As a psychologist, I see people in toxic relationships all the time. I was also in a toxic relationship with a narcissist for almost 3 years. Because of my profession, I often heard “you should know better. You have studied this stuff.” While I appreciated the back-handed compliment of the vote of confidence in my education, let me just say on the record that there is not a degree in the world that can prepare you for dating in general. Add in things like narcissistic control, manipulation and the suck-you-in “love bomb” and there is definitely NOT a class for that. All in all, I have realized that A LOT of people end up in really bad relationships with narcissistic individuals so I have always wanted to write an article giving some ‘expert opinion’ on how to break the toxic ties. But that’s been done. And still found lacking.
Over the years, I read lots of articles about the “no contact” rule and I learned all about how I was being “gaslighted.” I would read these pieces and feel validated that MAYBE I was actually not crazy. Maybe all of my feelings of being suffocated and having my life slowly reduced to nothing more than fulfilling the needs of my narcissistic vampire who was sucking the life out of me were not just in my head. Maybe those things were ACTUALLY happening. And then I would replay the scene in my mind over and over until I finally decided on Replay 567 that I probably could have responded more effectively. He probably was justified in being upset, even if he wasn’t justified in his response. The mental gymnastics that one can do in order to take ownership of someone else’s issues is Gold Medal worthy.
But in the end, those articles did not help me walk out the door and I am not foolish enough to believe I could offer some bit of research that would help you either. So I started thinking about the one thing I needed to hear then that I could tell you now. Here goes: You have done enough. It’s not you. I know that you have been made to believe that it is. I know that you wonder how you can perpetually come so short in fulfilling your partner’s needs. But you don’t. It’s not you. Loving a narcissist is like trying to fill a black hole. You can literally give your entire heart, constantly pouring love and affection into the N. You can give up your friendships because your N doesn’t like them or they interfere with your “relationship.” You can sacrifice progress in your career, because it is a “diversion to your focus on him.” There is no limit to the amount you can give and they can take.….yet it will never be enough. They will make sure you know it and you will be left feeling empty and convinced that you are not “enough.”
Let me break it down for you. There is a reason that Coke machines are not addictive. You always know what you will get. There is no changing the input to get a different output. Slot machines, however, have variable pay outs. So you can spend your entire life wondering what would have happened if you had added 3 coins instead of 2…adding 3 the next time with the same outcome. And then you wonder if you only played an hour longer, would you have landed the jackpot…so you play another hour. Then you wonder again if you play another hour…And suddenly you have invested all of your time and energy and resources into something that will continues to cost you more than it pays out. Here’s the solid truth about toxic relationships. You can put more in, you can stay in the game for another month, another year, even another decade. But the Narcissistic house always wins.
So you can keep trying. You can try to change that ONE thing you could have done differently in that last fight. You can work on the countless things your N has convinced you need to be changed. But the game will end the same. It won’t matter. Your N will allow you to spend countless hours reflecting on your own behaviors while offering head spinning diversions to YOUR own pleas for understanding and change.
Please. Hear it from me now: You have done enough. You tried. It’s time to walk away with your head held high and know that you gave it far more than anyone could have expected. Rest your heart, my friend. Go home. Rebuild your life. Reconnect with friends. Find yourself again. I promise you are still there, somewhere, and you are “enough.”
Dr. Howard can be reached through her program, www.innovarecoverycenter.com