Thank you to the person who told me that he reads my blog each week. And a shout out to the least represented, but still important, readers in the bottom five most active countries: Zambia, Russia, Tanzania, Czech Republic, and Ecuador.
This week, we had some discussion about Narcissists and anger and victim blaming and triggers, as well as trauma bonding, self-hatred, gaslighting, forgiveness, fear of having others not believe us, boundaries, and close personal loss.
Firstly, we are all somewhat Narcissistic. We all have egos to protect. And even the most giving of people, rarely give until it hurts…willingly. We have self-preservation. Except for family, who we may not always like, but who we probably love unconditionally, who tend to love those who give us something back. We are drawn to people who make us feel good in one way or another. Whether they cook for us, laugh at our jokes, compliment us, flirt with us, comfort us, listen to us, make us feel special to them, take care of us physically or financially, smile or give us positive feedback, praise us, pay us, thank us, or give us likes and upvotes, we like people who like us and who make us feel good or feel good about ourselves.
But what are we getting out of abusive relationships? What are the “rewards” of staying in a relationship that does not appear to be good for us?
From my own experience, and from hearing others speak about their relationships or victimization in Narcissistic partnerships, fear plays a big role. The reward is giving up oneself in order to have something the other person is offering in exchange for us not feeling fear.
Let me explain. I allowed my ex-husband to do whatever he wanted without confrontation in exchange for not having him threaten to leave and telling me what I already felt inside…that I could not survive without him. I was unable to take care of our kids by myself. I could not take care of the house by myself. Nobody else in the world was ever going to want me as a partner. I believed him. And I was terrified. And it was not just me who would be punished but our children as well. It may not seem like much of a reward, but at the time, it was. I knew it was not right, but changing things meant that I had to change, and that concept did not feel as solid as the life that I knew, good or bad. By “solid”, I mean, what is known. What is real to a person.
Many victims of abuse find themselves stuck in a situation where they feel they have no power. Why? When I look back now, I know that my husband was repeating back to me what I already felt. Not just how I felt about myself, but how I felt about the reality of marriage. I was reliving what I knew…what I had grown up to believe. As was he. He and I were the only ones of our siblings who did not have a problem with alcohol. But that did not mean that we did not have a problem.
Many people who have had dysfunctional role models seek to be rewarded by attempting to help, or to fix, or to understand what it was they could not when they were children. And Narcissists? I don’t claim to understand them. But I know that they look for people with a need. They swoop in like a moth to a flame. And for those people who knew dysfunction or abuse when they were young, meeting the Narcissist can feel like they have finally found the one person who gets them.
A relationship with a Narcissist has been compared to being hooked on Heroin. I don’t know what Heroin is like, but from what I understand, it is so fantastic that once someone has tried it, they get hooked because they are looking for that feeling they got the first time they used it. When someone who has lived in the shadows on the outside of other people because they feel they don’t fit in or they are not worthy for some reason, has someone “find” them, and insist that they are worthy…when someone who is supposed to be trusted smiles kindly and shares their own vulnerability…leading the other person into what feels like the light…they get that other person hooked. And that person who is now hooked, does not want to lose that feeling.
Gaslighting…I never knew how common a thing that was. Gaslighting is like taking a trip down the rabbit hole. It’s like…you really want things to be good between you and someone who likes you and makes you feel good, but something seems off and the ground does not feel solid under your feet.
For me, I remember the day I asked the priest if I could talk with him. I was so nervous, but I couldn’t stand the tension in the office. Talking to a priest about sex feels like asking your parents to describe what goes on in their bedroom. It feels wrong. It feels incestuous. So, I asked my boss what it was he wanted from me. I asked him if he was implying that he wanted to see me outside of the office.
He looked at me. And I think we all know that look. A bit smug. But careful. Always careful not to trip up. “You are making me feel so uncomfortable right now,” is what he said.
I felt like throwing up. I apologized profusely. I felt lower than dirt. What I did not know is that I was being gaslighted. He wanted me to be confused. He wanted me to feel unsteady. He wanted the upper hand in the situation. He didn’t want me to ask questions. He didn’t want me to trust my instincts.
Not only was he gaslighting me by denying what he was doing and making me feel like I was crazy, but he was also establishing trauma bonds with me…whereby I was being abused by him, but I felt sympathy for him.
If this seems like insanity, it is. What is even more insane is that not only can the Narcissist make you feel like everything is your fault, but they can and will convince the people around you of the same thing. We call that victim blaming. And when you’ve been a victim enough in your life with the people you have trusted, you get angry, and you stop trusting. But at the core of the betrayal is the feeling that you somehow deserve it. Self-hate.
We often discuss forgiveness. What a burden to put on a victim. Sorry, not sorry. My belief is that forgiveness for the person who wronged you should be for your own good. For instance, if you are obsessing about hurting that person or getting even with them, I think it is best to let that go. One person said that they hoped their abuser got an STD or became impotent. Some anger is healthy. Being able to turn obsessive vengeful thoughts into a wish for something uncomfortable and unlucky for the universe to bequeath upon a person turns it over to fate and gets it off of yourself. Can even make you laugh instead of cry.
My belief, though, is to focus on learning about what happened to you and why it happened to you to the point where you understand, and you begin to use that understanding in your own life. Living well is the best revenge, they say. Read, learn, educate yourself. Learn to love your imperfect self.
And that brings me to…having other people not believe you. I understand. I’m at the point where I believe I was abused. I was sexually harassed by a sick man. So, telling my story is easier now than it used to be. The shame has lessened somewhat, and it does not matter as much as it did as to whether or not other people believe the story that I tell. But that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to go shouting it to the world. Because there is still a stigma attached to being a victim of a sexual crime. There really is.
I called a law firm this past week about going for a civil suit and compensation. But in order to move ahead, I need to be ready to be “that woman”. That woman who may be judged for any decision I’ve ever made. That woman who, by just making this public will never be looked at in the same way. Labels. Slut. Prude. Shame. We don’t talk about this stuff.
Boundaries. What are the fears that prevent you from maintaining your boundaries? And I’m not talking about being rigid here. But I am talking about being manipulated because you are afraid of not being loved or of being alone. But what is the alternative? Being used, having your vulnerabilities used against you, being told that you are unable to do anything for yourself and that you need someone else, being guilt-tripped into giving someone else what they want? Be aware. Just be aware. And fight for your boundaries. It may feel like you are being a horrible person. The manipulator or Narcissist will tell you that you are being horrible to them. You are mean. You are abusive. But you are not. Maintaining polite boundaries will prevent abuse because there will be more honesty and less resentment.
None of this is easy. It takes a lot of bravery to begin to change yourself. Life can be scary and unpredictable, and nobody wants to be alone or unloved.
This past week, another friend was lost too soon. It’s so hard when someone you care about passes away. They take the memories you shared with them. But it also reminds us that there is good in the world, although it hurts that much more when the good is gone.
Just a reminder that our next Abused as Adults meeting will be held on the first Sunday of August from 4pm to 6pm EST. Have a good week, everyone.