A Perspective on Narcissism and Gaslighting
It seems the theme of the season for me is tender hearts and tender topics. I am going to follow up my blog about heartbreak in Ireland with a story that comes even closer to my heart. I want to preface this story by saying that I take full responsibility for the relationship I chose to be in, however unconsciously I did so, and that the person I chose to be with is not inherently bad. He is quite the opposite. He is a wonderful person and a brave soul who agreed to meet me on earth and help me learn the lessons that I needed to learn. He is my Medicine in every sense of the word and a truly remarkable Medicine Man in his own way. I feel strongly that we agreed to come together for multiple reasons in this life, and healing my heart through causing it further pain was definitely one of those reasons. His role as a father is another. I could not have picked a better man to help me raise my tiny humans and I don’t regret partnering with him to navigate that challenging terrain.
I am sharing this story simply because I feel called to do so as part of my processing and as I learn to open my heart further to the world through inviting transparency and vulnerability.
Now I don’t particularly care for any labels, especially that of narcissist. I accept that we need to use words to communicate at this point in time, but I don’t like this term because it’s misused, rigid, and creates immediate judgment. However, the basic definition fits the circumstances I will dive into here. Many people experience narcissists in the more extreme sense, and I am not invalidating that in any way, simply sharing a perspective from another end of the narcissist spectrum.
When I returned home from my travels to Northern Ireland and began to integrate the messages around feeling unloved and unwanted in my marriage, many other things started to become clear to me as well. I want to share a little about my relationship background and my experience here because I am convinced that I am not the only one in this position. I know other people need to hear this right now.
The harm that I endured in my relationship is not the kind that leaves physical bruises or scars. It’s not the kind that leaves me without money or some level of freedom to do as I choose. This extreme type of abuse is what many of us think of when we think of being abused or being in a relationship with a “narcissist”. But it is not the only kind of situation out there.
Instead, mine was the kind that slowly and systematically broke me down at the foundation, at the knees of my soul. The kind that clouds the shell of my beautiful inner light, preventing me from seeing my true Self. The kind that leaves me questioning my sanity and feeling confused about what is real and what is not. It encouraged me to take responsibility for things that weren’t mine. It left me feeling like if I could just heal a little more, if I could just work a little harder, maybe I could fix this. Reinforcing the belief that I am not good enough as I am, that I am “the problem” that needs to be solved.
The most startling part of all of this for me is that none of it was done intentionally to hurt me. I think this may be the main reason why I wanted to share it.
On the day that I started the blog, my husband began the morning with a superficial conversation. He lives in a world where if we are talking about something, no matter how superficial, it means things are ok between us. This is a theme, and yet another thing that I keep circling back to, trying to comprehend. On this morning I can no longer pretend or hold this mask up that says “everything is fine” and carry on with these superficial tidings. I ask him about the conversation we had previously, about him moving out, and he tells me he will start looking for a rental “when he is good and ready — and when it’s convenient for him”. He says he is perfectly happy and doesn’t understand why he must be the one to move out when my happiness is “the problem”.
Background Note: We have been talking about separating for the last year and had one trial 40 days that did not go well (for me) but went very well for our kids — who both improved emotionally. I, however, within four weeks, started losing my shit. I went into a spiral about how I am not doing enough to make this marriage work and I booked us a session with a Tantra Facilitator to help “fix my issues with intimacy”. This session was very traumatic for me, and looking back, I can see that it was not attended from a place of love, but from one of fear. No wonder it caused a full sexual assault experience for me. An episode that required my husband to move back in earlier than expected to “help support me through the aftermath of the traumatic event”.
Here was my self-sabotage making a full appearance! My own shadow who doesn’t want the marriage to end, no matter the cost to all the other parts of Nadia.
That being said, the conversation we have on this day is not a new one. However, this time, for some reason, it hit me that he has no real intention of moving out. He never has. He agrees because I push, not because he wants to or sees the shit show that is our marriage. And I wonder, how much of our relationship is because of *me* pushing?
I realize that If I want this painful cycle to end, it is me who must leave, and I am far from equipped to do so on any level. I don’t have the means to be on my own and it requires quite the leap that I am gathering my strength to make.
So on this morning I leave the house, prepared to carry on with my day of work, networking, running errands, etc. But when I get in the car, all of it starts to hit me deeply for the first time. I am immediately brought to flashbacks of our early marriage years, the years when the red flags were clear and present daily.
The way he used to embarrass me in public by talking to me like I was stupid in front of other people.
When he left work just to come home and berate me for something I did while I was deep in postpartum depression.
The times he nonchalantly put me down about my weight, stating that I don’t care enough about myself or have enough self-respect to lose it.
When he told me I wasn’t feminine enough.
When he told me I didn’t want to have sex enough, but when I did, he didn’t want it to be on my terms. He wanted to call the shots.
The way my past actions are held against me every day, even though they happened a decade ago. We are unable to move forward because of all the things that I have done wrong. Apologies and “fixing myself” is never enough.
When I bring up my concerns, I am treated like I am crazy, I have a bad memory, or I am the problem and I am really projecting it onto him. If I bring a specific issue to the table, I am met with: “that’s exactly how I feel about you” and taking no personal responsibility or providing apologies.
Being told that I am too sensitive or emotional, therefore I must be the one who has issues I need to work out. If I am crying during a conversation, I am the one who is triggered and I am *obviously* the one who needs the healing.
I think you get the point.
I am sitting in my car reeling from all of this, wondering how I managed to miss all the red flags over the years. How I managed to find myself in this pot of boiling water that I am now to exhausted to jump out of.
This revelation started initially when I returned from Africa last year, though it didn’t have quite as much clarity. I was on my flight back when I started feeling the energy of what waited for me at home. It was a really gnarly feeling that made me want to cancel my return flight. I felt repulsed, scared, and confused. I texted him my feelings and he assured me that we would talk about it when I got home, it was no big deal, just things he had been thinking about. When we finally talked upon my return, it was all about his lack of attraction for me and how he no longer wanted to support my annual spiritual travel.
This was the beginning of the end.
During my time in South Africa, I had reclaimed a core aspect of my soul (soul retrieval). I wrote a whole blog on this trip about how powerful it was for me. I experienced my deep primal Medicine for the first time and I felt more “in my power” than I ever had previously. As such, this was also when I started to see the gaslighting in my relationship for what it was. It was because I had enough of my own power to stand in the midst of that otherworldly attack.
I think this is the main thing I want to share about today because when I saw it for the first time, I was blown away by what I experienced. It was not at all what I expected it to be and it helped explain so much.
The level and frequency of the gas lighting in my marriage is absolutely insane as I sit with this and recap the years I have spent with my partner. When I returned from South Africa, I was finally able to see it clearly. We were standing in the kitchen having a conversation about a recurring issue in the relationship. I do not feel heard, seen, or considered in my marriage. The conversation was going fine and I started digging into the topic a little more deeply to uncover the root cause of a specific aspect. He began to be verbally defensive in a quiet sort of way and he began deflecting some of my questions/dialogue. He was feeling attacked. All of a sudden, I *felt* like I was standing in the middle of a tornado. There was this energy swirling around me, pushing and shoving me. It was absolutely overwhelming to my spirit and my body. I began to feel confused and turned around. I couldn’t remember what we were talking about and observed myself getting ready to move into defense, shut down and/or counterattack. This is when the conversation would normally move from starting to peel back layers and into full fight mode. The original conversation was about to be left behind in favor of a conflict that would never be resolved.
Afterall, every day is met with an energy of “everything is fine” and therefore there’s no need to revisit conflict once it happens, explodes, and the dust settles.
In this instance, I was able to witness the incredible attack brought on by my husband’s shadow. I took a deep breath, reoriented myself, and backed out of the conversation. This shadow was unlike anything I had ever seen in a person before (and I literally see demons!). It was invisible and mixed with the energy of insanity. There is no logic, only arrows of defense and misdirection. The power of his shadow knocked me off my feet.
Interestingly, the fact that it is the shadow at play means that he cannot see it, which means it can’t be addressed (until he is ready). In fact, therapy and EMDR can make the shadow bigger or more separate if you aren’t careful, which is what I have witnessed over the last two years of watching my husband attempt to heal.
It’s been hard to accept so much of these circumstances I describe above because now I can see so much of his behavior, including the gaslighting, is being done by a child version of him who is completely in the shadow. The one who continually self-sabatoges to make sure he gets abandoned (a core wounding), who spends all of his energy on protecting himself, and also the one who is the magician that is longing to be claimed. The level of power that resides within the shadow part tells me that when my husband is finally able to heal this inner wounded child, he will be a very powerful person in this world. The Magician is clearly his main form, the one connected to his true Self.
Unfortunately, being able to see this also makes me want to stick around. The mother in me sees the child needing to be loved and the woman in me sees all his potential. It’s a hard one to walk away from and there is a lot to justify why I should stay.
On this day that I start writing, it hits me that this clarity doesn’t matter. The pain, confusion, and exhaustion that the relationship causes me is real. On some level, I do not feel safe in my own home and I feel hopelessly lonely in the presence of my chosen partner. It’s destroying me from the inside — that’s what matters. This relationship feeds that inner wounded child of mine who grew up thinking that she was not good enough, that she has too many emotions, that she is fat, and not worthy of the physical or emotional love of a man unless she checks the right boxes. All of these things I have manifested in my external life and I am ready to reconcile.
The hardest part of my being in a relationship with a “narcissist” is that none of this is done on purpose or with conscious ill intent. There is no one to blame or hate. There is only the guilt and shame that come up around knowing that this is a reflection of my inner world, a reflection of the beliefs I once held about myself and have taken me 13 years to unearth and begin to heal. I suspect I have a lifetime of healing to do around them still. We all do.
Now, we are several weeks out from when this blog was started. As I begin to be curious about this behavior and the unfolding happening in my heart, more things continue to be clear. When I pull back my effort and my love, I can see that I was the driving force in my relationship. Everything that existed was *in response* to me… to my wounding, or to my affection. There is no love, attention, or care present without my energy propelling it or triggering it.
There is also no pain.