My youngest daughter turned seventeen today. I'm doing that "mom thing." You know, the one where you relive every moment of labor and delivery? She is my caboose, born 7 1/2 years after her closest sibling. In that 7 1/2 years, wonderful progress was made in the whole business of birthing babies, and I gave birth pain-free. After three extremely difficult prior deliveries, hers was bliss (what my OB-GYN called a Nordstrom delivery - amen!) She's out with friends tonight celebrating her relatively glorious life while I'm home alone celebrating our relatively peaceful life (as relatively peaceful as life can be with a teenager you share a bedroom with) away from the Narci husband/stepfather who last year, on my daughter's 16th birthday, created a drama of such emotional abuse that I vowed it was the end, promised my daughter we would soon be leaving and began making plans to do just that.
One of the most common questions I'm asked since leaving my Narci is why I stayed so long. If the storybook beginning changed so dramatically almost immediately upon returning from the honeymoon, why did it take nearly six years to say goodbye? While there are many of you who know why, and in fact, stayed put in a similar relationship for much longer than six years, I'll answer that question in hopes it will help those that are still stuck, or are trying to learn why those they love are still stuck. I think there is crossover between Narcis as spouses, lovers, loved-ones and friends, and that the reasons we stay in all forms of narcissistic relationships are similar.
First: love. Human beings need love. If a stranger enters your life and presents a love package to you, the likes of which you've never experienced: intense romance, fervent admiration, unwavering support, enraptured attentiveness, lovely gifts and enchanted evenings, it is only natural (for those of us vulnerable to this "special brand of magic" - see post, The Narcissist Seduction: A Special Brand of Magic) to attach so strongly to this fantasy love that it is nearly impossible to break away. For whatever reason (which we must come to understand so as not to repeat our mistakes), we give ourselves up to this fantasy love so completely that we're willing to sacrifice ourselves, and sometimes those around us, to the conviction that it is real.
Thus, when the love package morphs into raging tantrums, perpetual criticism and painful projection, the initial reaction is to see the bad behavior as an anomaly and as excusable: he's had a bad day, he has so much stress, we're pushing his buttons, I probably should not have said that or done that, that way, etc. In other words, the conviction is that the bad behavior is abnormal and the good behavior authentic, and that the authentic, good behavior will return. And at times it does; just long enough to keep us believing it IS authentic. BUT, ah-ha and alas, it is not. To live with narcissism is mind bending. The mind cannot accept (because of the overpowering emotional need for the love package that was originally presented) that the bad behavior is the true self, unyielding, unchangeable and malignant; that it was the good behavior that was pretense and is unsustainable. I cannot emphasize enough how powerful this is, particularly with the accompanying mind games the Narci imposes through his masterful displays of magnanimity to everyone in our social audience, and his persuasive genius in convincing us that WE are, or have, the problem.
In order for me to leave the atrocities, I had to self-talk my way out; reminding myself constantly that what he wanted me (and the rest of the world) to believe was not the truth, replaying in my mind the images of rage and abuse to counter the fantasy I so desperately wanted to believe. (Along with the self-talk was the guidance of professionals, the love and mentoring from friends, and the firm grasp of family members, thank you all.) Even now, I'll catch myself falling for the fantasy and questioning myself. Occasionally my daughter will remember out loud a certain fun time. And then I remind us both the price we had to pay and that authentic love does not require such a price.
I understand the dynamics differ in a parent-child relationship, but I believe there are many companion points: desperately needing and hoping for a fantasy love, and interpreting it as validation of your worth and worthiness to be loved; wanting to believe the bad behavior of your narcissist is not authentic and holding to the notion it will someday, somehow change; being convinced the bad behavior is created, caused or influenced by your behavior; and clinging to (perhaps even embellishing) memories of moments that felt like love, again as validation of your worth and worthiness to be loved.
Second: bewilderment and confusion. See the above description of mind games.
Third: embarrassment. We are simply embarrassed to let others know the dysfunction of our lives, what we've allowed to be, the evidence of our weaknesses, and/or the failure of a most important relationship. Embarrassment is a strong indicator of our lack of authenticity and self-worth.
Fourth: loyalty and guilt. Again, the Narci is exceptional in instilling in his victims the belief that WE are at fault, that we should ALWAYS be on his/her side, and that we need to focus on THEM while they dole out just enough affection/attention/or life matter (food, clothing, financial support, etc.) to endear our pathetic, misguided devotion. I once noted that in a voice mail I received from my Narci he emphasized, after a list of my grievances, that I just needed to focus on him. That's all. Just him.
Like I said, I'm home celebrating my peaceful life. Not a single person has yelled at me today, or yesterday, or this entire week, or this entire month. It's lovely. My children tell me they love me on a regular basis, as do my parents and friends. My heart is filled with gratitude for the goodness in my life and the love I experience and feel. Real love. Authentic love. I have let go of the narcissist grip and will never be confused again!
May the same be true for you!