I was recently interviewed by Gail Fegurson Jones, a friend and professional ally who has created an amazing new podcast about codependency recovery. As I listened to the playback of our talk, I realized I’d referred to my ex as a narcissist.
It’s a label I pasted on him years ago, based upon what I perceived as his inability, unwillingness or both to take accountability for his words and actions, which I experienced as a relentless onslaught of verbal and emotional abuse.
When I learned about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I became obsessively convinced that was what I was dealing with. I could check off almost all the boxes on the list of characteristics of at least a low-spectrum case of narcissism, and I could also check off most of the symptoms that “proved” the trauma I was experiencing was a result of his narcissistic abuse.
I spent the next several years studying this topic in great depth. I joke that I got the personal equivalent of my doctorate in narcissistic abuse, but there was nothing funny about the effects of this debilitating course of study.
Narcissist Colored Lenses
I invested so much energy in learning everything I could about the subject, that I began to experience it with more and more people, including family members I was very close with, and even a childhood friend I considered a sister. It was our first dance of that nature in all the decades we’ve been connected.
All of these people projected a lot of unjust anger on me and expressed it in very aggressive, hurtful and in the case of a couple of family members, shockingly painful ways.
The psychology-based abuse recovery world would have you believe that was external – that all these words and actions were afflicted upon me arbitrarily. It would have you believe I was simply surrounded by narcissists.
Most experts in that field make careers out of “othering” and villainizing, and feeding off the anger, pain and confusion the members of their online communities are experiencing. They’ll say things like “Narcissists are like rats; if you have one in your life, you probably have a pack.”
Villainizing Is A Harmful Habit
Firstly, it dehumanizes other people. If the person you are dealing with is a true narcissist, a term that gets very overused these days, he or she is operating from a personality disorder that they can’t even see, not a lifestyle choice. No child declares that they want to be a narcissist and create as much pain and misery as possible for others when they grow up.
Yes, their abusive words, behaviors and ways of life, like manipulation, are choices. But can the person exhibiting these behaviors control what is actually behind those choices? How do you control something you are not even able to see?
Personality disorders are born from survival instincts. They are protection devices gone horribly wrong. What people with NPD, Borderline, and other personality disorders need most in the world is love; yet they can only act in ways that push love away. As painful as it can be to be in relationship with them, at least you can see and heal your patterns.
I am not in any way condoning the abysmal behaviors these people can exhibit and the pain they inflict upon others. I’m just attempting to help you understand them. People with NPD play out the dysfunction they grew up with. They can’t see that their family roles and ways were dysfunctional, because it was their reality. They never learned that the treatment they received and now deliver themselves is abusive. It was just what they know.
We all repeat the patterns that were modeled or otherwise established in childhood, until we become conscious. And while this type of relationship can help you awaken, you won’t get there by throwing words like narcissism and abuse around regularly, and telling your victim story again and again. I know, because I did this too, until I realized it was taking me in the exact opposite direction of true empowerment.
Your Life Is A Reflection
The biggest problem with viewing the world through a lens of narcissism is that it takes you out of the equation of your experiences. And the biggest problem with that is, you are the equation. Everything that is showing up in your life is a reflection of something internal. There are no exceptions.
I know this is going to be a big stretch for those of you who are currently living experiences of abuse or other types of experiences where you feel completely victimized. Believe me, I’ve been there, in that spot where it seems so completely obvious that someone else is responsible for the pain and trauma you’re feeling and experiencing, and for the fact that you have become a shell of yourself.
It never once occurred to me that this was because I already was a shell of myself, or was at least trapped in one, before I’d even met my ex! He came along to help me begin cracking out of it.
If I’d had the practices and expanded vision I support clients with today, he may have shown up exactly the same way. But I would have had an entirely different experience of that than one where I felt victimized, diesmpowered, traumatized and hopeless. I would have left a lot sooner, or maybe not even gotten involved with him in the first place!
People who love, respect and honor themselves do not remain in relationships they find abusive, painful and traumatic. They don’t get so emotionally hooked to their partner and addicted to the drama that they can’t leave, even once they can say out loud that they are being abused.
And when they do leave, they don’t go back. Again and again.
What About You?
The best advice I got while I was spinning out and trying to figure out whether or not my ex was a narcissist was this: “Stop trying to figure out what he is or isn’t, and put your focus on you and how you feel.”
I didn’t know what that meant, exactly, let alone how to do it. That’s because my issue was not my ex; it was me. I had no idea who I even was outside my relationships. My entire identity was based on them.
My ability to learn that, and also learn what love actually was, not what I thought it was, were two of the many gifts this man came into my life to deliver.
So when you hear me reference narcissists, narcissism and other terms of this nature in posts and talks, and even title a Facebook community and page or website this way, know that I’m doing so for the sake of reaching people who need my support.
I do not like to label people, but I’m not going to find those I’m meant to coach, teach and mentor where I am now. I can lead them to higher perspectives, but I certainly won’t find them there!
I just wrote several more pages, but I’m going to end the post here. I’ve planted quite a few seeds and have given them some post-Solstice sunshine. I’ll be back to water them soon.
CLEAR YOUR TRAFFIC:
Here’s a link to the podcast, which can benefit anyone who has difficulty saying no, setting boundaries, overgiving, giving from a place of depletion and other challenges of people-pleasing and codependency.
Gail did such an incredible job with this interview and I can’t wait for her next episode!
P.S. My site is under construction and apparently also getting Mercury retrograded, so I can’t post pics at the moment. But stay tuned for the new site, and reach out if you’d like some support via Zoom, Facetime or phone.