Both my essays and general outlook on life are typically quite positive and idealistic. This attitude has served me very well over the years. However, if you take a look at my core ideals and values, you'll see one very important line item that I've been forced to revisit lately:
Positivity. Negative atmospheres are toxic. Remove yourself from them.
Normally, for me, this means to remove my negative perception about a given situation. Sometimes, it means to give myself space from a political environment or project which is having a toxic effect on me. But, I've been reminded lately, through a very painful experience, that negativity can take many ugly forms, including that of other people.
The past year of my life has been an absolute rollercoaster of emotion — the highest of highs mixed with the lowest of lows. This newfound source of profound inspiration came to me in the form of a new relationship.
No amount of optimism can change the fact that sometimes, people will take advantage of you, in very unexpected and sinister ways. In my case, I developed a very close romantic relationship with an emotionally manipulative and histrionic narcissist.
Helping You Help Yourself (or hopefully not...)
Sharing accounts of this nature is a difficult thing to do — there's a heart-warming sense of vulnerability mixed with a chilling sense of shame. But, experiences like these are where all the realness of life gets played out. The only experience is direct experience.
I am writing this article because reading someone else's story woke me up to the fact that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship — perhaps it will help you too.
Emotional (e.g. spiritual) abuse is often overlooked, considered less harmful than physical or sexual abuse — but research shows that nothing could be farther from the truth. Emotional abuse can leave a very successful, kind, and confident person feeling crazy, emotionally unstable, and out of control. Before you know what has happened, you have lost your well-established sense of self-respect, confidence, pride, and trust-worthiness. The abuser considers your most admirable traits, like vulnerability and empathy, as weaknesses and exploits them to achieve their self-serving goals. Over time, if you stay with the abuser, you start to doubt the very foundations of what make you you.
Signs of a Narcissist
Narcissists have an amazingly predictable pattern when it comes to relationships. It's called The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse, and until I was made aware of it, I thought I was going absolutely crazy. Once you see it, though, you can never unsee it.
The cycle goes as follows:
- Idealization. "You're amazing, I love you. We've perfect for eachother." Includes: charm, flattery, mirroring, lovebombing, stories, apologies, attention, generosity, gifts, adoration, etc.
- Devalue. "You are weak; I am strong. I am right; you are wrong." Includes: lies, insults, belittling, criticizing, minimizing, mocking, projection, hypocrisy, gaslighting, silent treatment, threats, guilt, ambiguity, triangulation.
- Disregard. "Sianara!" Total disregard for the relationship.
This cycle serves one vital purpose: securing narcissistic supply. A narcissist feeds off the constant love, attention, admiration, and self-esteem of others. However, unlike most people, they are not interested in the larger needs of the collective — only in their self-absorbed ruthless desire to be right. They want to be superior to those around them, especially those close to them.
They achieve this best with the above cycle. The partner showers you (their target) with an extremely strong showcase of affection, attention, admiration, and praise, making you feel very special. You respond as any normal loving person would: reciprocate and welcome further deepening of intimacy.
But, much to your surprise, as soon the honeymoon phase of love is over, the narcissist turns into a whole new person. They are bored with their new toy, who is considered to be a steady source of supply by now anyway, so the "work" phase is over, and now the abuser's "play" phase begins: the devalue phase.
Welcome to the "true" face of the narcissist — this is what they truly think about you (in reality, the abuser is a master of projection, and all the devaluing they do to you is a reflection of the lack of value they feel for themselves).
Your partner starts belittling, criticizing, and minimizing you in subtle and overt ways. This can take the form of the silent treatment, threats, guilt-tripping, ambiguity, or triangulation.
Triangulation is very common — it's involving a third person within a relationship and using them like a weapon. It's someone the abuser wants you to be made very aware (and therefore jealous) of. This fuels the appetite of their insatiable ego, and encourages you to compete in order to "win" the affection and attention of your would-be lover.
The most sinister way this part of the cycle manifests is known as gaslighting.
With my partner, our relationship was a constant stream of disappointments. When I would share one of those disappointments, something I was unhappy about in the relationship, she would say "well, what made you expect anything else?". So, I'd repeat things that she had said to me, and what they meant to me. Of course, according to her, my interpretation of her words and actions were entirely unfounded, and I was delusional for thinking such a thing. For a long time, I believed her. Because I am a caring, loving person that has loads of empathy that she was actively exploiting.
Has this happened to you? Fuck that.
This is gaslighting, and it is known as emotionally violent behavior within the behavioral studies communities. It's a side-effect of spending time with a highly manipulative person that doesn't take responsibility for their words or actions. They feel like the rules don't apply them.
Of course, during this phase, you act quite confused, as this is quite unexpected and unexplained. You start doing what any empathetic and caring person would do, offer to help. Meanwhile, the partner has secured their need for narcissistic supply and sees you as being of little to no value to them. They see your desire to "fix" things as a weakness, and they see themselves as superior to you for it. They are busy either looking for new victims or enjoying the good life that you've provided for them until they need more.
At this point, the cycle normally repeats. The partner begins to need more supply, and has a (rather confused and desperate) partner on stand-by, ready to "make things right" at a moment's notice. The abuser sees this person that they afflicted as weak and inferior to themselves, and prepares for the facade of idealization phase in order to keep her prey trapped.
Sometimes, the abuser gets completely bored of their victim, and they completely discard them.
Once you finally break free from the cycle, the abuser uses a tactic known as "hoovering" (basically an idealization phase attack) to suck you back into the cycle all over again. Each time you go through the cycle, you are harvested for more of your precious resources: attention, affection, money, and the illusion of the abuser being "right".
My narcissist ended up taking advantage of me for a little over a year. In that time, she extracted around $40,000 of financial support, medical treatment, food, gifts, and travel out of me. I invested thousands of hours listening to her talk about herself, her plethora of problems, her grandiose dreams of the future. I even offered to help make those dreams a reality! I would set aside time for her, according to her schedule, and she would completely avoid making "firm" commitments to get together, leaving me waiting for her... all day. And this was, of course, my fault. Any time she disappointed me, and I expressed it, the response was nothing but excuses or blame: "Your expectations aren't welcome here", "Listen to your words. YOU are the one who is not respecting MY time.". Projection at its finest.
I learned to embrace all of her lesser qualities. But eventually, I fully awakened to the fact that I was in a completely one-sided relationship where I wasn't being respected. Not only was I not being respected, but I was being abused.
So, I removed her from my life. Completely.
That's not an easy thing to do when you love someone so deeply.
Incidents like these are normal, of course, and are bound to come up from time to time in any healthy relationship. The difference is, with a narcissist, there is a complete and total lack of regard for your feelings, your situation, and the relationship itself. If there is ever any attention paid to your state, it is to project weaknesses into it, further fueling your dependence on the toxic bond .
A narcissist is a wolf in sheep's clothing — one that you should avoid at all costs. On the surface, they seem like sweet, confident, caring, charismatic people with lots of love to share with the world. But inside, they are cold-hearted people who will do anything to keep you (and everyone else) believing one thing: they are right, and you are wrong.
Signs of a Narcissist
You may find yourself in a relationship with a narcissist if your partner...
- Doesn't seem to care much about your feelings
- Likes to be the exception to every rule.
- Completely dominates conversations, even when they're about you.
- Perpetually challenges you.
- Will do anything to uphold their reputation.
- Judges your emotions as weaknesses.
- If there's a problem in the relationship, it's your fault for having expectations.
- Believes everyone loves them or is jealous of them.
- Never takes responsibility for anything.
- All conversations revolve around them.
- Hates to be interrupted; always interrupts you.
- Charms the pants off of strangers; doesn't care what you think.
Love can be pretty blinding sometimes :)
How to Survive
If these red flags seem all-too-familiar, validate your experience by doing some research. There are lots of great articles out there about this topic, some of which I will share at the bottom of this post.
The best advice I received once I realized I was in this situation was to go no contact, meaning to cut off all communication with the abuser, not allow the cycle to continue. No amount of unconditional love, affection, or surrender will change their behavior. These people aren't interested in growing or changing — they just want more supply, and everyone else on Earth is simply an object to be exploited in order to do so.
Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is sever.
The Dark Side of the Moon
This was a difficult post to write up, especially since it lacks the usual enthusiasm and positivity my creations often do. But, you can't have shadow without sunshine, right? Life is all about experiencing the extremes and learning to see the beauty of it all. While this experience for me has been an extremely heart-breaking one (I've never loved someone so deeply in my life), it taught me one of life's greatest lessons: to love fearlessly with faith. I looked into the face of all the obstacles I faced in that relationship, and I gave it my all. I always considered the other person's point of view (to a fault, at times), and I always did everything I could to assist in a time of need. In the end, a con-artist ended up taking a large part of my soul away from me, as well as a lot of my money and creative inspiration. But, the lesson that I learned was well worth the price of admission. I learned that there is indeed a dark side to all of us, and that it's okay to firmly prefer one side over the other.
That's not judgement; it's discernment.
So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, just remember that you aren't crazy. People like this, somehow, do exist, and they are taking advantage of everyone around them every day.
Of course, feel free to send me an email if you have any questions or a story to share! I'd love to hear from you.
- Understanding Empathy, Narcissism, and Mental Illness
- The 20 Traits of a Female Narcissist
- "Am I the Narcissist?"
- How to Make the Narcissist Powerless to Affect Your Life
- 5 Sneaky Things Narcissists Do To Take Advantage Of You
- How to Stop Being Empathic and Become a Complete Narcissist (a.k.a. Arsecissist)
- Signs and Traits of Emotional Predators
- The Allure of Narcissistic Spirituality