If you are here because you have just realised what you were dealing with, welcome. I expect right now you are on your knees, mind bent and confused with what in the name of God just happened. I expect you are clawing at the internet desperately trying to find some answers, validation or closure on the burning ashes of your life as you knew it. Maybe you are here because you suspect someone in your life is a narcissist, and you need information. Welcome also. Pay particular attention to the part where I identify that there is no cure for narcissism. The only way out is out.
I want to tell you my story (or limited bits of it as I haven't written the book yet). I want to start with my story so that you can see there is light at the end of the tunnel. I want you to know that life begins right here, that the darkness you have experienced has been an initiation to the great light that lies ahead of you. Your experience is valid, real and acknowledged here.
The gaslighting was the most damaging and disgusting behaviour I have ever experienced in my life. I thought I was crazy. I was on medication and having therapy for all the mental health problems I was convinced I had. The day the narcissist left my life (the final discard), I discovered I was right all along and never took another tablet again. I was right. About everything. I continued therapy - but this time for the extensive damage caused by this behaviour. Funnily enough, my mental health has been tip-top since I found the light. Go figure…
It took me nearly two years to recover my sense of self and restore my self-worth. I was made to believe that all my suspicions of his adultery and absence of love were due to my poor mental health. I was repeatedly told I was imagining things, I was dramatic, I was crazy… blah blah. I worked so hard to make myself well so I wouldn't think bad things about him - but I was right all along. Every damn bit of it. I was so focused on fixing myself I didn't see the truth. Yet, how could I fix something that wasn't broken? I was indeed being cheated on, with multiple people, from day one of the relationship. He was indeed telling everyone what an awful person I was because of my "deteriorating mental health" while playing the innocent victim. The poor long-suffering partner of a crazy woman who just wouldn't trust him. He convinced several of my friends and ultimately broke down many of my support networks through this modality. He destroyed my workplace, convincing many of my work colleagues I was crazy and abusive. Yet, all along, it was him. I was right. The day it all broke, I actually had the biggest relief of my life. I wasn't insane. I was right all along. I, too, believed I was going insane. I WAS on medication. I WAS having therapy. So, he wasn't lying to people about that. Not on medication now though! Funnily enough.
From the first day he stepped into my life, it was chaos. From the first day to the last. A tornado of highs and lows with unsolicited pressure, insecurity, betrayal, deceit and doubt. I always thought his calm exterior was who he was. I often leant on his calm to soothe my stormy seas. I was whipped up in the chaotic tornado of his life, then spat out. But, he wasn't the calm, nor the stability. He was the eye of that storm. All the while telling me he loved me.
He promised me my dreams, then delivered my worst nightmare.
From the ashes of his burning me, grew an opportunity. You see, allowing the tower to burn down is not a bad thing. It's painful and life-changing, but it's not a bad thing. Sometimes you have to just let it burn. What he malevolently and cruelly designed to be my destruction worked. I was destroyed. But that's OK. I didn't actually like who I had become. Gift number one: I got to start over.
The damage caused by this psychological mind-fuckery is extensive, but you can recover. It takes time and hard work, but you can. I have. From a spiritual perspective, I genuinely believe that the devil sends these people to divert you from your life purpose. This experience has been a trajectory into my life purpose.
In the depths of my destruction, while I was on my knees, alone, frightened, confused and in pain, my wearied soul started to flicker on a little light. Every day that light started to shine a little brighter as I remembered who I was. Free from oppression, I realised I had been addicted to the darkness, addicted to his low vibration. After all, the devil does his work in the dark.
Now the light was showing me the way out. I was given a gift of choosing from all the broken pieces of myself, the things I wanted to take forward. I got to leave the rest behind.
I had told him all my worst fears. I literally gave him a checklist of all the things that would destroy me. He ticked every single box. This too, was a gift. You see, fear is a funny little thing. It holds so much power over us. Fear prevents us from moving forward. Fear holds us back from our destiny. Fear holds us back from opportunity. When he brought all my worst fears into reality, I had nothing left to fear. Just like that. Liberation. It literally couldn't have been any worse. When I realised this, I laughed out loud. Like a madwoman. The liberation! I had nothing left to fear. I had been freed from suffering.
It's hard not to regret wasting the best years of my life. I think regret is an underrated emotion as we have to learn what we don't want in the future. My own contribution to my demise has not been discounted. I was so co-dependent, so full of fear, shame and jealousy. All of the lowest vibrational emotions that I lived in took their toll on my mental and physical health. I made so many poor choices during this period of my life. I surrounded myself with more low vibrational people. I lived for the happiness of someone else that never once appreciated it and ultimately was never happy. Instead of walking away and finding someone who could reciprocate my love, I mirrored the toxicity, trying to make him love me.
I am so sad for the woman I was, always begging him to love me. I am sad for the low self-worth, the bad reactions, the constant attempts to spark love and appreciation in someone who is just not capable of those emotions. I am sad for everything that I gave, everything that I lost and everything that I became.
Despite my experience, I find myself in a state of compassion for these people. Their behaviour is not OK, and I will never condone it. Nor would I ever tolerate it again. But imagine being incapable of love. Imagine living your whole life with addictions, short term highs, constant deceit and lies. It is a tortured life being a narcissist. I often hear people saying their ex-narc skipped off into the sunset and lives happily with the new supply; it's so unfair. When will they ever get their Karma? But do not be fooled. There is no peace with them. There is no love. They mistake these dopamine highs of affairs for love. They get a new supply, and it's like having a new toy. They experience the euphoria of attention and novel sex and believe this is love. But it wears out. It will always wear out, and they will be looking for the next high.
They will never know the true feeling of contentment, respect and comfort that comes from true, invested love. I am so very grateful for the ability and the capacity to love. To love as much as I do. To genuinely feel the pull of emotion and connection in my gut when I think about, or be around, people I love. That magnetism of energy that draws our souls together on an unseen plane of existence. How grateful I am for the ability to love. And how sad I am for those that cannot love. Never satisfied, always searching, seeking, looking for a way to satiate their need for validation and reward.
In Tibetan Buddhism, there are six realms of incarnation. The first realm is hell; the second realm is of the Hungry Ghosts. Creatures with tiny mouths and big bellies who can never eat or drink enough to satiate their thirst and hunger (4). I know what I went through was bad. But I possess the empathy and integrity to learn and heal. To experience love. Their life is their Karma. Hungry Ghosts that will ultimately die as dissatisfied and angry as they lived their lives. That's pretty sad.
My advice to anyone having been through this experience would be to move on. Move away. There is nothing you can do here anymore. Do not waste another moment of your precious life trying to change them or please them. Their mouths are too small and their bellies too big. Go and live happy and free. Walk away. Do not look back. Your future is beautiful and filled with true love, even if that love comes solely from you. I would rather sit at home alone and eat shit for the rest of my life than ever be in that hateful position ever again.
Educate yourself. Liberate yourself.
What is narcissism?
The term narcissist comes from the Greek mythological tale of Narcissus, a youth who could not love anyone until he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with himself. He stayed staring at himself until he died and became a flower.
Narcissism is becoming a red hot topic in society. This bothers some people as the term "Narcissist" is being used to label people who may or may not actually be so. Many would like to see the term only used by those officially diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). I object.
NPD is a cluster B personality disorder that is only diagnosed in approximately 1-5% of the population (1). Of those diagnosed, the majority are already in prison, being forced into psychological or psychiatric assessment, who would not ordinarily present for diagnosis. The official statistics largely represent the ones we "catch" through the criminal justice system and maybe a few others that have some level of self-awareness (1). In addition, a "disorder" generally implies that you are unable to maintain relationships or function in society due to your condition. Narcissists can be high functioning, high achievers, in long term relationships etc. (1). Therefore, they walk among us. Undistinguishable from other people. Yet, narcissists they are.
NPD is a diagnosis. Narcissism is a behaviour, not a diagnosis. It is a spectrum ranging from mild personality traits to outright violence and malevolence. We all sit on that spectrum somewhere at certain times in our lives. Particularly when we have been in stressful situations as a defence mechanism where we must shut down outside influence and focus only on our own survival and safety. This could be toxic work environments, leaving relationships or any other threat to our well being. The behaviour is usually temporary, necessary, and upon reflection by a normal person, regrettable. This does not make you a narcissist. Indeed, Freud described a "primary narcissism" where self-interest was essential to survival and life progress (1).
When we talk about someone being a narcissist, their behaviour has the theme of control, persecution and sadism, where pleasure or satisfaction comes from the emotional (or physical) torture of another person. Eric Fromm, a social psychologist, described malignant narcissism as the "quintessence of evil" (2).
At the top of the spectrum is anti-social behaviour disorder (ASBD) that umbrellas sociopathy and psychopathy. You can be a narcissist without being a psychopath, but you cannot be a psychopath without being a narcissist (1).
Traits of narcissism include but are not limited to:
Lack of empathy or consideration for others
Excessive need for admiration
Cocky, manipulative, selfish and patronising.
High confidence and risk-taking behaviour.
Underneath their mask, they are frequently empty and bored, have difficulty with attachment and lack authentic identity.
Often take on hobbies or sports, thinking they can excel just because they like the look of others that actually do.
What causes narcissism?
There is no singular cause of narcissism. I cannot cover all the possible avenues here in one blog, nor are they all known. Every person is different. Some people will have similar childhood experiences to another, yet one becomes a narcissist, and the other becomes super sensitive, over empathic and likely a victim of a narcissist in adulthood (3).
Most narcissists have a history of childhood emotional neglect or trauma that devalues their feelings, shaming them or discrediting their emotions (3). This causes them to dissociate from themselves at a young age. They learn early on to develop a false mask or persona to please the caregivers and others around them. They realise they must look after themselves at all costs, and no one is to be trusted. The underlying sense of shame is buried and replaced with superiority or grandiosity that makes them feel more important and entitled than others.
Some narcissists come from homes where they are placed on a pedestal, given everything they ever wanted with no boundaries ever put in place. This causes a sense of entitlement, an expectation the rest of the world should treat them the same and a huge deficit or absence of empathy as they have never been taught about consequences. They may have been given everything material they wanted, but have not been emotionally supported to regulate feelings such as disappointment. Childhood is the essential time to learn these important life skills. Leading them to be unable to handle these experiences as an adult (3).
In her video, Dr. Ramani Durvasula explains some of the triggers for narcissistic personalities: "How narcissists are made" (3). It comes with a warning. Understanding that narcissism is likely born of traumatic childhood experiences should not trigger your empathy to think they can change. Or to believe that you somehow owe them to stay in abusive situations. You being a victim of their abuse does not change a thing for them.
The Narcissistic Brain
The neurobiology of NPD is a complex subject. As so few narcissists believe they have a problem, recruiting subjects for study has proved somewhat challenging. We know that the insular cortex is highly associated with empathy, interoceptive awareness, general emotional processing, intuition, unfairness, risk, uncertainty and norm violations (2). Studies in individuals that have been affected in that area by tumours demonstrate high narcissistic tendencies once the area is removed. MRI and fMRI studies on the brains of narcissists have shown a significant reduction of grey matter and reduction of activity in the insular cortex (2). Interestingly, the prefrontal cortex and ventral striatum have lower activity in fMRI studies. This is the area one would expect to be elevated in narcissists, the area of self-confidence and positive self-assessment. In fact, brain scans show the narcissistic brain to be needy and with low self-esteem (2) - a good indication of why external validation is a constant mission for these individuals.
Victims of narcissists
The damage that is caused to a normal person through a relationship with a narcissist is unlimited. The ability of these individuals to portray themselves as good people to outsiders is phenomenal.
The person you will fall in love with is often confident, charming, loving and charismatic. Narcissists will falsely mirror your values and interests so that you believe them to be on an energetic level with you. It's easy to fall in love with them. They use this trust and love to manipulate the victims into serving them in any way possible (termed narcissistic supply). Once they have them in a position of servitude, the devaluation begins. This comes in the form of gaslighting, projecting, reactive abuse, cheating, lying and even physical abuse. This is countered with love bombing. It is an act that fools the victim into believing they are safe again and are actually loved and valued, only to be devalued shortly after.
This creates cognitive dissonance, which is basically where the mind-bending behaviour leaves you having no idea whatsoever what is going on and where you stand, so you start to lose your mind. Once the victim is in a state of confusion, depletion, depression and isolation, the discard occurs. This will almost always involve a replacement of supply. They line up the next victim. The current victim is dropped like a sack of potatoes, often ghosted. More often ridiculed and slandered to a point where full out smear campaigns can destroy their reputation, break down any remaining support, ultimately driving the victim even crazier than they had already become.
Often but not always, there is a hoover. When the narc contacts the victim again after the dust has settled from the dramatic and destructive ending of the relationship. This depends on how good the new supply is. It could be weeks, months, years after the discard. Where the narcissist comes back to poke around the ashes of the fire to see if they can still control the victim, maybe get back together for a while, only to repeat the whole scenario again. Some relationships can go through this: love bomb: devalue: discard: hoover: repeat, for decades.
Whether it be a parent, partner or friend, the narcissist has the ability to make you look like you are always the one in the wrong. This starts directly with you. I had never heard of gaslighting before and only discovered what it was all too late. The term comes from a 1920's play called "Gas Light". A husband drives his wife to insanity by turning the gas lamp up and down then denying her claims the light has changed. He convinces her she imagines it, causing a descent into madness by questioning her own reality. Narcissistic gaslighting is used as a tool to divert the attention away from the wrongdoing of the narcissist and destroy the foundations of your self-esteem, causing you to question yourself and your intuition.
Gaslighting is an unfortunate behaviour that we all inadvertently partake in, often gaslighting ourselves. Ever said to yourself, "you are imagining this"? Or "you caused this behaviour in them. It's your fault, not theirs"? Sound familiar? During my many, many hours of shadow work, I have recognised times when I have gaslit others to absolve myself of blame. I was, at this time, unevolved and knew not what I did. A position I think every person would have been in at some point in their lives if they chose to reflect. So, it isn't just the behaviour of narcissists. It is common, global and on massive scales, including the media. The whole world is gaslit by the media, but that's another story.
When a narcissist gaslights you, it is from a place of malice and calculated effort to wear you down and drive you insane.
It often sounds like:
why are you constantly questioning me?
Why won't you trust me?
You are paranoid
You are crazy
You need help
I would never cheat on you; it's all in your head (while actively cheating on you)
If you weren't such a bad person, I wouldn't have to… *insert behaviour*
You drive me to it
You are too sensitive
You are too dramatic
I was only joking
You can't take a joke
The consequence of this is feeling devalued, confused and insecure. Ultimately, the successful narcissist will drive you to the brink of your sanity and beyond, rendering them correct in their claims that you are crazy. They then have an opportunity to say to everyone around them: "See. Told you s/he was crazy".
For me, meeting a man with a "crazy ex" is now a huge red flag. I ponder: Is she really crazy? If so, was she crazy before dating HIM?? Always keep an open mind because these pesky little narcissists are extremely good at making everyone else look extremely unwell. Oh, the irony.
Multiple red flags appear early on in a relationship with a narcissist. So often, it is too late before we learn what to look out for. With the benefit of hindsight, everything was right there, written in big red letters on the wall for me. I deflected and blamed myself for so much that could've been a solid reason for my exit. But I stayed. I persisted.
I have learned. I have evolved. I have moved on. So can you.
***There are a million books and resources online to educate yourself on this subject. I recommend Dr Ramani, a psychologist that has specialised in Narcissistic abuse for her whole career. Her YouTube channel has pretty much everything you need on narcissism, how to deal with it and how to heal. https://www.youtube.com/c/DoctorRamani***
Caligor, E., Levy, KN., Yeomans, FE., (2015). Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Diagnostic and Clinical Challenges. The American Journal of Psychiatry. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.14060723
George FR and Short D (2018). The Cognitive Neuroscience of Narcissism. Journal of Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science. https://www.imedpub.com/articles/the-cognitive-neuroscience-of-narcissism.php?aid=22149
Dr Ramani Durvasula, YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d79qPeIt1GY&t=854s).
Rinpoche, TW., (1998). The Tibtan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. Snow Lion Boulder publications.