Dec. 7, 2014 _ If you are reading this, it is likely because you’ve been searching for help in dealing with your partner, soon-to-be ex-partner or ex, or co-parent of your children.
First, let me tell you, that no matter what you think, you are not alone or the first person facing this.
Second, without knowing a thing about you, I’m going to take a stab at your journey:
- You are a women dealing with a man.
- You have been trying for years to understand just why this relationship has been so difficult, maybe you have even sought couples counseling or your own therapy for help, but you haven’t been able to make heads or tails of it.
- Your mate had a difficult childhood with his parents that involved some form of attachment issues. For example, he was left to raise himself by a single, working mother too busy to truly attend to his needs, or by older parents, or he was an only child, or raised like one with much older or younger siblings. Or, his parents never regulated his emotions as he grew and didn’t offer social guidance, at all. For example, his parents would let him carry on whenever he didn’t get his way without so much as one comment about a better approach, but rather they would allow him to use over the top reactions, ignore it or reward it, but added distance to the equation so they could get a break.
- Your mate has had difficult relationships in the past with family members, coworkers, friends, girlfriends, etc.
- He was charming, or seemed charming, in the beginning of your relationship and that is what got your attention. He might have come on strong, quickly, with you about love, future, commitment. He seemed to truly “get you.”
- He is still charming when you are together in public. In fact, he is his best when you are “playing couple” with others watching. But, behind closed doors he is cold and not interested in couple conversations or “togetherness.”
- However, there is something a little off with his charming act. Maybe its that he laughs too hard at his own jokes. Or that his opinions all seem a bit condescending. Or he just doesn’t seem authentic.
- You can’t string together more than a few weeks of your life with him that doesn’t involved some sort of crisis or drama or deep pain.
- You are either in the middle of an emotional crisis with him; recovering from an emotional crisis with him; or feel an emotional crisis coming.
- You are tired, hopeless, depressed.
- You just want it to stop and for everything to be normal in your life.
- You take some, if not all, of the responsibility for the relationship. For example, you say things like “I married him, so I have no one to blame but myself.”
- You feel that your daily life surrounds trying to figure this relationship out and how to make it better.
- You really can’t understand how it got this way or who is right or wrong any more.
- You don’t see your relationship as abusive. At best, you see that you are a strong woman who signed on to love your man through thick and thin and he needs your help. At worst, you are a co-conspirator or even the reason why he gets so mad. He tells you that, too, often.
- You believe that you have brought this on somehow, by, you believe, your tendency to love troubled men or maybe you believe your a handful.
Statistically, if you are involved with a narcissist that is causing you great pain and ruining your union, you are likely an empathic, loyal, never-say-die woman. Women are hardwired to be tolerate of childishness. We stay with abusers to the end or at least close to it.
I am not a mindreader or a mental health professional. I am just a victim of domestic violence at the hands of what I came to believe was a narcissistic abuser. I spent 15 years with him. We went to 8 different therapist from the beginning of our union until the end and even after we split up. He went to batterers intervention, anger management class, and therapy on his own. I read all the marriage self-help books of the day. He even tried to read a few. After I left, I spent years in therapy, group support meetings, basically in various stages of trauma recovery no different than a returning war veteran.
Learning about narcissism and how it works was the first step to my healing. Learning about trauma and how it lingers in our emotional attics is how I healed.
You can, too. But it is really hard to do alone. So here are my tips, one victim/survivor to another:
- Learn about the psychology that is driving your mate. Not from him, but from experts. You don’t have to hold a PhD to understand emotional and personality disordered. You’re not going to be prescribing medicine for yourself or you mate. You are just going to understand the rules of the playing field your on.
- Don’t listen to bad advice, including from him. Narcissist will NEVER be concerned with your needs, what’s fair or being honest. They may act that way for a conversation or two, but it is acting. Don’t take advice from someone who despite your years together will lie to you in a second if it means he benefits even in the smallest way.
- Build a team of people around you who truly care about you. This is going to be along haul navigating a breakup with a narcissist. They will lash out at you again and again. You need emotional help in handling this well. Think of it this way, you need “sponsors” who will be there for you to listen as you recount one injustice after another. Its in the telling that you will begin to heal. But, you need good listeners, not advice givers by people who take the “it takes two to tango” philosophy. When you are with a narcissist, the dynamic is different that typical marriage. Typical advice doesn’t work.
- Find an excellent therapist who understands well personality disorders and trauma treatment. This is a specialist. Not a family counselor. You have to ask for this. You will know it the first time you are in the office if you have picked the right one. They are excellent, active listeners. Don’t interrupt you over and over with comments on what you can do to help the relationship. Your local domestic abuse shelter should have names for referrals.
- Find an excellent attorney who is NOT a narcissist. (In fact, stay away from any narcissist right now.) Attorneys who care about you, helping you navigate this and want to protect you with all legal avenues is what you are looking for when you begin to shop around. You must stay away from the attorney who tells you how great they are or how many cases they have won or don’t have experience with narcissist. In a small town, this is very hard, because attorney can be consumed with building a reputation among judges and other attorneys over a reputations with clients. When you find an attorney who will listen and offer you options and then guidance in those options, you have a winner.
- If you can’t afford any of these first steps, then make your way immediately to your local domestic abuse shelter and ask for help. Most shelters today offer way more serves than shelter. I can be humiliating at first or spark shame in you. But try with all your might to get past that emotion and act. I found three years of FREE trauma therapy at my local shelter. I was horrified, simply horrified the first time I called and them stepped foot in the door. It went against everything I believed in. I felt like a charity case and that was demoralizing at a time when I didn’t need further humiliation. Truth was, I needed them very much and they were going to help me out of shame. My ex was not.
- Begin to see the truth about abuse. You didn’t cause it. You are a victim, which means that something out of your control happened to you that caused you deep pain. You didn’t ask for it. You didn’t send some special message to the universe that brought it on. You don’t deserve it. Look at it this way, if you had some control over this, wouldn’t you have had success at trying to get him to stop being such an ass? You don’t control the actions of another person, no one does. He abuses for his own reasons. He chooses to abuse you rather than talk through your difference, anger, pain, etc. He chooses to hide from his own demons, rather than face those issues from his past, etc. and heal. He chooses emotional Unhealth over emotional health. You have no control over that. None. Zilch. No matter he says. No matter what you have said. No matter what.
- Get and stay educated on this. There is more and more very helpful research coming out every day that explains why this happens and what to do about it. Stay connected and you will stay strong.
- Make a plan before you act. Reacting to an abusers actions can be just as damaging as the first action. It is completely normal to want to scream at someone who is messing with you in a painful way, but not helpful to the situation. You need to move away from your instinctive brain and get to your thinking one. First, build margin in your life so there is time to feel the pain his action caused you away from him, then scream at the stars, then think about what has happened, then react only if you feel that it is necessary. For example, my ex used to email me multiple times a day with all sorts of nasty and accusatory comments about me. Because I had a smart phone and a business to manage, I would check my email many times a day and that meant that at any minute I would be emotionally gut punched by my ex and want to react instantly. And that he why he did it. Because I would fire back an email and engage. I soon realized that was not working for me. So, after having the same email for 13 years, I changed my email address and left the old one for him. I took it off my phone and no longer got automatic pushes from that account. All my business clients, friends and family now had another email address. As it turns out, I realized that I left a lot of spam mail behind, too. My new address collects those who I really care about and my old email address is for my ex and all junk mail 13 years of an address will get you. I check it when I’m emotionally ready to read his junk and he no longer gets off by getting instant reaction from me.
- Make a plan before you leave. You MUST forget about trying to play fair or be nice the narcissist you are trying to leave. It will not bring out the best in him and it may bring out the worse. Instead, you have to think of him as a business colleague gone wrong. Yes, keep your integrity and don’t forsake your soul. Even if you have momentary thoughts of revenge, the narcissist will ALWAYS one up that. He will ALWAYS be willing to hit lower than you. But, your inner voice to look for a way to work together, be fair to him and keep a goal of civility can not be your driving force. You must think about what you need to do to get out with as few scars and problems as possible. Narcissist fill out history with all sorts of horrible things they have done, including murder, to get the upper hand in ending a relationship. You must protect yourself by understand what you are up against. So, you no longer tell him anything about your plan. This is between you and your attorney. He is now on the other side of the table and against you. You must face this. You no longer owe him intimacy or knowledge about who your are or your intentions. In fact, you can’t give him this. He will use it against you. Shut down all discussions with him about what you are doing to get out even if it means you leave him in the dark about the fact that you are leaving. You are NOT manipulating him. You are protecting yourself just like if you were to hid in a bedroom closet during a break in. You know that nothing good could come of you walking up to the intruder and announcing “I am calling 911 right now, just so you know you should get out.” Narcissists don’t have morals so don’t expect moral decisions to come in the face of your morality.
- When you are strong enough emotionally, meaning you have sought help and your therapists thinks you are well on the way to recovery from the injury, hold your abuser accountable. This means that you will set firm boundaries no matter his verbal antics, do not respond to any accusation, no matter how silly or explainable (your abuser is throwing up gorilla dust to get a rise out of you. You must don’t respond to this.) Learn the laws in your community regarding his actions. For example, if your abuser is constantly emailing you, your state might consider that cyberstalking. One email from you telling him in writing that he may not contact you or he may only contact you under certain restrictions (your children’s health for example) may be all it takes for him to understand that you are serious about protecting yourself from further abuse. You can not reason with him to stop abusing you. You can only set boundaries of tolerance. When you do, you stand a chance of getting away from it. Learn about restraining orders also. Please, please learn about them first because many a child custody case has been decided by a judge who thought a woman with a restraining order was a women with an ax to grind and not worthy of custody of her child. But, thankfully, that tide is changing, too. Learn about the VAWA, violence against women act, a federal law that identifies what is considered “violent” and what is not legal. Knowing these laws can help you set firm boundaries, build confidence and face the evil in your life.
- Lastly, this is a long journey, but well worth it. I have been divorced for nine years and I am grateful to God every day that I was able to get out. Yes, I am much less financially stable then when I was married. Yes, it is difficult to be a single mother. Yes, at times I’m exhausted by life. But, I also have wonderful moments of peace, something I rarely felt while married. I have also made a ton of mistakes in this walk, and that is OK. I went through at least 5 therapist before I finally heard the truth and then another two before I found help in navigating this and healing. For years, I was white-knuckling my trauma and hoping I would make the “right” decisions. Being perfect is impossible. Mistakes while under incredible duress is absolutely expected. You do the best you can, pray and pick yourself up and move on to the next day.
I hope this helps. I know it is too long for the internet, but if you are like me, you have been search and search for help. Remember, you are not alone. Not even close. Narcissism seems to be on the rise. The odds of you meeting one are high and to fall in love with one, high as well. In fact, the very reason that makes you liked by people, you are empathic, is why narcissists grab you. And let me tell you, you don’t need to change that about yourself. That doesn’t make you wrong. You do need to learn that not everyone deserves to benefit from that side of you and you deserve to have people in your life, whether friends or a partner, to treat you the same way and cherish that that makes you, you.