I mentioned in my post, The insidious face of abuse…, a label that felt like a perfect match to my situation. I had not previously heard it used outside of the original story and was surprised to find that it was already commonly applied to cases of abuse.
Jekyll and Hyde…
Though I doubt it requires much in the way of explanation, I will briefly remind you of the story. Dr. Jekyll, a character created by Robert Louis Stevenson, is a professor who battles between the good and evil within himself. Mr. Hyde is his alter ego, an evil man without remorse who acts out Dr. Jekyll’s worst desires. Both characters are Dr. Jekyll, but in becoming Hyde, Jekyll can indulge in his evil lusts without concern over tarnishing his upstanding reputation in the community.
This description has two key components.
The first is obvious. The switching back and forth between “good guy” and “bad guy.” The second is a bit more obscure.
The transformation from Jekyll to Hyde is not because Jekyll is trying to suppress his evil impulses nor is it an incidental outcome from a lab experiment gone awry. Note above he creates his potion so that he can indulge without tarnishing his reputation.
Reputation. This is very important to the narcissist.
A narcissist wants what he wants without concern for anybody besides himself. However, the narcissist has the awareness that he cannot act on his impulses without restraint as it will damage the image he tries so hard to maintain.
We will get to this part of the Jekyll/Hyde connection later. For now let’s focus on the good guy/ bad guy analogy.
Referring to Dr. Jekyll as the good guy creates some complications in understanding who he really is. Before I go into any explanation though, I would first like to give some examples of what I mean by using the Jekyll/Hyde description.
My former husband was very communicative. He liked to stay in contact with me, even while at work. Things could go well all day, but the minute he got home he would be a different person. This did not happen every time but near the end, quite frequently. The smallest thing would set him off: a vacuum cleaner out, dinner not ready, my being on the phone when he arrived home from work. (Note in my post “Small Kindnesses” I am not a phone person. I talk to my mom every few weeks. This is important for you to know because being on the phone a lot was not an issue for me.)
He wanted to be greeted at the door, dinner ready or almost ready, and the kids greeting him within minutes of his arrival. In other words he wanted a Leave it to Beaver greeting. If the condition of the house, the stage at which dinner was or any other little detail failed to meet his expectation, Dr. Jekyll went away and Mr. Hyde came home. Sometimes, even if all these conditions were met, Mr. Hyde took the place of Dr. Jekyll.
As a result, I began to walk on eggshells doing whatever I could to appease this unpleasant, foul-tempered, displeased person who threatened to disrupt the peace that had existed prior to his arrival. (Over the years I began to conform more and more to his expectations yet the more I attempted to meet his expectations, the further the line moved. This is another important topic but will have to be saved for another day.)
While this could probably be considered the most common catalyst to bringing out Mr. Hyde in my case, it was by far from being the only one. Sometimes Hyde came out due to internal impulses without any external prompts. I never knew who I would be dealing with and just because he might be Jekyll one moment did not mean he would not become Hyde the next. It was a guessing game.
Essentially the Jekyll/Hyde scenario is the nice-one-minute and hateful-the-next disposition the narcissist adopts. This constant flip-flopping in personality keeps you guessing and confused. The cause for the switch may not even have to make sense. It can be whatever arbitrary thing the narcissist decides to make his justification for the flip. And trust me, all flipping will be justified by the narcissist and it WILL BE your fault. You will be held responsible for making this ugly side come out and you will also hold the responsibility for making it go away.
Another way you will see the Jekyll/Hyde terminology applied is the public persona vs. private persona. The abuser is pleasant and charming and kind in public but another person at home. While this is frequently true, I believe Jekyll/Hyde is more psychological than that. This aspect is more of an image control issue, but I can see where people relate it to the Jekyll/Hyde description. The discrepancy between the public and private persona is very common for narcissistic abusers. Very rarely do these type of people present as the common brutish thug you see displayed in books and other media. They are most often the “nicest guy you every met.” (As my former husband was often described. In fact, that was one of the things that attracted me to him. More on this later.)
So, what does the narcissist gain by switching personalities and why do they do it? While the personality switch may be a common theme the causes can run the gamut. I am not sure how helpful it is to try to identify them but I will attempt to highlight some common causes.
- Unmet expectations
- These may be expressed beforehand or never revealed. You may not always know what expectations you are being held to. They may be arbitrary or routine. The expectations may be realistic or far-fetched, but you are expected to meet them regardless.
- Failure to fall in line with their delusion
- Their delusion can be anything from the way they perceive themselves or their own importance to the importance of adopting their way of thinking. My former husband commonly defined respect by whether I formed the same opinion as him. The problem was we thought nothing alike so often found ourselves philosophically and in other areas on the opposite side of the fence. Guess what that meant. I was disrespectful, because I would not align my thinking to his. One time I made a comment about a line in a song that I did not care for (the local Christian station was playing on the radio as we drove). He disagreed with my statement and when I did not agree him, complained about how I always disagree with him. I pointed out that technically since I was the first to state my opinion, he was actually disagreeing with me. He did not care for my logic and of course was not the point. I always disagreed with him (a form of gaslighting: deflecting blame) so despite who made the point first, I was just disagreeable in general and didn’t respect him enough to just agree with him sometimes. (I feel like I am putting so many important points off until later but this idea of respect being that I agreed with him is going to be again another article itself)
- Perceived unfair treatment
- Logically following a failure to fall in line with the narcissist’s delusion is the injustice of not being treated like they believe they deserve. Narcissists by definition have grandiose delusions about themselves. Their emotions are all wrapped up in these beliefs and a failure to fall in line with them is not only an affront but an attack on their very personage.
- Now again as above this is perceived rejection and very closely tied to the previous points. The narcissist has carefully developed a “false self” that they believe truly represents them. When you do not adopt the narcissists view of themselves and do not fall in line with their thinking you are rejecting them. At least, that is their perception. Above all narcissists fear abandonment and rejection, which is why many people say: Think being married to a narcissist is bad? Try leaving one. It is true. While William Congreve may have coined the phrase “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” he obviously had no experience with a narcissist. Separation, divorce, leaving for a time all represent rejection to the narcissist. If I were to just show you the emails that I received during the separation and divorce process you would think it were two different people writing me. And in a sense it was. Jekyll and Hyde.
This is such a huge part of the narcissist’s abuse and control tactics that I want to make sure I am exploring it fully. I have not even scratched the surface yet of my two main points. So it looks like I am breaking Jekyll and Hyde down into three parts: Introduction, good guy/bad guy and the controlling and manipulating aspects of this trait.
I will end this post with a thought provoking question. Is Jekyll really the good guy? We’ll get to that next.