Five Empowering Ways to Recover From Gaslighting

I’ve written about why gaslighting is the worst. Here’s just a snippet:

It’s horrifying when you realize that the person you love, you trust, has been slowly and intentionally lying and manipulating you. It’s like that nightmare you had when you were 5 where Santa Claus suddenly turned into a monster. Only this monster is real and you shared a bed with them

Of course, if you’ve lived it, you already know that.

So here are five things that you can do now to help you recover and to allow YOUR light to shine bright again!

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Why Do We Fall in Love With People That Are Bad For Us?

Have you ever fallen for someone that turned out to be bad for you? Who left you worse off than you were before? Who perhaps used you or abused you?

My hand is sure is sure raised.

And I know I’m not alone in this.

So why is it that we fall so easily for those who treat us badly? And what can we do to keep it from happening again? Learn more here.

There’s No Disappear Here (So When Will I Believe It?)

I had another…episode…a couple weeks ago. It was another convoluted mess of abandonment fears, distrust of my perceptions and feelings of not being enough.

In other words, the usual.

Not the usual as in that I usually feel that way. But the usual in that whenever I have a rough day, that’s always what it’s distilled to at the end. And I’ve learned that these rough days don’t usually occur in isolation; there’s a smattering of them over a period of weeks or months until the particular offending mental remnant is identified and hopefully neutralized.

I always end up feeling sorry for Brock in these exchanges. He ends up having to deal with the effects of my tsunami divorce – my lack of belief in words, my distrust of the security of a “good” marriage, my continual struggles with self-doubt and my conviction to never allow myself to be in that same position again.

The morning after (no emotional hangover this time!!!) this particular exchange, I found sticky notes with various declarations of love and affection around the house.

And then I saw this one. And I felt another layer of my old wounds close.

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It referenced a statement he made the previous night when I mentioned my continued difficulties with trusting my own perceptions and judgment.

There’s no disappear here.

Four words. Big meaning.

A promise to face problems rather than to run away.

A promise to refrain from stonewalling or retreating.

A promise to put effort into the relationship.

A promise to step up rather than step out.

Those words don’t expect perfection. They don’t deny that there will be challenges. They accept that we will have hard times and that we can overcome most anything if we both make the promise to show up and speak up.

And for some reason, even though Brock has expressed similar in words and actions for the duration of our relationship, this simple phrase resonated in a way that I could actually hear it.

And hopefully even start to believe it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Reasons Being Gaslighted Is the Worst

There’s a reason governments utilize psychological torture techniques on suspected terrorists.

It works.

It’s a way of controlling somebody discretely. Without obvious threats or harm. Simply by controlling their reality and steering their perceptions. Planting seeds of doubt and carefully nurturing them until a dependence upon the manipulator is created.

And you don’t have to be a prisoner suspected of treason to face this torture.

It can happen in your own home.

In your own marriage.

Only there, it’s not called torture (although maybe it should be).

It’s called gaslighting.

And here’s the top ten reasons why it’s the worst-

10 Your Protector Becomes Your Persecutor

It’s horrifying when you realize that the person you love, you trust, has been slowly and intentionally lying and manipulating you. It’s like that nightmare you had when you were 5 where Santa Claus suddenly turned into a monster. Only this monster is real and you shared a bed with them.

9 It’s Invisible While It’s Happening

The whole point of gaslighting is to control somebody and distract them from what is really going on. As a result, it’s very difficult to identify when you’re in it. Generally, all you recognize is a sense that something is off and perhaps a sense of generalized anxiety. In some ways I’m glad I never spent time in a “bad” marriage. But then again, it’s scary to only realize after the fact that I was in one.

8 Your Memories Are Tarnished

I have 16 years of good memories with my first husband. And at least part of that history is false. But I have no idea what parts. So it’s all damaged. Ugly water stains on beautiful wedding photos. Was any of it real? I’ll never know.

7 It Doesn’t End When the Relationship Does

Some of this is by design. Often the abuser defames your character to others, leaving you in the position of either trying to convince them of a new truth or cut them out. But even without the character assassination, gaslighting persists. It’s in you, an unwanted tattoo imprinted upon your doubting brain.

6 Impact Is Hard to Recognize Until It Builds

The flood of feelings that led to my emotional hangover the other day was building for some time. But I couldn’t see it. It becomes very difficult to separate the implanted thoughts from your own. And sometimes the false ones take the lead for a time.

5 It’s Difficult to Explain to Others

Because until you’ve been there, you don’t believe that somebody can really have that much influence over your thoughts. Like much abuse, gaslighting starts slowly, ramping up the distortions until your reality is altered. And when you try to explain it, you either get judged or dismissed.

4 Words Are Meaningless

When somebody does try to comfort you or convince you of something, you find that words have become meaningless. Because you’ve learned that words can be used to paint a picture of a fictional reality. And although we should always trust actions more than words, it’s hard to communicate when you immediately shrug off somebody’s utterances.

3 Over Analyzing Becomes Second Nature

Determined not be a victim of gaslighting again, you over analyze everything. It’s like being a detective 24-7, always looking for proof and validation. It looks like A to me. But is it really A? Or do I only think it is A because that’s what I was told for so long? And here’s the crazy part, some of what allowed you to be gaslighted is that you ignored your intuition. And now the excessive scrutiny can cause you to fail to observe your gut again.

2 It’s Difficult to Trust Others

Because the abuse was invisible while it was carried out, it’s hard to trust that others are not trying to do the same to you. It’s tempting to wall off, to refuse vulnerability. Trust becomes a daily intention and a huge leap of faith.

1 You Don’t Trust Yourself

And this is the worst. You don’t trust yourself to recognize if it’s happening again and you don’t trust your perceptions and conclusions. There’s a skepticism and a confusion woven into your very fabric. And you have to slowly tease it out. One little thread at a time.

 

Subtle Signs You’re Being Manipulated By a Covert Abuser

Covert abuse is sneaky.

It doesn’t leave a bruise on your cheek.

Or cut you down with scathing words.

Or even obviously isolate you from others.

Instead, it wisps in slowly through tiny cracks. Velvet-trimmed lies whispered into trusting ears. The smoke builds until you no longer remember what it is like to see clearly and your head is filled more with the thoughts of your abuser than with your own.

It’s often only possible to identify covert abuse once you have escaped its clutches (and even then, it usually takes a period of months or years to fully grasp what happened). It’s like a domestic form of Stockholm Syndrome, the persecutor masquerading as a protector.

The following are the subtle signs that were present in my ex husband. Small dots of data that when connected, paint a crimson flag of warning. If you see a preponderance of similar signs in your relationship, it warrants further investigation. If you recognize these traits in your former relationship, it can give you some information that can aid in the healing process.

These signs are subtle and can have many causes and manifestations. Just because someone fits these descriptors, it does not mean they are covert abusers or narcissists. But it does mean that you should look twice. Especially before you leap into marriage with them.

He came from a troubled family. Both parents were alcoholics and neither established a warm and secure relationship with him. He learned how to lie and play pretend from the beginning.

He got a thrill when he got away with something. He claimed to know a particular software program to secure a job and then worked around the clock to teach it to himself before he started working for them. He learned that he was clever and that he could fool others.

He never voiced displeasure. I rarely ever heard him raise his voice or disagree. I thought we just happened to get along really well and have similar views on everything. He learned how to not rock the boat so that he could sail smooth waters.

He always wanted to be the good guy. He wasn’t flashy and he didn’t want to be the center of attention. But he wanted to be liked. And he bought favors with paying the check at dinner or building something for somebody else. He learned that if he did something for other people, they wouldn’t look at him too closely.

He had serial relationships. With the exception of our marriage, he would have friends for a period of years before he moved on to new ones. He even removed his parents from his life for a time. He learned that when people see too much, it’s safer and easier to cut them off.

He was very affectionate. And the more upset I was, the more affectionate he became. I thought I was lucky (especially because I did not like touch until he taught me to soften to it). He learned that if he held me, my anxiety would lessen and that I would associate him with loving and trusting attentions.

He was a storyteller. In high school, his favorite class was creative writing. In adulthood, he traded in the pen for the voice and enjoyed telling about the day’s events in story form. He learned how to blend plausible fiction in with reality.

He used undeniable excuses. The reasons offered up for anything were airtight, frequently backed by physical evidence. He learned that by crafting an impossible-to-disprove lie, he was safe from unwanted questioning and examination.

He corralled others. He never demonstrated overt control, never told me what I could or couldn’t do or who I could see. Instead, he would influence me to take certain actions, like when he booked a cabin for my mom and I when he wanted me out of my hair or encouraged me to see my dad on the trip where he sent the “I’m gone” text. He learned that manipulation could be subtle and still effective, especially when used on a trusting wife.

In the final years of the marriage, I had an uneasy energy running through me. I passed it off on a very difficult period at work and my concern for my husband’s career and health.  It’s only upon years of distance and hours of reflection that I’ve been able to partially assemble the pieces aided by the additional information that came out once he left.

Recovering from covert abuse is not easy. Especially because the signs are so subtle and are often not recognized or validated.

It’s not easy. And it’s also not impossible.

Here’s how I did it.

And if you’re in the divorce process with a manipulator, here are some tips on how to survive.

9 Reasons You’re Struggling to Find Love Again

“I’m never going to find anybody else.”

“I’m doomed to die an old cat lady.”

“Nobody else is ever going to love me like he/she did.”

“My ex was the one. And now he/she is gone and I’m alone.”

I hear it all the time. Variations on a theme. A composition of loneliness and longing that often settles into bitterness and resolve.

After divorce or a break up, most people enter a phase of chosen singlehood. It is a period to regain sanity, re-establish self and start the steps into a new life. If kids are in the picture, this swearing-off of partnership may last until the children are grown and gone.

Yet at some point, most people decide (or, even if it is not a conscious choice, start to respond to a pull towards) to enter a new relationship. To entertain the thought of dating and be open to the idea of love.

Some people are happy and fulfilled single and make a thoughtful decision to stay solo. This is not for them.

This is for those that want love but cannot seem to find it.

bank-835964_1280Those who sign up for online dating and never seem to get past the first coffee date. Those who think they found somebody only for the nascent relationship to spectacularly explode before its first anniversary. Those who only seem to attract the broken or seem to always end up with the sh*tty people. Those that are tired of watching everybody else pair off while they’re afraid they will never again be picked.

If you want love,

you want a partner

but you feel like giving up,

This is for you.

You’re Scared of Being Vulnerable

padlock-597495_1280Relationships are hard. Damned hard. And anyone who tells you differently is selling something. After experiencing the anguish at the end of a relationship, it is so tempting (and so easy) to keep others at an arm’s distance. But that never works; love is all or none. If you have walls built around your heart (even if you didn’t intentionally construct them), you are keeping love away.

In order to love, you have to be willing to accept the very real risk of loss of love. Personally, I think trade-off is well worth it (even when I’m feeling overly vulnerable), but you will have to decide for yourself if and when it’s worth it in your own life.

You’re Looking to Fill Your Ex’s Shoes

feet-768633_1280When something or someone slides into our pasts, it can be easy to look back with rose-tinted glasses. Smoothing over the rough spots and settling on the good. Additionally, when we are with someone for a period of time, we grow accustomed to their particular strengths and can easily take them for granted and assume they are universal traits.

This can combine to creating an ex-shaped hole in your life that you are looking to fill exactly by seeking a doppelgänger. Perhaps you might find someone that seems to fit the gap, but then you discover some characteristic that causes discord in your assumptions. Or, you find that potential partners sense that they are replacements and they leave in search of somebody who wants them as they are.

A new relationship will never be the same as your former one. It will be different. And be open to the idea that different can be better. It means that you will have to accept the lack of some things you used to take for granted and it means you will be surprised by new benefits you didn’t have before.

And most importantly, it means that you have to take responsibility for filling that ex-shaped hole before you go looking for love. Be a partner to love. Not a cavity to fill.

You’re Seeking Perfection

trees-340950_1280Sometimes when a relationship ends, we assign its failure to its imperfection. And so we seek the ideal. The guaranteed. This time, we want the real thing. The soul mate and the fairy tale. Because if we can just find the perfect person, it will all work out.

And there is truth in some of that. At its most basic, your marriage did fail because of imperfection. Not just with the situation. And not just with your spouse. But also with you. Because nothing and no one is flawless and faultless.

Real love, lasting love, doesn’t begin with perfection. It begins with the acceptance (and open discussion) of imperfection. Perfection assumes you say, “I do” and then you’re done. You just sit back for the ride. Acceptance of the idea that we are all always learning creates the foundation for a growth mindset marriage. Not perfect, but fulfilling.

Your Actions Don’t Align With Your Intentions

arrow-838404_1280It’s easy to say you want love. It’s easy to complain about the quality of the people on dating sites or the lack of options in your environment. Words take little energy. Wishes even less.

Love doesn’t come to the lazy. Especially love after loss.

If you want a relationship, ensure that your actions match your intentions. Get out and meet people. Lead with curiosity rather than judgement. Say “yes” to experiences and opportunities.

If you want a relationship, don’t act like you’re on the prowl. Act with integrity. Be trustworthy. Show that you can be committed. Don’t claim you want stability while you’re refusing to stand still. And most importantly, be the person you hope to attract.

You Are Sending Out Warning Signals

danger-712059_1280We are often unaware at the subtle signals that we are constantly receiving from others and sending out to those around us. And even those these signals are often subtle and below conscious awareness, they are powerful.

Do you keep attracting broken people that seem to need fixing or parenting? Perhaps you’re unwittingly sending out the message that you need to be needed in order to feel okay about yourself.

Do you keep attracting control-freaks that at first want to “save” you only to later try to dictate your life? Maybe your damsel-in-distress call has been heard by someone that needs to feel powerful.

Do you continually have people abandon you? Is it possible that you come across as too clingy, your intense neediness inadvertently pushing others away?

It’s hard to see these signals head-on; it’s often easier to spot them in the patterns of our relationships. If you always seem to end up in the same position, look to your own insecurities to learn why.

You’re Looking For Too Much Too Soon

relationship-863443_1280When you’ve been married or in a long-term relationship, you acclimate to the intimacy of a well-known person. You become comfortable. Safe. And it’s easy to except to find that same feeling again.

But that’s impossible.

Because relationships are formed, not found.

It takes time and effort to develop a partnership. Instead of looking for insta-intimacy (which is usually just lust and/or desperation), look for someone that has the raw materials that you want that you believe you can build a relationship with.

You’re Still Anchored to the Past

chain-544513_1280It’s easy to be so done with the past that you try to move on too soon. There is a reason that the saying, “The best way to get over a man is to get under another” exists. There is nothing wrong with post-divorce flings, but don’t confuse them with love.

When you’re still enmeshed in your past, either situationally or emotionally, you are not creating the space or providing the nourishment for a new relationship.

Maybe you just need time. Or maybe you need some help.

But you have to let go before you can move on.

You Are Not Happy With Yourself

statue-873818_1280This is especially common with people who have been subjected to abuse, abandonment or infidelity. It is so easy to internalize your partner’s actions. To take them personally. To assume that unloving actions and words were directed at you because you are somehow flawed. Unlovable.

And when you believe that, others will begin to believe it as well.

Finding love with and for another has to begin with finding love for yourself. With forgiving your own mistakes and seeing your own beauty.

And the first step is realizing that when somebody treats you poorly, they are telling you more about their character than about your worth.

You Tell Yourself, “I’m Never Going to Find Love Again”

loss-765774_1280When you prime the pump for failure, don’t be surprised when you fail. Yes, learning to be open and vulnerable again is hard. Yes, finding somebody that meets your needs and puts up with your flaws is hard. Yes, relationships are harder when we are older have have more complications in our lives. And yes, getting a relationship past the early dates and into love is hard.

And hard doesn’t mean impossible.

Never say never.

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Guest Post – Divorcing a Narcissist Is Tough

I’m often grateful that I didn’t have children on my slog through the family courts. My experience was horrific, but at the end of the day, there were some battles I could elect not to find. At some point, I could choose to walk away. After all, it was simply money on the table.

But when you’re a parent and it’s your kids on that proverbial table? You can’t simply choose to lay down your sword and cut your losses. You have to fight. Even when your opponent fights dirty.

Here is Jen Adler’s story about her experience with a malignant divorce and an inept system:

Divorcing a Narcissist Is Tough

I read an article today – about divorcing a narcissist. It gave an accurate, if sterile account of what it is to divorce a narcissist. A friend sent me a link to the article. She’s read my blog about the after-effects of divorcing a narcissist but being bound by children of the marriage. She wanted to show me I’m not the only one who understands and acknowledges the issue. It’s mainstream now.

I know.

It didn’t leave me feeling validated. Or comforted. Or even grateful for the exposure to a problem that has gutted my life. It left me pissed off.

The article – detailing a book by Karyl McBride called Will I Ever Be Free of You – talks about a problem I know intimately well. The article uses phrases like,

It’s tough to divorce a narcissist.

Children are terribly harmed.

Family courts are playgrounds for narcissists.

All of which are true, but none of which anyone who has not divorced a narcissist can understand in any meaningful way. It’s like saying,

Cancer kills lots of people. It’s sad. In other news, the Reds beat the Pirates last night.

If you’re reading this right now, and YOU haven’t lived through a narcissist, then you can’t understand why I’m angry. Let me tell you what divorcing a narcissist really looks like.

The Family Picture Post Narc Divorce

My husband and I both divorced narcissists. We make nearly $200,000 a year in combined income yet live paycheck to paycheck. Before you ask, we have no credit card debt. We live in a small house we rent from my parents after losing our home to foreclosure in 2012. When divorcing a narcissist, sometimes one has to choose between having legal representation to defend one’s right to be a parent versus paying a mortgage. We pay $3000 a month in child support and lawyer fees.

We owe our lawyer over $100,000. We’ve paid her more than $60,000 already. This is all for POST-DECREE work. This is not what it cost to divorce our narcs.

We have no retirement accounts, no savings accounts, no safety net. Everything has been cashed out in order to continue fighting to protect our kids from their narc parents – and to protect our right to be involved in our children’s lives.

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This is who we are. Financially at least. And I have to tell you, neither my husband nor I complain about our financial situation. We joyfully give up everything we have to protect our family. And if the money we dole out monthly, if the retirement accounts we’ve completely depleted, if ANY of the money we spend actually made a difference in the lives of our children or our right to be parents? Neither of us would complain. But the sad truth is, it makes no difference at all. Why?

Family Courts are Stupid

Family courts don’t protect families. Family courts protect parent’s rights. And they don’t even do that very well. Here are some fun facts about our experience in family court.

My husband was ordered to pay for private schools for his children, even though his ex-wife removed the children from private schools and enrolled them in a public school THAT DOESN’T CHARGE TUITION. Yes. You read that right. We’re paying tuition to his ex-wife for kids who go to public schools. And this was one of the better rulings we got from family court…

For the last six years, I have been trying to get therapeutic support for my son. His father argues there is nothing wrong with his son. He brings in teachers and neighbors and distant relatives to back him up. In fact, father posits the only reason I want therapy for my son is because I WANT there to be something wrong with him so I can get attention. In fighting for this, I lost custody of my son, lost the right to be involved in any medical appointments/decisions regarding my son. And yet, the court never once had my son evaluated by an outside psychologist. When I had him evaluated, the court threw out the testimony of the psychologist – because dad had not agreed to have him evaluated, and because the court did not order it.

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I was once found in contempt of court for removing my son from the daycare he attended prior to going to kindergarten. I received an email from his father stating the date his father would be taking him out of that same daycare. When I then emailed back indicating I would do the same, I was served with papers of contempt and found guilty of removing him from the daycare the court had ordered he attend. His father also removed him from the same daycare on the same day.

Don’t try to understand, it isn’t supposed to make sense.

I was found in contempt of court for moving (after losing our home to foreclosure) because a restraining order had been filed to stop me. The restraining order was served to me one week after we moved. I was found guilty.

Yeah, that’s awful, but what’s the other side of the story?

There’s no such thing as a happy divorce. There’s fighting and bitterness, name calling and ugliness in most every divorce. So how is one to know the difference between a “normal” divorce and one with a narcissist?

This is the basis upon which the general public, divorce attorneys, guardian ad-litems, parenting coordinators, magistrates, and judges use to justify their dismissal of anyone who tries to shine light upon the problems arising from divorcing narcissists. These are just normal parts of divorce.

I’m a mild mannered mother who has never spanked my children and relocate the bugs in my house because I can’t bring myself to kill them. But I will punch the next court representative who tells me

If the parents could just get along, then the child wouldn’t be having these problems.

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There is no other side of the story in divorcing a narcissist. That’s the point. It just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because,

  • No divorce should cost upwards of $160,000.
  • Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t require two people for a fight. One person can make it happen just fine, and narcissists LOVE to fight.
  • Looking at individual issues makes it seem as if the narc could actually be reasonable. After all, why can’t mom just agree for her son to go to school in his father’s school district? Why can’t mom just agree to allow dad to sign up the child for activities five days a week? Why can’t mother just agree for dad to have full custody so that there doesn’t have to be fighting between the two parties? Why can’t mom just not have access to school records so that school officials don’t have to feel uncomfortable dealing with two parents in a contentious divorce? Why can’t mom?????

This is why I’m mad

I’m not angry because all of this happened in my life. I don’t even resent the narcissist who still plagues us ten years after the divorce. I’m not angry we’ve lost our life savings, I’m not angry we live paycheck to paycheck, I’m not angry our narcs drive Audi’s and Hummers, belong to country clubs and live in $500,000+ homes. That’s the easy part of divorcing a narc. Know what’s hard?

Stupid. Family. Courts.

A narc behaves as a narc will behave. I hold no grudges against the mentally ill. However, family courts? If a problem makes the New York Times, I’d say that’s fairly mainstream. So why, after years and years and years of a problem that is coming to light, that fills up family court dockets, that debilitates families and children, WHY IS FAMILY COURT THE ONLY PLACE PRETENDING DIVORCING NARCS AREN’T A PROBLEM?

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Forgive me this rant. This unnatural anger. I admit it’s good the problem warrants coverage in books and certainly in a publication like the New York Times. But lets not sugar coat things with phrases like, “divorcing a narc is tough”. Divorcing a narc is not tough, it is a blood sacrifice of one’s self and children to the mercy of a court system that wants to do what is easy and what fits into their “normal” divorce model. It drives families to bankruptcy and foreclosure. It leaves children with scars which will haunt them throughout their lives. It is a problem that no one wants to deal with and for which no one has a solution. 

More About the Author

jen

Hi. I’m not Jen Adler, and this isn’t actually a picture of me. I am the writer of a blog written anonymously in an attempt to keep it out of the sites of the narcissist who stalks my life. I write about surviving a relationship with a narcissist so that people can understand the devastation wrought by those with this disease. I highlight the ways family courts empower narcissists to continue abusing their targets and their children. I write about it so people will understand and support the legal changes that badly need to happen in order to protect victims of narcissists.

Read more from not-Jen at Peace In – Chaos Out

I know this is a topic and a cause that many of us can relate with.

The Science Of Forgiveness

Why is forgiveness so hard?

Is it that our pain screams to be heard and validated?

Is it because we feel entitled to an apology and reparations for any wrongdoing?

Is it coming from a belief that any attack was targeted and any forgiveness is simply showing weakness?

Is it based on a conviction that forgiveness is only owed to those that deserve it?

No matter the reason to withhold forgiveness, there is no debating the fact that finding forgiveness is hard.

Damn hard.

Perhaps the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

And perhaps one of the most important.

I read this synopsis of some studies today that explain the link between forgiveness and physical health. It turns out that holding onto anger and victimhood literally makes you sick.

That seems like as good of a reason as any to work to achieve forgiveness.

The piece above discusses many of the same strategies I talk about: depersonalizing, reframing and seeing the person who harmed you with compassion.

I worry sometimes about the uptick in people characterizing their exes as narcissists. Yes, there are people in this world that are all-bad and have no qualities that are relatable or redeemable. But those people are very few and far between.

Most of our exes, although they may be assholes of the highest caliber, are not monsters. And I worry when they are characterized as such because it often leaves the labeler holding the anger.

And, as discussed in the attached study, the sickness.

Don’t forgive because they deserve it.

Forgive because you do.

Related:

What Forgiveness Is (And What It Is Not)

How to Deal With Sh*tty People

They’re out there.

The sh*tty people.

Those that pull others down. Act without regard for others. Use and abuse those around them.

They come in almost endless varieties, from the loud insults of the overt jerks to the subtle undermining of the covert abusers. But regardless of their particular guise and preferred delivery, sh*tty people have one trait in common – wherever they go, they spread negativity, leaving the world worse for having encountered them.

At some point, you’re going to meet one. Or maybe even marry one.

And it’s good to know how to deal.

And how not to become one yourself.

Call The Behavior Out

When someone is acting sh*tty, tell them.

For those of us that are conflict-averse, it can be all too easy to bite the tongue and hold it all back in the interest of keeping the peace. When it comes to sh*tty people (as opposed to good people simply having a sh*tty day), keeping your mouth shut is a tacit sign of approval. And if you hold it in too long, you’re only going to allow your own internal pressure to build.

Be clear. Be specific. And be safe. Sh*tty people can react strongly when called out.

Clarify, If Needed

Explain why the behavior is not acceptable. Define the boundaries. Provide examples if asked.

Learn how boundaries and compassion can work together.

Limit Repetition

They’ve heard you. You’ve clarified until they understand you. And yet the behaviors continue. That means one of two things:

They know that they are acting sh*tty. They feel badly. And they are struggling with changing.

Or, they know they are acting sh*tty and they don’t care.

In either case, what good can come from continually berating them for their behavior?

Stuck in a Bad Marriage? These Are Your Three Choices

Wear a Raincoat or Get Out of the Storm

Do you have to allow this person in your life? If they are continually acting sh*tty without regard for others, sometimes it is best to walk away.

If this person is somebody you have to deal with, figure out how to shield yourself from their assaults. Perhaps you keep your distance or limit the interactions. Don’t worry about being nice in this case, worry about making sure you’re okay.IMG_5937

Don’t Track the Dirt

Just because you’re surrounded by sh*t, doesn’t mean you have to step in it.  Don’t allow yourself to become a vector for negative transmission. Make sure you maintain perspective and don’t allow the sh*tty person to convince you that you are worthless or defective. Counteract the negative influence with positivity wherever you can.

Dealing With the Entitled Ones

Dealing with sh*tty people is never easy. It is never fun. It forces us to take a stand and push back or take a step back and let go. And even though it is an experience that nobody ever wishes to have, it can lead to amazing personal growth as you become stronger and wiser.

After all, isn’t compost really just sh*t?

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Why I Refuse to Call My Ex Husband a Narcissist

If anyone has the right to call her ex a narcissist, it’s me. While on the surface, he was a giving and caring man everyone loved, the man behind the curtain was another story entirely. He crafted false financial documents and insurance forms to support his lies as he bled our accounts dry. He wooed women, eventually wedding one without attending to the detail of obtaining a divorce from me first. He neglected the requirements of the criminal court system, earning a felony warrant. Even the judge in the divorce case asked my ex’s attorney if his client was “psycho.”

And maybe he is. Not a psycho necessarily, but a narcissist.

But, despite all of the evidence, I intentionally choose to not label my ex as a narcissist.

It seems like “narcissist ex” is the gluten-free of the relationship world – all of a sudden, it’s everywhere. But is it really that pervasive or are we just using the label too recklessly?

Just over 6% of the population has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) based upon the criteria set forth in the DSM-5: seeking approval from others, viewing oneself as exceptional, blaming setbacks on others, inability to identify with others’ needs and/or feelings and superficial relationships based upon manipulation.

Even though my former husband’s actions seem to check every box, I am bucking the “my ex is a narcissist” trend. Here’s why:

 

If He’s the “Attacker,” Then I’m the Victim

This was certainly my mindset early on – I viewed him as some Machiavellian perpetrator, deviously plotting ways to hurt me from his basement lair, cleverly disguised as an innocent office. In some ways, it was a comforting mindset as it pardoned me from any culpability. But it was also limiting.

Because if I was a victim, I was powerless.

In order to claim responsibility for my own well-being and create a sense of possibility for the future, I disarmed his memory. He’s no longer my attacker; he’s just the man I used to love who traveled down a dark path.

Preservation of Memory

By the time he sent the text that ended the marriage, my ex and I had spent sixteen years together. It was a lot to lose. If I accepted the proposal offered forth by many who dealt with him in the months to come that he was, in fact, a narcissist, it essentially would discount the thousands of positive memories I had of our time together.

From what I knew, we did have a good marriage with so many happy memories. I decided that those moments were real enough to me at the time and I chose to allow them to remain (as much as possible) unsullied by the idea that they were all orchestrated for some great plot.

It Ignores the Unknowns

 

Even the DSM-5 offers the disclaimer that a personality disorder cannot be diagnosed in the presence of addiction or physical illness, as both can mimic the mental condition. My ex admitted to a drinking problem after he left and he was suffering from some pretty substantial medical complaints for the last year or so of the marriage.

It is impossible for anyone, especially a layperson, to diagnose someone with a personality disorder without all of the information (much less the presence of the actual individual in question). Just because a person exhibits certain behaviors does mean that they automatically deserve a diagnosis.

We Are All More Than a Label

 

Calling someone a narcissist is reductionistic; it distills them down into a list of traits and ignores the complete person. Yes, my ex-husband lied, cheated and stole. But he also showed me (and others) great kindness and tenderness. He was the man that cried at our wedding and nursed our dogs back to health.

By not assigning him a label, I am able to remember the whole man – from loving husband to cruel persecutor and everything in between.

Peace is More Important Than a Reason

In the beginning, I struggled to understand why my husband acted that way and how he could be so cold and calculating. I assumed that once I had a reason, I would be able to move on. I tested out many possible labels (narcissist among them), but none managed to make the pain okay.

Finally, I decided to view him as lost. Hurting. Desperate and in pain. And with that shift, I found compassion, which led to being able to release the anger that held me back. So rather than see him as the evil antagonist in some twisted plot, I try to see him as human. Imperfect rather than malevolent. Not for his benefit, but for mine.

Labels, such as narcissist, have their place in public discourse. They help to provide a framework for understanding and a shared language to discuss important issues. It’s shorthand for a list of common experiences and emotions. I know when I read posts from people that use the term “narcissistic ex,” I will relate to stories of manipulation, gas lighting and projection. I can expect to see similarities between their stories and mine. In fact, I found books about narcissists and sociopaths helpful during the healing journey to provide information and perspective that helped me make sense of my own situation.

Labels are like Cliff Notes. We use them as shortcuts as we develop our own understanding or to help someone else develop theirs. Just like Cliff Notes, they are not the entire story, full of detail and nuance. If we stop at labels, we are limiting ourselves and others. We may be blinded by assumptions as we fill in the gaps in our knowledge automatically.

So your ex may be a narcissist, but that’s not the entire story. Don’t let the label limit you; it’s just the beginning.