Being in a relationship with a narcissist is one of those unique experiences that no one else will ever understand unless they have also been part of the club at one time or another. Whether you are part of the narcissist’s life for a month or several decades you’ll leave the relationship a completely changed person.
Sure, that happens in all relationships but never in such an all-consuming way as this. Over time your ethics, beliefs, interests, and even personality changes until you are unrecognizable to yourself and those who’ve known you a long time. How in the world did that happen?
Did you read, Picture of Dorian Gray in high school? Well, you’re the picture!
Let Me Introduce You to Introjection
One of the lesser known weapons in kept in the narcissist’s arsenal is called introjection. In its simplest form the narcissist takes on your positive behaviors during that courtship cycle. He has the uncanny ability to analyze your personality and pick out your greatest strengths and then project them.
You comment how amazing it is that you both are so concerned about hunger in America and both spend hours working on various campaigns. You are both involved in your churches, and you are awed to find that it’s even in the same area of ministry. In fact, all of those passions in your life that you feel so strongly about?
He feels exactly the same as you!
Over time people accept these values and morals as his own. For a time you are seen as a team, making a difference in the world, and you are held up in your community as the perfect couple.
Once you are trapped because of spiritual beliefs, children, or finances then he is free to begin the second part of his narcissistic cycle while outsiders see him as a wonderful, moral, family man.
Introjection Changes after He Has You
At this point introjection changes a bit. It twists the other way. It isn’t real easy to define because it can be used in a number of ways and each person it is used against will respond in a different way.
In a narcissistic relationship this usually looks like one or both of the following:
The narcissist repeatedly tells you that something is true about yourself and eventually it becomes true.
Maybe he consistently tells you that you are less intelligent than he is until you believe it. Even though you were an accountant in your career you find that you can’t balance your checkbook. Perhaps you’ve always been soft spoken but lately you find that he is right – you scream like a howler monkey. Whatever it is, you’ve absorbed his version of truth and you have begun to manifest it.
The narcissist has unspoken rules that must be obeyed but since you don’t know what they are you make assumptions, and therefore fail no matter how you try to please or placate him.
The two of you are invited to a party. You have you hair done, buy a gorgeous outfit, and when he sees you he frowns and turns away. You realize you have an extra ten minutes before you have to leave so you run upstairs and put on a dress you know he likes. When you rush breathlessly into the car he looks at you like you are crazy and yells at you all the way to the party because you changed. Once the car is parked he opens your door, helps you out, and conducts himself like royalty for the entire party. You, on the other hand, feel humiliated, are near to tears, and ask to leave early.
Even though you have always loved parties you stop accepting invitations and the other couples you know comment on how much you have changed since you were married.
Projection Is Not Far Behind
When problems start the narcissist is unable to process the fact that he might be the cause of a chunk of them. He begins to project his own behavior on you.
- You always start something right before we have company
- I can’t do anything to please you.
- You aren’t there for me.
- I can’t trust you.
He can define what the problem is – he just refuses to accept that he is capable of creating it. He can all of a sudden go ape-crap crazy on you and in the midst of it look at you with tears in his eyes and say, “I don’t understand how you can be so irrational.”
The crazy thing is that you will wonder the same thing. How can you be so irrational? Is it really you? Are your perceptions that far off?
The answer is no. You, my friend, have tumbled down a rabbit hole at the hand of the mad hatter. Be careful not to eat or drink anything while you are there… and say hi to Alice for me.
Humiliation is part of life when you live with a narcissist. Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons: Ken Wilcox
Humiliation Is a Constant Companion
I was talking to a friend one day about all of the things I had done to try to please the ex, to make him admire me, love me, or even accept me. Humiliation was such a normal part of my life that I didn’t even know I was humiliating myself until I was divorced.
Now? I cringe at the memories. Maybe you can identify?
More than once I bought him a gift only to have him return it or find out that he bought it for himself days before. There were times when he would leave the kids and I when we needed him to go help other people.
There was the time that we had no money on his birthday. I wrote “Happy Birthday!” across my body with red lipstick, added a few well-placed bows and waited for him to come into the bedroom. I visualized the look of surprise, followed by adoration, followed by pure desire. In reality? He walked in, laughed at me, and left.
Another time our sex life was flat lining and I read everything I could on spicing it up. The kids were gone for the morning and I decided to serve his breakfasts while wearing a thong and stilettos…and nothing else. He looked at me, rolled his eyes, ate his b meal and left the house.
At that point I knew that I was the most unattractive creature on the planet – so untouchable that the elephant man would hand me a bathrobe and turn away if he happened upon my willing, naked form. The sexual confidence and freedom that I had in my teens was replaced with shame and self-consciousness.
He accused me of wanting to be the center of the universe – in reality I only wanted to be the center of his universe.
I think that the humiliation received at the hands of a narcissist must stay with you for a long time. I have moved on in my life with a new (healthy) relationship but I still feel held back at times because of the self-consciousness that seems to be a permanent part of my life.
You just have to use the same technique on yourself. Remind yourself of what the truth is. Get acquainted with yourself again so that you know who you are – what is true and what isn’t. Let’s face it – most normal people can rattle off their negative qualities much faster than their positive ones. We have enough negative stuff that we don’t have to accept the stuff that isn’t true.
Begin by arguing with that voice that accuses you – don’t accept what you have been taught to believe. If nothing else, hunt up someone who you knew before your relationship with the narcissist. Ask them to help you remember who you were. Do the things you used to enjoy just to see if you still do!
After decades of not shopping and not doing many things I once enjoyed I am learning about myself, the things I still enjoy, and the things I have grown beyond. Slowly I am becoming who I might have been. Now that I am familiar with the techniques I can begin to undo the damage in myself and in my kids. My ex has the audacity to predict an abusive relationship in the future for my daughter because of things he thinks are in my past. In reality she is healing quite well from years of verbal abuse that I didn’t even know was happening.
A narcissist is incapable of predicting healthy things because they have nothing inside of them except what they take from other people – like real life shape-shifters.
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Lead Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons: Raleene.