See the woman in the picture? That looked like me for a very long time. There I was; anxious, distressed, and in rapidly declining health. But it didn’t make sense; what was wrong with me? I was still reasonably young and my life should have been glamorous by any definition. I might even have appeared to have everything a girl could ever want. So what was the problem?
What I never understood then was that this is the look of a deeply embedded shame. It is the visible result of the emptiness and dis-ease that permeates every moment of your life with a toxic narcissist. And it can make you seriously ill.
Accepting Less Than You Deserve
So why does anyone stay with a partner who makes them uncomfortable? Cognitive dissonance? Brain fog? What could possibly make you ignore his ridiculously grandiose behaviors, his apparent disconnect with reality, his groupie-like obsession with people he’d only just met?
Maybe it’s the children you share or the life you’ve created together over the years. Or maybe it’s the incredible love you felt in the very beginning when you were being idealized and lovebombed. You still experience those highs every now and again, and possibly they temporarily make you forget just how terribly you feel about yourself all the rest of the time.
Because at all other times you are trying your best to overlook the subtle put-downs, the disassociation with your needs and desires, the sense that you are both wanted and unwanted at the same time.
But you can’t. You feel unworthy. You feel second rate. His persistent need for the attention of others –and not you– is both humiliating and disturbing. It will feel like shame because, besides never being good enough, you will be lonely and confused and trying to please him constantly, and he will not be there for you. And yet you will not abandon him.
The Narcissistic Relationship Agenda
Every relationship with a narcissist starts with a game of entrapment. This is a deliberate, deceptive ploy to recruit you as ‘narcissistic supply’ (a source of unwavering attention, adoration, adulation, applause, etc.).
The narcissist views you as a potential ‘investment’. If you are deemed viable (compliant, attractive, talented, resourceful), you will be charmed off your feet as he presents himself as everything you’ve ever wanted in a partner.
He will shower you with attention and appear to have so much in common with you. He’ll make you laugh like crazy and romance you like you’ve never been romanced before. He will promise you the moon and make grand plans for your future together. And you will feel entranced to have found yourself a best friend and lover wrapped up in one.
What Lies Beneath
But what you won’t realize is that everything you are falling in love with about this amazing man is a lie. Narcissists are extremely insecure, so they constantly seek to project an image of themselves that they think will impress others.
As a result, they have no consistent personality traits; they are simply masters at mimicking emotions and managing impressions. You will fall for someone who does not exist and you won’t truly know what is happening until long after your relationship has fallen apart.
And it will. Because, unbeknownst to you, your only value to him is your current utility, and once that falters or you come to your senses long enough to assert your individuality, he will have no further use for you.
Toxic narcissists are unable to love authentically and are instead wholly agenda-driven. The person underneath the façade is a cold and calculating abuser – disingenuous by default – and you will have fallen headfirst into a trap. You’ll be tricked into playing a specially-designated role that has nothing to do with you and absolutely everything to do with him. The narcissist then proceeds to exploit all of your resources and to project his emptiness and aggression onto you in an attempt to ease his own suffering.
The Red Flags Are Everywhere
It will be difficult to separate yourself from the unreality to which you now find yourself complicit. The narcissist leans on you so hard that you feel flattered to be his lifeline. But while you cherish this special connection you share, you will start to feel drained by its intensity.
He may frequently tell you how much he loves you, yet you will feel anxious and uncertain – as if walking on eggshells – and less and less like yourself. Because by now he will have started to take issue with your looks, your interests, and even your most cherished possessions.
He may make sporadic gestures of being considerate and kind, and you will mistakenly think he ‘still’ cares about you. But then he will repeatedly forget the names of your friends, plans you made together, and the very important conversation you had with him just yesterday.
A Coupling Of One
Your son’s football game, his ‘best friend’s’ funeral, or the trip you’ve been talking about for months will all stand a distant second to his ever-shifting agenda, which is squarely focused on himself and highly placed others.
Nothing takes priority over his needs, and nothing should require any output of energy much less compromise on his part. The narcissist now makes no demonstration of the love that he so often professes with words, and you begin to realize that all you are holding onto are words and hope.
And yet you will suck it all up. He will do this to you again and again and you will let him get away with it. You will continue your self-imposed penance because you have bought into the illusion you fell for at the start and are desperately trying to make it reappear.
Your Role In The Narcissist’s Movie
With a narcissist, you will eventually come to accept that there was never any mutuality in your relationship. It has always been all about him. At some point you would have known this, it would have been normalized and you would have accepted it.
There will be much that you have sacrificed -your friends, your aspirations, even the little things that give you joy- to be all that you can be to impress him. You will persist in selflessly serving his needs, jockeying for crumbs of attention, and losing your dignity and self-respect in the process.
The breakdown is inevitable. You will, at a certain point and as sure as night and day, find that you have been sucked completely dry.
The Great Escape
Finally, you will either gather the courage to leave him or more likely, he will become bored and abandon you first. And then, with nothing left to harvest from your now crumbled miserable frame, the narcissist will discard you like yesterday’s trash and instantly replace you with ‘the love of his life’.
Either way, he will proceed to launch a smear campaign against you to your mutual friends and family, and your reputation will suddenly be mud. The time you spent together or the children you share will count for nothing. He will present you as his abuser under the guise of care and concern, and people will believe him.
At this point, you will go into shock as the reality of what has happened starts to dawn on you. You will realize that nothing was ever as it seemed, that you in fact never mattered to the narcissist, and that you have been playing a bit part in your own life under the guise of a starring role.
The shame of all this will be almost too much to bear, but the worse is yet to come. You are about to enter an alternate universe to the one that you’ve been living in all along, and it will not be pretty.
The Aftershock of the Narcissist
Because the lies and betrayals are beyond imagination, the kind you would NEVER remotely suspect. They would have been too blatant, too vile, too inconceivable. It would have meant that Lucifer and not John Brown had been sleeping in your bed all along.
You will soon find out, besides his other lives and sinister agenda, that he has been spreading lies about you, mixed in with half-truths, from long before your relationship ended. You’ve been set up in advance to take the fall for his multiple misdeeds and he’s negatively portrayed you to be something you are not.
As he exits the scene, it will occur to you that the signs were there all along, except you weren’t even remotely paying attention. It will feel as if you have suddenly awoken from a long deep sleep, and you will not understand anything that has happened.
C-PTSD And Other Maladies
Looking back, you will experience the trauma of missed cues and your clueless involvement in your own unraveling. The narcissist will have dropped countless hints of his deceit and depravity that now appear as bright as day, and you will find yourself replaying these conversations and events over and over again in your mind.
Narcissists try to get caught; it’s part of the thrill. When you finally grasp how close they came, on purpose, to allowing you to catch on, the humiliation of this will come with a pain the likes of which you have never felt before.
And it is this, this, that is at the heart of the shame you now feel. Suddenly you will realize that you have wasted years sharing the most intimate parts of your life with a personality-disordered abuser. You also realize that he has been using you for as long as you can remember and that you let him.
Whether it is the C-PTSD that you now find yourself battling or the total loss of your trusting self, the sense of shame is undeniable. In a flash, life as you knew it is gone and, much worse still, it never even existed. Ultimately you will feel ashamed for accepting less than you deserved in a partnership that never was. This was your role from the start and you played it willingly.