RULE # 1 Observe the Behavior. Stay in the Present

If you think you may be hanging out with a narcissist then the sooner these rules are applied the better. Even if you don’t know for sure whether the person is a narcissist or not, applying these rules may be a good way to find out. These rules are a helpful way to set boundaries with people in general. To the opportunistic narcissist, boundaries are nasty little barbs that interfere with their need to be in total control. They don’t like making the extra effort to step over these pesty barbs either, so they will tend to avoid a person with strong boundaries.

The very best way to alleviate suffering for the long term is to get rid of the narcissist altogether. But if you are anything like me, when you find yourself already immersed in a relationship then you might feel compelled to stick around for the fun and games. Because while you are enmeshed with the narcissist, leaving can feel worse than staying.

There are all sorts of reasons for this, but one I will mention is that there is so much confusion that it is incredibly difficult to navigate this type of abusive relationship and yes, my friends, it is abusive.

It took me a while to come to the realization that yes I was being abused because I always said to myself ‘it takes two to tango, I am an aggressive button pusher, all relationships are 50/50. To make matters worse, a narcissist has a lovely way of enhancing these beliefs and making everything feel not just 50/50, but 100 to 0 in their favor.

Rule #1 Observe the behavior. Stay in the present

Never try to convince myself of something other than what is there in the moment. Do not under any circumstances create a story around a situation. I have a tendency to care take and also have a very kind imagination, so I will come up with excuses or reasons for behavior and spin stories out of them. For example, I will say to myself, the person is just afraid of intimacy or maybe they had a hard childhood. Even if it is true the person is afraid or something painful from their childhood was triggered, does it really matter what caused their behavior if they treat me badly? When I look at the behavior without the reasons or excuses, I can swiftly set boundaries. Again, it is important to observe the behavior in general without a story line like ‘oh he thinks I am so special, we have everything in common’. Do not fall for romantic hype or ego stroking anymore than making excuses for bad behavior. The romantic hype also called love bombing, usually occurs in the beginning of an intimate relationship with a narcissist. The narcissist studies its prey very carefully. The N can seem incredibly interested in you, your interests, they are like a chameleon and will even mold themselves to be the ideal match for you. They will charm you, make you feel loved and adored. It will feel like you met the best listener in the world and the person who really gets you. It is difficult to discern what is going on at this stage, but the relationship will seem too perfect and too good to be true. The N also will want to get close really fast, like wanting to move in together or even get married. Keep your wits about you during this phase also known in narcissist land as the Idealization phase and try not to get hooked.

It is important to be present to the situation in order to be able to observe. To be tuned in to my feelings, my body, and investigating myself as much as I can. Early on in my relationship I had feelings of hair standing up on the back of my neck that I ignored, feelings of fear in my stomach and chest, not knowing why. I knew I was having these feelings, but I was completely following a story that I allowed to override all of the signs that something was wrong. I told myself this relationship is going to work no matter what he does or how he behaves. Because he doesn’t mean to be mean. He was hurt as a child. I went so far as to eventually believe that all bad things that happen must have to do with my faults and weaknesses, therefore I have to fix myself in order to make this relationship work.

Being tuned in and able to observe without attaching myself to a story is something I have really had to practice. I use Tara Brach’s RAIN as a mindfulness tool. She adapted this acronym from her book ‘True Refuge’.  Even when I have a hard time tuning into my emotions and feelings in my body, I try  to keep it simple using the acronym as my prompt. I state the behavior.I observe first using the R in RAIN to Recognize what is going on , A is to Allow things to just be,  I is for Investigate: how do I feel, think, believe about a situation without identifying with or judging any of it, the N is for Non-identification. All stories explaining behavior eventually cause suffering, so stop right there. Stick to the facts please.

 

An Introduction to 10 Rules to School a Narcissist and Sever the Tie

This is an introduction for my next post because I want to explain how I use the term Narcissism, why I created  10 rules and use the word ‘rules’ instead of guidelines and the importance of their application.

What do I mean when I use the term Narcissist? I refer to my ex-husband as N for Narcissist throughout my story, so how did he get that label anyway? From my own research and experience, the traits can be exhibited across a long spectrum.

On the extreme end there is psychopathy, then malignant narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder (DSM Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.), to narcissistic traits which many of us can manifest. Also there are different types of narcissists, for example there is the overt narcissist and the covert narcissist, the somatic and the cerebral narcissist. I would say my ex husband N falls between Narcissistic Personality Disorder (he meets all of the criteria in the DSM 5 for the personality disorder diagnosis) and the Malignant Narcissist on the spectrum. Researcher and therapist Steve Becker in his paper ‘Differentiating Narcissists from Psychopaths’ makes a distinction between Narcissism and Psychopathy by referring to all psychopaths as having narcissistic personality disorder, but not all narcissists are psychopaths. Narcissists need validation and psychopaths seek to destroy. My interpretation is the farther along a person is on the spectrum toward psychopathy the more dangerous because they truly seek to destroy for the thrill of it.

I attracted three other narcissists while I was healing from my abusive marriage. I learned that I did not have any radar. I must have looked like a sitting duck to them. This gave me the idea to come up with rules of behavior and healthy ways for me to process my thoughts and feelings. Something I can do to help me set boundaries with people. That remind me I am responsible for and accountable to myself and give me the ability to find out if a person is toxic, narcissistic, psychopathic, or anyone along this spectrum and swiftly get rid of them. I learned the hard way that a narcissist will give up on a person with strong boundaries rather quickly.

I regularly put my rules to work out in the land of the free roaming narcissists and have even found these rules to work on run of the mill toxic people. There is no particular order. Any of them can and should be applied at any time, although at certain points in a relationship with a Narcissist one rule may be more feasible than another. They are great tools to screen people while dating, making new friends, for starting a new relationship or even if embedded in a relationship with a possible narcissist. These rules also helped me establish no contact with my narcissistic ex.

I use the word ‘Rules’ instead of guidelines because, for me, they must be followed. Narcissistic abuse is very serious and narcissists wreak so much havoc that for those of us who don’t have a good radar these rules are a great protection device. As I will convey in future posts about my story, I do not always follow them myself and show what happens when I don’t. The rules aren’t a recipe to lower self esteem or an invitation to be hard on oneself. I created them to protect myself like a shield from the wolves in sheep’s clothing (the narcissist, psychopath, malignant narcissist, and toxic people). It also encourages a mindful practice for developing a healthy relationship with myself and therefore others.

 

Nothing left to Barter

 

For every light there is a dark. For every high there is a low. This is the natural balance of the universe in all things. Ok I expect the highs and lows with drugs and alcohol, but should a relationship have similar elements? C’mon is this the universe’s cruel joke? I legitimately fell in love with someone who loved me too. Or at least he said he did. What is wrong with that?

I would eventually see the ebb and flow of dark and light in my relationship become almost total darkness. I trembled alone for long periods in the dark waiting to be loved. I was like an abandoned child desperate for even the slightest sign of acknowledgement. The narcissist doesn’t stay in a relationship without using intermittent love and affection as a method to control. This caused me severe withdrawal symptoms from what was becoming the few and far between blissful times in the relationship.But I believed I could be patient and tough and could survive on his mere crumbs in exchange for a slim hope of love. I told myself we were just going through a phase.  

The Devalue/Discard phase is the next level of narcissistic treatment.  My narcissist had reliably set up a pattern of raising me to a pedestal only to cruelly toss me into a dark pit of despair when I did not reflect back to him the image he demanded or when I did not live up to his ideal, or just to be cruel. He would easily replace me with someone else playing the correct role, all the while punishing me by throwing it in my face. In my case he liked to date other women.He would leave clues around that something was going on. When I would question it he would deny deny deny. I eventually learned my behavior didn’t matter. This pattern reared its ugly head more faithfully than anything else in our relationship. And each time I went through the gauntlet it only strengthened my desire to do everything in my power to recreate the bliss, to make everything ok, to live up to his ideal, and to be a perfect mirror for him.

I was losing myself, slipping into a full blown addiction that was sapping my life force. From my research, I learned that this dynamic creates what is called trauma bonding (see Peter Walker and Patrick Carnes) and like drugs and alcohol can cause all sorts of chemical reactions in the body that are extremely addictive and can be just as powerful as any drug abuse if not more so. An important point here is that this process is so difficult to kick that it is better to nip the relationship in the bud before any real attachment begins. If you are early on in a relationship and begin to suspect that he/she is a narcissist check out my rules on this blog. They can also be used for screening and then blocking.

 

Queen of Denial. I am not Cleopatra

It took me a while to come to the realization that yes I am being abused because I always said to myself ‘it takes two to tango, I am an aggressive button pusher, all relationships are 50/50′. A narcissist has a lovely way of enhancing these beliefs and making everything feel not just 50/50, but 100 to 0 in their favor.

The ups and downs and highs and lows of my relationship to a narcissist caused me to constantly question the nature of reality. I went with his version of gravity for a while. This process occurred slowly and subtly until it was normal for him to control my world.

When I first got away from him I was so disoriented. I had made myself leave for physical safety reasons, but I didn’t want to actually leave him. In the moment, the only thing I was sure of, was his rage was out of control and had scared me. It would take multiple attempts over two years for me to permanently sever myself from him. Meanwhile, after stepping out of the initial shock of pain of our first break up; I was desperate to figure out what was happening to us and how to fix it asap, so everything would be ok.

I read everything I could get my jaws into like a voracious shark. I swallowed whole books about personality disorders, abuse survivor stories, and techniques for changing myself.

I learned from the books I read that his behavior was verbally and physically abusive, but didn’t I cause it? I had researched narcissism and believed that he had some of the character traits, but definitely not all. I mean I was never afraid he was going to kill me, but maybe hurt me. I mean he had hurt me, but he isn’t that dangerous. I would never allow someone to really abuse me. We are just two people who are troubled and can work on ourselves.

We can fix this. I even found a book called ‘Disarming the Narcissist’ that actually offered techniques to help me with my possible narcissist. This is hope. I will try these and we can still get back together. Also, I can be a better person for him. The few people who heard my side of the troubles usually said things like ‘Oh well just chalk it up to: you two are not a good match.’ This explanation never felt right and made me insanely angry.

I didn’t believe for a second we were a bad match and railed against any insinuation of this. I wanted him back. No matter all of the pain and suffering. I told myself it was mostly my fault anyway. I would do anything for another moment with him. Oh to be in the bliss of his full attention, my favorite place of all time was perched high on his pedestal, showered with his approval. This is what I could not live without. I believed he must love me. We connect like sacred soul mates.. I would put up with anything, be anything, change anything to repeat these moments on high. I have never felt like this about anyone. I tell myself we are only apart right now because we both need to work on ourselves individually.

I remember people commenting on our connection and how electrical and amazing it was. How they only wished they could have a connection like we do. I felt so high sometimes like we were floating above it all  with nothing to tether us to this world and only the stars to guide us on our path to bliss higher and higher. Yet what they didn’t see and what I refused to see was my gradual withdrawal from my former life.  There was something very wrong, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I was falling apart. All I had to do was look at my face in the mirror and watch it get thinner by the day. I was losing a lot of weight and felt afraid most of the time. I covered up the fear with copious amounts of alcohol.