It’s not about you
It’s been two years since I left my ex-husband, aka the narcissist in my life. I cannot fully express the journey it has been—physically, emotionally, logistically, financially—and I am grateful for each day that I do not have to suffer his abuse. For years, I was subject to his constant criticism, double standards, mood swings, gaslighting, and the charming mask that he applied in public and in front of me to cover his own dark center. I lived in a state of confusion and paralysis, as well as shock when the mask began to fall off.
I would be lying if I told you I was fully healed. I’m not. I still have bad days. I still doubt myself. I still have a hard time identifying red flags in others. I still have work to do on fortifying my boundaries. Sometimes I’m convinced that every man I meet or speak with is a narcissist in disguise. It is terrifying to realize that the person you thought you knew best was not actually that person at all, and so I remain fearful of being conned the way I was by my ex-husband.
But as the months and years have ticked by, the true “self” of the narcissist has become easier for me to see. It has taken a significant amount time and experience, but it’s as though I’ve made it out of the dark woods; and in the light, the big, bad wolf suddenly appears crystal clear.
Here’s what I’ve learned about narcissists over the years.
It’s an energy game
For a narcissist whose entire life revolves around creating chaos, the name of the game centers around one thing and one thing only: narcissistic supply. That is a fancy way of describing the “energy” that sustains the narcissist. And if you’re thinking of vampires right now, you’re not alone. Narcissists, whether men or women, are often referred to as “energy vampires.”
The narcissist doesn’t care where the energy comes from, just that there’s a hefty supply of it. When she runs low—when people leave her or finally see through her facade—she goes searching for new narcissistic supply. It can come from a variety of situations, all of them carefully manufactured by the narcissist: charming a new lover, ignoring a court order, filing bogus charges, making threats, or spreading lies in the community.
Sometimes this energy supply comes from the narcissist’s obsession with new, grandiose ideas—a business plan, a new flashy purchase, or the sudden impulse to take a fancy vacation, for example. For those operating in her immediate orbit, these spurts can feel exciting. Because the narcissist displays an extreme (sometimes false) confidence about her ability to succeed, she is able to convince investors and family members to sign onto her exciting new ideas.
The narcissist follows a predictable cycle
Although the narcissist loves to behave erratically as a power play, there is an inherent predictability to his behavior. The further away you step from the narcissist, the clearer this cycle becomes. It is a completely unsustainable cycle, built on the narcissist’s need for more and more (and more!) energy. And, as my therapist often says, “He will self-destruct on his own. Just get out of his way.”
The narcissist becomes triggered by external stressors or life events. If you’ve been involved with a narcissist, you might have noticed his abusive behavior escalating during major life events—a wedding, the birth of a baby, the purchase of a new home, the start of a new job. If a narcissist is pushed or “called out” by colleagues or family members, his abuse will also escalate.
This cycle looks similar to the cycle of abuse: tension building, explosion/abuse, and the honeymoon period. The abuser uses various abusive or manipulative tactics to cause anxiety, provoke fear, and eventually charm and reel back in his victims.
As you untangle yourself from the narcissist, you’ll notice this cycle played out in other areas of this person’s life, such as work, familial relationships, and new love interests. At this point in the cycle, I’ve watched my ex-husband love-bomb and ditch girlfriends, discard family members and then pull them back in when he needs money or allegiance, and charm his way into a job only to create significant chaos and then quit in a dramatic way. If the narcissist suddenly begins sending you a barrage of abusive e-mails or makes bizarre court maneuvers, you can guess that something else in his life is triggering it. Remember that it’s never about you.
There is nothing in there except for a wounded child
For as much pain and confusion as they create, narcissists are simple. They are hollow and empty—wounded children who never grew up. They are all smoke and mirrors—deflecting, manipulating, lying, making excuses, blaming others, fighting with force. That is the only way they feel in control of their lives. Narcissists are highly stunted and underdeveloped human beings, who—with the right amount of resources—can do a huge amount of damage to workplaces, relationships, families, and even their own children.
But remember this: Because they don’t know how to bend or compromise, “flexibility” not being a concept they can grasp, they will eventually break. Because they see the world only in black and white, they will never experience the many beautiful shades of gray. Because they don’t know how to empathize, give without expecting something in return, or even celebrate the successes of others—they will never know true love or friendship.
You might also be interested in “My Ex Is a Narcissist,” which addresses the challenges of coparenting with a narcissist.
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