Chances are really good that when you first started to notice something “off” about your partner (“off” enough that you couldn’t shove it under the rug any longer), you probably didn’t think “narcissist!” right away.
If you’re like me, you might’ve worked down a working differential-diagnosis list. “Maybe he’s got depression”, “maybe it’s ADHD”, “maybe he’s wounded from his childhood”, “maybe he just lacks relationship experience”, “maybe nobody taught him how to (regulate his temper, be in a relationship, treat women, show affection, be personable, etc)”, “maybe it’s because he’s just moved out on his own (at 33)”, or even “maybe it’s a Guy Thing”.
I can’t even remember exactly how I came to wonder if my ex was a narcissist. I do remember that around October-November of 2019, my Amazing Bestie, who had decoded her now-ex-husband’s issue (narcissism) had shared with me a few videos, in her excitement and relief that she had finally found her answers. Being the (non-narcissistic) humans that we are, she shared her victory and progress with me, and I shared in it with her.
I did indeed click on the video and watch. Still in the Idealization Phase in my own relationship, I still tried to be discerning, checking various people in my life against what was being described in the videos. Hindsightly strangely, nobody in my own male relationships came to mind, but I could see why she pegged her own ex as a narcissist.
I had left YouTube to do its thing, which is to autoplay the next video, and a few videos later, another YouTuber (I can’t recall which one) had made a video of something along the lines of “5 Things Narcissists Hate That Normal People Don’t”.
One of those five things damn near made me bolt upright: birthdays. Apparently, narcissistic people hate birthdays, sometimes with a passion. I forget exactly why, since it’s been roughly a year, but my most recent ex (whom I was with at the time) was the only one I knew who hated his own birthday. He didn’t really like celebrating those of others either, but he especially hated any celebrations on his own behalf, which I had always thought strange, but whatever. Like so many idiosyncrasies, I shrugged it off.
But that factoid stuck in my mind. I don’t even remember what the other four out of those “5 Things” were. Birthdays took the cake (see what I did there?) 😉
I still swore up and down that he wasn’t a narcissist; he was the most caring, charming, loving, affectionate, supportive guy I’d ever met (“I’m an empathetic crier; if I see someone crying, I will, too” – ha!).
Fast-forward to the fit-hitting-the-shan in late-June/early-July of this year (2020). I remembered the YouTube channel my Amazing Bestie had found fascinating, and I returned to it – this time not as an observer/supporter, but also an active participant.
This was my reality now. And I had to learn all I could about it.
Upon realizing that my then-partner was, in fact, a narcissist, I put Dr Ramani in my earphones and listened almost non-stop. She was in my head for three days straight. I found myself listening and nodding, almost unconsciously, as if my Higher Self was sitting on my shoulder, going “there you go. That’s it. You’re getting it now.”
Two weeks after said fit-hit-shanning, my Amazing Bestie and I took a trip to the coast. I always wake up before sunrise, so once I did, I took my phone and earphones out onto the hotel room balcony, and…listened to more videos.
By then I’d found several others (which YouTube cheerfully suggests were picked for me), and one in particular cautioned the listeners not to get too caught up in the fact-finding, information-seeking, self-validating videos. She said that especially after the relationship is over (or its downfall is looming and inevitable), our addiction to the narcissist leaves us in withdrawal, and watching the videos and obtaining our validation from them can become an addiction of its own. It’s important, then, she said, to get your fill of information and then move on, beyond the 411, into the healing process.
In other words, move on with your life.
I do agree with that. It’s quite tempting and satisfying (although not nearly quite as addicting, for me) to watch video after video that describes what I went through and validates my experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Watching them, I began to feel secure that I’m not alone, increasingly realizing that I was legitimate and correct and Right–not wrong, flawed, “too picky”, “too sensitive”, “too (whatever)”, as both my ex and I had gaslighted me with.
Validation is a vital first step. The knowledge-quest is important, because we need to arm ourselves with information about exactly what we’re dealing with, and that narcissists are not garden-variety people, the relationships we had with them are not garden-variety relationships, and the breakups are not garden-variety breakups.
A whole glossary of vocabulary words, phrases, and psychological jargon begins to roll off your tongue as though it’s everyday English – terms like gaslighting, future-faking, stonewalling, love-bombing, hoovering, harem, gray-rocking, No Contact, maladaptive coping, rage, shame-rage cycle, manipulation, trauma bond, peptide addiction, idealization, devaluation, discard, splitting, supply, etc.
You begin to learn about how they split their true self from view and created a false self, about how they view people as objects, about how they manipulate you in various ways and for various reasons… And it all sounds very familiar, despite the fact that these YouTubers and bloggers don’t know you or your ex. It doesn’t matter; it feels like they’ve been peering in your window. What’s described in those videos and articles/posts has got your number.
With that comes intense validation – if you were doubting your sanity before, you know you’re not crazy. If you were wondering how you could’ve been so stupid, you know it happens every day to intelligent people. If you’d been wondering if you were simply too picky/sensitive/anal-retentive, you now know that you were none of these things, that you were in the right, and that narcissists all over the world pull their shizz on victims/survivors everywhere, in eerily the same way.
Validation is like water in a desert, since we’ve been invalidated for so long.
You’ve been vindicated, and you can finally stop blaming yourself or questioning your own mental/emotional health. You have arrived!
So, not only is devouring information our natural inclination, but it is a very healthy step to take. Knowledge is half the battle, after all, and it’s also power, something we’re desperately in need of getting back, and should take back.
What that YouTuber (“don’t linger on the info too long”) mentioned above was talking about, however, was correct. Don’t linger too long.
Why? Because while we obtain that much-needed validation and vindication, the amount of actual relief that we get from putting the pieces together and making this discovery is minimal at best. Armed with information, we can finally stop blaming ourselves and adding to the abuse. But learning about them, talking about them, thinking about them, wondering about them…doesn’t heal your heart. It serves an important purpose, but does nothing for you.
But even though our Inner Critic has been silenced and we’re no longer injuring ourselves, we haven’t actually taken any steps toward healing ourselves. Learning about the narcissist means that the focus is still on them – why they are the way they are, what made them say or do that, why they will never apologize, why they will never give us closure, can they ever change, and so on. It’s all about their traits, their behaviors, their tendencies, their patterns.
The focus is not on ourselves and our healing and the new life we’re desperately needing to build. The focus remains pointed away from not only filling our void but fulfilling our spirit.
So…validation first. But not validation only. Don’t stop there. Get your fill of the information and the validation that comes with it. Take that at your own pace, love; nobody can tell you what’s “long enough” and what’s “too long”. It can take weeks to months, but it probably shouldn’t take years. How long is enough? You will know. How will you know? You will have learned enough to know that this is not a person who can ever be fixed or healed, and you will not want to go back to the relationship.
You may or may not still feel pangs of temptation or wistfulness or grief, but you will at least know that you might as well hold a funeral for them, because they are truly dead to you and there’s no going back. It’s final. It’s done.
That’s how you know. You know when you know enough that you know you can’t ever give another ounce of your energy to helping them, supporting them, listening to their renewed promises, or whatever. You know that every word they say is a lie and every action they appear to make is for show. And you no longer fall for it. You don’t even want to. The glory days seem like a dream, and you see them for what they are – a figment of imagination.
Validation first, but recovery is next, and never stall yours. Once you have your information, whatever it is you need to know, move on. Put the focus where it belongs – back on you, your healing, and the life you want to build and live from here on. 🙂