How The Narcissist Steals Your Health, Your Sanity & Your Soul
Now that my divorce is final I get to sell my house. I had thought last fall that we might be coming to an agreement, and my cousins and I did a lot of work to get the house ready for marketing. When the divorce talks fell apart so did my motivation to clean the house. Last week, as I started organizing, decluttering, and cleaning I realized how little I’ve really done over the past 6 months; how much I’ve let the dirt pile up.
My stamina isn’t great so I went into panic mode this weekend when I realized I still had a ton to do in very little time. The house is being photographed today, so it’s do or die time. So I did the logical thing – I started jamming every drawer I could find with crap. Stupid things that I may or may not want to keep, paperwork I have to do, projects I’m in the middle of, knickknacks and so on. Yesterday I was looking at my desk and I started giggling. While my desk top is immaculate, the drawers barely open they are so filled with crap. I thought about posting it on FB and I was just about to when it dawned on me that this is a great visual of what happens when you live with a narcissist.
In the beginning the love bombing phase is really intense. Because you are convinced the bomber is well intentioned and truely loves you, you open up space for him. And by space I mean physical space, like a drawer in your apartment, and emotional space, like a place in your heart. By the end of the love bombing phase you are 100% open to the narcissist. He is now poised to infiltrate every aspect of your life, and you can’t wait for that to happen. You are so excited about having found your knight in shining armour you willingly hand him the keys to your kingdom; you allow him access to all you have to offer.
In a normal, healthy relationship this openness is required. If either partner closes themselves off, some part of the relationship will wither and die. Believing we are in a normal relationship we wholeheartedly let down our guard, because this is the only way for the relationship we’ve been promised to blossom.
I don’t know about any of you but I was not an easy nut to crack. I had only 2 “relationships” prior to my narcissist and when he started after me I was focused on my career, not love. He worked hard to change that, to convince me that we were destined for great things together. I was so convinced of his sincerity in fact that I was stunned when 2 weeks after we moved in together he flew into a rage when I suggested we evaluate our food budget. This seemed logical to me, given we were raising his 3 year old son and he came with a pile of debt, but he had a different agenda. The rage he exhibited that day is embedded in my memories like few other memories. Because I was open to him, to us, I absorbed every one of his words as if they were physical blows. They were actually much worse, although it took me forever to figure that out. His blows cut to the core of my soul. He took every fear and doubt I had ever shared with him and threw them back at me in what I now describe his first tantrum.
The narcissist’s rage is like that of a spoiled 3 year old. Like a 3 year old, the only goal of the narcissist is for him to get his way. It makes no difference what the issue is. It makes no difference how you phrase it, whether it makes sense, how desperately your relationship needs it. All that matters is what he wants. He’s like the 3 year old who wants another cookie. He wants it and you can’t stop him. And, if you try, you will pay. He’ll throw something at you, he’ll tell you how mean you are, he’ll say he hates you, he’ll stomp his feet, puff up his chest to assert his will. Despite the similarities between these tantrums, there is one major difference: the narcissist is a fully grown person. Imagine a 3 year old’s tantrum being carried out by a 220 pound man. That is terrifying.
The other disturbing thing about these tantrum/rages is that they are wildly out of proportion to the issue at hand. In my case the issue was whether it was really necessary for me to buy 2 can’s of lemonade mix each week. I kid you not. I thought he might kill me…..over lemonade. How I wish I had understood the magnitude of this interaction.
With this tantrum my narcissist made a few things clear. First of all, the love bombing stage was over. I was fully committed to him and his son, so the gloves were off. He also demonstrated that he was filled with rage. This shocked the hell out of me. He had been such a reasonable, calm, loving man, but in front of me stood a boiling volcano, ready to erupt. Lastly he taught me that I needed to tread carefully, regardless of how minor the issue might appear to me. I learned this lesson well, and I spent the next 20 years walking on eggshells around him. I approached every problem or concern as if it would cause him to erupt, cautiously throwing out a few feelers first, to see if I was broaching a hot topic before trying to have a productive discussion. Often those feelers made it clear I should not bring up the topic, so I’d let it go. As the years drug on I let go issue after issue after issue.
Here’s the problem with that. While I was keeping his rages at bay, I still had the issues. What was I going to do with them? That’s where the drawer came in. I stuffed them inside. I filled my body and soul with unresolved issues, fear, doubts, dissatisfactions. No wonder things went the way they did.
After that 1st rage/tantrum I had my first allergic reaction. I was gardening. I had never bothered learning what poison ivy looks like because it didn’t bother me. I could roll around naked in the stuff with no problem. Within hours of clearing out a flower bed I was starting to itch. By the next morning I had huge, weeping hives covering both arms and both legs. If that were to happen today I’d go to a doctor and be prescribed steroids. Back then though, my narcissist downplayed the severity of the issue and told me not to be a baby, it would go away. I believed him and, because his father advised it, I soaked my body in bleach rather than seek medical attention. (BTW, not a good way to treat poison ivy; made it extremely painful in addition to itchy and raw)
During the next year and a half we got married and I had my first child, and I continued to stuff more issues and problems into my body and soul. With the birth of my 1st son I developed severe allergies. Years went by before I was diagnosed but I am allergic to all molds, candida, strawberries, and 3 classes of antibiotics. I also developed a sensitivity to aspirin. I assumed that pregnancy had caused this, and I suppose in a sense it did, because during my pregnancy I was stuffing issues like crazy.
Two and a half years later I was pregnant with my second and I developed severe asthma. By the time I had my 3rd I also had thyroid disease, chronic lung and sinus infections, repeated sinus polyps, and gluten intolerance. As time went on my immune system started to shut down. Over the years I developed COPD and required numerous daily medications as well as nebulizer treatments.
By our 12th year of marriage I was paralyzed. Of course I was. I was so jammed with all the shit I’d been swallowing I was like a drawer stuffed so far beyond capacity it can’t open. Random, mostly useless unnecessary crap snuffed out my soul. Eventually I developed cancer, which actually saved me. It took cancer to get me out of the relationship that was literally killing me – physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually.
I wish I knew what I had googled but I have read, in several places, that people living with narcissist have a 40% higher incidence of autoimmune diseases, cancer and other serious health issues. (I just looked for some sources to site and found nothing. Sorry) Whether I have “official” sources or not, it only makes sense that this type of existence will take a toll physically. What happens to that junk drawer over the years? First it gets a bit unorganized, then it gets downright messy, eventually showing the scars of years of junk rattling around in it. In the end it simply stops opening. Or, if it opens, it no longer closes. There is only one way to fix that drawer: empty it. As long as it is full you can do nothing to fix it.
As I go through the process of selling my house I plan to use these drawers as reminders. They remind me of how badly I was doing, and how far I’ve come. As I clean them out I’ll take a moment to think of all the issues I’ve cleared out over the past 3 years. As the drawers become roomier I’ll think of my heart and soul, which have more room in them now than ever in my life. And ultimately, what happens when you have an empty, free, completely open drawer? You have the opportunity to refill it. That is my soul today. It is empty, free and completely open, and I can’t wait to fill it up with whatever comes next.
Hopefully I have learned enough not to fill it with shit!