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