Category Archives: Narcissism – One Woman’s True Story of Marriage to a Narcissist

Are You Flagging?

Red flag waving transparent
Red flag waving transparent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve to some extent discussed before how narcissists fly red flags signalling who and what they are. The problem is that most of us can see that the wind is blowing something around but we don’t know what it is.  If you’re like me, and raised on a sound diet of Hollywood movies, you’re going to set caution firmly aside, walk right up to this thing that’s blowing around and, sighing in relief, say, “It’s okay, it’s a pair of underwear!” Now, if you’re a lot like me, after a moment you’re also going to say, “Actually, it doesn’t really look like a pair of underwear, it might be a flag.” And then you’ll promptly talk yourself out of it because you can’t believe that there would be a flag blowing around, unattended, in the middle of the bald-ass desert.  Which is where you’re going to be if you don’t start recognizing that it’s a flag, and that really, there’s lots more than just one of them.  And anyway, why would it be more logical for a pair of underwear to be blowing around?

I knew you’d want to know. It’s because we want it to be a pair of underwear. Underwear blowing around? That’s funny. You can speculate endlessly on who owned them and how they got out there, all with humourous intent and lots of giggles and baa ha ha -ing.

But a flag? Everyone knows about flags.  Alert: this is mine, all mine. You don’t belong here. Danger: if you don’t leave, I’ll throw a rock at you. Or something worse. Aggression: I’m bigger and better than you. I’m going to mess you up and take your stuff.

Flags carry an incredibly heavy emotional load  and all of it is personal. I recently watched an Anthony Bourdain show about Madrid where the status of the Spanish flag was discussed. Until Spain won the World Cup of Soccer in 2010 and started to view their flag as a positive symbol, they were careful with it. They had viewed it as the flag of Francisco Franco, the dictator they were stuck with for 40 years until 1975 and therefore did not see it as a symbol of national pride.

Essentially, what the Spanish did for 35 years was either ignore or minimize the importance of their flag. It set off alarm bells, caused bad memories to re-surface and drove them into an uncomfortable place. That’s what red flags do, too.

So, even though our biology is telling us to be cautious, to be aware, we are just as capable of ignoring or minimizing those warnings. When it comes to narcissistic red flags, how far will we go to subvert our own better judgement?

Pretty far, if my own experience is anything to go by. For example, very early on I saw Harry’s ability to flip-flop, and that’s how I saw it, too. What I was ignoring were the first signs of his instability. These signs got lost in how brilliant he was at courting me – showering me with compliments and small presents. This was me: “Was that a red flag? No, it can’t be! Let me look at all these compliments instead …” I saw the flag but chose to turn it into a pair of underwear instead.

I also saw his sense of superiority and arrogance, too, but I chose to see them as indicative of a sort of bohemian intelligence a la Jack Kerouac. I came to realize how narrow his interests were – despite his protestations that he is a great reader, he reads only one author who writes mystery/suspense novels. I later saw that Harry likes to envision himself as this author’s central character – he is much more Walter Mitty than Jack Kerouac.

The fact that he owned very little while at the same time carrying an enormous debt load should have been another red flag and in fact was a red flag. I just got busy and rationalized it.  He had explanations for everything, explanations that seemed logical at the time: I live in a travel trailer because my work takes me all over the place. I have a lot of debt because of the lawsuit (some of you may recall that there were actually several lawsuits including one against him) – this followed by a diversionary discussion of how the two women he sued had ruined his life and how I was making it better. I certainly was! I had started paying out money for him, including paying one of his huge debts.

He claimed to be a great cook and in fact often was in the kitchen, but his abilities in that area were very narrow and adolescent. He kept making and eating the same things, most of it junk food. He was obsessed with fruit pies and kept making pastry over and over again and throwing out the results. He threw out lots of other things, too. My grocery bill kept rising and he made no attempt to contribute. I put it down to his culinary perfectionism and chose to listen instead to the siren song of his compliments.

Almost everything that he owned was in poor condition, although saying that he “owned” these items is fanciful, at best. The bank and various credit card companies owned them, and that’s part of the reason why they weren’t well maintained. He didn’t really have any investment in them.  He soon started treating my possessions with the same degree of disrespect and also for the same reason. To off-set any concerns I might have he kept saying that he would “soon” start contributing financially, but that never did happen.

There didn’t seem to be anyone in his life except me. There were no phone calls back and forth between him and his “friends” and his daughter didn’t generate any contact either. He kept telling me that I was the only person who understood him and I chose to start believing that.

During the first year of our relationship we were rather isolated. He had no interest in meeting my friends or family and in fact tried to avoid them. I thought it very affirming that he seemed so focussed on me.

He had no interest whatsoever in my family or family background except as it suited him – he chose to take my surname when we married. I thought that was a lovely tribute! He was just trying to re-invent himself while at the same time escaping some of his creditors.

He wanted to get married as quickly as possible.

With respect to our relationship he at one point told me that I “should be careful what [I] wish for.” He later soothed me by saying that he had just been in a “down mood.”

Before we started living together I seriously considered breaking it off with him, but I had never been much of a “no” person – I lacked personal boundaries – and I was also afraid of being the “bad guy.” Like many women, I wanted to maintain a friendly relationship with him, not cause a bitter split and treat him like the women of his past had treated him. Great, huh? He had so convinced me that I was different and special that even as I was thinking of getting out, I was still buying into his idealization of me. If that’s not master manipulation, I don’t know what is.

Do you see yourself here? Is there a pattern for you? Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t delude yourself. Don’t be afraid to look. Because if you see yourself here, then you’re flagging, and you really will be flagging unless you chose to see the flags and not the underwear.

Get out. It won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty, and he (or she) will try everything, and I mean everything, to stay in your life. There will be crying, howling, cajoling, bribery, lying, threatening, shouting, sobbing and screaming. There might even be “suicide attempts” or “suicidal ideation.” None of this is real. It’s just a stage show designed to get you back so that he (or she) can continue to use you.  So you have to get out, either now or later. Don’t wind up regretting that you ignored the flags.

The Seasonal Narcissist … Or, How to Survive a Holiday When There’s a Narcissist Underfoot

You don’t have to be married or partnered with a narcissist in order to have one in your life. Studies show that almost a quarter of us have to interact with  narcissists, although that may just be peripherally. If that’s the case, dealing with them becomes much more difficult because they are likely to be in your life for a long time, if only intermittently. It may sound harsh, but once you make up your mind, you can usually get out of a spousal/partnered relationship with a narcissist, although if there are children involved, you may still have to deal with the narcissist for many years.

Nevertheless, many of us have to, especially around special occasions, look out for what I like to call the seasonal narcissist. This is a person whom you may only see every couple of years or maybe a couple of times a year, since narcissists don’t like to hang out much with their families. He or she is a cousin, aunt, uncle, an in-law or maybe even a sibling, parent or grandparent. The fact that you don’t see the narcissist very often doesn’t make dealing with him or her any easier; in fact, as you probably already know, these narcissists can do a great deal of damage to whatever special occasion is under way.

The reason for this is that special occasions are just not their thing. Special occasions usually involve having others around, sometimes lots of others, to say nothing of the fact that the occasion itself, no matter what it is about, demands attention. Those details can seriously steal their thunder; they know that they will be part of a crowd, or perhaps lost in the crowd. They may be called upon to help out with preparations, cleaning, cooking, washing dishes – things they don’t like doing unless they can get something out of it. Altruism is definitely not one of their traits.

Narcissism
Narcissism (Photo credit: videocrab)

If you think about it, you can see why any special occasion is an absolute minefield for them. They aren’t the centre of attention. They are not the “special ones,” the person with the birthday or wedding anniversary or Easter party or Bar Mitzvah. It’s not all about them. Since their families know them and have probably been exhausted by them, the narcissistic “show” is likely to fall flat and their projections will be ignored. They cannot manufacture a new “self”. They are literally very stuck; nothing from their bag of tricks will work.

For all of these reasons, they will hate to have to go to whatever event it is. They may get dragged there by another family member, the one who always wants to see everyone show up at these shindigs. They may have to go because otherwise it might not look right, and narcissists are all about appearance.  They may go simply for the bragging rights: “I organized all the games!” or, “Without me there singing and playing the piano, the whole thing would have been completely dead.” “My speech was killer!” and so on and so on.

And that leads me to what I believe you have to do to avoid a narcissistic-induced “scene” at your next event. You have to assign them some task or other that allows them to show off and get attention. Otherwise, you will have a mess on your hands.

As I’ve already indicated, these narcissists may feel hemmed in by the fact that nothing from their bag of tricks is working. They may feel as if they are lost in the crowd. They may feel deflated and sorry for themselves. And this is dangerous, because then they will attempt to get attention in any way they can, no matter how negatively or inappropriately. Your event could be completely derailed.

I recall with much distaste the birthday party that I organized for my closest friend and held in my home while I was married to my ex-narcissist. There were some twenty people in attendance, including her children, a number of her friends and a couple of her colleagues. I seriously cannot think about this event without shuddering. All was going well until my narcissist started to very loudly chastise my friend’s son over the courses that he was taking in order to get into medical school.

According to Harry, Evan (my friend’s son) was shirking his academic responsibilities and shouldn’t be allowed into medical school with such foolish courses in his background. This then lead to a tirade about the general watering down of academic requirements and about how much tougher Harry had it when he went to university (supposedly he had to chisel his essays on stone tablets, which of course taught him the value of struggle and determination, something that today’s students also don’t have), that his degree was therefore much more valuable and was in fact the equivalent of  a PhD.

Utter nonsense, of course. He attended a respected university and got an undergraduate degree in engineering.  An academic accomplishment and achievement, yes, but certainly something that many other people have also done.

The business of shouting their “distinctiveness”, especially where their intelligence and academic prowess is concerned, is a common narcissistic trait. Harry rounded out his rant with a treatise on how Evan would never get into medical school and didn’t deserve to.

He only started to wind down when one of Julie’s (my friend whose birthday it was) colleagues started to call Harry on what he was saying. Julie and her colleague are both university teachers and are very familiar with the entrance requirements for medical school – something Harry had forgotten. As Julie’s colleague calmly started to defend Evan’s course choices, Harry began to seeth. He attempted to continue his bluster but eventually gave up. He walked out and didn’t return until after the party was over.

You can imagine what this did to the happy party vibe. We attempted to get back on track but that really didn’t work and the party fizzled out with most people leaving quite early. The worst part was the pity and curiosity that I could feel being directed at me. Their questions were floating around the room inside of big cartoon bubbles. “What is she doing married to that guy?” “Where did she meet him?” “I wouldn’t want to be her when he gets back.”

When Harry returned, however, he was contrite. In one of those flashes of insight that Harry is capable of, he realized how awful his behaviour had been and he regretted it. He thought about writing  letters of apology to Evan and to Julie. Like all of Harry’s good intentions, however, the idea disappeared.

The fact was that Harry’s momentary contrition only came to the forefront because he had gotten what he needed and was feeling better. Soon, though, his desire for more attention and his firm belief in his own superiority eclipsed his sense that he needed to make amends and he sidelined the idea of the letters. Does that make him sound like an addict? Yes. In many ways, narcissists have very similar characteristics to  addicts and vice versa.

So here’s what you have to do if you’re dealing with a seasonal narcissist: first of all, as I’ve already mentioned, give them  highly visible, “important” tasks that will generate lots of attention. He could give a speech or present the gifts or play the piano or do a skit. Play into your knowledge of the narcissist and what he thinks he’s good at.

Be sure to fuss over and flatter the narcissist. If you have to lie, lie. Remember, you’re only doing this for one evening or afternoon or whatever and in this case, lying is the better part of valour. You can go to confession or expiate your lies later. Compliment his hair, clothes, weight loss, new job, whatever. Leave him with the impression that he’s the most important, smartest, best looking person in the room.

Assign someone to stay with the narcissist at all times and to keep him under control. This person should be completely aware of the mission and should be able to indulge in flattery, fussing and outright lying without throwing up. This “shadow” person will also need to ensure that the narcissist does whatever task he has been assigned. Narcissists are usually very undependable.

In the lead-up to the event and on the day, ask for his advice (be careful not to ask him to do what he might consider to be menial tasks) as to how things should be done, organized, carried out, and so on. Publicly acknowledge his help and how you couldn’t have done it without him. Gag later.

Designate someone, particularly someone who has good diplomatic skills, whose job it will be to get him out of the room as quickly as possible if he starts haranguing, pontificating, ranting, shouting or in other ways seeking inappropriate attention.

I can’t guarantee that any of these strategies will work; I’m only improving your odds. The one thing I do know, however, is that when it comes to dealing with narcissists, you can’t be too prepared, so be sure to prepare for this narcissist as much as you would for any other aspect of your special occasion.

Good luck!

One note: my apologies for my frequent use of the male gender when describing narcissists. I don’t mean to offend anyone. Statistically, however, the vast majority of narcissists are male and it is more likely that you will encounter a male narcissist rather than a female narcissist.

Respect, Gratitude, Humility … Where Do You Stand?

Week 36: Helicopter Parent
Week 36: Helicopter Parent (Photo credit: WilliamsProjects)

Right now it is very fashionable to worry about the under-30s and how entitled they behave; the complaints about them are legion and growing. Prospective employers tell scary stories about helicopter parents accompanying their 28-year-olds to job interviews while university profs talk about the parents who wait outside their office doors and demand to know the grades of their 20-year-olds. Adult children populate the homes of their parents long after they should be on their own, and in many cases, the parents are quite happy to accommodate them, even if these kids are married and have kids of their own. Books abound about how we have produced an entire cohort of self-involved, pampered, physically and intellectually lazy bores, and educators have been blamed for developing a cult of over-esteem. However, I have a somewhat different label to hang on them.  I think it’s more that they have been infantalized, and that, in and of itself, is rather dangerous; many people suffer from narcissism because they were stopped in their emotional development at a very young age. Nevertheless, it’s more likely a form of narcissism on the part of their parents: the parents want the children to be a reflection of themselves and their perfect lives; therefore enormous control over every detail must be exerted.

There’s too much concern over this, however. There is perhaps much more narcissism among the under-30s than there used to be, but I believe that given a chance, many will outgrow this or maybe, recover from it. Remember the “me” generation? The “yuppies”? Remember the “Material Girl”? Madonna? Still material, as far as I can tell, except now she’s collecting kids instead of music awards. Anyhow, I’m dating myself here but that is my generation – the baby boomers – those born between late 1946 and early 1966. A 20-year span. The war years that interrupted the lives of our parents and caused them to want a better life for their offspring literally came true, in a material sense anyway, no pun intended.  Driven by consumerism and one-upmanship, we have been characterized as having stepped on anything that got in our way. My generation, the later ones, anyway, make up many of the helicopter parents that we see now. I might very well be wrong, but I tend to see my own generation as having been worse than the under-30s of today. Frankly, the hallmarks of narcissism are much more prevalent among my generation – the grandiosity, the rampant spending and consumerism, the self-absorption and to add to this, the lack of respect, gratitude and humility. We are supposedly the best of the best, and because there are so many of us, we can make a lot of noise and can often get our way. In other words, if we don’t get what we want, we throw a narcissistic tantrum, and that applies to our kids, too.

The fact is that many of us raised our kids in environments that while perhaps not narcissistic per se, certainly were driven by narcissistic tendencies, and a lot of us continue to see these kids as extensions of ourselves. Many of these kids then find themselves stuck between being children and being adults; they occupy some sort of childish purgatory where they never really grow up. The only way for them to get out of this netherworld is to fight, which is an affront to us as parents. Our kids are supposed to be perfect!  We have taken huge steps and made great efforts to prevent our kids from making any mistakes, no matter how minor. Why, then, are they doing this to me, we cry. Why do they want to leave us?  We leave them lost in a vicious circle that’s difficult for them to escape: they want their independence and they also want a good relationship with their parents; that’s hard to achieve if the parents are needy, clingy, controlling hangers-on who, let’s face it, may resort to manipulation to stop their kids from passing into true adulthood.

There’s also the danger, as I mentioned above, that they might become narcissistic themselves or may have to recover from living in an environment that, at a minimum, was emphasizing some of the characteristics of narcissism. If our children see themselves as entitled, then we only have ourselves to blame, never mind the fact that we have saddled them with a difficult, life-long issue.

The words respect, gratitude and humility come up often when people start discussing the under-30s. They lack respect for the work it takes to earn a dollar. Helping out or contributing to others are foreign concepts. All they care about is the latest iPhone and who posted what on Facebook. There’s no gratitude. They don’t know how to say thank-you. If they want something, they expect you to provide it for them, no matter what it costs. They’re pretentious, self-important and full of themselves. They don’t know how to work hard and expect immediate promotions and lots of perks. They believe that they should be able to leave work or take days off whenever they want to. They’re much too good to start at the bottom and work their way up. They don’t know what the word humility means. Actually, this is a very good capsule description of my ex-narcissist, Harry. In light of this, perhaps we should be more concerned about the narcissism of the younger generation than we are.

I have heard these kinds of complaints over and over again, and I have to say that I have seen lots of evidence of it, too.  But I also remember the things that were said about my generation, too. It was odd. On the one hand, my parents wanted us to have everything; they spoiled us rotten. On the other, though, the most common complaint about us was that we “had it easy.” There were also these stories about how the weather patterns were much worse then and how they had to endure switchbacks on their way to school, resulting in them having to walk uphill both ways.

But I digress. Mixed message? Yup. And compared to my parents, I certainly did have it easy. At age 16, my mom was in the army and dodging bombs in London. At 22, my dad was trying to escape Dunkirk. The fact is, however, would they have wanted us to experience a war so that we could understand that we had it easy? What kind of logic is that? At times, however, I felt that that’s what the message was. They wanted us to have what they didn’t have, but at the same time there was a great deal of guilt-inducement going on: look at what we have done for you, and all you want to do is grow your hair, get stoned and sit around. The problem is that they wanted us to understand what it cost them to provide this great life for us, but they weren’t very good at expressing that and we were too self-involved to try to get it.

There were lots of people who behaved that way. On the other hand, there were lots of American baby boomers who tried to stop the Vietnam War. All over the world, there were lots of  hippies who tried to make love, not war. There were those who had to endure a war themselves. I was too young for any of this, and I otherwise know only a couple of people who participated in these things. They then went on to become rather narcissistic, consumer-driven yuppies.  For me and most of my peer group, however, things were rather different. I worked hard. I put myself through school. I joined the army. I started a career that has given me a comfortable living but has not made me wealthy. I have never owned a BMW. For the most part, life has been pretty good. I pay my bills and my taxes and I vote when there’s an election. I’m fortunate enough to have been born in a country that doesn’t have a coup every time there’s an election. In other words, I think that despite the fact that I “had it easy”, I turned out all right, as did most of us. I have even learned to appreciate my parents and what they wanted for us.

Does my generation show some pretty incredible characteristics of narcissism? You bet. Have I at times been egotistical myself? Yes! I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. And because of our size, we do get a lot of attention. But we’re mostly okay, and we have even managed to do some pretty valuable things.

And the under-30s? They will have to deal with the way they have been infantalized and they will have to find their feet and fight. They have a steep learning curve ahead of them. But there are many good things about them, too, and like us, most of them will be fine, and in the end, I doubt that they will be any more narcissistic than any other generation.

So let’s stop complaining about them, shall we?

And I’m Pleased to Introduce … Narcissistic Instability!

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.

Narcissus
Narcissus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

How Are Your Boundaries Holding Up?

Narcissism 101
Narcissism 101 (Photo credit: Lynne Hand)

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.

You’re So Vain; You Probably Think This Song Is About You

Why (Carly Simon song)
Why (Carly Simon song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

What to Do If Married to a Narcissist

Narcissism
Narcissism (Photo credit: overLinedesign)

A little while ago, I had these words show up in my search engine terms.  Whoever you are, this post is for you. I know what you’re going through and how bad it can be. But I also know that there’s relief to be had, that you can get your life back, and that you deserve to have your life back, no matter how guilty and responsible you’re feeling right now or how much you think you are at fault.

First of all, realize that your narcissist cannot be helped. Although some work has been done with them, it  is extremely slow – it takes years before any progress is noticeable, and even then, it will be minor. Really, narcissists are incurable. No amount of love, caring or understanding on your part will help them. Your narcissist will never love or respect you in return. They have absolutely no interest in that and they do not believe that anything is wrong with them.

Secondly, get support. Find a counsellor, a friend, a family member, someone you can trust and who will stand by you, listen to you and unconditionally help you through this. Tell this person what has been happening in your marriage. You are going to need this support because you are going to have to get this narcissist out of your life, especially if you have children. Narcissists can do a lot of damage to children. If you’re feeling unhinged because of your exposure, imagine what it can do to them.

If you can, take your time and plan how you will get this person out of your life and your home – the narcissist should leave, not you. Ask your support person to help you through this planning phase. Be sure to keep your planning secret. I’m sure you’re well aware of the rage that could erupt if your narcissist finds out what you’re doing. In the meantime, do whatever fawning or flattery you have to do to keep your narcissist calm and unaware. Lie if you have to. Get everything that you need in place – paperwork on cars, homes, bank accounts. If necessary, organize care for your children. Find a lawyer. Notify the police and have them on stand-by. And then, in the company of your support person, tell your narcissist that he or she has to immediately leave, and don’t look back.

Whatever you do, stick by the idea of getting your life back. Don’t let the narcissist’s bag of tricks dissuade you from your decision. Because that’s all it is – a bag of tricks. If you fall for it, a week later you will be right back where you started. This plan might sound harsh and almost narcissistic itself, but sometimes we have to do unpleasant things to save ourselves and our children. Remember that you’re entitled to and deserve a life that’s free of narcissistic craziness, and so do they. There’s no reasoning with a narcissist. There’s no living with a narcissist. Unless you want to accept that your life is a part of the narcissistic cesspool, and that that is what your life will be, you have no other choice but to leave.

If you’re not ready to leave yet, find a counsellor or other support person who will listen to you. Read as much as you can. There are good sources here on WordPress – try planetjan, I’m Going Slightly Mad, kimberlyharding-soulhealingart.com, In Bad Company, Scott Williams. There are many, many other sources available. You will find one that works for you.

Good luck! And remember, you are not alone.