Understanding the Narcissist
He made me feel completely alone in this world.
I am still unpacking the how and the why of that in my therapy sessions. None of it was overt, which is why it’s so difficult to unravel, I think. At no point was I ever expressly told not to have friends, not to reach out to my family. Some things were demanded of me, for example, I was not to speak about our relationship outside of our four walls in any way other than positively.
That actually stemmed from me talking with my then sister-in-law, his brothers wife, about some of the household things that our partners didn’t do. I was already reserved about who I spoke to and what I said because of previous conditioning no doubt, but she was the only person I felt I could still reach out to.
She would bitch about an unclean kitchen and I would reciprocate with something menial of my own, I didn’t ever disclose anything dark or any of the real abuse. The things that I did disclose concerned her, however, and this is how I ended up getting forbidden from speaking to her about anything like that ever again.
He wasn’t hands on with the children’s day to day care at all, and that she saw herself any time that we all spent time together it didn’t take a rocket scientist to spot that! Our daughter has pretty severe allergies and eczema and he would refuse to put her cream on for her, so if I was at work it wouldn’t get done and she would ultimately suffer for it with itchy and sore skin. So, during one of our cosy tea and bitching sessions this came up between me and the sister-in-law. She was horrified, amongst the other things that I would disclose about housework and generally the way he would talk to me. Honestly, I felt that she was overreacting considering some of the things that I knew I wasn’t telling her, but it was nice to be heard, and it was nice for another human being to vocalise that this was not right and not healthy in a so-called partnership.
She did what any concerned sister-in-law would do and she told her husband, she asked him to delicately approach his younger brother and have a chat about things he should be doing at home to support his family, including making sure his daughter had her cream applied regularly.
I obviously didn’t see the contents of those conversations, but I did receive the backlash of his rage. He was so angry with me, I can’t even begin to describe it.
Narcissists have this inflated sense of their own perfection, and they want the world to see them as this great, wonderful human being. It is a huge betrayal to ever put out information that would suggest otherwise, and that was the language that he used when he confronted me about speaking to his sister-in-law.
In my mind, he and I had had these conversations and arguments countless times so none of it was new information, but I had hoped that hearing it from someone else, someone he respected, might change his outlook. We never got to resolve the actual problem of domestic unfairness and his blatant neglect of his daughters medical condition.
Instead it was a barrage of abuse, layer upon layer of nastiness directed at me for what I had done. How dare I reveal secrets from our relationship, how dare I betray his confidence?!
I was made to feel so small and so pathetic, and he made me promise to never speak a bad word about him again if I knew what was good for me. My head was already askew from the years of his abuse, I was already too afraid to utter a single word about the worst things, the truly dark things that he was doing to me and the children. This was the final severing of the bridge between me and the outside world.
After that I never spoke a bad word about him, not to anyone. If I had nothing nice to say I wouldn’t say a thing. I became an expert at steering conversations away from my relationship if it ever came up in conversation, or telling my sister-in-law that he was making more of an effort which was complete bullshit.
Other things that a narcissist will do to isolate you is to make it so painful and difficult to go out with your friends that you end up not going of your own accord. I’ve always made the effort to keep up with friends from work and the schools, and I would show up the picture of positivity with my bright smile and my calm composition. I wonder how many of my friends ever looked at me and saw the deep desperation beneath? Not many, I wager. I became an expert at a young age at boxing up emotion just so I could continue to function.
So, the order of events before I went out with friends would look a little something like this: I let him know days/weeks in advance that there’s a plan, he would be in charge of the kids for an evening. He would act pleased for me, knowing how little social interaction I had and how desperately I needed a break from just being ‘mum’. He would remind me an unusual amount of times that I was going out in the days leading up to it, reminding me of what a favour he was doing me by letting me go out. Letting me. Like he was my keeper, and I should be grateful? Then on the day he would be in a foul mood, something would trigger him, of course it was all designed and deliberate. There would be this huge, heaving atmosphere, the waves of his nastiness towards me and the children designed to make me want to stay in to protect them. I would stand my ground, get dressed and do my hair and feel pretty.
He would rip me apart, making suggestions about my clothes, poking and prodding me, sometimes he would give me compliments followed by the “why don’t you ever dress like this for me?” and asking “who are you looking so good for?”. Perhaps we would end up arguing about this suggestion of cheating, or how I never made any effort for him but would for my friends. But when did he ever offer to take me places? Was I supposed to dress up for a night out and sit around the house like that just to please him?
He would sit with the kids and say things like, “we don’t want mummy to go out, do we guys?”, “I’m going to miss mummy, are you going to miss mummy?” so suddenly I had wailing children hanging on to my legs and begging me not to leave them.
He would send me pictures of the children looking sad while I was out, I would be out, or even at work, and get voice notes of my babies screaming and wailing in his attempt to drag me home again.
I would be reminded of all of this every time a friend would ask me to go out, which wasn’t all that often I might add. I might go out for dinner two or three times year to eat good food and catch up with my lovely friends. He conditioned me this way so that in the end I would make my own excuses to say no to my friends and stay in instead, because it was just not worth the drama.
I was alone. Chained to him and my own suffering. The longer that went on the harder it became to say anything to anyone, the more entrenched I became in keeping the peace. To the world outside we were this perfect family unit, and I understood that to speak a word would shatter that illusion and upset other people. First of all, who would believe me? And second, to say anything now would be admitting that I had fabricated everything, that I had been lying and dishonest all this time. Third, I was terrified of his reaction should I ever say a bad word about him, from experience.
There are so many more stories I could tell you about this, it all circles around to the same thing; he was keeping me isolated and alone because it suited him. He was worried about me going out and was paranoid about me cheating on him because he knew there were people out there in the world who would be kinder to me, and he didn’t want to risk me meeting those people while I was out with friends. He didn’t want me talking about him and sharing the nasty things he was doing because he didn’t want another person to point out to me that I was being abused and encourage me to leave him.
There is a happy ending here, and I did get out of that relationship. It took me fifteen horrendous years of hoping, crying, and crumbling into a desperate kind of acceptance, but I escaped.
The harsh reality is that freedom doesn’t immediately equate happiness and wholeness in a survivor of domestic abuse there is a long road of healing ahead of them.
I’m fairly confident in saying that I have found my path and that happiness and positivity are flowing in abundance my way, for which I am extremely grateful. But it hasn’t been easy. It took more than a year to start holding my head up a little bit higher, to start stepping with a bit more confidence.
When we first separated it took me a long time to firstly speak about my trauma, but also to reach out to other people again. It was a huge step. I had to approach my work place and ask them for help with my working hours while I sought childcare and the concept was so alien to me, asking for help. For so long I have had to carry the weight of everything myself, the thought of admitting weakness, and of asking for help, it was really difficult.
I did it.
I asked for help from work, from family, from friends. I found a voice inside me that I could use to reach out to other people, I admitted weakness and nothing awful happened. In fact, something truly amazing happened instead. I found friendship, and love. I found true connection with other human beings and I realised that other people can and do care about me and my small people. Genuinely, and not because they want to hurt me or keep me all to themselves. I don’t have to do everything myself, and I don’t have to keep secrets or be perfect.
There really is nothing more lonely than suffering quietly with only yourself for company. Isolation has a way of bending your thoughts and anxiety until you truly believe that you are a burden on other people. I still have moments when I am suddenly completely terrified to ask for help or to have a difficult conversation that advocates for my needs over the needs of the other person, and that is an ongoing lesson for me.
I am eternally grateful to the people in my life now who are so genuine and kind, the people who help me with school runs, childcare, organising, moving house and schools.
I am not alone anymore.
© Emma Stead
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