Clues that your "Knight in Shining Armor" may just be a Narcissist... in Aluminum Foil.
You remember that day. It's that day when you found yourself online at 2 a.m. performing Google searches for phrases like, "men who can't show emotion" and "signs of narcissistic personality disorder" and, perhaps, "WTF. He used to text me 50 times a day and now he's treating me like a piece of dog poop stuck on the bottom of his shoe." Or the classic, "How to tell if he's emotionally unavailable."
I don't want to write about this more than once. Because honestly, anyone who can treat people with cruelty while claiming to love them don't deserve any of our breaths. Or our f*cks. But because I care about other women (and men) who may have suffered or are currently suffering at the hands of a person who claimed to love them, but obviously, when put to the test, had zero capacity for love...I am going to write this singular blog post. In the name of healing and to take the lid of off something that is simply NOT acceptable, and too often too easy to sweep under the rug rather than bring out into the brilliant and healing light of day....Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Emotional Abuse. Psychological abuse. No black and blues. Just abuse that leaves no tell-tale signs. And it needs to be talked about.
to quote Jay-Z, "You can't heal what you never reveal."
I know many of you remember not only that day, but maybe even that hour, or that moment. When the clouds parted and your confusion began to clear, and you reached for your laptop or smartphone or dictionary (if you are of the old-school variety) and dove headfirst into the world of "Cluster B personality disorders." You may have Googled narcissist. Or sociopath. Or psychopath. Or just, "dating an asshat."
You may have landed on (and been shocked by the abundance of) the many online support groups and psychology articles, forums and YouTube videos created to help people who are walking around with their heads spinning, in the wake of an encounter with someone who turned their life upside down. Slowly and insidiously. Under the guise of love, adoration and commitment. And you realize sometimes people's experience of it comes in the form of a three month long "dating" relationship while for others, it's taken the form of a 35-year-long marriage. And you can actually understand how it might take someone 35 years to figure out what the h*ll is going on. Because, no matter how intelligent you are, it's confusing. Because it's meant to be confusing. They live off of causing you confusion. Keeping you off-balance. Keeping you unsure.
In the beginning it's all about making you feel safe. At the end, it's all about keeping you standing
on the edge of a high dive. In high heels. With sharks circling in the pool.
You may have gasped in absolute giddiness and delight when you first read these articles and watched these videos, and sat awake, bleary-eyed, whilst poring through hundreds and even thousands of stories and comments written by total strangers. Strangers who suddenly weren't strangers at all, because their stories sounded eerily, disturbingly (and also comfortingly) similar to your own.
And little did you know, in addition to finding out you had an entire sisterhood (or brotherhood) of comrades...your vocabulary was about to absolutely blossom!
Suddenly, you became an expert on words and terms such as:
Withholding of Affection
Cluster B Personality Disorders
Lack of Empathy
At first, it's freeing. As if a 250 watt light-bulb has been turned on, finally, in a deep, dark cave.
But that feeling quickly gives way to nausea, followed by a chaser of disgust mixed with anger and finally, shame.
Yes. You feel ashamed, because you fell for it. You feel ashamed because you are an intelligent, talented, independent, kick-ass human being, and you still fell for it. You can suddenly use your hindsight to connect all of those many dots and to see those glaring red flags as if under a spotlight, finally. And you are shocked. Because you knew something was very wrong...but you hadn't realized it was something THIS very wrong.
Perhaps you were "in love." Perhaps, like me, you were simply sucked in by the love bombing, the avalanche of constant compliments, gifts, text messages, emails, expensive dinners, vacations, "dangling carrots" and unceasing attention. Perhaps you were just so happy to finally have someone who seemed to see you fully, and recognize how worthy you were of the adoration and commitment they were in such a frenzied rush to bestow upon you.
Perhaps you didn't even really like them all that much, but had been on about 3,000 dates with people who did not, in the end, adore you... and you thought, "this person adores me and is the answer to all of my prayers...this person is the answer to my dreams. This person seems too good to be true...but here he is! The real deal. I'm finally getting what I deserve. Whispering sexy things in my ear, proclaiming his love, adoration, devotion...and swearing he'd drive 3,000 miles just to see me for a weekend. Surely, I could grow to love him!"
And you try and you try. And you wait and you wait. And you still don't really love him. Not in THAT way.
And then one day, after you've tried to push him away and break up with him and basically shake him off of you for a good long time, while he seemed to have no intention of going anywhere...while he told you repeatedly that "resistance is futile" and that your fatherless children "needed the consistency" he provided...one day, you finally thought, really and genuinely, "I think I might actually be able to see myself falling in love with this man. I think we could make this work." And so, with a glow of excitement that comes with a revelation such as this, you go about sharing your happy news with him...you tell him how wonderful the new year will be, with the two of you finally and truly "in love." And you think he's going to be over-the-moon, because any dog that's been chasing a bone for that many months or years and finally gets said saucy bone firmly in his mouth should be chasing his tail in circles and jumping up and down, panting with joy. Right? And that's when you realize, you're the only one who's smiling that big, happy smile. You're the only one who's acting like a teenager. You're the only one who's...excited about this revelation.
And this person who's been chasing you like the rabbit on a dog racing track for nearly two years? He suddenly has an odd grin on his face more like the Cheshire cat. Or the cat who swallowed the canary.
And it's the first time your stomach suddenly drops a few floors in the elevator shaft, as you get an inkling of a whiff of the fact that, indeed, "Somezing is not right." (In the words of the ever articulate Miss Clavell, of Madeleine storybook fame.)
And then you are on a journey. A journey of unwelcome discoveries. And heartache. And confusion.
Because suddenly, he's not quite so crazy about you anymore.
And you won't want to believe it, and you'll go round and round in circles for quite a long time, if you're like many of us. Trying to make it work. Trying to get "THAT PERSON" back...the person from the beginning. The person who made you, and everyone else in the world, believe they adored you.
Because that person never existed. That person was not a person at all, but a facade. A lie.
And finally, if you're fortunate, you'll realize that it's time to stop tormenting yourself. And you'll realize you've been punishing yourself. You've been abusing yourself. You have become your own worst abuser, in fact, by staying with him.
You'll wonder how in the world the person who made you the center of THEIR world for so long has now turned the tables...and somehow, without you realizing it, has become the very unhealthy and icky, gooey, chewy center of YOUR world. And they have done their best to make you dependent upon them. Emotionally. Physically. Maybe even financially. Because that's how they keep you hooked.
And you suddenly start to play back in your mind all of those little innocent sounding comments, the ones that had an edge to them. The ones that made you feel bad, even though the person saying them claimed they weren't meant in that way. You didn't realize the slow drip method that you were being subjected to...the slow drip of little comments....meant to erode your self-worth and self-esteem and independence and assuredness.
I recall being at my gynecologist's office for my annual exam, only about a year after I'd been involved with this person. She was a lovely physician and one of my very favorite women in the world. My respect for her was immense. And there I sat, naked, in my white paper gown, on an exam table with my bare feet dangling off the edge, and she asked me the usual questions she'd ask each year. About my health, my children, my work. And when she got to the question about my love life...tears began streaming down my cheeks. I couldn't stop crying.
She looked at me with a motherly brand of affection and deep concern, and I spouted, "I don't understand it...I've been dating this man for a year now. He adores me and loves me and he's so generous. He's everything I ever wished for. And I feel completely disempowered."
I remember how sad and depleted I felt, and she looked me in the eyes, incredulously I think, and said, "Sandi, you are one of the most strong, independent women I know. This is not you."
I could tell she was worried about me. She suggested more exercise and to take better care of myself. Long walks and more veggies. Looking back, I wish she would have just sent me to a therapist. One that specialized in emotional, narcissistic abuse. Pronto! She was one of a large number of professionals who, still, are not aware of the signs of psychological and emotional abuse. Of abuse at the hands of a person with narcissistic personality disorder. Or, even worse...a psychopath.
But that's the problem, when there aren't any black and blues or broken bones, even professionals aren't always aware of the signs of abuse.
And so, I went on more walks.
One day, not long after my doctor's visit, I walked into a Barnes and Noble, and ran into a dear friend of mine. I was so happy to see her. And after a short chat and hugs, we went our separate ways. And after I got into my car to drive away, I got a text from her, and part of her message was "I'm worried about you...you've lost the sparkle in your eyes."
As a woman who was extremely proud of her independence, strength, AND the sparkle in her eyes...you'd think I'd have gotten the message. That I'd have realized how deep I was falling into the rabbit hole. But, no. As it turns out, it took the death of my son and a dozen more turns on the narcissistic abuse merry-go-round to finally break free and reclaim myself.
First you are put upon the highest of pedestals...and treated as if even your poop smells like your favorite expensive perfume they bring to you from the airport duty-free shop. And then, slowly, you are let down a few pegs. You are "devalued." You haven't learned that word yet, but that's what's happening. You are no longer "perfect" in their eyes, and so, as sick as it is, they are also no longer perfect. Because it's all about them. Always. And then, when you are deemed imperfect, you are discarded. Tossed aside like yesterday's news. A piece of poop on the bottom of their expensive Italian loafers.
That's the pattern.
And, if you get sucked back in at some point after the discard phase...if you miss the man that once treated you like a queen, if you miss the hot sex, if you're not yet healed enough, not yet strong enough, or if, like most relatively healthy human beings, you simply cannot wrap your head around the fact that they are NOT that fabulous, loving person they pretended to be...that it was ALL A F*CKING ACT...you will go through this trilogy of terror all over again. And not just once. But often dozens of times.
Until, if you are lucky, you will realize there was and is no real love in their hearts. No real empathy. And no real feeling. They are empty, hollow beings.
They will punish you for calling them on any of their lies or BS...by disappearing on you. By dishing out another dose of the silent treatment. By shutting you out. Disrespecting you. Ignoring you. As if you are the one who has done something wrong.
When all you've done is stand up for yourself.
They will almost never admit to any wrong-doing. Take responsibility for any acts of cruelty or unkindness. They will not apologize or stop lying. Ever. Even when they are caught red-handed. And if they do yield an "I'm sorry" it will be feeble, weak, and done under duress. And you can bet it's being done with an ulterior motive in mind.
You will churn events around and around in your head for hours. Days. Weeks. Years sometimes. Because you truly can't figure out WHAT THE F*CK JUST HAPPENED??
Me? I felt as if I had been sucked into an the jet turbo of a Boeing 747 and spit out the other side, four years later...minus one of my children.
And you will never get any closure. You will never get any real admission of any shady behavior or wrong-doing or emotional cruelty or manipulation.
You will wonder why, after being abused, you were often the one trying to make amends. Apologizing. Feeling bad, even.
And ultimately, that is the answer: You were ABUSED. Maybe it wasn't malicious. Maybe it was. Perhaps it wasn't done consciously. Perhaps it was. It matters not. It's abuse.
Whatever you went through, whatever you've endured, you do not have to curl up into a ball. You do NOT have to pin on a "victim" badge. We all play our part in the dramas of our lives. And thinking of ourselves as victims, in any circumstance, is not a helpful role to take on.
You may be in pain. You may be traumatized. You may need a therapist or a support group (that specializes in narcissism, sociopaths, psychopaths and abuse) or at the very least, friends and family who love and support you unconditionally. Because, oh, did I mention? One of the very worst things about being involved with one of these people is the way they convince everyone...not just you...that they are overflowing with love, care and commitment to you. And so, when they do the stealth
devaluing of you and begin the discard process and start treating you like poo on their shoe, most of your nearest and dearest won't even believe your tales of abuse and woe.
One of my generally kind-hearted and loving sisters-in-law held a master's degree in social work...and yet, knew absolutely nothing about narcissistic personality disorder. She had attended a prominent Boston college, and yet, I had to send her an article to explain the abusive personality of the man who was tormenting me and manipulating my children. And still, it didn't really help her to understand what I was going through. She didn't believe me. He had been such a good "covert narcissist"....that she believed the act. She believed someone she'd met a handful of times over someone she'd known and loved for decades. Me.
When I told her (yet again) that I was being abused and mistreated, after the loss of my child ~ when I looked her straight in the eyes feeling desperate to be "believed," clearly distressed and in pain, instead of supporting me in leaving my abuser...she sent me a book a week later on "How to fix your relationship."
This is not uncommon. Having people believe the abuser. And this will often hurt you more than the actual abuse.
If you had black and blues, they might believe you. But no one can see emotional abuse. No one can see cruelty. No one can see the black, empty hole that exists in the space where a narcissists heart should be.
We often attract narcissists because we are loving and empathetic and have deep feelings and emotions. We also may be vulnerable in some way. And they detect that vulnerability. Or we may have been raised by narcissists...and we fall prey to the familiar. We usually have all of the stuff they can never have. And they envy us. They want to suck our life force out of us, they want to fuel themselves up at our expense. To feel alive. Energized. To be close to our positive energy. We are a "source." We are their "supply." And we often stay with narcissists, even after they've shown us a glaring crack in their armor...and given us reason to doubt their loyalty or love or empathy...because we tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. A second chance. We are also sometimes too romantic. We want to believe in that knight in shining armor. Because we are raised on f*cking Disney movies and fairy tales and deep inside, no matter how liberated and independent we are, there is some tiny chamber within our collective womanly heart that wants to be "rescued" and adored and cherished and placed gently and lovingly upon the towering pedestal. And showered in our favorite perfume.
I believe at this point, as women in the Western world, it's sadly become part of our DNA. And it's something many of us have to consciously work on, in order to remove it from out psyches, while reminding ourselves day by day and hour by hour, "I AM ENOUGH." And we must love ourselves enough, adore ourselves enough, rescue ourselves and trust ourselves. Enough.
I remember that day I was awake at 2:00 a.m. doing Google searches for narcissism. I remember that day when that lightbulb went on. I also remember that day when I was at the lowest point in my life, having just lost my son, and was punished for daring to ask for more physical closeness and affection in the wake of his death. I was told I was "pushing him away"...that I needed to see a therapist and deal with my "relationship issues."
I remember thinking I was dreaming. I mean, I already felt like I was in the most horrifying dream I could imagine...having just lost my son. And now, the man who adored me was saying THIS to me? Who says something like that to the woman he loves, when she asks to be held in her grief? After two days of lying in a hospital bed down the street with a catastrophic brain injury, my 17-year-old son had just been taken off of the ventilator...his beautiful body carved into pieces so that his organs could be shared with a few human beings who were more fortunate than he...and the man who "loved me" was punishing me for asking for him to hold me more.
This may have been the first incident of true and shocking cruelty, but it most certainly was not to be the last.
I also remember that day that I realized, the "commonality" of people's stories. When I realized these people, the one's with NPD, weren't special. They were common. Nothing special at all. Just emotionally vacant, empty-hearted individuals.
And suddenly, I felt like I was ten feet tall. And I didn't need a pedestal...I simply felt grateful to have saved myself. And if this piece of writing, which I've avoided sharing for a long time, can help one woman who's had that lightbulb go on in that dark, confused, embarrassed, tormented, lonely room
in their heart... I'll know it was worth having shared it.
Please share this with anyone you know who is going through abuse at the hands of a narcissist or sociopath. It may set someone free. It may save someone's life. It may give someone the balls to leave and live the life they (and by they, I really mean SHE) deserves. Because no one deserves abuse. And abuse that leaves no scars can be the worst abuse of all.
I wrote this in April of 2018. Nearly eight months ago. I've been afraid to post it. Afraid of judgment and of repercussions. But I'm tired of hiding my truth. And I truly want to help others who are suffering through this hell. I not only suffered through it, but I lost my darling son in the midst of it all. And I'm not sure there's any cure for that. But I know one thing: Cole would be saying, "Yeah, fuck yeah, mom...that guy was an asshat. Post it!!!"
So I'm listening to him. ;).
I love you, Cole. This is for you, my love.