Everyone has that one relationship. That relationship which feels great and not quite right at the same time. You’re happy, you’re in love, but you’re insecure, anxious and you’re not thriving.
You know the relationship must end, but when it does: you’re devastated.
There are people who give to you and there are people who take from you without any intention of giving back, leaving you depleted. Everyone has had or will have a relationship with someone who depletes them.
Everyone has that one relationship that must be survived.
This September marks four years since the end of the most confusing and ultimately upsetting relationship of my life. Four years ago, a male acquaintance came back into my life out of the blue and asked me out on a date. Initially, this person seemed to offer me the intense romantic relationship I have always craved. I now believe this person is definable as a sufferer of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as the relationship that ensued followed a typology of narcissistic abuse to the letter.
For an explanation of what that pattern looks like, I refer you to the following:
Narcissists have an amazingly predictable pattern when it comes to relationships. It’s called The Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse, and until I was made aware of it, I thought I was going absolutely crazy. Once you see it, though, you can never unsee it.
The cycle goes as follows:
Idealization. “You’re amazing, I love you. We’ve perfect for each other.” Includes: charm, flattery, mirroring, lovebombing, stories, apologies, attention, generosity, gifts, adoration, etc.
Devalue. “You are weak; I am strong. I am right; you are wrong.” Includes: lies, insults, belittling, criticizing, minimizing, mocking, projection, hypocrisy, gaslighting, silent treatment, threats, guilt, ambiguity, triangulation.
Disregard. “Sianara!” Total disregard for the relationship.
Before I knew what narcissistic abuse was, I already knew that this relationship wasn’t like an ordinary relationship. Looking back on the relationship there was so much wrong with his behaviour:
The way he rushed me into physical intimacy. His lack of consideration for my feelings and needs. The way he felt entitled to intimacy. The way he demanded said intimacy be on his terms and on his terms alone. His lack of reciprocity. His disregard for my physical well-being.
I made excuses for this behaviour in the midst of the powerful Idealisation or ‘love-bombing’ phase of the relationship. I was happy with my abuser during this phase. I was infatuated with him. I felt lucky to be with this man despite the terrible way he was treating me beneath the endless compliments, the flattery and the showers of attention.
Before I knew it, this phase was over, and so the devaluation began:
His subtle but vicious bullying and belittlement. The fact that he allowed his friends to bully me by proxy. The way he abandoned me in unsafe parts of London, and on several occasions invited me out with him but then made me wait for him for hours at a time. The fact that a few months since the start of the relationship, he now appeared to be a very different person from the one I had started dating.
Having been put on such a pedestal, it slowly became harder and harder to marry this person’s words with their actions. I should have run like the wind from this walking, talking, physical embodiment of a red-flag, but my steadfast commitment to being a positive, happy, low-maintenance (ick!) girlfriend and my sheer delusion and denial made me stay until I could tolerate his oh-so-subtle belittlement and cruelty no longer.
My lover had discarded me before the relationship ended. He had withdrawn his affections long-before we broke up. Whilst he no longer seemed to like or even respect me, he was keen to maintain access to my body and to have someone in his life he could denigrate in order to make himself feel better.
A healthy person can always build him or herself up without needing anyone else to put down. In many ways, I feel sorry for my abuser. His was not a happy, prosperous childhood like mine. He was abandoned by his father and I strongly suspect he was emotionally (and possibly physically) abused by his mother.
But none of that is an excuse for what he did to me.
At no point in my sheltered, privileged upbringing had anyone told me that predators often disguise themselves as prey; that effete, middle-class intellectuals are just as capable of exploitation, degradation and cruelty as anyone one else. On reflecting back to this relationship, I wonder why giving me the ability to spot a red flag was so conspicuously absent from my education? My childhood gave me the defences I needed to fend off physical predators; but not emotional predators.
I am not someone who seeks, claims, or enjoys victimhood status even though it’s a fashionable thing to have these days. Unlike so many women, I have never been the victim of sexual assault and only ever personally experienced fairly mild sexual harassment.
It is for this reason that it took me a long time to acknowledge that I was a victim of this man even though this relationship had become something I had to survive. Yet oddly, I don’t regret being in this relationship, despite the fact that I was very clearly on the losing side of a textbook example of narcissistic emotional abuse.
Would my life have been better had this man never been in it?
Was I deeply hurt, out of control, and physically (the stress of this relationship exacerbated an already existing autoimmune thyroid disorder) and emotionally sick?
Am I ashamed of my behaviour and the person I was in the wake of this relationship?
Am I a better, stronger, more resilient, less naive, more self-aware and self-actualised individual for having survived this relationship?
Without a doubt.
I take solace and comfort in the fact that narcissists are often drawn to positive, happy, kind, intelligent, engaging, beautiful, generous people. Abusers are drawn to happy people and then proceed to suck this light and goodness from them.
So many aspects of this relationship were confusing to me. Over time, I have managed to make sense of most elements of this relationship, or I have simply just stopped caring about them. My abuser is not pardoned, but he is forgiven. I have slowly drained all of his poison out of my life. No one likes to admit they let themselves be exploited or treated like an exotic pet, but I have also decided to forgive myself as well.
I view this relationship as some sort of karmic or emotional test. I’m still not sure I aced it, but I did pass: I survived.
What I do know is this: since this relationship I have created better filters and boundaries. I have educated myself as to what a healthy relationship should be and what standards and values should guide me in relationships. I now know what red flags are and how to spot them. I better know what I want from a relationship and how to get my needs met. I know how to pick better partners and when to walk away.
And this is why nothing will ever hurt me again.
Thank you for reading — I hope you enjoyed my work. If you would like to see future updates from me, follow me on Twitter: @Sayde_Scarlett