Several years back I read an article about elephants. Yes, pachyderms. Specifically, it was why they don’t free themselves from captivity by simply walking away when they’re staked to the ground. Think about it. There’s no way that tiny wooden stake driven into the ground by a single man with a hammer could possibly keep a three-to-six-ton elephant in place. And yet, it does. But how? You see, when a baby elephant is brought into a circus, for example, it’s intentionally staked and shackled. At first, the baby elephant fights and pulls at the chain and stake but to no avail. Elephants are actually quite intelligent creatures and, as such, it isn’t long before the elephant understands its efforts will be fruitless. It accepts its fate and stops fighting. In that moment, it becomes a prisoner. The thing is, as the elephant grows older and larger, at some point s/he could very easily pull that stake up by simply walking away. But it doesn’t because it’s been conditioned to believe it can’t. It doesn’t know just how strong it really is.
Loving a narcissist is no different. When one initially becomes involved with a narcissist, the dark reality that their narcissist isn’t who and what they truly are hasn’t yet come to light. Generally speaking, narcissists are very charismatic, intelligent, and persuasive people and, as empaths, we’re drawn to that energy like a moth to the flame. They seem to have this uncanny knack for being able to get people, especially pleasers and enablers, to do what they want regardless of how much it might go against their partner’s values or undermine their scruples. “If you really loved me, you’d do this or that for me.” Sound familiar?
We might, at first, hem and haw, buck and fight it, but we have grown so very deeply emotionally and psychologically attached to our narcissist through trauma bonding, the thought of leaving them elicits such deeprooted dread and anxiety – and there’s our stake, chain, and shackle that binds us to them and in a toxic relationship. So we stay. We stay, not realizing that we most assuredly have the power to simply walk away and enjoy a much happier, healthier, more fulfilling life without someone and something so dreadfully dark weighing us down and keeping us prisoner. And you see, that’s the lie silently orated that we embrace so emphatically! “I can’t live without you.” Beautiful, not only can you live without them, you can flourish so fruitfully.
When was the last time you actually laughed? I didn’t ask you when the last time was you laughed. I want to know, when was the last time there was an unquenchable joy in your laughter? When did you genuinely laugh so hard that your stomach hurt and happy tears streamed down aching cheeks? That long, huh? Yeah. I was there once, too. I thought I was happy with my narcissist, Julia, but I wasn’t genuinely happy. Oh, sure! I was convinced I was happy. Or rather, she had convinced me I was happy but I wasn’t, not in my heart of hearts. But I had been conditioned to believe that this place where I found myself staked, chained, and shackled was the home of my happiness, the delightful domicile in which jubilant joy dwelt.
But it was a lie. In fact, one of the few truths in my relationship with Julia was that I found myself in my own private, personal hell she had helped me build so she could keep me as the main attraction in her three-ring circus replete with her flying monkeys, truth-jugglers twisting facts and realities, and more clowns than one could ever shake a stick at. Friends, family, even strangers were encouraged to come and watch the show with free admission! And all it cost me was my soul. Too melodramatic? If you’ve ever been romantically involved with a narcissist, then you know all too well that it doesn’t even come close to being dramatic enough. And it fails abysmally in describing the price we’ve paid by welcoming such an abyssal toxic love into our hearts, our lives, and our beds.
And there is the catch: we welcomed them with open arms because we thought they were the answer to every question we’d ever asked and those yet to be asked. In the same fashion as one is rendered powerless when inviting a mythical vampire into one’s house, so were we rendered docile and compliant when we welcomed our narcissist into our life. We believed every lie that fell from their soft, supple lips. We embraced every harsh word and criticism of us and our perceived shortcomings as unquestionable fact. And it wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the darkest place. And guess who we erroneously believed the only bringer of light, our only rescuer could be. Yup! Our narcissist. The bringer of darkness was our only deliverance…or so we’d been conditioned to believe. No matter what we’ve been conditioned to accept, what broke us cannot, under any circumstances, be what makes us whole again. That’s simply not how healing works.
There was a time I wholeheartedly believed I couldn’t live without my narcissist. How many times have you repeated that lie under your breath or in hushed tones as you lay in bed at night, sandwiched between cold, empty sheets, wondering why the love of your life chose to allow you to fall asleep alone again when you could have been sharing each other’s embraces? And there is the epiphany you’ve skirted but have yet to embrace – anyone who willingly allows you to hurt, when they could effortlessly put an end to that anguish, is not someone who genuinely cares for you. Or worse yet, how many times has your narcissist said unbelievably cruel and hurtful things to you?
Beautiful, that is not love. That is abuse. You don’t hurt the person you love. You don’t shackle them to you with chains. You don’t stake them to the ground and confine them to some small corner of a dark world you’ve built for them and in which you keep them imprisoned. When you love someone, you see the beauty of them and in them, the potential not even they see in themselves, and you lovingly lift them up them to achieve that greatness. Love builds. So the next time you think you can’t live without your narcissist – the shackle and chain which tethers you to that stake in the ground – think again. What you believe, and the beauty of your greatness, are two very different things entirely. You don’t know just how strong you really are.
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