My husband says that he doesn’t understand why I’m always so negative about everything. He says I’m like Eeyore, always down in the mouth. Is this because of my childhood? Is it possible for me to be happy? I’m always afraid that the other shoe will drop and my anxiety trumps my happiness every time. This is affecting almost all of my close relationships. What can I do?
Do you feel that the pattern of relationships in your life is horribly consistent, as if it’s been scripted by the same people who wrote Groundhog Day, or perhaps Titanic? That no matter where the relationship starts—whether it’s a romance or friendship—it inevitably ends up in the same place and you end up feeling betrayed, played, or used?
For a time, I belonged to a large closed Facebook group dedicated to supporting people who thought they were in various kinds of abusive relationships; I told the administrators who I was and that I was there largely to see, as a writer, what people were most concerned about. I did not post comments. But one of the astonishing revelations was how much of the dialogue was really about validating what constituted abuse in a...
“I forgave him for the debts it took us a decade to pay off. He promised me over and over that he’d never again gamble with our money. That he wouldn’t make a single financial decision without talking it through with me first. I found out about the loan he’d forged my name on by accident. The bank officer called to verify some details and dialed the home number, not his office. That’s when I learned that almost all the equity in our house was gone. It took me thirty-five years but after I hung up the phone, I called a divorce lawyer.”
I didn’t know there was a word for it when I was little but I did know, by the time I was six or seven, that one of us was right and the other of us was wrong and maybe even crazy. That’s a very scary thought when you’re a child, especially if the other person is your mother.
You’ll remember how Goldilocks wanders into the house of the three Bears and how she has trouble finding just right; she’s hungry but the porridge is too hot or too cold, the chair is too big or too small, the bed is too soft or too hard. She’s thinking only of herself until the three bears come home.
“My mother would ask me what I wanted to eat and then serve me whatever she felt like, as if I hadn’t said a word. That was true of everything: any time I expressed a wish or preference, she made it clear that what I wanted didn’t matter. They were repainting my room and she asked me what color I wanted and I said blue but also said I was fine with anything but pink. I should have known better but guess what? I came home to bubble-gum pink walls.”
Being in a relationship with someone high in narcissistic traits can be maddening, painful, and, counterintuitively enough, exciting. As Dr. Craig Malkin notes in his book, Rethinking Narcissism, it’s easy to confuse or conflate the roller-coast ride of this kind of relationship—with its dramatic ups and downs, its quick turn from love-bombing to disparagement and control—with passion.
The second most-asked question I field—the first is “Why do I keep choosing the wrong men?”—is “Why are friendships with women so difficult?”
Here’s what one woman messaged me not too long ago: “Why do I have a knack for attracting guys who look great at the beginning and then, over time, turn out to be users or narcissists? I had a toxic childhood with an abusive mom and an absentee dad. Is there a connection?”