Can you talk to my borderline or narcissistic spouse and explain . . . ?
Will she or he someday realize that no one else will love them as much and treat them as well as me?
So if I learn boundaries will that make her or him treat me better?
Should I give copies of your articles to my narcissistic or borderline girlfriend or boyfriend?
If I could just find a way to get through to her or him . . .
How can she or he move on so fast to their next “soulmate?” Didn’t I mean anything to him or her?
Denial can be one of the most difficult stages of the grief process to overcome, particularly when grieving the loss or imminent lost of a narcissist, borderline, histrionic or psychopath. However, true healing cannot begin until these two stages have been navigated successfully.
There have been many times over the years when I’ve found myself having a Moonstruck moment with clients stuck in the denial and bargaining stages of grief. I sometimes have the impulse to shake them gently and yell, “Snap out of it!” I don’t, of course.
Why is denial so much more difficult to overcome in cases of narcissistic, borderline and psychopathic abuse?
Projection of your good qualities. Narcissists, borderlines, histrionics, sociopaths and psychopaths are not normal. They are not like you, or most people for that matter. You can’t impute the same motivations and qualities, like honesty and integrity, to them. Period. End of story. They simply do not possess these attributes and you’re making a grave error when you convince yourself, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that they do.
Words and concepts like love, truth and commitment mean something very different to narcissists, borderlines and psychopaths. Despite the surface intensity of their emotions, particularly during the love bombing or idealization stage and their later rage outs, there’s very little depth to their emotions. This is why they can tell you that their love for you transcends everything on Tuesday and shack up with the bisexual former child actress on Thursday. This is why they can be raging one minute and calmly talking to their coworker on the telephone moments later.
They say words like love and friendship, but they don’t mean anything, or rather they don’t mean what you think they mean. Usually, their declarations of love and other promises are manipulations. Tools to get them what they want at any given moment. They mirror your good qualities back to you and you believe them. Mirroring your good qualities in the beginning of the relationship further serves to strengthen your projection of positive qualities onto them. But none of this is real. It’s smoke and mirrors.
Gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of lying, but an especially crazy-making one. The narcissist, borderline and psychopath will deny having said and done things you know you heard them say and do. The result is you doubt your perceptions, memory and intuition. Like a Jedi mind trick, the narcissist or psychopath will look you straight in the eye and tell you, “I’m a good person,” while exploiting you financially, taking you for granted, smearing you to friends and family and cheating on you. You want to believe them because the alternative is too painful in the denial stage.
Good people don’t lie to you. Good people don’t take pleasure in hurting or duping you. Good people don’t use others as objects with which to amuse themselves and then discard you when the novelty wears off or, horror of horrors, you see behind their mask and start asking questions and insist on being treated better.
They train you to do the work for them. Narcissists, borderlines and psychopaths are blame shifters extraordinaire. On the rare occasions they apologize, there’s usually a “but here’s why my behavior is really your fault” attached to it. After some time with one of these individuals, she or he will have trained you to make excuses for their behavior without much prompting, if any, from them. You’ll do it reflexively.
Do you find yourself quick to make excuses for your narcissist or borderline’s cruel and insensitive behavior like “her mom was really abusive, his older brothers bullied him, her ex cheated on her, she has a lot of work stress, he’s just insecure and has low self-esteem?” Do you find yourself equally quick to take the blame and reason that you could have done more of this or less of that, paid more attention to her, been less “needy” or “sensitive” or that your expectations must be too high? If so, your narcissist, borderline or psychopath has you doing the heavy lifting for them. So what else is new?
There are no mitigating reasons for lying, cheating and abusing the people you claim to love. Not a bad childhood, not job stress, not PMS, not BPD nor any other excuse they may contrive. You are not needy or too sensitive because their abuse causes you pain, nor are your expectations too high for wanting them to treat you with the same basic decency and respect that they demand from you. You are not bad or crazy for having an appropriate emotional response like feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal as a result of their abuse. Hurtful behavior hurts. If someone punches you in the face, reasonable responses include, “Ouch!” “Stop that!” and “Why the hell did you do that?” Not, “I’m sorry my nose got in the way of your fist. Please forgive me for getting blood on your knuckles.”
When you catch them in an infidelity, you’re supposed to be hurt and angry. You’re not the asshole because you discovered their betrayal. But this is how abusers twist perception and reality. It makes it easier for them when you do the work for them. Stop that.
Family of origin issues. If one or both of your parents are narcissistic, borderline, histrionic or psychopathic, it can make you much more vulnerable to these types of predatory relationships as an adult. It can also make it more difficult to break through the denial stage as you’ve been pre-conditioned to tolerate abuse and to experience it as “love.” The childlike wish is to finally feel loved and accepted by your narcissistic or borderline spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend because it will somehow override how you were treated as a child. The problem is that your narcissistic or psychopathic partner is no more capable of love than your abusive parents, and that has nothing to do with you.
It wasn’t your fault your parents abused you and you’re not to blame for your abusive spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend’s abusive behavior. That’s on them. This is often one of the most difficult concepts my clients have accepting, not understanding, but really and truly accepting. It is key to the healing process and to finally ending the pattern of unhealthy relationships. Otherwise you are likely to repeat the trauma over and over again in subsequent relationships (repetition compulsion).
Once you accept it you have no other choice but to see the narcissist, borderline, histrionic or psychopath for who they are — severely limited human beings who are not just incapable of love, but actively destroy it and then blame you for not being enough. Again, this has nothing to do with you and your lovableness or character. These types of personalities are empty and easily and chronically bored, which is why they create so much drama and chaos. When you understand and accept this, there is no going back and no more self-torture.
You want to believe the lies. Successful con artists know that the best cons appeal to a mark’s innermost or base desires. When describing the love bombing/idealization stage of the relationship with a narcissist, psychopath or borderline, many of my clients say, “I thought she or he was too good to be true. I thought I’d met the woman or man of my dreams.” Yes, exactly right. That’s what these predators want their targets to believe.
My clients wanted to believe that true love, intimacy and a depth of connection could happen magically and instantly. That, at long last, someone truly saw them, loved and appreciated them. That’s the emotional stake from which it is so very difficult for many targets of narcissistic abuse to divest. They want to believe the fantasy woman or man the narcissist, borderline or psychopath initially pretended to be is real.
Future faking is another variety of lie these predators tell. At the beginning of the relationship, they may say things like, “I could see myself with someone like you” or talk about marriage, having children, fabulous vacations you’ll take together, etc. It’s all rubbish, of course. It’s just something they dangle like a carrot on a stick tailor made for what they discern your dreams are from closely studying you. After the devaluation stage has begun, they will future fake periodically primarily as a way to bring you to heel or keep you in the game until they’re ready to discard.
In the early stages of my relationship with my ex-NPD, he would dangle “I want to marry you” out there and I thought, “Wow. He wants to marry me.” Of course, that was after a whole set of conditions occurred. After he sorted the situation with his ex-wife, after his latest lawsuit was resolved (he wasn’t an attorney — just had a knack for violating the rights of others and getting sued as well as doing business with other ne’er do wells that often necessitated retaining legal counsel) and after his ship came in someday.
As time passed, I realized the boat I was on had a slow leak and he was punching holes in the hull faster than I could patch and bail water. Then something interesting occurred. One day, he did the standard future fake of marriage after some blow-up he created out of boredom and I realized no way did I ever want to marry him. The expression on his face was priceless when I replied, “That’s okay. We don’t need to get married.” He tried it a couple more times and then stopped when he realized it no longer had the same effect.
Abuse shatters your self-esteem and self-respect. When you feel badly about yourself and don’t believe you deserve better, it makes the denial about the reality of your abuser even stronger. Believing there is a better life for you and that you indeed deserve better is necessary to working through the denial. Even if the better life initially means simply living free of abuse.
Going No Contact, or Low Contact for those of you with shared minor children, is essential. You need time and emotional distance to begin taking care of yourself and to dispel the FOG (fear, obligation, guilt) created by the narcissist, borderline or psychopath. As you begin to see things more clearly, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay in denial.
What is the difference between bargaining and denial?
Bargaining is a slightly more nuanced form of denial. In the bargaining stage, you recognize there are problems, but delude yourself that they’re surmountable and resolvable. If you try harder, are more patient, more giving, more tolerant, less needy, less sensitive, more willing to overlook their craziness and abuse, find exactly the right way to explain yourself, etc., etc., things will get better and return to the early happier times (that weren’t real anyway). Oh, things might improve for a time if you make more concessions and sacrifices, flatter your narcissist and do what she or he wants without question or hesitation no matter how ill-advised or destructive their latest whim or harebrained scheme is, but it will revert back to misery and chaos. Just give it time.
Some targets loop around the narcissistic abuse cycle for their entire lives. Charlie Brown really wants to believe that Lucy won’t yank the football out from underneath him, but she will. Every single time. Some people have to learn the hard way and hit rock bottom first before they can admit the truth to themselves. Some people see the truth, but are too scared or too complacent to break free of their toxic relationship and alternate between resignation and convincing themselves it’s not that bad. Some people admit the hard truth to themselves and make different choices. It can be difficult, painful and scary at first, but there’s no other way to have love and peace in your life without doing so.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries.
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