Tag Archives: Mental Health

Keeping up [Narcissistic] Appearances

Oil on canvas
Oil on canvas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Grounds for Divorce (song)
Grounds for Divorce (song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Genetic Manipulation
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

A New Name!

The Canadian men's ice hockey team celebrates ...
The Canadian men’s ice hockey team celebrates winning the gold medal in overtime over the United States during the 2010 Winter Olympics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s official – I have a new blog name! My particular thanks to Project Southsea for his suggestion which I then altered slightly. In his football obsessed (soccer) nation, the term “back of the net” is a reference to scoring a goal, but in Canada, a hockey obsessed nation, that term would mean that the puck is “behind” the net.

My puck is definitely in the net.

Two little words, big difference, so I made a couple of changes. I am, therefore, now officially called “In the Net! – Stories of Life and Narcissistic Survival.”

My original title, “Narcissism – One Woman’s True Story of Marriage to a Narcissist” is now a category title, and I still want to post about that topic and stick to my original intention of warning others about getting into relationships with these people. But as I indicated in my last post, there are many other things that I want to write about, too.

I will still have to closely guard my privacy by altering anything that could personally identify me or the people in my life, but there’s much that I can share.

Thanks to all of you who have supported me with your follows, your comments or just by clicking “like.” You are all very much appreciated.

So, if you’re interested, ask what you would like –  and with your permission, I may turn your question into a post!

Narcissists R Us

Pinocchio DSM 5
Pinocchio DSM 5 (Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews)

Between dealing with my water troubles and my virus particles it’s been an interesting month or so.  M and I are also organizing some big changes with our decision that he should go back to university for a Master’s degree, so lots of stuff happening on the home front. I’ve also had the opportunity to keep up with my reader and as I indicated in my last post, there’s so much great commentary, fiction and poetry being produced. It’s about time that I produced something, too, although it might not be as good as what I’ve been reading from the rest of you.

This post has been prompted to some extent by an excellent piece written by bettylaluna who discussed the difference between a narcissist and a garden-variety jerk. Her piece is quite academic and gives the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV definition of a narcissist while noting the significant differences between those types of individuals and people who are just “jerks.” I’ve been thinking about this for some time and given that my main intent here is to throw out a general warning about narcissists, I’m going to weigh in as well, but purely only from the perspective of experience. I am not a therapist.

So, what is the difference between an annoying douche nozzle who can drive you batshit in 2.2 seconds and a narcissist? Well, just that, for one thing. Jerks tend to be upfront about their jerkness, while the narcissist is as smooth as a glass bottle. Whether they admit it to themselves or not, or even recognize it, narcissists have a definite plan for the development of their “relationship” with you. The basics of this plan do not vary much from person to person but it can become more sophisticated with time and practise. Jerks, on the other hand, may not understand that they are jerks, but they also are not developing a plan to take advantage of you, either.

As I’ve noted in other posts, narcissists, if they’re interested in you at all, will start with a charm offensive. At some point in your first interactions with him you will likely hear alarm bells going off in your head, but if the narcissist is well practised, he will swamp you with so many effusive compliments that you will soon forget about those pesky warnings and will reach over and pull the plug. Of course, the best thing to do at that point is to walk away, no matter how attractive you find him, but many of us have had our evolutionary instincts socialized down to a sort of background static that we’re usually taught to ignore.

If you fall for the charm, the compliments, the flattery, the small “thoughtful” presents and attention to detail, you will start to feel wonderful, as if you are floating on air. You will see him as perfect. He dresses well, is well spoken and polite and money does not seem to be an issue. It seems as if he will do anything for you. In fact, what he has done is idealize you.

Once he realizes that he “has” you and that you are also a fallible human being, he will slowly begin to lose interest in you. You are no longer a challenge and in his eyes you will only have importance insofar as you are useful to him.  Technically, this is known as the “devaluation” stage of the narcissistic relationship.

Yes, this is where he is, but where are you? You’re back on cloud nine wondering why the sky has suddenly turned black. You keep trying to figure out where your “perfect” relationship has disappeared to and inevitably, you start to think that its deterioration is your fault. Your narcissist will also actively encourage this thinking and you might start to believe that you’re going a little crazy.

You will do everything in your power to mend the situation, to return to that state of bliss that you had been enjoying. In fact, you’re not unlike an addict who is chasing a high. Unless you do some thinking and self-assessment, you could wind up in this position for a long time.

Meanwhile, as you’re trying to sort out and save your relationship, he’s entered the “discard” phase. The name speaks for itself. He will now endeavour to get rid of you, as long as he can keep whatever he deems to be of value from your “relationship.” During this last phase he may also “play” with you by frequently changing his mind, by moving out and then back in, by giving you glimpses of what you thought you had during the idealization phase.

The only exception to this pattern is if you decide to leave him first. Then he will likely re-enter the idealization phase and if you allow it, you will start this roller-coaster all over again. People are not supposed to leave them – only they can do that.

I did not allow it, although he pulled out all the stops and tried everything to get me back under his control, from suicide threats to death threats. No kidding. Once I had decided that there was something seriously wrong with him – I didn’t know at the time what exactly it was – I knew that I had to get my perfectly ordinary, but perfectly good, life back again. In the world of psychopathy, it’s either the narcissist or us.

On the other hand, jerks are just jerks. They can be annoying, they can be hurtful, they can demonstrate a serious lack of social graces. But they don’t necessarily indulge in an active plan to “conquer” you.

What do you think? Are jerks just jerks or are they closer to being like narcissists than I think they are? I’d really like to hear from all of you.

Master or Slave?  (Flash Question)

A Plague of Narcissists

  

English: The Plague of Flies, c. 1896-1902, by...
English: The Plague of Flies, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902), gouache on board, 6 15/16 x 7 3/8 in. (17.6 x 18.7 cm), at the Jewish Museum, New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m really not sure why this didn’t come up as one of the ten plagues of Egypt. I mean, it would have been a really good one to have.  These people look perfectly normal but are harbouring some of the worst characteristics there are. They could have been a sort of fifth column or Typhoid Mary. Good use could have been made of their natural talents.

They love drama and could have been fomenting plots.

Since everyone wishes they were them, they could have exercised some tenacious mind-control.

They seriously hate themselves and then they project it. So, there could have been a lot of tooth-nashing, mind-controlled followers who were constantly looking over their shoulders for back-stabbers, and therefore completely distracted.

Their constant re-invention would have made them difficult to track down.

Even if they were tracked down, their sense of superiority and ability to fly into a rage would have been very intimidating, crushing any attempts at bringing them under control.

They could have charmed all the kings, pharaohs, despots, crackpots, and so on into giving themselves bankrupt.

 Since they’re mostly a bunch of misogynists, they certainly would have had those women where they belong.

Their natural gift for instability would have had them organizing newer and better wars.

Their lack of gratitude, respect or humility for anyone but themselves would have made them impervious to tampering, tinkering or cajoling.

The shame they feel would have lead the populace to feel sorry for them instead of taking them down.

English: The Plague of Frogs, engraving publis...
English: The Plague of Frogs, engraving published in “La Saincte Bible, Contenant le Vieil and la Nouveau Testament, Enrichie de plusieurs belles figures/Sacra Biblia, nouo et vetere testamento constantia eximiis que sculpturis et imaginibus illustrata, De Limprimerie de Gerard Jollain” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A plague of narcissists? Yikes! Forget the frogs and flies and meteorites and boils and sores. Those Old Testament guys would have been in real trouble. Or maybe that is what they had to contend with. The pharaohs weren’t exactly a bunch of diffident, self-effacing humanists.

Maybe that’s what a lot of us have to contend with on a basis that’s much more frequent than we realize.

The person in the cubicle next to you who is jealous and envious.

The “friend” who likes to complain about your other friends.

The neighbour who sets two other neighbours against each other.

The boss who smiles at you one second and rips you apart the next.

I don’t know how much narcissism most of us have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, but it seems to be awfully widespread and at the root of a lot of the crap that goes on in the world.

So, if I wish anything for this new year, it’s that we start to realize how much egoism and self-absorption there is and that we all start to work on it in our own little ways and maybe start a cultural shift away from the selfishness that causes so much pain.

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.

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.