Toxic Relationships: Surviving a Narcissist
If You’ve Managed To Escape - Count Your Blessings
I’m one of the lucky ones. I didn’t co-habitat with my ex-Narcissist, didn’t share the bills or have children with...but the psychological damage has taken more than a year to sort out. I consider myself lucky that I only lost three years of my life. If you’ve ever fallen in love with a Narcissist - then you know how it feels to have your psyche dropkicked off a tall building.
If You’re With a Narcissist, You Can Bet It’s Toxic
It is a slow process of acknowledging that there is something terribly wrong with the dynamic between you and your partner, but not being able to walk away. It’s like a strange hypnotic state. There’s a creeping dread that enters the relationship. You never know if your Narcissist is having a good day or a bad day. If they are having a bad day, you better be prepared to offer your undivided attention.
You will have to listen to every little detail of all the imagined transgressions of co-workers, family and friends who do not appreciate or admire the Narcissist nearly enough. You might have a subtle insult thrown your way in the course of a conversation. If you object or get upset, you are accused of being too sensitive, and then the conversation spirals out of control. In my case it usually ended up with me in tears, because I was so confused and baffled - crying seemed like the only option.
When I’m Done Talking About Me the Conversation is Over
When I think back now, I cannot believe that I actually worked long days at a busy school, hiked home several miles, cooked, cleaned and attended to all the other details of my hectic life and was still expected to sit on the phone for hours and listen to every minute detail of someone else’s life, over and over and over. If I so much as hinted that I might be a little tired, or need to get off the phone - I’d get the tone.
When There's Too Much "Me" There's No Room For "We"
Watch Out for the Tone
The tone occurs when the Narcissist is not getting the appropriate amount of attention. It’s a deadening of the voice, a haughty, arrogant, wounded tone that, to this day, makes my blood run cold. The tone is usually a precursor to a full-blown adult tantrum, complete with yelling and verbal attacks on everything you hold dear. Luckily, I did not live with this person, so the adult tantrums had to wait till the weekends. There is nothing more unpleasant than facing the work week after a night spent staring at the ceiling and crying, because the person who supposedly “loves” you has just finished chewing you up and spitting you out verbally, over nothing.
Toxic Relationships Usually Include Verbal Abuse
I remember one particularly nasty scene when I was called to the carpet for eating too many wontons from the Chinese take out we ordered. She got enraged, and saved her verbal assault until her sons left the house. She didn’t want to expose her kids to any nastiness, but it was open season on me.
She let me have it because she felt that a person who was trying to lose weight had no business eating noodles. Never mind that I had no intention of losing weight, and I had already discussed with her, at length, that her preoccupation with everything that was going into my mouth was making me a nervous wreck.
Real Adults Do Not Rage
Bad Relationships are Modeled For Us
You may be wondering why I would tolerate this sort of thing. The simple answer is: I was raised in a very dysfunctional household. A household where the adults had minimal coping skills, acted up and acted out on a regular basis and didn’t particularly like or respect children. I grew up with exceptionally high drama levels. I have been wired to think that crazy is normal. This last relationship was a real eye opener. I have finally figured out - it took a while - that I do not have to allow crazy into my life. It seems like a fairly simple conclusion to arrive at, but for some of us it can take decades.
Who Are We? The Ones Who Get Sucked In?
How do they weave their spell? How does a strong, intelligent and grounded woman or man get sucked into the black hole of someone else’s insatiable psyche? It’s easy, if you’re used to Narcissists. I grew up surrounded by them. A father who is a compulsive gambler and liar - someone who takes self interest to a whole new level. A mother, who I love dearly, but would best be classified as a benign narcissist. Then last, but by no means least, a grandmother who lived nearby who could suck the life out of a room with just one or two vicious comments.
It’s hard for thinking, feeling human beings to understand the true nature of someone who is unable to love and unable to empathize. Most of us have filters, and we know when we’re hurting someone and try to make amends. We try to modify our behavior so that we don’t make the same mistakes. A narcissist doesn’t understand the concept of making amends, because they truly are never wrong. It does not occur to them. Those of us who know them intimately have become masters of looking the other way, of making excuses, of refusing to see ugly when ugly is standing right in front of us waving an enormous red flag..
Whether Male or Female, The Narcissist is a Nightmare
They say that 75% of Narcissists are men. The other 25% are women, and they are just as deadly. I got a first hand glimpse at a female narcissist and it took about a year into our two-year relationship for me to start wondering whether I was actually losing my mind. Everything I believed about myself was called into question: How I looked, how I ate, how I functioned - normally quite well thank you - but not when I’m under siege.
Our official break up occurred almost a year ago. It wasn’t so much a breakup as a dismissal. I started to ask questions, set boundaries and I was not cooperating to her satisfaction, so I was dismissed. There is no experience quite as humbling as giving your all to a relationship and discovering that the other person was not remotely committed to you or the relationship. While it’s slowly dawns on you that you weren’t quite paying attention, they’ve already moved on.
Do Not Engage - Silence is Golden
The details of the breakup are too harrowing to describe here. She’s made sure to stay in touch here and there, now and then. I make the mistake of reaching out now and then, and it always reminds me of why the relationship didn't work and it reopens the wound.
The contact used to upset me, until I got smart and cut her off completely. Unfriending her on Facebook was a long time coming, but when I finally pulled the plug the relief was palpable. Ultimately, that is the only way to recover from a toxic relationship with a narcissist - no communication.
To Heal From It, You Have to Own It
I’ve discovered that, among other things, the best path to recovery is admitting my part in the dynamic. Narcissists rely on the people who prop them up and stroke their wounded egos. Without a caring, naïve, slightly codependent partner doing all the work, most narcissists wouldn’t get past the second or third date.
Once we own our part in a toxic relationship, we know what to avoid in the future and are well on the way to more emotionally satisfying relationships and a happier life. After all, we all deserve happiness…every last one of us. It’s important to face the truth: A relationship with a narcissist will never be happy, and no amount of wishing and hoping will change that.
I wrote while I was still suffering the psychological after-effects of this horribly painful relationship. I am happy to report that I seem to have healed from most of the psychological damage. I still get flashbacks sometimes, and I still have to deal with the narcissists in my family, but I'm in a much better place.
A combination of reading books on the subject to educate myself on the disorder, devoting myself to a daily spiritual regime of Buddhist chanting, and getting out more and making new friends has closed the wounds. Now, when I run into narcissists - I can spot them immediately, and keep my distance.
More by this Author
This article discusses my own personal experience in recovering from a toxic relationship with a narcissist. In it I offer advice to others seeking relief from a destructive relationship.