Why did it take me until my 50s to understand what was happening and act on behalf of myself?
I wanted the story-book happy, healthy family life.
What I had to do was accept reality.
I put up with narcissistic behavior from my sibling ’cause it’s all I had known. That’s what having a brother was like.
When he spent a sabbatical year here in town several years ago, I had plenty of time to see who he really was. Previous interactions had been limited to his business trips to town every three months or so.
Discussions were battlefields where he had to win; things could go well for a while, then from nowhere would come criticisms and put-downs of other people, as well as myself.
I always felt off-balance (a great maneuver used by narcissists).
Nobody seemed quite good or smart enough for him (another superb tactic manipulators use to evoke simultaneous feelings of superiority and sympathy).
There were passive-aggressive insults, sneers, calculated rages out of the blue. Then he’d pull back, play nice, shift blame. I’d feel relieved and naively think things would be okay from now on. I got hooked into the cycle again.
We were family, right? We had to stick together, no matter the havoc created and the distress caused.
So I continued to analyse and rationalize it all away.
I believe that more unhappiness comes from this source than from any other–I mean from the attempt to prolong family connections unduly and to make people hang together artificially who would never naturally do so. – Samuel Butler
If you’ve suffered the debilitating effects of narcissistic, manipulative or dysfunctional behavior, you’re probably exhausted, emotionally, mentally and physically.
That’s how I felt after a year of regular interaction with my brother. After the sabbatical was over his visits were again sporadic.
But over time, I became more and more tense as each visit approached. I had “seen the light” of his true character and would worry about what would set him off, how I could avoid the traps he’d set.
I was in a losing battle. And I had to find out what the hell I was dealing with.
Like many of you, I started scouring the internet, libraries and book stores for information. I thank my lucky stars that we live in an age where so much knowledge is readily available.
I can’t count how many hours I spent over the following year or so burrowing my way through articles, books, websites, videos – you name it – before I started to emerge into sunshine.
I finally admitted who I was dealing with. I also began to recognize the same patterns in others I hung around with.
Everything was all coming together.
It wasn’t me.
I wasn’t going crazy.
I felt liberated – for a little while.
Then I was angry.
“It’s just not fair.”
Why do we still have to do the heavy lifting, the healing of emotional scars, while the abuser gets away with no repercussions? Isn’t there some way to make them pay for what they’ve put us through?
It’s like rubbing salt in a wound.
Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know. – Pema Chodron
The only way a mouse can be safe from a predatory cat is to stay away from the cat. ‘Cause the cat won’t change.
What I had to do was stop expecting others to act the way I wanted them to act.
I had to stop victimizing myself by remaining in the line of fire of someone who had no intention or inclination to change.
STOP IT ALREADY
Stop questioning yourself.
Stop asking why the other person is like that.
Stop blaming yourself.
Just know this: It’s not your fault.
Life slammed into you. Forced a confrontation. And you need to decide what to do.
No amount of scrutiny or questioning will change your reality.
You cannot find peace by avoiding life. – Virginia Woolf
You won’t come out of any type of relationship with a manipulator or narcissist unscathed.
But you must come out of it if you want to live happily in your own skin and grow into the person you are meant to be.
Family, friends, partner – they can all be divorced from your life.
Don’t stick around.
Go No Contact if at all possible.
Narcissists, manipulators, the verbally abusive – they are highly contagious and toxic.
Continual exposure to the pathogen won’t help you heal.
Sometimes a narcissist will go through the motions of taking responsibility.
Don’t be fooled into sticking around.
Their change in behavior does not depend on your continued presence as their scapegoat or doormat. It is 100% in their hands and their hands only.
Others won’t understand. They don’t have to. It’s their right to feel whatever they feel.
But it’s also your right – to be whole and respected and to blossom.
To love yourself without question or doubt. To know you’re the best, most worthy person around.
Don’t get hung up with misplaced “martyr” syndrome.
The only person who will suffer is you.
(There may always be some sort of connection if you are a parent. Maybe you feel you’re stuck in a situation because of the children involved. The principle of self-care first remains the same. That has to be your priority.)
Construct another kind of family – one of your choosing. With people unrelated perhaps by blood but related by common goals, ideals, respect.
How I Got to the Other Side
I had to do a lot of inner work, face my vulnerabilities and triggers. A lot of it had to do with how I had learned to respond to my parents, teachers, pastors, my sibling.
It was a means of self-preservation.
Why would I shut down rather than stick up for myself?
Why did I put up with it for so long, rather than walk away?
I had to work my way through all the issues. It involved a lot of tears and grief and anger – emotions I wasn’t allowed to have as a child and even into young adulthood. And my parents had learned their behavior from their parents, and so on. This isn’t about blame. It’s about taking responsibility for the only person we can help heal – ourselves.
He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts. – Samuel Johnson
For a list of resources I used, please see this post.
I hope you find the peace and light you so deserve.
Are you dealing with a narcissistic or manipulator in your life? What have you found to help you come through the ordeal?
I’d love to hear from you.