I began writing this blog post weeks ago. I’m not sure where I was going with it, but I felt that it was a relevant follow-up to yesterday’s post. ~ Pam
In recent years, I have been engaged in a war, my own private, personal holy war. I hadn’t realized it until recently, but hindsight has a way of pealing away the layers of emotion to reveal still shots, vignettes, of truth. To look at me, no one would be able to guess the battles I have waged and the exhaustion in my weary mind and body. From the outside looking in, I appear to be calm, successful, and in control of my lovely life. In reality, I am wary, cautious, always looking deeply into the eyes, minds, and hearts of the people who enter my life. On what side of this war have they placed their allegiance? It’s not always an easy thing to identify. The enemy is clever. They cloak themselves in good humor, joviality, even friendship. They are intelligent and always charming, but eventually, it is impossible for them to stay under cover. The black spots on their souls eventually appear. Most of them aren’t clever enough to cross the guard posts that surround me. My experience is my defense. My security is tight. Very few people are allowed to cross into my camp. My circle of real friends is small. I keep most people out, or at least far enough away not to allow them to hurt me. If I don’t allow myself to care, I won’t be hurt.. I don’t allow many people to enter into my emotional world. No doubt, this keeps good people out, but that is of little consequence to me. I don’t care. The most important thing is to keep the enemy at bay.
Narcissists. Chauvinists. Liars. These monsters are the enemy. They possess weapons of mass destruction. Beware. They are everywhere.
For most of my life, I was sheltered and protected. I wasn’t a princess in a castle. I didn’t live a life of seclusion, but I was blessed to be surrounded by good people whose lives were lived with kindness, hard work, honesty, and love. Decisions were made according to what was best for the greater good. Distrust was an unknown emotion to me. Why would I distrust anyone? Life had given me no reason to distrust. I saw people, every person, as fundamentally good. Of course, I knew that evil existed in the world. I knew people did bad things. I watched the news. In my heart, though, I saw life, even bad things, through the eyes of good. I assumed that people did bad things due to extenuating circumstances, by accident, or through misaligned ideals. I often felt as sorry for the perpetrators as I did for the victims. As a mother, I saw the innocent child in each person, even the most vile offenders. I wondered what “went wrong.” I wished for rehabilitation, reconciliation, and redemption for them. I believed in the power of good. I believed that every person could be saved if only they had love, if someone believed in them. I believed that goodness and love could empower even the most evil human being to change for the better. All it took was love. Love. I believed that love was the key to eradicating evil. I was naive. At that time, I’d had no experience in dealing with people who thrived on greed, elitism, arrogance, and the envy and admiration of those around them. I had no experience with people who would say one thing, and then do quite the opposite. I didn’t know that certain people make a hobby out of diminishing good and trusting people in order to build up their own self-esteem.
My life, until a few short years ago, made sense. I remember a conversation with my brother-in-law from years ago. He is a banker, and he knew a local developer I was working with at the time. When I asked him about this man, he warned me to be cautious. He described him to me as the kind of guy who “if you were in a basement filling up with water, he’d step on your head to reach the window.” At the time, I was shocked to hear my brother-in-law, a usually kind, mild-mannered man, talk in such a negative manner about someone. Such criticism was unlike him. What I remember from that long-ago conversation is my shock at his words. I felt they reflected poorly on my brother-in-law. Once again, I see how very naive I was at the time. I didn’t realize that users, posers, and people who would step all over you in order to save themselves, really do exist. My brother in law’s warning was meant to be protection, not slander.
About a decade ago, I took my first tentative steps outside of my protected world of trustworthy people. I decided to make changes in my life. I wanted to find out who I was, what I could do, and who I could become. I wanted to strike out and find my own way, my own experiences. Until this time, I had spent my life being dependent on others. I had gone from living under the protection of my parents to being taken care of by my husband. While I had once seen my marriage as a partnership, I began to see it as restrictive. T went out into the world each day while I was home cooking, cleaning, and taking care of four kids. We had made that choice together years earlier, but I began to feel the need to spread my wings. I didn’t want to leave my marriage or my family, I simply wanted to grow as a human being. I wanted to gain self-confidence. I wanted to have a few things in my life that felt like my own accomplishments. I did that. I made those changes. I gained self-confidence and success. I learned about the world…good and bad. I’ve had many experiences, some of them good and some of them not so good.
Four years ago in a long ago blog, I began to chronicle a series of events that brought me to my knees. It was a time of loss and devastation when at the same time I was dealing with the sudden loss of my father. I was alone and in the middle of a tremendous mess. I hid it all. My family had no clue of the turmoil that surrounded my life. I had stepped outside of my zone of protection, and I was paid the price. My safety net was not only gone, but it had been ripped to shreds. My misplaced trust had left me broken, shaken, and vulnerable. I was twisting in the wind while a maelstrom of deceit spun me round and round. I wanted to end my life, and I racked my brain over how to do just that. How could I die in a way that would not damage my family? I could drive into the path of a semi, but what if the driver were injured? I could drive my car into the river, but what if they knew it was no accident? Of course, ending my life in a way that would not impact those around me was not possible. That left me one option. I had to deal with things, and that’s when writing became a part of my life. I poured out my heart and soul. I vented my feelings. I was honest about myself, my mistakes, my actions, my regret, and my pain. I told the truth about the betrayal and the lies that had been perpetrated on me. I felt like an idiot and fool, and I put it all out there for anyone surfing the internet to read, condemn, relate with, comment on….whatever. Strangers saved my life. Literally. I was ready to die. I wanted to die, and strangers brought me back from the edge.
These past few weeks have not been easy. The old memories and hurts have become fresh again for a variety of reasons. Partly because of the time of year, the remembered “anniversaries” of devastating hurts, and partly because I have watched several other people being played by narcissists. Narcissists have become easy for me to spot. Being able to identify one, though, isn’t protection enough from their methods of wriggling their way into your life…and psyche.
I work daily with a highly functioning narcissist. His office is next to mine. He is extraordinarily professional and successful. Our sister organizations share the same office space. He serves on my board of directors, and I serve on his board. We share several staff members between our two organizations. If he like you, he will be your hero. He’ll give you a leg up, introduce you to the right people. He’ll be your friend. If he doesn’t find you worthwhile, (if his association with you doesn’t directly benefit him) he will be brutal, condescending, and debasing. As much as a narcissist can like anyone, this man likes me. In fact, I think he’s a little bit afraid of me. Somewhere deep in his narcissistic mind, he knows that I see him for who he really is.
Recently, I called him out for his behavior. He was harassing cruelly, yet quite professionally, a member of my staff. Multiple times, I was cc’d on emails he sent to this woman criticizing her work and professionalism. I let things play out for a few days. I felt that she should handle this issue on her own, until she came to my office in tears. She was afraid to confront him, because he was her superior. He asked me to intervene on her behalf. While I agreed with many of John’s criticisms of this woman’s work, his method of criticism was uncalled for, and I told him so. His response to me was, “I can’t be held responsible for emails I send after 9:00 p.m.” Classic narcissistic behavior!!! He “can’t be held responsible” for his own actions.
For a moment, I simply stared at him in disbelief. I stared right into his eyes. I didn’t like what I saw, but I couldn’t look away. You see, most of my personal experience with a narcissist has been over the telephone. I know this may sound strange, but I was fascinated to see the expression on the face this narcissist. It was like having a character from a novel spring to life before my eyes. As I watched his face, I saw that HE knew what I was seeing, and he cringed under the scrutiny. I said, “John, the time of day is not an excuse. We are always responsible and accountable for our actions. If you can’t control your words after 9:00 p.m., please don’t respond to emails at that time.” It was like watching him deflate and grow smaller. The snake, who had been ready to strike out, now slither back into his chair. (I swear the word “snake” popped into my mind.) I hadn’t yelled at him or even raised my voice. I hadn’t cursed or used harsh words. All it took was his knowledge that I knew. I saw through his arrogance and success and confronted his narcissism head on. Weeks later, a member of his staff left to take a new position. On her last day, she stopped by my office and closed the door. The first thing she said was, “You know that John is a first-class narcissist, right? I’m so happy to be leaving here.”
Please be careful out there. I’m here to tell you that narcissists can cause you damage. They can wreak havoc on the life of a good and trusting person. The CHOOSE good people, because by the time we realize that they are damaged inside, it’s too late. By the time we realize that it’s not us who is wrong and broken, we have already been damaged. Narcissists wound without weapons. They leave scars that are difficult to heal.
Your best defense is complete avoidance. Of course, that isn’t always possible. Measure your expectations of others by what you would expect of yourself. Normal people give back what they receive…..love with love, kindness with kindness. Narcissists TAKE. They can be charming in their method of taking, but in the end, all they do is take and not give anything real in return. They USE. Once again, narcissists are charming. They will be your friend when you have something they need. They will use you until that thing, whatever it might be, is all used up. Narcissists MANIPULATE WITH LIES. They treat people like pieces on their own personal chess board. They manipulate people and situations to suit themselves. Their world is made up of their own fantasy set of rules, and those rules change from day to day, or hour to hour, depending on their whim. You can watch a narcissist walk across the street, and he will be able to convince you that he didn’t really walk across the street, or if he did, it was your fault. Narcissists are emotional vampires. They are everywhere. Be careful. Educate yourself on how to deal with them if you can’t avoid them altogether. I am thankful to be a human being capable of seeing my own mistakes. My experiences have taught me gratitude for those good people in my life who make mistakes, admit their flaws, apologize sincerely, and love freely.