That people are quick to hurl blame and shame in the guise of accountability is often nonsense and cruel.
“It takes two, you know.”
I got that one from a friend when I told her my husband was having another affair and I’d left him. She frosted her remark with, “Well, he always treated me with respect.”
I was still in the dark that day, with no idea the narcissist tells friends that you’re driving them away or have psychological problems that fit crazy. Watch out when the lights flash and illuminate that realization. It hurts more than your eyes as you watch the stain of betrayal spread like a wildfire.
“I hope you owned your part in the death of your marriage.”
A woman I just met yesterday at a bonfire hurled this one and sparked this blog. Someone told her I’d written a memoir and when questioned, I’d explained, “It’s about my marriage, divorce and beginning again,” condensing 364 pages into eight words.
“I hope you owned your part in the death of your marriage.” Sorry, I had to spit that one out again. The taste threatens to taint my morning coffee as I write this. She got all that, from my eight words.
The Nonsense Game
She had no idea how long we’d been married, why we’d divorced, whether my story was about surviving a psychopath who tried to murder me, or one who molested children. I figured we’d better keep the chip on her shoulder away from the bonfire. Way too much fuel.
I didn’t cop out yesterday when I responded, “I did own up to my part. I could and should have left long before I did.” I doubt she recognized my one cornered-not-quite-a-smile as the ‘you have no clue,’ insult it was. I don’t think I shook my head in disdain, but truly don’t remember. I know didn’t expound on the emotional abuse, the intermittent reinforcement to debasement cycle that erodes and confuses those of us in love with a narcissistic spouse.
I wondered if she was one and her fiancé should be warned to wonder, but instead turned to the crackling bonfire that had gathered our group to the cove. I resisted asking her what Matt Lauer or Harvey Weinstein’s wives should have done differently to save their marriages. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid to be accountable. Part of what comprises we codependents who stay and struggle with a narcissistic spouse is that we too readily take the blame. Believe if we were better they’d be nicer and we try, try, try. Part of pulling ourselves back together is yanking this particular default out by the roots.
Players and Pawns
I didn’t tell the woman yesterday about my first boss. He was thirty-four years older than me, had jowls, groping eyes and no conscious whatsoever. The picture of his daughter on his desk at first made him appear to be a family man. She and I were both eighteen. When he propositioned me, way too many times, I didn’t blame his wife for his behavior, or for the knots in my stomach when I walked into his office.
I’d confided in Sharon, the secretary whose desk was just right of mine, hoping for advice. I was not prepared as her nostrils and eyes flared and glared. Turns out she had been sleeping with him for months and was pissed more at me than at him. Go figure.
I didn’t blame her husband either.
Learn the Rules
Not all narcissists cheat on their spouses. Mine did. Over and time again. If I dared ask him if something was wrong, if he was having an affair, he’d blow up, jab his finger in my face, tell me I was crazy, insecure, driving him crazy. He evidently shared his view of me with friends over drinks or on the golf course. He surely shared it with ‘the other women’ in his life.
With me, he shared STDs my doctors didn’t test a ‘married woman’ for, so I struggled with meds for yeast and bacterial infections that infest vulnerable tissue. I didn’t know that over 50% of the time no symptoms of a slew of STDs are visible, so even if I went on a round of antibiotics for a sinus infection that cleared them up, he passed it right back. There was so much I didn’t know then. I encourage anyone with recurrent infections to have an STD panel run.
I didn’t turn away from the bonfire’s crackling chaos to explain the dynamics of a trauma bond. That over years of narcissistic abuse the attachment disorder we can develop feels like love, and we fall deeper and deeper into that abyss. We cling. We hang in there…wow. I just visualized a bat hanging by its heels from a branch of the narcissistic tree. A blind bat.
The bonfire mesmerized me. Was me. Fire, though wildly powerful, seemed content to sizzle within the boundaries of the concrete pit. I have boundaries now that woman’s blame-shaming remark only pierced for a moment.
Know when to Walk Away
We survivors know we’re not perfect. Not by a long shot. But we are wiser once we realize the dynamics and patterns of narcissistic abuse. That the narcissist will not change. We can’t fix it. Neither tough love nor a kinder approach will make them get off their defensive podium where they project their guilt onto us. It’s a pretty dandy disorder, because they believe what they project. Make it their reality.
Absolution with a scapegoat. I’m not sure if a goat bleats or bawls. I did both.
When I finally stopped trying to explain to him, I’d like to say I stopped trying to explain it to anyone, but I wrote and published a book about my journey in, out and beyond a narcissistic relationship that spanned over four decades. LEAVING YOU…for me smacks of self-deprecating humor. The research and writing helped me understand how it happened, why I’d stayed, and that it is never too late to begin again.
Know You Can Rewrite the Rules
I’ve learned to recognize the futility of engaging in defensive behavior to combat a nonsensical remark. If I had responded yesterday and succeeded in winning my point, I’d have shamed that woman in front of others. A no win for either of us and I so enjoy feeling good about myself these days. Drama free. Free to talk to you and to enjoy the beach, the bonfire, family and friends.
Ignite Your Fire!
The light at the end of that tunnel isn’t a train, it’s a flame. Take it. Tame it. Own it. Burn bright and smile. You’re a survivor.
We’ve got this.
Hello Ms. Delon! Wonderful post! I just left a 48 year marriage to a covert narc psychopath, we met in high school so it spans 52 years. Yes, of course he smeared me as crazy because I went to therapy to deal with his behavior. He is a publicly “great guy”. I am so traumatized that healing seems insurmountable. Any words of wisdom to share with this senior lady? Thank you!
Hello 🙂 I’m glad to hear from you. It’s important to trust that healing is not insurmountable. It takes time. It’s a roller coaster ride at first; the long up hill climbs, the take-your-breath away plummets, wild corners when you hold on for dear life. I got callouses from gripping the lap bar….I was tempted to add an ‘LOL’ but there was nothing funny about the beginning of recovery.
Thing is, it’s a process. You and I didn’t stay all those years because we were masochists. We thought we were doing the right thing. In adapting to a dysfunctional relationship, we become dysfunctional, too. I balked at the word ‘codependent’ when I first encountered it. Not me. I was stronger than that…but turns out I was a masterful codependent. We put them first, figure we’re tough enough to tough it out, and the worst?? Their morsels of approval are the validation we crave. We’re not insane, it’s a long process of conditioning and we need to learn to reverse it.
I urge you to check out my website alexdelon.com There are many blogs I haven’t posted on UniversallyUs.com. Read ‘You’re Worth Fighting For” if you want a glimpse of how bad it was.
I wrote my book, LEAVING YOU…for me, in real time. I needed to know how it happened, why I’d stayed, how in the world I could begin to begin again. I encourage you to read it if you can handle R rated material. It’s a brutally honest look at how the dynamics in a relationship with a narcissist begin and progress. The R rating came when I encountered the dregs of the dating pool as I first tip toed in. I was determined to be raw, real and honest. It’s available on Amazon…and trust that I’m not trying to sell my book, but feel it may answer so many of your questions. If you only read the Prologue and first six chapters…the R incident didn’t show until Chapter 8.
On a softer note, you may check out Kim Saeed and Meredith Miller. They helped me immensely to understand and to pull myself back together a bit at a time.
On an up note 🙂 I love my new life. Am a tad afraid I’ve become so happily single I may stay that way by choice. I have dated some very nice men who are still some of my dearest friends, but home is my sanctuary these days.
Please take care and take heart that it is not an easy journey, but you’re worth every step you’ll take as you become wiser, stronger, and more centered than you ever imagined.
My best wishes always,
Yes, I agree. Mature people own the blame when they deserve it, but not if they don’t. I have not agreed with the many therapists who seem to tell victims they are co-dependent. Are you co-dependent when a shark takes a bite out of you? Are you co-dependent when someone mugs you? Narcissists, if extreme enough, are predators looking for a juicy victim. What they fancy may vary, but that they do want it from you, the victim, does not. I’ve talked with hundreds of victims and I only recall maybe 5 who thought they were co-dependent or wanted what they got in any way. All the rest wholeheartedly did not, and once they realized what was really going on, did what they could to reclaim their lives. I can honestly say that in my 23 year marriage (25 years together), I maybe am 5-10% to blame for our problems. Because my goals changed away from the narcissist’s goals, I didn’t ask his permission, for that change, and I was our sole source of income most of 20 years. But whose fault is that? He set that up for himself, and us. In my next covert narcissist (plus a stew of other psych dysfunction) live-in relationship, supposedly for life, I can honestly say I did everything a supportive partner could. I would not change what I did, given what I knew at the time. I opened my heart, my home, and my pocketbook to give him the best chance and he threw it all away, knowingly. Then stomped on it for good measure. I take absolutely no responsibility for his inexplicable decisions. Of course, they are a lot more explicable when I figured out that he was one. Thanks for sticking up for the no blame, no shame school of thought on this!
You’re right…who’s to blame or to shame in abusive relationships is blurry when the abuser rarely accepts accountability and the abused shoulders it too easily. Denial, hope things will change, hanging on for the kids, gluing up the fractures, is a mix of strength and courage to persevere. We sweep things under the rug to keep our world looking spiffy. Do this nifty clean up enough times and we often begin to question and quarrel with ourselves. “Is this really worse than the last time? What makes this different? We got past that, so why not this?”
Looking back on decades of this faulty reasoning I’ve come to realize that we resist the unknown path. Better to stay on the rocky uphill than risk getting lost, unable to find our way home, until the storms build feriosity. Perhaps lightning strikes, sparks our survival instincts. Then comes the moment we fear staying more than walking away. Some need more help than others to strike out on their own. To all those in need, please check out the “Help” section of my website. Believe you matter.
Thank you again for replying and sharing your valuable insights.
Best wishes always