Reader Question: Am I the Crazy One?

A reader wrote in with the following question:

Am I the crazy one? I have been in a relationship with someone that may be a narcissist but I am confused. I was always someone that went out of my way to help people. I wanted it to be my mission and have made it so for a loong time. This all changed when I met B 2 years ago. He started getting mad at me saying I intentionally get him jealous. I would cry and try to explain that I loved him and wouldn’t do that. He would shake in anger. He would say such cruel things to me — that I am selfish, manipulating and would die alone. If I shared an insecurity, he would use it against me saying “you would always say people don’t like you after they really get to know you, it’s true.” Which I did say. He says that it’s true and I cause this but I have amazing friends who’ve I known all my life. I need a lot of alone time to recharge and once I am honest with it, my fear of being disliked changed — but he still says it.

I started closing myself off and being distant with people and not getting close because if I talked about anyone doing well, or happy, he would think that I was throwing it in his face. One time he saw a picture of an artist friend of mine and picked a massive fight and said “oh, he has a beard and long hair” and when i said “lots of artists have beards and long hair” he lost it on me. He breaks doors, punches walls.

I used to cry. Then I tried to fight back. Now, I have zero emotions for him, feel anxiety and feel trapped. Yet, I feel like it’s my fault. I feel like my push for him to see his light was too much and that was narcissistic in a way — trying to fix. Is that narcissism?

We went no contact for 10 days and I felt elated. I feel strong on my own and he would tell me that was selfish. After telling me that he has become a different man sexually because of my lack of sex with him (2 -3 week wasn’t enough) I started to make more effort. That wasn’t enough either. Now, he says my stubbornness is a deal breaker. I am stubborn and have many passions and dreams so I tend to go for them and work hard — is this narcissism? It’s true. I like to have my way but feel I am easy going and can compromise. He makes me feel like I don’t — but I do.

I feel bad about myself and feel I am the narcissist. I remember myself being caring, loving and kind. I have always been sensitive and could walk into a room and feel peoples emotions without words.

Can you help me with some clarity? Should I go to a therapist for narcissism?

She touches upon a lot of different elements in her email. Elements that get lots of HSPs stuck in unhealthy relationships. So rather than addressing all she wrote in one go, I am going to take it line by line and give my feedback.

If you recognize some of what this lady wrote because you have a friend struggling with the same, do forward her this article. If you recognize some of these conundrums in your own (past) relationships, I’m including links to resources to help.

She writes:

I was always someone that went out of my way to help people. I wanted it to be my mission and have made it so for a loong time.

and futher on in her email she writes:

…I feel like my push for him to see his light was too much…

Being a helper is great. Being on a mission is great. Where it’s not great is in the context of personal relationships.

When you become the helper, the one on a mission in the relationship, you turn your partner into a project. Chances are, you selected them for how great they could be and not for how great they actually are and how well they treat you and how much you love being with them.

You can read more about this conundrum here.

After years of coaching HSPs, I could stop right here. I know all I need to know. This is not a relationship-dynamic that could have worked out well. But since the lady who wrote in says she is confused about it all (and I know plenty of people in relationships are too) I’ll address her following observations one by one.

This all changed when I met B 2 years ago. He started getting mad at me saying I intentionally get him jealous. I would cry and try to explain that I loved him and wouldn’t do that. He would shake in anger. He would say such cruel things to me — that I am selfish, manipulating and would die alone. If I shared an insecurity, he would use it against me saying “you would always say people don’t like you after they really get to know you, it’s true.” Which I did say. He says that it’s true and I cause this but I have amazing friends who’ve I known all my life. I need a lot of alone time to recharge and once I am honest with it, my fear of being disliked changed — but he still says it.

Let me give you my sense of what is really happening here. Underneath the cruel comments and the misunderstandings and the loving him (more on that later).

When you’re on a well-meaning yet naive mission to heal the world, it’s inevitable that you will get an abuse wake-up call.

There are plenty of people who do not want to look at themselves and their own behaviour and who are not interested in changing in any way. If you persist in trying to educate them, you end up making them angry. (And then they lash out in any way they can).

In all fairness, they have the right to refuse your meddling. At root, trying to teach someone how to be a better person is quite an icky thing to do if you are dating them at the same time.

There is a reason why therapists are not supposed to date their clients. If you behave like a therapist in the relationship, your partner becomes the client. Regardless of how much they may need to learn a thing or two, I can promise you that they won’t enjoy being your pet project. Ultimately what you’re saying by treating them that way is: “you’re not good enough the way you are, you need to change!”

Which is all fair and well, but if this guy is not good enough for you, why did you pick him?

And now I’m going to interject some questions for the ladies who are still in a relationship like this (because I know they are reading this too. And honestly, I’m confused about the status of the relationship of the lady who wrote to me. Have they broken up? Did they break up and are they back together? Is she trying to move on but still caught up emotionally? )

Questions to ask when you’re in an unhappy relationship:

Why are you still with him?

Why won’t you go and find a guy who you can adore and respect easily because he is smart and wise and kind and mature?

And if you want to tell me that he is good enough and he is amazing then my question is: what on earth would make someone who is cruel to you, good enough for you?

Is cruelty something you believe you deserve? Or something that you believe all men are? (Because I can tell you right now, there are plenty of guys who are loveable and not cruel, and who’d be appalled if you thought cruelty is a “normal” thing for guys).

Why not find someone you can actually love in a vulnerable, open way, as opposed to a charitable (?) “I will make you heal by being above you” way?

A true partner is someone who you can be vulnerable with. Someone who supports you. Who reminds you of how great you are when you feel down.

A client is someone who can attack you and abuse you and be a total nuisance – which is all fine if that is your specialty and you’re getting paid plenty for putting up with that. But you’re not.

Moving on!

I started closing myself off and being distant with people and not getting close because if I talked about anyone doing well, or happy, he would think that I was throwing it in his face. One time he saw a picture of an artist friend of mine and picked a massive fight and said “oh, he has a beard and long hair” and when i said “lots of artists have beards and long hair” he lost it on me. He breaks doors, punches walls.

He breaks doors, punches walls. A.k.a. he is aggressive.

He doesn’t like people who are happy, because being reminded of people like that makes him feel inadequate. A.k.a. he feels pretty low and miserable, but doesn’t want to address it, he’d rather blame other people and try to make it their fault. All in all, you’re dealing with someone who has a low EQ.

At this point the question is: what are your limits and boundaries in a relationship? What are the things you will not tolerate and that will make you walk away?

If things got this far, they went too far. What would be a limit (in how others are allowed to treat you) that would make you feel safe and secure?

What would a partner who cherished you and actually protected you (not sometimes, but all the time) what would he do and say? How would he treat you? What would he never do?

If he breaks doors, he doesn’t have a healthy handle on his anger. That sounds unsafe to me. Maybe this is better in your mind than someone who hits you, or someone who has a gun and threatens others with it. It’s surely better than dating a serial killer. You can always find a relationship that would be worse. Yet the question is, what are your non-negotiable standards that will cause you to walk away? What are your minimal requirements for how you expect and demand to be treated?

If you don’t have any. If you are loyal no matter what, then you are giving him free reign to treat you worse and worse. You allow him to get out of control with you by not having standards. This is dangerous.

(And – sorry, but – telling him what you want does no good at all if you’re not willing to also walk away for good unless he treats you better. You are allowed – and I encourage you – to set that limit far before door-hitting and feeling anxious permanently).

All this doesn’t make him a good guy. But it doesn’t make you right either, it makes you naive. That if you’re just kind and try to make the best of it, everything will turn out o.k. That if you “stay strong” and put up with it, things will get better.

Where did you learn this? Why do you think it’s o.k. for your mission to wipe out your own happiness?

Do you believe you have to choose? That you can’t do something meaningful yet be happy and loved at the same time too?

Or is what you said about being happy on your own not really true? Is there actually something about a relationship that you need much more than you will allow yourself to feel and acknowledge?

Because this mission you were enacting with him didn’t start with him. It goes much deeper.

When you want to hold on to a relationship where you are not loved and respected, something deeper is at play. When you’re willing to do anything to try and “fix” it, no matter the cost or impossibility, something soulful yet also wounded is driving you.

That kind of drive is not a mission. It is suicide. Yet it can feel like you have to go through it, and fix it once and for all. Because once upon a time you went through something significantly similar. You were younger. You were less in control of your life. You had less options than you do now. So trying to fix the relationship seemed like the only option for finding love.

Who was the first man in your life who made you feel so stuck and confused?

I used to cry. Then I tried to fight back. Now, I have zero emotions for him, feel anxiety and feel trapped. Yet, I feel like it’s my fault. I feel like my push for him to see his light was too much and that was narcissistic in a way — trying to fix. Is that narcissism?

Trying to fix someone and bring out their light (even though they never asked you to and are not paying you to be their therapist) is a kind of blind stubbornness for sure.

He doesn’t see what you see. He doesn’t want what you want. Trying to force your ideals on him is not kind. Him treating you the way he did was also not kind.

Yet trying to figure out what you should do or have done to make things better is equally naive. Perhaps you think you can control a relationship like this, but you can’t.

In a way, he’s right about one thing. You were being manipulative. You were letting him walk all over you in the hope that it would lead to what you wanted. In the same vein, he can only interprete your behaviour as manipulative because that is why he would do it. That is how he operates. He decodes your behaviour according to what drives him.

Either way this kind of behaviour, this kind of sacrifice, is not emotionally honest. Not with yourself, not with him.

In a dynamic like this, he doesn’t have to be a good man for you, because you will put up with his bullshit. He may actually resent you for that too. For you to think so little of him.

Meanwhile, all this focus on him is also distracting you from your own issues. He is focused on blaming you for everything. You are focused on him and how he needs to change. And you might even be hoping that you’re crazy because that would mean that he is right and you are wrong and you can change yourself to make the relationship work.

You are both trying to control the other person to get the relationship you want, and you’re not facing facts.

It also sounds like you don’t like each other very much at all.

Which is fine, really. Yet, why not leave it at that and move on?

(And if you’re thinking “but I love him”… even though you don’t like him? Does that apply to other things in life too? As in, I really don’t like this… but I love it… Really? I have some more thoughts on that here)

We went no contact for 10 days and I felt elated.

Great. More no contact = more elation. Success recipe. Done.

I feel strong on my own and he would tell me that was selfish. After telling me that he has become a different man sexually because of my lack of sex with him (2 -3 week wasn’t enough) I started to make more effort. That wasn’t enough either. Now, he says my stubbornness is a deal breaker. I am stubborn and have many passions and dreams so I tend to go for them and work hard — is this narcissism? It’s true. I like to have my way but feel I am easy going and can compromise. He makes me feel like I don’t — but I do.

I feel bad about myself and feel I am the narcissist. I remember myself being caring, loving and kind. I have always been sensitive and could walk into a room and feel peoples emotions without words.

Can you help me with some clarity? Should I go to a therapist for narcissism?

I’m not sure who you are trying to convince of what here, or whose permisson you feel you need.

Would you like to receive a certificate of official sanity?

Yes, I totally understand that unhealthy relationship dynamics can make you feel crazy, but the facts you state are pretty clear.

There is no real confusion.

There is just a hope that perhaps, there is some kind of solution you haven’t thought of. The confusion is an act of muddling and reshuffling the facts so that maybe the outcome will be different this time.

Ultimately, you have to decide a few things, and make sure they add up logically.

Is your (ex)partner a guru? Is he wise and can he see your true self?

If yes, then where does the need to make him change come from? Surely, if he’s a guru he’s already self-aware, emotionally mature, and responsible and he doesn’t need you to enlighten him in any way.

Or is he emotionally immature, angry, out of touch with his true self and in need of guidance? Is he distant and afraid of being in a loving relationship? Does he sabotage all forms of intimacy?

Which one is he? The angry lost soul who needs help, or the guru who knows everything?

Because he can’t be both.

And the good (clarity) news is, regardless of whether he is “better” than you or “worse” than you, you have/had a very unhappy relationship either way. That part is the same, no matter how you shuffle the facts.

Questions for a better future relationship

So let me ask you, do you want a happy relationship?

Do you want to feel loved?

And if you do, how would you define love?

What does love mean?

How do people show love?

How do you recognize it?

And does all of that apply to him, to your relationship?

(If you need a feeling-reminder of what true love actually feels like, this can really help)

If you want love, you need to choose it. And I don’t mean that you need to double down and try harder.

No, you need to choose someone capable of love. As in: capable now, not in the future with lots of counseling etc. etc.

You need to choose someone you love as-is. Without needing to change or fix him.

You need to choose someone who loves you as you are, without you needing to change all kinds of things about yourself and try harder.

You need to get honest about how you feel, and strip away all the charitable b.s.

Because that’s what it is. It’s mind fodder. It’s blablabla but blablabla. Adding more thoughts to the mix doesn’t change the situation. Stop adding more thoughts.

Love is simple. You don’t get to create it. You don’t get to say: there, I have decided that THAT is the person I have to create love with from scratch. Even though he is mean and aggressive and criticises me all the time. I have to persevere because it is my mission…

Says who?

I promise you, you will be just fine without him.

There are better projects to work on. Better people to be with.

But you do need to get off your Heal the World High Horse and actually deal with your own feelings of abandonment and worthlessness and rejection and grief and rage.

Making HIM into a healing project is just one big escape. An escape from reality, and from your feelings.

Trying to work out who is right and who is wrong is another attempt to finally solve the puzzle and make things work. If he is wrong, he should change, and if you are wrong, you should change. Right? But who says anyone is right or wrong at all? Why would things be that black and white?

Start your mission by healing you. When you’re done, you can turn your attention to others. Meanwhile, let him be who he is. Even if you don’t like it one bit.

How do you know you’re healed?

You stop choosing unhappy relationships.

You stop trying to make things into something they’re not.

You pick what already works, as-is without needing to work at it until you bleed.

You stop torturing yourself.

You stop telling yourself that you’re strong, and that you’re meant to do this and that you can handle it, and you can make it o.k. if you just try a little harder.

In other words, you just stop.

That thing you’re most afraid of.

You give up.

You accept that you can’t do this.

You fail at this mission you’ve created for yourself and you take the time to pick a healthier mission. One that actually brings you joy instead of pain.

That’s when you stop feeling trapped, and anxious and miserable.

Not by figuring out him, or trying to see if he was right.

You work on healing you. Because it’s your own unhealed parts that are pushing you to choose and endure more unending suffering.

You find those unhealed parts by being brave and daring to feel your pain. Not think about it. Not analyse it. Not add thoughts to it.

You need to let the painful reality sink in: that this really hurt. That it is more than you can bear to keep trying at. That a relationship like this is just not doable. Not even for you.

I know healing is not easy.

To be healed means you know you have the power to choose a happy, healthy relationship, even if you don’t feel like that all the time.

Not all of us grew up learning this. Many of us grew up in painful circumstances and we had to find ways to turn that into a good thing. So we created stories for ourselves, missions, wishful thinking of ways to make everything o.k. Because that seemed better than facing the pain, the rejection, the abandonment and the facts.

Yet, with those fantasies in place, what happens is that you stay on the hamster-wheel. You work too hard and get crumbs. You try so hard to understand and communicate better. You focus so much on seeing the best in others that you have trouble seeing when there’s just no point.

Your survival story becomes your ball and chains. It’s your own sense of mission that keeps you stuck and trapped because ultimately, it’s a band-aid. A band-aid for the pain that comes from important relationships that just don’t work no matter what you do.

Happiness doesn’t come from continuing down that path. Happiness comes when you’re willing to abandon that mission and find a new one: one that includes prioritizing your own well-being.

It’s a big journey. One that changes everything. And I have a programme that will guide you on the way if you’re interested, here. It’s called No to Narcissists (because, spoiler alert: he does sound like a narcissist. You sound like you have adopted dramatically co-dependent survival strategies. But the point is for you to break free from what is keeping you trapped, not for him to get a diagnosis)

Because getting through is not a matter of a moment of insight. It requires a willingness to feel, and tools to let go of those old stories that are driving you. Are you ready for a more loving mission?

 

 

A Light-Hearted Guide to Narcissists
First aid reading if you're struggling with narcissists or maybe-narcissists
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