Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism. [Mayo Clinic]
The term narcissism is German, derived from Greek Mythology where young Narcissus, a hunter known for his beauty, fell in love with his image reflected in a pool of water. As if self-preservation in its purest form, narcissists strive to prevent any ripples in the perfect reflection of themselves they think they see.
Most important to say, the term “narcissist” is so over-used today as petty insult it does a grave injustice to victims who suffer under it in the spouses or family members who are. Know that. Understand it. In physical abuse you see marks. With narcissistic abuse, unless you know the abused intimately you’ll not suspect anything unsavory of their narcissist spouse. In fact, you’ll find any accusation of the narcissist hard to believe. (See professional comments beneath.)
In all sincerity, I am so sick of thinking about this subject the last thing I want is to write about it. I want to forget it, wipe it out of my head like the plague it is, but apparently that’s not how recovering from this abuse works. As I do with most troublesome things, I write to purge it. Here we go again. Maybe only those who’ve suffered the abuse know its difficulties, for surely I have lived a long life not remiss of sufferings yet this sort of prolonged haunting is highly-irregular for me.
Convincing myself that by not giving the narcissist’s abuse free rent in my head, I believed I had finally taken its power, was finally back operating under my own power. In many ways I have and am. But the suffering seems to have an afterlife … or I just haven’t dealt with it in the right way yet. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced this ineptness before, at least not so much that something felt so in-my-face like this does right now, even after a few years.
Once I come to terms with a difficulty – and I have indeed come to terms with this – it will subside into the shadows of optional recall. I was well on my way to climbing out of this dismal hole so it seemed any moment of any day I could think of it only in passing, when summoned, when reflection served a purpose. I’m angry more than hurt by its second life now, which might be a good thing, though clearly one goes in hand with the other.
Sometimes I fear the mistake I made was not addressing it, never verbalizing it, never giving it any sense of closing a door … never saying much of anything at all, really. I just silently walked off into the sunset as if it was another ho-hum-hiccup in life when, in fact, it was the most unconscionable thing I’ve ever allowed to happen. And that’s the real clincher: I did ‘allow’ it for twenty damned years and I am so angry about that.
Narcissism was such an integral part of my everyday routine that, by the time I left, whatever words could be said of it felt too empty and meaningless to bother saying. Maybe that is part of its poison. By then I was painfully aware of just how purposeless words of your pain are to a narcissist.
I was not one who could intentionally hurt others, even when seemingly justified. But the one thing I probably should’ve indulged was hurling words back, in undermining his own self-worth, as that is a narcissist’s Achilles Heel. I don’t even know that would’ve mattered or only made things worse if there is a ‘better or worse’ in living with one. Maybe I’m better having a clean conscience even if I am the only one who knows about it, given all of the pathetic lies he weaves to justify himself. Maybe by not doing that I’ve somehow made the lies harder to come by or less convincing.
At the time of living under a narcissist I rationalized all of these common sense reasons why ‘allowing’ the abuse was the best alternative. At the time I’d underestimated its power. At the time, even in leaving, I hadn’t truly identified what narcissism is. I only knew it was everything that is wrong in the world and that I wasn’t going to live in its ugliness anymore. At the time I thought being the “bigger person” was the right thing to do, that that would have some illusive payoff in the end, that all things good would prevail and I was on the right side of good so that meant I would prevail, too.
Maybe I have prevailed and only the inability to see into another’s life so removed, in affirming some victory over it, is all that’s really missing. Why seeing that outcome for myself is so important I’m not really sure, but, sadly, witnessing his misery would comfort me. Since when someone else’s discomfort became something I wanted to see for myself, I don’t know either. That’s not my nature. Maybe that’s part of narcissism’s poison, too. Maybe he’s gutted the goodness within me right down to its last mutating cell.
I am not proud to admit that, but part of healing is admitting what we don’t want to confront about ourselves so I will. I want to see some sign of remorse, some vindication, some indication that “what goes around comes around” really does happen … some Godly recompense … some will of the universe for all that’s good & right to finally set things back in order.
Before this I’d never referred to myself as a ‘victim’ of anything. Even now, here writing this, I have trouble saying it. If there is anything that can make someone a victim – even those who are strong, independent, self-reliant people (if not especially those people) – narcissism does. Perhaps that’s how narcissists choose their prey. It takes strong, independent people to be willing to give of themselves to a fault; and their self-reliance is what the narcissist wants for themselves. It’s a natural attraction when you think about it. Maybe those slight-of-hand compliments of character should be enough to satisfy me.
Having made significant progress I was trekking along quite nicely, believing narcissism’s abuse was finally fading into some fabric of the past. By sheer happenstance I stumbled across an article on the subject. The words were so indelibly poignant in coining my twenty years of living in its thieving tortures that all of those sufferings came right back in the lap of my today, right back into my living world, as if I’d never fought to leave them in the first place. Narcissistic abuse was a part of the living breathing me all over again as if I’d not escaped at all.
All of the sudden I felt just as helpless as when living in it. All of the sudden I was more angry than ever before, more frustrated than ever before. All of the sudden what were only stale understandings had reinvented themselves as if put under a magnifying glass – every spec of narcissism’s granular ugliness jumped out at me with crystal clarity. Suddenly I grasped exactly what was only subliminally experienced back when I simply knew it had a name.
I could no longer ignore the infinite glaring truth of just how despicable a narcissist’s incomprehensible greed for self-serving absorption is and, along with it, how morbidly abusive all of the goodness that they take for themselves is. Everything that was ever good about me or that I’d ever given to anyone else out of that goodness was run up some flagpole of ridicule of me for all to enjoy. I had to admit how starkly I’d laid myself open as the most dimwitted pawn in the most vicious and bizarre games of psychological warfare.
Something is very wrong with being forced to relive that after you’ve gone to painstakingly great measures to eradicate it. Can there ever be peace? I pray this is only one of the many phases to healing. This is such a sick feeling of self.
The article I happened across is so pristine in describing exactly what I lived that I hope it is helpful in recognizing narcissism’s indicators. I should’ve left my narcissist at its very first signs and there were so many of those. Shoulda, coulda, woulda … .
“Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Gaslighting,” excerpted below, in part citing Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-love – Narcissism Revisited on gaslighting, or ambient abuse.
According to Sam Vaknin, there are five categories of ambient abuse and many times, they are a combination of these components in play by the abuser:
- Inducing Disorientation: The abuser causes the victim to lose faith in her ability to manage and to cope with the world and its demands. She no longer trusts her senses, her skills, her strengths, her friends, her family, and the predictability and benevolence of her environment. The abuser subverts the target’s focus by disagreeing with her way of perceiving the world, her judgment, the facts of her existence, by criticizing her incessantly – and by offering plausible but specious alternatives. By constantly lying, he blurs the line between reality and nightmare. By recurrently disapproving of her choices and actions – the abuser shreds the victim’s self-confidence and shatters her self-esteem. By reacting disproportionately to the slightest “mistake” – he intimidates her to the point of paralysis.
- Incapacitating: The abuser gradually and surreptitiously takes over functions and chores previously adequately and skillfully performed by the victim. The prey finds herself isolated from the outer world, a hostage to the goodwill – or, more often, ill-will – of her captor. She is crippled by his encroachment and by the inexorable dissolution of her boundaries and ends up totally dependent on her tormentor’s whims and desires, plans and stratagems.
- Shared Psychosis: The abuser creates a fantasy world, inhabited by the victim and himself, and besieged by imaginary enemies. He allocates to the abused the role of defending this invented and unreal Universe. She must swear to secrecy, stand by her abuser no matter what, lie, fight, pretend, obfuscate and do whatever else it takes to preserve this oasis of inanity. Her membership in the abuser’s “kingdom” is cast as a privilege and a prize. It is not to be taken for granted. She has to work hard to earn her continued affiliation. She is constantly being tested and evaluated. Inevitably, this interminable stress reduces the victim’s resistance and her ability to “see straight”.
- Abuse of Information: From the first moments of an encounter with another person, the abuser is on the prowl. He collects information. The more he knows about his potential victim – the better able he is to coerce, manipulate, charm, extort or convert it “to the cause”. The abuser does not hesitate to misuse the information he gleans, regardless of its intimate nature or the circumstances in which he obtained it. This is a powerful tool in his armory.
- Control by Proxy: If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues, mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbors, the media, teachers – in short, third parties – to do his bidding. He uses them to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince, harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate his target. He controls these unaware instruments exactly as he plans to control his ultimate prey. He employs the same mechanisms and devices. And he dumps his props unceremoniously when the job is done.
If you feel that you are the victim of gaslighting … at the hands of a narcissist, you have the power to make changes and to leave the toxic relationship. Before ending a relationship with someone who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder … the only thing worse than being married to these individuals is to divorce someone with [it]. I encourage you … join in-person support groups or online support groups such as My Emotional Vampire, Respite from Sociopathic Behavior, After Narcissistic Abuse or One Mom’s Battle.