It’s been fourteen years since I left my husband, eleven years since the divorce was final.
I was fifteen when I met him, and he was 20. He lied and said he was 19. It didn’t matter to me, though. I was in love and I thought he loved me.
And I was really mature for my age.
And older boyfriends were cool, so that must have meant I was cool, right?
(We’ll save that air-raid siren for another time.)
More red flags than NASCAR Busch Clash.
He made me feel more loved than I had ever felt before while simultaneously making me feel horrible about myself.
Of course, now I know that he never loved me; he loved the idea of me and the illusion of the perfect life he was building. He loved the narcissistic supply that I provided.
Those weren’t the first or the last red flags he exhibited, but I was fifteen and in love and coming from an emotionally and physically abusive background.
Outwardly, he was great. Most people really liked him when they first met him. He was friendly, funny, and charming.
Slowly, he isolated me. First from my friends, then from my family. He made me feel guilty for needing anyone but him. He made friends and family feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. It was a slow burn, and I’m partly to blame for letting it happen.
If I spent time with or gave attention to anyone outside of our family unit, he would tell me I was a bad mother. He would make me feel guilty by saying I was neglecting my kids.
Nothing I did was good enough, and when he couldn’t find something to complain about, he said I did too well.
Literally. He told me I put too much effort into anything I did like painting, writing, work, or just about anything.
Don’t get me wrong. I argued and fought back. But my ex-husband’s constant need for attention (even when it took attention away from our kids) was draining me. I was emotionally exhausted for most of my marriage.
There are so many layers to the emotional abuse, gaslighting, manipulation that went on, I couldn’t possibly cover it all here. That, and I don’t want to go into details out of consideration for my kids.
We spent ten years of our 20-year marriage in counseling, off and on. He went long enough to appease me, then slowly dropped out, using work as an excuse. Then we’d hit a massive wall, I’d threaten to leave, he’d return to counseling, then slowly find excuses not to make the appointments.
There was even a time in counseling that the therapist said my ex-husband thought himself a “Svengali” in that he gave himself credit for my accomplishments.
He never really intended to commit to change on his end; he went because, from his perspective, our marital issues were all due to me. I was impossible to please.
My ex-husband (to my knowledge) was never diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), but our counselor brought it up a few times in our session. My ex-husband turned it around on me.
When I read the DSM criteria, my ex-husband seems to be a textbook case. He hits the definition and all nine of the requirements.
Don’t date — appreciate … yourself!
Over the past fourteen years, I’ve been delving deeper into my own mental health, hoping to find why I do the things I do, including my repetitive destructive behaviors. Like when the first person I dated after my divorce was another walking red flag with multiple NPD traits.
I’ve read countless books, I found a therapist that challenged me in the ways I needed to grow and let go of my past emotional and physical abuses. I am not there yet, but I’m always working on it.
I have difficulty finding people I connect with, and what I’m usually physically attracted to doesn’t line up with what I’m mentally or emotionally attracted to, and vice-versa. So I stopped dating for something like six years.
What I found was that I enjoyed being by myself. I like time alone, and I don’t like dealing with other people’s nonsense. I don’t feel lonely. As a matter of fact, I’ve felt more alone in relationships than I have ever felt when I’m on my own.
I stopped doing things I didn’t want to do. I also cut out many emotionally labor-intensive people. I pursued interests that I loved. I invested my time into the things that made me happy. I invested in friendships that were true.
I became very independent. I‘d say my friends and family see me as an independent person as well.
And then I got into another relationship.
The relationship rerun.
It was as if a channel changed in my head. I went from VHF to UHF. (That’s a metaphor for the Gen X-ers out there.)
It was all-encompassing, taking up all my emotional energy. My close friends saw a change. I don’t think anyone was used to seeing me preoccupied with someone because it’s not like me.
After that relationship ended, I googled “Why do I love Narcissists?” and imagine my surprise when I found multiple papers and articles on Narcissist/Codependent relationships.
For the record, I don’t believe my last boyfriend has NPD. There is a lot of good in him, and I believe it’s genuine.
But he did have some narcissist traits, love-bombing and bread-crumbing among them.
The more I read, the more I see how my codependent behaviors surfaced in that relationship.
HOW CAN THAT BE?
But I’m an independent woman! I don’t need no man!
I can change my own oil, fight (I learned to box during that six-year no dating period), cook, and build furniture. I go to dinner, movies, hiking, motorcycle rides, and vacations by myself, and I like it!
How can I be codependent?
I’ve talked with my therapist about it, and while she doesn’t think I would be diagnosed as codependent, I have many traits. They show up in force in romantic relationships because it’s what I know. It’s the only thing I know, so I go back to it.
It’s a lot to unpack.
Remember at the beginning when I said I came from an emotionally and physically abusive background? As it turns out, alcoholics tend to have NPD, and children of alcoholics will either begin to exhibit NPD behaviors or … begin to feel responsible for the emotions and feelings of the alcoholic parent. Either way, they carry those behaviors into adulthood.
Then there are the abandonment issues, of which I have many, stemming from literal parental abandonment, as well as metaphorical. (Is any abandonment metaphorical, though?)
So while he may not be a narcissist and I might not be codependent, I’m certain that we were in a narcissist-codependent cycle relationship.
Before I go into the next section … if you are in a relationship with a narcissist, get out. Now.
It does damage, so get out and find someone who specializes in narcissists and codependents. You deserve real love and healing.
Why am I not sorry?
That relationship meant a lot to me. It forced me to look at myself closer and face things that I didn’t like about myself.
While I realize that there is a chance it was all a charade for him, I did love him, and because of that, I allowed myself to be vulnerable, something I stopped doing during my marriage.
I could not care less if I ever hear from my ex-husband again, but I’m not sorry about the time we were together. I have two absolutely wonderful daughters because of him.
Without either of those relationships, I don’t think I would have gone to therapy. I’d still be lashing out and fighting the world instead of fighting my old ghost.
Vulnerability still sucks. If you’ve found yourself on the painful end of a relationship with a narcissist, chances are you’re internalizing it, possibly beating yourself up, feeling like a failure, unlovable or even embarrassed.
Those are just emotions, and even though your feelings are valid, you’re not to blame. None of those things apply to you simply because you fell in love with someone who can’t love back.
Again, though, if you are in a relationship with a narcissist, leave.
When you fall in love with a Narcissist, you are falling in love with the best parts of you.
This is what I want most for you to take away from this article.
Remember the beginning of your relationship, the love-bombing, the way you felt when they shined their light on you?
It wasn’t their light they were shining; it was yours being reflected back on to you.
Narcissists don’t have a personality. They have a finely crafted image they’ve built and it’s mostly made from mirrors. They are mirroring you. All the good things you see in a narcissist are a reflection of you.
They are attracted to you because you are the one with the light.
That person saw all the things in you that they want but don’t have.
And yes, they drain that light from you.
But you are solar-powered, baby, and when that shadow moves on to the next light source, you will recharge.
When it hurts, remember that someone saw all the beautiful things about you and then showed them to you. You loved those qualities when you saw them in someone else.
In reality, it was you who you really fell in love with. So turn all that love back on yourself because you are truly the one who deserves it.
If you want to learn more about narcissist-codependent relationships, I recommend The Human Magnet Syndrome by Ross Rosenberg and the Narcissism Recovery Podcast with Yitz Epstein.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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