However you may feel about the narcissist in your life, it’s important to know that he/she didn’t get this way overnight. Our brain often refuses to believe this. Every day, I hear from both women and men who adamantly insist that they were blind-sided by certain narcissistic behaviors. The source of their pain is a false belief that they never saw it coming. I don’t get it! He (or she) wasn’t like this for the first five years of the marriage (or relationship). I’m shocked! they will tell me but I don’t buy into this. I respond by telling them to think back and think hard…to take off the rose-colored glasses of (what I call) relationship amnesia and really reflect. The truth is that the narcissistic signs have always been there. It might feel to us that we’ve been blind-sided but deep down we absolutely know better.
As I explain in my book When Love Is a Lie, I didn’t even begin to google my ex’s behaviors until almost eight years in. Then came the “a-ha” moment of WHO and WHAT he really was and I turned into a piece of jelly. How could I have not seen this? What the fuck is going on? Am I or was I completely blind? No, of course I wasn’t blind…I just didn’t want to see. This blindness can continue even after we know the truth, evolving into an amnesia that only allows us to remember the very few good qualities that actually made the narc appear normal. We’ll remember the times he made us laugh, the great sex, a moment of apparent clarity where the narc appeared to actually care. Suddenly the fact that he has been an incredible dick goes out the window and we happily watch it fly away. But the brutal truth is that all those memories mean fucking nothing if the narcissist doesn’t have your back as a loving partner.
There comes a time in the relationship, somewhere near the end, that even the narcissist knows the jig is up. For example, say that you and the narc have been involved for ten years and you’re just now finding out he’s been cheating for the past two. This is a devastating discovery, obviously. Your narc, however has suddenly become horribly mean and nasty, basically blaming YOU for the fact that he’s been busted. Maybe for the initial minute he appeared sorry, but now, a few days in, he not only offers little or no remorse for what he did, he apparently has zero tolerance or compassion for your feelings about it. This happened to me several times and I hear about it every day during consultations. The loving partner feels absolutely shell shocked. Why isn’t he sorry? OR Why isn’t he MORE sorry? How could this happen…we’ve been great together all this time! The truth is that no, you haven’t been good. Relationship amnesia and denial kicks in immediately. The truth is that the narcissist has been cheating or working on cheating or preparing to cheat the entire time that you’ve been together. Oh, that’s impossible. We were together 24/7. He didn’t have time to cheat. Oh, yes he did. Narcissists have nothing BUT time when it comes to planning for their next meal. However, now the jig is finally up – the jig that has been going on behind your back for years – and this is truly an inconvenient time for the falsely entitled narcissist. As partners, we have to face the fact that we’ve been conned since the very first date.
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When we look back on the “good” times in the relationship, we are viewing things through a manipulated reality. Relationship amnesia can keep us stuck on stupid during a time where we could be moving forward in our recovery. Sure, things appeared to be “okay” for years but, believe me, it was only as “okay” as the narcissist allowed.
Indeed, the love-bombing stage happens quickly because the narcissist is working his butt off to get it over with so that you can be on the hook and he can do what he wants. This is why it feels so intense so early on..but intensity and love are not interchangeable. So, five years down the road, while you’ve been looking the other way to keep the peace or to not appear to be needy or jealous, he’s been going about his narcissistic business, fulfilling the requirements of the relationship agenda. This is the truth! We suspect things but never seem to have proof and the silent treatments, as much as they hurt, become part of the routine and the next thing you know five years has gone by. None of this was “great” – not a single thing. When and if we do break-up with the narcissist and even if the narcissist is the one to leave, if we truly want to recover from the pain we have to accept this. We have to be confident in the truth that we know – even if it hurts. The relationship with a narcissist has been over since day one. Don’t allow relationship amnesia to tell you any differently. You’re smarter than that!
And, let me tell you, when the jig is up, it is up. The mask falls never to be worn again. The narc won’t even pick it up; he just steps right over it and moves along. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Narcissists who’ve been busted and become raging angry have – without a doubt – been doing it forever! This is why they’re so fucking angry. Life has suddenly become very difficult and he’s going to let you know it. A normal guy who cheats and gets caught will typically feel horribly guilty that he has hurt this person who obviously loves him. Then, he may choose to stay with his partner/spouse or he may choose to go to his mistress, but either way he will do it with a TRUE guilty conscience. He will tolerate the crying jags, the jealousy, the accusations of the spouse, and the “fuck yous” because he has done you wrong. A narcissist never feels this way. He just feels pissed. Remember, with a narc, it’s all about what he (or she) can get away with all day, every day. To you, it feels shocking and sudden but the truth is that he’s been doing it a very long time. This awful person is who he really is and who he has always been.
I tell a little story in Stop Spinning, Start Breathing about such a situation…
Then there was the time, about six years later, that Wayne), after cheating on me, getting caught, having no choice but to admit to it, and then trying everything – including smacking me on the head – to pull me out of my crying jag, finally realized he might have gone too far. Feigning remorse, he begged me to forgive him. I continued to sob, pleading “Why? Why? Why did you do it?” until the N, unable to pretend a second longer, threw up his hands in exasperation and yelled, “I don’t know! I always figured I could do whatever I wanted and you’d still take me back!”
To truly get better and find peace…to heal our sad and fractured heart…we have to accept the brutality of the relationship in its entirety. We have to push through the delusional nostalgia of relationship amnesia and get back to the business of life. We have to understand and accept that it was never great and therefore we can skip the grieving process when the nonsense is finally over. As far as I’m concerned, we can skip the forgiveness too. No, not that! How can I heal if I don’t forgive? We don’t have to forgive because we simply don’t have the spiritual credentials to forgive at that level! This is very good news.
Look, we can’t grieve the loss of something we never had, my friends. The narcissist did not become a narcissist overnight and no amount of bittersweet amnesia is going to change that. He (or she) was born that way or raised that way and he (or she) will now always be that way. You, fortunately, are not doomed to the same fate because you are everything he or she is not.
Indeed, you, without a doubt, are perfect just the way that you are.