I’ve found that outing a narcissist is rarely easy. Despite the fact that these people have put us through a world of pain, we often still feel a warped sense of loyalty towards them due to all of their manipulation. While logically, we know that we don’t owe them anything, there’s still a part of us that wants to protect them or is afraid to hurt them. There’s also an undeserved shame that we carry around as a victim of narc-abuse that can prevent us from speaking out. And of course, the fear that they might come after us for telling the truth. But you know what? If they didn’t want people to know what they did, they shouldn’t have done it.
I kept relatively quiet because I was afraid.
As I mentioned in last week’s post, I have been learning about narcissistic personality disorder for my whole life. And yet, I never really spoke out publicly about my experiences until recently. The main reason for this would be that I didn’t think that I was allowed to. I was ashamed that I’d allowed myself to be a victim so many times, and I was terrified of the repercussions of sharing my story. Afraid of retaliation from my abusers and of what people would think about me if they knew… I was scared of what mutual connections might say and of the overall blame-the-victim mentality that seems to rule the world these days. Mostly, I was afraid of being called a liar or crazy or attention-seeking, due to how charming and convincing each narcissist was.
It took three major narcissist-centered relationships before I really figured it out.
The first of those three was with my father. Out of everything, I’ve been the most vocal about this one. I think that’s because ultimately, it affected me the most and actually set me up for the future relationships in my life. In reality, he shaped who I was entirely.
Due to my father’s manipulation and abuse, I spent my entire childhood believing that I was unlovable and worthless (his words). I was insulted daily, manipulated often and taught that my only value was what I could provide for him. I never knew what to expect from him- his attitude towards me changed by the minute. While I was running errands for him or getting him coffee or listening to his ranting and raving, I was his ‘favorite’. But as soon as the errand or rant was over, I was back to being ‘a useless bitch just like my mother’.
Constantly, he poked fun at my appearance, called me names, pushed me around and teased me about anything I might show interest in. He would alternate between his mental abuse and neglect, so I never knew what to expect, meaning I was always on edge. So many nights, he’d sit me down and go on rants, saying terrible things to me about my mother and my siblings, sometimes making threats to hurt them or me. He would dig holes in the back yard and tell me that he was going to burry us in them so no one would ever find us, or sit in the living room carving stakes out of wood so that he could ‘kill the evil in us’. He also told me often that I’d wake up to find him dead because I hadn’t been good enough to keep him from killing himself. And if I got upset, he would tell me that I was too sensitive or dramatic or couldn’t take a joke, something that was echoed by other family members.
One of the hardest parts was that I can’t even count the number of times that he told me that everyone would be happier if I’d never been born; that I’d ruined his life by existing. Then he’d tell me that I was so lucky to be his kid, something that I also heard from his friends and neighbors back when they still came around. “Ahh, you’re Billy’s kid,” they’d say. “Man, what a great guy. You’re a lucky girl!”
When you’re a kid, you don’t understand that it isn’t your fault.
You believe the things you’re told by the adults that you’re taught to trust. And so when my dad was telling me over and over again that I was ugly and unwanted, that I would never be loved or good enough… I believed him. I was convinced that something was wrong with me. When your own father doesn’t love you, you must really be a monster! I didn’t realize at the time that he was the real monster, incapable of real love or empathy. That all of those people who sang his praises only saw the version of him that he wanted seen, not the man who he was at home.
Because he was out of work on disability, he was home all of the time. He was always angry and aggressive, looking for someone to blame for his misery. Usually that someone was me and I ended up spending almost every day terrified. My warped loyalty to ‘family’ prevented me from asking for help, along with the fear that no one would believe me anyway. I was also ashamed because I thought it was my fault that it was happening.
It wasn’t until I graduated high school that I was able to escape him (I talked a little bit about that in one of my posts about trauma). That means about eighteen years of being trained to be a doormat, not knowing that I was allowed to be more.
Even then, I wasn’t really free.
My father had done such a great job of convincing everyone of what a hero he was that I was practically crucified for cutting him off in the beginning. I was still being told that I was too sensitive or dramatic, but now also that I was tearing apart the family. No one could believe that my childhood had been hard enough to refuse to come home if I knew he’d be there. I was constantly told, ‘but he’s your father’ or that I’d regret it when he died. It became very clear that I was the villain for trying to save myself, which only reinforced the idea in my mind that I wasn’t worthy of love, respect or even safety.
It wasn’t until over a year later that my parents finally separated and I was able to go home again without fear of facing the source of my nightmares, though it did take some time before I could really relax rather than waiting for him to walk through the door. Extended family still made comments here and there, but they weren’t as frequent. And I didn’t see as many neighbors who would recognize me as ‘Billy’s little girl’ anymore. It even got easier to ignore the random messages I’d get from him asking why I wouldn’t see or talk to him when all he’d ever done was love me, sharing memories that had never happened and denying all wrong-doing. By hitting block on every possible platform of communication, I thought I was finally done with all of the bullshit that came with narcissistic abuse.
When you’re raised by a narcissist, you’re often subconsciously drawn towards other narcissists.
I knew it was common for domestic violence survivors due to it being the topic of my thesis in college, and I’d heard it about alcoholics, but at the time, I still didn’t know much about narcissists. I was usually semi-careful when it came to boys. Granted, sometimes I was so lonely and so desperate to prove that I was actually lovable, that I still managed to end up in some shitty relationships where I was pushed around, lied to and cheated on. None of them were narcissists though (at least, not that I’m aware of).
The place where I wasn’t careful enough was with friendships. You see, I’d always thought that relationship cycles were purely romantic. For example, if you’re the daughter of an alcoholic, you might end up marrying someone who also drinks too much. This is because while it isn’t safe or desirable, there’s a certain comfort in knowing what to expect, so your brain seeks out the familiar. There’s also a part of you that might subconsciously want to replicate the situation that hurt you in order to get a different outcome, proving that it wasn’t actually you that caused the darkness.
I didn’t realize that this tendency also applied towards non-romantic relationships.
While I didn’t have a choice in who my father was, I did have a choice in who I chose as friends. The thing is, that’s something I’ve always been really bad at. Due to my father’s conditioning, I didn’t believe I was worthy of any notice, so when someone did give me the slightest bit of attention, I turned to putty in their hands. You see, when you grow up with the sort of mental abuse that I did, you don’t see abuse for what it is; you see it as normal and acceptable. Again, you welcome more of what you’re used to already.
Many of my ‘friends’ treated me badly, and I let them. It didn’t matter that they only called when they needed something or that I was always a last resort. The fact that they reached out at all kept me at their beck and call. Looking back now at the shit that I put up with, I’ve realized that I owe myself the biggest apology. While most of these people were just bad friends who used me because I let them, two in particular did a LOT of further damage to me and my mental state.
These two women were a lot like my dad.
They were both very charming but sneaky. I had no idea during the relationships that I had with them that I was even being manipulated. But looking back, it is so obvious that I actually feel pretty foolish for not seeing it in real time. One of these was a ‘friend’ that I’d developed a co-dependent relationship with, while the other was someone that I got close with after she married into the family. Both connections started in early high school and ended in my late twenties. So roughly 15 years before I understood the real dynamics of the relationships.
As I said, both women were similar to my dad in needing to be the center of attention and great at using manipulation to get their way. They charmed everyone around them and often made me feel guilty, judged, or like I was struggling to be enough. I walked on eggshells and constantly found myself apologizing or dropping everything for them at a moment’s notice. I was always trying to earn their love, shrugging off their offences and making excuses for them because that’s what I thought good friends did.
Both attempted to sabotage my relationship with my now-husband, and both criticized and complained about my family often. There were a lot of back-handed compliments and mean little ‘jokes’ which I now see were actually well thought out digs to keep me in my place.
Anytime there was success in my life- from doing well in school or my job to my marriage to losing weight- it was as if they took it as a personal attack. They were never there for me, but always expected me to be there for them. Nothing was ever allowed to be about me. Even things like my dog dying or me getting married or getting pregnant… One of them always found ways to make it about them. And for a while, I allowed it because I wanted to be loved. I could probably write an entire post about each of them individually and about all of the narcissistic traits and actions that I’m now aware of, but when it comes down to it…
I don’t believe that I was ever really cared about in these relationships.
I believe that I was a means to an end; a convenient fall back when they needed something or someone to put down in order to make them feel good about themselves. I was a tool and nothing more. Being that friend, valuing their opinions and allowing their manipulation… it kept me small for so long. I held myself back, never stood up for myself, and at times, and even thanked them for the abuse.
Some warped part of my mind believed that if someone thought of me as their best friend or even just a good friend, it would be proving my dad wrong; it would mean that I was lovable after all. All I had wanted for my entire life was to feel loved and I would have done anything to feel it. I realize now that this made me a beacon for narcissists; I might as well have had a giant tattoo on my forehead saying ‘easily manipulated’.
Both of these women went out of their way to hurt me.
And they both succeeded big time. Even though they barely knew each other, they somehow timed their final blows pretty closely to each other.
I was 29 when I went through some serious trauma and was diagnosed with PTSD. Through therapy, I started learning how to set boundaries in order to protect myself and to find the motivation to keep going. This meant that I had to start standing up for myself and putting my own needs first. It was NOT an easy thing to do. But the better I got at putting them into place, the more I realized who actually cared about me and who was just really good at pretending. You see, no one gets angrier about you setting boundaries than a narcissist who can no longer get away with treating you like shit. They like you better when you’re easier to manipulate and gaslight; otherwise you’re no use to them.
My boundaries weren’t unreasonable. I just wanted to be treated better. For people to give as much as they take and to take responsibility for their actions. I didn’t want to have to listen to people putting me or my family down and I didn’t want anyone trying to make my decisions for me or use me to further their own interests. I just wanted to be treated with love and respect. To be supported instead of torn down at every turn. Apparently, it was asking too much.
(Remember, you’re supposed to love the narcissist, not the other way around.)
In true narc fashion, lies started forming and they attempted to make me feel crazy. And it worked for a while, but thanks to therapy and that lovely little ‘block’ button, I was able to withstand the abuse and come out stronger. These women had a huge effect on my life and I am who I am today in spite of them.
However, I still believe that my father is the root of most of the issues I’ve had to work so hard to overcome. If it hadn’t been for the way that he treated me, I think I would have been strong enough to walk away from these women a hell of a lot sooner, before getting hurt badly enough that I’d need therapy to get through it. I would have respected myself enough to stand up for myself in not only those ‘friendships’ but in all of the relationships where I was treated like shit.
The overthinking, pressure to be perfect and anxiety most likely wouldn’t have been as bad either. I might still have gone through some of my other traumas, but if it weren’t for my dad’s voice in my head, I wouldn’t have blamed myself and would have been able to start the healing process earlier. For instance, rather than thinking that I somehow deserved to be sexually assaulted when I was twenty and dealing with the shame quietly for years, I might have gotten help right away.
I’ve been living narcissist-free for about three years.
It is still very hard sometimes. I still struggle with my self-worth, with feeling loved and with standing up for myself. I’m a chronic overthinker and have a very hard time trusting people. There is always the fear that these people are going to come back into my life or try to hurt me further- the people that never apologized, but instead tried to make me feel irrational or crazy after they hurt me. I struggle with things like fear of abandonment, anxiety and depression. But, I’m getting stronger every day.
I am so much better today than I was before I started this healing journey.
Despite my struggles, I am more confident and I’ve stopped trying to keep myself small in order to appease others. I’ve started to let myself shine and to go after the things I want. I discovered that I have worth because I’m human and that I don’t need other people’s approval to survive. I’ve finally started to believe in myself, to love myself, and know that all of the things I was told as a child weren’t true. I know now that the things that happened to me were not my fault and that I didn’t deserve any of it. That I don’t have to let a narcissist (or three) define who I am or how I see myself.
I realized that there was hope for me, and if you’re someone who’s dealt with a narcissist, I promise, there’s hope for you too.
Next week I’ll be back with some things I’ve learned about healing from a relationship with a narcissist. If you’d like to read more of what I’ve written in the meantime, check this post: The only way to beat a narcissist is to leave.