Looking back over journal entries is telling, gorgeous ones. Doing this is not for the purpose of dwelling, nor should it be. We don’t actually learn so much from the past; in reality, we learn from the present.
So for me, looking back over journal entries from a year ago is not so much rumination as it is an exercise in dot-connecting, puzzle-piecing, becoming aware. “Narc woke”, so to speak.
In so doing, I noticed several other red flags that eventually begged themselves a list. I share this list with you for the purpose of, well, sharing.
Kind of springboarding off of previous posts on this topic, one warning sign is that they’re emotionally volatile from the git-go (I live in Texas, we can say that 😉 ). Sometimes “volatile” means angry or irritable or quick to anger, other times it means quick to change, such as mood swings, and other times it means oscillation between self-overconfidence or entitlement (grandiosity) and a forlorn self-beating (insecurity).
Either way, you find yourself having to to do a lot of work, having to soothe, reassure, and compliment them from the beginning, attempting to lift their spirits or refocus them on the fun, peaceful, or pleasant time you’re trying to have.
Another behavior that should have been a red flag (except how are we to know, gorgeous ones, until we’ve been through this and learned the hard way, or otherwise learned the easy way by witnessing it happen to someone else), is when the narcissist in sheep’s clothing appeals to your soft spot(s). For me this was affection, hands-down. In the beginning, my ex would periodically say (in reference to my husband), “well, if he’s not going to show you love and affection, I sure as hell will.”
Direct quote, true story.
For people with kids, they may come off as the one who has always wanted children. For people who have chosen not to have children, they may “mirror” your stance and pretend to shun the idea of having them also. If you’ve always wanted to start a business or follow some particular dream, they will present themselves as someone dedicated to making it happen. And so on.
It sounds quite lovely, like music to the ears, especially if you’ve been neglected and ignored and dismissed and cast aside, and especially if that has been the case for quite a while.
But don’t get too enamored, because the next red flag is that of the switch-flip. This is when their personality changes drastically over a short time. This can indeed happen gradually–say, over the course of 2-6 months (give or take), and it can be thoroughly confusing. The confusion enters the picture particularly when they appear increasingly distant and cold for brief periods, which are sandwiched in with the “love-bombing” tactic, where they display behaviors that feel to you like they are themselves (“like their old selves, the one I fell in love with”) again. You breathe a sigh of relief during those times, only to be further confused by the oscillating behavior that, in some cases, swings like an out-of-control pendulum.
Examples of this might include a comparison between a June 2019 entry in my journal, which described how he’d gaze at me, or maybe gaze off into the distance, and I’d ask him what he’s thinking about, and he would warmly answer, “just you” or “just this” or “just taking it all in”, to an October-November 2019 entry, which described how he would stare off into space and I’d ask him what he’s thinking about, encouraging him to talk to me, and he’d become irritable, almost angry in a flash, demanding “what’s there to talk about?!”
Meanwhile, you keep telling yourself that they still are that person, the one you fell in love with. You long for those good old times you’re now powerfully addicted to because of those peptides you’ve been thoroughly bathed in. You keep thinking there’s a shred of hope, that maybe if you can fix their depression or their physical health, or keep them moving/happy/distracted/active…then all could be well.
Those are the lies we tell ourselves, gorgeous ones, in order to avoid the inevitable pain. The sooner we understand, accept, and internalize (but not personalize!) the reality that they will not change no matter how convincing they may try to portray themselves at certain moments, the better. Please, trust me on this one.
Another warning sign is that certain innocuous things become focal topics. For us, it was innocent everyday things like throat-clearing, for instance. Yes, my pretties, true story: throat-clearing. We both did it a lot; I thought nothing of it, but he asked questions about mine, mimicked me for fun, encouraged me to mimic him (except his term for it was “mocking” instead of “mimicking”), and told me about how he’d always done it excessively and had been made fun of for it by classmates in school.
The empath that I am, I thought it might be a good idea to re-brand the throat-clearing as a game, something funny, something flirty, something playful, something we shared together, the stuff of an inside joke we’d both giggle at.
But then the inside joke became a little darker, where in a playful voice, he’d say things like “disgusting” or “sick” or some other derogatory adjective, particularly whenever I did it. I would actually say, “no put-downs; just giggle like you used to” and ask him “whatever happened to giggling?”
There was no giggling anymore.
Other examples of Focal Topics included our respective blogs and their “stats”, my career and title and credentials vs his, and singing. In April-May 2019, he’d encouraged me to get past my shyness and self-doubt to come onstage and sing with him, when he started performing again. (We had even gone scouting a karaoke place in March 2019, ready to sing together.) Within four months, that conversation was completely flipped. For no known reason.
Compare mid-May 2019, when he’d recorded a video of him singing along with the radio and sent it to me, to November-December 2019, where I had to plead with him just to sing “our song” to me in the car. I’d never criticized him, critiqued him, suggested any improvement, nothing that could have been misconstrued as anything but unwaveringly supportive.
You may notice that however their day went outside of your influence (the factors you can control or have say over), is how they treat you. If they had a great day at work or they’re in an otherwise exuberant mood, they “reward” you with extra warmth, love, affection, smiles, gazing, sweet words, flexibility, promises (future-faking), and so on. You may find yourself wondering (or even saying) “what brought this on?”, wondering if you did something right that you don’t know about.
Heartbreakingly, the flip-side is true, too. If they “endured” the frustration of an “incompetent” coworker (everybody is “incompetent” to them, yet they’ll never actually sit down with that person and hash it out logically), or someone cut them off in traffic, or they didn’t get the raise or promotion they wanted, they don’t do what normal people do and turn to you for support. Instead, they punish you by being cold, harsh, distant, flat, insulting, hostile, resentful, irritable, even rageful. You did nothing wrong, and you get to bear the brunt of it all.
The truth is, gorgeous ones, they cannot separate unrelated events from you. Everything is either all-good or all-bad, and that includes you.
I even asked my narcissist – “When you have a bad day at work, what makes you think you can take it out on me?” His response?
“Because you’re not in a position to fire me.”
That’s it. No apology, no acknowledgment, no efforts made not to do that again, no remorse whatsoever for attacking an innocent person because he was too chicken-shit to air his grievances with the offending parties at work in a civil and professional manner, no nada.
And they treat you badly, even though to your knowledge, you did everything right and you tried your hardest, pulling energy, resources, and solutions from cognitive crevices you didn’t even know you had. Google gets a workout, but it’s you who ends up exhausted.
And best not bother trying to help; they resent it anyway, which is another warning sign. Normal people appreciate help, even if it’s unsolicited, as long as it’s genuine. They’ll usually express acknowledgment, and maybe even gratitude. The response will range from neutral to favorable, anyway.
The narcissist? Reacts with resentment and hostility. Never accepts, never gives thanks. And you go round and round in circles again, wondering why they don’t at least take that advice that they so desperately need and could benefit wildly from…
…or maybe they couldn’t.