Trigger warning: abuse
You’re my soulmate. You’ve made me a better man. The Universe brought us together. You are everything I’ve ever wanted in a woman. There is no one like you. I’m the luckiest guy in the world. Will you marry me? Will you stay with me forever? No one will ever love you like I will…
You have to stop living in the past. You’re unstable. You’ve changed, and not for the better. No other man would put up with you. You’re lucky to have me. You’re too emotional. Why can’t you be more like [insert name]? What is wrong with you? I don’t even know why I bother…
Living with a narcissist means living in a state of perpetual confusion. During the sixteen years I spent with a man who would only be clinically diagnosed at the end of our marriage, I couldn’t keep up with his changing moods, opinions, and behavior. Nor could I make sense of the way he went from charming to cruel in a matter of minutes and doled out punishment depending on his state of mind that worsened as the years passed.
Daily life was turbulent in a sedate sort of way, with all the noise and upheaval taking place within my mind and body as I struggled to make sense of the constant changes in the man I had married. Changes that only I was witness to while the outside world maintained its view of us as the perfect couple. And he the perfect husband and father.
Behind closed doors, an altogether different story was playing out.
Living with a narcissist is disorienting because they distort reality to fit their agenda. I was in a constant state of disarray, never knowing which version of my husband was going to walk in the door at the end of the day. I not only walked on eggshells, but I slept, ate, and drank on them whenever in his presence. I never knew where I stood nor did I ever feel safe to simply be me.
One of the reasons I was confused much of the time is because I thought I had married the good Dr. Jekyll. He was everything I’d ever wanted in a man and in the beginning presented himself as my biggest fan and supporter. He was charming, loving, passionate, and attentive to my every need, both emotional and physical.
Until he wasn’t.
Until a side of him popped up every so often that threw me off balance, such as when he flew into a rage at the smallest of things or when I caught him in another lie after which he would apologize and swear he’d change.
As time went on, I began seeing less and less of the man I’d first fallen in love with. But only when no one else was watching.
In this space, out of the world’s view, entered Mr. Hyde, an unforgiving and remorseless man whose icy glare could bring me to my knees while I begged for mercy. Yet the shift was so swift that many times I thought I’d imagined it, culminating in my belief that I was going slowly crazy. A transformation that took place gradually and consisted of micro-moments of time throughout each day. Minute by minute; hour by hour.
Living with a narcissist looked like this:
- His office door, computer, and phone were locked. If I ever asked or went behind his back to look into something (such as his texts with other women), he accused me of being paranoid and shamed me for invading his privacy.
- He hid money. I never knew how much we made at any given time. If I asked, he’d say, Don’t worry, I’m taking care of it. If I pressed the issue, he’d say angrily, I’m not having this discussion.
- He came to bed late and woke early, in between which he’d often want to have sex. If I refused, he’d say, You’re lucky I try at all. When I began sleeping in another room, he’d sneak in and wake me up. I eventually began locking the door.
- People often told me how my husband raved to them about what a good mother I was. I received this information with a look of bewilderment since he’d been telling me for years how I couldn’t hack it as a mother. And Why couldn’t I be more like his sister, who was a great mom?
- Once while he was frying an egg in oil with the heat on high, I turned the temperature down when the pan began to smoke. He became so angry — I know what I’m doing! — that he gave me the silent treatment for the rest of the day.
- When he was in the company of others while on the phone with me, he pretended to repeat something I didn’t say in order to make me look bad or jealous or controlling. I used to yell I didn’t say that! into the phone but no one ever heard.
- His stories changed depending on whom he was talking to.
- He was an armchair psychologist, often telling me You have to make yourself happy, I can’t do that for you while I was collapsed on the floor in pain after something he’d said or done.
- He’d approach me with sweetness whenever he wanted something. If I denied him or disagreed (simply having a different opinion than his), he would turn cold and cruel and harass me until I gave in.
- Holidays were a game of What mood will he be in this time? He either lavished me with thoughtful gifts or became sullen and didn’t want to celebrate. During the last few years, on Christmas morning when we sat around the tree opening presents, he would close his eyes and fall asleep when the attention wasn’t on him.
- He constantly sought compliments about his looks, such as when I assured him that he was still attractive even though he was losing his hair. Or when he wanted to get his teeth whitened. Then when I told him what he wanted to hear, he’d turn cold and cruel again.
- He often teased me and pinched my nipples so hard it hurt. When I asked him to stop, he said You need to lighten up and stop being so sensitive.
- He flirted with every woman in a fifty-foot radius.
- From one moment to the next he would be charming then cruel, sensible then paranoid, smiling with friendly eyes then glaring with an icy stare.
- On the rare occasion I went out with my friends for dinner, when I arrived home he was waiting and wanting to know every single thing we talked about. And whether we talked about him.
- He tapped our landline and listened to all my calls.
- Though we lived in a brand new 10,000 square-foot house on ten acres, he often told me how we were one step away from losing it all, instilling fear in me and our kids on a regular basis.
- He frequently reminded me of how lucky I was that he stuck around and put up with me. Especially given how much “trouble” I was to him.
Living with a narcissist is living in mental chaos. It’s comparable to having contractions while in labor, with the peaks increasing over time and the valleys becoming a distant memory. Loving a narcissist is a labyrinth of blind alleys and dead-end roads. Being lost becomes normal. Being found becomes impossible.
Especially during the last few years, not a day passed when I wasn’t trying to figure him out, figure us out, and figure out what the hell was going on since I had lost all sense of reality. Everything that was right side up was turned upside down. It was a daily routine of trying to make my way through a foggy maze that had no exit.
It wasn’t until my heart was broken to the extent I feared I’d never recover when I finally found the handle of the door that led to my freedom. Only then, after leaving the darkness behind for good, could I see the bigger picture of the life that I’d been living — or I should say, dying in.
Today there are no mazes I have to blindly find my way through. No confusion. No Jekyll or Hyde. No more eggshells or watching every word that comes out of my mouth. No more locking the door so I can sleep.
No more sitting in the front row of a narcissist’s one-man show.
And daily life has never been sweeter.