Why I have I come to rest on narcissism? This is because through our marriage I came the conclusion, as did he, that he had undiagnosed (and then diagnosed) ADHD. The books that I read on the subject, especially as it related to marriage, mostly fit. The part that did not fit was that many of the people in these books actually did seem to genuinely love their spouses. Once the issue was identified, both partners were able to make changes that significantly improved their relationship. Ours never took this turn. Ours continue to spin into the toilet in spite of the diagnosis. I won't go into our last few months, but I will say that when we watched the movie Blue Valentine in the theater, we definitely related. However, never did I think it was more than ADHD until I had to deal with what is called the "devalue and discard" move. In a day, I went from being "the wife" to, literally, nothing. It was absolutely astounding, especially after the years of me saying that I thought we might be incompatible and perhaps should go our own ways and him putting great effort into charming back into our relationship. When he wanted to, boy could he charm a girl!! We won't get into my history and why this made me amenable to the charm he offered until later. Suffice to say that he offered me fairy tale love and I gulped it down like a woman close to death whose only hope was in what he had to offer. I should add that my own gut told me contradictory things. On the one hand, I no doubt saw a million red flags (deception, financial problems, a history of cheating, drinking problem, inability to care for his belongings (should have known this would include people), alienation from his family, lack of long term relationships, self-absorbed sex, lack of health & self care, lack of ability to listen, lack of attention to details, difficulty with following through, etc.) but I also had this strange sense that this was a "God thing" and that I was supposed to help him. I some how believed this was my path. In any case, moving back to the present.
I arrived back from Vancouver, received a kiss, an I love you, and we drove back down to Champaign arguing a little bit at McDonalds. The next day, I got the announcement. We sat at our dining room table, he had Finn on his knee, and my stomach was in knots. I knew something was up. He simply announced, without fanfare, that we should divorce. I was shocked and had little response. He then left the house to ostensibly go and talk to his friend Eriq. As it turned out, it was "the other woman" that he talked to for 90 minutes on the day that he announced we should get a divorce. From there on out, he acted shocked as I began to realize that this was for real. I asked him to pack some bags and go stay somewhere, if this was what he really wanted -- with friends. He did so, after a night on the couch and one last bit of shared intimacy, a talk, some cuddling, some sex. One would not have known at that point that he was already in the arms of another woman. The woman described above. He was able to keep up the deception for a week, until I saw the telltale post on his facebook page and ran into the friend he claimed her was staying with -- Darcy -- who honestly reported that the estranged husband was NOT staying with him.
From there, life began to unravel. It became quite apparent that the two love birds believed that they had finally found their true soul mates. And me? I was thoroughly devalued and discarded. Not only was I depicted as the abusive one, which my estranged husband shared with the "other woman" and her friends, but our marriage had also been long over and, therefore, what they had been doing, was not adultery at all. I deserved nothing. In fact, my years of saying that I was stressed and not sure that we could make it aka cries for things to change in our relationship, were viewed as signs that we had been effectively divorced for years. That our relationship had in fact been meaningless. They flaunted their relationship around town. He snuck her into my home to meet the kids, something he would later say to a therapist who pointed out the ways in which the estranged husband's impulsivity had impacted the kids, was a simple "mistake." In spite of this devaluation and discard, my estranged husband was not quite ready to let go of me as a source of "narcissistic supply."
At least once a month, he would come "home" to report to me all the crazy things that were going on in his relationship. Most of the big lies that I highlighted at the outset had been revealed to him by October of 2012, just two months into their relationship. In deed, on one such occasion, he was so disturbed by the facts that he broke up with her and had to call the police when she pretended to destroy all of his belongings. I called the Sheriff because she was seen near my house. By the next day, he and his girlfriend were back together, though he used my house as a safe haven for one night. Periodically, he would also pull out the man I once knew, the charmer, and tell me what a good person that I am, how I don't deserve any of that, how he's ruined everything and he's sorry, while simultaneously convincing me to let down my own protective boundaries, which often led to hugging, kissing, and later sex and me telling him that I still love him and that he can still come back to us. Actually, not all boundaries were down. I did clearly state EVERY TIME that there was no way that I would attempt to repair our relationship with the "other woman" in the picture. I mention this because about two weeks in, when I suggested that we do a separation instead of an immediate divorce, he said he wanted to do that but only if he could continue to date the "other woman." The gal of this guy!! And so went the months. The man I once knew seemed quite empathetic and was full of remorse and shame when he came to visit. He usually always had horror stories to report about the "other woman." When that version of the ex left my home, he would almost always be immediately replaced by the narcissist that I have come to know. This is the person that led me to realize that my estranged husband had to have something other than simple ADHD. The term narcissism had entered my consciousness many years earlier when a therapist had bluntly told me that my father had it. The word was only again mentioned by my sister-in-law in September. She was talking about her brother and how he had always been this way and she mentioned that there was a word to describe him that she didn't want to use. I told her that she should go ahead and say it and she half-whispered "narcissist." I still did not begin to read on it. Instead I got an astrology reading to spur me on.
The astrologer looked at my estranged husband's birth chart and told me that he could see that the signs that I had thought were signs of ADHD were actually the result of a Uranian pathology. A deep detachment and disconnection from everything, ungroundedness, lack of need for human relationships, strange, oddness, erractic and withdrawn. His sun, moon and jupiter were all in opposition to Uranus, which essentially made him Schizoid. He said that thought my estranged husband had many Taurus planets, this Uranian pathology was much stronger, so the package seemed Taurus but would eventually be revealed as a Schizoid. The astrologer said that he would spend his life doing and undoing things and that he would never be able to sustain anything. For my estranged husband, routine, predictability, discipline and adhering to a plan would all be extremely difficult. The astrologer asked me at the end of his reading if I thought I'd "dodged a bullet?" I did look up Schizoid and found that it was an apt description of my estranged husband but it could not explain why he was in a relationship with a new woman and periodically returning to me in remorse. Nor did it explain his many claims that he missed his children terribly, but his unwillingness to change his course of actions. In fact, he would tell me many times over that it was only "momentum" that was taking him away from us.
But the extreme changes in mood and complete denial about the unhealthiness of the new girlfriend led friends to ask if my estranged had bipolar disorder and the local sheriff to ask if he was "on drugs or had an undiagnosed mental illness." Only from my estranged husband's perspective, is his behavior within the realm of healthy and normal. These extremes included periods of time when my husband would text me and tell me that the adderall medication that he was taking had caused him to destroy his life and that it also caused a loss of memory. He has literally said, many times, that he can't remember any of what has happened. Things he has said. In fact, a couple of weeks ago when we were working with a mediator and I refused to give him money to pay for a down payment on an apartment for he and his girlfriend because 1) it was inappropriate to ask me and 2) I didn't want him to have a place where he could not bring the kids (we had already agreed that, based on her history and their instability as a couple, the kids should not be introduced to her until the fall of 2015) I emailed him a "reminder email" about all the things that we both knew to be facts about his girlfriend, all things he has said to me and has received proof from other people about, and he wrote back, "I don't recall saying any of those things." These behaviors caused me to begin to truly see that there was something much bigger than ADHD going on. This is when I began to read about narcissism. The first behavior identified as "hoovering." This is from the website Out of the Fog:
Hoovers & Hoovering - A Hoover is a metaphor, taken from the popular brand of vacuum cleaners, to describe how an abuse victim, trying to assert their own rights by leaving or limiting contact in a dysfunctional relationship gets "sucked back in" when the perpetrator temporarily exhibits improved or desirable behavior.
The Hoovering metaphor comes from the popular Hoover brand of vacuum cleaners. Hoovering describes how a non-personality-disordered person, while attempting to escape an abusive situation, gets sucked back into the status quo.
Hoovering commonly occurs:
- After an emotional outburst, violence or other extreme period of abuse when the victim is most likely to leave, retaliate or seek help from others.
- When the victim starts to pull away from the relationship, leave the relationship or establish firmer boundaries within the relationship.
- When the abuser internally feels unworthy and fears the loss of the relationship.
A hoovering abuser may shower their victim with gifts, compliments, promises, demonstrations of love and affection in order to persuade the victim to maintain the status quo.
Hoovering is one of the key components of an Abusive Cycle. Without Hoovering, most abusers would be living alone. Hoovering is the "plus side" to many abusers that makes an abusive relationship seem worthwhile to many victims and sustains abusive relationships over the long term.
Hoovering requires two willing parties to be effective: the person doing the hoovering and the person being hoovered, who allows themselves to be abused and then sucked back in.
What it feels like:
Hoovering feels good! And that's the point! When you are being hoovered, your buttons are all getting pushed, your feelings are getting validated, your needs are being met, your wildest dreams are coming true, your opinions matter, you are the most important person in the world to that certain person.
Hoovering often feels like vindication. You might find yourself thinking “Finally! The message is getting through! I’m not crazy after all! Now THAT is what I’m talking about!” But watch out...
When you are starving for any emotional food, just about any kind of personal validation tastes wonderful, but you must remember that not everything that tastes delicious is nutritious.
Manipulative abusers are often adept at giving their victims enough of what they want to keep them where they want them. Even slave owners know that they have to feed them enough to keep them healthy and productive.
But how do I know if a hoover is 'real"?
Many Non-personality disordered people struggle with trying to tell whether a hoover really is a hoover, or if it is a sincere attempt at change by the personality-disordered person whom they care about.
The mistake in that logic is that it assumes that it can't be both. Many abusers and personality-disordered people really are sincere and really are trying when they also are hoovering. People who are hoovering you may not be consciously trying to manipulate you or deceive you. They may sincerely be trying, even hoping, to make it "better this time". They may not be consciously lying when they make promises of change and put them into practice. They may be so convincing because they are so convinced.
You are going to have to be like the adult in a parent-child relationship, who listens to their child's black-and-white promises of great expectations or of "I'll never talk to him/her again" and says "Hmm, we'll wait and see".
If you're not sure if you're being hoovered you should wait and see. Take the long-term view. A person's character is like an average of their behaviors over their lifetime. People can and do make positive changes in their lives sometimes, deciding to change their behavior for the better. Wait a year and see.
Coping with Hoovering:
If somebody who has been treating you abusively starts to treat you well, there's no harm in letting them knock themselves out and give yourself a break, but you must be careful not to take the bait to erode your boundaries, settle for less than you deserve, stop doing things that are healthy for you or stop exercising your own independence.
What NOT to do:
- Don't change any of your boundaries or allow them to be broken during a hoover.
- Don't relax or give up on any consequences of previous poor decisions for the abuser.
- Don't stop any healthy activities or relationships you may be engaged in elsewhere.
- Don't assume the hoover will last forever.
- Don't use a hoover to bargain for a better life. You are setting up the abuser to break a promise and setting yourself up for a disappointment.
What TO do:
- Remember that mood swings are a normal part of a number of personality disorders and that what goes up must come down.
- Accept that highs and lows are a part of everyone's emotional life and that, for a personality-disordered person, those may be more intense and lead swings in behavior.
- Maintain all your healthy lifestyle habits and relationships with others.
- Take the long-term view. Wait a year.
- Get yourself off the roller coaster. Position yourself so that your safety and happiness isn't dependent on a personality-disordered person's mood.
When I read this, my head spun. Suddenly all the times that my estranged husband had said that he missed things about me, that he loved me, that he made a terrible mistake seemed like hoovers, rather than authentic. It struck me that I needed to stop thinking of the "hoover" as the real husband. The real husband was both people (the hoover and the devaluer/discarder) and neither was necessarily more authentic. This truly horrified me. I mean who wants to think that their partner of seven years really does not give a shit about them except as a source of "narcissistic supply." Besides, giving up that as the real guy meant that I would also have to let go of a long time source of my own 'feel good.' I'd have to stop living off of these periodic bursts of "love" and really let him go. However, seeing this really helped me recognize why he kept coming back but never made any real moves to change. There was the catch. I think I was experiencing these two men for years in our relationship, but just to a lesser extreme. The man that ignored me and didn't seem to notice if I was alive or had needs and the man that constantly pulled me back from the precipice with his charm when I began to feel that I simply could not go on without getting something from him. I had been in a relationship with both of these people all along.
And so I have begun to shift my thinking to understand what I have been going through in the last eight months as "divorcing a narcissist." One book that I recently got from Amazon is called Why is it Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism. As I read it, I keep thinking, wow, this is it. I have been underlining a great deal from each chapter:
Entitlement: "Mutuality and reciprocity are entirely alien concepts, because others exist only to agree, obey, flatter, and comfort -- in short, to anticipate and meet my every need. If you cannot make yourself useful in meeting my need, you are of no value and will most likely be treated accordingly" (20).
I cannot begin to tell you how often I had to tip-toe or flatter in order to "address" his mood. And that would often not work, never mind reaching out to have any of my needs met!
And more: "In social situations, you will talk about them or what they are interested in because they are more important, more knowledgeable, or more captivating than anyone else. Any other subject is boring and won't hold their interest, and, in their eyes, they most certainly have a right to be entertained. In personal relationships, their sense of entitlement means that you must attend to their needs but they are under no obligation to listen to or understand you. If you insist that they do, you are "being difficult" or challenging their rights" (20).
Getting the ex to listen to me was like pulling teeth. It literally looked like it HURT him to listen to me, even when I told him it was what I needed (and mind you, I would wait weeks before asking). In social situations, he would do all the talking and disengage as soon as someone else was talking. When ever I brought up his lack of listening and willingness to meet any of my needs, I was accused of being difficult and never happy. He always said that I had unreasonable expectations.
Exploitation: "Driven by shame and prone to rage and aggression, the Narcissist never develops the capacity to identify with or even to recognize the feelings and needs of others ... along with an underdeveloped conscience, tends to make them interpersonally exploitative" (24).
"When others became enraged by his lack of sensitivity, he seldom got angry back. It just puzzled him that anybody could get so upset when all he was trying to do was get ahead or be happy" (26).
This is literally the CRUX of my conflict with the ex. He absolutely could never understand the ways in which he lacked sensitivity or awareness of so many things. 100% of the time I was a nut for having such a problem with him. I am certain this is the story that he is sharing with his new true love. Let's not get into his history of meeting and trying to marry the "one." The rollercoaster that has been the last eight months is perceived as perfectly normal. My hurt, anger and fear are out of place since I wanted to get divorced "for years," I should not be feeling bad and most certainly should not feel mad that he found someone that he is more compatible with. His new girlfriend even wrote me a letter stating something along these lines. I will save that story for a later blog. This is just the beginning of me beginning a dialogue about all that has happened and how it has shaped the person that I can feel myself becoming.
Most important note to self: I will no longer accept the devaluation. I will accept the discard. As I am beginning to truly understand, God really did do for me what I could not do for myself.