Sometimes I write and write and feel like I’ve never really gotten to the heart of the matter. This blog is like that. I feel the message I’m trying to deliver, but my words feel inadequate, shallow, frivolous. I’ll keep going, but I know that on some level I am blocking the root issue. Maybe I’ll find it.
(Also, I am aware that schizophrenia is much more horrendous than life with a narcissist, and I apologize if I’ve offended anyone with the comparison)
Now that our divorce is final, my ex and his GF are posting on Facebook again. He changed his profile picture to one of he and she, standing on a dock with boats behind them. He is wearing his perennial scowl of disatisfaction, while she is beaming. As usual, she has her hand on his stomach. I looked up body language and found out that this is a way for someone to mark their territory, so to speak. She is saying “hands off, he’s mine”.
When I first saw the picture I was mildly amused. I could imagine what had transpired in the moments, or hours, or days leading up to that picture. One of his friends commented “nice to see you smiling” which I can only assume was sarcastic, since he is clearly not smiling.
A few minutes ago though, I felt that feeling – the one I lived with, and that I’m sure she was having in the moment that picture was snapped.
This feeling is so deeply rooted in who I was, and I guess who she is. This feeling, if it can be put into words, goes like this
“I know he’s unhappy but it’s only temporary, and I can, and will fix it. It is my duty, my destiny to fix it, because I screwed it up to begin with.
In the meantime, until he smiles again, I’ll be extra shiny & happy, and my happiness will shine so brightly no one will notice that something is wrong. And maybe my excessive happiness will rub off on him.”.
I remember those days and I do not envy her.
When I was in graduate school I worked with adult schizophrenics. This is a debilitating, horrifying disease. These people live in two worlds: One world is the world they see right in front of them. It is clear, decipherable, predictable, manageable, understandable. In their other world they hear (sometimes also see) crazy, unpredictable, often ugly things, which on some level they know are not real, but are so powerful they simply can’t be ignored.
This is the essence of living with the narcissist.
When I lived with my narcissist I lived in two worlds. In one world everything was ok. We were all safe, we had food and jobs and clothing and a home, we worked out differences, planned schedules together, took on projects together…basically lived like normal people. This world was great! Throwing our son’s first birthday party was a group effort, and it was manageable and enjoyable.
Unfortunately, there was second world. Caveat: Before you say “well everyone has dirty laundry” please refer back to the experience of the schizophrenic. The second world with the narcissist is not simply “dirty laundry”, or things “we don’t talk about”. The second world is dark. And muddled, and thick, and confusing, and scary and inevitable.
My first experience in the other world was during my narc’s first rage event. It was shocking, because we had spent so much time in what I thought was the real world. We were, according to him, soul mates, bound for all eternity, alike in every way, destined for greatness and happiness. Yet out came this rage.
I find similarities in my narc’s 1st rage and the schizophrenics (my patients) first hallucination. What they told me was this: ‘It came out of nowhere. One day I was studying chemistry and getting burgers at McDonalds, and the next day there was an angel sitting on my shoulder telling me the chemistry teacher was the devil.’
My patients were drawn to that angel, convinced it was real, believing it was inescapable. Maybe it is the shock, maybe it is simply the brain trying to deal with the incongruent nature of what was being presented, but for some reason that angel became real. The patient, while able to express on an intellectual level that the angel was unreal, could not escape the angels message. In session after session I’d listen to these wonderful, intelligent, regular adults say “I know that angel isn’t real, and I want to ignore it and believe it’s not real, but….it kind of is“.
That is life with the narcissist. On an intellectual level I understood that things weren’t right, my ex wasn’t right, what I was hearing wasn’t right; but it felt so real I couldn’t ignore it.
During my ex’s first rage he delivered all sorts of crazy messages to me. On an intellectual level I knew his accusations were gibberish, but emotionally I attached to them. Emotionally his assertions became my reality. Except on some level they weren’t.
Hence the word Crazy.
Living with a narcissist is simply crazy.
I’m reminded of my ex’s accusations that I “never looked at him”. This is crazy making behavior. Why? Because I was looking at him, which is what led him to say I never look at him! I’m reminded of my mother telling me I was fat, at age 9. On one level I knew I wasn’t, but on an emotional level, well…..if she’s saying it, there must be some truth to it, right?
Even if the message is crazy (i.e. the chemistry professor is the devil) when delivered by someone you trust (i.e. an angel) you believe it. We are wired to do so. As humans we have to live in a tangible, real world. How else can you make it through a day? Can you actively engage in a day that feels like a dream? No. So, when faced with crazy, incongruent behavior, sights, sounds, thoughts, our human nature says “Ok – let’s put this in a framework we can deal with. That framework is reality. This must be reality”.
It is the shadow of doubt, the willingness to bend, the awareness that you aren’t a God, maybe you are wrong, that the narcissist grabs onto and never lets go. Even today, 3 years after our separation, a month after our finalized divorce, I still get emails telling me how I am inherently wrong in all I do and say, and I have to step back, because my initial reaction is “damn it – there I go again“!. To clarify, I say my initial reaction but frankly, it is more than that. Even as I sit here writing, thinking back to his accusations of yesterday, there is a part of me that can’t help thinking he is right. There is a part of me that can’t dismiss that angel on my shoulder.
As I heal I get less of the physical reaction to his craziness. However, the physical component is overwhelming. Here’s a great example. My house is on the market. I live here with my 15 year old. Last Saturday we had a 10AM showing, so we had to get up and dressed, clean up the house, put the dog in the car and disappear by 9:55. At 9AM, when he decided it was a great time for a shower, I yelled at him “Hurry Up”. My ex, whenever I said “hurry up” literally slowed down. Literally. That’s exactly what my son did that morning. Knowing what I know about role modeling, passive aggressive behavior & narcissism I watched what he was doing and had a light bulb moment: when I said the words “hurry up” he thought “fuck you”. Since he was thinking “fuck you” he slowed down.
We later chatted about this and he is aware of his thought process and where those thoughts lead him. I am hopeful he will turn this around. As I explained to him though, words, looks, smells, movements, all of these can become triggers. When we see, sense, smell or hear them we automatically react in the way we’ve been trained to react.
Back to my ex and his new girls picture. I looked at his face and I can imagine one of the million things he had been saying/doing to her that made her think “I’m going to stand here shining as bright as I can, and when the camera is gone I am going to do what I need to do to fix this, because I am the problem“.
It doesn’t take long for the narcissist, when faced with a rational, flexible caretaker to make her associate his scowl with her behavior. As a self reflective person, and yes – codependent person, I was primed and ready to accept his scowl as proof that I had done something wrong. Or, more importantly, I was something wrong.
I saw that scowl and chuckled. For myself. But it really isn’t funny. This is brainwashing. Which isn’t funny.
There is nothing funny about a partnership in which one feels obligated to shine so brightly as to wipe out the other’s gloom.
If I was further along in my own recovery perhaps I would do something. There might come a day when I regret not doing something for her, because I know what she is feeling right now. I know that her entire mind and body are fully engrossed in being the person he says she should be, thought she was. And it a long, hard road, accepting that this is not reality.
The dream the narcissist tells you is real is intoxicating. In reality, it is simply an angel on your shoulder, telling you that you are wrong.