A Letter to My Past Self

The past 40 years have taught me some hard-fought lessons

Dear Danni (my 20th-century self),

It’s been a wild ride so far, hasn’t it? It gets wilder, but don’t be daunted. Here’s what I want you to know. If you remember these things, life won’t be any easier, but maybe it won’t seem quite so difficult anymore.
 

You Are Worthy

'Your value doesn't decrease based on someone else's inability to see your worth.' --Anonymous Click To Tweet
You have never deserved the abuse you were born into, and you did nothing to perpetuate it. You deserve to be loved and treated with respect. It’s not your fault when people don’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated. They control their behavior, and nothing you can do will change that. All you can do is control your own actions and reactions as much as possible. You cannot control another person’s behavior with your actions, and it’s not your responsibility.
 

Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

You are literally doing the best you can with what you have, which has never been much. You’re not perfect because you’re an actual human person, made of flesh, blood, bone, strengths, and weaknesses. You are constantly learning and adapting, which will serve you well throughout your life. Give yourself a break every now and then. You deserve it.
 

Stop Making Excuses for People Who Hurt You

The only thing an excuse is good for is making yourself feel better for a short time, but if you keep making them, nothing ever changes. Don’t lie to yourself about why people hurt you. Those who hurt you, especially consistently, are not worthy of the time and energy you put into explaining away their inexcusable behavior. No one has the right to mistreat you, and I won’t say “for any reason” because there’s never a reason. People who are not toxic do not abuse others, no matter what kind of day, week, month, year, or life they might be having. Eliminate negative, toxic people from your life as soon as you’re aware of them, and seek out healthier alternatives.
 

You Are Not Who They Say You Are

I know it’s tempting to listen to other people’s opinions of you, especially when they’re your parents or other people you’ve been taught to look up to, but don’t believe what they say about you. They don’t understand you, and they never will. They feel threatened by you, and they want to control you, so they have to gaslight you into believing their lies. Never listen to anyone who claims to know you better than you know yourself, even if it’s your own parent or another authority figure. No one knows your own mind better than you do.
 

You Are Whomever You Decide to Become

You have control over whom you become. Where you came from and what you’ve experienced does not define you, but what you learn from it and how you use those lessons to evolve into the person you’ve always wanted to become does. You are a complex composition of everything that has ever happened to you — good and bad. You can be whomever you decide to be. And you decide every day with each individual choice you make, so try not to let yourself down.
 

You Are the Only One You Can Count On

Sadly, you are the only person you can rely on, but I think you’ve always known that deep down. No one else is looking out for you, so if you want what’s best for yourself, you’d better figure out what that is and make it happen. Don’t worry, though. Someday you’ll meet someone else who has only your best interests at heart, doesn’t want to hurt you, and actually, wants to help you lighten your load. It hasn’t happened yet, but I know one day it will.
 

Trust Yourself

I know it’s incredibly difficult to trust yourself when you’ve literally been brainwashed not to since you were born, but you’ll save yourself so much trouble if you just follow your instincts. Don’t believe that anyone else knows what’s best for you, and never take advice from someone who won’t be affected by the consequences of it.
 

Be Brave

You can’t go through life too afraid to live it. Nothing ever changes until you leave your comfort zone, so learn to embrace the discomfort. It’s terrifying to try to change your life, particularly when you’ve been told you can’t, but they were wrong. You are the only one who can, in fact. Never doubt that for a second. Use your fear as a tool of transformation.
 

Be Weird

Don’t conform to what others want you to be or think you should be. The world is full of people just “earthworm-ing” their ways through life, not paying attention to anything other than what’s right in front of them. Don’t be like them. Your unique perspective gives you an edge. Don’t be afraid of it. Learn to love it, cultivate it, sharpen it, and use it to cut off anyone who wants to dilute your spirit. Go find your tribe of fellow weirdos, and bless the world with your rare vision.
 

Be Present

This one is tough. As much as possible, try not to live in the past or for the future. The past is merely a place to visit and learn lessons from, but you can’t live there. And you can’t even visit the future. All you can do is try to prepare for it as much as possible, and plan for as many contingencies as you can think of. Learn from the past to improve the present and build a future you can be proud of. Live in the present with the people you love while you can because tomorrow is a luxury not everyone has.
 

Believe in Yourself

You don’t need anyone else to believe in you, which is good because there’s been a decided lack of that in your life so far, hasn’t there? It’s not because there’s anything wrong with you. There is something wrong with the people you’ve been surrounded by thus far. They are abusive, manipulative, and cruel. They don’t want to see anyone else succeed, so they try to sabotage others whenever possible. However, not everyone is like that. You’re not like that, and you’re not alone. If you’ll allow yourself to admit it, you know you have the ability to do pretty much whatever you put your mind to, but other people don’t want you to believe it, because they are jealous and spiteful. Don’t listen to them. Figure out what you want and go get it.
 

Love Yourself

This is another hard one, huh? It’s so difficult to love yourself when you’ve been told you’re unlovable by the people who are supposed to love you the most. You are just as worthy of love as anyone else is. You are working hard to become the person you want to be, and that is something to love. Your goals are noble. You are constantly looking for ways to help others, and that’s a pretty lovable trait. You deserve to be treated with kindness, respect, and love, so be open to it, especially when it’s coming from yourself.
 

Stop Trying to Make Everyone Else Happy

You can’t please other people. At least not in the long run. You are the one who has to live with the consequences of your decisions and mistakes. When you only try to please others, you never get what you need, and that will straight-up ruin your life. It’s not your responsibility to make anyone else happy. That’s on them. It’s not selfish to build the life you want.
 

Tell People How You Feel About Them

When you care about people, tell them. I know this sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. Life is short. At the end of it, you’re not going to regret saying how you felt. In fact, you’ll only regret the things you didn’t do and the people you lost because you couldn’t make time for them or simply express how much they meant to you. If you actually lose someone you care about because you express that to them, is it really a loss after all? You won’t have to force, beg, or trick the right people into loving you or being there for you. They will want to be part of your life because you are worthy and they are the right people.
 

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

If you want something, go after it. If you feel something, say it. If you love someone, tell them. If you don’t love someone, tell them. Don’t waste your time or anyone else’s. You don’t know how much of it you’ll have to spend with the people who matter, so don’t give it away too freely because, as it turns out, there is never enough it. Achieve as many of your goals as you possibly can because no matter how much you do or how long you live, you’ll still never accomplish everything you want to in the end.
 

Everything is Temporary

Everything you are feeling and will feel is temporary. I know sometimes it’s unimaginably painful, but I promise it won’t last forever, so hold on tight. I’ll always be here to help you get through it. Similarly, the good things are temporary too. But, don’t be saddened by that. Instead, know it and take the time to enjoy the positive. You deserve to celebrate all of your successes, and you are certainly allowed to be happy.
 

Finally…

All that has happened, and will happen, to you will continue to shape who you are for the rest of your life. Without each of these experiences, you would not be you. They were and are necessary for you to learn and grow. They have taught you more than anyone can possibly imagine. You have learned to be stronger than you ever thought possible, stronger than you even know right now, and to take nothing for granted. Remember, I love you and I believe in you. It may not always seem like it, but it’s true. I will never give up on you. That’s how we’ve made it this far, and it’s how we’ll get where we have always wanted to go.
 
All my love,
Elle (your 21st-century self)
 

Is it weird that I still want to wish him a happy anniversary?

Today is a weird day. It’s my 22nd wedding anniversary, the first one since our separation almost a year ago (in eight days to be precise), and I don’t exactly know how to feel about it. I woke up still wanting to wish him a happy anniversary this morning. Is that weird? Is it odd that I’ve spent the entire day missing him? Okay, so it’s not exactly him that I miss. It’s the promise of what was “supposed” to be. What’s funny about that is I thought I’d mourned and come to terms with it already. I guess I still haven’t completely let go of the illusion, though.

It’s been quite a while since I posted in my story, so I figured this would be a good day to give a little update. So here goes… My ex and I have finally been officially living apart for about the last three months. Although things have still been incredibly stressful in our personal lives, our relationship has improved quite a bit, especially in the last month or so. Come to think of it, that’s probably part of what’s making today more difficult. We are starting to feel a lot more like friends, and he’s basically been the only “friend” I’ve had regular contact with my entire adult life. Yeah, let that sink in.

I was just barely 18 years old when we got married, and he was not quite 20 yet, so right there the odds were not in our favor. That combined with our mutual need to escape our similarly toxic, abusive families, and our lack of understanding about the effects our childhoods had on us, made for a tumultuous life together as we desperately searched for what was missing from our lives in each other without first understanding what was “missing” in ourselves. And because neither of us had any examples of a healthy relationship to draw from, we were sort of doomed to relive what we knew, which was extremely dysfunctional and unhealthy to say the least.

About 15 or 16 years into our marriage, I started to open my eyes and really see what was going on. He wanted to stay asleep, though, and he really resented me for waking up. Furthermore, he was angry with me for trying to wake him up too. He just wasn’t ready yet, but I wasn’t ready to give up on him either, so I spent the next few years trying to drag him kicking and screaming down the “road to recovery” with me. It took me that long to realize that what he had been doing to me our whole marriage was abusive because it didn’t look exactly like my dad’s abuse did. The other difference is that my ex can admit his behavior is sometimes abusive. Not in the moment, of course. In the moment, I’m just a pain in the ass who deserves what I get for fucking with him…but that’s not what this is about. This is about us both eventually realizing we have serious problems that need major work before involving another person in our lives. This is about us finding our way to friendship with one another.

The truth is, I don’t know if he’s really changing anything or not because we don’t live together anymore, and it’s a lot easier to hide things from me now, but I’ve never really believed he has NPD. He did, however, grow up in a narcissistic family dynamic, like I did, and we both learned some severely unhealthy behaviors as a result. I believe he is exceptionally hurt, out of touch with his emotions, and unsure of how to process them at this point, but I know he wants to be happy. He just doesn’t know how to go about it yet. And there’s no denying he loves our children and wants what’s best for them. That’s not something a narcissistic parent feels for their kids. I genuinely believe he wants to get better. We both cut off contact with our toxic, abusive family members a long time ago, and we’re in counseling individually now, so my hope for “our” future is that our friendship keeps growing stronger, and our kids continue getting to have birthdays and holidays with both their parents for as long as they want them.

Now that I find myself at the end of this, I think I actually do know how I feel. I have mixed emotions. Twenty-two years ago today, I thought I married my best friend, and I really thought it was forever. I think it’s completely reasonable for me to feel sad and disappointed that I didn’t get to have the “happily ever after” I had planned. But then again, who really does? We all make plans that don’t come together for one reason or another, and that’s okay. That’s life. It’s also okay to mourn that loss. I feel excited for my future in a way that I’ve never experienced before, as well. I’m really looking forward to seeing where my life goes now that I understand that I’m the only one putting limits on myself. I’ve made it my mission to get the hell out of my own way. After all, I am my only real obstacle as it turns out.

Today I woke up on my 22nd wedding anniversary and realized I still love the man I’m divorcing, and that’s perfectly acceptable. He will always be my first love, and he will always be the father of my three amazing children. I will be eternally grateful to him for everything we’ve gone through together, because all of those experiences and lessons have made me who I am, and they’ve given me the strength to continue becoming myself.

#MeToo: No More Silence

Trigger warning: This entry contains personal references to sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.

I’ve been trying to publish this since I wrote it almost a month ago, but it’s been difficult for obvious (and some not-so-obvious) reasons. I’m publishing it today because I can’t stand to be silent any longer. Especially because the deluge of revelations from so many brave women and men has not slowed down in the time since the “me too movement” began. So in solidarity, I say, “me too!”

“Me too.” Who knew two tiny words could be so powerful?

Source: pixabay.com

Me too…

I know what it’s like to be looked at. But not just looked at… Looked through, as if you don’t really even exist as a person.

I know what it’s like to be stared at in a way that makes you feel like you want to crawl so deeply inside your own skin, no one will ever see you again. I knew what that felt like even as a little girl, too young to know why their wandering eyes made me so uncomfortable.

Me too…

I know what it’s like to have someone who is in a position of power and authority use it to make unwanted sexual advances toward you. It’s terrifying when it is someone you have to depend on for any reason.

I know how it feels to think you have no choice but to “deal with it” or “suck it up” because “that’s just the way it is.” As if “dealing with” someone else’s inability to control their impulses is somehow the responsibility of the victim.

Me too…

I know what it’s like to have despicable, demeaning, degrading things said to you about your body, and be helpless to stop it. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve been reduced to body parts in my life.

I know what it’s like to be commoditized and dehumanized, not only by an abuser on a personal level, but also as merely a collection of female body parts on a societal level. I also know this perpetuates rape culture because it’s easier to use, abuse, and oppress someone who’s not really even a human being in your eyes.

Me too…

I know what it’s like to be gaslit into believing it’s no big deal when men and boys say “those things” about girls and women because “boys will be boys” and they don’t really mean anything by it. Somehow there’s always an excuse for the offense, yet being offended is inexcusable.

I’ve felt the confusion of wondering if my discomfort with the way a man was looking at or speaking to me was an overreaction. I know how it feels to jeopardize your own safety because you’ve been convinced you’re “just being silly.” And I know what it’s like to blame yourself for jeopardizing your own safety afterward.

Me too…

I know how it feels to be taught my consent was not necessary, and, essentially, my body was not my own. We teach children they don’t have the right to choose whom they will bestow what types of physical affection upon every time we insist they hug their uncle or kiss their grandma. (That’s all it takes to send that message to a child.)

I know what it’s like to be grabbed and touched in a way I did not choose, nor did I want or “ask for.” And I know what it’s like to believe it was all my fault.

Me too…

I know what it’s like to choose what I wear carefully, so not to arouse any male interest, because society tells me it’s my responsibility to control how a man acts on what he “feels” when he sees me. I also know it does not matter what I wear in the least, because I’ve been sexually harassed while wearing a large sweater or t-shirt and baggy jeans with no make-up on before.

I’ve felt the burden of analyzing every look, word, and move a man makes in an attempt to discern his intentions and keep myself safe. I’ve learned the painful lesson that you can’t always tell who wants to hurt you, no matter how analytical you may be.

Me too…

I know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night being groped by someone you thought you could trust. I know the sheer terror of trying to pretend you’re rolling over in your sleep so maybe he’ll stop, because you don’t know what else to do.

I know how it feels to have no one to turn to, because they’re the ones who taught you it was your fault when these things happened to you in the first place. It’s a kind of terrifying loneliness I can never seem to put into words.

Me too…

I know what it’s like to be raped. I know how it feels to have someone you thought was your best friend violate you in the most intimately brutal way.

I know how it feels to be told “I love you” repeatedly while being raped. I can’t describe the horror of being trapped beneath a man who claims to love you while simultaneously stripping you of your power and humanity with each unwanted, unwelcome thrust.

No More Silence

There are far too many of us whose stories, like mine, run the gamut between being leered at lasciviously and full-on rape. No one should have to feel the soul crushing weight of being objectified and dehumanized. Ever.

It’s time to let go of the shame we feel as victims, because we are not the ones who should be ashamed. We can and must speak up, and stand together as survivors and allies against these predators who have bullied us into silence for too long.

We must break the societal cycle of victim blaming by holding those actually responsible for the crime accountable. It is the perpetrators who should be blamed every single time. Never the victim! Rise up. Stand together. Speak out. Fight back.

This was also published on Huffington Post.

25 Toxic Traits of “Unsafe” People

It’s been a while! What can I say? My life is insane at the moment. So much so that I can’t even bring myself to write about it at this point, but I know I will once the dust settles. Someday. Eventually.

This is not my usual kind of post, but I think it’s an important one, especially for people like me, who struggle to understand other people’s intentions toward them at times. If you recognize many or all of these characteristics in someone, it is safe to say they are toxic and unhealthy for you to occupy space with. So, without further ado, here are 25 red flags to watch for in people you would be better off avoiding:

25 Toxic Traits of “Unsafe” People

  1. They lack empathy.
  2. They regularly make AND break promises.
  3. They always have an excuse.
  4. They make “blanket” apologies, but never change their behavior.
  5. They are always annoyed or angry.
  6. They expect perfection from others, and are intolerant of even the smallest mistake, yet feel entitled to endless chances.
  7. They are extraordinarily hypocritical.
  8. They prefer confrontation to connection.
  9. They are often dishonest.
  10. They shift the blame and won’t take responsibility for their own actions & mistakes.
  11. They blame others for their toxic &/or abusive behavior.
  12. They are often quite immature, acting like overgrown toddlers when they don’t get their way.
  13. They cannot stand to delay their gratification.
  14. They use people with no regard for their feelings.
  15. They resist freedom instead of encouraging it.
  16. They have a trail of bad relationships behind them, and may have “commitment issues.”
  17. They don’t listen, and frequently interrupt during conversations.
  18. They are defensive and don’t take feedback well, no matter how the message is structured or delivered.
  19. They are extremely argumentative for no reason.
  20. They are overly critical, judgmental, and unforgiving.
  21. They use other people’s mistakes, weaknesses, & vulnerabilities against them.
  22. They betray secrets.
  23. They are selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed.
  24. They avoid personal growth because they don’t believe they need to grow.
  25. They make others feel badly for expressing &/or asserting themselves.

So there it is. I hope this list helps you spot the red flags of toxic behavior, and avoid people who exhibit them. Can you think of any I forgot? Please feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks!

13 Effects of Being Raised by a Narcissist

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide, but a starting point for your own exploration. Likewise, I am not a professional, but a survivor of childhood narcissistic abuse (among other types). I write about my own experiences, observations, and what I have learned through research.

Yesterday was World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day, which inspired me to write about the signs that you may have been raised by a narcissist for those who are still unsure or questioning. If this resonates with you, I encourage you to do your own research on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), narcissistic parents, narcissistic abuse, and Narcissistic Victim Syndrome to learn more. You can reclaim your life, and educating yourself is the first step.

The following are common effects brought on by the specific abuse tactics used by narcissists:

1. You Feel You Don’t Have Rights

Because you were treated like a “second class citizen” by your parent, it’s natural to grow up feeling like you don’t have any rights. For all intents and purposes, you didn’t have rights in your childhood home. Your parent did not grant you the freedom to express yourself or your feelings and opinions, explore your talents and interests, make mistakes and learn from them, set and maintain boundaries, or anything else children and adolescents are supposed to do to prepare themselves for adulthood. Due to this, you are compelled to explain yourself and your actions, justify your feelings, and you are reluctant to voice your opinion, because you feel you are constantly being judged.

2. You Feel Guilty for Having Basic Human Needs

Narcissists cannot focus on anything other than themselves, which is why they find everyone else’s emotions and needs annoying. And they resent having to take care of anyone because, as the perpetual victim, they believe they are the ones who should be taken care of at all times, so they treat their children (and their needs) as nuisances. This makes you feel guilty for having the same basic needs everyone else has, such as food, emotional stability, or medical care when you are sick or injured. Moreover, it leaves you feeling like a burden and believing that wanting even your most basic needs to be met is somehow selfish. (It’s not.)

3. You Find Boundaries Confusing

Due to their unparalleled sense of entitlement and an astounding inability to view you as an individual and not a mere extension of themselves, your parent refused to allow you to have any boundaries, which makes it difficult to understand, set, and maintain them in adulthood. Further, if you had at least one narcissistic parent, you were forced to “take up as little space” as possible to prevent them from turning into a puddle of tears or suddenly exploding on you any time you expressed a need or emotion. This resulted in more blurring of boundaries, as you had to become your parent’s “caretaker” to try to avoid their meltdowns.

4. You Were “Parentified”

Narcissists do not mature with age, and they often put their children in the position of having to “parent” them. If you took on the responsibility of being a caregiver for your parent in any way, for any reason, as a child, you were parentified, and it likely reinforced the notion that your needs were insignificant, or at least secondary, to the needs of your parent. As an adult, you are overly concerned with being selfish and view your needs as a burden to others, so you organize your life around everyone else’s needs and desires.

5. You’re a Chronic “People Pleaser”

Because your parent’s wants and needs were always of the utmost importance, you were conditioned to bury your own needs in order to better serve them. Another contributing factor is that narcissistic parents continually force their children to seek approval by setting an expectation, then “moving the goalpost” once the expectation has been met. If your parent made you feel like you had to earn their love, as an adult, you probably feel compelled to prove you are worthy of love and affection.

6. You Are a Perfectionist

Similarly, narcissistic parents make their children feel like they will never be “good enough.” Because they forced you to earn their conditional love, you became a perfectionist as a way to bolster your chances of pleasing them and finally being good enough. On the other hand, if you were like me, you became a perfectionist to prove to yourself and others that your parent was wrong about you. Either way, it’s about earning your right to be in the world, as you were raised to believe your worth was contingent upon the tenuous value your parent placed on you, rather than being taught your inherent value as a human who exists on this planet.

7. You “Feel” What Others Are Feeling

In many cases, children of narcissists develop very highly attuned empathy. This is a survival mechanism. When you have a volatile parent who becomes enraged at the slightest provocation, and sometimes for no discernible reason at all, you become hyper-aware of their facial expressions, body language, and energy in an attempt to avoid being abused.

8. You Second-Guess Yourself… A Lot

The goal of the narcissist is to keep their target off balance, and the abuse they dole out has the specific purpose of inducing uncertainty. If your parent consistently questioned your emotions and actions, dictated how you should feel, and challenged your perception of your own experiences, you learned you couldn’t trust yourself. Additionally, narcissists convince their targets that they deserve to be abused. This manifests as deep insecurity in a child who grows up to believe that everything is their fault and they can’t do or say anything right, which often results in debilitating self-doubt in adulthood.

9. You Are Indecisive

Because your parent saddled you with an exceptional sense of self-doubt, you have trouble making decisions. This is due to the scrutiny you likely endured for making even the smallest mistake as a child. You become paralyzed with fear, and you think and rethink over all of the possible outcomes, until you become so overwhelmed that you decide not to make a choice at all.

10. You Have Trust Issues

If your parent was narcissistic, they conditioned you not to trust your own feelings, instincts, and perceptions of reality. Besides that, you probably also learned you couldn’t trust your parent at an early age. When you can’t trust your own parents or yourself, you will not be able to trust others either. (Learning to trust yourself first is key.)

11. You Are Fiercely Independent

This may seem counter-intuitive due to trauma bonding (a powerful emotional attachment between an abuser and their target, which forms as a result of the cycle of abuse); however, if you learn you cannot rely on or trust anyone, you may grow to be fiercely independent. Another reason for this is the constant criticism to which you were undoubtedly subjected. If you were endlessly scrutinized for the way you did things, you probably learned to do them on your own, with no one watching, to avoid being ridiculed.

12. You Are Profoundly Lonely

When they’re not being abusive, narcissistic parents are neglectful. This can result in what I often refer to as a “profound sense of loneliness.” I believe it is the combination of abuse and neglect, along with never feeling like you quite fit in anywhere, because you are convinced you are a burden, strange, stupid, incompetent, lazy, crazy, etc. Narcissists are basically empty shells, devoid of positive emotion and love, which leaves their children feeling like they are on their own, because they are.

13. You Have a Distorted Self-Image

Living with a narcissist will leave you with a distorted self-image physically, mentally, and intellectually. When the narcissist is also your parent, the damage can be catastrophic. Because they do not allow their children to explore and acknowledge their talents and interests, you probably feel like you are still “finding yourself” well into adulthood. This leads to difficulty even acknowledging your talents, skills, abilities, and positive traits, as well as discomfort with receiving and accepting compliments, because you were prohibited from doing such things by your parent. In addition, the abuse tactics favored by narcissists cause low self-esteem and a lack of self confidence in their targets, which makes it nearly impossible to view yourself with any accuracy.

Spreading Awareness

Narcissistic abuse is highly misunderstood and particularly treacherous, yet extraordinarily prevalent in society as a whole, which is why awareness must be spread. Because this type of abuse can be so subtle, and its perpetrators are oftentimes very charming or even charismatic, the average person has difficulty recognizing and understanding it, but its effects are devastating, nevertheless. Please remember that it was not your fault. You didn’t deserve to be abused by the people who were supposed to love and protect you. Narcissists are abusive by nature, so there was nothing you could have done as a child to affect their behavior. Your parent is solely responsible for his or her own abusive actions. The simple fact is that you were born to someone who can’t stop being abusive, and that is their defect, not yours.

It’s Not You; It’s Them

When you have been abused, the tendency is to blame yourself. Why?

Source: pixabay.com

As with anything, there are multiple reasons victims of abuse might blame themselves. For one, people who are abusive must try to make their targets believe it is their fault, so they will be less likely to fight back or tell someone what is happening to them. If you think you are the cause, why would you tell someone about it?

For example, when I was a child, I was so convinced I was to blame for my father’s rage and other abusive behaviors, I never would have dreamed of telling anyone for fear they would agree with him and confirm that I deserved it. Instead, I did everything I possibly could to prove him wrong, so I could receive positive reinforcement from others without having to admit the awful truth about myself: that I was actually an “incompetent idiot” who “couldn’t do anything right” and would likely “never amount to anything.”

The narcissist must believe, and therefore, convince you the problem is “not them; it’s you.” Realistically, it’s the other way around, and they are never going to change, because they refuse to acknowledge anything that’s wrong with them. And you can’t fix what you won’t admit is broken. Here are some other reasons you might blame yourself, but I promise that it’s not you. It’s them. 

Narcissistic Injury

Narcissistic injury is caused when the narcissist perceives an attack or a threat (real or imagined) against them, generally leading to narcissistic rage. Because they perceive something you said or did as a personal attack, they believe they are justified in abusing you because, in their mind, you started it. That’s right. Take it all the way back to the playground, because that is the mentality with which you are now dealing. You said something to hurt their feelings, whether that was your intention or not, so now it’s on. In reality, what you said could have been totally innocuous, but if they perceive it as an attack, a threat, or even just a mild criticism, they will feel well within their rights to retaliate against you with abuse. Healthy people do not “retaliate” against others, especially over something as insignificant as a mistake, misunderstanding, or criticism. This is how you know there is something wrong with them, not you.

But the Narcissist is Never Wrong

You and I both know this is definitely not the case; however, the narcissist does not. Aside from being a useful tactic in ensuring your silence, victim blaming also shifts responsibility for their inappropriate actions to someone else. This is necessary to maintain the facade of their “false self.” As I said, they think you deserve whatever they dish out because they can’t possibly be wrong. Reasonable people know they are flawed, because no one is perfect, and they accept that they will make occasional mistakes. However, when your ego is that fragile due to the pressures of constantly hiding your inadequate “true self,” it is far too painful to admit your shortcomings, which brings us back to narcissistic injury and narcissistic rage. They will never stop abusing other people, because they will always find a way to make it their victim’s fault. That’s how you know you are not actually to blame, and the problem is theirs alone.

The Narcissist is Always the Victim

In keeping with the theme, the narcissist is a perpetual victim…of the world, so of course their abuse of others is always warranted. The world (and everyone in it) obviously owes them something, and they are going to collect by any means necessary. This is probably compounded by the fact that they were likely victims of similar abuse in their own childhoods, so they really do feel like the perpetual victim of circumstance, because they can’t understand that they have the power to change their lives now. Further, when their own abusive and exploitative actions come back to bite them, it provides them with the ideal excuse to play the victim again. I think narcissists believe that being the constant victim automatically absolves them of any responsibility for their actions. “Look what you made me do!” Sound familiar? It’s all about shifting the blame to the target and becoming the victim themselves, so they never have to be wrong or accountable for the consequences of their behavior. Healthy people won’t try to destroy you over a simple disagreement, misunderstanding, or mistake. On the other hand, those who take everything as a personal affront will, which is another way you can tell that it’s not you. It’s them.

Gaslight Special on Aisle Me

Narcissists love a good gaslight, and they won’t hesitate to tell you all of their excuses for abusing you straight out because, as we’ve established, it is all your fault anyway. For instance, if you could just learn to keep your mouth shut, they wouldn’t have to teach you a lesson. You know how much it bothers them when you question them, and you probably even did it on purpose because you like the drama. Or maybe it’s because they love you so much that it makes them uncontrollably angry when you disagree with them, talk to someone else, find a hobby, get a job, make a new friend, or have any outside interests at all. They can’t control their reactions because they are so passionate about you. (Don’t be flattered by that, by the way. It’s not real.) Just remember, we all have emotional reactions to things other people say and do. The difference is, healthy people don’t act on their emotions in an abusive way. Narcissists, abusers, and other toxic people shift the blame for their actions to others, so they don’t have to take responsibility for their abusive behavior. That’s how you know it’s definitely them and not you.

Victim Blaming Society

In addition, there is no doubt that we live in a victim blaming society. You quite literally can’t get away from it. When a woman is sexually assaulted, why does the first question people tend to ask have to do with the clothes she was wearing? Or, does it really matter if she was drunk or how much she had to drink that night? Is a woman ever actually “asking for it”? (Just in case you’re stumped here, the answer is a solid “no.” Unless she literally asks you for sex, she’s not asking for it. Case closed.) Why are there people who blame the victims of police brutality instead of blaming the police for using excessive force and not training officers to diffuse and deescalate situations? That is, after all, their job. To put it simply, those who value traits like loyalty and obedience to authority over compassion and empathy are more likely to blame the victims of crimes or abuse, rather than the actual perpetrators. Therefore, it stands to reason that society would have a vested interest in pushing the victim blaming narrative. (Read more on societal gaslighting.)

The Perfect Target

As I touched on in my last blog post, narcissists look for a specific combination of characteristics they can exploit. Universally, they choose people who are authentic, trustworthy, trusting, optimistic, kind, empathetic, compassionate, responsible, hardworking, respectful, respectable, generous, and vulnerable. People who possess these traits are likely to project them on to others, as well as be more prone to look for the best in everyone, and narcissists use this to their advantage. Does it seem as though there is anything wrong with a person who possesses all of these wonderful qualities? I would argue that being such a person actually means there is something very right about you. If you have these traits and a history of abuse, you’re basically the perfect target, because the narcissistic abuser doesn’t have to spend the time to groom you. All of that hard work has already been done for them by your previous abuser, which means more time to play with your emotions and suck the supply right out of you. It also means it takes much less effort to convince you that you’re the problem, because someone else has already done that for them, too.

It’s Not You

All of this muddies the waters, blurs the lines, and creates intense confusion, as it is meant to do. The fact that our culture often casts doubt on victims, does not make it right. We have been brainwashed to believe it’s warranted in certain cases, but it never is. The victim is never to blame for the behavior of the perpetrator of the crime or abuse, because that implies that anyone has any power or control over the actions of other people, and that is unequivocally untrue. In fact, that is a flagrant control tactic used by oppressors against those they are oppressing.

Please do not ever blame yourself. You do not deserve to be abused or mistreated in any way or by anyone. You deserve to be loved and treated with kindness and compassion. Take an honest look at the situation, relationship, and the other person or people involved before you continue to try to fix something you didn’t break in the first place. Please believe me. The problem is not you because people are interchangeable to narcissists and other abusers. All they care about is getting their supply or fuel from you. And that is how you know for sure that it’s not you; it’s them.