Life with a Narcissist: An Exhaustion Like No Other
My 18-year old son recently said to me, "Mom, no marriage is perfect and no individual is perfect. Sure. And if only you had done "XYZ...ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVW" then maybe your marriage to dad could have possibly worked. But he couldn't even do "A" so there is no way that this is your fault."
He hit it on the head! I wore every letter of the alphabet out and even moved into the Greek alphabet next. I tried to talk this way or that way, tried these words or those words, tried being better in every way I could imagine, tried to care more, tried to care less, and so on. Yet no matter what I tried, year after year, it simply didn't matter. I was continuously getting hurt, and my husband simply could not understand why or take any responsibility for it.
What happened to step A?
A narcissistic person can not even do step A to help the relationship emotionally. Not even a tiny step. They cannot acknowledge that anything is their fault, so they have nothing that they need to do differently. So why is it that when we are with a narcissistic partner who can't even handle doing step A, we still feel so determined that we can fix this? Why is it our job and our responsibility?
Let's compare this to helping a young child learn to tie their shoe. First you show them how. Then you help them through the beginning step. You start the process with them. But this particular youngster doesn't seem to want to learn. They pretend to try to do it, kind of, sort of. Then they fumble their fingers together in frustration, saying, “I can't.” To you, it is clear that they aren’t even trying. Yet when you say to them, “You didn’t even try,” they sharply respond, “I did too!” This is now an impossible standstill. After making a few more efforts, you just tie their shoe for them. It's easier, quicker, and less frustrating.The child doesn't mind either. It's easier and less frustrating for them too.
Relationships with narcissistic people are like this. You try to connect with them, but it just doesn't happen. You try to explain how their words or attitudes hurt you. They make some pretend efforts with the clumsiness of a youngster that won't tie their own shoes. You keep trying to help them understand, but inevitably it doesn’t work. Their efforts at minimal, at best. When you tell them, “You didn’t even try,” they quickly retort, “I did too!” The victim role quickly follows, leaving you trapped in a circular conversation from hell.
So why do we try so hard to fix it for them?
It is the only way we can keep our sanity. We sweep everything under the rug, keep our mouths shut, and suffer quietly to ourselves. It is easier, quicker and less frustrating. But there is more to it than that. We carry traits that make us extremely susceptible to narcissistic abuse. These are not bad traits to have but can lead to much frustration.
Common traits of abuse victims
Willingness to overlook faults in others
Belief in the goodness of others
Belief in forgiveness and willingness to turn the other cheek
Willingness to put the needs of others above our own
Again, these are not bad traits to have! These are the sort of things we teach our kids because we want them to be good people. We not only do these things, but we truly believe that they are the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong with that! I live by these traits, and I don’t ever desire to change that. I have learned, though, to set boundaries with these traits and to make myself a priority too.
While I am willing to overlook the faults in others, I overlook them in myself too. While I believe in the goodness of others, I believe in the goodness in me too. While I offer forgiveness to others, I offer it to myself too. While I am often willing to put the needs of others above my own, I now have times where my own needs come first. This is time for me, so that I can become healthier and stronger in compassion. After all, if I am a beaten down mess, I sure don’t have much to offer to this world. I take better care of my own heart now than I ever have before!