Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of Falling (Photo credit: epSos.de)
I’ve considered this blog for a while now. Thinking about it – mulling it over, noodling. And then I realized that the very reason that I’ve been holding back on starting it is the reason why I wanted to start writing it in the first place: fear.
We live with fear all the time. Fear of being alone. Fear of looking stupid. Fear of not being accepted. Fear of being dumped. Fear of being wrong. Extreme cases of fear get their own category; we call them phobias. Agoraphobia: fear of leaving safety. Acrophobia: fear of heights. Arachnophobia: fear of spiders, not to be confused with Arachibutyrophobia, which is a fear of having peanut butter stick to the roof of your mouth. We even have a name for a fear of the northern lights: auroraphobia. And by the way, not all…
First, I have to apologize to my readers and to the people I follow for having been incommunicado for a while here. I will catch up with all of you, I promise, but it will take me a while.
So, what was I doing? Well, I was off being an introvert after I was surprised with the news that I actually wasn’t out of the woods with my heart-health after all.
And, I was doing as introverts do. I wasn’t depressed, but definitely worried and befuddled. Quietly freaking out is probably a better description. But introverts need time to absorb information, turn it over in their minds, and think carefully about whatever it is. And I took the time to do just that.
The history of this is that after my “all clear,” one of the specialists called me to his office and told me that upon further investigation, my tests actually showed that I likely had had a heart attack and that there was also heart disease of some sort, as well. Ischemia, they call it. If that isn’t a scary name, then I don’t know what is. Inside you, your own body is scheming against you. Great.
He told me that I had to have another test. This time, a definitive one. An angiogram. A cardiologist sticks a probe into an artery in the arm or leg, then enters the heart and takes a look all around to see what’s going on. Yum.
I couldn’t wait to have this done but at the same time, I didn’t want it done at all.
In the meantime, I had to wait. So I decided to put my health first and foremost.
I walked and did mild exercise.
I read about my condition.
I took appropriate supplements.
I worked at keeping my weight down and eating a mostly green veggie and fruit diet.
I religiously took my myriad of prescription medications, including the one whose chief side effect is weight gain. Isn’t there a story in here somewhere? Ah yes, here it is:
Specialist (aka, God): You need to lose 10 kilos. (For the metrically challenged, that’s 22 lbs.)
Me: Won’t that be hard to do if I’m taking this stuff that causes weight gain?
Specialist: (consults ceiling and gives every impression of an imminent ascension into heaven) What stuff?
Me: This medication. Metoprolol.
Specialist: What about it?
Me: It causes weight gain.
Specialist: Make sure you start losing some weight, now. See you next month.
See what I mean? I think his real name must be Dr. Kafka.
Anyway, I tried to remain calm while I waited for six weeks for this next test. Easily said, not easily done.
Finally, test day arrived. I was on a ward mainly comprised of men who were in varying stages of getting the bad news about their heart conditions. My anxiety began to climb but I tried valiantly to keep my mind off the situation.
Then they wheeled me into their chamber. Lots of monitors, tubes, straps, needles and stuff that was completely unidentifiable but scary nevertheless.
They gave me a sort of twilighty drug that actually didn’t work because I was completely awake the entire time and trying to see the cardiologist’s monitors. Which I couldn’t, of course, because they were placed so that he had a good view, not me. And besides, I don’t know what that would have accomplished anyway – I wouldn’t have known what I was looking at! But human nature being what it is …
So they stuck their mobile forward observer’s post in my wrist and I felt it slide past my shoulder. Then … nothing. Ten minutes of waiting while I thought I was going to crawl right out of my own skin.
A young man’s face leaning over mine – the cardiologist in training – and the immortal words: “Your arteries are pristine.” No ischemia. No heart attack. No damage of any kind.
I gave M the big thumbs up as they wheeled me back to the ward for a couple of hours of recovery. I couldn’t stop grinning. I couldn’t stop smiling. I couldn’t stop feeling grateful. The next day was my birthday and I couldn’t have had a better present.
It turns out that my heart went a little glitchy because I did too much physical activity on a hot day and a nerve in there started to act out. It’s what the techs who originally tested my heart had thought – nothing really wrong.
I can actually have this nerve fixed if there’s any more trouble from it, but right now I’m just going to wait.
That gives me time to think. I think about the men on that ward that day who didn’t get good news. I wonder about how they’re doing. I wonder about the two cardiologists. One who told me that I’d likely had a heart attack and was suffering from clogged arteries. One who proved that I wasn’t. I think anout the friendly nurse who coached me on keeping my arteries pristine. I think about my M, who sat beside me the entire time.
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.
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.
I’ve considered this blog for a while now. Thinking about it – mulling it over, noodling. And then I realized that the very reason that I’ve been holding back on starting it is the reason why I wanted to start writing it in the first place: fear.
We live with fear all the time. Fear of being alone. Fear of looking stupid. Fear of not being accepted. Fear of being dumped. Fear of being wrong. Extreme cases of fear get their own category; we call them phobias. Agoraphobia: fear of leaving safety. Acrophobia: fear of heights. Arachnophobia: fear of spiders, not to be confused with Arachibutyrophobia, which is a fear of having peanut butter stick to the roof of your mouth. We even have a name for a fear of the northern lights: auroraphobia. And by the way, not all words describing phobias begin with the letter “A” although there does seem to be a lot of them.
Then there are all the famous pronouncements about fear that we are supposed to soak up during childhood so that as adults we aren’t stopped by fear (I have a lot to say about being stopped by fear; I’ll come to it later if you’re willing to wait): The only thing we have to fear is fear itself (Franklin D. Roosevelt). Fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind (Dale Carnegie). He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat (Napoleon Bonaparte). Pretty ironic, considering what happened to him. Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world (Ralph Waldo Emerson). We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than reality (Seneca). Good stuff, really, but the fact is that fear is often maligned.
It’s a biological imperative that’s designed to keep us safe so that we can procreate and ensure the survival of the species. If we don’t fear things, we will fall off cliffs after being bitten by spiders because we were fearless enough to leave our safe abodes so that we could watch the northern lights in the middle of an otherwise very dark night. And the worse part is that we won’t be able to cry out for help because we will have peanut butter stuck to the roofs of our mouths. Why then, does fear get such a bad rap?
Almost universally, we see the conquering of fear as heroic, romantic, swashbuckling. It seems that if we don’t dump our fears, that we’re somehow wanting, somehow less than human; we’re anemic, watery cutouts who don’t deserve to be trusted. We will fall apart at the most inopportune time and become needy of rescue ourselves.
We judge others based on how well we perceive them to be handling fear and we are unreasonably proud of ourselves when we feel that we have overcome fear. However, it can be liberating, freeing in a way that allows us to really live, to be able to leave our houses knowing that there might be cliffs and spiders out there and that the northern lights are a marvel, not a menace.
The fact is that we need fear, but we can’t let it get the better of us – we have to use our judgement about it, but that’s where it gets tricky. That’s where uncertainty and hesitancy creep in, causing us to second-guess, to look for answers, for direction. If that weren’t the case, then we wouldn’t have a huge industry selling self-help materials. Therapists of all stripes would disappear. Life management courses would tank. The idea of asking a friend or elder for advice would become quaint.
We would all know what to do, all the time. And I’m glad that I don’t, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have gone on the journey that I did when I married a narcissist. I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it and about what I learned about myself and about fear and about how it has helped me to find happiness and contentment in my life.
So if you would like, join me and I’ll tell you all about it.