There is a psychological dimension to divorce as well as a logical one. So often, I speak to people who are divorcing someone with narcissistic tendencies. This presents some specific challenges that we address head-on. Healing from a relationship with a narcissist (or ‘narc)’ can be a slow process and one which requires an understanding of narcissism. It’s not your fault you feel like this. You will recover more quickly if you have support a specific skillset, which is what I’m here for.
Here, one woman – who has asked to remain anonymous – tells her story:
‘I am a survivor of narcissistic abuse.
I use that ‘transformational language’ deliberately… it would be so much easier to say I am a ‘victim’, but my energies are being directed into recovery, not regret. It has been hard beyond words: frightening, destructive, damaging and absolutely confusing, and if you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist (my ex was a grandiose narcissist), you’ll know what I mean.
Looking back I can’t understand how I got into the relationship with my narcissist: but that’s the point. The warning signs were all there; we were completely incompatible and many friends alerted me to this. However, the first of the narcissist’s strategies is to ‘lovebomb’, and lovebomb me he did. I was overwhelmed by such tender, loving, generous displays of emotion: it was impossible not to become deeply attracted to him, and in time, dependent on him as the centre of my world. This was exactly what he wanted.
Soon, it was too late. It’s always hard to identify a tipping point; the moment it all goes wrong; but within a year, the relationship was in tatters and I was in emotional shreds. This is the typical narcissistic cycle: after ‘lovebombing’ comes ‘devaluing’, when the narcissist’s attentions turns from building himself (or herself) up in your eyes, to devaluing you in your own eyes. At this point my self-esteem started to crumble, my self-worth was under attack and I started to doubt myself. He also devalued and abused me in a number of ways: physical threats, unexpected absences; damaging my personal items; the full spectrum of emotional abuse; lies; criticisms; blackmail… According to my narcissistic lover (who remained on his gleaming pedestal of perfection, in my eyes), in fact the narcissist was me; I was the reason this relationship wasn’t working… and HE didn’t owe me anything now because he’d given me ‘everything’ to start with, and somehow I’d laid it all to waste/sabotaged the relationship through my own inadequacy, selfishness & self-interest. I realise now that this is nonsense, but a legacy of a narcissistic relationship is the self-doubt.
I count my lucky stars that I decided to leave at this stage – you might think the problem would end there, but one of the confusing things has been just how challenging the aftermath has been. In my case, it’s been at least as difficult to deal with the fallout from leaving my narcissist as it was living with him, though the challenges are different.
After the ‘devaluing’ came the next phase of the cycle: ‘discard’. Yes, it was me who moved out but my narcissist wasn’t going to accept that: he tried on multiple occasions and in multiple ways to draw me back in (this tactic is nicknamed ‘hoovering’). Narcissists tend to have a touch of the ‘alpha’ about them – an outward sense of confidence and allure – which means that they can take their pick from the next unsuspecting, sensitive & empathic person and sell them this ‘too good to be true’ romance, so infidelity is not uncommon. While apparently trying to reel me back in, my narcissist had been building up a new source of narcissistic supply in the background (i.e. having a clandestine relationship with E, while apparently trying to restore our relationship), and then, all of a sudden – and it was overnight, by text message – it was announced that he had a new girlfriend… And I was discarded. Needless to say the games and tactics did not grind to a halt there and there is an emotional undercurrent to our meetings.
If you haven’t been in a relationship with a narcissist, you might see this two-timing at face value and think that it will make it easier to overcome the ‘loss’ of a former lover – ‘he’s been unfaithful; I deserve better…’ But the combination of being lovebombed then discarded carries a heavy toll: you still idealise (if not idolise) your narcissist AND you blame yourself… ‘If only I could change, we could go back to those early days when all was well’. This flawed thinking is both extremely damaging and extremely difficult to overcome, until you see it for what it really is. And it’s intentional: your narcissist wants you to think like this, and has been skillfully deploying tactics to get you to think like this for many months. In my case, until I realised the implications of narcissism and the way it actually works, I was still ‘under his spell’, subject to emotional ups and downs; hopes raised and hopes dashed about our relationship, and total confusion about what was going on, who I am now and what I actually want.
Despite recognizing that my lover was a narcissist fairly early on in our relationship, it is only now – several months ‘post-discard’ – that I understand the enormous implications of narcissism. If you’re divorced or separated, it’s not uncommon to hear allegations of narcissism being bandied about. Increasingly I think only survivors or professionals truly understand the complexity, which is why I think it is important to learn as much as possible about narcissism, ESPECIALLY in litigating against a narcissist, because for them, a courtroom is a theatre or playground, and an opportunity to lure people into their web.
Educating myself about narcissism has been a hugely important step for me in recovering from this relationship and the wide emotional debris field it created. I am sceptical about ‘Dr Google’, but I have found the internet to be an excellent source of information. Ironically some of the most useful websites are those written by narcissists themselves, where they explain their motives, reasoning and tactics. Using this as a template for my own narcissistic relationship, I was able to regain some objectivity, which has been crucial for my recovery. I no longer feel surprised by the inconsistencies of the relationship; I don’t misinterpret his actions as ‘wanting me back’; I understand why other people just don’t get it – how much easier it is for them to think that I’m the crazy one and he’s the hero, because that’s how he’s engineered the situation.
This hurts: don’t underestimate it. I miss him. I miss us. I would like to believe that I can be the one to change him. I still feel the same self-doubt and, sometimes, self-loathing: it’s really hard to cast off the thoughts that he planted in my mind; that if I had just loved him that little bit more, then everything would be different. But narcissists don’t work like that. They don’t change. The cycle will continue, and his current ‘narcisstic supply’, the current recipient of all the lovebombing will, in time, be the next victim. I hope for her sake that she also goes on to be a survivor. But now, I look at their loved-up selfies and think, ‘thank goodness that isn’t me’.
And life now? I have had to be brave and proactive. I have made huge strides recently, but life for a single parent starting again is a challenge. At times I am lonely; often I sit quietly and lick my wounds. This feels pathetic and I am embarrassed to admit it, but it’s necessary to restore my mental energy, so that I can get out there and meet new people, try new things, deal with the next setback or setup. I am hopeful that in time I will have a more normal relationship. My narcissist has no place in my life, but I still love him. The only way to love him a little bit less has been to learn a little bit more about narcissism; to stop waiting to see how he wants to play and instead take my own life in my own hands and get on with living it.’
If you’re getting divorced, you don’t need go through this alone. If your ex, or soon-to-be-ex is a narc, I can support you at all stages of divorce and relationship recovery, even if you also have a lawyer.
Don’t let him (or her) leave you feeling ground down and defeated: do not think the past has got the best of you. Please contact me if you’d like to discuss how coaching could help.
Photo credit: Eilis Garvey