You wake up from a nightmare. Was it a dream? Your husband, spouse, or boyfriend is downstairs making coffee, at least you think so. You make the bed. You take a shower or a bath. The kids are still sleeping. It is the weekend. You go downstairs hoping for some peace and quiet, something you are not sure you will get. The thought runs through your mind as you hold on to the bannister. Am I in trouble? What did I do? How will this person I live with behave? Welcome to the world of living with a narcissistic, a person who blames you for everything, that tells you that you are crazy, crazy all the time and that you are hysterical. He tells you over and over: “You don’t know what you are talking about.”
This the world of living with a professional narcissistic. You have tried to diagnose him and to get him into therapy. You read the DSM. But he tells you that you are the one with problems. He won’t go to therapy and if he does, he puts on a good front. He is kind to others and kind to you in front of others. “The nice guy.” He is friendly and affable, the life of the party that has nothing but compliments for you in front of your friends. But, one day – you wish it were one day. But you start realizing and coming to terms with the fact that maybe it is not all you. Maybe you are not crazy? One day…what? Will you leave? Will he leave you? Will you fall apart or will he show his true colors for the entire world to see. You want him exposed on the front page of the newspaper. You fantasize about poisoning him. You want to have an affair with someone who really appreciates you and will sweep you off your feet.
The hashtag “Me Too” movement makes you feel validated. You google books on pathology. On sociopaths and various meanings of narcissism. Your favorites? Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft and Shannon Thomas who has written a book called Healing from Hidden Abuse. You find a zillion Instagram sites that validate your feelings. You think you would feel better, but you don’t. You actually feel worse when you start to understand who and what you are dealing with. “Waiting for the other shoe to drop” has become your mantra and inner dialogue. You must talk to people who understand, but most people don’t. Are you crazy? Have you made this stuff up? Should you go a hotline? And which one?
I have talked to many women who have felt similarly. One woman told me she that she gauged her mood based upon her husband’s footsteps. Another told me that she felt like she was always “doing something wrong and was about to get yelled at.” Another told me that her husband once screamed and ranted for hours over a grocery bill. Did you really need those cotton balls and the frozen yogurt? He yelled for two and half hours in the garage of her house. She cried. She was afraid to leave. She wanted to go to the police but what would she say? She had two small kids. Her husband told her she was crazy.
How do you feel from living with a narcissist? How do you find the courage to leave? And when you find the courage, where and how to you start to rebuild? People don’t see your scars, but you see them. Was it really that bad and did you make the right decision? Perhaps living with the devil you know is better than living with the devil you don’t? These thoughts flash through your mind like lights, blinking on and off. Are you crazy?
Of course, there is help. Remembering that you are not alone is a crucial step toward healing. Going back to see why you may have gravitated toward someone who took over your life and mind is a way to stop the cycle of repetition. George Santayana said that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
There really is a way out. That way out is going back into the past and understanding your relationships. Understanding what led you to fall into a trap that made you miserable. Miserable but familiar. The way out is not as simple as self-love. The way out is self-compassion, self-understanding, and whatever tools you can find that can give your life meaning. Is it meditation or pickleball? Reading or yoga? Hiking or knitting?
Jane Doe #1 has increasingly been feeling anxious and sad. She and her husband have screamed about the housework, the dishes, and the kids. One time, he tried to choke her when he did not like her tone of voice. Jane Doe was shocked and wondered if she should kick him out. It was her first marriage. Jane Doe #2 was in a relationship with a man who was also in relationships with three other women. Jane found out and had to pick up the pieces. She got together with the other women, and they all cried and commiserated. How could they all have been so stupid. Jane Doe #2 broke up with the boyfriend and a year later he was back at her door. They started going out again. One day she woke up to find him going through her phone and accusing her of infidelity. Jane Doe #3 was wondering why her husband of less than a year was always apologizing after his fits of rage. She told him that if he didn’t have these fits of rage , that he would not need to keep apologizing. Jane felt sad and alone. One day, she found out he was having an affair. She kicked him out. Jane Doe #4 is for all the women who were screamed at and subtly made to feel stupid and crazy. And Jane Doe #5 is all of the potential women victims out there who are not physically abused, but verbally abused in subtle ways, enough to make them anxious and insecure, and angry.
Ladies, girls, and woman. Harness your anger. Have the courage to think back, go back, and not only decide you are worth it, but know that you can decide to figure out, explore, and understand how and why you are worth it. What went wrong? You may never really know what went wrong and why. What you can know is that it is possible to figure out a path forward. It will be a path that is not easy. But it will be your path. A path that is filled with you. A path that is not filled with him.