How the Covert Narcissist Plays Rejection, Abandonment, and Abuse
My marriage lasted almost 21 years. For most of these years, I convinced myself and the world that I had the perfect marriage. We were simply great together. There was no other option available. The mind is powerful and can do amazing things. I truly believed that it was a match made in heaven and that he was perfect for me.
Sure he spoke harsh from time to time, but everyone is allowed a bad day here and there. He treated others with coldness and meanness, but not me. He was distant from others, but not from me. There always seemed to be a reason for his sharpness, so it was okay. Besides we had some really good days in between these outbursts. So I swept it under the rug every time and continued to believe that our marriage was great and wonderful.
Ever so slowly, my eyes started opening. The pressure deep in my own heart started pushing through into my awareness. Tiny cracks in my thinking allowed for tiny glimpses of truth to seep in. Questions started to form in my mind. Why is he talking to me this way? Why do I feel so beaten down and anxious? Why are our boys afraid of talking to him? Is all this normal? Is this my imagination? Thus started an unbelievable journey of discovery.
I still remember so well the first day I heard the word narcissism. I was in complete disagreement, disbelief, and denial. I still believed that I could fix all this and that much of it was my fault anyways. Now, years later, I have a much greater understanding. There is so much I didn’t see and didn’t understand at the time. Even now, layers of it are still becoming more clear.
Though I didn’t know it, I was trapped in a situation of rejection, abandonment and abuse. I didn’t see it because it wasn’t the standard scenarios that often go with these words. With covert narcissists, the mistreatment and abuse are so masterfully hidden that it takes years to see, if one sees it at all. This isn’t the aggressive rejection of yelling “I hate you” or kicking you out of the house. This isn’t the obvious abandonment of running off with another woman or disappearing for days and weeks. This isn’t the apparent abuse of physical beatings and rages full of swear words and threats.
This type of rejection, abandonment, and abuse is completely hidden. My situation was so expertly covered, and I fell for it completely! Let me paint the picture for you.
He told me all the time that I was too good for him. He told me that he loved me so much and that he wanted me to be happy. And yet he often spoke so sharply and harshly in day-to-day living! He shut down conversations with aggressive abruptness. He gave such short and sharp answers that conversation was often completely impossible. For years, I never felt safe in normal conversations with him. I felt guarded and on high alert. He continuously created an environment that was emotionally unsafe.
I remember one summer day that I was out all day with our boys while he was at work. We returned home before him. When he came home from work, I was happy to tell him how our day had been. After all, he had been complaining lately that I don’t talk with him enough and make him feel like part of the family. So when he sat down on the couch, I sat with him and began telling him about our day. He pulled out his phone and started playing a game. I was beginning to tell him a funny story about something his oldest son had done that day. I was only a couple of sentences into the story. While I was in mid-sentence, he sharply yelled, “OKAY!” at me. So I stopped and walked away, feeling completely rejected. I did not say another word about our day, and he never said a word about that interaction.
I left many of our conversations feeling extremely rejected. He would often cut me off, clearly not wanting to hear what I was saying. Other times, he would nod emphatically, with this air about him that says, “I already know this, so why are you wasting my time?” He would even interrupt me to strongly say, “I know,” or “I get it.” It always felt like a crime to talk with him about something he already knew. And since he always came across as already knowing everything, he never made me feel welcome talking to him. This was happening on a daily basis. When you are rejected in this way so regularly, you feel completely rejected in the relationship. This is not how you build a healthy marriage.
I would never have said that abandonment was a concern for me. I never felt like he was going to run away with another woman. I knew that he would always be home in the evenings and on the weekends. But then I realized that there was a different type of abandonment going on.
In my marriage, abandonment came within the home itself. He completely isolated himself constantly. He lost himself in video games and movies for hours on end. This was every evening after work, every weekend, every holiday, every vacation, no matter where we were or who we were with. This happened whether we were alone just the two of us or at social events with our friends and family. It didn’t matter whether we were on the Oregon Coast visiting his own mother, having Christmas activities with my family, or in Paris on a family vacation. This was on the beach, in the hotel rooms, in the restaurants, and even on a beautiful dinner cruise in downtown Paris on the Seine River. He disengaged from our lives. He checked out completely again and again and again!
At the age of 15, our oldest son spent three weeks in France. When we picked him up at the airport, we learned that his luggage missed the flight. We had to wait one hour for it to arrive. So we found a quiet corner where we could sit and chat. I was so eager to hear all about his trip, and he was eager to tell us. Within the first five minutes of our son telling us about his excursions, my husband got up, pulled out his phone, and walked away. We didn’t see him for the next 45 minutes. No explanation, no interaction, just abandonment. To this day, he has still never heard about all the exciting things our son did on that trip. This is rejection and abandonment and happened so many times throughout the years.
Now, I have painted a brief picture of what our marriage was like. I could give you so many examples of the rejection and abandonment that my boys and I experienced. Early in our marriage, it only happened occasionally. As the years went by though, it became a daily part of our lives.
Now add on top of this one huge element! He repeatedly told me that EVERYTHING was always my fault!! It was my fault that we didn’t communicate well. It was my fault that we were distant and struggling. It was my fault that I was anxious and upset. It was my fault that he didn’t have a relationship with me. It was my fault that he didn’t have a relationship with our boys. It was my fault that he went into hiding and checked out. It was my fault that he was unable to communicate well. It was my fault that he didn’t feel respected or loved. It was ALL my fault, and ALL my job to fix.
He continuously made me feel guilty and responsible. For many years, I fell for this. I thought it was all my fault. I remember one day when I was eating lunch with a friend. I opened up to her about how I was feeling in the marriage. I told her about the excessive gaming that my husband was doing and how frustrated I was about it. I remember saying to her, “Now, I know that it is my fault that he games so much….” She immediately interrupted me, “Wait a minute! How in the world is this your fault?” She was genuinely shocked at my statement. I responded, “Well, I don’t know. I must not have fussed at him hard enough. I should have pitched a bigger fit about it.” She laughed in disbelief, “Do you hear what you are saying? He’s a grown man. His choices are not your fault!”
At the time, I certainly did not realize the absurdity here. I did not see how messed up my own thinking had become. I actually did think that his addiction to gaming was my fault and that I should have been able to stop it. I believed this even though I had tried for years to get him off his games. He completely shut me down every time. Yet somehow, I still managed to believe that it was my fault.
Another example is that I thought for years that it was my job to make sure he had a good relationship with his boys. I used to wear my brain out trying to come up with things he could do with them. Then when I did come up with ideas, he brought so much negativity into the activity that it was a disaster. So now I also had to figure out how to keep him from being so negative while he was with them. I had become convinced that this was my duty and responsibility. But it was impossible! So as his relationship with our boys deteriorated, I felt more and more like a failure.
Refuse the Craziness!
He made everything impossible, and yet expected me to fix it all. Then when I couldn’t do it, he blamed me for everything! This is absolutely psychological abuse and will drive you to insanity!
HE made conversations so incredibly difficult and told me it was all my fault that we didn’t talk.
HE created fear in everyone and blamed me that he couldn’t communicate with anyone.
HE checked out of the lives of his boys and told me that I destroyed his relationship with them.
HE did not engage in our world and blamed me for the distance.
HE isolated himself and blamed me that he had no friends.
HE chose his own actions and yet made me feel guilty for them.
Now that I see it with open eyes, I can finally let go of all the guilt and blame. It was NOT my fault! I did not choose for him to be sharp and cold. I did not choose for him to shut down conversations. I did not choose for him to create environments where no one felt emotionally safe. I did not choose for him to check out and hide in his games and movies. I did not choose for him to abandon his family. These were his choices!!
But now, I did choose to walk away! I will not accept the blame anymore for an environment that he creates. I choose to treat people with love and compassion. I choose to create an atmosphere of openness and freedom. I choose to welcome others into my life with open arms. I choose to establish an environment of peace!