“I never said that! Now you’re just making things up. Don’t you think I’d remember if I said something so horrible?” Sound familiar? If you’re still with your narcissist, or have ever been involved with a narcissist, you are probably all too familiar with this dynamic: toxic amnesia. In a nutshell, toxic amnesia is when someone says or does something incredibly hurtful/painful to someone else, and then “forgets” that they ever said/did it. Or, more accurately, they claim to have forgotten. One might even be inclined to think, “What’s so bad about forgetting something? We’re human. We forget things all the time.” The thing is, they didn’t forget. Our abuser, our narcissist, most assuredly remembers what transpired and, more importantly, what was said not only by us, but by them. However, they are gaslighting us by claiming that our memory is flawed, insisting what we perceived to have happened, in fact, never happened. And if we can’t trust our own memory, how can we be trusted to be trusted with and in anything else? And thus, is the magic of gaslighting.
This devilish dichotomy lays the groundwork for cognitive dissonance to sink it’s grubby little mitts into the victim’s psyche, our psyche, and sets the stage for us to become wholly and completely dependent on our narcissist to both recall and interpret the history of events, a revisionist’s history, rife with what our narcissist wishes us to believe happened in lieu of what actually happened. A history wherein we, the innocent, become we, the guilty. A history where they, the abuser, become they, the abused. A history that is not only skewered, but twisted, warped, and rewritten over and over again to the point that our mind is persisting in a perpetual fog of confusion and uncertainty – we don’t remember what truly transpired. All we really know with any degree of certainty is that we are now paying the price for a fabricated crime of which our jailer, jury, and judge is holding us unabashedly accountable. A crime we never committed.
My narcissist, Julia, was quite adept at skirting issues, in refusing to acknowledge things she had done and said, and, more importantly, at projecting blame so this fresh hell was somehow my fault. It wasn’t her fault we were broken up. If only I had done this or that, then everything would still be fine between us. Just like it wasn’t her fault she slept with someone else, actually several someone else’s, less than a week after the latest in an incessant line of discard phases. When I asked her how she could have so cavalier about burning calories betwixt the sheets with a relative stranger, she simply replied, “It had been so long since I’d had sex,” as though that made her infidelity okay. This from a girl who was professing, just days prior to our most recent break-up, that sex outside of marriage was an abomination to God. This from someone who had shared with her sister-in-law that she didn’t think she could keep up with me. And yet, not a single time when we were apart, did I even attempt to engage in sex with anyone else, as opposed to Julia who spread more than just her wings when she was free, all the while playing the wounded deer who was simply lost in the snow-filled dark and unforgiving woods, looking for some safe haven in the arms of this man or that.
One of my favorite instances where Julia gleefully shirked responsibility for her actions was when she went to spend Christmas with Mr. B., her ex-husband. Yes, you read that right. After all was said and done betwixt he and her during their tumultuous and (purportedly) abusive seven-year marriage, Julia turned around and decided to spend from Christmas week through New Year’s Day with Mr. B., her narcissist whom she’d proclaimed for almost 10 months that she couldn’t wait to be free.
Again, it was apparently my fault that we’d had (yet another) falling out and it was, once again, my fault that she decided to fly to California to be with him even though the ink was barely dry on their divorce papers, having signed them less than two weeks prior. But Julia was so angry at me that I had gotten upset when she promised to spend Thanksgiving with me and my family, only to turn around and spend Thanksgiving with her family and, to add insult to injury, a little salt to the wound, as it were, she made it a point to let me know I was not invited to the familial celebration because her mother, her originating narcissist, didn’t like me even though she’d never actually met me. Nope. Not even once. She simply didn’t like me because, as I was later told, I’m an American and I would never embrace, let alone understand their Russian culture and heritage. This despite the fact that I was learning Russian so I could talk to her mother in their native language and had discussed with Julia, on more than one occasion, that I felt a dual-language household would allow our children to embrace their Russian roots as well as the American culture into which they’d be immersed.
Needless to say, I was furious. But not at first. At first, I was simply hurt. How she could and would make promises to spend Thanksgiving day with her family, and then meet me and spend the remainder of the holiday with my family and me…I was beyond hurt. And as I sat there, stewing, I began to focus and fixate, dwell and obsess over the fact that not only had she made a steadfast, heartfelt promise to spend our first holiday together, it was a mere month or so after the conclusion of the most recent discard phase where she had spent a solid two weeks hoovering me back in. I was growing angrier and angrier by the minute. So, when she texted me well after 10 PM saying she was exhausted and just wanted to go home, I ignored her text, just as I ignored her follow-up phone call when I failed to give her the expected pleading reply to her text. In fact, I decided, this time, I was going to discard her. That being said, I didn’t call, text, or email her. Which wasn’t too difficult, at least initially, considering she wasn’t making any effort to talk to me or reconcile the pain she had most recently wrought.
Less than a week passed and her divorce from Mr. B., was finalized on December 2nd. But, by December 15th, she and he had already made plans to spend Christmas and New Year’s Day together in sunny California. However, at the time, I was completely unaware of all her surreptitious duplicity. I was foolishly deluding myself into thinking that she might be missing me, that she might actually be regretting not having kept her promise to spend Thanksgiving together, reach out and attempt to make amends. To the contrary. I wasn’t even a passing thought to her, nor a memory, let alone my absence a regret.
As I said, I was completely unaware of what she was doing, and with whom she was doing it, until Christmas Eve. I was at a friend’s place, celebrating Christmas, well, let’s be honest: I was at my friend’s place trying to distract myself from the fact that I wasn’t spending Christmas with the person whom I wished to be spending it. I’d forgotten that my friend’s wife had recently become Facebook friends with Julia. As we were sitting in the living room, quasi-conversing, quasi-watching a holiday special, my friend’s wife was perusing Facebook and leisurely shared, “Well, it looks like your Russian princess is celebrating Christmas in California.” My buddy and I just looked at each other – him with a look of, “Oh, shit!” and me with a look of, “What the f**k?!” My friend had a few choice words for his wife on why she would choose to share something like this, especially on Christmas Eve. I simply left. This had turned out to be one of the worst Christmases I’d ever experienced and I just wanted it to be over.
Of course, Julia finally returned from California and, as narcissists do, she successfully hoovered me back into her embraces and under her spell with very little effort. Part of that hoovering process was her sharing with me how “horrible” her time in California was. How Mr. B. was his usual asinine self and she couldn’t wait to get back home to see me. How the longer she spent with him, the more she appreciated me and my love. Blah-blah-blah. The funny thing is, from all the photographs she was posting on Facebook, which she apparently forgot I could see, it appeared as though she was having quite a frabjous time with Mr. B. The only hiccup in her festivities was when she almost overdosed on marijuana gummies. Yup, you read that right. She had apparently found a plastic bag of gummies in Mr. B’s glovebox after they’d had a nice dinner out. And, being one who enjoys a little something sweet after a meal, whilst he was fueling up the Bentley, she popped a half-dozen or so gummies, unaware that she was only supposed to take ½ of one.
She relayed what a horrible experience her THC “trip” was and how she almost died – racing heart, sweats, chills, nausea, disorientation. At the time, it didn’t seem funny but in retrospect, it’s actually humorous that she became very upset with me, almost furious, that I didn’t get “upset enough” when she shared her brush with Death and I didn’t become overly concerned. “I just feel like you didn’t care. Did you want me to die?!” And, once again, I found myself apologizing for, in essence, a mistake she had made. She seemed to “forget” that she was in California because she was the one who’d made a promise which she refused to keep. That is was her decision to join Mr. B. just as it was her decision to feast on marijuana gummies. If only I would have known then what I know now. If I would have seen the kind of person she truly is, the beast that dwelt beneath the beautiful exterior, I would have told her I hope she enjoyed her holiday with Mr. B. and I’m sure he’ll look forward to seeing her again next year, and left. But I didn’t. I didn’t because I was convinced that all of this, all of what happened, everything that transpired, was my fault. That she was just an innocent, unwitting, and unwilling participant in a series of events that unfolded as a result of my actions and inactions. Thus, her persecutive psychological projecting became the destructive dynamic for us for the remaining three years that would become my 4-½ years with a narcissist.
What about you? What are some of the times you recall with your narcissist, with your abuser, where what you saw taking place right before your eyes, what you heard with your own ears, what you discovered and confronted them with, was somehow twisted into being your fault? What did they do to which you bore firsthand witness, that they convinced you never took place via their secondhand lies?
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