That people are quick to hurl blame and shame in the guise of accountability is often nonsense and cruel.
“It takes two, you know.”
I got that one from a friend when I told her my husband was having another affair and I’d left him. She frosted her remark with, “Well, he always treated me with respect.”
I was still in the dark that day, with no idea the narcissist tells friends that you’re driving them away or have psychological problems that fit crazy. Watch out when the lights flash and illuminate that realization. It hurts more than your eyes as you watch the stain of betrayal spread like a wildfire.
“I hope you owned your part in the death of your marriage.”
A woman I just met yesterday at a bonfire hurled this one and sparked this blog. Someone told her I’d written a memoir and when questioned, I’d explained, “It’s about my marriage, divorce and beginning again,” condensing 364 pages into eight words.
“I hope you owned your part in the death of your marriage.” Sorry, I had to spit that one out again. The taste threatens to taint my morning coffee as I write this. She got all that, from my eight words.
The Nonsense Game
She had no idea how long we’d been married, why we’d divorced, whether my story was about surviving a psychopath who tried to murder me, or one who molested children. I figured we’d better keep the chip on her shoulder away from the bonfire. Way too much fuel.
I didn’t cop out yesterday when I responded, “I did own up to my part. I could and should have left long before I did.” I doubt she recognized my one cornered-not-quite-a-smile as the ‘you have no clue,’ insult it was. I don’t think I shook my head in disdain, but truly don’t remember. I know didn’t expound on the emotional abuse, the intermittent reinforcement to debasement cycle that erodes and confuses those of us in love with a narcissistic spouse.
I wondered if she was one and her fiancé should be warned to wonder, but instead turned to the crackling bonfire that had gathered our group to the cove. I resisted asking her what Matt Lauer or Harvey Weinstein’s wives should have done differently to save their marriages. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid to be accountable. Part of what comprises we codependents who stay and struggle with a narcissistic spouse is that we too readily take the blame. Believe if we were better they’d be nicer and we try, try, try. Part of pulling ourselves back together is yanking this particular default out by the roots.
Players and Pawns
I didn’t tell the woman yesterday about my first boss. He was thirty-four years older than me, had jowls, groping eyes and no conscious whatsoever. The picture of his daughter on his desk at first made him appear to be a family man. She and I were both eighteen. When he propositioned me, way too many times, I didn’t blame his wife for his behavior, or for the knots in my stomach when I walked into his office.
I’d confided in Sharon, the secretary whose desk was just right of mine, hoping for advice. I was not prepared as her nostrils and eyes flared and glared. Turns out she had been sleeping with him for months and was pissed more at me than at him. Go figure.
I didn’t blame her husband either.
Learn the Rules
Not all narcissists cheat on their spouses. Mine did. Over and time again. If I dared ask him if something was wrong, if he was having an affair, he’d blow up, jab his finger in my face, tell me I was crazy, insecure, driving him crazy. He evidently shared his view of me with friends over drinks or on the golf course. He surely shared it with ‘the other women’ in his life.
With me, he shared STDs my doctors didn’t test a ‘married woman’ for, so I struggled with meds for yeast and bacterial infections that infest vulnerable tissue. I didn’t know that over 50% of the time no symptoms of a slew of STDs are visible, so even if I went on a round of antibiotics for a sinus infection that cleared them up, he passed it right back. There was so much I didn’t know then. I encourage anyone with recurrent infections to have an STD panel run.
I didn’t turn away from the bonfire’s crackling chaos to explain the dynamics of a trauma bond. That over years of narcissistic abuse the attachment disorder we can develop feels like love, and we fall deeper and deeper into that abyss. We cling. We hang in there…wow. I just visualized a bat hanging by its heels from a branch of the narcissistic tree. A blind bat.
The bonfire mesmerized me. Was me. Fire, though wildly powerful, seemed content to sizzle within the boundaries of the concrete pit. I have boundaries now that woman’s blame-shaming remark only pierced for a moment.
Know when to Walk Away
We survivors know we’re not perfect. Not by a long shot. But we are wiser once we realize the dynamics and patterns of narcissistic abuse. That the narcissist will not change. We can’t fix it. Neither tough love nor a kinder approach will make them get off their defensive podium where they project their guilt onto us. It’s a pretty dandy disorder, because they believe what they project. Make it their reality.
Absolution with a scapegoat. I’m not sure if a goat bleats or bawls. I did both.
When I finally stopped trying to explain to him, I’d like to say I stopped trying to explain it to anyone, but I wrote and published a book about my journey in, out and beyond a narcissistic relationship that spanned over four decades. LEAVING YOU…for me smacks of self-deprecating humor. The research and writing helped me understand how it happened, why I’d stayed, and that it is never too late to begin again.
Know You Can Rewrite the Rules
I’ve learned to recognize the futility of engaging in defensive behavior to combat a nonsensical remark. If I had responded yesterday and succeeded in winning my point, I’d have shamed that woman in front of others. A no win for either of us and I so enjoy feeling good about myself these days. Drama free. Free to talk to you and to enjoy the beach, the bonfire, family and friends.
Ignite Your Fire!
The light at the end of that tunnel isn’t a train, it’s a flame. Take it. Tame it. Own it. Burn bright and smile. You’re a survivor.
We’ve got this.