A thought occurred recently: Was the narcissistic abuse I experienced merely a colossal misunderstanding? I know, I know. Don’t worry! I haven’t gone all soft and smarmy. Just bear with me while we explore this idea together.
Narcissists, confronted with their narcissism are full of excuses, blame, reasons, excuses, projection, accusations and, oh yes, excuses. But put yourself in their shoes for a moment.
When you bared your soul to them, they dismissed it quickly perhaps with flippant “solutions”, perhaps with mockery. But they listened (kinda’) and responded (sorta’). Problem solved.
When you expressed your desires, needs, hopes and dreams to them, they pooh-poohed them, talked you out of them and told you how unrealistic and stupid you were. Problem solved.
Pretty soon, you stopped talking to them altogether. Just the minimum. “Good morning.” “How are you?” “How was your day?” It was dangerous to be intimate. Scary to be honest. You’d done that one too many times and, as Albert Einstein may or may not have said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
We tried. It didn’t work. We stopped trying. I mean, hello! We’re not stupid!!
So when we finally have that Last Big Blowout where we tell the narcissist they’re narcissists and level the accusation of narcissistic abuse at their head, they are genuinely shocked. In their version of reality, everything was hunky-dunky. The problems we “used to have” they had “solved for us.” And apparently we were fine cause we never said a word otherwise. From their perspective, I can see how they would view our accusations of narcissism and narcissistic abuse as simply a colossal misunderstanding.
Take my parents for example. When they finally “found” my list of our family’s dysfunctional traits online, yeah, it must’ve been a shock. In fact, just a year before they stated in writing “the grievances expressed in your…letter were totally unexpected.” Totally unexpected because they “dealt with them” long ago. Only they didn’t! I merely learned that bringing up grievances was a total, utter, 100% waste of time and emotion. They listened patiently (unless I got too upset whereupon I would be sent to my room to calm down) and then shamed, lectured and brainwashed me. Period. End of Story. (And they lived happily ever after.)
“Why didn’t you speak up and tell me how you felt?” I can hear nice, nice, nice, nice narcissists like my family crying. “I’m a nice person! You should’ve talked to me. We could’ve worked it out.”
No. NO! We tried that. A narcissist’s idea of “working things out” is to, firstly, gaslight you. That punch wasn’t really a punch, you didn’t see what you saw, you didn’t hear what you heard and you misunderstood all-of-the-above. Next, they invalidate you. Your thoughts are wrong, your feelings are wrong, being normal doesn’t matter. Thirdly, they brainwash you. You’re too stupid to do XYZ or I love you too much to allow you to do XYZ. And lastly, if after all of that we still have a spark of will power left, they pull out the big guns: their towering rage.
I remember as a kid there was one time when my father had screamed and yelled at the neighborhood kids (again!) for throwing snowballs at our house (again!). For some reason, their childish “attacks” infuriated him. (I think it reminded him of bullies who attacked him as a child.) Mother disapproved of his behavior and told him so. This triggered a full-on Narcissistic Collapse.
He flew into a rage that lasted for hours. I remember Mother and I sitting at the kitchen table, silent, obedient and attentive, while he yelled, swore, lectured while jabbing his finger aggressively in our direction and crashed his clenched fists repeatedly on the kitchen countertop for emphasis. He went on and on claiming that if he didn’t bring the kids into line they’d be “raping all over this neighborhood in a few years.” When he ran out of steam he thundered through the house, slamming the bedroom door, rested for awhile and then came back to do it all over again, re-traumatizing us. (Hello PTSD!)
Why was I there? Why did Mom not send me to my room to protect me? Why did she not quietly gather up me, her car keys and her purse and leave him to stew in his own juice without an appreciative audience? We could’ve stayed in a hotel that night or crashed at Grandma’s house (oh no! then the deep, dark secret of what Dad was really like and that their marriage was not perfect would’ve come out). It would’ve been fun, an adventure! But no! We had to stay because a narcissist without an audience is just a grown-up toddler having a tantrum all alone – and that’s no fun! We gave him power by remaining in the room with him, by listening, by taking his diatribe seriously and by being terrified of him.
Let me ask you: Would you express a grievance, a hurt or a difference of opinion to someone like that!?! I don’t think so!
So is narcissism just a colossal misunderstanding? From a narcissist’s perspective, yes, it is. We totally misunderstood them and mishandled the relationship. That’s what they believe. Hence, they remain the hero of their own story while we are the villain. They see themselves as the respectable Dr. Jekyll when they’re really the sinister Mr. Hyde. It’s the fiction they maintain for survival — while they accuse us of not living in reality! Ha!
In reality, we nailed it. They are narcissists. We did (or did not do) what we had to do (or not do) to survive. We survived!!!
It wasn’t just a misunderstanding.
It was narcissism.