Some of you dear readers have probably come to the conclusion that after my nasty experience with a male narcissist that I’m a sort of man-hater. Nothing could be further from the truth. My experience with Harry has in many ways been beneficial and clichéd as it might sound, has helped me to become a better person. Not that I would recommend this method of self-improvement.
Becoming a better person lead me to M. He is the love of my life and the best man I have ever met.
Well, it could have been worse, I suppose. I could have been lying on a cold, rock-strewn slope, the victim of an avalanche with two broken legs, gangrene setting in, wolves gathering in the closing twilight and no coffee left. On the other hand, it could have been a lot better. I could have been lying on a beach in the Dominican Republic, gin and tonic in hand, with nothing to do but crisp in the sun. Or I could have been sitting in a little Montreal bistro with a nice glass of wine while waiting for some beautifully prepared boeuf bourguignon. But nooo.
I think it’s probably apropos for me to spare some of you the gruesome details, but if only one person is saved by what I have to say here then it will have been worthwhile for me to have re-lived this horrific experience.
I was not lacking in gear, preparation or organization. I had plenty of re-usable, environmentally friendly cloth bags. I had a list. I even remembered to bring the list along. I arrived early, budget firmly in place. I was well-rested and fed. I had comfortable shoes, a water bottle and a thermos of coffee. I was ready!
Yes, dear reader. I was tackling the – cue the theme from Jaws – Christmas shopping list. I finally gave in. It had to be done. There was no way around it.
I entered the mall at nine thirty in the morning and noted that at that hour, the place was quiet and almost deserted. A lone security guard strolled nonchalantly, occasionally glancing in the windows, yawning and taking sips from his coffee cup. It was the perfect time to get the dreaded operation done. Yes!! I congratulated myself and patted myself on the back and grinning and chuckling to myself I started poking about, mentally comparing the wares on display with the requirements of my list. I hummed some old tunes and loafed along, secure in the knowledge that soon I would be safely back home, mission accomplished and feeling a certain degree of superiority over the lesser types who wait too long or are too late or both. I was, of course, tempting fate, Murphy’s Law and all manner of biblical imprecations about pride going before a fall and all that.
I arrived at “Santa’s Workshop,” famous in song and story as the scene of many family breakdowns while parents force their bawling and terrified offspring to sit on the Bearded One’s lap and have a photo taken. I don’t blame them. Who wants to sit on some weird-looking stranger’s lap while he booms ho ho ho at you in a thunderous voice that could scare the crap out of you and often does? What makes parents think that this is cute? The poor kid may as well be sitting on Darth Vader’s lap. Afraid that I might start having flashbacks, I nipped past as quickly as I could, even though all was quiet and Santa and the elves were hiding somewhere and sleeping it off.
As I turned a corner, I ran into an old friend who invited me to join her and her husband in a cup of Christmas cheer. They were so gracious and kind that I couldn’t refuse. We wound up sharing the cheer much later than I had anticipated, but I declined their kind offers of a lift home. If one is going shopping then one is going shopping, and no joking about it. I assured them that I would take a taxi home and wandered out of the restaurant and into the now crowded and noisy mall. Since I was all mellow, this ceased to bother me and I fished my trusty list out of my pocket for further perusal.
I was meandering down a perfume aisle, lost in the contentment of my mellow mood when I both heard and smelled a small boy who was bawling and roaring for his mother. He was either so scared that he had pooped his pants or he had been forced to sit on Santa’s lap. I tried looking around for his mom but couldn’t spot anyone nearby except for a rather large security guard one aisle over who was energetically chastising two adolescent boys for slinging hockey pucks at each other.
I tried to get the guard’s attention while hanging on to the small child so that he wouldn’t wander any farther, but this was proving to be difficult as he screamed even louder and tried to squirm out of my grasp. I was becoming less mellow by the second. Suddenly the guard turned toward me and impaled me with a look that would freeze mercury. He came striding over and demanded to know what I was doing. I was somewhat mesmerized and distracted by his unibrow which hung over his face like a kind of awning. What Period is this guy supposed to be, anyway? Triassic? Jurassic? He had lots of stuff all over his uniform – about four different kinds of radios, mace, handcuffs – have you noticed lately how the police and security types have about 50 pieces of crap dangling from their persons? It must take two hours to get ready to go to work, and especially this guy, who would also have to spray-paint his eyebrow into place.
He had a mean look about him. A frustrated look. The kind of look that says, “I may have flunked out of police school but this mall is mine and I’m going to get you whether you did anything or not.”
I tried to organize my thoughts enough to explain that the little boy had lost his mom but I was cut off in mid-babble with, “Have you been drinking?” Visions of spending a night in a concrete room with alien roommates danced through my head, but didn’t impart any sense of caution, or sugar plums, either.
I didn’t know that the Temperance League was out and about and chasing down malefactors. In fact, I didn’t even know that they still existed. I was about to make a sophisticated and sarcastic retort along the lines of “fuck off”, but was interrupted by the return of the boy’s mother, who when she saw him also started bawling. The two of them kicked up a racket that could be heard on Easter Island. I backed slowly and carefully away – I saw my chance to escape and took it. Stumbling out to the main entrance I flagged down the first taxi I could find and headed home.
I count myself as lucky. Like people who escape a cult consider themselves lucky. I got the message, and it’s one I’m happy to receive. Avoiding Christmas shopping is like avoiding narcissists – may the force be with you and protect you from yourself.
He’s a fence-sitter. He’s a waffler. He’s a flip-flopper. He’s inconsistent. He’s unstable. I’ll never forget the day that I realized that. The day that I stopped making excuses and stopped trying to soften the impact that his behaviour was having when I used euphemistic descriptors. It was an important turning point because I began to see what, exactly, I was dealing with instead of trying to minimize, rationalize and cope. I didn’t know it then, but that was when I started to get my life back.
The narcissist is a curious mixture of nothing. My former narcissist projects a charming act that hides an abyss – its only contents are things that he manufactures. He’s completely stuck there, as frozen as an amber bug. The most startling and contradictory thing about him, however, was that he occasionally had glimpses of insight into himself – there were very brief moments of self-awareness. One of these moments especially stands out.
Long before I met him, Harry had launched a lawsuit for defamation, depression and loss of professional earnings against two women: one was a former colleague and quite clearly a narcissist herself while the other one was a former girlfriend who had suffered some brain injury after a car crash.
Mary, the former colleague, took a dislike to Harry after a professional disagreement and proceeded to try to have Harry’s license as an engineer revoked. In the meantime, Harry broke up with his girlfriend, Danielle, as a result of the ongoing issues with her mental health. To make a very long, very soapy story short, Mary and Danielle eventually became friends and colluded to have Harry charged for stalking and threatening their lives; he was ultimately arrested but the charges were dropped five days later because of a lack of evidence. Harry then started his lawsuit.
This lawsuit took ten years to come to its conclusion because Harry changed lawyers a couple of times and during its course Harry also continued an on-again, off-again relationship with Danielle which the trial judge noted in his reasons for judgement. The judge sided with Harry and concluded that he was the subject of a false, hate-fuelled, vengeful plot. However, it’s also clear that the judge to some extent saw the situation as being the product of Harry’s own behaviour and that there was also an attempt on Harry’s part to make the situation appear worse than it actually was. As a result, the monetary settlement that Harry received was only a token and was quickly consumed by his legal costs.
It’s true that Harry was wronged. There is no question of it, either legally or morally. However, the personality defects that define the narcissist lead him or her to having some very odd reactions to things, especially conflict. For instance, neither I, nor most people I know, would continue to have a relationship with a mentally ill person against whom they have an ongoing, bitter and protracted lawsuit that’s designed to relieve her of any money that she might have because of the damage that she’s done. It became obvious to me that during the course of his relationship with Danielle, he flopped around like a mop and never did come to any firm conclusions or positions about his feelings for her. His issue was that as a very beautiful, well-dressed woman – and she was, undeniably – she made the perfect trophy. She was able to present well for short periods of time and he could bask in the reflected, surface glory as he squired her around. This was irresistible to him, and he continued to take advantage of her mental shortcomings so that he could wring as much from her as possible.
Behind the scenes, however, he harboured a pathological, misogynistic dislike. Remember, Harry has profound issues with women and is also a homosexual who hates himself for it. This is a cauldron of discord; instability would be a natural result. What to do? How to be? He’s all about display and artifice and charm but at the same time reacts with an instinctive hatred toward women that he tries to bury but that unexpectedly leaks out.
This situation is incredibly difficult for anyone to deal with, but for someone who is mentally handicapped, it’s impossible. In my opinion Danielle was also taken advantage of by the other narcissist in her life, Mary. This is reflected in the judge’s ruling who verbally chastised Danielle’s behaviour as reprehensible but did not otherwise punish her in any way. The token monetary amount was adjudicated against Mary alone.
Then there were Harry’s interactions with Mary. Two narcissists having a row. Lovely. The lying, the misrepresentation and the one-upmanship was spectacular. I admire the trial judge’s fortitude in picking his way through this mess, if also feeling rather miffed that a couple of narcissists could manage to clog up the court system for so long with this dreck.
The upshot, as I’ve already indicated, is that while Harry won, he also lost. He claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars in missed earnings because of the damage the two women inflicted on his reputation. However, the judge noted that Harry’s career as an engineer had historically been spotty and punctuated by periods of unemployment and poor relationships with superiors, employers and colleagues. He had always earned much less than the average and already had a questionable professional reputation. Without directly saying so, the judge intimated that Harry was exaggerating and that he was also taking advantage of the situation in order to score a significant cash infusion; Mary was a very wealthy woman with significant financial resources.
I remember well the question Harry asked me after I had read the judgement for the first time and we had discussed it: “I’m partly to blame for this, aren’t I?” I agreed that he was; that he could have let the whole thing go after the police determined that there had been no basis for the charges, that he could have avoided the financial hardship and depression that came with the lawsuit.
It was only months later, when I was in the process of divorcing him, that I realized that he liked all this drama; he loved legal scrambling and being on the financial brink and using those situations to claim depression and heartache and victimhood. He craved the instability of this situation because it’s what he’s comfortable with. He could wallow in it and get lots of attention from it. For him, instability is stability.
I later learned that during the lawsuit against Mary and Danielle, he had no less than three other lawsuits (not including a law-suit that had been brought against him) in various stages: a countersuit against a lawyer whom he had refused to pay when Harry disagreed with his handling of Mary and Danielle; a lawsuit against another woman who had broken off her romantic relationship with him, and a lawsuit against a former employer who had fired him. Indeed, there were two other lawsuits that he contemplated but did not pursue; the commonality among all of them was that they were frivolous and unwinnable.
Into this mix was the fact that he had become well-known to the local police long before the arrest that precipitated the suit against Mary and Danielle – he had a long history of warnings and an arrest and conviction for assault. When he realized that he finally had a lawsuit that could go all the way, he must have been in absolute narcissistic heaven.
He can’t stand stability for very long. He’s got to have something boiling in his pot so that he can feel comfortable and so that his attention can be diverted from the boring, stultifying reality of living with an empty self. Hence the nasty comments that are designed to provoke a fight; the constant changing of opinion and direction, the neverending motion that accomplishes little. He is compelled to generate instability because otherwise, he won’t feel “normal”. The only constant is the inconstant, the only reality is the unreal, the only stability is the unstable.
However, if there’s one thing that causes me to feel any pity for this man at all, it’s the fact that during these very rare, very brief moments, I saw what he could have been. I saw illumination and intelligence. I saw humility and reality. And then it was gone. The act was back, and it was very sad.
One of the great things that this blog is forcing me to do is to think through the “relationship” that I had with my narcissist, and as a result, to think through other prominent relationships that I’ve had in my life, as well. It’s useful to take a hard look back, to see what I’ve done and not done, to see when I behaved and misbehaved, to see what I learned and didn’t learn. The saying that hindsight may be 20/20 but that it’s also only for assholes, is wrong, I believe. Otherwise, as with any history, if we don’t learn from it we’re doomed to repeat it. Okay. So I’m finished now with the d’Arty-Cross cliché review. Nevertheless, it’s important to every now and then do some looking back, as long as it’s not obsessive or overly critical and as long as the intent is to apply whatever you get out of this exercise only to yourself – don’t do any narcissistic projection! So today, I’m going to leave off the defining that I’ve been doing and share with you one of my behaviours, a behaviour that I was only barely aware of, that lead to my involvement with a narcissist. It was only through looking back that I really got what it was that I was doing, or should I say, not doing.
I had trouble with setting boundaries. Not that I was crossing other people’s boundaries, no; certainly not any more often than most people, and it usually happened inadvertently. I had trouble stopping people from crossing mine, especially the people I love. So yes, this boundary thing wasn’t just confined to my interactions with narcissists, it was a character trait, a way of being with those whom I love/loved. I am referring to it in the past tense, but I shouldn’t do that because it’s still very much in existence; it’s just that I now have it on a leash.
Boundaries. We think we know what that word means; I thought I knew what that word means. But if there’s one thing that I learned from my narcissist, it’s that I had very poor personal, mental and emotional boundaries and was utterly clueless that I had an issue with them. I was a “yes” person of the highest order. “Yessir!” unquestioningly, and unquestioning; that was me. I thought it was my function in life to run around after everyone else’s needs, to fix, to be on call for whatever had to be done, even if it made me feel undervalued, angry, disrespected or just plain pissed off. I didn’t know how to say “no” and felt that even if I tried, I wouldn’t be heard.
Now, this makes me sound like some sort of doormat or puppet, but really, I wasn’t. I was a respected professional person with a great deal of responsibility who had absolutely no trouble with saying no at work. But love relationships? That was an entirely different story.
My upbringing conditioned me to say yes to pretty much anything I was asked. Both my parents were WWII veterans and their sense that they were providing a much better life for me and my siblings caused them to think that I sort of “owed” them by behaving well, which meant that I had to do as I was told or asked. It sounds like I am blaming them for this but that’s not how I feel. I believe in taking adult responsibility for my behaviour; in the end the problem’s genesis didn’t matter because I still had to deal with it anyway.
My parents were products of their generation and believed what they were doing was best. To them, my siblings and I were raised in the lap of luxury and had nothing to complain about. However, they were setting me up to be rather non-thinking where my personal boundaries were concerned and when this was followed by a marriage to an older man who expected the same, I started to see myself as a lesser person who needed to take my direction from others. I see now that he was occasionally very disrespectful, but over time I had begun to buy into his treatment of me.
Eventually, I became afraid (see my post “Is There a Narcissist in Your Life?”) of making my own decisions about interpersonal boundaries. It seemed like everyone else knew better than me and I began to rely heavily on the mental and emotional judgments of others with respect to how I should behave. For a long time, I did not recognize this issue and went blithely on taking my emotional and mental boundary cues from others. It became a habit that was character-defining. Eventually, it also became a gap that my narcissist was able to easily recognize and exploit.
As always, the narcissist starts with baby steps. He began by asking me to pick up small items for him – he was working for weeks at a time in an isolated area – “on [his] dime,” as he always said. A pair of gloves, a book, some specialty shampoo. However, once I had given him these items, he just wouldn’t reimburse me. I chose not to see the issue. I chose to think well of him and to trust him. I was in love with him. But he had already crossed a boundary – a minor one, yes, but a boundary nevertheless.
Later, I was buying for him, on request, items that were much more pricey – tools, expensive clothes, a camera. After a while, he stopped working and then moved in with me. He asked me to pay a sizable debt of his and I did.
He flew to Toronto to deal with a legal issue and wound up stuck in the airport with no money and with no way for me to transfer any money. I flew there, money in hand, to rescue him.
He had an accident in his vehicle and started driving mine. Then the collection of photo-radar tickets started appearing – thousands of dollars of them. He wouldn’t stop speeding but kept using my vehicle anyway. He mistreated the vehicle and its condition started to deteriorate.
I still wouldn’t acknowledge the issue and continued to rationalize and minimize it and shortly after, we got married. We honeymooned in Hawaii because that’s where he wanted to go. I paid for it. Then the spending got really out of control. I was completely supporting the household, paying the mortgage, the taxes and the insurance while trying to keep up with the mounting pile of bills that he was generating.
He wouldn’t get a job or even look for one and preferred to do “projects” around the house which mainly consisted of him taking something apart and not putting it back together or only partially completing it. As usual, he had to spend a lot of money on the proper tools for these projects, with me footing the bill.
He is a car hobbyist of sorts and also started spending money on all kinds of parts and pieces for it, many of which had to be shipped in, in one instance from as far away as Australia. Again, I paid.
My stress levels began to go through the roof. I am not wealthy by any means and I began to really worry about how significant our debt was becoming. I’m sure you can see where the lack of boundaries had gotten me. I finally was forced into calling a halt, at which point he returned to work. Not to help out with the household expenses or the debt, not a chance. It was so that he could continue to finance the luxury items that he wanted to purchase for himself.
I now understand how people get themselves into these abusive relationships and in my opinion, it begins because there’s a lack of boundaries. Anyone with a strong sense of herself is going to heed the warning signs – and believe me, they are always there – of narcissistic abuse (or any other kind of abuse, for that matter) and will tell that narcissist to take a hike.
But I was a fixer, a rescuer, a yes-person. I believed that if I loved him enough, if I was unconditional enough, everything would be fine. Look at the financial crap I put up with, and that was only part of it! I literally invested everything I had into him and was arrogant enough to believe that with me, he would find happiness. It was difficult to give up on him, to finally get him out of my life, because that meant that I was giving up on what I thought I knew about myself, that I was giving up on the dream, that I had to admit that I had been taken.
And that was scary. It was humiliating and I was afraid. Almost afraid enough to stay in it. But not quite. Thank-you, good friends.
So, those of you out there who have been raised to be good little yes-people, beware. This particularly applies to women because we are raised that way more so than men but this can also apply to men. If it feels like you’re being taken advantage of, and especially if you feel angry or upset at what you are asked to do, listen to yourself and examine what it is you’re feeling. That’s your warning system kicking in. You may save yourself a lot of trouble and heartache.
Who knows, if it works maybe we can use the idea to increase collaboration. I’ve put a lot of work into the blog, trying to think how it might run effectively – which has meant I’ve become quite attached to it, and nervous about it being good.
I honestly feel it could be great – I’m just not savvy enough to know how to get the idea properly ‘out there’ to ensure…
In my kidney-crushingly funny series on Blogging Tips – I ranted at those annoying bastards who just “like you and run” to drive traffic to their site.
I have now been hit by the most gratuitous like-and-run I’ve yet had. The cretinous Robert Gibb, he of the ‘punch-me-in-the-face-grin’ and smarmy gravatar has liked lots of my posts. He is not even a blogger, not even using a blog to sell – just a straight-forward crap-shop web-site.
So this is me, doing what I can to ‘anti-spam’ that pissant little shit who has defiled my blog. WORDPRESS ARE YOU LISTENING? We deserve the control to remove SPAM likes from our posts – especially from brill-creamed bastards trying to make a fast buck through exploiting peoples paranoia over their body image.
Searching for Robert Gibb and supplements, looking for “truthaboutabs.com” (DO NOT VISIT THIS LINK- it’s a…
Carly Simon probably never imagined that this song would grow to represent the narcissists of the world, even though it’s clear that she was dealing with one of her own. Its irony stands as a paean over the adversity and pain wrought by those whose only concern is themselves, who lead you down a path of false trust and love so that they have you before they reveal themselves.
I’ve already discussed how they feel completely empty except for the negative emotions they have about themselves and that they are compelled to drop on others. I believe that the narcissist I was married to was also gay, and that this compounded his self-hatred and his intense feelings of shame.
The conversations that I have had with my counsellor and the reading I have done inform me that growing up with some kind of shame is pretty normal. My interpretation is that unless we feel shame, we will be unable to regulate unacceptable behaviours and internalize a notion of what empathy is and how it functions. Like most things in life, shame is good for us in small doses. Let it get out of control, however, and it becomes a serious impediment that, in the case of the narcissist, can lead to self-hatred and what I call instability of character. In other words, they don’t know who they are.
In “As Gertrude Stein Said, ‘There’s No There There,'” I discussed how the narcissist will exploit anything that provides an advantage, that they will “become” anything in order to get ahead or to be seen in a flattering light. They also do this so that they can “manufacture” a character. If they are at a party and the small talk turns to food dislikes, they will invent a dislike just so that they will fit in, so that they will have something to say and can have the spotlight focussed on them, even if they have never really thought about it before. Thereafter, for this particular group of people, the narcissist will insist on a dislike of pomegranates, with accompanying dramatic and illustrated story, such as snorting pomegranate seeds through his nose while driving full-tilt down the highway. Piece by piece, then, the narcissist will concoct what he or she sees as “character.”
The problem with this and where the instability starts to come in is two-fold. First, it starts to become difficult to keep track of “who” you are when there are numerous groups, and perhaps sub-groups, of people. And what about these groups mingling with each other? If the lady from your quilting class suddenly starts also attending your wine-tasting class, then things might get dicey. Yikes! She knows that pomegranate story … or maybe it was that other story, the one about being slung into prison in Angola, left there to rot and stuck listening to that drip, drip, drip on the stone cold floor while great brutes of cockroaches scuttled around looking for a place to build a new bedroom.
Well, the narcissist has an answer for this – one of these classes is going to get the boot. And for good measure, she may never talk to the quilting lady again because that lady has introduced fear into the narcissist’s life and has to be blamed, punished and excised. The fact is that unless the narcissist has settled on a group of “reliable” stories that are told and re-told, none of which are likely to be true, mind you, he or she will compartmentalize.
In other words, no one group of people in the narcissist’s life can mingle with another. There just might be too great an exchange of information, and the narcissist’s construct as a superior and special being might be found out. People might learn that he’s, well, that he’s just ordinary! One of the great ironies about this scenario that the narcissist is just too self-absorbed to get is that unless he forces it, he likely will not be the center of attention; people might have other things to talk about besides him.
It’s also interesting to note that despite the fears that narcissists have of being found out, they can be completely blase if they are found out. They will quickly invent an explanatory lie that on the surface sounds plausible, but on closer examination reveals major faults. They may laugh at you or be aggressively confrontational as diversionary tactics. They may also just stare and not respond at all, leaving the recipients to believe that there’s something wrong with them. I experienced all of these responses from my former narcissist husband.
The second part of this instability is the narcissist’s profound misunderstanding that having a collection of dramatic/heroic/tragic stories to tell does not constitute character, nor does “acquiring” someone else’s belief system. They absolutely fail to get that the development of a set of principles and beliefs requires years of honing, of examining, of molding and of casting off, and that it is fluid and responsive over time. It is as if they see a shelf of labelled characteristics from which they can choose, like deciding on an outfit for the day. As in Alice in Wonderland, “drink me” comes with a set of literal and surface results that for the narcissist, are completely “predictable”. “This is what I am” – today.
But underneath all this bullshit is shame. Shame because they believe that everyone else is better than them. Self-hatred because they are incapable of getting past the shame. Makes you want to feel sorry for them, doesn’t it? Don’t. Because if they remember what it was that made them hate themselves and feel ashamed, its reality is only a dim memory – likely it’s been replaced with a story. They may not even recognize that the hate and the shame exist, and if they do, they will certainly deny it. All they know is a frenetic need to fill up that vast nothingness, that vanity, by stealing the very being, the very core, of those who are unfortunate enough to come into contact with them.