Don’t Let Pride and Fear of the Unknown Keep You Stuck

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3-minute read — Possible Trigger

When I think back to my own dark night of narcissistic abuse, I often wish I’d left sooner than I did.  If truth be told, I am glad I went through the experience because it gave me a whole new perspective on life.  However, if I could go back and experience the same transformation in less time, I might be inclined to exchange a few years of my longevity for just one more year of freedom away from the abuse.

I’m not the only one.  This particular area is one of colossal latitude.  I read comments that people leave on blogs and forums, and it’s painfully clear that they, too, bemoan the years they wasted with the narcissist in their lives.  As a result, I was inspired to write this article because–while I can’t predict whether someone will go on to experience the same transformation that I did (which hinges on doing the self-work) –what I can say is that I could have left earlier as opposed to staying beyond reasonable limits if only I’d done what I suggest in this article.

Of course, there was the magical thinking–believing there was a chance he’d change–that I clung to, but even more than that were the following two devastating obstacles that kept me frozen in my nightmarish confinement:  Pride and Fear of the Unknown.


Pride hindered my leaving in many ways, including the following:

1. Not wanting him to “be right” when he said that everyone told him I would leave sooner or later. Back then, I still cared very much what others thought of me.  Oh, how I wish I’d veered off of that reckless path sooner.  While someone may well have mentioned to him that I wouldn’t stay with him, the only individuals that would have said it in the context that he meant it were his family members.  If said outside of that context, it would have been our acquaintances who’d witnessed his mistreatment of me.

Looking back, though, none of that mattered because all I cared about was proving his accusations wrong.  He spewed out the allegation willy-nilly, knowing that it was one of my buttons…and I fell for it.  Simply put, I cut off my nose to spite my face.

2. He made me feel guilty because I’d been married before. He was able to play this card very well because he’s from a culture that typically marries for life.  He gleefully prodded me by saying that, as an American, I would never rise to their standards.  So, wanting to prove that I’d taken my vows seriously and that I could “be trusted”, I sucked up his abuse needlessly.

Looking back, their standards weren’t the shining example of love and compromise that he pretended they were.  In fact, narcissism runs deep in his family.  My herculean mission to prove myself proved pointless and I literally ran myself ragged trying to prove I could be “one of them” instead of a “lower class Westerner”.

3.  I was afraid that if I left, I might be forced to apply for government assistance. The moment I became pregnant with our child, he insisted that I go out and apply for WIC, food stamps, and whatever other government benefits we might qualify for.  This proved quite easy, given that he was perpetually unemployed and we lived mainly on my single income.

In true narc-style, he considered the government benefits we received as his financial contribution to the household, even though I was the one going out and applying for them.  I despised him greatly for this mindset, especially that the benefits were supposed to be for my unborn child and my two other sons, yet he took the SNAP card and did his personal shopping with it while I was off working my exhausting job while pregnant.

I swore to myself that if I ever left him, I’d never apply for assistance again in my life.  I associated doing so with him and his epic uselessness.

However, after I left, I did have to suck up my pride and apply for benefits here and there. Mostly during the summer because I was an Elementary School Teacher and didn’t work during summer vacations.  While I’m glad I’m no longer a recipient of government assistance, I did what any single mother would do, which is do whatever is necessary to take care of her children.  There’s no shame in that, especially if one does so in place of remaining in a toxic relationship.

The few moments of awkwardness in the social services office were a walk in the park compared to staying in an abusive marriage and I would say to anyone who is in this situation, you may or may not be financially dependent upon the narcissist in your life, but if you are, there are many services you can apply for until you can get on your feet.  Don’t let pride keep you and your children in a destructive environment.

And please, don’t take the stance that you don’t want to block your toxic partner because you don’t want them to think you’re bothered by the situation or by their behaviors.  Every person I’ve worked with who let pride get the best of them in this way stayed stuck in crazy.

Which leads me to the next shackle that kept me enmeshed with my narcissistic husband…

Fear of the Unknown

The collective fear of the unknown keeps people needlessly stuck in abusive relationships, sometimes for decades.  Our society has drilled into our minds the unfortunate philosophy, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know”.

In other words, we’ve been indoctrinated with the devastating belief that if we have to choose between a familiar but unpleasant situation and an unfamiliar situation, choose the familiar one because the unfamiliar situation may turn out to be worse.

What a limiting conviction.  While it’s true that there may be very trying times after leaving an abusive marriage or relationship, what comes afterward is well worth it.  Using myself as an example, I’d just moved into a new apartment and had only been there about a month when I lost my job.  What was I going to do?  How could I take care of my children?  The situation seemed hopeless.  But guess what?  I made it through.

The same holds true for others, as well.  A reader left the following comment on my site this weekend:

“Staying in an abusive marriage /partnership is not healthy. I did it for over 20 years. I let him cheat, lie and betray me. I was afraid of the unknown, afraid to leave, afraid of not being financially secure. One day he left anyway for a co-worker who is half my age.  All of a sudden I had to face my fears. And you know what?  I made it, I became a strong, resilient woman”.

Don’t waste more of your precious life confined to a toxic relationship.  If you can’t leave now, then start a plan.  I can tell you with absolute confidence that if your partner is a narcissist, there is no hope for change.  The saddest stories are the ones where a victim of abuse is lying in the hospital, not knowing if they will live or die while the narcissist is off living it up…or when the child of a narcissist commits suicide.

This stuff is real.  The longer you stay with a Narcissist or other Cluster-B disordered individual, the deeper the devastation.  It may be bearable now, but lives are destroyed every day at the hands of these disordered personalities.  I know because I work with victims of this kind of abuse almost daily– they are losing their careers, homes, custody of their children.  In fact, I came very close to losing everything myself.

I know it may feel that your situation is a little different; that your narcissist won’t go that far, they’ve never hurt you past hurting your feelings, etc.  But, that’s what many unemployed, emotionally devastated people who’ve lost everything once thought.

This is truly a matter of survival.

“Psychopathy is our number one public health risk.  It’s not STDs, it’s not AIDS.  It’s people without a conscience.  They destroy millions of productive lives, children’s’ lives, and they impact every part of our society.  Psychopathy is our top public health crisis.”  – Sandra Brown, author of Women Who Love Psychopaths

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Bernadette Rushmer says January 26, 2020

I have been married for almost 31 years, been together for 37 years. Six grown kids. I was never allowed to work, because “he is the man and he will provide”. He failed miserably, by the way, we moved around a lot and were always in financial difficulty except when it was easy money. I stayed for kids, love and didn’t have the courage to do it anyway . After his emotional, verbal, physical abuse and continued infidelity (prostitutes, massage parlors etc) during our marriage I gave up and wished I could either die or that he would leave me. Last month he asked for a divorce, which was fine by me. He went away for a week and I was starting to look forward to my new life. My kids are grown and were willing to help me. They all saw the abuse while growing up which I now know was not good for them. Anyway, after the week he came back and said that he thought about it and prayed about it and that he loves me and has decided not to divorce me. It felt as if my whole world had collapsed from under me. I told him that I want to go through with the divorce and I am no longer invested in our farce of a marriage. He accepted it, but has been guilt tripping me from that day. We were supposed to sign divorce papers, but he keeps on putting off and making excuses. Also telling me what a wonderful woman and wife I am and that he can not live without me, but in the next breath asking if I would mind if he took another wife after the divorce! Even threatening suicide. He moved out, but now he want to move in as a “boarder” and as he pays the rent I can’t refuse. He says he can’t afford another place. One of my sons still lives with me and doesn’t earn enough for his own place, but if it wasn’t for him I would pack my car and dissappear. I really can’t go one more day with this man. It feels like I am in prison. I have depression and fibromyalgia. It feels as if there are only 2 options – for me to die or him to die. I am 52 and he is 58. Any advice would help thanks

    Carolyn says October 28, 2020

    Bernadette, Sweetie, you are young and you have your whole life ahead of you awaiting you with magic and joy!!!! Do not despair, do not spend yet another second thinking about this child/man! Please!!! This is about you! You must concentrate on your healing, and how the possibilities for you are endless and in abundance. I too have arisen from this kind of abuse, and it is real and possible and at your fingertips for what you want!!!!! From my heart to yours, reclaim your freedom and burst forth NOW! Wonderfulness awaits you, and you need not be chained for a second more. With love, Carolyn

Suffering in San Diego says May 1, 2016

23 days to go and my divorce from my 25 year marriage to a narc, will be final.

But I have a feeling I will be cleaning up after him for years.

Now, if I can just get my adult kids to stop being manipulated by him and come to the light with me…I am in anguish without them.And the torment continues…

Ether Marin says March 5, 2016

‘In true narc-style, he considered the government benefits we received as his financial contribution to the household’ haha…This is classic! Oh how very true. They are such losers.

Yttrium says March 1, 2016

Ms. Kim your article is right on and so true! Pride can be used to trap someone. I too got caught up in trying to prove my worth to a narcissist. Trying to prove ‘beyond the shadow of a doubt’ that I wasn’t useless, ineffectual, and selfish. Even with concrete quantifiable evidence my narcisscist BF still denied the truth of my contributions and attacked my pride, all because he could manipulate me with it. My mother used the exact same tactic on me. It was cruel. I had to wake up and realize neither mom nor BF would ever acknowledge me. It was a losing battle to try to get their acknowledgement.

It wasn’t until I left my BF that I really started feeling appreciated by others in my life. I also started getting decent recognition for my efforts in general because a narc wasn’t undermining other people’s impressions of me.

Lynette d'Arty-Cross says February 29, 2016

I understand and completely agree with what you have said here. I had a similar experience. The problem is that many people will minimize themselves into staying for much longer.

Good post. 🙂

Colette says February 29, 2016

Get out, get out nowas fas as you can. There is NO point in staying. It might take you a bit to get your ducks in a row, but do it quietly and then GTFO. The orginal ex told me not to waste 8 years with her like she did..and at that point (all told) I was 4 years in (and was heavily crying over the 1 year of desperate waitingcrying). While I did “try” for another 6 months..and did the final break when she started acting “weird”, I never, ever forgot her telling me to please not waste more time…

sld77 says February 29, 2016

I ended things with my boyfriend of 5 years last Thursday. He moved out and I was stern and strong. Yesterday morning he convinced me to give it one more try. He begged that we go see a therapist to help our relationship. The problem is I agreed out of guilt. I agreed out of fear of his reaction. He can’t live without me. I am his entire life etc. the reason I feel bad is because he really doesn’t have anyone in his life that he can turn to for support. I literally am his life. I broke things off with him a few times over the years and it’s always the same. He has changed dramatically since the first time. He is good to me, he is affectionate, he doesn’t cheat but he is also jealous and controlling. I’m so mad at myself for giving in. Now here I am today and we talked this morning like everything was normal. How do I tell him now that I really don’t want to be with him. No matter what that isn’t fair to him either. I should have stood my ground. The other problem is, first he does the whole I need you thing but if I don’t agree the angry side comes out. He will show up at my work, at my home or anywhere I am. He will embarrass me in front of anybody including my children, make a scene in front of my neighbors and my coworkers, as well as social media. He will try to do anything to hurt me because I’m hurting him. When he’s mad he doesn’t care what he’s saying or doing. He has not been physically abusive but besides the embarrassment he causes me I never know for sure what’s next. Please tell me how to tell him today that I’m ending things 100% after agreeing to try again yesterday. Any advice would be appreciated.

    kimraya says June 26, 2016

    Hi sld77, I apologize for the late response. I’ve gotten behind with the transfer of my site. What is your current situation?

Susan says February 29, 2016

I am now one month out of a toxic, narcissistic marriage and have never felt better. Immediately The Universe gave me a wonderful support group, friends popped up like flowers in the spring, and my family surrounded me with support and love. I have never been more grateful in my life to be where I am. The pain was worth what I have already learned about myself, much less what I am about to learn moving forward. Everything is new to me now and nothing will stand in the way of my healing and personal growth. These last 8 years and the 15 in a prior marriage to another narcissist help me see that I am a first class, card carrying co-dependent deeply in need of my own healing. Each of my ex-husbands have their own path to walk and I can not help them. They must desire to help themselves. It is as simple as that.

    Kim Saeed says February 29, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful and encouraging story, Susan <3

    Susana Wright says March 1, 2016

    What a awesome message! I pray you stay strong and remember your words here as many keep flip flopping back and forth on their emotions and have trouble moving forward. Just memorize this and remember it, remind yourself and follow truth, That was a great, encouraging note!

    Nicky says March 29, 2016

    I am in the process of leaving and won’t be to far behind you, I just am in my process of planning and trying to sort it out and how to get it done. I am on my own as far as making the transition to rid myself of what I am trapped living in, or what I refer to as hell and no more than a daily dose of what is slowly killing me. If I had a relative to stay with temporarily to allow myself to get in my feet, I would of left mmmmm forever ago. But because of finances and having a son to care for and take with me, I more or less am without options other then homelessness. I work for an elementary school and don’t make much, it’s impossible to find cheap rent and cover all the initial cost to rent a place of my own. I want out and trying to remind myself it’s going to happen and to just be patient and keep focusing on my goals. With that being said. It’s not that easy to be patient when feeling like a caged animal with no option to escape. I plan to move while he is at work. I am doing what works for me , so more or less it’s just a financial matter keeping me from finally getting some peace and quiet. I am looking forward to the clamness and not watching a grown man throw tantrums while climbing on top of his soap box or throne he believes he is entitled to because as you all know…they are perfect and know more than God. Reality check Narcissist… You suck!!

      Kim Saeed says March 29, 2016

      Nicky, kudos on your plan. Sometimes we do have to stick it out while waiting for the perfect moment, but the important thing is that you are mapping it all out. I did that, too. I secretly put a deposit down on an apartment and then left the next time he implemented the silent treatment. When he came back expecting everything to go back to normal, all he found was an empty place and the sound of crickets…

      Susan says March 29, 2016

      I GET where you are. You WILL get out and THRIVE…just keep your eye on the goal. I was so sick in my codependence that I didn’t leave many times when I KNEW I should have. I SO dishonored my SELF while trying to please a completely unpleaseable person. You know what you need to do…ask and the Universe WILL deliver answers, resources and support. It is that simple. Each day now I have more and more “Ah Ha’s.” Several weeks ago, while trapped in a futile conversation with this figment of a person, I asked him, “Is it because I didn’t worship you enough that our marriage didn’t work out?” Truly, I asked that. And truly, he said “Yes.” OMG! You could have knocked me over with a feather, but I just kept my cool and took it all in…standing outside the realm of his former influence, now seeing what an empty shell of a human he is. How sad of me to have wasted my love, time and energy on him…but what a grand lesson it has been in how to HONOR my SELF now, going forward. He has been my teacher…he has shown me what needs to be healed in me. That is what is most important now. Sadly, my 18 yr old son stayed and is still under his spell. As I have grieved this, I realized that the lesson may be, for him, that once he leaves for school in 2 months, gets a bit of “de-tox” time and then we talk, I can hopefully help him see how he can start NOW to fix his codependent tendencies early in life (well trained by me) and not go through 2 marriages, financial and emotional heartache and all that goes with it and realize it at age 50…like me. Maybe. It is his path to walk and hopefully he will choose well. All I can do is point the way.
      Be encouraged. There is life after Narc abuse. The relief is peace is unspeakably wonderful. My anxieties have substantially diminished. I sleep better. I’ve lost weight. People say I look better…how can one not if your soul is healing instead of being eroded…daily…by tirades, rages, unexpected outbursts of anger, scoldings, lectures, tantrums…the list goes on. It is now time for ME to be happy…and I am! More every day. And you will be too.

        Andre says October 21, 2016

        Oh my God! Thank you for posting this. I really needed to read your words. I am still in my abusive marriage but am planning my “great escape” so your story resonated deeply with me.
        Intuitively, I do feel that my wife has given me an education about myself I may have never received otherwise but our journey together has reached its end. I am excited looking forward to a future free of abuse. I can sense the joy of being free in your writing and it inspires me. I needed that pick me up. I sincerely thank you.

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