Since the very first time I came across the terms Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Narcissistic abuse, I have spent a great deal of time doing research on these topics. I strongly believe that knowledge is power and I have found that understanding exactly what was going on in my marriage has been the key to healing.
Early on, I struggled a lot with the question “Why Me???” I felt like there must be something wrong with me, something broken inside of me, some glaring target on my forehead that only the psychologically compromised could see. I spent so many years believing the Narcissist’s lies about me and internalizing all of the problems into my own personal problems… so naturally that would be my first instinct in explaining how I ended up in a relationship with a narcissist.
What I have learned along the way is that Narcissists a predisposed to target emotionally intelligent and empathetic people.
What is Emotional Intelligence? It is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It includes three main skills: Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others, the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving, the ability to manage emotions including the ability to regulate your own emotions and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.
What is an empathetic person or “Empath”? An empath is a person who is sensitive and intuitive to others emotions. Because empaths are open to the feelings of others, they often experience these good and bad feelings on a personal level and can be overwhelmed. Empaths have big hearts, are nurturers, and are often accused of needing to “toughen up” or giving their heart and their love too easily.
I’ve always been both of these things to some extent. I have always had an extremely good intuition and ‘gut-feeling’ on people. I have always been able to read a room and present myself in a way that best fit the situation. I was the little girl who would blend into a room full of adults and would often get kicked out only when I chimed into the conversation and someone realized that I probably should be out playing with the other kids. I was the girl in high school who blended in with several groups and cliques seamlessly… I was a cheerleader, I was in AP English, I spent time with the stoners, and I was a girl scout. I am still the adult who can sit in a restaurant and people watch… and I notice things that no one else seems to be aware of. “Hey did you see that?? That girl is pissed at her boyfriend because he was checking out the waitress!”
Narcissists also tend to target people who are easy going personalities, people who are not particularly convicted in their routines, thoughts, morals… people who are not “set in their ways” ….people who are open-minded… people who appear to a narcissist as someone who could be molded and shaped.
This was also me to a T before I met the Narcissist… I generally avoided confrontation so it was unusual that I would even speak up about something that was wrong. Whether I was mistreated by a friend or my food was cooked wrong at a restaurant… I usually just kept it to myself. I didn’t like to make a big fuss out of things, I was never known to be dramatic about things, I was typically very easy going, not a control freak, and up for whatever adventures came my way.
Finally, narcissists also like to have “the best toy,” they like to have something that feels like it makes them more special and reflects on their own looks, abilities, achievements. This can come in a variety of forms… it could be a particularly attractive person, a smart person, a person who was married and left their spouse to be with the narcissist, a person who is wealthy, physically fit, a person who is a virgin… it really all depends on what the narcissist holds dear, but they generally want to feel like they have something that no one else could have.
When I first met the Narcissist I can still remember him being particularly impressed with my schooling and my job. He had married his high-school sweetheart and she never went to college and she worked as a teller at the bank on base. He really latched onto the fact that I had 2 college degrees and that I had a job that he was apparently impressed with. I remember he asked for a few of my business cards early on because he was impressed to be dating a girl with business cards. Things shifted over the years, and while he still continually bragged about my degrees and how smart I was, he also began to mold me into a fitness freak and a sex-kitten…. he definitely liked to parade me around and show me off.
Interestingly enough, over the years the Narcissist also wound up giving me so much grief over my emotional intelligence and empathy, and one of the very traits that attracted him to me to begin with became something that he constantly bullied me about. The Narcissist looked at my empathy as a weakness and he constantly ridiculed me for the feelings that I had around various interactions and situations. If he wanted me to cut off my family and this made me feel horrible or I tried to explain my sense of responsibility and loyalty to my family he accused me of being weak and pathetic. When I could adapt and fit into a situation the Narcissist would call me “a chameleon” and accuse me of not standing for anything. He called me this so many times it still makes my skin crawl to think about it. He would tell me that I was a nobody, I didn’t stand for anything, and that because of that he could never trust me. He expected me to be convicted in my beliefs to an almost offensive point.
One of the best examples of this that I can think of is that he had a very rigid eating style which included no dairy, no gluten, very minimal carbs, no alcohol, etc. We once got into an argument because I wanted to invite family over to the house for Thanksgiving and he expected me to only serve things that fit into this category. When I explained to him that I wanted to be a good hostess and serve people the food and drinks that they want to eat, he told me that I was being a chameleon and that if people wanted to come to our house, they should eat the way that we eat… and doing anything else would be weak and pathetic. He even said that I would need to instruct people to only bring things that fit into that category and that if anyone showed up with beer he would not let it into the house! It makes me laugh now to think of inviting friends and family over to sit around and eat fake cheese on gluten free crackers and drink water… but its exactly the type of freaking crazy I was dealing with.
So, back to my “knowledge is power” statement from before. As a result of doing my research and looking into everything I can find about Narcissism and NPD and emotional abuse and everything in between… I no longer feel like something was wrong with me to attract the Narcissist. I can see that I had a lot of great characteristics that were the things that attracted him to me to begin with, and that I was never the problem.
The problem was that that the Narcissist used these things against me in a manipulative and abusive way. He used the empathy that I showed him over and over and over again as a way to physically abuse me knowing that when he said “sorry” I would forgive him. He used my emotional intelligence because he knew that no matter how badly he treated me and how miserable I was, I could put on a good-face and convince a room that I was happy and in love. He also used my emotional intelligence as a way to abuse me… because I could literally feel him when he would walk into a room. If he was angry my hairs would stand on end… if he was happy I was happy… if he was sad I was sad. Finally, he took my accomplishments and my success and used them as proof of how successful he was, even though he didn’t earn a drop of it.
This understanding has been a big part of my healing…. understanding the how and the why… and taking back the things about myself that are good and pure and awesome and being proud of them again. I’ve been removing those shards of glass from the Narcissist that say “Weak” “Pathetic” “Chameleon” “Nobody” and I have been replacing them with love for myself and love for all of my amazing qualities. ❤