It’s like magic, what the covert narcissist (CN) does to your head. Today is a great example of how it works. I started my day feeling pretty good. I felt strong, capable, not bad looking for my age, and, believe it or not, Happy. I went to yoga and saw people who I feel certain like me. I spent some time with the studio owner, who is doing a donation class for a cancer awareness group I work with. She wanted to apologize for not also donating, as if the donation of her time and effort aren’t enough, as if I, and my cause, are worthy of even more! I felt like I belonged; I had the right to exist, I might even do some good in the world. I felt supported and loved.
Then the email came. I am raising 3 kids with my CN, so some contact is inevitable. As I read the email, which on the surface contains nothing earth shattering, my self esteem slowly deflates. It’s like I’m a balloon, floating happily along, bobbing in the wind, going with the flow, until that contact. Slowly, and totally imperceptibly to me, all of the air leaks out, and I’m just a floppy old piece of rubber, weighted down in despair, ready to be kicked aside by whoever passes me. I’m weak, incapable, wrinkled & fat, alone, unloved and depressed. It’s crazy. I feel crazy.
There’s a hotel in Atlantic city that has magic bathrooms. I don’t know how it’s done but the lighting, the mirrors, the tile and the walls, all work together to make you look better than you look any place else. If I could, I’d live in one of those bathrooms. It’s really hard to leave the bathroom, knowing that when you do you won’t look quite so good where ever you go next. You’re actually heavier, older, and much less put together than you look and feel in that bathroom.
That’s what it feels like having contact with my CN – like I’ve just left that magic bathroom and am seeing the real me. It’s crazy how easily one sentence, one glance, one act of silent treatment sends me into a tailspin of despair. What’s most depressing is that I understand what is happening, and I still can’t stop it. I understand that I really am all of those things I think and feel in the magic bathroom, I am actually the person I was 2 hours ago, before the email. I just can’t hold onto it in the face of my CN.
The technical term for this phenomenon is “triggers”. His words are triggers that reignite the messages of the past 25 years. He very carefully planted those triggers, so that if I started feeling good, if I started floating away, he could pull a trigger and knock the wind out of me. His triggers don’t just stay in my head, they sink into my gut, they permeate every cell in my body, reawakening the me he created over the years. His words re-establish his truth, that I am not what I thought I was, that the air keeping me afloat was an illusion. To him I am actually an empty balloon, shriveled and worthless, deserving of nothing, ready to be kicked aside when bothersome.
What makes it even worse is the knowledge that my ex CN feels nothing negative. He goes about his life feeling like he is king of the world. He lives in the magic bathroom every minute of every day. He is never faced with the real him. Nothing deflates his balloon. And, if someone begins to suck the air out of him, he just moves on to his next source of air, without a glance back. And there will always be another source of air for him. Any momentary loss of buoyancy will be quickly rectified by a new victim; a new balloon that that he will slowly suck dry, planting triggers as he goes along, making sure that if the new victim starts catching on to him he can pull a trigger and they will deflate.
I long for the day that contact does not deflate me. I long for the day I gain mastery over his triggers; I disable them. I long for the day I can live with the feelings I have in that magic bathroom, regardless of what happens. I long for the day that I no longer feel crazy.
It seems so far away.