Friday, December 8, 2023

The Divorce Diaries: What It’s Like To Marry A Narcissist… And The Warning Signs To Look For

Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries. In our past instalments over the last year we’ve covered everything from  the effect of lockdown on divorces  to whether they’re contagious and have now spoken to dozens of women – including one whose husband announced he was leaving her to have an open relationship with a 19-year-old and another who was quite literally ghosted  by her own husband.

When Gina* first met her now ex-husband, it was a swift and joyful fall into a relationship – he was so kind and so complimentary. But things took a turn when she was pregnant with their child and the emotional abuse went up another notch. She talks to Capsule about what it’s like to be in a relationship with a narcissist and we talk to an expert about how to heal after a relationship has emotionally damaged you.

Fourteen years ago, when Gina* first met her now ex-partner, the compliments and loving behaviour were overwhelming. “At first, everything was amazing,” Gina says. “It was “You’re incredible, you’re the person I’ve been looking for forever.” But when the mood of her partner then changed just as swiftly. “You’re never going to be anything, your daughter doesn’t want you, etc,” she recalls. After she gave birth to their daughter, Gina was diagnosed with post-natal depression but looking back, she knows it was less about the fact that she’d just had a baby and more about the reality that she was trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship.

When she brought it up, Gina says her partner was always defensive. “He would say, ‘You’re acting crazy, you’re making this up. You’re the one that needs help.’”

That baby is now almost a teenager and Gina says it has taken her that length of time to heal the emotional damage from that relationship. Once she started opening up about her experience, she found that there were many, many other people who had been through the same thing.

“I couldn’t believe how many people were going through this,” Gina says. “I thought, ‘Well, maybe there will be a couple,’ but there are thousands.”

“Gas lighting” is a term that has worked its way into mainstream dating lexicon and it actually comes from a play that was then adapted into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock where a husband slowly tries to make his wife think she’s losing her mind, until her family and friends also think she’s crazy and she then slowly starts to believe it too. In a nutshell, that’s one of the common arcs of an emotionally abusive relationship.

“The gas lighting happened really fast,” Gina says. “He started off by saying ‘oh my god, I’ve met this dream person’ and then the other side of that, everything would go quiet and there were these long periods of absolute silence, like I had failed to live up to his expectations and needed to be punished. It’s such extreme, opposite behaviour that it makes you go, ‘Where the hell did this person go?’”

When she brought it up, Gina says her partner was always defensive. “He would say, ‘You’re acting crazy, you’re making this up. You’re the one that needs help.’”

“Narcissists are also very, very good at making you feel like they’re the most important person and your friends and family haven’t got your best interests at heart,” Gina says. “So you’ll go around on your own, thinking, ‘Okay, well I’ve been told no one will ever want me, I’m not good enough.’”

And then the hardest part, she says, is when she started to believe what she was being told. “You start to think that you’re the one that’s going crazy, even though you know in your gut that you’re not just dreaming, but you’re being told by the person you trust the most that you are going crazy. You start to doubt your own sanity. And then you start to withdraw from society.”

Gina says she can still vividly remember her narcissist ex inviting everyone round for a dinner party at their house and telling her that she wasn’t allowed to attend unless she smiled the entire night.

“At that stage I was running my own business… I was pregnant. But the thing that we do the most is that, because they make us feel that we’re wrong all the time, we try to do even better. I would go out of my way to do things to make him feel like I was good enough, but I thought at the time that was just a normal relationship.”

 “You don’t want to go and say to people ‘I’m being treated like shit, this is actually what’s happening at home.'”

On the night of the dinner, she remembers sitting in the bathroom, feeling numb, holding a knife. “I thought, ‘How can you say to your partner who is about to have your baby that she can’t come to a dinner party unless she’s smiling?’ and that really hit a chord, because I used to be a strong woman. But I had been told I was crazy, that it was all in my head.”

“You don’t want to go and say to people ‘I’m being treated like shit, this is actually what’s happening at home,’” Gina says. After she gave birth, Gina says it was easier to accept a diagnosis of post-natal depression that it was to tell people what was really going on: she was stuck in a situation that was making her question her sanity.

It took her over a decade to recover entirely from that experience through different forms of therapy but Gina says she is so happy she got out and put the work into healing herself completely. “The partner that I have now, he’s so amazing but I just about let him go, because he was so nice and I was so used to being treated like shit; I hadn’t healed completely.”

How to Heal After Dating A Narcissist

After going through her own experience, Margarita Politis has retrained in RTT (rapid transformational therapy) to help others heal from a narcissistic relationship. Here, she shares some wisdom

– Don’t blame your past self

Just like people who experience addiction, the push-and-pull, all-or-nothing effect of an emotionally abusive relationship with a narcissist can have implications on our brain, Margarita says.

Studies have also suggested that long-term emotional abuse can be just as damaging on the brain as physical abuse, in terms of mental health. “It affects your thinking brain… this is a key reason why people look back and say ‘what on earth did I do that for?’ after you’ve left a relationship,” she says. “When you’re texting them back and forth and waiting for a reply, and there’s no reply, it’s a chemical imbalance – you can’t help but do that. It’s an addiction.”

– Healing your hurt can break the cycle

It can also be hard if you end up dating a narcissist after a bad break-up or string of heartbreaks, because they start of so charming and seem so safe, but Margarita says this is actually when you can be most vulnerable to a situation like this.

“Narcissists are really good at finding people who have already been hurt, or been through it, and we attach ourselves to them quickly because they seem so nice, they’re telling us such nice things… and we haven’t that said to us for so long. So you get caught in that same cycle, unless you break it.”

– Remember that you ARE loveable

A lot of the work that Margarita does with RTT is focus on the subconscious thoughts that are the underlying cause of someone’s thoughts and actions. And for people who have experienced a relationship with a narcissist, she says the subconscious belief can often be: I am unlovable.

“All those words you’re told – ‘you’re useless, you’re nothing, no-one will ever love you’ – can become words you then believe on a subconscious level. So a lot of the work that we do is to change those beliefs so that you know that you are loveable, that a healthy relationship IS available to you.”

– Know that it absolutely gets better than this

“People who are stuck in relationships with a narcissist need to know: This isn’t normal. It is absolutely not okay for someone to emotionally abuse you. It’s not okay, it shouldn’t happen and you’re worth more than that. You might not feel it, you might feel worthless but there is so much more waiting for you on the other side.”

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