Do you ever feel like you need to take a break from your life?
Just press the pause button, sit back with your coffee or tea cup and turn everything off for an hour?
No phones, internet, television or other “urgencies.”
Last year, I took on a high stress position. My boss, whom I got on with really well, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and she had decided that she wouldn’t take life-extending treatment, as those treatments would interfere with her life quality. She just wanted to keep going to work and living her regular life as long as she could.
I was her number one, the “safety” person who could temporarily take over and run things when she wasn’t feeling up to it.
As time went on, I did more and more of her job as well as my own. It became almost hellishly stressful, especially when my boss suddenly decided that her cancer was cured.
When that happened, I knew that the efficient, I-am-taking-this-in-stride-it’s-part-of-life portrait she was presenting to the world was a big pile of … something.
Day-by-day as I watched her deteriorate, she explained how certain things happening to her – such as the swelling lymph nodes that began to bother her – were signs that her body was expelling the cancer.
She was so invested that I just went along with her.
But when she started convincing other colleagues that she was getting better, and they started believing it, I wasn’t so sure. But still, I said nothing. And besides, it wasn’t my place to say anything anyway.
Then it became worse. Her decisions started to become questionable, and when I tried to offer alternatives and/or cautions, I was met with an incredible wall of stubbornness that I hadn’t encountered before.
I suspected that the cancer either had metastasised to her brain or the stress of presenting a picture of recovering health was just too much.
Maybe it was both.
But the fact was that she was acting out of character and I began worrying about the fallout. Her behaviour was beginning to have a negative impact on our workplace. At that time, the impact was small, but I knew it would become larger.
I saw what she was doing; that she was attempting to think positively in order to remain hopeful of a remission. But her version of that had turned into a very serious case of denial, and that denial was affecting everyone around her.
So, taking a break from my life? Pressing pause and just taking a breath? Right then, I probably would have given an arm for that.
Have you ever felt that way?
Should we say anything to those who are in denial?
I haven’t written about narcissism for quite a while now. Yesterday, however, it was brought to my attention again in a most direct way.
M was organizing the garage and came across two packages that I’d left on a shelf out there after the divorce. I had forgotten about them. M brought them in so that I could decide what to do with them. Both of them were from the ex-narcissist and I had put them in the garage because I didn’t want them in the house. I felt that I needed to hang on to them for a while in case there was more legal stuff from him, but I also felt that if I had them in the house, they might somehow contaminate the air.
Sound odd? I have to say that I don’t completely understand it myself. At the time, I still had furniture belonging to him in the house. But somehow, these parcels needed to be outside.
Perhaps it was because they were attempts to engage me, to ensnare me, to get me back.
One contained a book, a biography, and I’m fond of reading those, as Harry, the ex-narcissist, is aware. Inside the front cover was a letter. Yesterday I read it again and had it really brought home once more why he is such a dangerous person.
It was highly manipulative. It began by saying that he had read the book and thought I would like to, as well. He went on to claim that he was in therapy. Then it segued into a highly angry and very factually inaccurate lecture about what I had done to him: how I had abandoned him, betrayed him, and mislead him. That on our last evening together I had berated him and thrown a tantrum. That I had driven him to despair and suicide. That I had colluded with my counsellor to bring him to his knees.
Want to know what really happened?
Here is how it went: while we were in a restaurant in another city, he started berating me for eating too much – this happened a lot – and also started loudly commenting on the eating habits and sizes (they were completely normal) of the family seated across from us – also something that was happening more frequently.
When we left the restaurant and returned to the vehicle, he continued to harangue me about my weight until we stopped for gas. I went inside to pay – of course it was me paying – and when I came back out, he started shouting and swearing at me about how I had slammed the vehicle door and that no one had ever done that to him before. I went around to the other side of the vehicle, picked up my suitcase and started walking away. At that point, a police officer who had witnessed Harry’s tirade stopped and asked me about what I was going to do and if I needed assistance. He left his number with me.
I found a hotel for the night and flew home the next day. The day after that, I informed Harry that I was divorcing him. This incident was the catalyst, the final straw, so to speak. That minuscule amount that just does you in. He had shouted at me for the last time.
But, back to the letter. After the lecture he went on about how we had had some good times together before Christmas. Reality: he came by in November to pick up some of his furniture; a good friend of mine did most of the interacting with him and another accompanied me when I went with him to his storage locker a couple of days later to pick up some things that he had “accidentally” taken from the house. I was never alone with him and never gave him one iota of encouragement, but according to him, we had had “good times” and I was sending positive signals for a reconciliation.
He then ended the letter by saying that he still loved me and wanted to get back together.
Its construction was interesting: get me to buy in by beginning with a subject of interest – biographies. The book was intended as a present. How can a present be bad? He followed this up by stating that he was in therapy. Great, right? Wrong. This was the thin edge of the wedge; he tried to take me off my guard and soften me up before going in for the kill.
He then attempted to elicit a response from me by writing a series of exaggerations and falsehoods couched in the emotional language of the pseudo- victim. He was betting that I would respond on several levels – that I would feel called to defend myself about his inaccuracies and falsehoods, that I would feel sorry for him, that I would feel guilty, that I would consider taking him back. His intent was to engage me in some sort of discourse and then make use of further manipulation – twist my thinking so that I could no longer tell the difference between reality and his fictional accounts.
The other parcel contained ceramics that do not belong to me; again, they were designed as an entry to further contact.
I have destroyed the letter. I am giving away the book and the ceramics.
If nothing else, this shows how careful one has to be when eliminating a narcissist from one’s life. It’s extremely important not to respond to their manipulative attempts at communication, even if it appears to be completely harmless. Tough to do, but completely necessary.
If you have been in a “relationship” with a narcissist, it is paramount that you cut the contact as soon as possible.
Appearances can be deceiving, and Harry is very, very good at keeping his up. After all, that’s how I got involved with him in the first place.