February 19, 2010

Letting Go of the Narcissist Grip

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!

Take care!


  1. Well said. Not waiting for or experiencing the next unpredictable narcissistic rage is pure heaven! Enjoy!

  2. Echo, great post! You mention your parents are supportive--so you do not have a narcissistic parent yet you were attracted to a narcissist! I find it all so fascinating and like you I enjoy analyzing why and how I was the target of narcissists. I feel lucky that I did not marry a narcissist--I could have easily with how damaged my self esteem was in my 20s. Oh but just now I remember--the previous boyfriend I almost married--no compassion, always blaming, never taking responsibility--a narcissist! OMG! And I learned and told myself "never again". Then I met my husband and put the poor guy through the ringer--had to make sure he was capable of true loving and would be willing to get therapy to work on himself if need be. He was! Never thought I'd say I'm grateful for a narcissist in my life. But for the lessons I learned from the previous fiance that I was with for many years I am grateful I didn't marry one! The final straw for me breaking up with him? I got my wisdom teeth out and was in horrible pain and complications for a week--he was not there for me when I needed him and then I saw the truth--this is not love! Took me much longer to see that my mother was a narcissist. Now I can spot a narcissist a mile away. Look forward to reading more. Elaine

  3. Thank you, Elaine. Yes, the lessons we learn! While I don't spend much time writing about it, there were indeed narcissistic influences in my life as I was growing up, as well as a certain level of duplicity that left me vulnerable for an all-out NPD. Furthermore, my Narci's timing couldn't have been better, as I was emotionally weak from the end of a 20+ year marriage when I met him. At the time, I had no idea what a narcissist was (aside from the myth), but now, as they say, knowledge is power! Thanks for sharing... take care!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences through your blog - I stumbled across it online while searching for information on narcissists. I've had my own experience with one and it took a long time (and also experiencing all the steps you outlined above) to break free of him, but one day I just quit - cold turkey. I've asked myself the same questions and namely, why I put up with it, and I think one of the many reasons why, besides the great ones you pointed out, is because most people are not raised to think like a narcissist, or act like one. Most people are raised to have expectations of love, respect, and caring in their lives, and as a result it takes so long to recognize what a narcissist is doing (or that one exists at all). We want to always believe the best in people and that people aren't out to hurt us - but sometimes that is just not the case. Though it was a hard lesson to learn it has certainly opened my eyes and I know what to look for in the future - and I love not having the drama! :-)

  5. Excellent point, "... most people are not raised to think like a narcissist, or act like one... and as a result it takes so long to recognize what a narcissist is doing..." Thank you! I whole-heartedly agree! And I believe that with our new-found knowledge, awareness, and self-esteem we can go on with our lives enjoying relationships based on goodness, while avoiding those that would bring us harm. There truly is so much goodness to be found! Thank you again. Take care.

  6. Stumbled across this tonight. I've recently taken steps to rid myself of my narc boyfriend. It's been four years of hell two of which I understood what he was clinically but not how insidious and eroding at my self-worth the price I was paying and continue to pay is. I sit here and literally feel like I am detoxing and going through withdrawals. Survival instinct is the only thing that kicked in and will probably end up saving me from what surely would have been an insane asylum. I've given up trying to understand why he is what he is and have come to accept it as him. I realize I am terribly co-dependent which allowed him to hook me and keep hooking me and now I need to understand the why's of why I put up with this. Why I kept wanting to believe as opposed to just walking away and what lesson this chapter of my life is going to have me learn. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

  7. This is my first Christmas that I am keeping my Narci out of the family holiday. I just found this blog and it SAVED ME from making that "I pity his being alone" desperate phone call. My gratitude to your blog having been here for me to find today!

  8. Today is the first day of my liberation. How many times I left in tears and shattered and shaken telling myself it was over. Then I'd swallow my pride, overcome my hurt and anger and reach out again. Determined that I could change enough about myself to not push her buttons, not react in awe and pain when I was projected onto, subjected to irrational rage, and most of all stopped from speaking.

    Ultimately it was not allowing me to even voice my thoughts that allowed me to leave the final time. I accepted her constant interruptions, her turning every discussion to only be about her, the total and complete selfishness, the sly knifelike insults and judgements. But taking my voice was the final straw.

    Truly, liberation is the only word. The same way I felt 36 years ago at 17 when I walked out of the home of my narcissistic mother and borderline father. Liberation. Not the immature thrill of unknown adventures, but the shedding of a shabby coat and finding fresh skin and hope and radiance beneath.

  9. I just broke up with mine and started dating an old friend. I forgot how nice it is to be around someone normal. I thank God i got away!