I am not a competitive person. If I can’t be the best at what I do I really don’t like to try. I admit this, not because it is something I am proud of but only because over the years it has explained a lot of things. At the same time I don’t let go of things easily. Yeah, it seems somewhat convoluted but it’s how I’m wired.
So, while I won’t actively compete I will hang on to something I want like a grandma at the toy store with her arms wrapped around the last Star Wars Lego set. I know how that is - I am that grandma.
Hanging On with All You’ve Got – It’s an Addiction
I did not want to let go of my family. I didn’t want to let go of how nice and tidy my life looked and somehow I thought that my kids would grow up to be well adjusted adults who would fit right in on the set of a 1950s sitcom. To me that was what a good life looked like and I desperately wanted the kids to enjoy it.
That little fantasy cost me way too many years of covering, accepting, and crying in the shower. It all blew up in my face at the end when no one understood why such a perfect couple would divorce – no one except my children that were still living at home.
Once it all crumbled I kept one thing, one small memento of our relationship. I was determined to prove to him that I was successful, confident, and amazing. Even though he had ignored me for most of our marriage I felt sure that he would, at some point, give me the admiration that I felt I deserved.
Some Affirmation, Please?
I worked hard to build my career and provide a life for the kids that they hadn’t had before. I became reasonably well known in my field, lost weight thanks to the doctors finally getting my thyroid medication adjusted, and had my hair returned to close to the color it was when I was young.
Looking back I don’t really know how much of what I did was to impress him and how much was because I needed to support the kids.
Finally I had one of those aha! moments. Even though I was out of the marriage, out from under the tyranny of his silent disapproval and violent temper tantrums, and had no need to depend on him for anything my life was still under his control. It’s just that the way he controlled us had changed.
It was affecting how I related to my new husband, how I saw myself, and the decisions I made. Everything was a win or lose proposition. If he wasn’t paying child support he was winning. If I was having I taken from his check by the state I was winning.
Enough Is Enough
I finally decided I had enough. He could win. He could do whatever the court would let him get away with. I wasn’t going to stress about it, try to fix it, or cover it with the kids. For the first time I was able to totally release my ex, my expectations of him, and my sense of what was fair. I stopped caring what I deserved and I stopped feeling responsible for his relationship with the kids.
I won simply by losing.
I don’t know if everyone in a narcissistic relationship struggles with that ongoing desire for affirmation or not. I do know that once I let it go I was able to relax, to think about who I was, and to accept affirmation from other places. I don’t have to prove anything to him.
I honestly don’t know why I ever wanted to.
Letting it all go allows you to experience exhilarating freedom. Image Courtesy Flickr's Creative Commons: H.koppdelaney
Put It Aside
There comes a point in time when you need to come to that same place. You can’t fix him, you can’t make him do the right thing – you can’t control any of it. There are going to be times when the kids are hurt by the thoughtless things he does and you will have to learn to give them comfort without cleaning up his part of the mess.
Here’s the deal. You are not a team anymore – you don’t have to be a team player.
Once you can put aside those mementos that you are holding on to there is a freedom that comes. You’ll know it when it happens – there’s just nothing like it.
For the longest time I thought that making him do the right thing – trying to make him do the right thing – would open his eyes to what he was doing. It won’t. If he could see what he was doing, if he had the ability to grasp the concept of responsibility then things would not have happened the way that they did.
As one of the kids said, “It’s just the way he is. He’s always been like that. You can’t expect him to act differently all of a sudden.”
Leave Him in the Past
That was a life-changing moment for me.
It was true. He’d always been like that. He’d always put his needs first and everyone else’s needs were secondary unless he had something to gain. He has the unique ability to walk out of people’s lives and not look back.
It was time for me to do the same. Whether my first marriage was a failure, whether it was partly my fault, his fault, or just a giant mistake doesn’t matter. Moving on, living my life, and raising my children in the present for the future is what is important.
I haven’t lost by giving up and letting go. I have won. I’ve won because I have my life back and I am confident in my own abilities, my own strengths and my own talents. I don’t need affirmation from other places.
I’ve learned to affirm myself.
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*Lead Image Courtesy of Flickr's Creative Commons: C & More