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)
 

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.

The Mourning After

I’m still deep in mourning…again. Only, it’s not over the death of a loved one.

Source: pixabay.com

I’m mourning the loss of yet another illusion of a longtime friendship with someone who supposedly loved me and wanted the best for me. In hindsight, I’m not sure I believe that was ever the case. This was not just anyone, but someone I have considered “family” for a long time, who let me know that sentiment was not mutual in no uncertain terms, despite claiming otherwise for years. Since the “final straw” incident, I have come to the harsh realization through dissecting and reflecting on the entirety of our relationship, that I have been confusing this person’s now evident disdain for me with love, because that’s what I was taught love is supposed to feel like. Now I know better.

This person masquerades as caring and optimistic, yet is quite critical and judgmental in actuality. There have been plenty of times throughout our decades-long friendship when their judgments have made me uneasy, but I was conditioned to believe being overly critical and judgmental were “normal” and that I was somehow “abnormal” for having a natural reaction to the toxicity it created around me. Those who are truly caring, positive, and optimistic are not critical and judgmental, nor do they invalidate other people’s feelings and experiences, because they are more interested in building others up than tearing them down. On the other hand, negative and toxic people must tear others down to build themselves up.

This is yet another person in my life who never genuinely knew me, and has refused to get to know me, because the real me doesn’t fit their narrative. They insist on telling me (and others) who I am. I suppose I’m guilty of the same in one way, though, as I kept buying their front when the truth was glaringly obvious. There is no need to “talk it out” with them, because they told me I was “overreacting” and to “lighten up” the last time I tried to express my feelings. I can’t allow my emotions to be mocked, minimized, or invalidated by this person again. The last time was the last time I will walk into that trap. From now on, I will protect my heart.

I’m angry. Not with them, but with myself for being so willfully blind to reality for so long. Looking back on the overall relationship, I now recognize all the same patterns I’ve excused and ignored for years, and this is just another person who seems to get a kick out of my inner turmoil… Yet another “friend” who has been using me to feel better about their own life for a very long time. I can’t express how much it hurts every time I realize someone has never cared for me the way I have cared for them. And it just keeps happening.

It’s been nearly two weeks since I authored the first post that was inspired by this agonizing reawakening. This one has been almost as devastating to accept as the death of my marriage was. Almost. I even had to take a mini-break from Facebook, because I couldn’t stand watching the facade crumble before my eyes, while everyone else is still lapping up the lies. I couldn’t take knowing what I know, but watching everything go on as usual. (Truth be told, if it weren’t for work and support groups, I’d take a permanent vacation from Facebook.)

Source: pixabay.com

I finally took an honest look at the whole relationship with fresh, educated eyes, and I cannot ignore the red flags any longer. (I’ve been doing that my entire life, and look where it’s gotten me.) I won’t be placing people who continue to inflict harm on me ahead of my own needs anymore. It doesn’t matter who they are, what our “relationship” is, how difficult their lives have been, or how long we’ve known each other. I’m no martyr.

There is legitimately only one person left from my past who has the power to wreck me like this, so there’s that bright side I’m always looking for, I suppose! Maybe soon I’ll be “unwreckable,” but only because there won’t be anyone left that I care enough about to trust? If I literally trust no one, I can’t be hurt anymore. Right? (Don’t worry. I’m only slightly serious.)

When you grow up with a narcissistic (or otherwise toxic and abusive) family dynamic, you are conditioned to distrust your own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. If you have even one parent who persistently engaged in gaslighting, you likely knew you couldn’t trust them either, which makes it impossible to trust anyone else. If your other parent was also an abuser or an enabler, where did that leave you? If you can’t trust yourself or your own parents, who can you trust? How do you even know what trust and honesty look like?

To contribute to the trust issues, growing up under the influence of prolonged familial toxicity leaves you vulnerable to further victimization throughout your life by other abusers. Unfortunately, narcissists and other abusive people are excellent at finding targets to victimize. They look for specific characteristics to exploit, like kindness, compassion, honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, and generosity. 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. This, coupled with a history of abuse, makes for a perfect target. If you’ve already been groomed, it takes much less time and effort to convince you that you’re the problem. Besides, they can play the hero or healer to you…at first. But I digress. (This could be the potential start to another kind of post altogether.)

I think what I need most right now is a hard reset. I need to learn to actually trust myself before I can even think about trusting anyone else, including those from my past. (I’m finding I have a great deal more work to do in that respect.) If I have no faith in my perception, how will I know when someone is displaying signs of dishonesty, for instance? If I can’t trust my own instincts, how will I know if something about a person or a situation “feels” wrong? If I can’t trust what I feel, how can I keep myself safe? At this particular moment, my solution is to exercise extreme caution with everyone and trust no one. I know that’s not completely healthy, but it may be safest…at least for now. Once I’ve done enough healing to have confidence in myself, I will be able to trust my perceptions of other people. What’s more, I will begin to attract and be drawn to healthier, more positive people who will be worthy of my trust.

To read about how I decide when to go “no contact” with someone, check out my previous post

To learn about gaslighting on a societal scale, please see my most recent HuffPost piece

The Repeated Reawakening

For an explanation of gaslighting on a larger scale, please see my most recent HuffPost article, “Gaslit Nation”.

The worst part about “waking up” to realize you have been abused by a narcissist (or otherwise toxic person) is, perhaps, the number of times it occurs after the initial awakening. In fact, once you catch a glimpse of what’s “behind the curtain” and actually comprehend its meaning, it feels like it just keeps happening, because you can never “unsee” it. When you become aware of an abusive behavior pattern in one person in your life, you will start to recognize it in other people and relationships, as well, if it exists. You may wonder if you’re imagining it due to the effects of the gaslighting you have no doubt endured, but it doesn’t just seem like it’s everywhere. It is everywhere. This is partially because you have been victimized by an abuser; therefore, you are more likely to attract other abusers as you have already been groomed, making you an easy target. Do not let anyone convince you that you only see it now because you are paranoid or delusional. Instead, take that reaction as a red flag and be more cautious of that person.

If you are noticing it more now, it’s because you know what it looks like, and you have probably picked up quite a few of these parasitic strays throughout the course of your life. If you come from a narcissistic or toxic family, you are likely one of just a few scapegoats, if not the only one. This can make it appear as though you must be the problem, to yourself as well as others. After all, how could it possibly be everyone else? Simple. Personality disorders and mental illnesses tend to run in families, so if you’re the only one who can see the truth, congratulations. You may be alone in your family of origin, but you are not alone in the world. There are large numbers of us, all at various stages in our recoveries.

When I began my healing journey approximately five years ago, I learned I had been “programmed” to believe I deserved to be mistreated (among other things), so I failed to recognize certain behaviors as abusive up until that point. Then, about a year ago, I stumbled onto some information about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and narcissistic abuse, and the pieces really started falling into place! Since then, I have come to the depressing realization that the overwhelming majority of people I have known the longest are toxic, and I’ve been systematically removing them from my life as I discover them. It feels like there will be next to no one left when I’m finished. There have been times I have second-guessed myself and wondered if I’m overreacting. However, I know that is the result of a lifetime of gaslighting, so whenever I feel self-doubt lurking, I ask myself these questions: Why am I cutting this person off? Do they consistently make me feel badly about myself? Do they continue to do things they know are hurtful to me? Do they engage in abusive behavior? 

Whether they understand what they are doing or not, if their behavior is abusive, they are detrimental to my recovery process, as well as my mental health and well-being; therefore, I must protect myself from them and their actions. If they do any of the following, I know I’m not “overreacting” or being unreasonable:

  • Gaslighting
  • Lying
  • Minimizing or denying their own hurtful actions
  • Invalidating or dictating my feelings and emotions
  • Passive aggressiveness
  • Infantilizing
  • Condescension
  • Blame shifting
  • Playing the Victim
  • Twisting words
  • Silent treatment
  • Stonewalling
  • Intimidation
  • Rage

As I mentioned, not everyone who engages in these abusive behaviors understands that what they are doing is wrong; however, that doesn’t mean they should get a free pass. On the contrary, you must be just as vigilant with someone who doesn’t know they are destructive as you are with people whose central objective is to destroy. No one has the right to mistreat or abuse you, no matter who they are, what your relationship is, or what they have been through, even if they don’t recognize their own actions as abusive, and they certainly cannot demand to stay in your life. It is your life and your choice to make.

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to go “no contact” with someone who is toxic. Perhaps they are a coworker or someone else with whom you must interact. In these situations, going “gray rock” may be the best solution. For those who have never heard or seen the expression, going “gray rock” simply means making yourself about as interesting to the narcissist (or abuser) as a gray rock. This means not discussing anything personal or interesting with that person. It also entails not reacting when they inevitably attempt to provoke you or ensnare you in an argument. The goal is to stop supplying that person, so they will eventually grow bored with you and move on to the next target.

Frequently, people from your past will attempt to keep you locked into that time for their own selfish purposes. More than likely, it is because your truth threatens the lie they are continuing to live. They may minimize or deny the abuse you suffered to protect themselves from having memories of their own abuse, for instance. It can be difficult to admit you’ve been the victim of abuse, especially if it is a “normal” part of your life. If you feel something is “off” or wrong, do not second-guess yourself. I know it hurts, but allow the toxic and abusive people to leave your life, or leave them first. Once you have rid yourself of toxicity, parasites, and abusers, there will be space in your life for genuine, healthy people who will support you and care about you. Believe me, I understand how frightening it is. I’m scared, too. Nevertheless, I can no longer allow abusive people to have free reign to wreak havoc on my life.

Tell Me, How Do I Feel?

Warning: this post contains possible triggers for survivors of emotional & psychological abuse.

For my entire life, I have had my feelings questioned, mocked, and dictated to me by the ones who were supposed to love me the most. The message I’ve received is that my feelings are wrong, invalid, merely a tool of manipulation, and/or I am not entitled to them at all. Furthermore, others are more entitled to their opinions about my feelings and why I am experiencing them. I now know that is not true, and I am working to repair the damage it has caused, as it has affected every aspect of my life.

Narcissists love to share their expertise on everything, especially when it comes to other people’s emotions. After all, they are experts on…well, just about everything if you ask them, but particularly feelings. (Obviously.) They won’t hesitate to let anyone know what they think of their emotions (and opinions for that matter), which is that they are unforgivably wrong if they are not in total alignment with that of the narcissist. Why? In my view, there are a few reasons.

1. The Narcissist is Always Right

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Because the narcissist is always right in their mind, if someone has a negative reaction to their behavior, that person must be wrong. For example, my first memory is being berated by my father from the driver’s seat of the car as I sat defenselessly in the backseat. He was screaming at me about how stupid I was. I have no idea what I could have possibly done to deserve that degree of a verbal tirade at such a young age, as I couldn’t have been much older than about three years. (But then again, I rarely knew what I was getting in trouble for with him. He was very volatile and anything could set him off.)

I remember saying, “I’m not stupid,” over and over again as I sobbed. I remember watching my mom through tear soaked eyes as she sat in the passenger seat doing nothing to stop it, wondering why she wouldn’t defend me (she must have agreed with him), which turned out to be a theme throughout my life. Then I got in even more trouble for “arguing” with him and he threatened to “give me something to cry about” (that was a favorite of his) because, in his mind, his abuse of me was completely warranted due to whatever minor infraction I had just committed. I remember him twisting the situation and actually managing to become the victim of a toddler by accusing me of trying to manipulate him by crying (another of his greatest hits).

A couple of days ago, my soon-to-be ex did the same thing to me. Here’s the extremely abridged story. We started arguing. The topic and reason don’t matter because the outcome was the same as it always is. There was no resolution because he cannot communicate constructively, and resorts to abuse to “win” any argument. When I reacted to his belittling of my emotions, he became exceptionally condescending, said some more incredibly hurtful things dressed up as his opinions to which he is entitled (of course), and then told me my feelings about it were ridiculous. I told him I felt like I was about to cry in a foolish attempt to communicate my pain to him, and his response was, “of course you are! That’s your go-to!” (Smacks of accusing me of trying to manipulate him with my tears, doesn’t it? I was trying to get him to understand that he was hurting me and to stop being abusive toward me, so we could talk rationally. If that’s manipulation, so be it.) When I tried explaining that I was legitimately hurt by what he said, he went into stonewall mode and told me to leave him alone; thereby, successfully (in his mind) becoming my victim because he didn’t want to talk about it anymore, and I was trying to make him do something against his will. He knew he couldn’t “win” the argument, so he shut me down with insults and wouldn’t let me speak, because he thinks whomever has the last word automatically wins. The whole thing is fairly despicable and 100% pathetic when you stop to think about it.

Playing the victim is an excellent way to shift blame and continue being right. Moreover, it is key to maintaining the narcissist’s facade. When the target reacts to the abuse naturally, they will minimize their own actions and dismiss the other person’s feelings, because if they acknowledge their behavior as the cause, they can no longer be right. Additionally, this requires them to turn the situation around and paint the target as the aggressor or abuser. To that end, the narcissist will use any of the other abusive tactics they have in their arsenal to manipulate their target, control other people’s perception of that person, and portray themselves as the victim.

2. You Are Their Projector Screen

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Compounded by their inability to see people for who they genuinely are, and their unbelievable lack of empathy for others, narcissists are masters of projection. They project their own traits, behaviors, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings onto their targets, while mimicking that person’s positive characteristics. They essentially have two selves: a false self and a true self. The false self is a facade they project outwardly for others to see and to protect their true selves. It is mainly comprised of an idealized, grandiose version of themselves, combined with some of their target’s most admirable attributes, and it masks their true self, which has been critically damaged. Since their primary goal is preserving their false self, they use projection as a way to free themselves of their undesirable personality traits and transfer them to the target by accusing them of doing the very things the narcissist is guilty of doing. Oh, the hypocrisy!

For the narcissist, projection has the happy side effect of gaslighting. Projecting inaccurate character flaws onto the target, or telling them how they feel, for instance, is effectively gaslighting them. Take this example from my childhood. Not surprisingly, my father was not the most patient person. Some of my earliest memories are of being screamed at to hurry when getting ready to leave the house to go somewhere before I was even school aged. Then my father would become enraged and accuse me of purposefully going slower just because he wanted me to go faster. He would proclaim that it proved how stupid I must be, because I was obviously trying to make him angry. Please believe me, I promise I was not doing it on purpose because, contrary to his projection, I was not stupid. If I was, indeed, going slower, it was probably because there was a maniac standing over me screaming the whole time I tried to get ready, and I was a terrified little kid. I’ve also never gotten my jollies by intentionally fucking with another human being, so that had to be some kind of projection, too. I did everything within my teeny-tiny power to avoid his wrath at all times.

To give a more recent example from a different type of relationship, during our latest argument, my soon-to-be ex was literally jumping up and down like a toddler in front of me while calling me immature. As a matter of fact, projecting his immaturity on to me is a common defense mechanism. On many occasions in the past, he has used gaslighting, condescension, infantilizing, lying, and denial against me during arguments, and then when I inevitably became upset, he would suddenly be done with it, and I was the immature one for wanting to talk about my feelings. So, in other words, he thinks it’s acceptable to insult someone, but if they want to talk about how it made them feel, they are unreasonable and immature. Sorry, pal, but that’s not going to work anymore.

3. Gaslighting is Fun, Mental, and Fundamental

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Dictating the emotions of others allows the narcissistic abuser to utilize their go-to abuse tactic: Gaslighting. For a narcissist, nothing is more enjoyable than talking in circles around their target, spinning their head by twisting their words, then interrupting them so they can’t explain themselves, and telling them what they actually meant, what they really think, and how they feel. They will even say things like, “I know you better than you know yourself,” in an attempt to convince their targets that their perception of themselves is incorrect. As a result, the target becomes too dizzy with confusion to defend themselves anymore.

However, it’s not all fun and games. A crucial function is also served. Constantly telling someone what they think, how they feel, what they’re feeling is wrong, or that they’re overreacting, erodes their perception, self-confidence, and sense of self. Over time, this causes the target to question everything, including their own sanity, not only giving the narcissist instant gratification, but priming the target to become an ongoing source of narcissistic supply as well. Simply put, narcissists (and other abusers) have to break their targets down because healthy people don’t allow themselves to be abused.

Aside from making the target feel crazy because their emotions are always being challenged and invalidated, it can also make them appear that way to others, which offers the narcissist a certain amount of protection in the form of credibility. Other people in their lives will begin to side with the abuser, as they witness the decline in the target’s mental state. Consequently, the lies the narcissist tells about the target will ring true. This aids them in isolating the target from anyone who might help or be of support to them. Now when they say, “you need help,” there will be a chorus of flying monkeys to back them up. As a parent, it’s even easier for the narcissistic abuser to manipulate other family members, friends, teachers, counselors, etc. into believing the child is the problem, and they are a loving parent trying to do what is best for them. In a romantic relationship, the narcissist might start by dropping hints to mutual friends about their partner’s “strange” behavior, irritability, or overreactions; probably playing it off as concern, so those people will be less likely to believe the target if they try to ask for help.

Putting It All Together

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Once I awakened to the reality that I was the victim of narcissistic abuse, I began the long and enduring process of putting together the pieces of my life puzzle. Suddenly, so much of it made sense and I started remembering things I had forgotten long ago, which surprised me because I remembered more of my childhood than most people seem to already. I actually have kind of a scary memory, so when other incidents came flooding back, it was considerably traumatic for me. I wasn’t prepared for the memories to get worse, and sometimes I thought I couldn’t handle it.

It is very nearly impossible for those who have not gone through it to understand narcissistic abuse and the severity of its effects on survivors. And other family members are almost certainly too entrenched in their own role in the narcissistic family dynamic to see it for what it is. If you suddenly find yourself realizing you have been the victim of this kind of abuse, please know that you are not alone, and it is/was not your fault. You were never the problem; your abuser is and was. You are worthy of love, and you are way more than enough. Educate and empower yourself. With knowledge comes understanding; with understanding comes hope.

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Personal note: It’s been a little while! I had an awesome visit with my sister and family in New York! My nephew is doing better than expected, so I won’t give up hope that he’ll beat the odds! I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know my nephew and nieces as young adults! They are exceptionally cool humans. I can’t wait to go back this Summer! I’m back home now, though. So much has happened in the last few weeks, and I’ve been doing a lot of writing, but nothing else I can share as of yet. Sometimes it takes a bit for it to coalesce into something coherent and cohesive.

Believe it or not, I’m still working on my comprehensive article on 20+ abuse tactics employed by narcissists and others with Cluster B personality disorders. It’s been more difficult than I initially imagined it would be, and I keep having to put it on the back burner in favor of paying gigs. However, I am confident it will be a helpful resource to other survivors when complete. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments, concerns, or if you just need someone to talk to. 🙂