Regret: It’s the most bitter emotion. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve spent years ruing, regretting and kicking yourself squarely in the ass for loving a narcissist(s).
Well, that stops now!
Many of you send me lovely comments about how I’m so courageous. Thank you, but no. I’m not courageous. This is my dirty little secret:
If my narcissists had not given me express permission to move out of their home, I would still be there.
I would have lived there my entire life. I would have died there.
That’s the truth. That’s why I have no pride. That’s why I’m not courageous. But, I had good reasons for staying. It was not mindless; it was well thought-out, albeit skewed from brainwashing and cult abuse.
That’s why you and I have got to stop kicking ourselves! We all had good reasons for loving and staying with our narcissists. We need to cut ourselves some slack. Stop beating ourselves up mentally. Stop wallowing in acrid regret.
I didn’t stay because I didn’t have the money to move out (although my narc repeatedly said I couldn’t afford to live alone and I blindly believed them). I didn’t stay because I couldn’t function as an independent adult (although I assumed I wasn’t allowed to move out because there was something wrong with me; there wasn’t.)
No, I stayed because I had thought it through completely and in great detail and was convinced it was the right thing to do. Foremost, I was brainwashed that it was God’s Will for unmarried women to remain under their father’s “protection.” To defy that would’ve been to defy God, anger my cancer-stricken father and break my mother’s heart. How could I do that!?
That is also true of you. You thought it through very carefully. You stayed with your narcissist for the best of reasons: because you believed it was the right thing to do. Some higher ethic was at stake and a great deal of careful thought and consideration went into your decision.
Beyond our regret over staying, we also rue perpetuating the problem by bonding with narcissist after narcissist. We may have escaped our narcissistic nuclear families, but the odds are we will somehow draw, attract and bond with even more narcissists: friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, lovers, husbands, wives.
And we beat ourselves up about that as well. Well, that stops now too.
I’ll tell you another little secret. When I married Michael, I expected marriage to be a repeat of living with my previous narcissists: close inspection, criticism, suggestions for my improvement. I actually grieved the bliss of solitude and believed marriage meant a return to being “on the hot seat” — but I did it anyways because I loved Michael and wanted to be married to him, no matter how much it would hurt.
I got lucky. Not smart – lucky. (I prefer blessed.) It turned out Michael was not a narcissist and doesn’t watch, criticize, suggest nor hurt me. But I didn’t know that when I said “I Do.” I could very easily have married a narcissist.
The inspiration for stopping the self-flagellation comes from the most unlikely of places: His Last Vow — a modernized adaptation of Sherlock Holmes mysteries brilliantly brought to you by the so-good-they-give-me-actual-goosebumps Benedict Cumberbatch (Holmes) and Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson) and scintillatingly written by the magical pen of Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat (bless him!).
In His Last Vow, Dr. John Watson is deeply upset on discovering that his bride, Mary, is not the simply English rose he hoped to live with in domestic bliss after the trauma of military action in Afghanistan. In reality, she’s a retired assassin-for-hire.
As His Last Vow played on screen, I literally held my breath because it explained brilliantly how we all repeat our patterns. Without the knowledge of narcissism, we are damned to attract the familiar (narcissists) and feel comfortable with the familiar (narcissists.) It’s not our fault. It falls under that great saying, “‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
I couldn’t find a good clip of His Last Vow on YouTube, so here’s the script. It’s apropos to the regret and exasperation we feel when, oops, we do it again. Another narc!
JOHN WATSON: Oh, I have a better question.
(He paces towards Mary, looking angrily into her face.)
JOHN: Is everyone I’ve ever met a psychopath?
(At the door, Sherlock’s eyes lift upwards as if he’s thinking.)
SHERLOCK: Yes. Good, now that we’ve settled that. Anyway, we …
JOHN: SHUT UP! And stay shut up, because this is not funny. Not this time.
SHERLOCK: I didn’t say it was funny.
(John turns his head to look at Mary.)
JOHN: You. (He turns to face her. When he speaks, his voice and his face are full of barely-controlled anger and he frequently breathes heavily throughout his next words.)
JOHN: What have I ever done … hmm? … my whole life … to deserve you?
JOHN: Sherlock, I’ve told you … (he walks towards him) … shut up.
SHERLOCK (quietly): Oh, I mean it, seriously. Everything – everything you’ve ever done is what you did.
JOHN (very softly and dangerously): Sherlock, one more word and you will not need morphine.
SHERLOCK (still softly): You were a doctor who went to war. You’re a man who couldn’t stay in the suburbs for more than a month without storming a crack den and beating up a junkie. Your best friend is a sociopath who solves crimes as an alternative to getting high. That’s me, by the way. (He raises his left hand and waves at him.) Hello.
(He points towards Mrs Hudson.)
SHERLOCK: Even the landlady used to run a drug cartel.
MRS HUDSON: It was my husband’s cartel. I was just typing.
SHERLOCK (looking at her): And exotic dancing.
MRS HUDSON: Sherlock Holmes, if you’ve been YouTube-ing
SHERLOCK (louder, talking over her): John, you are addicted to a certain lifestyle. You’re abnormally attracted to dangerous situations and people … (his voice becomes quieter again) … so is it truly such a surprise that the woman you’ve fallen in love with conforms to that pattern?
(John grimaces briefly and then, with his eyes still fixed on Sherlock, he points towards his wife at the other side of the room.)
JOHN (his voice full of suppressed tears): But she wasn’t supposed to be like that.
Your friends, lovers, girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses weren’t “supposed to be like that” either. But they were because that’s our pattern. It’s comfortable. It’s all we’ve ever known. Someone “healthy” would’ve freaked us the hell out!
It’s not our fault.
So quit already with the regret, with the ass-kicking. It avails us nothing. We didn’t enter these relationships without careful thought, but our thoughts were unenlightened. We didn’t know about narcissism yet so we were damned to repeat our history.
When I was in the throes of cult withdrawal and depression in 2013, my husband said in exasperation, “Why is every woman I bond with emotionally unhealthy and depressed!?!”
“Because you are the son of a thieving narcissistic (ex)alcoholic who belonged in jail. Because you are the grandson of another alcoholic who died with a glass of schnapps in his hand. Because your mother is a codependent and so are you,” I told Michael. “You don’t know what a healthy woman is like. It makes total sense that you only have chemistry with emotionally unhealthy women, with codependent women like me. It’s all you’ve ever known. It’s comfortable for you.”
It has nothing to do with intelligence. I’ve yet to meet a stupid person who suffered from narcissistic abuse. Narc survivors are always very intelligent, verbose people. My husband, Michael, is extremely smart. Like Nikola Tesla scary smart — yet even he repeats his patterns.
In future, we’ll know better. Now we know about narcissism, we recognize our patterns. We understand our history so we’re no longer doomed to repeat it. Now, we’ve got Narcdar (narcissist radar.)
Time to move on, to healthier people and happier relationships. As poet Walt Whitman wrote:
The untold want,
by life and land ne’er granted,
Now, Voyager, sail thou forth,
to seek and find.