“How will you make it on your own?” warbles the intro song of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. “This world is awfully big, girl this time you’re all alone. But it’s time you started living. It’s time you let someone else do some giving…”
Isn’t that the perfect soundtrack for escaping from a narcissist!?! It encapsulates the joy and fear of finally being alone and free!
Leaving the Cult of Narcissism
Leaving a narcissist is akin to leaving a cult. Yeah, a cult. Narcissistic dynamics and cult dynamics are almost identical. So it would make sense that the recovery process is also similar.
According to Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Other Abusive Relationships, a lot of ex-cult members feel and fear that they can’t reconnoiter this thing called “life” alone. Narcissists have a way of convincing their spouses, kids, etc. that they can’t live and live successfully without the narcissist in their life to tell them what to do and how to do it.
A reader recently wrote this comment on my article What “I Do” To A Narcissist Really Means:
I have often said that I came out of my 28 year marriage to a narcissist
with a form of “stockholm syndrome”. I loved/hated/loved that man
for the majority of my life. When he left I had no identity,
no self esteem or confidence, and no sense of direction.
Even though I hated being married to him,
I could not survive (literally, it felt) without him.
Seven years later I am only beginning to emerge
from the oppression that he designed,
and I carried on, far beyond our contact.
Read that bit again. She said, “I could not survive (literally, it felt) without him.”
Making Themselves Indispensable
Dontcha’ feel good when someone needs you? When you can help someone. When you can save the day. It boosts the ol’ ego.
Well, the same is true for narcissists. Like all of us, they like feeling needed…and then taking it one step further.
With their complete lack of boundaries and expertise at the subtle put-down, narcissists feed their ego by making you feel incapable of handling life with them. Yeah, that’s right. Without them, you’d crash and burn. Right? Wrong!
This topic is especially “hot” for me. As you probably know, I was forced to live with my parents against my will during my twenties and into my thirties. During that decade, my confidence was very subtly undermined. Thinking back, I realize they wanted me independent enough to take care of them but not independent enough to leave them and just take care of me. See how that works!?
Here’s a couple of examples.
The last time I spoke with my father was in May 2013. My husband and I had just moved from a modern condo in the city to a 1912 cottage in the country. On that fateful phone call, I mentioned something about washing dishes. “Don’t you have a dishwasher!?” my father said, sounding surprised. “No, Dad,” I said. “This house was built in 1912!” “How’s THAT workin’ out for ya!” he guffawed, with an explosion of sarcastic laughter. It was the last of a very, very, very huge haystack of last straws.
It’s that kind of humorous insult that underscores and undermines our “helplessness.” And sometimes they just come right out and say it.
One of my friends recently told me their spouse won’t let them go to bed until ever dish, pot and pan is washed. My mom liked to yell, “Did you remember the laundry detergent?” every time I did laundry because I’d forgotten one time. And if I cooked, well!!! She never failed to ask, “Did you get raw meat germs anywhere? Did you wipe up? Did you put out a new towel?”
It’s that kind of thing that undermines confidence and fosters paranoia!
Narcissists are notorious for controlling the family’s finances with an iron fist. And I don’t just mean having a strict budget or denying their wife or husband some petty cash for spending money. I mean, no one else is allowed to know how much is in the checking account, savings account, CDs, 401k, etc. or even where the paid household bills are filed!
Over and over I hear how the narcissistic spouse “embezzled” every penny of the household finances before they split, leaving their spouse not only penniless but thousands of dollars in debt. Debt, I might add, that they knew nothing about and had no part in creating. Or I hear tales of spouses forced to sign the 1040 tax form prepared by the narcissist, only to find out they unwittingly became guilty of fraud.
Out and About
Just like a cult, some narcissists like to control their victims by convincing them that the world is a big, horrible dangerous place. To remain safe, they must remain “in the fold.” This isolation breeds Stockholm Syndrome by subtly influencing us to shun friends, family, hobbies, travel and even employment…situations where we might be exposed to “normalcy,” by the way. The few “freedoms” they are allowed bond them even closer to the narcissist. Classic, classic Stockholm Syndrome.
Yes, the world can be a dangerous place. But in my experience, the most emotionally painful harm I endured was in the bosom of my family, not out in the mad, mad, mad, mad world. The pain the world has dealt me would’ve been much milder if I’d been raised to be strong, with good boundaries, a backbone and the ability to say “No!” out-loud. But while lip-service may be paid to these things in a narcissistic family, you never get to practice them at home. They want you weak, yielding, acquiescent.
Yes, You’re Perfectly Capable…Alone!
I bet in your life with a narcissist you pretty much do everything. Work full-time. Do the shopping. Cook. Clean. Laundry. Child-care. Pet-care. You name it…you do it. You keep all the balls in the air and the machine running smoothly.
So why do you think you can’t do it alone!?! Hello! You’re doing it all alone…successfully…now!
The Joy of Freedom
But when you do escape…WOW!!! It’s a feeling you’ll never forget. The joy! The ecstasy!
And suddenly, after a few weeks of living alone, you’ll realize, “What the heck was I worried about!?! I can take care of myself just fine, thank you very much. And it’s so easy!” Much easier than living with a narcissist and doing everything for them!
In the words of The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s theme song, “You might just make it after all!”
Of course you will!
Thanks for reading! If you liked it, please subscribe!