You don’t have to fall for the manipulation.
My abusive marriage to a narcissist lasted seven years. I’d estimate that we only lived together about half that time. I spent the other half leaving him and trying to stay away until he convinced me to come back.
People have judged me in the past for the times I stayed with him. They don’t realize it’s different with a narcissist. Your partner doesn’t accept it gracefully and let you go. They are almost as obsessed with you as they obsess over themselves. Leaving challenges a narcissist’s belief that they are the greatest person in the world. Deep down, they know the truth. They are woefully insecure, but for them, it’s impossible to accept. They don’t see the world the same way.
My narcissist’s name was Micah. He caught me fresh out of a divorce that left me feeling like dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe. I found him charming. The sweet words he said to me healed over a million scars left from my breakup. When I was with Micah, I wasn’t a loser who got dumped by her ex. Instead, I felt beautiful just like he told me.
I cut a swath through a field of red flags to be with Micah. Sure, he made mean jokes now and then, but at least I had someone who wanted to be with me. As our relationship progressed, he showed himself to be cruel and hateful, and that was when I left him the first time… and the second… and the sixth. My friends grew tired of helping me move out just to see me go back to him. They assumed it was where I wanted to be.
A narcissist will use every trick in the book to change your mind, whether it’s about leaving them or even the tiniest of arguments. If they can’t have things the way they want, they project a world where they already have it. Micah was not the smartest man I ever met, but his ability to gaslight me was outstanding. He told me I was unattractive and that no other man would want me. It was the same thing I worried about when Micah and I first met. He knew it.
“Who wants a 35-year-old mom with three little kids?”
“You can’t even afford to feed yourself. How are you going to live without my help?”
He struck at the deepest core of my insecurity, the feeling of being unwanted and failing, and I’d given him the ammunition to do it. Looking back, I remember the times he was so attentive. He wanted to know everything about me. He called me gorgeous and smart and funny, and I drank his words with the thirst of a dying man. I trusted him and he used all the information to his own advantage. He knew exactly which buttons to push. Sometimes he pushed them all at once.
Micah played on my fear, shame, and vulnerability and used them all against me. He made me feel like he was the only man in the world who cared. He was a hero who saved me from a cold, hard world of misery. I believed every word he said. Hadn’t I already proved many times over that I was not capable of living alone? There was a long pattern where I left him, something went wrong in my life, and Micah was there to catch me when I fell.
Narcissists make it sound like you need them. They can’t imagine not being the center of your world, and they will do anything good or bad to get your attention. Micah used to call my cell phone over 25 times per day if I didn’t pick up. When I blocked his number, he used Facebook. When I blocked him there, he used email. After I blocked his email, he got messages to me through well-meaning friends.
Micah also threatened to commit suicide several times when nothing else worked. The first time he did, it stopped me in my tracks. I still felt responsible for Micah then, the man I made more important than myself. My tender heart hurt at the thought of Micah going through with it and dying alone. He took full advantage of my compassion. Part of me doubted his suicidal intentions, but I let him into my new apartment anyway just in case. He never left. I left a few months later.
I knew I didn’t love Micah about halfway through our marriage, but his tricks were enough to keep me coming back for more. Micah said it was us against the world. As my number of friends dwindled the longer I stayed with him, I wondered if he was right. Narcissists want you all to themselves with no pesky friends getting in the way to talk sense into you. I wouldn’t have listened, anyway. My brainwashing was complete.
The last time I left Micah, I didn’t even like him, much less love him. I’m not sure what was special about that day. I didn’t wake up knowing it would be the last day I spent with Micah, but for the first time, I followed the intuition that screamed at me for seven years to leave. My gut told me it was time to go, and I finally listened to it. I fully believed I’d be dead if I stayed longer. My life was worth something. I had no place to go. I just knew I shouldn’t be there for one more day.
Micah used every trick he had. I’m sure he thought it was only a matter of time before I came to my senses and came back home. He cried on the phone because he didn’t have the money for rent on our apartment without me. He told me I’d never make it on my own. He demanded I come back right that instant. By the time he said he wished he was dead, I was in tears but still firm.
“No,” I said. “I’m never coming back.”
Micah moved 1000 miles away a week later. When he was out of my life, I began to live again. I finally saw Micah the way my friends had seen him. I’m grateful I had the time and distance to look at him objectively. His narcissism was off the charts and borderline dangerous, but I couldn’t see that from inside his world.
Getting away from a narcissist is not easy by any means, but blocking them from all aspects of your life is crucial. If they have access to you, they can manipulate you into doing what they want. It also helped when I went through therapy for PTSD after Micah moved away. Being on the receiving end of a narcissistic relationship can make you think you’re crazy sometimes, and it helps to get some perspective from a therapist who can work on challenging our negative beliefs.
Above all, please don’t blame yourself for staying in a toxic relationship for so long. Some people will never understand why we couldn’t just pack up and leave at the first insult or bruise or lie. Dealing with a narcissist is more complicated than that. It takes every ounce of strength to rise up and decide you ARE worth it after being called a worthless loser by the person who is supposed to love you. Narcissists make you feel like you need them, but in reality, they feel terrified because they need you WAY more than they will ever admit.
If you’re dealing with a narcissistic relationship, the word I wish for you is clarity. Being able to see things clearly is half the battle. The other half is the strength you’ve always had inside you, and that includes the gut feelings telling you to get away. Intuition will never steer you wrong.
You are enough. You are beautiful. The world needs you and always will no matter what anybody says. You’re the farthest thing from a loser. Deep down, you know what is true. Let that truth guide you to freedom.