Most people don’t choose to fall in love with a narcissist. Narcissists have an uncanny way of being charming and swooning. Yeah, they may be a little arrogant, but confidence is attractive. What separates someone who is confident from someone who has a Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Is your partner a narcissist? I know that term gets thrown around a lot out of context, often when someone disagrees with their partners behavior, but if you were in a relationship with a true narcissist you would know it.
Perhaps you know that your partner isn’t treating you right and that they are arrogant, seem to have an inflated ego, takes pokes at you that make you feel bad, and they have angry outbursts that are often out of proportion to the situation. You may not realize it, but you may be stuck in what is known as “the narcissistic abuse cycle”.
Narcissists for the most part are not capable of being in a healthy, loving and equal relationship because when it comes to the narcissist, they must always put themselves first. Even when it seems like they’re not, it’s usually because they are planting seeds for something later.
As someone in a relationship with a narcissist, you will feel the relationship is constantly suffering and you might not be quite sure why.
Here are some signs you should look out for to help determine if you’re indeed in a relationship with a narcissist and caught up in the narcissistic abuse cycle.
You Hold Back Constructive Criticism
Do you Feel like you can’t give your partner constructive criticism because they always take it the wrong way? It turns into a fight you weren’t trying to have, or they find a way to turn it around on you? So instead of saying what’s on your mind you tend to bite your tongue more often than you’d like. An example is, if you tell your partner after his fourth beer that maybe he doesn’t need another, he lashes out at you for calling him an alcoholic or he says you’re always breathing down his back and you’re the reason he drinks.
You Come Second Almost All the Time
Do your wants, needs and desires come second to your partners? Does it feel like most of the time they’re not even considered? A narcissist is so focused on themselves that they often don’t even consider what their partner might want or need. For example, your partner knows you’re a vegetarian, but never takes you to a Vegan restaurant, but instead to his favorite Steak House where he insists you can order a salad and veggies there.
You’re Unfairly Labeled
This is a form of gaslighting that narcissist do very well. They dismiss you as being “dramatic’, “silly” or “controlling”. The way a narcissist does this makes you start to question yourself. You start to doubt your own thoughts and believes. What the narcissist is doing is slowly eating away at your worldview while reinforcing theirs. You start wondering, “Maybe I am too sensitive and dramatic”.
You Start Falling for Their Fantasies
Often narcissists live in a fantasy world where they are better at things then they really are. This is especially true when it comes to money. Very often, a narcissist will spend money they don’t have in order to appear more successful than they are, even if that means neglecting their spouse and other priorities. They may not buy you gifts, or buy you gifts that seem not thoughtful, while splurging on gifts for themselves they can show off.
The Relationship Is Unstainable
Being in a relationship with a narcissist is very much like being in a relationship with someone with borderline personality disorder, much of their traits are similar. The only way the relationship has a way of surviving is if you are okay with always putting the other person first and your needs, desires and dreams second if at all. That isn’t a healthy relationship for anyone and yet many people stay in long term relationships with narcist and suffer every day. Their wishes, desires and dreams are constantly being ignored and even extinguished. This can not only cause the person to have low self-esteem, but can actually be traumatic and cause post traumatic stress disorder in some people.
It’s important to recognize if you’re in an unhealthy relationship with someone with a narcissistic personality and start educating yourself and taking the necessary steps to protect your mind and emotions. It’s important that you separate your reality from their fantasy and in the end, it will help you determine to either end the relationship or at least keep you from totally losing yourself while in it.
It’s often difficult to distinguish a wound mate from a soulmate or helpmate because at least in the beginning of the relationship, they feel exactly the same. Both wound mates and soulmates feel like the perfect fit. The connection you feel towards the person, the chemistry and things you share often feel uncanny.
Just like with a soulmate, you will feel like your wound mate understands you better than anyone else. As if they are a part of you that you didn’t even realize was missing. Your feelings for them will be intense and your closeness will feel natural as if it were meant to be. Falling and being in love with them can feel intoxicating.
The issue is the connection you feel with your wound mate doesn’t come from the best of places. You and your wound mate connect because you share unaddressed emotional issues and therefore the bonding you create is due to trauma. You form a trauma bond.
The love you feel for your wound mate is eventually followed by negative energy. At first you may not be able to put your fingers on it, but your intuition tells you that something is off. One or both of you may have trouble committing to the relationship or have inappropriate outbursts of anger, rage or jealousy. Your relationship will become unstable, often breaking up and getting back together only to do it again and again.
Because of your shared unaddressed emotional issues or trauma bond, you and your wound mate trigger each other in ways that are deeper and more heartfelt than in other relationships. This can leave you feeling a mixture of exhilarated and heartbreak. On one hand you have this person who you feel connected with like no one else, but with that connection you also know how to hurt each other like no one else can.
Your wound mate is a person that is so much like you because they are a version of you. They are the dark parts of you that you don’t let anyone else see. The parts of you that you may be ashamed of, scared of, think others will judge you on or simply parts of you that you don’t think others can understand or accept.
Your wound mate triggers and reopens does wounds constantly.
Your soulmate in comparison will not re-open your wounds the way a wound mate does, instead they will help you see what wounds need to be healed and allow you to work on healing them. It’s not your soulmates job to “fix” you, but they can show you what needs to be addressed and allow you to work on yourself.
It’s common in relationships for unresolved emotional baggage to be triggered by both people, but it’s each person’s job to recognize what is their baggage to claim and work on and what’s their partner’s so that they can connect and grow. Wound mates on the other hand, even if they have the best intentions, don’t have the capability to do this. Instead, they just continue to trigger and be triggered creating an unhealthy relationship that will drag both people down.
You feel connected to your wound mate and want to make the relationship work despite all the anxiety, anger and chaos. However, you’ll realize at some point that the relationship is reflecting your wounds and not who you really are. The relationship may be showing you the parent who left you, the kids who bullied you or the brother or sister you hurt.
Your wound mate will show you all those wounds and you will see it as an opportunity to heal through intense love, but that is not love. A healthy partner wouldn’t do that or allow you to do that, only an unhealthy partner will allow for such a toxic relationship.
So many people spend their lives dating wound mates, confusing them with soulmates, but if they checked in with themselves to see how the relationship really makes them feel, they’ll realize that they are just continuing to hurt themselves and potentially their partner as well.
Many of us have or will be in toxic relationships at some point in our lives. Some of us without even realizing it. I believe the key to avoiding allowing most relationships to disintegrate is through open communication and learning the recognize the little tendencies that can grow into habits that create a toxic environment.
What Is a Toxic Relationship?
A lot of people think a toxic relationship is only a relationship where there is physical and/or verbal abuse, and while those are often indeed the most toxic relationships, the average toxic relationship may not be filled with yelling, screaming or violence all. Some of the most toxic relationships involve emotional abuse and manipulation.
In a toxic relationship, the romance, passion and even friendship that once made you happy is pretty much all disappeared and replaced with negative feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, resentment and disappointment. Of course we all know that relationships have their ups and downs and aren’t usually filled with sunshine and rainbows all the time, but there is a difference between toxic tendencies and allowing those tendencies to fester and ruin the relationship.
Toxic Tendencies to Watch Out For
In relationships, it’s healthy to have your own space and even take breaks from each other from time to time. Those times a part allow you to be your own individual person and even have your own experiences to talk to your partner about when you are together. They help us grow as individuals and even as a couple, but if you and your partner both prefer to do things without each other, sigh in relief when the other one is not home or can’t come to an event you both were invited to, it may not be a good sign. There is nothing wrong with looking forward to and enjoying a night out with the girls or the guys, but when you are looking forward to not seeing your significant other, it may be a sign that the relationship is headed for trouble.
Lack of Autonomy
With that said about mutual avoidance, it’s just as important that you don’t lose who you are while in the relationship. Some people are so eager to be a part of a relationship that they almost willingly give up their autonomy and therefore, their identity as an individual. They no longer are an “I”, but a “we”. Many people think it’s supposed to be that way. They stop being Jane and become Steven’s girlfriend, Steven’s wife and if they have kids they become mom or Asher’s mom. If the relationship fails or when the kids grow up and have their own lives, Jane may become depressed and feel lost because she no longer knows who she is as an individual.
You Tell Half Truths
Okay, so maybe you don’t consider yourself a liar, but you find yourself telling little half truths because it’s easier than telling the whole truth. Like you may say you went to the bar with Jane and Erin, but purposely leave out that John was also there, maybe because you know that will become a fight between you and your partner or that he’ll start asking more questions you don’t feel like answering. It may seem relatively innocent, but telling little white lies is definitely a sign that there may be a bigger issue that needs addressing.
You Can’t Do Anything Right
Your partner is always nagging or criticizing you. It’s a sign that your partner doesn’t appreciate you and in-turn can lead you to develop little toxic tendencies of your own that will only add to the overall toxic level of the relationship.
I once date someone who complained about how I washed the dishes, cleaned the kitchen or made the bed. It got to the point that I just stopped doing those things out of rebellion. What was the point of me doing it if it was never right. Eventually part of her argument became that I never washed the dishes, cleaned the bathroom or made the bed.
You Feel Malcontent
When you’re around your partner you feel unhappy, uncomfortable, anxious or like you’re walking on eggshells, then it’s a sign that you’re in a toxic relationship or one that is on a clear path to being one. Your partner should bring joy and happiness to your life, and like I said, there may be times when you two aren’t happy with each other, but that should be the exception and not the rule. You should never feel in a constant state of unhappiness or anxiousness around the person you’re supposed to be in a loving relationship with.
Jealousy and Envy
Your partner is jealous of your achievements instead of celebrating them with you, Instead of making you feel good, they try to bring you down. In one of my last relationships, I got promoted three times during our relationship nearly doubling my income whereas she didn’t. She would bring that up, not as a means to celebrate me, but in a way of throwing a pity party for herself in which instead of feeling good about my professional growth, I had to turn my attention to her and try to reassure her of her career.
He or she is constantly finding something to fight or be upset about. If you’re at the beach he or she complains that the sun is too bright, the water is too rough and the waves are too noisy. Some people can’t be happy for too long or they get bored so they constantly stir up drama. It may look like they’re upset, but it’s what makes them feel alive while it drives you crazy.
Living in the Past
Your partner is always bringing up the past. Past mistakes you made, past hurts you may have caused them. They never let you forget that one time you messed up. In a relationship where one partner sees themselves as a victim and wants to hold on to that title, it’s hard to see a promising future because no matter what great things you do in the present, they will always bring up the times you weren’t so great in the past.
I once dated someone who when we fought cursed me out like she hated me. I always always amazed and hurt at the level of filth that came spewing out of her mouth. On top of that, even when we weren’t fighting, we’d go out and she’d start drinking and openly flirt with other people. It was something I tried to ignore, but when it was brought to my attention by other people I realized just how disrespectful she was. If your partner disrespects you often and you have any respect for yourself, then those two realities will constantly clash and you definitely deserve to be with someone who respects you.
You’re Probably Part of the Problem
I have been in a few toxic relationships and eventually learned that I was part of the problem. I eventually learned that I was choosing partners who had certain character flaws and I myself, had a big character flaw called codependency. If I didn’t take time away for myself to address that issue, then I would continue choosing the same toxic people and having the same toxic relationships over and over again. It took a lot of self-discipline, introspection and learning about codependency for me to start trusting myself when it comes to dating again. I know what I am attracted to and I know what I am attracted to is not good for me. I had to learn to trust that I was good enough for healthy partners, not partners who needed saving or that I thought I could fix, help or change.
And that’s the thing, if we don’t find out what it is about us that chooses the type of people that we end up in these toxic relationships with, we’ll just recreate the same mess with someone else. There’s a saying that goes, “Wherever you go, there you are”, which to me means, you can change people, jobs, cities and even states, but if you don’t change what you need to change about yourself, you’ll just recreate the same environment over and over again.
For many years I was an emotional fluffer without realizing It.
What’s an emotional fluffer? Well loosely defined, an emotional fluffer is someone who basically is there for another person in the same role a romantic partner would be, but without the benefits of romance, sex or physical affection. I believe this happens most when the other person is in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable partner, but still wants to be with them and they us the emotional fluffer to satisfy their emotional needs of talking, venting sharing feelings, etc. Basically, the emotional fluffer sustains them and gives them the emotional energy they need. The term is bored from the porn industry, when back in the day before Viagra and penile implants, there would often be a person who performed fellatio or hand jobs on the male actor to get or keep them aroused between scenes.
When I was in my late twenties I was really interested in a young woman who was in a toxic relationship. She was beautiful, and sweet and being treated poorly by her boyfriend. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why she stayed with him, but I did understand attachment and later I started to feel like she had become financially dependent on him.
Her and I became friends and I wish I could say I only wanted to be her friend, but the truth was I was hoping that when she ended things with her boyfriend she would see me as more than a friend. Her and I became really close. She told me things about herself she hadn’t told anyone. She was open and genuine. She shared her fears, her hopes and her dreams. She was funny and not afraid to be vulnerable.
She had her flaws which she didn’t try to hide and all that made me even more attracted to her, both physically and emotionally. We talked all the time, sometimes every day, multiple times a day. We even hung out ocassionally, not as often as I would like, but about as much as I could expect since she was in a relationship. However, when we did hangout it felt good. It felt right. It almost felt like we were dating.
We went out for dinner, out for drinks, out dancing or just hanging out. There were multiple times we stayed out until the sun came up. We laughed together. We cried together. The bond I felt between us felt impenetrable and natural. I never wanted our time together to end. I felt like it was an escape from reality.
Physically we never kissed or became intimate. The closest contact we ever had was occasional hugs and even times when we cuddled briefly, her putting her head on my shoulders and in those moments, it felt as if everything in the world was right.
There were a couple of nights out after we had been drinking where we became flirtatious and I was tempted to make a move, but I didn’t out of both fear of rejection and fear of ruining our friendship. As much as I hoped she felt for me the way I felt for her, I wasn’t really sure. In the very early stages of our friendship when I mentioned us dating she always said she made a better friend than a girlfriend, but I always thought she was just being self-deprecating. As beautiful as she was, I knew she suffered from bouts of low self-esteem.
When we were together we talked a lot about her frustrations with her boyfriend, about how she couldn’t talk to him or express herself openly. According to her he wasn’t sensitive to her needs and reeked of narcistic personality disorder. It always seemed like she was on the verge of leaving him and each time they would get into a fight, I was there for her and slightly hoping this would be the end of their relationship, but she never left him. Instead just more and more time passed by with me feeling like her boyfriend without actually being her boyfriend.
Whenever she needed me I would drop whatever I was doing. I would listen to her vent and cry about her relationship and tried to cheer her up whenever she was down. I tried to treat her the way she deserved to be treated and I hoped she would see the difference between my love for her and the way her boyfriend claimed to love her. Still, she never left.
Years went by like this and the longer it continued, the more attached I became, but also disheartened that our friendship never developed into anything more. I felt like I was doing all the things her boyfriend wasn’t doing for her and at times it was exhausting, but I did it because I cared about her and yes, I was probably a bit selfish as well. I really wanted her to wake up one day and see me as someone other than her friend, but that never happened.
Eventually, I had to detach for my sanity. I hadn’t put my life on hold waiting for her, but I had compared ever woman I met to her which wasn’t fair. I was never angry with her nor do I think she purposely used me emotionally. I was a willing participate and sometimes there is a fine line between being a good friend and being an emotional fluffer. The main difference as far as I can tell is that being an emotional fluffer gets exhausting and frustrating where a friendship shouldn’t be that way. It’s like you’re satisfying someone’s needs without getting your needs fully satisfied.
Today her and I are still friends. I imagine we’ll be friends for life. We don’t talk or hangout as much as we used to which is a good thing for me. I still have feelings for her, but I no longer sit back and expect one day she’s going to leave her boyfriend. Yes, they are still together and she’s still unhappy, but she’s still with him.
I used to have a really hard time getting over past relationships. I would find myself ruminating over the person, wondering if our breakup was a mistake and contemplating reaching out to see if we could try again.
That same thinking kept me in bad relationships for far too long and kept me stuck when I should have been moving on.
It wasn’t until I started doing therapy with clients who were in various degrees of anxiety and depression due to a break up that I started to realize that it’s not usually the person I was missing, but the idea of that person, the experiences and the feelings.
You Don’t Miss Them, You Miss The Idea of the Person
A woman once told me, and it was such a great line I don’t doubt that she heard it somewhere else before, perhaps in a movie, “You don’t want me, you want the idea of me.” At the time I thought she was totally wrong, but as I’ve grown and learned to understand myself and other people, I now know that she was absolutely right. I didn’t really know her, but I was attracted to her physically and had already become attracted to the idea of her being my person.
I was doing what most of us do subconsciously. We meet people and then make certain believes and assumptions about that person.
When we like someone, we tend to make them out to be this impossibly perfect person. Even when we notice their flaws we tend to justify, minimize or downright ignore them. This explains why we often ignore many red flags that signal someone isn’t good for us early in the dating process.
When this person starts not living up to who we created them to be in our minds, we tend to grow disappointed, unhappy and fall out of love because we start seeing the person for who they really are which often is in stark comparison to who we made them out to be.
Once the relationship ends, often we start remembering that person, not as the person they really were, but as the idealized person we created. We like to romanticize and we pick and choose memories that have strong, happy emotions over more unpleasant ones. We start missing that person, not as he or she was, but our idea of that person. Sometimes we even start missing the person we felt they could have been and not who they really were.
You Don’t Miss Them, You Miss The Way They Made You Feel
In our minds, we tend to downplay the more negative experiences and feelings. “Our fights weren’t that bad.” “Maybe I was just sensitive and he wasn’t a womanizer”. “He only yelled at me because he loved.”
This kind of thinking is sometimes called the Halo Effect. When you remember the good qualities of a person and minimize the negative. It’s partly why many people stay or go back to abusive relationships. It’s what makes it hard to separate from toxic people because they are usually really good at treating you special and then treating you like crap, putting you on a roller-coaster ride that can make you question your own sanity.
We start looking at pictures and remembering times when we were happy, smiling, having fun and madly in love with the person and pushing aside the things that weren’t so good and maybe were even awful about being with that person.
We miss the feeling of flutters in our heart that comes with being in love, of laying next to someone and talking all night long or holding hands, kissing and going out on dates. Suddenly, all the heartache they may have caused us doesn’t seem to hurt so bad.
If you don’t have friends or a journal to remind you of how terrible they treated you most of the time, it’s easy to fall back into missing how well they treated you every now and then.
It’s okay to miss people, but it’s not okay to miss anyone who used, abused or mistreated you. If you do, it means you need to take time for self-care and learn to embrace reality. You’re awesome and deserving of someone who will treat you better. It’s something I struggled to learn for a long time. It took understanding codependency and detachment for me to break that cycle.
You Don’t Miss Them, You’re Just Lonely
If you only miss the person when you’re lonely, then you don’t really miss the person. When we’re lonely, sometimes we think back to our past and wish we could lean on someone who isn’t there any more. We may even think we still love that person, but it’s not love it’s loneliness.
As humans, we don’t like to be alone, especially when we are dealing with problems. Sure, most of us like to have our space and time apart and some of us are really good at being alone, but most of us crave bonding, relating and socializing with other people from time to time. When you’re lonely, it’s easy to start longing for an ex because we wished we had someone.
Before you know it, you’re calling or texting that former flame or perhaps even worse, crying over that person, or should I say, the idea of that person.
If you don’t think about that person when you’re happy and having fun, perhaps wishing they were there to share the experience with, then you’re not still in love with them, you’re lonely.
You Don’t Miss Them, You Miss Who You Were With Them
When we think about our past with that person, the experiences and feelings we had together, it’s easy to believe that we are missing them when really we are missing the person we were when we were with them.
Just like we tend to idealize people and create versions of them that probably never existed, we do the same with our memories of them. Often, when we miss a person, what we really miss is how they affected us.
I used to ruminate on a particular woman I was in a relationship with and often times I missed the way she would make me laugh, or how we would go out on the weekend and paint the town red and I’d miss how we would sing love songs to each other. I minimized how drunk she sometimes go, how reckless she could be and how scarily volatile her moods were.
Once our relationship ended, I no longer had anyone to do those things with. I missed those feelings and I missed the person I was during those times because that person was a happier, more out going person than I was in reality.
I would find myself alone on a Friday night wishing I had someone to go out with and when I was out, I wished I had someone to sing off key love songs to. I didn’t really miss that particular woman, but the experiences, feelings and person I was in that relationship.
It is definitely possible to miss a person, but that is rarely the case. As humans, we’re so complicated with the way we torture ourselves by creating people, memories and emotions that aren’t always based on reality.
Often we ruminate on people who don’t deserve our attention or energy.
Those same feelings and experiences we had with an ex, we can and will have with someone else if we allow ourselves to move on. .
The term “ghosting” refers to when someone you believe cares about or is at least interested in you, suddenly stops contacting you or responding to your efforts to reach out to them. It could be someone you’ve been on a few dates with, talked to everyday for the last couple of weeks through texting or even someone you considered to be a potential serious partner.
Ghosting can happen gradually, such as messages and phone calls becoming less and less frequent, or most commonly ghosting can happen suddenly with the person appearing to have simply dropped off the face of the Earth and vanished as the term implies.
Although the term may be new, ghosting itself is definitely not. People have been getting ghosted probably since the beginning of time, but with more people meeting and connecting online, it’s become easier to ghost other people, therefore, increasing the odds that you will get ghosted.
With more people meeting online and more people caring out a large part of their relationships online and through messaging, ghosting people today doesn’t have the same social consequences it used to have. If you ghost someone today, it’s less likely that you share a lot of the same friends and social connections, so disappearing on them doesn’t impact other parts of your world.
Being Ghosted Usually Isn’t About you
When have invested your time, energy and emotions into another person and then they suddenly drop out of your life, it can be very puzzling and even devastating, especially to those who already have self-esteem problems.
However, people tend to ghost other people because of their own emotional discomfort, lack of emotional intelligence and inability to communicate. They rarely think about how it will make the other person feel which is why ghosting can come off as a very selfish, cold and narcissistic act.
People often ghost when they don’t know how to say what they want so they just disappear because to them that is easier than having the conversation. Many times people get scared in a relationship so they leave or they may not think it is that serious so they don’t feel like they owe the other person anything, especially an explanation to why they are no longer interested. Definitely as I stated before, the online dating culture where we have less real life social connections, makes it easier to just stop communicating without giving any type of closure to the other person.
Men are notorious for ghosting, but it happens to us to. The more someone has been ghosted, the more likely they are to ghost someone in return. I’ve been ghosted a couple of times and it has always taken me by surprise because I thought the other person and I had a relationship where we would at least be friends, and then they were gone.
How Does it Feel To Be Ghosted?
If you have never been ghosted before, and I hope you never will be, I can tell you from my experience that it initially left me in shock and disbelief. I was angry because I felt like I had a great connection with someone. It was as if they had died, but they hadn’t. It was very painful and made me feel disrespected as if I wasn’t even good enough to have the conversation with. It made me feel disposable, especially the second time it happened. I feel like I could never just disappear on a person I supposedly cared about, so it made me question how could people do that to me? What was it about me that made me not worth even giving closure to? It felt like torture, being unsure of exactly what happened to both the relationship and the person. Of course you get over it and move on, but only after you gather yourself up off the floor.
Why Does Being Ghosted Hurt So Bad?
For some people, being ghosted may not hurt very much. They may be able to let go and move on easier than other people. They may understand that in this day and age, people tend to be less attached and see ghosting as a byproduct of dating.
For most people, being ghosting hurts. It feels disrespectful and creates questions and doubts about themselves and relationships.
Ghosting hurts because it’s a form of social rejection that triggers emotional pain. It hurts because it’s the ultimate silent treatment and in relationships, the silent treatment is considered emotional abuse. It hurts because it’s a passive-aggressive act that is psychologically and emotionally cruel. It hurts because we typically don’t see it common. It’s as if the rug were pulled from under our feet.
As I said in the beginning of this post, being ghosted has nothing to do with you. What it tells you is that the other person is too immature to have a mature healthy relationship and that they don’t know how to deal with their own emotions, or yours… or even worse, are too narcissistic, immature or selfish to care about your feelings. In any case, they are not someone you want to be in a relationship with. Do not allow being ghosted to make you question your worthiness or become jaded when it comes to relationships.It’s not about you, no matter how personal it may feel.
I had never heard of the term gas-lighting until I was in a tumultuous relationship with a woman with borderline personality order who accused me of gas-lighting. At the time I asked her what it meant and she told me to look it up, so I did and the more I read about it and researched it, the more I realized she was the gas-lighter and I was the one being gas-lighted!
What Is Gas-lighting?
Gas-lighting is a deceptive and insidious form of control and manipulation. The name comes for the 1938 play, Gas Light. People who are being gas-lighted are deceived into doubting what they know to be true through the use of false information. These victims end up doubting their memories, feelings, perceptions and nearly everything about themselves, including their own sanity. Overtime, the gas-lighter’s manipulation tactics become more complex making it harder for the victim to recognize and avoid. If this sounds like psychological warfare, that’s because it is.
Gas-lighting is most common and noticeable in intimate relationships, but they can happen in professional relationships as well. Gas-lighters are usually charming at first and often have personality disorders such as narcissism or borderline. Many sociopaths and addicts are skilled gas-lighters as well.
Gas-lighters attack their victims most sensitive areas: their sense of identity and self-worth. Through my research and interviews with clients who were in toxic relationships, I found that it was common for gas-lighters to show one face to their victim and another to the rest of the world, making it hard for their victim to reach out to others in fear that no one will believe them.
In it’s most basic form, gas-lighting can be seen as projection taken to it’s highest level. The gas-lighter needs to create a certain reality by attempting to shape the reality of the person being gas-lighted. They will change facts in-order to create a new narrative more suitable for themselves and disregard their victims reality.
Gas-Lighting Can Be Used To Manipulate A Whole Society
Gas-lighting not only happens in day to day relationships, but historically has and is happening in a greater context. Think about how the narrative around Thanksgiving downplays the genocide of Native Americans, or how many American History books brush over the horrific slavery of and treatment of African Americans. Cultural appropriation and white-washing are both ways experiences and realities of others are overwritten, manipulated and downplayed. It happens so much in our society through the use of media and stereotypes that’s it’s not easily recognized, but is just as damaging to those who are the victims of gas-lighting.
I once read a book called Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, that in many ways detailed how American Society has been gas-lighted to perceive African Americans a certain way.
My Personal Experience
One example from my personal situation is that the person I was dating continuously disrespected our relationship by flirting with other guys. Even other people who knew us would come and tell me and it became embarrassing. When I would talk to her about it she would accuse me of being insecure, other people of manipulating me and accusing me of looking at other women.
It got so bad that I started questioning if I was insecure, if other people were trying to sabotage our relationship and although I had never been accused of having wandering eyes before, I started to doubt that as well. I started becoming more aware of my behavior and attempting to never even look in another woman’s direction. I started becoming paranoid and questioning things my friends were telling me about her. I started to doubt myself so much that I became oblivious to the ways she was continuously and increasingly disrespecting me and our relationship.
That’s what gas-lighting does. It makes you start questioning your own reality to the point where you don’t trust what you know to be true.
How I ended up overcoming this was through some deep introspection and awareness. First, thanks to her accusing me of gas-lighting (the gas-lighter often accuses their victim of being the gas-lightee), I became aware that I was actually being psychologically manipulated.
I had to regain trust in my own sense of self and judgement and realize that I wasn’t crazy and that my eyes and heart weren’t deceiving me. I had to find a way to separate myself from her and see the truth for what it was and once I did that, it was like someone had turned the lights on in a dark room and allowed me to see everything. I had to take back my power and it’s then when I decided to leave because I knew she wasn’t going to change and the new “woke” me, couldn’t stay in that toxic relationship and keep my sanity.
Despite the fact that I knew I had to leave, it still took multiple attempts before I was able to walk away for good. Toxic relationships are usually hard to leave and take several attempts. During that time I did reach out to friends for support and I continued to read articles and books that opened my eyes and made me strong enough to eventually leave for good.
“You gotta be mature enough to understand that you have some toxic traits too. It’s not always the other person”. -Word Porn
I read this post the other day on Facebook and thought it to be one of the truest statements I have ever read. Too often in relationships, no matter if it’s personal relationships, familial relationships or romantic relationships, it’s easy to place all the blame for the dysfunction that goes on in that relationship on other people. It’s natural. It’s much easier to say that someone else is the cause of our unhappiness, the chaos that sometimes happens in relationships or the failure of a relationship than it is to be introspective and look at ourselves. It’s much less painful to put the blame on the other person than it is to admit our responsibility in why things are the way they are.
If you ask anyone in a relationship that failed or became extremely dysfunctional, they can easily tell you what the other person did wrong, but we all know that it takes two people to make a relationship work and so unless the other person was a complete narcissist or sociopath (and even then the other person usually still plays a role in maintaining the dysfunction of the relationship), we have to see both sides of the coin if we are going to come out of the relationship better and healthier than before.
When I think back to many of my past relationships that went south, I can easily name a dozen things the other person did to help drive our relationship off the cliff. I can tell you how they were selfish, inconsiderate, detached, mean, controlling and took me for granted. However, if you ask them, I am sure they can just as easily name a dozen things I did that were not supportive of a healthy relationship. What’s more important is that we discover for ourselves what we did to hinder those relationships (or maintain the dysfunction and toxicity) so that we don’t carry them into our future relationship and more importantly so that we can grow and change whatever qualities about ourselves that are holding us back and putting us in these toxic situations.
Thinking about my past relationships, I can spew out all the toxic qualities she had, but in reality, but what I know about myself is that I was codependent, at times insecure, controlling, neurotic, enabling and possibly lazy when it came to a number of things that eventually would have put a strain on even the healthiest relationship. I maintained much of the dysfunction in our relationship and kept it toxic because of my toxic qualities. At the very less I should have walked away before it became so engulfing and before bitterness and resentment on both sides set in.
If I go around, only seeing the things the other people did to screw up our relationship, then I will most definitely repeat the same pattern in future relationships and wonder why they too did not work out, or why I became so miserable in the relationship, yet stayed because I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all (a line from a Three Grace Song “Pain”, but also something I have come to realize to be painfully true about myself).
Too many of us do that. As a therapist, I often hear people complain about the same issues in their last relationship or even job. They think, they will just leave this person or that company and things will be better. Some even change physical locations such as the state and city they live in thinking that this will solve the problem, but a large part of the problem is within them and they take themselves wherever they go so they are likely to continue to repeat the same pattern regardless of who they are with or where they are unless they themselves change.
For instance, a woman whose last three relationships ended because the other person cheated may come to the conclusion that monogamy, trust and honesty are all dead and there are no good, faithful people out there.
In reality, she may be subconsciously choosing individuals with a certain trait or creating environments that are conducive to increasing the chances of someone being unfaithful.
Think about it, if she met her last three partners while they were in relationships with other people and she “stole” them away, she can’t be too surprised if that person later ends up being “stolen” away by someone else.
The same is true if she met someone who gave her reasons to doubt their loyalty in the beginning, but she thought she could “change them” only to realize later that she doesn’t have the power to change anyone. It’s a lot easier to just blame those individuals for being who they are and ruining the relationship instead of accepting that she herself has some flaws she needs to investigate.
Often we sabotage ourselves. Somewhere, somehow we may get a notion that all people suck so we subconsciously go out and seek relationships with people we know suck so that we can validate our notion.
We may rush into relationships and create an image about a person that they can’t possibly live up to and feel cheated or let down when they don’t, or they may feel so much pressure and/or smothering that they leave and we justified that by saying that we weren’t good enough or “everyone always leaves me”.
I once dated a woman who thought that everyone always abandoned her, including family, friends and romantic partners. During our relationship she did a number of things attempting to push me away, testing my loyalty and durability and I fought hard to prove to her that I was different than everyone else, but the harder I tried, the harder she pushed and in the end, we both were miserably, unhappy, and resentful. Her personality traits match up well with my codependent personality traits and created a toxic, dysfunctional relationship that lasted way too long.
The same issues in different ways can happen at work. Many of us spend more time at work and with our co-workers then we do with the people we live with, love and/or are in intimate relationships with.
Work can often feel like being in not only a toxic environment, but a toxic relationship. Sometimes we stay in a job we hate too long and become resentful, or we give so much of ourselves at work that we feel used and unappreciated, yet we still show up and won’t look for another place of employment. We may feel stuck there just like we may feel stuck in a relationship. We can blame everything on our employer or co-workers, but that won’t change anything. What will change everything is when we take responsibility for what it is that is keeping us there. It could be our refusal to look for another job, to stand up to a certain person, to demand what we know we deserve or to look for opportunities for advancement because of our fears that we aren’t good enough or don’t deserve better.
The bottom line is, nothing positive will happen for us if we don’t recognize the qualities about ourselves that need to be worked on. We can blame everyone else for the things that make us unhappy, but nothing will change unless we recognize our flaws, as uncomfortable and painful as they may be to admit to ourselves and change them.
What I Learned From Dating Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
Not too long ago I was madly in love with a beautiful, charismatic and outgoing woman. She was funny, sexy and seemed to be the center of attention wherever we went. She also had Borderline Personality Disorder.
When we first met, this was not something I picked up on right away. She appeared to be everything I was looking for in a girlfriend. She was extroverted, independent and most of all fun. Her laugh and smile were infectious. She was the opposite of my quiet, reserved and introverted self. She was what I thought I needed in my life. Someone different than the women I usually dated. Different from myself.
In The Beginning
Things with us started off fast and intense. We went from getting to know each other, to being intimate, falling in love and living together in just a few weeks. She went out of her way to shower me with love and attention. It made me feel special, especially in comparison to my last relationship where I often felt neglected. She made me feel like no other woman had ever made me feel before or since.
What I didn’t realize was that part of what I was experiencing is what is called love bombing. Love bombing is when someone tries to influence a person with demonstrations of love and affection. They usually do this by going overboard with efforts of love and admiration. It’s a way to quickly leap frog over the getting to know you, courting stage in a relationship and get to the “I love you” stage and it worked.
I had never fallen for someone so intensely so fast, which is why I think I didn’t see some of the red flags I should have or, as a therapist, realize what I was getting into. Love and beauty have a way of blinding us.
As a mental health counselor, I have a habit, good or bad, of always analyzing people and a month into our relationship I started thinking that she might have bipolar disorder. I started recognizing that she had some mood instability and for some reason, that’s where my mind took me, but after awhile I dismissed that altogether because she simply didn’t meet the criteria. Still, I knew there was something I needed to pay close attention to, I just wasn’t sure what it was.
Inappropriate and Intense Anger
I remember the first fight we had, it was over something very trivial and should have just been a conversation, but instead she EXPLODED! I mean her eyes narrowed, face turned red, nostrils flared. She got so angry so quickly that it scared me and I feared for my safety. What shocked me the most was that the intensity of her anger was way out of proportion to the situation.
I don’t like to fight, I don’t like to argue. When I realized how volatile that situation became over something so small, I should have left and never looked back. That was actually my plan, but later that evening she came back and apologized. We made up. I loved her after all and maybe part of my “you can fix her” thinking kicked in and I actually began to feel sorry for her.
I knew she come from a pretty traumatic childhood, that she went through periods of her life where she felt abandoned and I felt that her blow up was a test to see if she could push me away and I would abandon her too. I decided to prove her wrong and to stay and make it work out. I had the rescuer syndrome going on full strength.
Frantic Efforts to Avoid Real or Imagined Abandonment
After that first explosion, many more followed. She began accusing me of wanting or looking at other women. Out of the blue her entire mood would change and I wouldn’t know why until she was ready to blow up at me for looking at someone I usually had no clue who she was talking about.
I got accused of looking at random women all the time like our waitress, some woman across the street that I never even noticed in the first place or another across the room simply because she was there. As beautiful as she was, she was very insecure.
It got so bad that at one point I found myself walking around with my head down just so I wouldn’t accidentally appear to be looking at another women, but even that didn’t work.
So many dates and even a Valentines Day were ruined by her accusing me of looking at other women and her explosive, increasing inappropriate anger.
And yet there were times when she begged me to never leave her. When I told her this wasn’t working for me and I wanted to break up, she simply replied “no” and then clung to me like a frightened child.
Uncontrollable Anger and Physical Violence
As her angry explosions became increasingly unpredictable (yet predictable), she began to get physically violent. It started with her getting so angry that she would slap me and on at least two occasions she punched me in the face with a closed fist, all the time I was trying to calm her down to keep her from getting even more angry and out of control, which only made things worse.
At the same time, I noticed that she was also getting into conflicts with other people when we went out. Men, women, it didn’t matter. It was as if she had two sides to her; this sweet, outgoing, social butterfly that everyone loved and this angry bitch that everyone hated. Still, the most intense anger and rage were reserved for me.
It got so bad that whenever we went out, no matter how happy we were in the beginning of the evening, there was a 90% chance that by the time the night was over, we’d be fighting over something. I started thinking that she was allergic to having a good day. It was like, the more I tried for us to have a great day, the more I did for her, the more intense her anger would be when she decided it was time to ruin our good time.
She could literally pick a fight out of thin air which made it so much more unpredictable. It was literally, as the cliché goes, like walking on eggshells.
I remember one day we went to the beach, swam in the ocean and I painted her toe nails while laying on a beach blanket. Afterwards we went to the pier and had lunch before driving back home, changing and going to a jazz club. Later that night we stopped on our way home to get something to eat and she started yelling at me (out of the blue) because I hadn’t unfriended her best-friend that she accused of wanting me. The same best friend I knew before I knew her. The same best-friend that had introduced us.
I was so hurt and disappointed that we had such a great day ruined in five minutes by some random thought that came into her head.
I totally ignored and even enabled her substance abuse issues. When we met I knew she smoked, but I didn’t realized she was also a binge drinker and probably an alcoholic.
It seemed ass if she had to constantly be smoking or drinking in order to be marginally happy. She didn’t just drank to get buzzed, she drank to get white girl wasted as they say.
So many weekend nights she drank until she passed out or until she started flirting with everyone or lashing out on everyone with me of course as her favorite target.
One valentines day she drank a whole bottle of wine by her self at dinner and then another at the movie theater and then passed out before the movie even started.
She would promise to stop drinking, but she never did and to be honest, I was usually the one buying her drinks because I knew one or two drinks made her happy, but by the time she got to her fourth drink, she was a loaded gun ready to go off.
It wasn’t uncommon for her to go from happy to infuriated within minutes.
Idealization and Devaluation
Some days she would tell me that I was the best man ever and I would feel like a prince and by the end of the night, she would be enraged over something minor and yelling at me “you’re just like every other man” or telling me how I was the worst person ever.
At first I was really confused. I was either the best man she’d ever been with or the worst man she’d ever been with, but I couldn’t be both. It was starting to give me an identity complex.
I did noticed a pattern however. If she started telling me how I was the love of her life, the best thing that ever happened to her, blah, blah, blah, I needed to hold on tight because by the end of the day, the other shoe was going to drop.
Whenever she started inflating my ego, she would create a fight by the end of the day and tear me back down to scum under her shoes. I remember one night when not too many hours earlier I had been her moon and stars, she yelled at me that she hated and resented me. That really took me aback. In all my life I had never had someone tell me that they resented me. I didn’t even know how to take it, but I never forgot how much it hurt .
Those words were probably the biggest factor in causing me to start emotionally withdrawing and re-evaluating our relationship. Sure this was after we were about three years into this roller-coaster ride, but what can I say, I was in love.
By this time I had known she had borderline personality disorder for over two years. The signs were all there. I even had her take an assessment and she scored perfectly and even agreed with me that she thought she had borderline personality disorder, but she didn’t want to go to therapy.
In The End
My friends, people who knew me and knew us often asked me why did I stay. They didn’t know why I put up with the chaos, the anger, the numerous precarious situations she had put me in.
The answer is love. I really did love her. Being a mental health professional didn’t help. I thought I could help her overcome her issues, helping people is my job. And she really was and is an awesome person. If she was a totally horrible person of course I would have left a long time ago.
Would I have done anything different knowing what I know now? Of course I would. I would have chosen to just be her friend and to keep a safe distance so that I wouldn’t get caught up in the chaos.
I learned a lot through this tumultuous relationship, but mostly about myself. I learned that I was more codependent than I ever realized. I learned that I had a sort of six sense and sort of a curse for spotting people with issues and trying to fix them. I also learned what it was like to be in love with a beautiful woman, to have some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, to be adventurous, to feel like I couldn’t live without a person and then learn to live without them.
I was listening to a couples therapy session conducted by the amazing Esther Perel when I first heard about the high rates of divorce associated with weight-loss surgery.
Esther was working with a couple where the husband had lost a tremendous amount of weight after bariatric surgery and then declared to his wife suddenly that he was leaving her. Neither of them had been prepared for this potential side effect of weigh-loss surgery.
In the session, the husband described that after he loss weight, he not only felt like he had a new body, but that he was also a new person and he wanted a new life. A life that apparently did not include his wife. This is actually very common after weight-loss surgery.
One of the first things usually told to couples during orientation is that the divorce rate for bariatric patients is extremely high. I’ve seen numbers as high as 80 to 85%.
Often the person who had the surgery was not happy with themselves, had low self-esteem, poor self-image and not the best health. They may have been introverted and passive because of this.
Effects on Marriage After The Surgery
After the surgery, when the person has loss such a large amount of weight, not only do they began to become healthier, they often begin to see themselves as more physically attractive as well. Mentally, they tend to gain more confidence, courage and experience a rise in self-esteem. The once introverted person may become more extroverted and energetic.
In an already healthy and stable relationship, these improvements can be a plus and help create a more fun, romantic and passionate union. However, in a relationship that was already unstable, these outcomes may lead to the marriage falling apart.
The person who underwent weight-loss surgery may now feel motivated enough, confident enough and attractive enough to leave the marriage. The person may feel like they have more options available to them than they did before the surgery.
Some people report that the emotional changes they go through after weight-loss surgery is more like a change in mindset. They often go from someone who would put up with a lot to someone who chooses what they will and won’t put up with. They go from passive to assertive and sometimes even aggressive. Often as their perspectives change, they start questioning their relationships and the people that are in their lives.
Many discover a new sexual energy and may begin to crave new sexual partners and experiences, especially if they have been overweight for most of their lives.
Some call this change in perspective an honest life assessment. They feel like losing so much weight so quickly forces them to question why they chose to be unhealthy in the first place both physically and mentally. They began confronting not only their food choices, but their lifestyle choices including the people they have around them. They may feel like they can finally be the person they’ve always wanted to be, but didn’t feel confident enough to be.
Affects On The Partner
Often times couples are overweight together. Having an eating problem, emotional eating or just enjoying food may be the one thing they have in common that has kept them together.
Following surgery, if the spouse that had the weight-loss surgery suddenly stops wanting to sit on the sofa watching Netflix while eating junk food and starts wanting to go out and socialize more or exercise, the partner who did not get the surgery may become angry, jealous and insecure. The marriage that may have once been largely centered around food and staying home may not survive that change.
One person has the surgery, losses a large amount of weight, usually starts looking and feeling more attractive, their partner either gets jealous and insecure and then leaves. Or the person who has the surgery starts thinking they can upgrade or be single and enjoy their new found sexual attractiveness and confidence. Not always of course, but in marriages that were already volatile this is common.
The end of the relationship is not always a bad thing. Often times these individuals were already in toxic or abusive relationships, but stayed because they didn’t have the confidence to leave or felt that no one else would want them. The affects of the surgery often boosts their confidence enough to end a relationship that probably should have ended anyway.
On the other hand, the partner who did not receive the surgery may have felt better than the other person as if they had the power and control in the relationship because their spouse may have been passive, depressed or extremely introverted. Once their partner losses weight, the dynamics of the relationship may start to shift to the point where the partner who did not receive the surgery decides to leave in order to find someone else he or she can feel dominate and controlling over.
Where To Turn For Help
There are support groups out there often led by a dietician and a therapist that can help individuals and couples through the emotional and mental changes that come along with the physical changes of weight-loss surgery. It is important to schedule therapy sessions after your surgery, be kind to yourself and others as the physical, mental and emotional changes occur.
Remember that people will react in some unexpected ways to your weight-loss and you may also experience emotional and mental changes that were not expected. Talk to your partner about them and if it’s something that needs further exploration, definitely seek therapy. It may save your marriage or help you go your separate ways in good conscience.