How many times did you willingly offer up your morals, scruples, your inalienable sense of right and wrong, as a sacrifice to your narcissist? How many times did you forsake your ethics or virtues to appease the narcissist and their self-entitled sense of goddom? I did so more times than I care to remember or admit. And I suspect you did, as well. Although I’ll confess, with Julia, my narcissist, it wasn’t initially an in-your-face expectation or demand. No. She was far too adept at deft manipulation to be so blatantly obvious, at least for the first 3 years of the relationship. It was only toward the end, in that final fourth year, that she went from strongly suggesting to adamantly demanding. “If the person I’m with doesn’t believe this (faith-wise), eat this (diet-wise), etc., then it’s not going to work.” For you see, once their talons are sunk deep in your flesh, all that’s left is to squeeze till there’s no more breath.
The really interesting thing is, when I first met my narcissist, she was seemingly so dulcet, so sheepishly shy. And I think that was part of the allure. She presented herself as a quiet, demure, innocent, kind, loving, blindingly brilliant, and affectionate girl who was starved for love. Not only did I buy the whole act, I bought season tickets, and all it cost me was my soul. Of course, if I’d have had any idea, at the time, that this was what was taking place, that I was ever so slowly having my life-force drained from me by an emotional and psychological vampire, I’d have done everything in my power to stave off her advances and protect myself. But at the time, all I knew was that she was amazing and exactly who and what I had been looking for all along. Or rather, that’s what I believed.
However, as the relationship progressed and Julia’s power over me increased via the malicious miracles of trauma bonding and gaslighting, I found myself forsaking so many of my passions and, instead, embracing so many of those things that were important to her. Pursuits I once relished, I now relinquished. Pursuits such as fitness, exercise, even quality time with my seven-year-old son. Before I met her, I took advantage of most every opportunity to either ride my bike, hit the gym, go on a hike, or even just take a nice little 6 or 9-mile walk with my son. And although Julia was athletic to a degree, it wasn’t nearly to the extent that I am, or rather, was. Julia made it a point to spend a great deal of time with me, initially, and I couldn’t get enough of her or our time together. And it was somewhere in here, when we began spending so much together, that I came to realize just how much I’d been starved for intelligent interlocution. And the fact that she was beautiful made the time with her all the sweeter. It wasn’t long before I found myself Hooked on a Feeling.
At the time, I thought she was enjoying the same newfound connection with a kindred spirit just as I was. But, in retrospect, it was merely her setting the trap that she would later spring when I least expected. And during these countless hours, days and nights we spent together, I found myself sharing so many personal and private things with her, things I’d never shared with anyone before. And as I would share something with her, albeit a dream, aspiration, goal, fear, passion, pursuit, what have you, a vast majority of the time she would reciprocate with a matched childlike zeal and mutual enthusiasm.
I liked to exercise regularly and stay fit. She liked fitness and exercise! I loved classical music. She loved classical music! I loved the Three Stooges. She loved the Three Stooges! No matter what it was, we seemed to share a number of similar pursuits, goals, dreams, aspirations – you name it! What I didn’t realize at the time is that we didn’t sincerely share nearly as many passions and pursuits as she led me to believe. She was simply regurgitating my own love of life and adventure back on me, a quasi-virtual vomit, so that I would be deluded and deceived into believing I had finally found the one. Truth be told, the only undeniable love we both shared for anything or anyone was a love for the same person; her.
And I suspect your narcissist was the same. Just like Julia, did your narcissist, at first, love anything and everything that you loved? Only, as time went on, did they slowly begin changing, becoming someone else who didn’t even like those same things nearly as much as you, let alone cherish them like you? And when you began to realize you’d been deceived, did you notice how your narcissist began doling out ultimatums in the name of truth. “If the person I’m with doesn’t have the same faith, diet, pursuits, etc. as me, then it’s just not going to work.” And you panicked, didn’t you? I know I certainly did. I suddenly found myself convinced that, to keep my narcissist and the abuse which she professed as love in my life, I needed to change. If you didn’t adopt and embrace their (questionable and hypocritical) morals and convictions, then they would merely move on and find someone else who would be more malleable and easily manipulated.
So I did, at least as best I could. I adopted her faith, her diet, her sporadic, random, and chaotic exercise routine; whatever was of her became of me as much as I could possibly make it – anything to keep from losing her. The thing is, I never really needed to change a single thing about me. Nor did you. We most assuredly didn’t need to change for them. But we panicked! We saw them changing and we felt we needed to change to keep them in our lives, to keep from losing them and what we (thought we) shared with them. Beautiful, the truth is they didn’t change. They just finally became who they really are and we saw the real them for the first time. That’s why they never could return to being the amazing, wonderful, perfect, beautiful soul who we met and with whom we fell in love. The thing is, I hear this same dynamic from survivor-after-survivor of narcissistic abuse. It’s almost as though there’s a Narcissist’s Handbook that’s handed out with each narcissist as they venture out into the world for the first time to seek and suckle at the emotional and psychological teet of as many sources as possible, isn’t it?
In the end, when the relationship did finally end, I had lost so much of me, my identity, myself to Julia and the relationship, it took me almost a year to finally recover who I was after spending 4-½ years with a narcissist. How long ago did it end with your narcissist? How long did you wander lost, empty, confused about who you really were? How long has it taken you to begin rediscovering yourself? Or are you still lost? Are you still wandering and wondering? No matter where you are in your journey, even if you’re still with your narcissist, wishing you could leave, the road to recovery from such deep and intense psychological and emotional abuse, even physical abuse, is a long road. I won’t lie to you. The thing is, leaving isn’t the hardest part. The hardest part of leaving is not returning to what broke you. No matter what we believe, no matter what our narcissist might tell us when beseeching us to return to them with grandiose proclamations of changed behavior and a deeper love, what broke you cannot be what makes you whole again. That’s simply not how healing works.