It is funny how time makes us wiser. Anything we do in life becomes more ingrained with repetition. Sports. Practice makes us better. Education. Studying makes us smarter, or more well informed. So how come it takes so long to recognize a narcissist? Looking back on my life I realize I have known many but for some reason I just didn’t see it until the damage was done. Sadly, I have had to become a bit of an expert in Narcissism. My only regret is not learning the signs earlier. But then again, perhaps the trail of chaos and destruction these people leave in their wake is part of my education.
My first narcissist was my room-mate in boarding school. Lets call her Sarah. I admired her a lot. She seemed like such a strong individual. Sarah was still sixteen when we met the first day I moved into the dorms. Initially we didn’t live together but her roommate took a rapid and intense dislike to everything Sarah and moved out in the first month. I stayed in her room quite a lot after that as it was just down the hall from mine. We were together most of the time anyways. A few possessions gradually took residence in Sarah’s room. Clothes. Shoes. Books. My room mate wasn’t my biggest fan either and one weekend while I was home visiting my folks, my room mate moved the rest of my stuff into Sarah’s room. Voila. Room mates.
I was the go along girl. She was the leader type. If twenty people wanted to go to a certain Bar, Sarah would insist on going to a different pub. I always went with her. Her boyfriend once asked why I let her push me around and I told him I just liked being with her. So I went where she went. I didn’t see things the way he did. Perhaps that was my first mistake. The signs were all there but I was young and trusting. I took people at face value. We were very different individuals, that much was clear, but I saw it as a yin/yang type of a situation. Opposites that complement. She cut me from her life when we were in our mid thirties. I was a harried working mother of three, the oldest being a fifteen year old girl so life was aaaggghhhh!!!!!!!!! She was a polished professional with an MBA, with a new young hubby, and unknown to me, expecting her first child. It only took her ten minutes in that coffee shop to dump me. My faults were many but she succinctly wrapped them up in a short calm speech. It was like she was making a presentation at work. I watched her walk out of my life with an almost out of body feeling. Shock really. That was the end. Well, of the relationship but not the story. The pain continued for many years. Shunning hurts. Plus all mutual friends avoided me as well. Self preservation I realize now but still. One friend reached out when my husband died and we had a lunch. I thought it was good but it has been 21 months and although I send messages, she doesn’t respond. Sarah’s hold is tight. But at least that lunch gave me insight as to what had caused the “breakup” with Sarah. So all was not lost.
Looking back I realize how many narcissists have gone in and out of my life. For the most part I never really looked too deeply into their psyche. Oh there were many times their actions would give me pause but as I wasn’t deeply invested in the relationships, I didn’t really care. Plus all narcissists are not built the same. It is an umbrella term for sad little girls and boys who lack empathy for others and need us all to make them feel good about themselves. Pretty simple it seems but the scope of their issues is so broad it cannot really be contained or “summed up”. Pretty much the only advice that is universal when discussing a narcissistic individual is this. If you meet one or they enter your life, run away! The problem is you just can’t recognize them until you have met a few. Even then our need to find the good in people can cloud our judgement. And what if you give birth to one of these people? Or they gave birth to you. Or your child brings one into your family through marriage? It’s tough. The confusion. The anger. The sadness. The pain. What do you do? Walk away like everyone advises? Or do you wait until they destroy you and toss you out of their life? I tend to do the latter. The good news is it gets easier. Well not easier perhaps but in my case the good outweighs the bad.
The latest narcissist to kick me to the curb did so at a very low point in my life. It has been a year but the leadup was twelve years. It is kind of like a death I guess. This last one was more like I had a cancerous growth. Usually, in my day to day life I never noticed it was even there. Looking back I remember the exact moment in time when I found the growth. In the early years, when I noticed the bump I thought it would work itself out. Often trying to care for it myself. Protect it. Rub it when it hurt. Finally there was an epiphany of sorts and I realized the growth was in fact cancerous. I tried everything I was told to try but it seemed I was being given bad advice. It wasn’t just painful physically but it caused me more angst mentally. And I never knew when it was going to flare up. Usually after I had been in a nice peaceful period. In time it just got worse and worse. And then one day it just fell off. It was gone. No longer in my life. The feelings didn’t go away at first because I kept thinking it would reappear. But it didn’t. Now I find life is simpler. I don’t worry now. I go about my business and feel peace and calm. I did have to remove anything or anyone who may cause the bump to grow again but that is a small sacrifice.
Here is the problem with analogies. They can confuse people. I guess maybe that is what I was trying to do because even though there is a lot of info regarding narcissism, people need to find their own way. They say being forewarned is forearmed. I have to say that in many ways knowledge can give you a tactical advantage. But not when it comes to a narcissist. They need to win at all costs. And if you ever get on their bad side they will want to destroy you. It is a quest. Switch and bait. Bob and weave. They know all of the maneuvers. There is a Seinfeld episode where Jerry and George are discussing who would win in a fight. They finally ask Elaine her opinion. She promptly says George. No Hesitation. Why? Because George fights dirty. As he says… “Whatever I gotta do.” See if you aren’t for them you are against them. A narcissist will do whatever they gotta do! I have read up on Narcissism and it is interesting but nothing can prepare you like personal experience. Just like kids can never learn from their parents experiences, when it comes to narcissism we learn from exposure.
Even after years of punishment a narcissist wants to know you are in pain. That they took you down. Punished you for whatever slight they felt from you. It has been 25 years since Sarah dumped me. When I had lunch with our mutual acquaintance it was only a few months after my husband died. My defences were down and I let out the pain and anguish that comes from death. In the 21 months since that lunch my messages have gone unanswered. Part of me felt betrayed. Why did she even call? She obviously didn’t want me back in her life. And then I realized that most of my life and pain would be shared with Sarah. A little piece of me felt used again as I knew she would get joy from my misfortune. I felt I let my defences down once again and I got screwed. But… Here is the big thing that comes from experience. And you can’t get this from a book. Some sadness has entered my life at times. I work through it and eventually heal somewhat. For most of my sixty years I have had a very blessed life. Lots of people, like Sarah can never know all of the joy I have seen. That was abundantly clear to me when my husband died. Opening up and exposing myself to the world doesn’t make me vulnerable, it makes me stronger. Unlike the narcissist I am not afraid for the world to see the real me. The true me. The person on the inside. If Sarah can feel a bit of happiness at some of my misfortune I guess that is the least I can do. It doesn’t really cost me anything. Unless I let it!