Everyone has that one relationship. That relationship which feels great and not quite right at the same time. You’re happy, you’re in love, but you’re insecure, anxious and you’re not thriving.
You know the relationship must end, but when it does: you’re devastated.
There are people who give to you and there are people who take from you without any intention of giving back, leaving you depleted. Everyone has a relationship with someone who depletes them.
Everyone has that one relationship that must be survived.
This September marks four years since the end of the most intense and ultimately upsetting relationship of my life. Four years ago, a male acquaintance came back into my life out of the blue and asked me out on a date. Initially, this person seemed to offer me the intense romantic relationship I have always craved. I now believe this person is definable as a sufferer of Narcissist Personality Disorder, as the relationship that ensued followed a pattern of narcissistic abuse to the letter.
For an explanation of what that pattern looks like, I refer you to the following:
Narcissists have an amazingly predictable pattern when it comes to relationships. It’s called The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse, and until I was made aware of it, I thought I was going absolutely crazy.
Once you see it, though, you can never unsee it.
The cycle goes as follows:
Idealization. “You’re amazing, I love you. We’ve perfect for each other.” Includes: charm, flattery, mirroring, lovebombing, stories, apologies, attention, generosity, gifts, adoration, etc.
Devalue. “You are weak; I am strong. I am right; you are wrong.” Includes: lies, insults, belittling, criticizing, minimizing, mocking, projection, hypocrisy, gaslighting, silent treatment, threats, guilt, ambiguity, triangulation.
Disregard. “Sianara!” Total disregard for the relationship.Before I knew what narcissistic abuse was, I already knew that this relationship wasn’t like an ordinary relationship. Looking back on the relationship there was so much wrong with his behaviour:
The way he rushed me into physical intimacy. His lack of consideration for my feelings and needs. The way he felt entitled to intimacy. The way he demanded said intimacy be on his terms and on his terms alone. His lack of reciprocity. His disregard for my physically well-being.
I made excuses for this behaviour in the midst of the powerful Idealisation or ‘Lovebombing’ phase of the relationship. I was happy with my abuser during this phase. I was infatuated with him. I felt lucky to be with this man despite the terrible way he was treating me beneath the endless compliments, the flattery and the showers of attention.
Before I knew it, this phase was over, and so the devaluation began:
His subtle but vicious bullying and belittlement. The fact that he allowed his friends to bully me by proxy. The way he abandoned me in unsafe parts of London, and on several occasions invited me out with him but then made me wait for him for hours at a time. The fact that a few months since the start of the relationship, he now appeared to be a very different person from the one I had started dating.
I should have run like the wind from this walking, talking, physical embodiment of a red-flag, but my steadfast commitment to being a positive, happy, ‘low-maintenance’ (ick!) girlfriend and my sheer delusion and denial made me stay until I could tolerate his oh-so-subtle belittlement and cruelty no longer.
My lover had discarded me before the relationship ended. He had withdrawn his affections long-before we broke up. Whilst he no longer seemed to like or even respect me, he was keen to maintain access to my body and to have someone in his life he could denigrate in order to make himself feel better.
A healthy person can alway build him or herself up without needing anyone else to put down. In many ways, I feel sorry for my abuser. His was not a happy, prosperous childhood like mine. He was abandoned by his father and I strongly suspect he was emotionally (and possibly physically) abused by his mother.
But none of that is any excuse for what he did to me.
At no point in my sheltered, privileged upbringing had anyone told me that predators often disguise themselves as prey; that effete, Middle Class intellectuals are just as capable of exploitation, degradation and cruelty as anyone one else. On reflecting back to this relationship, I wonder why giving me the ability to spot a red flag was so conspicuously absent from my education? My childhood gave me the defences I needed to fend off physical predators; but not emotional predators.
I am not someone who seeks, claims, or enjoys victimhood status even though it’s a fashionable thing to have these days. Unlike so many women, I have never been the victim of sexual assault and only ever personally experienced fairly mild sexual harassment.
It is for this reason that it took me a long time to acknowledge that I was a victim of this man even though this relationship had become something I had to survive. Yet oddly, I don’t regret being in this relationship, despite the fact that I was very clearly on the losing side of a textbook example of narcissistic emotional abuse.
Would my life have been better had this man never been in it?
Was I deeply hurt, out of control, and physically (the stress of this relationship exacerbated an already existing autoimmune disorder) and emotionally sick?
Am I ashamed of my behaviour and the person I was in the wake of this relationship?
Am I a better, stronger, more resilient, less naive, more self-aware and self-actualised individual for having survived this relationship?
Without a doubt.
I take solace in the fact that narcissists are often drawn to positive, happy, kind, intelligent, engaging, beautiful, generous people.
So many aspects of this relationship were confusing to me. Over time, I have managed to make sense of most elements of this relationship or I have simply just stopped caring about them. My abuser is not pardoned, but he is forgiven. I have slowly drained all of his poison out of my life. No one likes to admit they let themselves be exploited or treated like an exotic pet, but I have also decided to forgive myself as well.
I view this relationship as some sort of karmic or emotional test. Not sure I aced it, but I did pass: I survived.
What I do know is this: nothing will ever hurt me again.
Just a few guidelines I aspire to live by. There are not many of them, but they have helped me become the person who is getting me the life I always wanted to have.
1. Know What Matters
The only two things that matter in this life are a) your intellectual or creative output and b) how you treat people.
Create without fear or shame. Be prolific and don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.
2. Have Manners
Having manners doesn’t mean saying your ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’. Those are basic courtesies.
Having manners means making people feel valuable, appreciated, respected and worthy of your time.
Treat people well for your own good. Often we notice when we’ve had bad service but when we often don’t notice when the service has been good. That’s what we expect. That’s normal.
Treating people badly is degrading to you not just the other person.
3. Have Strong Boundaries & Filters
Be kind, loving, honest and warm.
If there are toxic individuals who drag you down —or make it harder for you to be kind, loving, honest and warm — distance yourself from them as soon and as politely as possible.
Don’t compromise yourself. Don’t let yourself become a victim to users. Don’t become what you hate. Cut the cords that bind you to the unworthy.
4. Forgiveness Is For You
You don’t have to pardon wrongs against you but you should forgive those wrongs as soon as you feel you can. Not for the next life but for this life.
Being unforgiving rots the soul you have to live with right now. I know that this is easier said than done, but just remember that you are doing it for yourself.
Your forgiveness is for you.
5. Be Generous
Be generous and life will be generous back. It’s an attitude. Assume it and good fortune is yours.
When being generous, remember that your time is the most precious thing you have.
6. Say It
If you have nothing nice to say — don’t say it.
If you have something nice to say — do actually say it.
Other people aren’t mind-readers. You’ll be surprised what doesn’t go without saying.
7. Ask For What You Want
If you want something — sometimes all you have to do is ask.
Most people don’t get what they want because they are too afraid to ask as they think they’re undeserving.
This hang up can be easily resolved by acting in a way that means you always deserve what you want (see 1b and 6).
Ah, l’amore! Romantic gestures may seem like outdated and meaningless behaviour in this sceptical age. Or, perhaps, romance is simply a fiction created for the readers of silly novels and films which only serve to give us all unrealistic exceptions. I used to think so myself, but as I’ve got older I’ve found myself going from a sceptic to a romantic. Romance may be considered uncool but it is vital and it is necessary.
Cosy dinners for two. Poetry. Love letters. Flowers. Mini-breaks away. Considered gifts and thoughtful gestures. Being generous with your time and affection. If you know your lover well, you should be able to do romantic things for them without making them feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t enjoy it when their partner does beautiful things for them.
But it’s more than that. These actions don’t just make your partner fall in love with you. You are flexing your own love like a muscle. You are learning to love your partner more deeply with each romantic action. Love is active. Love is a verb. We have more control over it than we realise. If we want to stay in love with our partners and have a successful relationship we must be romantic towards them.
Your own romantic acts make you fall in love with your partner too.
No woman dreams of being just a roommate he shags. No man dreams of being a meal ticket. The creation of love is important and love is made with romance. In a relationship, romance is the responsibility of both partners. If your partner is not romantic towards you, then I have some bad news. They are not interested or invested in the relationship or they simply don’t mind if the love fades away.
But fear not! You can make your love everlasting.
First: you find someone. Someone who creates love with you. Someone who graciously accepts the romance you give them. Someone who takes the love you’ve given them and builds on it giving it back to you endued with more love. Someone who enjoys seeing the look on your face as you receive their romantic gestures. Someone who gives you love for love’s sake.
Once you’ve found the right lover, then you make love to them and with them every single day you are together.
So fall in love, my Darlings! Fall in love and stay that way
If you go to the doctor with a broken arm, the doctor will not only put your arm in a cast, he or she will also prescribe you painkillers. Treating the symptoms of a injury or illness is standard medical practise — nothing to shout home about. There is, however, one type of pain we don’t treat with medicine. And that is emotional pain.
Alcohol, sugar, heroin — the desire to rid oneself of emotional pain by external means has been ever-present in human history. It’s part of the human condition. I do not believe there is an answer to addiction without first discovering more ways to temporarily treat the symptoms of a person’s distress whilst simultaneously treating the causes.
The treatment of emotional pain and brain illness has undoubtedly been held back because the prohibition on psychotropic drugs has hindered research. Whilst that prohibition has lifted slightly in recent years, the accompanying stigma around drug use has not. There even seems to be a kinder perception towards people who use party drugs like ecstasy and cocaine — who can blame anyone for wanting a good time, right?
Drug users who prefer heroin and alcohol are perceived so differently from party-drug users and I believe this is due to what those users are trying to do with their drugs. These are the drugs that stymie emotional distress. For users, these are a temporary escape from a reality they do not like. To want to escape reality is considered a character flaw but noone can ever give me a good reason why excusing oneself from one’s own pain isn’t a valid temporary choice.
Even though everyday painkillers are thought to numb emotional anguish as well as physical pain, I doubt you would be prescribed these for emotional pain if you were an otherwise healthy individual. It is 2018. I do not believe that it is impossible to create a non-addictive drug specifically designed to numb emotional pain without getting the patient high.
There is only one major reason this drug is not yet available from your local pharmacy: the moral taboo against using external drugs to treat emotional pain.
If we are serious about treating addiction comprehensively and ridding the world of prohibition — this is the final frontier.