Know thyself. This was the inscription on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Socrates says, as he did in Phaedrus, that people make themselves appear ridiculous when they are trying to know obscure things before they know themselves. Plato also alluded to the fact that understanding ‘thyself,’ would have a greater yielded factor of understanding the nature of a human being. Lao Tzu says that “mastering others is strength, but mastering yourself is true power.” I have been thinking a lot about introspection, and self examination. A singular event that happened over the course of the last two years has caused me to think differently about self-examination and focus more on the idea of self-acceptance which is a huge part of self-love. I think we all focus too much on what is wrong with us, or with other people, instead of the idea that we can be and maybe should be okay with who it is we are right now. Because we will always be imperfect. Perhaps it’s a good idea to get right with that idea right now. I’m going to tell you about the greatest teacher I ever had who taught me the importance of loving myself. He was the person who betrayed every meaning of the word “friend,” who did not know what love was, and so treated me with a lack of love bordering on pure disdain. I thank him today for the experience I had with him, because today, I understand in a profound way that loving myself means things I never realized before, which I will get to and describe to you by the end. I promise. Teachers are everywhere, dear reader, and often times the best teachers are the people who aren’t really very nice. I am posting this with the hope that it will help other people who may not realize they are dealing with a narcissistic personality, not to malign anyone. I hold no ill will against anyone, not against this person because I realize that they can’t help it; they are to be pitied, because even with therapy it is almost impossible for them to be able to change. It is my hope that this article helps the person I’ve discussed and others who fear they may have NPD. Almost impossible. Sometimes, if someone who exhibits traits of NPD becomes self-aware, with the right help they can over time, turn things around. Psychology Today states:
Many have suggested that NPD emerges from an environment in which vulnerability comes to feel dangerous, representing, at worst, either a grave defect, or at best, a stubborn barrier to becoming a worthwhile human being (that’s simplifying a great deal of research and theory, but it’s a workable summary); hence, the correlation between narcissism and insecure attachment styles, in which fears of depending on anyone at all engender constant attempts to control the relationship or avoid intimacy altogether. If you devote yourself to directing interactions or holding people at arms length, it’s a lot harder to become vulnerable (needless to say, the “safety” is largely an illusion). People with NPD have learned to ignore, suppress, deny, project, and disavow their vulnerabilities (or at least try) in their attempts to shape and reshape “who they are” in their interactions. Change—allowing the vulnerability back in— means opening up to the very feelings they’ve learned to avoid at all costs. It’s not that people with NPD can’t change; it’s that it often threatens their sense of personhood to try. And their failed relationships often confirm, in their minds, that narcissism is the safest way to live.
I had a friend who was my best friend. He was kind and generous and listened to me. He seemed to accept me for who I was, and over the course of the twenty odd years we knew one another, I developed over time, an absolute trust in him because I felt he accepted me for who I was and where I came from. I told him things I didn’t share with anyone else. He made me feel safe. I came from a turbulent home life. I experienced things that were not good that he said he had never experienced. I thought he came from a good home life. He seemed interested in showing me a different life from what I knew and I thought he knew better than me. I trusted his judgment. I trusted his ideas about things. I loved him for what I thought was his kindness and patience.
I was not one to make waves. I avoided confrontation at all costs. I feared it. I wanted peace all of the time. I was the kind of person who would give everything for others often at the expense of myself. I never minded helping others except I did not know until quite recently that giving at the expense of oneself is damaging to me, because what tends to happen is that a person wears themselves out giving and most of the time, is taken advantage of, or just becomes exhausted mentally, physically and spiritually with all of this giving. I know lots of women like that. Women in society are conditioned to be givers, and I believe that this has been to our detriment. Giving is wonderful, no doubt about it, and we should all give as we are able–but there is the caveat. To give as we are able–not to give until we’re spent on others, when we should be loving ourselves, giving to ourselves.
Everything in moderation the Bible advises, and this goes for giving until you’re spent, and loving yourself to the point of narcissism. There is a happy medium. I erred on the side of being overly generous, with my love, my money and my time, while my friend erred on the side of being narcissistic to the point where everything and everybody had to change for him–he never had to change anything about himself. He was very good at psychological manipulation. A good blog that talks about that and explains more of what I experienced is here.He followed the narcissistic pattern of lovebomb, devalue then discard. He said we were soulmates. He announced we were getting married. He had to talk to me constantly. Emails flew back and forth. Four months went by. He said he wanted me to move in.
When I did move in suddenly things changed on a dime. No more affection. Like boom. He said he loved me then outlined over thirty things about me he said had to go as a result of the way I grew up. He was “helping” me. When I objected he told me “help doesn’t look like help.” He repeated this over and over until he had me believing it because I thought he knew better than me how to be healthy mentally. I trusted him. Never mind I’d had years of counseling for the way I grew up and had become equipped to understand that part of my life and how it affected me. He became, of his own will, my counselor and psychiatrist, when I’d never asked him to be either one. Then he lowered the boom and told me after telling me for months what a wonderful future God had for us being together, promising me a future, that none of that was going to happen until God changed those thirty things about me. He told me I couldn’t change myself. He told me to give up control. Over time, he got me so upset and discombobulated that I felt a state of desperation about myself that this future with him seemed to hinge on whether or not I could get it together with myself. I was the one holding everything back. He was the one who came from the good home life. I was the one messing us all up. Worse, he said I had to be still and let God do the changing of me. Over how long? How long was this going to take? He didn’t want me to leave, but we no longer had a relationship either, and I was left sleepless and crying over many nights with him in the next room. I lay there trying to figure out what the hell had happened. We went from him lovebombing me, to a surprise marriage proposal to all of a sudden there were all these things wrong with me that had to be fixed to have any relationship at all. I was devastated. I was crushed. He watched me cry over so many nights impassively, with this blank and empty look on his face. He did not try to ever comfort me. He made it plain he did not like anything about me. He picked apart how I ate, how I walked, and my sense of humor, which he said was uncultured. He didn’t like how I talked. I felt he did not like much about me except my intelligence. Yet when I got into a good school, he questioned whether God wanted me to do that. Always planting doubts. Never uplifting. Never encouraging.
He told me God took away his love so I wouldn’t be distracted by it while God was fixing me. So I could concentrate on my “transformation” as he called it. He moved me into the spare room. He treated me with the same distant politeness you would treat company. He fed me. He monitored what I ate. He expected me to be weighed daily. He gave me a nice room. And then he shut himself in his room for hours. If we spent time together it was either exercising for six to eight hours a day because I wasn’t thin enough and he was “concerned about my health.” Or watching television with him using shows to make some point of where I was deficient or broken. Fair enough. He was a runner when he was young. I thought he knew better than me so I got into this boot camp program he started. I thought he was self-sacrificing for doing this with me, for carrying 20 pounds of water on his back every day for us. On these walks he talked incessantly about how I had to be patient with the process and get my anger out. He insisted I was angry even though I was not. He needled me about being angry until I got angry. Then a triumphant look would cross his face and he would say “that anger needs to go.” On the other hand, confusingly, he withheld affection. He sidelined me, my opinions, and isolated me from his family. Sometimes if I objected to how he was treating me he got angry and yelled at me. He brought up how old girlfriends still wanted him and how lucky I was he was paying attention to me. He did not want his colleagues knowing about me. He spent progressively less time with me until it got to where he wouldn’t come home from work till eight at night. I suspected there was someone else and he angrily denied it. With narcissists, when they are in the devalue stage they need a new form of narcissistic supply so in this stage there is always someone else. But they keep you on a string in case things don’t work out supply wise with the other woman or women. They’re like drug addicts. They have the ability to compartmentalize the other women so they don’t know about each other but provide him with continuous supply. Because that’s how narcissists get their excitement–through manipulation of others. Their lives are boring. They can’t feel anything so they crave the power and excitement of screwing with others’ heads. They love adulation and sex and then they love kicking the chair out from under the ones adoring them to make them feel better about themselves. There is always someone else. They simply do not have the ability to love or commit. He made me doubt my intuition.
Red flags started going up in my head. My dad did the same stuff to my mother. Know thyself. Know where you come from.
Through all of this, for months, he promised me this glorious future with him, when God changed me. He said I didn’t love myself. He knew my weaknesses, like that one, because he had known me so long; it was true. I did not love myself. I had been put down most of my life by my dad, by a lot of people, and so I did not have much of a favorable opinion of me. The enforced exercising, which I got to actually enjoy after a while, because it did get results coupled with the trauma bonding with him was a confusing experience. That is the only other thing that was good that came out of this whole thing. I lost a lot of weight. I had been losing a lot of weight before I even showed up to live with him so like everything, his compliments were always left handed. Everything he knew about me was ammunition against me. Even though I lost a lot before I showed up, to him, I was still fat and he said so with a bald faced honesty that bordered on being cruel. He made me angry because that’s all everybody had said about me all of my life. You’re fat. Don’t you think you should lose some weight? You’d look so much better if you lost a few pounds. And then when I did, when I worked for a year to lose almost 100 pounds, here’s another person saying in not so many words that all that work I’d accomplished wasn’t good enough. Moreover, he said it like I didn’t already know I wasn’t down to my goal weight. I’d told him that before I even showed up. I knew I had more to do. Why couldn’t he say “Hey, I know you’ve been working hard to lose weight and be healthy. Maybe we could do it together!” That would have been supportive. He chose cruelty and made it look like support. Even after I lost another sixty pounds it still changed nothing. I was still not good enough for him. That is when I gave up. That is when something in me changed.
There were days he treated me with almost unbelievable cruelty with his words and lack of regard. Then there were days when he was kind and attentive again. It was confusing, it was frightening and it was, as I came to understand, not my fault. This one truth that God put in my heart would become the single cause for relief and joy that gave me the strength to put and end to a lifelong friendship that was never really a real friendship at all—a friendship I couldn’t fathom being without—and I had to learn to put my faith in the God of the unknown–and trust that everything would be all right in the end without my friend there at all. When I confronted him about his behavior he turned on the silent treatment which is punishment. It is also abuse.
To make a long story short, I left him after two years, five months of which was me being consistently and systematically torn down by him. Two years of waiting for a man who systematically and deliberately over time withdrew affection and sowed doubt about his love, the future of our relationship and who made me feel like it all hinged on me, using God as his justification. My performance. My looks. Then the silent treatment. It was that one thing that led me to websites where the truth was revealed to me and I felt so much relief that this wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t all in my head. I was freed.
I believe God put a stop to things before they went too far.
- My plans are my plans—but God, the universe—has better plans for me. I trust that now. I had to learn to trust that in the process of letting him go, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had to work through the idea that he was not an expert, that it wasn’t his job to change me, it was God’s, and that God expects us to love one another where we are at right now because He loves us where we are at right now.
- I deserve better than a “friend” who picks me apart all of the time and makes me feel badly about myself. I deserve supportive friends who make me feel positive about myself and my life and my God. He is not one of them anymore.
- I deserve not to spend endless hours in self-examination because while self-examination is good, it can quickly spiral into narcissism.
- I deserve to be able to be myself unabashedly with the right person who is meant to love me for who I am, not who he wants me to be. The right person doesn’t keep moving the goal posts. The right person accepts my weaknesses, and we grow and learn and change together, over time. The right person inspires change. The wrong person demands change.
Hurt people hurt people. I understand this about my old friend. Somewhere in his past he was hurt to the point where he can no longer feel anything and made him the way he is today. I can sympathize, and through the grace of God I can forgive him, because I know he does not know what he has done. However, self-love means that I do not have to put up with nonstop criticism, belittling, sidelining and a hundred other actions that are designed to dehumanize me and make me feel unimportant to a person who claims to have loved me. None of those things are love. No matter how much he insisted it was.
He taught me that I deserve so much better than what he had to offer. I thank God for that and I thank him for that. I believe with all my heart that I will be blessed with the person I deserve. Someone better for me than even I can comprehend. So the surrender part comes in here. No more plans. No more trying. This experience taught me that just because someone says it’s from God, just because even I might believe it is from God doesn’t mean it is from God. Sometimes it takes a little time for that clarity to be revealed. God would never want any of his children to live in that kind of unending unhappiness, despair, lack of love, sadness and grief for life. He used just enough of it to teach me that He loves me so much that I deserve the best He has to give.
My friend was not that gift. Not to be my husband but the real gift was using him to teach me about loving myself although he did not realize that.
- I’m not spending any more time around people who are overly critical of me. Ive been listening to people “suggest” how I can change all of my life. I change what I can after thoughtful introspection, but I will always be imperfect. I deserve to have friends who can embrace that I will always be imperfect too.
- I am doing what I want, when I want, how I want. If I want to get a tattoo, I’m going to get one. If I want to take a trip, I’m going to take one. If I have an opinion about something, I’m going to give it (with consideration and when appropriate). I am not hiding for fear of what other people think anymore.
- If you don’t like me, there’s the door. Period.
I love myself too much to waste any more of my life on people who don’t like me, don’t appreciate me, and who don’t want me around.
I love myself. I value myself, and in valuing myself, I can value others without depleting myself.