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My Narcissistic Ex-Husband

Reflections on loving and living with a Narcissist.  Let our experts guide you toward the healing power of moving on and allowing yourself some time in the spotlight.  Get advice on healing from his behavior and finding yourself again.

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If you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist you understand what it’s like to not have any boundaries. You might have had strong healthy ones at some point in the past but years of having the narcissist vault over each boundary wore you down, didn’t it?

You may have gotten free of the relationship but it is so hard to be free of the feeling that everyone else is more important and has more rights than you do. Everyone else is allowed to have boundaries but yours are fragile at best.

You may even think that you don’t deserve them.

Change Is Tough

I swore when I separated from my ex I would create and maintain strong boundaries. I imagined myself standing strong – lovingly but firmly refusing to give up the things that I felt strongly about. I read articles on healthy boundaries, I got counseling, and I prayed about it. I felt sure that I could be adult enough to stand up and tell people when they had crossed that line.

I am still a dismal failure at boundaries.

I will say something a couple of times, then I will get overwhelmed, then I will be frustrated, then I will cry, and then the cycle repeats. It isn’t just one person – it’s everyone. I have had enough conflict in my life that I think I just feel it’s easier to suck it up and move on that to demand that certain things be done.

I Expect Others to Understand

I don’t know about you, but I have the terrible tendency to expect others to see my needs and understand my feelings.

I am an empath. I read people so well that I can nearly always anticipate a need in someone’s life – almost before they know it themselves. I make it a habit to look for things that cause other people discomfort and I try to avoid those things. Because I am like that I tend to think others are like that, too.

Guess what?

They’re not.

The truth of the matter is that we’ve been trained to overlook our preferences, needs, and wants so that others will not be discomforted. Because of that we can have difficulty separating the important things from the not so important things. It makes it hard for family and friends to know when to accommodate us and when it’s OK to hold fast to their boundaries.

There is some part of me that says if they loved me they’d know how important this is to me.

That is a dangerous mentality; an unhealthy thing to believe. The truth is that they do love me but they can’t get inside my head. If I can’t logically sit down and explain what my needs are then I can’t expect my family to read my mind. If I don’t make my boundaries clear then I can’t blame anyone but myself when others crash over them.

I Have to Define My Boundaries

I have to define my boundaries in an obvious way, plus I have to be fair about it. It isn’t right to be inwardly frustrated about something for years, never say anything about it, then all of a sudden blow up and demand that the boundary be honored.

It’s also important to be reasonable about them. There has to be some give and take in any relationship. Insisting on having your way all of the time isn’t healthy but neither is it healthy to always be the one that backs down.

Know When You Need to Set a Boundary

When I don’t have boundaries I feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and frustrated. My chest hurts, I cry easily, and I end up resenting the situations that I feel are causing my problems.

When I feel all of that it’s past time to take a step back and try to figure out what need isn’t being met. Then I need to decide how I should proceed. I will be honest – at this point in my life my boundaries are fragile. It doesn’t take much to sweep them away. As much as I hate to admit it I am afraid of conflict.

I am working on it though. I am doing my best to put myself on the important people list. I am trying to recognize that other family members have different priorities and may not understand why something is important to me. I am trying to respectfully enforce my boundary before I hit that point of explosion. You know what I am talking about – that last straw.

Don’t Feel Guilty

This is the hardest part – the not feeling guilty part. It’s OK that I have reasonable boundaries and I can’t control how other people respond to them. I need to respect their feelings as much as I want them to respect mine, but I will not allow myself to feel guilty for having a reasonable boundary that someone else doesn’t like. It’s up to them to figure out what to do about their own emotions.

I have lost friends because I needed to maintain an important boundary. I felt bad, I was sorry to see them go – but ultimately I don’t need people in my life that refuse to acknowledge my boundaries. They don’t have to approve of them, but I am just as entitled to my feelings as anyone else is to theirs.

Yeah, It’s Easy in Theory

So how in the world do you go about creating and strengthening healthy boundaries?

Identify the need. I get stressed when people yell at me.

  • Be calm and respectful. If you continue to yell at me I am going away until you can speak calmly to me.
  • Enforce your boundary. I am not angry at you but you are continuing to yell (or speak in a way that is intimidating, etc.) so I am going to the coffee shop for an hour to give us both a chance to calm down.
  • Then you just do it.

It is difficult at first but as you do it more it will get easier. I’ll tell you a secret, too. Most people do not try to ascertain whether their emotions are worth expressing or not. We have been unable to express our feelings, thoughts, and indignation at abuse without fear of repercussion.  We have forced forgiveness when it wasn’t warranted.  We have a habit of bypassing our hearts and spirits in the name of peace and security.

That’s just not normal.

You can find normal again. Join First Wives World and talk to others who are dealing with the same issues you are – you’re not alone.

*Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, User: Shira Gal

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  • Comment Link Mira Wednesday, 21 January 2015 00:59 posted by Mira

    Such an important topic. Thank you for talking about it, as an "empath" I frequently find myself in the role of trying to please so many people it drowns out who I am... and as I'm in the process of divorcing a narcissist I am now seeing that I've let this happen in every part of my life. The steps you talk about are really helpful. Thanks for bringing things issue to light!

  • Comment Link FreeSpirit52 Friday, 10 October 2014 16:43 posted by FreeSpirit52

    So good of you to talk about the boundaries side of things. I had to let a great deal go with my kids, while with my Ex Narc/Depressive, just to keep the piece in the house. There were days I wanted so much to shout from the roof tops like most mothers do, when you have worked, got the kids to school, shopped etc. You get taken for granted and become a general dogs body. It's now 6 months after my divorce and I for the first time have started standing up to my own kids who forgo,t who protected them when their wonderful father (Not) was having one of his many angry moments and It was I who got them to where they are now (University/School) and had to fight for a home for us to share. I intend to with help to continue to put my views at the for front and not at the back anymore. If my kids are not happy I can remind them to go and live with their father as I can no longer live with being walked all over and hurt least, by them. Don't get me wrong, I have always been there for my kids and given them my all and love them beyond words but boundaries I know, have to be in place in any household no matter what age. Early days for recovery for me and one day at a time. Thank all.

  • Comment Link Maria Thursday, 02 October 2014 11:29 posted by Maria

    My husband and I separated a year ago. When we first met he swept me off my feet, always complimented me, always held my hands and put his arms around me when we were out, took me away for romantic weekends, told me he loved me nearly every day. I was fragile when we met, I had cancer 3 years previously and a son who had been diagnosed with a disability. I hadn't been on a date since I became ill, I completely lost my confidence. When my husband came along he felt like a huge comfort blanket. I wasn't 100% sure he was the right one for me but he made me feel wanted and secure and in the end I did fall in love with him. A few years later I started to notice that there was a different side to him. I got pregnant and was blamed, he didn't believe in having children outside of marriage. As soon as we saw the doctor face to face he put on a huge proud face, when we left he said it was going to be ok and that was that, no apology. When he saw that I was upset he had a confused look on his face like I was talking nonsense. I had many of those moments...he said awful shocking things to me, later ignored or simplified them, lied or turned the blame on me. I put up no boundaries, I'd first shout and get upset and later end up questioning myself, feeling guilty for causing a fuss, I tried hard to ignore it to get out of all this confusion and upset. Most of the time he managed to convince me that I was wrong. My family noticed something was wrong but I was blinded and refused to agree. The first time I put a boundary up was when I was physically threatened, I told him it was over, got him out of the house and filed for a divorce. That's when the war began. He fired bullets from me from all directions verbally, face to face, e-mail, text messages. He denied everything he had done, blamed me, told relate and his family I should be ashamed of myself, all I kept hearing or reading was 'you are 100% to blame' 'I am a good father and a good husband'. Since then I finally opened my eyes and accepted that his behaviour was abnormal, I looked into it and came to the conclusion that he was narcisstic. (Always superior, better than everyone else, always right, lacked empathy ). After all this time he can still break my barrier, when he does something wrong, I try to stand up to him but he soon twists the truth, puts the blame on me, I end up confused, upset, angry, guilty. Best thing I can do is stay away from him as much as possible, learn to take control and build a boundary with bricks not straws!

  • Comment Link MsTerry1 Thursday, 02 October 2014 01:48 posted by MsTerry1

    Thank you for sharing this. It has taken me a lot of years to learn that being kind and caring does not mean I have to be a doormat. I think oftentimes the tears come from the deep frustration that is the byproduct of feeling powerless. I used to say, "I don't know how to be a b--ch." You don't have to be one of those in order to set proper boundaries for yourself. I'm a work in progress, which is why I am ok with not having a man in my life just yet. I spent my childhood with an alcoholic absent father and an abusive raging mother. I quickly followed that up with a narc husband. No wonder I ran headlong into the arms of Jesus! (And thankfully so). I like who I am, but I know that until I learn how to maintain healthy boundaries, I'm fodder for another potential narc. Keep the truth coming Marye. We all need it. Let's break this terribly cycle of abuse, pain, and bad relationships. God bless you!

  • Comment Link susanwilliams Tuesday, 30 September 2014 21:50 posted by susanwilliams

    Love this Marye. It is so true. The empath is so attuned to everyone elses’ needs and feelings that she finds it hard to accept that other people don't understand her in the same way. And then of course we rise above certain behavior because we can see all the dynamics behind why they are doing it and we forgive them, when we need to say, ‘No more, this is not good enough.’ I talk a lot about boundaries and my failure to set them, in my first book about my relationship with my ex because I think that is the core issue in dealing with a narcissist. If we set stronger boundaries in the beginning, we would probably never continue with them. Although as you say they just vault over them anyway - I laughed at that. Great post thank you.

  • Comment Link SharP Tuesday, 30 September 2014 18:51 posted by SharP

    I am no longer feeling guilty for using the bathroom first and making my child do their homework first then getting his bathroom time. I have never said no, me first before. Funny, I don't see myself as an empath but definately struggle with boundaries. My ex disrespected and my kids watched. I have been working on those boundaries ever since my divorce. No more feeling guilty :)

  • Comment Link chele Tuesday, 30 September 2014 01:47 posted by chele

    Were you in my house this weekend listening to a conversation I was having with a friend? Because words you wrote are exact words I was telling him. Its so difficult to set a boundary especially when you've been "trained" by a narcissist that you have no right to have them and wont.
    My family and friends do not understand why I get upset when like this past weekend, my friend didn't see how I am hurting inside. Because Im doing just that- keeping it inside. I've put everyone and everything before myself. Even to the point of having a car accident months ago and rather than admit or say Im in pain I let it go. Now we are looking at what really happened.
    It's difficult to learn something new. Especially when you loved and trusted your husband with everything you had and he abused it.
    My counseling is done at this time. I recognize the problems and try to work on them. Just sometimes I wish people would recognize them... :)