I spent the majority of my adult life in emotional warfare with a narcissist. Unraveling the emotional damage prolonged time with a narcissist causes is a process, because it’s a brawl with the truism that nothing is what it seemed. Duplicitous actions are a dominant trait in a narcissist. People with this emotional disorder intensely focus on how they want to appear to the outside world. In my case living intimately in a world clouded by duplicity has caused me to question humanity. All that I thought to be true about humanity has been tainted, and I have a complex relationship with trust.
For years I placated, this caused me emotional distress to the point I became an emotionally sterile robot. I didn’t feel safe to express my emotions in a supported and healthy way, I was dismissed and met with incessant gaslighting and triangulation. As a result I found myself navigating feelings of guilt and shame for possessing human emotion and desiring authentic connection. I was emotionally empty, helpless, miserable, and confused. My confidence was shaken because of the duplicitous nature of the relationship. I only felt loved when I was engaging in things that were of importance and significance to my narcissist. When I wanted to engage in or pursue things that were beneficial to me, it was clear that I would only be supported if there was a direct or indirect benefit to my narcissist.
Often I felt apologetic and guilty about my success, it was rare for me to be able to celebrate without an ‘anything you can do I can do better’ competition. When I achieved notable success my narcissist would verbally express pride, but the duplicity of this personality would work behind my back to plant small confidence destroying bombs. These bombs ranged from making painful information or discoveries accessible, forgetting to take me to the airport causing me to nearly miss a flight, or booking an event over my events. But because I had become so comfortable in the dysfunctionality and gaslighting, I blamed myself and was convinced that if I worked harder at serving and gave up more of myself, perhaps I could be worthy of being seen.
One day the overextension became too much, and I felt my sanity slip. While driving to work, I became paralyzed with anxiety. I had to pull over because I was blinded by my tears, I was violently shaking, and hyperventilating. Luckily my best-friend was readily accessible to calm me down, and guide me so I could get to work safely. At that moment I knew I was in danger of a more severe breakdown, and I needed help. Leading up to this defining moment I’d undergone a series of traumatic events that shook me to my core, and I was left to sift through this trauma alone. My mini-break down was the compounding of insurmountable stress and anxiety at work, exhaustion from managing the many intricacies of my home life, and balancing my philanthropic and entrepreneurial projects. In that moment I knew I had to survive and thrive outside of the world I created with my narcissistic coconspirator.
I had to take thoughtful and intentional steps to get healthy, and to avoid finding myself in this position in the future (it’s an ongoing process). As I’ve built relationships with other women, I’ve discovered that many of them at one point found themselves in a similar situation. We’ve built community as stronger, more impenetrable women who will avoid a repeat of this cycle at all costs. I’d like to share some of my takeaways as I work to recover and live more fully:
We’ll Always Have Paris – Stop Buying Into the Narrative
In Casablanca the main characters fell in love in Paris, it was a special moment considering the war, and complete annihilation happening around them. But what if the good moments aren’t enough when you’re in emotional warfare? Surviving my encounter with narcissism required that I forget Paris. I had to cut off the narcissistic supply, and reject manipulation, gaslighting, charm, and merit badges. I once believed the false narrative and was so deep into it that I lost myself, forgetting who I was and what I deserved. In order to emotionally survive and become stronger I had to completely reject the narrative being sold to onlookers and be truthful with myself about what the reality was.
Create and Honor Strong Boundaries
I wanted to feel acceptance and love, as a result I would go above and beyond to perform in ways I thought were pleasing to my narcissist, even if it was to my detriment. Often I would forego my plans, desires or needs if it meant that I was making life easier for everyone. As hard as it was, I made a decision to honor my choices, desires, and needs. I did this by creating boundaries and demanding the respect I deserve. Often I’d reschedule, or outright cancel to placate to the needs of my narcissist. In an effort to protect the emotional welfare of my narcissist, I would pacify and ignore undesirable behavior. As I work to honor my boundaries, I no longer permit disrespectful, dishonest, and inconsiderate behaviors. This has been liberating for me, and has empowered me to more fully honor my voice. It’s also empowered me to create a functional operating agreement for others.
Create Space to Feel
After spending a significant amount of time practicing the art of not feeling, I’ve been deliberate in regaining intimacy with my emotions. I’ve taken time to understand my triggers, and I dig deeper into the reasons why they are triggers for me. Additionally I’m unapologetic in letting those close to me know that they’ve triggered me, and I challenge myself to work through it as opposed to running away. I study how I respond to emotion, including physiological responses and heart based responses. I’m learning what feelings I like and could experience more of, I’m also learning what doesn’t feel good and why.
It’s easy to believe narratives that are untrue about ourselves. We create stories about ourselves, situations, and people that are misinformed. It’s important to rediscover the truths about ourselves, start by journaling about what you believe to be true about yourself, then do a heart & head evaluation. If your head is telling you these thoughts are true but your heart isn’t in agreement, this is an opportunity to rediscover that truth. In my experience with narcissism I began to believe that duplicity is a norm, and that people don’t mean or act in authentic and true ways. I’m learning to be sensitive to relationships and people who operate in an inauthentic and duplicitous nature, quickly exiting those unhealthy relationships. I’m also learning to accept and manifest relationships that are true, even if it’s ugly truth, I want truth and authenticity most of all.
We all deserve the opportunity to choose to prioritize our mental and physical health. My reset required my acceptance that Paris wasn’t enough. Walking away from the emotional warfare of narcissism, in an effort to find emotional peace and happiness was the best decision for my health. It’s OK to reset, it’s OK to protect yourself, and it’s OK to choose you. There will always be only one you, and the world desperately needs the best version of you.