Tag Archives: narcissistic abuse

Emotional Labour and the Seasonal Narcissist, Part I

Today I listened to CBC radio’s Tapestry presentation on the subject of emotional labour. It’s an interesting topic and a type of work to which someone has finally given a name. Essentially, emotional labour is anything that people do that requires an emotionally invested outlay of energy. For example, we expend emotional energy keeping track of and making sure that our children go to the dentist, we listen when friends or family members need a shoulder to cry on, or we ensure there’s gas in the car. For the most part, emotional labour refers to the million little maintenance jobs (and sometimes not so little) that need to be taken care of and done on a regular basis, although much of this work can also be unexpected and/or quite time consuming. Statistically, it’s mostly women who complete these tasks, and we apparently spend a lot of time on them.

While listening to this piece, I was reminded of the amount of emotional labour one will expend if involved with a narcissist, and then I was reminded of a post I did about three or four years ago called The Seasonal Narcissist. It’s one of my more popular posts, particularly at this time year, but it only looks at the seasonal narcissist from the perspective of dealing with one on a temporary basis. It doesn’t really look at the long game at all. And it also doesn’t look at the energy that goes into having to be married to or in some sort of live-in relationship with one while Christmas, or any other holiday or special occasion, is in full swing.

Narcissists are never straight.
Narcissists are never straight.

Those of you who are familiar with me know that I have first-hand experience with this. Over a 20-month period, I became immersed in all the difficulties one encounters during any type of special occasion if involved with an NPD narcissist.

The emotional energy I expended around these events was enormous.

First of all, “Harry” was incredibly unpredictable in general, but if Christmas was coming up, he was much worse. I have read lots of accounts of people watching their narcissist walk out the door just before Christmas (or other special events), leaving the significant other or spouse in emotional hell and the children devastated, only to return as soon as the holiday or event is over.

This is typical behaviour.

Essentially, they don’t want anyone to enjoy the holiday or event, because they aren’t going to be the centre of attention. And if they aren’t going to be the centre of attention, then what’s the point? It’s just a bunch of work for nothing. Then there’s also the problem that  watching others have fun when they’re not is just too much to bear.

So, let’s take everyone down! Let’s make everyone feel like crap! Let’s walk out! Let’s have a horrible argument! Let’s make everyone feel as wretched as possible!

Then everyone’s attention will be back where it should be. That’ll teach them!

I spent two Christmases with Harry. During the first one, we were on our honeymoon in Hawaii and within a couple of days, he became completely morose and withdrawn. I had no idea what was going on and felt confused, scared and concerned. The only time he talked was to forcefully complain about everything from what I was wearing to the food that was available. All he wanted to do was stay in the hotel room and watch tv. Otherwise, he brooded and became uncommunicative. He faked a stomach bug (I know this because he kept eating heavy meals from the room service menu) so that he didn’t have to go out.  A couple of times, he claimed boredom. Of course, suggesting that he leave the room would have been met with more complaints.

Describing him as “high maintenance” would have been an understatement.

Unbeknownst to me, though, it was my very first set of indicators that the person I married wasn’t the person I married.

When we got back home, for a short time he became all sweetness and light, and apologised for his behaviour in Hawaii by claiming that he just hadn’t been feeling well.  I didn’t know it then, but my expenditure of emotional energy was about to go up in a big way, because during our trip, he had been grooming me to walk on eggshells.

By the time our second (and last) Christmas came around, I was dwelling in a land of contradiction, confusion and confrontation. I had been shouted at and called every kind of name. I had been accused of  betrayal, disrespect and dishonesty. I had been accused of contemplating an affair and of spending too much money. I had been accused of eating too much, of making too much noise when eating, of eating the wrong things, and of being an alcoholic. He said I was lazy, poorly educated and stupid. My clothes and hair were wrong. My furniture was wrong. Nothing was right.

And for a while, I  swallowed the notion that it was me who was the problem.

My head was swimming  and I was starting to feel like I might head into a depression, but I kept trying. I invested serious emotional labour into trying to fix the so-called wrongs. The list of things that I needed to be careful about became longer and longer and I tried to adhere strictly to the “rules,” but every time I thought I had them right, he changed them and pretended that they had always been that way.

Just before the holiday, I was subjected to a tongue-bashing that left me reeling, but as I see it now, it was also the beginning of my liberation.

It dawned on me that he was looking for an excuse to leave or to destroy any happiness that I might have during the holiday with family and friends. And once I made that connection, other connections that had been loitering in the background strode into the foreground.

An uneasy Christmas proceeded, but the day before New Year’s Eve, when we were supposed to go to a party together, the other shoe dropped. He announced that he was leaving and would be back later in January to pick up his things. According to him, we were done.

And that’s when I turned the tables on him. left, and spent the night at a friend’s house.

My friend C invested some serious emotional labour of her own in helping me through that night and encouraging some flames from those awareness embers.

I began to see that I was in an emotionally abusive marriage. I began to see that no matter what I did or didn’t do, it would never be good  enough. I began to see that no matter how much emotional labour I invested, it would never be enough.

Trying to maintain him, to run around trying to remove any source of annoyance or anger from his day was impossible, because there was always something else. There was no amount of love, effort, or material items that would satisfy him. He was a bottomless pit, and I was expected to keep trying to fill it until I was exhausted and no longer useful.

The beginning of the end had started. Within the next month, I had started counselling, and seven months after that, I got him out of my house.

What it finally came down to was an unadorned realisation on my part that there was nothing I could do except walk away and work at getting my life back: the seasonal narcissist is always a narcissist. It’s just that they do more manipulation when those special occasions roll around. They know that people want to have fun and want things to go well, and that makes them vulnerable and malleable, especially if children are involved.

Stay tuned for Part II.

Have you experienced a seasonal narcissist? What are your thoughts about emotional labour?

Moving on after the Narcissist

A lot has been written about the difficulties involved in leaving a narcissist, especially if there are children involved.

A lot has also been written about going “no contact” or involving a third party to minimise contact if there are children.

What I haven’t seen a lot about is the business of how to move on after after. That is, after you have left the narcissist or the narcissist has left you,

Life is rich again.
Life is rich again.

and you finally know that you don’t want him or her back again.

After the assets and possessions have been dealt with or the custody issues resolved (and yes, I realise that if there are children, there are likely always going to be problems with the narcissist, but I’m referring to finding a situation that’s perhaps as good as it’s going to get) and the dust has settled.

You have your life back.

Now what?

You might feel deflated.

I’m not kidding.

For example, in my case, it only took four months from the time I separated from my ex-narcissist to the time that my divorce became final. I had a good lawyer who fast-tracked my case on the grounds of cruelty. She was concerned (needless to say, as was I) about his unstable behaviour, the death threats he had made and the continued stalking. The police were involved. He had threatened some of my friends and had written a letter to my employer accusing me of unprofessional behaviour. My employer had turned the letter over to me, unopened.

I also made the difficult decision to buy him off. I’m not wealthy, not by any stretch, but I felt that if money could allow me to turn the corner on this, could secure me some measure of security, then it was worth it.

And all this concerted effort and financial incentive worked.

I was granted a very timely and efficient divorce, without opposition.

The ex-narcissist continued to pursue me for some time afterward, but that tapered off and then eventually stopped. I haven’t heard from him for a couple of years now.

I had gone into counselling to deal with my feelings and sense of inadequacy about this situation, but that, too, stopped. One day, my counsellor told me that I didn’t really need him any more.

So there I was, with my life back. Suddenly.

It was what I had desperately wanted. But it felt strange. Odd.

It felt like something was missing.

And really, something was missing: all that adrenaline, all that worry, all the quick changes to the house with new locks, new doors, a new alarm system. Attempts at measured calls to friends, to the police. But they could tell anyway that I was frantic. Meetings and e-mails. Trips to the bank. Forms and papers. The not sleeping.

And before that, there had been my decision to divorce him. And before that, there had been that terrible life with him. A life of constant stress, of constant hectoring and confusion and volatility. A life in the land of the narcissist. And that is a strange place.

After all that, just being with my real life was no longer familiar. I had to learn it again. And I had to incorporate all the stuff I had learned.

So, I wasn’t really going back to my old life. That was forever gone.

I had a new thing. It was sort of my old life, but also not. I had the same job, the same house, the same friends and the same family. But I was a lot wiser and happier and yes, sadder, especially about how I was also partly responsible for putting myself in this situation. I found myself processing for a long time afterward.

I am still processing, and will likely always be processing.

Because to close the book on an experience like this is to move on before the full set of lessons can become clear.

And that’s dangerous. It might invite false confidence. To think that we know everything we need to know, well, isn’t that kind of narcissistic? There’s always more to learn.

So, once you have finally dumped that narcissist and gotten your life back, allow yourself to explore this new reality.

Take your time, and value the positives that have come from it.

Let yourself be okay with having gotten mixed up with a narcissist.

Incorporate what you have learned into your new/old life.

Realize that you might feel deflated. That’s okay, too.

Remember that a new beginning is a good thing, and don’t forget to be forgiving of yourself.

 

Over to you. 🙂

Yop Narci Signs

So I found this in my search terms, along with “narcissist bullshitter” and “the narcissist cookbook.” Could be something funny here – do you think?

Are narcissists bullshitters? Do they bullshit about cooking? Or are they busy cooking up bullshit? With Yop yogourt? Yuck. Now there’s an unattractive visual. Maybe the searcher was looking for Gordon Ramsay’s cookbook.

My ex-narcissist was the biggest bullshitter when it came to his cooking abilities. And everything else. But when it came to recipes for the narcissistic line, he was yops, er, tops.

What recipes would The Narcissist Cookbook contain? Let’s take a quick stroll through a potential table of contents.

1. Appetiser – The “I love you because you’re perfect” Smoked Oysters.

2. Pasta – The “I can’t live without you, precious” Farfalle with Creamy Truffles.

3. Meat – The “I really need a quick loan and will pay you right back” well done flank steak.

4. Fish – The “will you marry me” Cedar-Planked Salmon with Arugula Salad.

5. Palate Cleanser – The “you’re such an annoying person but anyway will you buy this suit for me” Eye-Watering Lemon Sorbet.

6. Dessert – The “I’ve fallen out of love with you but you still need to buy these tires for my car” Curdled Creme Brulee.

7. Cheese Plate – The “I know you want a divorce but you’re gonna have to pay me” Squishy Grape and Smelly Rotten Cheese Platter.

8. Very Expensive Civet Coffee with Petit fours.

9. Free-at-last Digestive (recipe not included in cookbook but necessary in order to recover from meal-induced heartburn. Don’t worry. It goes away.)

10. (Next day) Tummy-soothing Oatmeal with Brown Sugar, best consumed with good friend.

Do you have any recipes to add?   🙂

More Narcissist Slayers!

The wonderful Madeline from Madeline Scribes has nominated me for the “Narcissist Slayer” award. I feel very honoured because I have now been twice nominated for this particular award.

Yes, I’m bragging. How very narcissistic of me. 😉

I don’t accept awards, but I do want to pass on the names of the other people that Madeline has nominated. Here, forthwith, is her list.

1. After Narcissistic Abuse

2. The Heart Drive

3. Kimberly Harding

4. My Daily Minefield

5. One Hot Message

6. Recovered Annie

7. Psychopath Resistance

8. The Ability to Love

Many thanks, Madeline!

Thanks for the Awards!

Wind on a daisy
Wind on a daisy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been nominated for a couple of awards!

My thanks go out to Janice for the Liebster Award and Madeline Laughs for the Shine On Award.

Thank you! Your thoughtfulness and kind words are very much appreciated! 🙂

I don’t really accept awards but I do want to pass on the nominations. Please take a look – there might be someone you like!

From Janice:

1. After Narcissistic Abuse

2. Broken but Stronger

3. Dree Speaks Freely

4. Every Day Red Flags

5. Paula’s Pontifications

6. I Won’t Take It

7. Jana and the Stone

8. Kinky Little Girl

9. Lexicon Lover

10. Life Begins at 45

From Madeline Laughs:

1. Brunch for Every Meal

2. Sunday Night Blog

3. Inga Photography

4. View from in Here

5. One Hot Mess(age)

6. Lady Blue Rose

7. Pondering Spawned

8. My Emotional Vampire

9. Subhan Zein

10. Being a Beautiful Mess

11. George Flores

12. Paro Express

Here are my suggestions  – these are GREAT blogs! Some I’ve suggested before and some I haven’t:

1. Ramblings from a Mum – one of my favourite blog buddies!

2. One Old Sage – another of my favourite blog buddies!

3. Dust and Soul – a thought-provoking,  eclectic blog.

4. Teeny Bikini – outrageously funny and warm. I so look forward to her posts!

5. Jenny Pellett – a funny, witty, engaging blog.

6. Luiana Njo – a very talented photographer and cook.

7. Frances Antoinette – she says that she can’t write, but she’s completely wrong!

8. Lori – Lori has gone back to school! Take a look at her adventures.

9. Rarasaur – an amazing writer.

10. Zen Doe – fabulous photography and writing.

 

I hope you find a blog among these that you really enjoy! 🙂

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.

Peekaboo, I See Me

Portrait: 73/365 "N is for Narcissism"
Portrait: 73/365 “N is for Narcissism” (Photo credit: Twaize)

Last time in “I See Myself, Therefore I am” I discussed how the narcissist generates a sense of self through an often invented mirror image and also through unremitting attention-seeking. They believe themselves to be completely empty or at best shallow and although they are afraid that others might discover this about them, they also believe that everyone else is just like themselves. This metastasizes into one of the worst evils about narcissism: the notion that all others operate in the same way that they do. Although this sounds contradictory, given that they’re worried that others will learn about their emptiness, they cannot abide the fact that most people do have an interior being and are, to some degree or another, concerned about the impact they may have on others. Narcissists just don’t accept this.

This type of projection is poisonous and crazy-making. Because narcissists at some point in their lives were damaged (or perhaps were even born that way) and had their ability to feel empathy turned off,  they all come to the conclusion that everyone else has had the same thing happen and that no one is capable of feeling  for another. The narcissist believes that essentially, we are all walking around lying about our feelings for others; at best we are pretending. Even though they have an inkling that this might not be true, as evidenced by their fear of having their emptiness found out, they behave as if it is true. The result is this then: every relationship they enter into is nothing more than a battle ground where they fight to inflict damage before it can be inflicted on them, where everyone is an enemy to be controlled and defeated, and where no one is to be trusted unless he or she can be absolutely subdued and mastered. All must be viewed with suspicion, because remember, we’re all waiting to do the same to them.

You might be wondering, then, why with this level of projection going on, they might ever enter into a relationship in the first place. Don’t forget that they’re empty and need attention to feel that they actually exist; therefore, they must have someone to provide that for them, so then the search begins. Their method of choice for winning people over is what I call a charm offensive. They can charm the birds right out of the trees. They compliment excessively, especially in areas where you might feel a little weak, they do little things for you, they buy you thoughtful presents; they make you feel valued and appreciated. They will walk over burning coals, hike through deserts or scale glaciers for you. They are charismatic and winning. They will make you feel like you are the only person who matters to them because you are the only person who matters to them. You are a target, a mark, a trophy, and they have a lot invested in you. And once you start to believe them, then, well, then everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world starts to tilt, because then the projection starts.

Very slowly, they begin to point out the things that are wrong with you, and because you have decided to trust them and also because you relate to others with thoughtfulness and empathy, you seriously consider what they have to say even though these negatives may be completely foreign to you. It might start with a suggestion to change your hair colour, or alter the brand of perfume you use. These “suggestions” are initially subtle and insidious but they continue to grow, both in volume and degree of importance. The next thing you know, your best friend whom you have known for 20 years is a pathetic a**hole who makes your life completely miserable. You have no taste in clothes or furniture and completely lack any sense of style. Your new car is a cheap piece of crap. Your new home has all sorts of things wrong with it. You have never worked hard in your life and you chose your career in order to be paid as much as possible for doing as little as possible. Your neighbours are a bunch of yelping harpies. You’re a miserable, fat lazy whiner who does nothing except sleep. You’re a tight fisted cheap skate. You have absolutely no idea what hardships are and would fail if you ever had to face any of them. You achieve your happiness at the expense of everyone around you. You’re a sexual adolescent who is clueless about intimacy. You don’t appreciate me.  You refuse to share. You’re stupid. You’re cruel to me. You’re a vindictive liar. You have no idea how to love anyone except yourself. You’re worthless, useless and a complete waste of skin. It would solve a lot of problems if you didn’t exist.

Do you see the projection? This is what they think of themselves. They swim in a vast cistern of jealousy-inspired hatred – hatred for themselves and hatred for all those people out there who seem to be better than they are, so they set out to prove that no one is superior to them, and they tear apart anyone with whom they become involved. Apart from stealing whatever they can from you, that is their raison d’être. The upshot is that unless you extricate yourself from this downward spiral, you wind up in a completely isolated deathtrap of a relationship with only a dim awareness of the fact that once upon a time, you had a perfectly good life.

For part three of this very lengthy definition, I am going to quote Gertrude Stein, who famously said, “There’s no there there.” She wasn’t referring to narcissists at the time, but as a succinct description of what they are, or perhaps I should say what they aren’t, truer words were never spoken.