strict, but you know what I mean. I remember most of them but they’re basically about being respectful and polite, even if you disagree with someone – only one person speaks at a time. No interrupting. Hold your questions until the other person is finished. Let them tell it their own words and let them have their emotions. Use “I” statements and speak for yourself, not for anyone else. Be respectful and polite. Avoid using profanity. If more than one person wants to talk, raise your hand and she would choose, but everyone had a chance to talk. No topic or opinion was off limits, ever. We got into some touchy, personal areas for sure, and it got heated and painful sometimes but I can’t imagine anyone being rude or shouted down or being denied. Our group leader would not have allowed that, she probably would have made that the next topic for us to talk about. It sounds like your friend’s group leader wasn’t very experienced. Did she try talking to him or her afterwards, or to a supervisor?

  16. Personality disorders exist within all populations. Let’s not forget, there are straight spouses with personality disorders, too. But do we ever suggest that straight people develop personality disorders as a consequence of being heterosexual? Of course not. So why do we hear that kind of armchair theorizing about gay people? I’ve heard and read all kinds of diagnostic nonsense from people who are not qualified to diagnose. When you find a lump under your arm or under your breast, you go to a licensed physician for diagnosis, you don’t ask the yogi instructor, or the GED teacher, or the computer tech.

    One troubling aspect I’ve seen is that diagnoses are made by lay persons upon hearing only one person’s point of view, often misunderstanding the terms they are using. One give-away is when such diagnoses are assumed to be a cause-and-effect; another is when other possibilities haven’t been ruled out. One of the first rules in psychological assessment is to rule out physiological causes for behavior before assuming mental or emotional stressors. It’s a basic tenet, it’s one of the questions on the licensing exam, failure to do this can lead to a practitioner losing her license.

    We don’t know what causes personality disorders. We also don’t know what causes homosexuality. But to assume that one is the cause of the other, as I’ve read both here and in more than a few books and articles, is misleading and causes further damage, to both the straight and gay spouse. Personality disorders must be diagnosed and confirmed by a qualified, trained professional, and this takes years of training, supervision, and in-practice experience to learn it. They cannot be diagnosed from a check-list or through word-of-mouth. I am surprised to see it happening as often as it does in the forums, and it’s troubling that SSN does not have a psychologist on hand the correct the misstatements.

    • For Kristin, I would like to add this. First, thank you for taking the time to correctly point out, that personality disorder and homosexuality are not dependent on each other. They co-exist as separate entities in one body, and they can have undue influence on each other, but that is not the same as causation.

      Without question, your friend’s group leader failed if he or she did not permit her to present her experience, as her experience. Better it would have been if he or she allowed your friend to tell her experience, let the group react, and then use that as the teachable moment to tease the issues apart. The group’s instinct was correct to some extent, in their recognition that homosexuality and personality disorder are not causally related. But from the way you describe it here, and I know by now it’s second-hand at best, it sounds as if the group leader failed to use this as an opportunity for a teachable moment. But let’s not allow that failure to devalue group counseling, or the benefit in keeping unrelated issues distinct and separate. We can do that and still acknowledge your friend’s experience.

      It’s a telling example again of how homophobia and hetero-sexism can contort and distort an issue in ways we aren’t always aware of (and note, I am not saying homophobia on whose part).

      (These comment boxes are very faint and hard to see, I apologize for any typos)

    • Did you even read the article? It expressly states there is not causation. That said, when the two traits, closeted/deceptive behaviors around being gay *and* the lack of empathy and lack of remorse associated with narcissism do occur together, it presents additional and very difficult challenges for the spouse of the gay person. Not because the two traits are linked by causation. But because they are not, and yet, when they do occur together, the spouse needs to find a way to heal, and lacking any remorse or empathy from their closeted deceptive gay spouse, they go to find healing from friends or therapists or support groups, and in defense of homosexuals not being labelled mentally ill, the spouse runs into roadblocks where people turn on them and lash out at them for using gay and narcissist in the same sentence. And you are proving that right now. Read the article. Then read it again. Try and understand the point.

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