Can Leopards Change Their Spots?

Once a Narc, Always a Narc? I’m not so sure.

This kind of thinking is too black and white for me and I feel that the mindset only encourages unaccountability and a victim mentality.

2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but (He has given us a spirit) of power and of love and of sound judgement and personal discipline (abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control).” AMP

People can change, if they want to!

I read somewhere that by the time a person begins searching google for terms like “narcissism, emotional abuse, passive-aggressive behaviour, coercive control, what is covert abuse etc” that they have likely been a victim in an abusive relationship for quite some time. Either that or they’re doing research for study or asking for a friend

In 2018 after almost 25 years of marriage, I began searching these terms.

The word covert is an adjective—meaning hidden, not openly acknowledged or displayed, secret, stealthy, behind-the-scenes, undercover, sneaky, sly, concealed, hush-hush and so forth.

Covert abuse begins in the most subtle of ways, it’s a little dig here, a sarcastic remark there, the odd snide comment and it could be regularly occurring oversights or forgetfulness. When you let your abuser know that their actions don’t sit well with you, you’re told, “It’s just a joke, lighten up, don’t take everything so seriously, you’re overreacting, I didn’t do it on purpose, I didn’t mean it”.

It’s kind of hard to believe that people who use these tactics could be unaware that their behaviour is actually abusive, yet that is exactly what it is. These personalities are often charming and sophisticated, and they’re cunning—they are so darn good at their manoeuvres that even an intimate partner feels confounded and conflicted. They’ll have you convinced that you’ve misunderstood them. It’s not that the person on the receiving end of hidden abuse is dumb or stupid or blind (even though this is how they’re made to feel), they are usually trusting, empathetic, kind, patient and generous—a perfect blend of characteristics—suiting the covertly narcissistic personality to a tee.

Let me clarify here though, displaying narcissistic tendencies is quite different from the true psychologically diagnosed condition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. NPD is not, I repeat not, common at all. In fact, only 0.5%-1% of the general population are in this category.

On the other hand, behaving narcissistically is all part of the human condition. How far along the spectrum anyone sits is entirely variable.

Why is this so difficult to recognise in an intimate partner? Well, the covertly abusive person appears to be the fun-loving, caring, charming, cool as a cucumber nice guy or girl most of the time (image is critical for them and it is important that they are liked), these behaviours are also displayed at home, family do receive the good as well as ahhh the other side. It couldn’t be all bad because then they would have no one and that’s what they probably fear the most—being alone.

The problem is that the nice guy or girl facade is cyclical. Behaviour worsens over time due to lack of ownership and playing the victim then before you know it, for no apparent reason, the rug is swiftly pulled out from underneath and you’re left reeling and wondering time and again, what the heck was that?

None of my husbands work colleagues, family or friends would ever have suspected the covert cruelty he was capable of, and if you asked him, his behaviour was always justified as being completely normal or someone else’s fault, namely me or the kids, or the cashier at Coles, or the football referee or whoever he believed was to blame for how he felt.

Blame, denial and avoidance are the childish defensive mechanisms of a 2-year-old. Unfortunately, these toddler brain traits are actively at work in adults who have not yet learnt how to have true compassion, empathy and self-control. They strive to protect themselves from any perceived or real threat to their identity, using, anger, control, manipulation and resentment while they coercively attack those they “love”.

Sound familiar?

Dave’s still discovering and peeling back layers of hidden behaviour, (you can’t change what you don’t know is there right?) I’m having to learn how to navigate this new algorithm of growth and discovery. It’s not easy by a long shot but I’m better at responding assertively, speaking and sticking to my truth, setting firm boundaries, calling the behaviour for what it is and holding sufficient ground in our partnership. He’s better at self-regulating and understanding what is driving his reactions thanks to discovering a handful of amazing online resources. Paul Colaianni Steven Stosny and Lundy Bancroft

Sadly this “normal male behaviour” is far too acceptable and way too common, it has to be called by its correct name: ABUSE and the men are ABUSIVE or ABUSERS, not that many will identify as that, the covert is horrendous, if we walked around with a black eye or fat lip, people would be outraged, but for us, we are questioned and our reality is met with doubt, no one can see the invisible scars we carry“. Noni

Historically there is not a lot of voice given to the dangers of this coercive behaviour. Much like affairs, this kind of abuse is rampant in politics and sport, portrayed unashamedly in movies and media—society is vastly desensitised. Covert abuse is raging, and not enough people are standing up to talk about it. The church is also ill-equipped in recognising and dealing with it effectively, thus allowing the harm to perpetuate our faith communities.

If you’re left scratching your head and spinning your wheels in your relationship—wondering why you feel confused a lot of the time, check out this list Learn to Recognise 26 Covert Abusive Tactics A person might not exhibit every trait but there may be several nuances that ring true for you.

Sadly, the statistics of how many male abusers change long term is very very low and although most won’t, it is not because they can’t. Recovery takes a long time, requires consistent effort, a lot of hard work and they must want the change for themselves.

Is it worth it? We both think so.

Dave’s demonstrated greater courage and determination over the last 3 years than he’s ever done during our 31 years together.

He is doing intensely deep work on and for himself daily, and this instils hope for our future. Why would I give up on us now?

Will Dave be counted among the minority of men who continue doing the work needed to experience lasting change?

I pray sweet Jesus that he is.

Here is great interview with an abusive man who could very well be Dave talking.

Noni xxx

2 thoughts on “Can Leopards Change Their Spots?

  1. Wow what a powerful email, well done in calling out the truth and being brave enough to share with others. It’s not easy coming out on the other side while being left and confused on what is real. Really enjoyed this article leaves a lot to reflect on and ponder.

    1. Hey my friend! Yes, there’s a lot to consider isn’t there, as the great Dan Siegel says “You have to name it to tame it” Staying quiet about emotional abuse doesn’t make it disappear or go away, once we see things for what they are we can not un-see them. Keeping the conversation real… xxx

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