Tagged: self-esteem

Narcissist: definition and example

I’ve finally gotten to the point of being comfortable calling my husband a narcissist. It’s hard because calling people names is mean. But it’s not mean to call him a man, a father, an employee. He’s a narcissist just as much as he is any of those things. Because it’s perceived as negative I still hesitate to say the word in public but once I fully understood what it was, I was comfortable calling him one privately, because it fit. No more, no less. It’s who he is.

The internet is full of definitions but here is my super simple version:

A narcissist is someone who, in his or her heart, thinks he or she is God (and they are not.)

It’s that simple. There are variations and different levels of narcissism, sure. In fact, I believe we ALL have a certain level of narcissism even, and especially, those abused by a narcissist. (Don’t run away, it’s okay and I will explain later.)

So what does “god” look like?

They make the rules, they are right all of the time, if you disagree you are sinful. They are to be honored and respected by all those lower even if they don’t make sense. They can be a benevolent god bestowing kindness on those underneath them, or they can be a vengeful and angry god demanding performance. Often they are the former earlier in the relationship but will switch back and forth and slowly become more vengeful and angry more and more often further into the relationship. But it’s true, they were narcissists the entire time.

So what does this “god” do?

  • Bestow/withhold It is in their power to either bestow or withold attention, affection, sex, finances, presence… anything really. Whatever they have to contribute, you are either honored to have access to or denied based on their judgment call.
  • Assign He decides for you is right for you. You can be assigned a job in the relationship based on your skills, his lack of skill, or even just how good it makes him look. Early on he usually depends on flattery to get you to take your assigned jobs.
  • Tax If you do well, he gets a cut. Maybe it’s a literal cut of the money but it can also be a cut of the recognition. This is what a trophy wife is. She is great, he gets the praise.
  • Demand Not only are duties assigned there is a RIGHT way to do it. These gods bestow grace for only so long and then punishment would be given for not meeting the demand. Often the demand and/or punishment would shift and be inconsistent. This is gaslighting.
  • Receive praise Narcissists love being told they are right, superior, or attractive. If you go too long between praises watch out for some type of punishment. Each narcissistic god has a different area they feel they need praise for. Not all narcissists are hyper-focused on looks like the original Narcissus. In fact, a covert narcissist can need recognition for being so humble or put upon. They will moan or sigh until you notice how difficult it must be for them. Some narcissists need to be recognized for their generosity. They will be so giving. This was my narcissist. He was exceedingly generous with time, talents, or money—when it suited him. When he doesn’t think he will get the recognition he deserves or if it serves his purposes more to be in control, he is not generous at all.
  • Judge If something is right or wrong depends solely on his perception and this is true about everything. Everything. If he lets something act in a different way it is because he is benevolent and kind. It is also common for something that has been clearly defined as wrong to be switched to clearly right or vice versa, whenever it suits the narcissist. (Again, gaslighting.)

So why do those abused display a level of narcissism?

Narcissists know how to take what they feel is owed to them. (i.e. everything)  When you regularly have things taken from you by a narcissist you learn their skills and you can start using those skills against them to take back. Sometimes we even take those skills into the outside world and start taking all we can get because we are left so broken by a narcissist. This is not okay, we should not manipulate or put down people for building our own self-esteem but everyone struggles with at least some of this from time to time.

For example, when I am the most late in the mornings, trying to get out the door, I am the most snappy and rude to my children. When I feel the most drained and powerless, I am most likely to grab power from those nearest and weakest.

And this is the entire existence of the narcissist.  

Do you remember the parenthesis in my definition? They are NOT God. When you think you are God but you are not God you always feel horribly powerless. You feel you have the right to say you want something NOW and yet it doesn’t arrive unless you go and actually pour the water through the coffeemaker. This earthly existence with no powers for a god is a horrible feeling. When a narcissist feels powerless (i.e. all the time) he is most likely to grab power from those nearest and weakest.

In the end narcissism is a sad and lonely personality disorder. If you find yourself in a relationship with a narcissist it’s most likely because you have a huge propensity for empathy—the one thing the narcissist doesn’t have. You meet her needs because her needs are so great. And even though she is not God (and never will be) her need to feel she is God keeps her so broken. Gods cannot be broken so a very tough outside shell of confidence overlays an interior of… emptiness.

If you are pouring your empathy into a narcissist you will be pouring forever.

The GREAT news

There is a God and He does NOT look like your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend. This God really does deserve all honor and praise. He has assigned who you are and has every right to punish you for everything he has judged as an offense… but He doesn’t. This God, as big as he is in the demanding territory, is just as big in the caring territory. He has more love and tender care than you could ever begin to imagine. He knew we couldn’t satisfy our duties. He knew we could never be good enough for Him so He provided the way Himself so we could be good enough.

Don’t let a narcissist in your life be your god. Like I did. It will only lead to emptiness. The true God will fill you up and He is the only one capable of filling up that narcissist in your life as well. Please, be safe and leave that job to the real God.

photo credit: One Way Stock <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/60141638@N06/8557792607″>Hello My Name Is Narcissit</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Gaslighting: definition and example

A popular term you will hear in relation to emotional abuse is “gaslighting.” It may be a confusing term because it’s based on a kinda antique movie but it is used to describe a very common (if not the #1) problem with emotional abuse. Very simply it’s making the victim think they are crazy.

The term is based on a 1944 movie called “Gaslight.” In it a man marries a woman, not for love, but for access to search and steal her deceased aunt’s prized jewels. Naturally no woman would agree to this, so he puts on a show for her. He acts loving and caring and then when she notices inconsistencies he lies and covers it up by making her think she’s crazy.

He leaves the house at night (and she’s not invited because she’s so “ill”) and sneaks back into the house through the windows in the attic. When he turns on the gas lamps in the attic, all of the house’s lights dim for a moment because they are all on the same gas lines. (See, kinda antique, right?) It was a major clue to the wife that something was up but she had been taught not to believe her own eyes, only her husband’s truth. He did sneaky stuff to solidify his truth as the accepted one, like move things around the house or put things in her purse and act like she was stealing things from him and just forgetting about it. Pretty sinister stuff. It’s pretty harsh to use a term based on this movie about someone you love, isn’t it? I thought so.

I thought so because I think I kinda gaslit myself.

*****

I remember the time I realized the beauty of the phrase, “well maybe I misunderstood.” I was a teenager and I found great power in the art of letting things go. In a disagreement with my sister about what color the car was that just passed? Let it go! Don’t necessarily give in but give her the ability to think she was right; “Maybe I didn’t see it right” and voila! Argument over! No need to argue anymore.

Let’s be clear, when I was a teenager that realization was healthy and good. We need to be able to not take ourselves so seriously. We need to be okay with not always being right. We need to be able to be wrong or at least let someone else be right.

So I took this healthy and good realization out into life and it helped my relationships. If something wasn’t worth being argued over, I didn’t. I admitted that I could be wrong and moved on. Things were great.

But things in my relationship to my husband quickly got one-sided. When things are one-sided, small shifts grow massive over time. Times I used the “maybe I’m wrong” trick turned into “remember, you were wrong.” The times I said, “maybe that is the best way” became, “that is always the best way.” Not good.

*****

An emotional abuser isn’t gaslighting to steal jewels, he’s trying to steal being right. When you have to be wrong so often in order to let someone be right, you start to think you’re crazy, unworthy and less than.

Every day being separated from my narcissist has led to more and more realizations of things he stole from me. More accurately, maybe there were many things that I gave away to him that I shouldn’t have.

Here’s an example: chili. I believed I couldn’t make good chili. Every time I made it my husband put it down. I just didn’t do it right. In my early wifey days I originally made chili with just tomato juice, burger, and chili beans. He said it couldn’t be called chili, it was too runny to put on a hot dog so it was more like soup. So I tried a different recipe. Something else was wrong… over, and over and over again… over years and years. Sometimes there was a specific complaint; sometimes it was very vague or just a look; sometimes he gave me a compliment… with a negative twist on the end. It was all very unsteadying. This was gaslighting and the result was complete.

I. Fail. Chili. After years he still would tell others I didn’t know how to make chili, it was “more like soup” even though I had long ago ever stopped making anything remotely runny. That didn’t matter. The thievery was complete. I was incapable of making chili and everyone, including me, knew it.

*****

Chili is not something to stress over. In the real world you say, “Maybe I got it wrong” and move on. Yet years of “maybe I was wrong” somehow got me pushed over into “I am wrong” territory. Even without my husband here to give a single negative glance, I don’t trust my chili. He stole my ability to make chili although it would be more accurate to say I actually can make more variations of chili than most people. But that is what gaslighting does. The abuser takes your own healthy ability to not take yourself so seriously, turns you around, and lets you believe you are wrong. Crazy even. The craziness comes in when my brain says “I can make so many variations of chili and often it’s tasty.” But my heart says, “Maybe I can’t make chili.” They don’t match up. Can I make chili or can’t I? Second-guess. Ruminate. Argue. Give in, give up. Fight for self-esteem. Suppress. Years go by adjusting responses to make things work. Things shift, change, and you are an inconsistent mess. You no longer trust yourself and somehow you miss the key player who was there all along. You only know you don’t trust your own self anymore.

And it’s not just chili. All of life is a game; a game the abuser must win at all costs. She spends years and years gathering your cards. “Chili? I’m better than you at that. Give me the chili card.” “Child-rearing? Oh that’s mine.” “I’m a better dancer.” “Oh no, don’t try buying clothes for me, I clearly have the better fashion sense.” “I pick the best cars because I know the best features that matter.” “You can’t be trusted with the money.” Snatch, snatch, snatch. It may take years for her to artfully get a certain card from you (by gaslighting) but she WILL get it. Big, small, she gets them all. A gaslighter is stealing being right. And it starts by letting you give them as many cards as you will without a fight. In my case: “Well, maybe I was wrong….” Our generosities are used against us.

*****

In the movie the woman is finally clued into the reality and she snaps out of it and walks away tall, vindicated. In reality I think that would be pretty rare. Either you turn away empty and broken, (so few cards left) or, like in my case, my husband turned and walked away tall throwing all the cards in the air saying, “I don’t wanna play anymore, you’re cheating anyway.” And I’m left on the ground gathering what’s left of who I am after it’s been marred up by being in his hands so long.

However, any of those endings are better than begging for your own cards back all the while trying to hide the cards you have left so she doesn’t try to take them too.

If you think that you or someone you know is the victim of gaslighting, get help! Gaslighting is a me vs. you game and CAN’T be played with more people. Let people tell you AND BELIEVE THEM that you have a good fashion sense, that you’re a good mom or dad, that your contribution to the chili scene is valuable. Talk to a therapist and let them help you rebuild your deck. It’s dangerous to get so low as an emotional abuser would have you go.

I don’t believe that all emotional abuse relationships HAVE to end in separation or divorce but you do absolutely have to learn how to share cards to have a healthy relationship. Cards should be regularly and freely exchanged back and forth, given from both sides and never taken without a sincere apology later when you realize your goof. (Hey, we all get a little snatchy from time to grumpy time.)

Often, by the time gaslighting is recognized patterns have settled in that need outside help to view and correct. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. When it comes to gaslighting a little help will go a long way and people are willing to help. Gaslighting is just shifting reality so that the abuser wins. With someone else to help hold down reality where it belongs, gaslighting can’t happen.

And let’s not forget this little extra gem we learned: appreciate that when you turn on a light, the rest of them aren’t affected. Yay, building code advancements!

 

photo credit: @lattefarsan <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/99312118@N07/9434562706″>Övergiven</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>