In a Narcissistic relationship, do we have to be like them to leave them?
This isn’t a trick question. If you even considered it leaving a narcissist…you get it. The narcissist wouldn’t identify something they did as “Narcissistic”. Ever. Their defense mechanisms would kick in to justify their actions as they projected the blame unto you. It’s the adult equivalent of the ‘you made me do it,’ kindergarten snark.
Was I narcissistic now?
I did wonder if I’d become narcissistic when I gathered the gumption and left. He told me I was a hard woman, because his apologies didn’t bring me home. Not this time.
He was the one having the affairs, but I was the one who was going to fracture our family, ruin the holidays, and throw away our lifetime together. I wasn’t losing my husband, I was intent on getting in my car and leaving him behind, right after I told him. To get through that encounter I had to shut down my emotions and just do it.
I didn’t shout, “I’m leaving you!” Instead, the words came out slowly with the breath I’d been holding. Before I could get out of my chair he flew into a rage, kicked his chair, threw his wine glass. His poor phone smacked the ground, bounced once and drowned in the pool.
“You’re just jealous of my ‘friendship’ with another woman. Bitter, selfish, not thinking about our family, or about the forty years we’ve been married!” He didn’t whisper.
That’s quite a lot for a trauma-bonded codependent to shoulder, especially when I thought a trauma bond only happened to someone when a kidnapper held a gun to their head, and codependence was only for addict enablers.
I was wrong.
When a trauma bond feels like love…
I didn’t understand the dynamics of narcissism that night either. I’d had enough of his lies and betrayal. My survival, both emotional and physical was on the line. I’d lost too much weight, couldn’t sleep, focus or smile without concentrated effort.
It’s crazy and confusing. Why did I, how could I still be in love with him when rage riddled his voice and shriveled his eyes to a squint? His face turned red. The veins on his temples throbbed. His finger jabs were a signature move, also a testament to his contempt for me.
I squinted at my counselor when she mentioned trauma bonding.
It felt like love, damn it. It hurt like hell. The knot in my chest made it hard to breathe.
Nothing made sense.
He wanted me to feel like a crazy-selfish bitch and gutting it out through that was the REAL bitch. I identified with Lewis and Clark kicking saddle-sore horses up a steep-rocky incline, having no flipping clue what was on the other side of that ridge. There would just be another ridge, maybe a stretch of meadow or prairie to break the monotony, but always another mountain to climb. Why couldn’t they just chill out? I knew how to stay. I’d done it for over four decades. I didn’t know what was ahead of me, but determined to find out. So yes…I wondered just how damaged I was.
It was tough not responding to his demands I come home, to declare I wanted a divorce…ESPECIALLY when in his red-faced fury kept harping how selfish, demanding and unreasonable I was. He dismissed his current girlfriend as “It didn’t mean anything. I was just having a little fun.” Followed that up with, “and you’re so damned selfish you’re going to tear our family apart. You can’t just leave it alone.” Instead of trying to ‘fix’ things, I was the one who was going to fracture our family…after everything he’d done for me…all those years…
Flashbacks help us focus.
Each Lewis and Clark flashback I had helped the big picture begin to materialize. I was finally ready to find out what in the hell was on the other side of that ridge, because the valley behind me was so deep in dirty water I knew I’d drown if I went back.
Not suddenly, but finally, the sound I heard wasn’t just the chafing wind, it was the roar of the Pacific. There would be a final ridge. Those two woodsy explorers didn’t know that, but I was smoothing out a map. I could feel and smell the salt air.
There are great maps out there to lead the way.
On advice from our couple’s counselor, I began to educate myself on the dynamics of NPD…which led to the counterbalance dysfunctions I’d developed over the decades: codependency and a trauma bonded attachment disorder.
As I ferreted out how it had happened, why I’d stayed, why he treated me with contempt yet didn’t want me to leave, I wrote a rebellious, too revealing memoir; LEAVING YOU…for me. Strangely, there’s a lot of humor in it…not only self deprecating,..but sometimes all I could do is shake my head and laugh at the utter hilarity of being single in my sixties. I hadn’t dated since high school and trust me…this new world of date sites, 3 date rules, casual sex, texting, sexting…still has me blinking big.
Rediscovering and redefining myself these past 4 years, standing up for myself, taking a big gulp as I get out there again, isn’t narcissistic after all. It’s believing I mattered, too…but it takes time to realize the difference.
Walking away and staying away, can feel very narcissistic…all about us actions, but they aren’t. We need to convince ourselves we matter, too. As we heal, we don’t lack empathy for others, but don’t feel any guilt for walking away from any toxic relationship these days.
I value true friends and appreciate simple things, like the grocery clerk’s smile. I know they greet all their customers, ask how they’re doing, but that’s the sort of thing I take personally now, and respond with a genuine smile and new glow.
Wow…until you are free from the storm clouds of a toxic relationship you have no idea how even hazy weather days seem cozy and bright.
After all that, I want to share that my family is better than ever. They have good relationship with their dad, and love that I’m loving my new life. Family events are no longer nail biters for me or any of us.
Letting go of the past and living in the present is a gift I gave myself and my family…and it may be the best gift ever.
My best wishes,