When you’re planning to leave a narcissist or otherwise toxic partner, it requires a lot of preparation, which occurs on its own timeline, and cannot be rushed. And it’s actually the smoother times (comparatively speaking) that are the hardest. When they’re not actually being all that abusive. When they are actually being more helpful and communicative (not about their forbidden topics, of course, but in general).
The smoother, more pleasant times yank you back by an invisible chain to the status quo of the relationship, sternly reminding you that they’re not an entirely bad person, that they are indeed capable of being personable and human.
As if the emotions surrounding leaving this person aren’t mixed enough, this adds to the inner tension. Already I’ve conspired with myself, beginning the quest for financial independence and securing the legal time I plan to use when The Time comes. Being the initiator (as far as I’m aware), I already feel twinges of guilt here and there, because I know I have the Home Team Advantage; I’m the one getting my ducks in a row, and off in the distance is a ticking time-bomb that will eventually detonate–and only one of us knows about it.
It’s at times like these that it’s tempting to gaslight myself. And I suppose I could. I could tell myself it’s not that bad. Tell myself that the good days make the bad days worth the pain. Convince myself that he’s capable of lasting change, especially if I explain my perspective in a particular, specific way. Tell myself that I’m just being too needy or high-maintenance. Remind myself that I have no proof of any wrongdoing on his part – there are no scars, no strange and unaccounted-for receipts, no foreign perfume smells or beelines for the shower upon getting home, no lipstick smudges, no out-of-character purchases or items.
I could remind myself of all the nice things he has done and is doing for me. Explain to myself how maybe he just didn’t have much relationship experience before me and his parents never modeled much behavior for him to observe. I could justify staying because the legal battle wouldn’t be worth it just to end up alone. Explain to myself that I just need to grow up, or stop being so picky, or lower my expectations, that nobody’s perfect–including me, and just go along with what he wants because it’s not unreasonable.
I could lecture myself that I’m the one being unreasonable. Remind myself of my own imperfections, and my own inexperience and incompetence and ignorance of living alone and running a household by myself. I could tell myself that the silence and lack of interaction and lack of warmth and connection aren’t worth destroying a nearly 22-year history. Convince myself that I’m being selfish in wanting my freedom. Chide myself for wanting freedom, because that desire may pass, and when it does I’ll already have pushed him away irreparably, and then I’m screwed and filled with regret.
I could tell myself that his spot on the narcissism spectrum is “mild” and thus deal-able. Deny that he might snap one day, under the rage he’s been emitting, even observable by others who have confided in me about it. Convince myself that he is indeed trying by going to therapy every other week. That he’d never do the heinous things you hear horror stories about other narcissists doing. Reassure myself that he’s not cerebral enough to screw me over if and when push comes to shove and rubber meets road. Believe him when he says he is or is not doing This Or That…
…But I won’t.
I won’t gaslight myself. Instead, I’ll keep journaling, and I’ll keep reviewing previous journal entries throughout the years. I’ll keep watching videos, paying attention to–and checking him against–the signs and scenarios discussed, and I’ll keep nodding my head affirmatively. I’ll keep it real, stay grounded, stay in my head and gut instinct, and not let my heart or fear get in the way.
All narcissists are quite different, yet the core makeup is the same. If he still has entitlement at his age, he always will. And if I need even more reassurance that I’m making the right decision, all I have to do is search on YouTube for “aging narcissist”, because it’s not pretty. They don’t get better.
They may appear to mellow out some, but that may simply be a necessary mask to soften others up, because the people around them have grown tired of their abuse and manipulation. Take away that mask, and an even more severe inner core is revealed. A core of decreasing capability and charm coupled with increasing desperation and rage. They lose their inhibitions even further.
I don’t want to be around when that happens.
So I won’t gaslight myself.