Rule #8 Don’t let the Narcissist make me question myself

 

I got to a point in my relationship with an N where I was so completely fear based. I actually lived in a hyper alert terror state. I knew I was being gradually discarded by the N even after all my effort and accommodation to stop it. I felt completely worthless and fearful of being alone and rejected.

I thought everything happening was my fault. I mean what if the N doesn’t love me anymore? I couldn’t live with the idea that the N doesn’t love me anymore. What if I don’t deserve love? What if I can’t live without him?

I did not know at the time that nothing going on was really about me. I did not know that Ns follow predictable phases in a relationship and they treat all their victims in a similar manner.

The way the N in my life typically used fear against me was by getting me to question who I was as a person. He started with picking on my hobbies and the things I wanted to be good at. He had a way of getting me to question my abilities, so that I no longer wanted to do the things I enjoyed and was good at.

There was one interaction that happened a few months into the relationship that would have been a clue to what was coming. I had always loved writing, so I decided to share a piece of writing with the N. I had shared this piece in the past with several friends and family and it had been well regarded. He eviscerated each and every sentence and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. I fought him on it. Because the relationship was in its early stages I had a lot of fight in me still.

I had never had anyone be so critical of my writing before. It seemed out of line. This turned into an argument that lasted well over an hour and basically was him repeating in various ways how stupid I am and that I should never try to write. I defended myself repeatedly and told him that perhaps he didn’t have the knowledge to understand what I had written. This was me being critical of him of course and made the argument much worse. I had no idea what I was dealing with. I had no idea that telling him he didn’t understand something would result in an ongoing punishment that would be hashed out throughout the rest of our relationship.

First, I vowed to never share my writing with him again. But I then stopped writing shortly after this argument. Instead of walking away from the relationship, I internalized what he said about my writing and me. I should give up what I enjoyed because I was not any good at it anyway, so why make the effort?

If I allow fear of whether a person approves of me or not to define what feelings and thoughts I identify with, this causes all sorts of suffering. To stop the suffering I had to recognize that I must define myself based on myself only.

I will  give another example of a way the N got me to question myself. This incident also occurred early on in the relationship. The N and I went bike riding together. It was perhaps a three hour ride. Not exactly the flattest ride either; there were many hills interspersed. At the time I rode my bike almost daily and up a lot of hills. I felt I was in good shape. He had a street bike compared to my hybrid with wider wheels, so his bike would definitely go faster. Anyway, he sped way ahead of me. I tried to catch up, but it was too tiring for me and I wasn’t enjoying the ride. I told him to go ahead of me if he wanted and I would catch up. Many days later he told me that I seemed very insecure about my bike riding abilities and it really put a damper on the ride. I believed him, that I came across as insecure and on top of that was a very slow bike rider and really no fun to ride bikes with anyway.

I can start with trusting myself to be able to observe a situation accurately. I must tune into my mind and body and be mindful of my speech. I must be able to say what is going on with me without making it about the other person. Then I can set boundaries and stick to them. Becoming responsible for myself creates strength and makes it much less likely that I am going to question myself and give up the things that are important to me. This is a better feeling than being afraid of not being liked and it prevents being hurt by a person rejecting me as well. It is this inner strength that enables me to focus on more important pursuits like enjoying life or being creative and being able to actually love another person and receive love from another person.

 

Rule # 7 Don’t let the narcissist tell me who or what I am.

 

Ns give a lot of critical unsolicited advice and backhanded compliments. For example, I put my hair in a ponytail. The N says after hanging out with me for a bit “You look prettier with your hair back.” This is an example of a backhanded compliment. I pay attention to the way it is phrased too. He is trying to aggress (I use this word instead of assert because a backhanded compliment is also a passive aggressive control tactic).

A real compliment from a genuine person who cares would go something like this. “I really like your hair like that.” or merely “You look beautiful so relaxed carefree.” C’mon narcissists, you really should get better at your game! Make a real oservation about the person you supposedly care about. An N cannot actually compliment anyone in any genuine way because he is too self absorbed and power oriented, so all of his compliments come from a place of aggressing control. He tells me how I am supposed to be to please him and control me, the end, bottom line. He assumes that I will bust my arse to comply or he will  get rid of me quickly.

In the past, my need for love and approval won over taking care of myself. I try not to take this path again because  it will kill the self esteem I have built for myself. This must be taken seriously at all times  The narcissist game of undermining who I think I am as a person, it is their ‘Modus Operandi’ to conquer body speech and mind then steal the soul. There are no breaks,no lulls, and there is never a time this game is not being played.

At first I didn’t notice the contempt underneath the N’s veneer, so I clung to all advice or compliments to the point that I would feel incredibly stressed without the N’s approval.

I learned that I cannot listen to what the N says even if I think it may be a compliment. This is when it is important to work on self esteem and a strong sense of self which I did not have at the time. So I began to go through the motions of doing things that built self esteem.

I always have to remember I define myself always not anyone else. I started activities where I could only build myself up. For me it was exercise, pursuing a discipline of yoga. I started small with one to two classes per week to four times per week now. Also, I love bike riding. Even a short ride could get me away from the N and help clear my head.

 

RULE # 6 Do not assume the warm feelings I have for the Narcissist are at all reciprocated

I want to be loved and feel close to someone I am really attracted to. Now here is the catch: when I say ‘attracted to’, I mean someone I think I am attracted to. I must remind myself how well I know the N because mostly what I am attracted to is unconscious. I am not aware of the role I am playing or the role I expect the other person to play.  I am recreating a familiar situation in the present that is similar to my childhood experiences. Not everyone in a relationship with a narcissist has familiar childhood experiences. But for me when I looked at my past relationships, I noticed a similar pattern of care taking in order to not be left by my partner. I connected this to my parental models and the role I played in my family.

Also, the chemical aspect of the attraction is like heroin and just like any drug it creates a lull in the mental mind where the rational part ceases and the part of me that desperately wants to reenact (the sad neglected inner child who is not good enough) is in control of picking my partners. All of us are susceptible to this. We just have different past patterns. The more unaware I am of my past and the more I neglect this small child part of me, the needier it becomes. Then the more likely I am to repeat the past again with another scary guy at the helm of my ship. I mean would you let a toddler pick your husband?

Even if an N appears to be loving in the moment, the N won’t be loving long term and can switch moods on a dime. It is during the Devalue/Discard phase in the relationship that they begin to chase after newer shinier objects; other victims to fulfill their need for validation.

My N told me after we broke up that he never had any feelings for me. He saw the relationship like a business transaction. I found an unusual N who actually admitted truths about himself after we broke up. He pretended the feelings because he thought that was what he was supposed to do to get what he wanted.

Again an N does not think like me. In fact it is questionable if my ex N felt anything beyond rage and contempt. The charm and good looks wear off fast and I was left with a very sick and sad person. The worst part of it is I blamed myself for not being good enough.

 

Rule #5 Do not fix, care take, mend, or use any kind of psychological tools to change a Narcissist

AGAIN I REPEAT: Do not go to fixing, helping, and explaining. Ns will suck you in. This will result in basically explaining away all of their negative treatment. Receiving help from me was typically used in this manner. George K. Simon discusses in his book regarding dealing with disturbed characters, “Help is not chasing after someone to give them something we think is of value even when they haven’t asked for it and show no appreciation for it.” He goes on to explain that in offering help to someone who shows no willingness to change and has probably already heard the same thing many times, we inevitably end up in a position to be hurt and increase their ability to continue their bad behavior.

I choose men that need my help. According to my therapists, I fear real intimacy. The therapists say I feel unworthy of it in my own right, so this working and care taking, hitting my head against a wall of sheer impossibility is like crack to me. I see someone floundering and he is attractive. This lights my need to feel indispensable by fixing and helping. It creates a bond of attachment and dependency that many times I misinterpret as love or connection. The minute I find myself having discussions about bad childhoods, or really bad horrible traumas or mean exes or scary drug addictions especially mixed with bad behavior (e.g. lying, withholding pertinent information, sex addiction) is a signal to me that I should be walking away not helping.

We all have baggage. The N has to take care of his. The best way to take care of him anyway is to be strong and centered and to not feed bad behavior through my pattern of care taking behaviors.  Be ready to walk away in face of bad behavior because it is not worth it.

Trying to help will make the behavior worse. Let me repeat this to myself because it is a very important point: helping him will hurt me and make him worse.

In my relationship with N there was constant crisis. He always needed something; from unrelenting emotional support to money loans. One night in the middle of winter he had driven us up to an outlet mall about 45 minutes from our home to do some Christmas shopping. On the way back we got pulled over by a state trooper. The trooper said that there was a warrant out for N’s arrest. N had thousands of dollars in unpaid parking tickets, had not paid his renewal for his car plates, and was driving with an expired driver’s license. The trooper kicked us out on the side of the freeway and told us to walk to the next rest station. It was below freezing outside. We walked to the rest station where there was still no heat and about an hour later a friend finally picked us up. The next day instead of taking care of these issues, he was driving again after getting his car out of tow. I never knew he had these tickets and we had been together for over a year. He needed help with all of these things, so I went with him to get his license and lent him money for the towing. This was just icing on the cake. The lies, rage and withholding of information only continued to get worse after this.

If I find myself in this situation again, I will  try to notice how much he blames me and how often I believe him. If my self talk becomes the following: ‘the problems in the relationship are my fault and there is tons of stuff wrong with me’, it is time to take a trip, get on a bus, or go to a friend’s house. Take a break in anyway possible.

I was so focused on N and his behavior that I never checked in with myself. I wanted to know whether  N’s motivation was conscious or not? I wanted  to predict his behavior, control it or in desperation attempt to get back the initial charming soul mate from the beginning of the relationship. I wanted to help him so much, so that he would never leave me.

I never looked at myself and asked why I was doing what I was doing. Why am I so exhausted and why are things getting worse? I needed to turn the lense on myself and look at my fears of abandonment and willingness to fix this relationship at the cost to myself; instead of heading straight down the road paved with previous codependents’ flesh and blood all sacrificed on the altar of N’s confused emptiness.

Rule #4 Never Question My Own Sanity

This is a most important rule for me to remember when an N is having a meltdown. For this rule to be applied, means I had to develop some awareness of the fact that the N does not think like me, wants to control the situation and get me to only believe their version of events. I must have compassion for myself, so that I don’t get sucked in. I am focused and taking care of my feelings first.I am holding to my belief that I am not on the planet to spend a lot of energy figuring out someone else’s stuff.

When N’s have meltdowns it is called narcissistic rage due to a narcissistic injury. Narcissistic rage is triggered by some perceived threat usually an insult or criticism that causes an injury. A typical N will react to any perceived threat in an out of control manner. They always assume the other person has hostile intention.

When people are angry, it is usually better to wait and talk when everyone has calmed down.The difference with an N is that to go through a discussion about the meltdown, argument or their bad behavior even if everybody has calmed down will result in the non-N questioning their sanity.

Gaslighting (a term for the psychological means of getting a person to question their own sanity) is a powerful method used by the N. This is a popular tool in the N toolbox. The way my N typically gaslighted was by withholding information, changing the subject, and denying something ever happened. What caused me the most confusion was the gaslighting combined with saying something to cut me down like ‘You are really selfish to think like that.’ or ‘You yelled at me and are always on me’ and ‘I don’t have a moment to breathe because you are so needy’ or ‘You have a problem with your temper.’ All of those statements have a grain of truth some bigger grains than others, so I would look at my own behavior and then blame myself for whatever happened.

Maintaining this rule prevents me from getting into discussions where I defend myself or believe what the N wants me to think about myself. It is preferable to avoid discussions or lectures with an N anyway, but if  I am in an unfortunate situation of having a discussion with an N, I keep my sentences short and to the point with no emotion. For example “You can have your feelings. It is ok. I do not agree with your version of reality. I have a different one.” Then end the discussion and walk away or keep repeating the above statements to them no matter what they say. Now the statement I use above can increase rage and confrontation, so it is better to walk away fast. If I cannot walk away then it is better to say something like “It is ok to have your feelings. Yes I hear you.” The N wants to be perceived as perfect, so they can feel safe again. Anything other than calmly agreeing with them will usually incite more rage.

It is a waste of time to discuss emotions with an N. They will not hear you because for them it is all about power and control, so discussions about another person’s feelings, wants, opinions, and thoughts are perceived as a threat to them. It is all about the N. Also, they will interpret any question regarding their own behavior as criticism and will act out defensively until they feel safe and in control.

 

 

 

 

Rule # 3 Don’t take crumbs as proof of love or caring

This rule may be more applicable a bit later in a relationship with a narcissist. After all of the idealizing and excess effort to win your soul (the Idealization Phase), the narcissist will begin the next phase typically called the Devalue phase, it is the point in the relationship where the mask really slips and they start showing their true colors.

They will try to get away with giving the least amount to the relationship as possible, just enough to keep you hooked. The beginning of this phase is also a good time to walk away. Although, anytime is a good time to walk away. There is no reason to accept the crumbs. The only reason they even give crumbs is to break you down, so that you will let them get away with everything.  It is only going to get worse from here.

N’s process of getting me to accept crumbs was very gradual. N  used intermittent love and affection; giving less and less positive attention over time. He blamed me for all of his bad behaviors convincing me I deserved less and less. He would give a merciless punishment and follow it up with taking me out on the town, but then the next day he could easily unleash another punishment like silent treatment.

For example, one night, still early on in our relationship, N took me to the opera. It was something I love to go out and do. He made a big show of it, even suggesting we go in the first place, going out of his way to find out when the show was, getting tickets and making a romantic night out. Two days later he was picking up another woman in a bar. It took me a while to find out he was betraying me. These great nights on the town became fewer and fewer, just enough to keep me hooked.

His charm for me was like a vacuum. It sucked me into N’s empty universe where my friendship and laughter filled him for a moment. He sucked me dry and then moved on to the next shiny object usually another woman. When I think of him now I picture him with his head floating above his body like a giant helium balloon. Instead of gaining a broader view above ground, he is always floating above reality. I remember him flirting with me in the beginning and recall him behaving this way with other women, but I was too lulled by his charm that I chose to believe I was special.

The most important thing for me to remember is Ns do not think like other people at all. When they do something loving there is a reason for it and they do just enough to keep the relationship going. Ultimately, I was only an object to N. He just wanted to do whatever he wanted and would get rid of me if I was in the way.

If you notice this pattern in your relationship; the giving is less and less and trying to convince you that is what you deserve, you may have an N on your hands.

It is better to not see the crumbs as proof of anything. Ns can’t make up for bad behavior anyway because they don’t have any remorse. I needed to see bad behavior as bad behavior. Can taking me out to dinner multiple times really make up for constant lying, betrayal or lack of empathy and blaming me for everything?

 

Rule #2 Always hold Compassion for Myself

Rule # 2  Always hold compassion for myself 

Try not to judge. Shut that critical voice down. A judgmental critical voice does not allow me to have any real insight or clarity and that is what I am after. Judgement causes suffering in all of its ugly forms. Also, I do not want to allow anyone to become a negative mirror to me. This means a person who reflects back my bad feelings and beliefs about myself. I may not even be aware that I even have these thoughts and feelings because I am not observing or tuning into myself (recall rule #1).

If I do not have compassion for myself, then I allow another person to reflect back my negative beliefs and feelings and believe them. The effects of this is I try to get love and approval from somebody else, giving away my power to the other person and allowing them to take my energy.

One of the ways I generate compassion for myself  is through meditation. I will sit for a few minutes and picture a white light enveloping me and think of a moment I feel really loving like when I hang out with my two little nephews that I absolutely adore. When I feel like I am being hard on myself, I reflect back on the white light and a joyful moment. Also, mantras and positive affirmations can be helpful, but I use these with a nonjudgmental mind not attempting to override a negative thought or feeling.  So again Tara Brach’s RAIN technique is helpful here too (the A for allow things to be). Taking time for myself is important. Doing loving and caring things like exercise, eating healthy food, spending time in nature, gardening, massage, buying myself flowers or candles, taking baths, and spending time with a good friend or family member. 

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.