Surviving twenty-years of marriage to a narcissist and taking the high road during a divorce from one is next to impossible. Those accomplishments alone should bear high standing in the court of moral justice. For better or worse (pun intended), my spouse was a “sociopathic narcissist,” which made the experience all the more indigestible.
The most revealing trait about my narcissist was their favorite adage and how often they repeated it, “What good is a friend if you can’t use them.” Mine derived such gratification from saying it, like a joke only they got, he’d chuckle aloud every time. I never understood the humor in it – I do now. There are many red flags in loving a narcissist, but you keep excusing them, unbelieving any human being could possibly be as morally corrupt as their subtly leaked inferences imply.
A narcissist’s goal, from the beginning of “loving” you, is to convert your life energy into something useful for themselves. If you tag along for the ride of how they use your life, all the better, it’s one less prey they have to (re)groom. When they think they’ve exhausted all there is of you you’re no more valuable than their last discarded wad of toilet paper. That’s no exaggeration – that’s just a fact.
Of course you don’t accept this until it’s way too late, but coming to the understanding is important no matter how late you do it. They are keen at confusing with manipulative ploys intended to keep you around until nothing is left. They want it all, every last drop. Their biggest dread is someone else benefitting from what’s left of you, because that means they’ve lost something, they’ve calculated wrong. And narcissists cannot be wrong. They’re too smart they think. How “smart” they really are depends on your value system.
Understanding this helps explain what you find so hard to understand in one of these relationships. It offers comfort in finally settling your love-tormented soul. It wasn’t you. It wouldn’t have mattered what you did or didn’t do. The moment your existence stopped feeding their increasingly selfish demands they ceased needing you.
Narcissists are incapable of regret, being just as keenly apt at excusing or justifying their abusive behaviors. It’s as playing a video game where pleading forgiveness is just one essential level of getting farther in it. They feign your life values as bait on a hook but their rules keep changing based on what’s best for them at any given moment. They convince you that their momentary needs are all that’s reasonable so you keep changing your values trying to keep up only to find those change again when their needs change – again.
It’s never about love. Love for self is all they know. It’s never about you. Pretense of love is the ruse they polished early in learning to snare prey, much as a pedophile grooms and snares victimized children. Anyone with a value they can steal would’ve fit the bill. You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You kept dismissing the red flags.
Depending on the stage of the relationship – whether you’re still buying into them; beginning to question them; or you’ve figured them out – when caught red-handed they respond, respectively, with erupting temper tantrums, consoling calm or tearful pity-me regret, or powerfully silent, ridiculing smirks that say without saying a word, “See how wonderfully sly and manipulative I am, you fool of fools.”
When it comes to the dirty work of divorce narcissists haven’t the personal wherewithal to initiate it. They’re weak that way, maybe lazy is a better word. Their game is to progress abuse until you do it for them, in the process sucking every ounce of what’s left and making it easy on themselves. Why do the hard work when you can coerce someone else to do it for you. They think that keeps their hands clean for continuing to disparage your character, further elevating their own illusion of good standing (“leveling”). They’re so self-righteous they’re oblivious to others who already see what they are.
They have no sincere shame or humility – none. Only if you survive through the last phase do you see their glaring void of moral character, a stripped façade revealing the vile being that is them underneath. The charade was only necessary when you believed it. The truth of who they are is so unrecognizable you would never have figured it out on your own had they not taken such demented pride in putting their manipulative genius on display. To them it’s merely the end game that proves their superiority. That is their pleasure, their delight. The gloves are off and only they know how to play this dirty – come and get it if you dare.
Early in this late-life divorce my Father, a man who knew my naturally feisty, rebellious spirit best, expressed bewilderment at why I was being so uncharacteristically timid. The mere impact of Dad expressing his dismay caused me to recognize just what effect this narcissist had had on my life, on who I was versus who I had become
It dawned on me that what seemed to happen all of the sudden had actually transpired over the course of 20-years. It was cunningly piece-mealed as a poison, in doses almost too slight to notice … but my narcissist knew exactly what he was doing. My easy, generous and want-to-please nature made it all the easier for him to do. I own that. I laugh now at how foolish I was, it being so genuinely naïve for a woman of my age and intellect.
When this was unfolding – from subtle daily degrading and unrelenting nagging whisked in a brew of inexplicable, violent verbal rampages and insatiable needs for attention to what were clear bouts of faking real tears – I kept making empathetic excuses. I kept believing that because I was strong enough to see the façades, I knew the differences. I convinced myself that as long as I recognized those things then I was in an okay place.
I had wholly underestimated the magnitude of living those permeating evils year after year for 20-years.
Late in the marriage my narcissist relayed a whimsical quote as being attributable to his grandfather. In 20-years I’d heard all the stories so imagine my surprise when he suddenly attributed a well-known quip of my grandfather’s as being his own personal experience. This was no mistake, no lapse in memory, no misspeak. This was a glaring example of how easily-manipulated he’d come to view me and how wholly irrelevant even bold-faced truths had become. It was self-indulgent stroking of how far he believed his ‘genius’ could push the envelope.
At that moment I realized to what ludicrous degree narcissists steal from others – even their personal experiences. He liked my family’s story; he wanted it; he took it. As if money transferred between bank accounts, now it was his. He’d argue with condescending insult anyone saying otherwise. Truth, even though he knew it, had no place interfering. The transaction was done and he wasn’t giving it back.
During a divorce hearing he viciously lashed-out at me as if I had wholly victimized him. He was so convincing I felt guilty regardless that I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. Later I learned what he’d accused was a consequence of his illegal tax filing after separation, having absolutely nothing to do with me. But he was so convincing at feigning justified rage he’d convinced even me I must deserve it.
These examples demonstrate how self-serving narcissists are in taking what they want. Narcissists have no presence of mind of other people or truthful events, past or present. They only know meeting their own wants and needs and they do that with intense tunnel vision. They know exactly what they’re doing. They do believe their own lies while they’re telling them. That’s how they get away with being so convincing. To them it’s survival and they will not hesitate to sacrifice you for their own slightest gain. They must have it all. Anything less and they’ve lost and they cannot lose.
By the time Dad posed his question of timidity to me, I had come to believe I was incapable of fighting against such a perverted power of evil and, in many ways, I was. I still hadn’t come to accept the truly despicable nature of narcissism; and I had no comparable resources within me to fall back on. “Fighting fire with fire” wasn’t even a viable option.
All I had was truth, which narcissists spend all of their time and expertise dispelling. After all, that is their life’s work and they’re good at it. Twisting an “all about me” perception into someone else’s rational reality is what they do. They’ve remolded your own truth about yourself to you, so distorting an outsider’s vision of that is like kindergarten hopscotch.
As could be expected the divorce itself offered little consolation for all the years of my investment, financial and otherwise. I just wanted out from under his diabolical control. In the end that was satisfaction enough.
For a while I was angry about it. But I knew the unbecoming cancer of bitterness and I did not want that for myself more than any consequence I might’ve wanted for him. It’s almost a year since divorce and I am only now removed enough, settled enough, to write of it. Now vengeance is in God’s hands and that’s nothing to be taken lightly. No amount of embellished story-telling or self-serving genius can help. Personally, I don’t find that “smart” at all.
“We will know them by their fruits” and “beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.” I came out of this considerably better financially and more content than in all of the twenty miserable years living in his world; and certainly smarter than in all the years before living in mine.
The lessons taken are the value of the pain in having lived them.
As the horse thief said before they hung him, ‘I’ll never do that again’.
Post Script: Below is an EXCELLENT article found after writing this blog, which describes my experience perfectly and provides links to research & support groups. In part,
Before ending a relationship with someone who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder or any type of Cluster B Disorder, I advise you to seek a therapist who is knowledgeable on this topic. I have discovered that the only thing worse than being married to these individuals is to divorce someone with a personality disorder.
From “Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Gaslighting.” A must read.