Today is Independence Day in the United States. And, while today is technically an “American” holiday, a multitude of other cultures and countries observe their own annual celebration of independence albeit from occupation, oppression, or regaining their culture and their freedoms. In other words, the concept of freedom is universal. But how does a person find themselves making that transition from living a life of freedom, to one of subjugation, and then back again to freedom? To be free, but subsequently subjugated, is one thing. But to be subjugated and then freed is something altogether different.
Consider, when we met our narcissist, we were indeed free. We could have easily walked away if it weren’t for the fact our narcissist made loving them such an amazingly appealing possibility. We couldn’t resist the temptation of finally having the relationship we’d only dreamed of for years, perhaps even decades, and having it with this amazing person whom we were fortunate enough to find. And, for a short while, that dream was a reality. But then the noose started tightening ever-so-slowly until we suddenly found ourselves dangling over a precipice. If we cut the rope, we fall to our demise. If we remain hanging, the noose continues tightening, and we meet our demise. Either way, our fate seems sealed.
The thing is, when a person who was once free finds themselves under the control of someone else, we can very easily recall what it was like to be free. We remember times when this repressive and repulsive dynamic wasn’t our life. I very vividly recall, during the last year of my 4-½ year stint with Julia, my narcissist, realizing that not only had a very unbalanced shift of power occurred but reclaiming that power was bloody near impossible. Yes, I could leave. But leaving simply prevents the narcissist from continuing to drain a person’s power. Your absence doesn’t return power that’s been usurped. It simply removes a variable, you, from the equation. And if removed, you’re not the same person you were before you became entranced and engrossed with your narcissist, are you?
I remember quite clearly I was far, far more carefree, trusting, even spontaneous before Julia. But that’s all changed now. Where there was once spontaneity, there’s now cautious trepidation. Where I once trusted, I now question until trust is earned. And, you see, that’s the hardest part of emancipation. A once-free person who finds themselves under the control of someone, but then regains that lost freedom only after repeated cycles of abuse and perhaps even psychological and physical torture, is never the same. Yes, you remember who you were. But that person is dead. Even if you feel reborn, you may be of the same body but you are no longer of the same spirit. And the narcissist knows they had a power over us and probably still do. They know full-well that their triangulation and manipulation warped our sense of reality and trust into who and how they would have us be to serve them, ensuring we would placate their wants and needs. In the end, one thing is as it has always been for the narcissist: Control.
I came across a tweet in my Twitter travels that quite literally left me shaken to my core the first time I read it. The tweet read,
“When I was in 7th grade, our teacher put on a video and told us to take notes. Ten minutes in, she threw the lights on and shouted at Steven Webb Sladki, telling him he wasn’t taking notes and he should have been. But the thing was, Steve was taking notes. I saw it. We all saw it. The teacher asked if anyone wanted to stand up for Steve. A few of us choked out some words of defense but were immediately squashed. Quickly, we were all silent. Steve was sent to the principal’s office. The teacher came back in the room and said something like, ‘See how easy that was?’ We were reading “[The Diary of] Anne Frank.” Don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you see with your own eyes isn’t happening.”
Why did that affect me so deeply? Because that dynamic was my 4-½ year relationship with Julia summed up in one paragraph. Even though I knew with absolute certainty that I had seen and heard what I had seen and heard, albeit actions from her, her flying monkeys, and or all of those men whom she kept inappropriately close in her reverse harem, she was always able to manipulate the situation and me so that every transgression, every slight, every hurt ever orchestrated or authored by her was excusable and I was being, “…too insecure/sensitive/jealous.” The issue is, it’s completely irrelevant whether or not a person is, in another person’s perception, being too anything. The fact that your actions or words crush and vex a person, especially someone for whom you supposedly care and love, should be enough that you would take the time to make the effort to put that person’s fears and anxieties to rest instead of seeking to exacerbate the issue by not only continuing your inconsiderate, disrespectful, and hurtful behaviors but, many times, stepping those behaviors up, effectively throwing fuel on the proverbial fire.
One such instance occurred when Julia began acting even more secretive than what had come to be the norm for her. At the time, she was in nursing school and was constantly on her laptop for research, studying, taking online tests, etc. But I noticed that, unlike before where she would simply get up and go into the other room, make something to eat, shower, etc., leaving her laptop unlocked and unattended, she was now religiously locking her workstation. Normally, I wouldn’t have cared or even noticed, but the consistency with which she now did this was unavoidably noticeable. And that odd action, coupled with her no longer talking on the phone in front of me, made my Spidey-sense start tingling. So, one day, whilst she was in the shower, I decided to see what all of this elevated secrecy was about and I’ll admit, I snooped. In a way, I’m glad I did. But in another way, not so much. What I discovered was that she had been emailing and talking with one of the many men in her reverse harem, Philip, discussing going away with him for the weekend to a nice little secluded cabin in Canada. His email said that there were seats available for their flight and included a link for her to pick out where she wanted to sit on the plane. I was devastated.
However, instead of confronting her, I decided to see how far she would take the ruse. A couple of days later, I told her we should go away together, just the two of us, and I made sure to include her and Philip’s timeframe for the Canada trip as the window for our proposed getaway. I was really curious to see what lame excuse she would use to back out. I was nothing short of shocked when she not only eagerly accepted my suggestion but even began suggesting places we could go. When she asked me what locale I’d envisioned, I suggested we go away somewhere with lots of snow, perhaps even staying in a little secluded cabin – something we had always shared as an ideal couple’s getaway. She didn’t like that suggestion (maybe because she was already planning on going to Canada with Philip and fulfilling that little fantasy). In the end, we decided on the beach in Savannah, GA, a personal favorite haunt of mine and somewhere I’d been longing to return for about 10 years. We made a list of things to purchase, and you can guess whose list had about three items and whose list had quite a few more things. But, honestly, at this point, I was just elated that she and I were finally going to have that weekend together we had discussed taking for over 4 years, I didn’t care. I happily bought it all. But somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew it was just a matter of time before she backed out.
The week we were supposed to leave couldn’t come soon enough and the weekend of our departure drew ever closer. Something told me to go ahead and cancel the reservations even though Julia was emphatic that an extended weekend together at the beach was just what we needed and she couldn’t wait. Regardless, with a mandatory 24-hour cancellation notice required, lest I lose the deposit and money for the room, the day before we were supposed to leave, I canceled the reservations but said nothing to Julia. Later that evening, she called as she drove home from work and we chatted, excited about our upcoming excursion. We talked and then she suddenly had to go (another phone call). About 30 minutes later, she texted me saying she couldn’t go with me to Savannah for the weekend and simply asked me to, “Please understand.” It’s kind of hard to understand when no explanation is given. But that had become par for the course with Julia.
To this day I suspect that her original plans with Philip had initially fallen through which is why she was so eager to have a vacation with me, in the first place. But the phone call that evening, I suspect that was Philip. And I can only surmise that whatever had happened to sway her to want to go to Savannah with me, unhappened, and their plans were suddenly back on. But who knows? Maybe (probably) she’d been playing both sides to see whose vacation sounded more amazing and “better,” and Philip simply won out in the end. For all I know, it could have been Arty, the person whom she had secretly been seeing and would wind-up marrying about three months later. Regardless of which eager suitor it was from her reverse harem, that little incident was the nail in the coffin for me and for our relationship and that was the last time I spoke with her.
The really bizarre thing is, up until I read that tweet, I had honestly forgotten about that phone call and her sudden, and inexplicable, change of heart about going. Trauma is kind of funny like that. It was only when I read that tweet, some psychological trigger was pulled and that painful memory came back with an unbridled and cruel passion. Perhaps that’s why the tweet hit me so hard – it was the end of Julia and me – and I managed to block it out over the ensuing months that turned into well over the year since we have spoken. Regardless, in an agonizing way, it was cathartically cleansing. I was finally able to work through one of my most painful memories with Julia and realize that, in the months that had passed, I had healed enough to objectively navigate those traumatic waters.
So what about you? Is there a specter that still haunts you? Some painful event or collection of memories that vexes you? Or have you managed to successfully block them out as I did?