Life After Loving A Narcissist
It's time to come clean about the real story.
“If you want to deeply hurt someone’s soul beyond the capacity of any words known to man, just wait until they have developed a very personal and strong emotional bond to you. Pretend to love them and be their friend. Then begin to emotionally abuse them, withdraw from them, and discard them like they never existed, and you will see a job well done.” — Inside the Mind of a Malignant Narcissist.
My name is Mandy, and for a decade of my life, I loved a narcissist.
Gosh, that sounds harsh. It’s hard for me to type, even, because I still feel the need to protect him. Narcissists are really adept at cultivating that protective instinct in the people they entangle themselves with … often so much so, you’re willing to protect them no matter what the cost to yourself.
What is a narcissist? Here are some character traits (source: BPDCentral.com):
· Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
· Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
· Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
· Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
· Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
· Requires excessive admiration
· Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
· Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
· Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
You might have read about my ex “John” at some point along the way. If you are at all familiar with my work, you definitely have. I have written extensively about him in both my books and on my blog. I’ve romanticized the relationship a lot. I think I was remembering it how I wanted it to be and remembering him as who I always hoped he would be instead of remembering things the way they really were.
But that’s another thing narcissists are great at: The grand yet empty gesture. They do something that’s seemingly so big and flashy and grandiose that you fail to actually see how it’s essentially a smokescreen. A bait and switch. The biggest example of this from my relationship with John is a story I shared in my book I’ve Never Been to Vegas But My Luggage Has, when he shut down a jewelry store in Manhattan to show me engagement rings. Only to then fail to propose. For every “grand” gesture, there was always an equally empty and meaningless reality hiding behind it.
When I traveled to Las Vegas on my book tour several years ago and met up with him (as he was living there at the time), he showed up to my event there wearing a hat that he had made that read “Mr. E” (The name I dubbed him in three of my four books). He threw out some really big talk about us going to a wedding chapel and getting married while I was in town. He made a big production out of our every moment together … and it felt big and exciting and romantic. Until I realized that he wanted more to be a character in my books than a presence in my life. He was a whole lot of glitter and very little gold — as most narcissists are.
After the tour, we officially became a “couple.” Or so I thought. Being in a long-distance relationship with someone who lacked even the slightest ability to be emotionally open and supportive was one of the emptiest and most soul-sucking experiences of my entire life. He would talk a big talk about what an amazing boyfriend he was going to be, and tell me how I was going to see a side of him I had never seen before … only to follow through with not even one of his grand promises. I sent him letters and cards and little gifts in the mail, suggested we schedule Skype dates, and tried to encourage frequent and meaningful communication, since we didn’t get to spend time together face-to-face.
He never sent me one thing in the mail, made excuse after excuse about why he couldn’t do a Skype date, and would drop all communication for days at a time. He would just vanish, without explanation … one time for as long as a week … only to pop up again without remorse, apologies, or explanations. This all came to a head when he told me he had written me a long letter, detailing exactly how he felt about me. Being as that he had never even given me a card in the entire time I had known him (Hello! Red flag alert! If you’ve been romantically involved in any way with a man for years and have never seen his handwriting, that might be a sign that he’s not the one for you) … I was obviously thrilled. Every day for a week, I ran to the mailbox, eagerly awaiting his letter.
And every day for a week, I would return back to my apartment, disappointed. Internalizing his selfishness and his narcissism and interpreting it as something wrong with ME. I’m not worthy enough, I’m not attractive enough, I’m not loveable enough to warrant his time and attention.
The letter episode kicked off a month of no contact from John. A MONTH. He disappeared completely for a month. We were in a relationship and I didn’t know where my boyfriend was. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be comical. My calls and texts went unanswered until I finally gave up and withdrew from him completely. Withdrew into a painful shell. Allowed my heart to become hardened and guarded. Surrendered all the ideas and excitement and plans and dreams and hopes I had for the relationship. Some things really shut down in me during that time: A purity, an idealism, a belief in love that I had always held. It makes me really sad to look back on that time and realize that every bit of the rejection, self-doubt, and pain I experienced was at the hand of someone who was supposed to love me. (By the way, later on he would tell me that he “lost the letter.” Who knows if it ever even really existed?)
Ultimately, the saga of me and John would drag on for three more years before he finally broke my heart one final time. And for a long time, I wasn’t the same person I was before John. I wasn’t as open, not as trusting, not as optimistic about my romantic future and my dreams of marriage and family. Over these past couple of years, I’ve started to find that part of me again. I’m so relieved to know she’s still in there. With time and counseling and prayer and healing, she has risen up from the ashes and begun to sparkle and believe and dream and dance and wish again, as she once did.
With time and distance, I’ve realized only in hindsight that the man I loved and trusted and believed in and supported and would have done anything for for 10 long years was not, in fact, the Prince Charming my heart and imagination wanted him to be. He was instead a narcissist that never had any real attachment to me or intent to truly fulfill the love he had awakened in me. And I feel like it’s time to come clean about the real story behind the romantic fairytale I’ve spun about John in the hopes that I can help someone else who might be going through the motions with a narcissist and praying he will change.
Here’s the thing: He won’t. He’s completely and totally incapable of it. He won’t see the error of his ways, because in his mind, nothing is his fault. He won’t apologize, because in his mind, he’s done nothing wrong. And he won’t ever love you like you deserve to be loved ... because he’s virtually incapable of loving anyone but himself.
Walk away now. Don’t wait a day, or an hour, or a second. Walk away and never look back. Don’t let an empty shell of a narcissistic person turn you into one, too. Don’t waste years of your life like I did. Walk away, knowing you’re not losing anything. You’re actually GAINING back your life, your sanity, YOURSELF.
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and undo ever meeting John. But then I think that perhaps by me sharing my story, I might be able to save someone else from years of heartache and pain at the hands of a narcissist. And that makes it all worth it to me.