Strange story – in the last episode of the Connor’s Jackie figured out that her boyfriend was cheating on her, and she kicked him to the curb. Watching this took me down memory lane. Everything he says to her is something my ex said to me. Things like:
- if you accuse me of cheating you’re going to push me to cheat
- if you are constantly suspecting me of cheating I might as well cheat on you
- why are you going through my pockets?
- we’re just friends. She’s an expert on (blah, blah, blah) and I go to her for information
- shouldn’t you be looking at your own role in all of this
Each of these statements illicited a huge gasp from the audience, and from me. I was shocked at how transparent these statements were. More disturbingly, I was shocked at how I fell for these same statements during my marriage.
When I first moved in with my soon to be spouse I had suspicions he was cheating on me. Whenever I asked him what he’d been doing, and asked him if he was with a girl, he’d say “If you accuse me of cheating you’ll push me to cheat”. At the time this made perfect sense to me. As I look back I see how ludicrous this statement is. Once I believed this lie though, I was primed to accept the lies to come.
I found it disturbing how transparently ridiculous these false statements were. As I pondered this it occurred to me that I’d been told most of my life that I was “too sensitive”, or “overly emotional”. I was also told, as many of us are when raised in disordered homes, that I was “misremembering” or worse -“making things up”. Being constantly told to mistrust my emotions led me to one conclusion – my emotions, my feelings, were unreliable. Under no circumstance was I to trust something I was feeling.
Narcissists find people like me, and then they thrive while chipping away at their victims ego. If they are a covert narc, it is unlikely that their prey will understand what is happening. By the time the victim has lost all sense of themselves, the chances of them getting out are slim. It took me surviving a lethal cancer to challenge the cheating and eventually get out.
I’ve been out of the relationship for almost 5 years and I am just starting to trust my emotions again. I’m learning, slowly, that people that dismiss my emotions, or challenge my emotions, are not on my side. Ultimately, your emotions are yours, and they are always true. They might not be healthy, or helpful, but they are as real as your eyes, your nose, your arms & legs. The people in your inner circle are the ones who validate your feelings, then help you deal with them.
What I look for now are people that say “I hear you” or “I can see how you feel that way”, whether they feel that way or not. People who say “that’s not true” or “that’s ridiculous” or any other invalidating statement are not in my tribe, and I either let them go or hold them at arms length if I have to deal with them.
I have a great example of how this works. Over a year ago I was very upset with one of my bosses. I felt like she demeaned me in public, repeatedly speaking down to me. I decided it was time to quit my job, so I gave notice. The other boss, aware that I was unhappy with how I was being treated, insisted that the 3 of us meet and hash it out.
This was one of the most uncomfortable hours of my life. Normally, when faced with an uncomfortable situation, I’d change the subject. I would search for anything to stop the conversation – the weather, her beautiful ring, how good her hair looked that day. I did not change the subject, and I sat in that room giving her example after example of how rude she’d been. She started to cry. She told me she thought we were really close and she had been trying really hard to be less abrasive in her management of employees. She then apologized and asked if I was willing to give her the chance to work on our relationship. This, for me, proved that there is a correct way to deal with conflict, and she nailed it. Now, when faced with a person I feel uncomfortable around, assuming I’m invested, I speak up. What I’m looking for are the 3 things she did:
- accept responsibility for their actions
- state a willingness to change
- develop a plan to change, and follow through
She and I got to work and, while there are occasional instances of condensation, she picks up on them quickly and apologizes.
I am grateful to her, because she taught me how normal people handle conflict. I’ve not experienced this much in my life, but now I know there are people capable of it, so I won’t settle for less.
And neither should you! Your feelings are real!! Hold your ground!