I’ve fallen even deeper into the rabbit hole and my mind feels like someone tossed it in a blender and pushed the “puree” button. That’s how confused and conflicted I feel at this moment. So much to process and sort out. I don’t know if I ever can. But I must, because failing in this would be worse than death.
I’ve been having some recurring dreams involving my NPD ex. Each of these dreams involves him being in a new relationship and becoming wildly successful financially. The first dream I had of its kind I blew off, thinking it couldn’t be that important. After all, in the dream, I felt inexplicably jealous. Since I want nothing to do with him in real life (and have been NC or at least VLC with him for three years) and could care less if he meets someone new, I dismissed this dream as a fluke. The second dream had me puzzled and a little bothered, but again, I dismissed it. I can’t stand this guy — where would these jealous feelings be coming from?
But last night I had the third dream. This one was much more vivid and seemed to be screaming at me to pay attention because it had something very important to tell me.
In the dream, I was sitting in my ex’s brand new corner office. It was huge, with a floor to ceiling window that overlooked some city-scape far below. The furniture was expensive and dark and manly, lots of leather and brass. And everywhere — on his huge empty mohagany desk, on the bookshelves, on a high credenza — were dozens of priceless glass and crystal sculptures.
He was telling me (arrogantly) his new fiancee whose father owned the company had given him this job — which paid in seven figures. The photo on his desk showed a beautiful young brunette, smiling hugely with perfect teeth and her perfect hair flying in the wind, the ocean behind her. Sailing? Had he been with her on that sailboat? Had he taken that photo?
How stereotypical: the sailboat, the model-gorgeous girl, the corner office, the perfectly manicured nails, the casual but expensive businesswear. He looked like an advertisement in GQ. I almost laughed. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
I was too consumed by envy and rage. I wanted to take a sledgehammer and break that picture, break all of those glittering pieces of glass that were mocking my failure of a life — and break his head while I was at it. I wanted to go on a rampage and destroy all these things that had come so easily to him, while I still had to struggle at a dead end job to pay for the necessities and would probably remain alone until the day I died.
Hell, I felt like Betty Broderick.
I woke up upset by the dream, because of a truth I’d been avoiding that I could no longer avoid. Even though there are no chances of this man ever becoming that successful in reality (my ex is a pathetic sociopathic bum living on disability obtained at least in part fraudulently, on my dime, but that’s another story), my intense envy indicated that I was as much of an abuser in my marriage to him as he was to me. In some ways, perhaps I was even worse.
How could I make such a connection from a dream like that? After all, he was the one with all the creature comforts and the world laid at his feet, while I had nothing and no one.
But that’s actually the whole point. It’s my envy and feelings of worthlessness compared to others that fuel my narcissism. Even during my marriage, even when things were going well for us and he actually worked, it created huge problems. I was never my husband’s friend and partner; I was always in competition with him. I couldn’t stand it if he was somehow “more” or got more recognition than I did. It’s not that I wanted him to be miserable, but I only wanted him happy if I had something to do with it or if that happiness were shared with me. I couldn’t stand it if he had outside friends, outside interests, recognition from others besides myself, money he’d earned that might not benefit me directly. And deep down, more than anything else, I feared the possibility that he might leave, and with the means to do so….well, he could. And why wouldn’t he? What did I have to offer? No, I’d rather have him hobbled and dependent.
Did I cause him to sink into codependency on me and eventually become entitled and expect me to support him? Did I make his NPD even worse than it was? There were always red flags; I saw them in the beginning but I ignored them. But he wasn’t that bad, not at first. Did I send him even farther up the N spectrum, into malignancy, because of my own insecurities, my need to peck away at his self esteem so that I could feel more “equal” and less diminished?
“I remember how bitter and painful the envy I felt was. I couldn’t contain it; even if I tried to hide it, it oozed out of the seams and smeared everything it touched.”
I used to hate it whenever he’d have a success of any kind that didn’t have something to do with me or something I had done. I remember raging and then sulking for days in self pity when he got promoted. Most wives would have been thrilled. But not me. I couldn’t stand it when he got recognition at work and I hadn’t. I couldn’t stand it when he’d be invited places by friends (even if I was invited along) because I had so few friends. I knew this wasn’t normal behavior of a wife toward her husband, but I remember how bitter and painful the envy I felt was. I couldn’t contain it; even if I tried to hide it, it oozed out of the seams and smeared everything it touched. I didn’t know where this monster came from and had no idea what to do about it. I knew it was wrong, so wrong, but I couldn’t change the way I felt. I had no mindfulness tools and would just take out my frustration and envy in passive aggressive and covert ways, such as making snide or cruel remarks, giving the silent treatment, making left-handed “compliments,” or grousing about how *I* never got any recognition.
He could have left me. He probably should have left me. Of course, we were both abusers, abusing each other like partners in some hellish dance. His abuse of me has been covered extensively in other blog posts, but I never acknowledged (or even realized) how much I abused him. The abuse I inflicted though, was far more passive aggressive and covert than his was. I used codependency and helplessness as a way to make myself look more virtuous and more like a victim than I really was. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t codependent and didn’t feel helpless; I did, very much so. But I absolutely believed I was not at fault. I told myself so many lies I believed they were the truth. I painted this man I had married out to be a monster while I was a helpless victim. But I was doing my own share of picking away at what little self esteem he might have had. Neither of us had much, if any at all.
He didn’t leave me because some part of him needed my codependency and helplessness, even though I was never very supportive or empathetic, toggling wildly between borderline rages and sulking, narcissistic depressions. He knew I was “weaker” and could be forced to do his bidding due to his strength of will and more glib way of communicating. He was codependent himself, and I think the difficulties I created for him were a convenient excuse for him to self-sabotage, since he never seemed all that interested in being successful anyway. In many ways, we were mirror images of each other, abuse and codependency intermingling and feeding off each other and reflecting back ever-uglier images.
Subconsciously, I was re-enacting my relationship with my mother, who would never have allowed me to outshine her on any level. During my childhood, she constantly reminded me how much better she was at everything than everyone else, including me. “Don’t even try to compare yourself with me,” she would gloat. “We’re not in the same league.” I always knew which “league” she had placed me in. I wasn’t allowed to succeed in anything, was never given any opportunities or encouragement. My small successes didn’t count. Yet my failures were punished. I couldn’t win. I was a sitting duck. The only skill I learned to be good at was learned helplessness.
With him, I had become my mother. I diminished him for any successes the way she diminished me for mine. But I thought of myself as a nicer person just because I lacked her arrogance, grandiosity, and over the top demands.
I played the learned helplessness skill well. I learned to play the “victim” and of course I attracted bullies. My father told me I was bullied because others were jealous of me. I knew this was bullshit. But I still internalized that message, and although my self esteem was non-existent, there was a part of me that felt contempt and rage toward those who refused to recognize how special and superior I really was. I didn’t dare express this though; I hid it behind a mask of meekness and weakness. Anger wasn’t something I dared show, but I was like a pressure cooker, and every so often I’d blow up and scare the daylights out of everyone around me, including myself. I think the unexpectedness and intensity of my sudden rages was made them so scary.
I never developed any real skills. I never finished college. I didn’t stick with anything for long enough to become good at it. I never had a real career that I didn’t happen to “fall into.” I’d give up whenever anything became too difficult or proved too much work. I know now that this wasn’t laziness; it was a real fear I had that I might fail. My motto wasn’t “if at first you don’t succeed…,” it was, ” if you never try, you never fail.”
Even harder to admit is this. All my life, I’ve surrounded myself with people I regarded as being “less” than myself. I resented the hell out of anyone who was doing better and would usually avoid them to avoid feelings of envy and shame. But at the same time, I was filled with contempt for those “underlings” for being the only people I could be around to avoid those feelings of envy and shame. I felt like I had nothing in common with them and would pretend to be interested to get them to like me and give me the admiration I never seemed to get from anywhere else. But they were never friends because I didn’t really care about them at all. I know I must sound like a horrible person. I feel like a horrible person for admitting this. Fortunately, I don’t regard people this way anymore, but it’s still difficult for me to be around people who I know are successful in life, even if I don’t actively dislike them the way I used to. I no longer feel contempt for those who are not successful, but I do feel more comfortable around them than with more successful people.
Narcissism–both my own and that of those closest to me–has ruined my life. It was my narcissism that kept me from applying myself and succeeding in anything. It was my narcissism that kept me constantly comparing myself with others, even my own husband, and feeling diminished if they outshone me in something. Which meant they weren’t allowed to shine at all, because I didn’t shine. It was my narcissism that kept me locked in a toxic cycle of mutual abuse and codependency. It was my narcissism that kept me so closed off from anyone else and emotionally stunted.
“I wanted them to be happy there, down at the bottom of the barrel, with me. Anything else would mean I’d lose them…”
I also realized something else. Since I’ve mostly identified myself as a victim and not as a narcissist myself, I always thought the reason I avoided relationships was to avoid the possibility of falling in with another abuser. And while that’s true, it’s not the whole story. I also avoid relationships because I don’t want to hurt anyone and I’m afraid I still could.
I never wanted to hurt anyone. I never thought I was an abuser. I was horrified at the idea I could ever be one. Even when I knew I was hurting those I loved (and often I didn’t know), it wasn’t because I wanted to see them in pain. It was a compulsion to relieve my own pain of “not belonging” or being “less than” by bringing them down to “my level.” I wanted them to be happy there, down at the bottom of the barrel, with me. Anything else would mean I’d lose them, and losing anyone was the same as death to me.
Narcissism is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s going to stop with me. But, as much as I want to hate that part of me that brought others down to make myself feel better, I know hatred–especially toward myself–won’t work. It was self-hatred that got me here. The only way out of this mess is fostering compassion (NOT the same as self pity!) for the wounded child within. I’m working on it, but it’s going to take awhile. Right now, I just feel like my brain’s been through the blender.