I used to think the term “narcissist” only applied to conceited, attractive (or those that think very highly of themselves) individuals who couldn’t stop looking in the mirror like the mythical Greek hunter who drowned in his own reflection. But during the healing phases of my last breakup, I researched how it has a highly toxic way of entering the relationship realm. And I realized, oh shit, it’s happened before. My family probably doesn’t even know about it, because I never really told them the story. Does physical or emotional abuse weigh more? For me, the physical abuse I experienced long ago was far more forgettable.
Back in college I dated your typical urban pretty-boy, obsessed with his image and having a girl on his arm who enhanced that. He was your textbook narcissist, so self-centered, his own sister once told me how much it bothered her. He spent more time in front of the mirror than I did, making sure his outfits were immaculate, the designer logos showing, the sneakers uncreased (I believe he even shoved MetroCards down the front of them to keep the wrinkles out) and that his du-rag was perfectly centered and aligned with his forehead.
He’d insist that I step up my swag, rock the latest sneakers, he’d take credit for sexy heels I’d wear, saying he bought them for me when he hadn’t, and constantly comment on how well-dressed and attractive he was. Lord only knows what his Instagram would look like now if he has one.
The stream of abuse trickled in slowly at first. He’d insinuate that I might be sleeping around on him, demand to check my phone (although he’d make sure to first delete anything off his in front of me before handing over his) and threaten to fuck both me and the mysterious man up if he ever found out. Then he’d use intimidation tactics, like invading my personal space, slowly getting face to face with me, and punching the wall next to my head. I have a certain sort of stupid fearlessness sometimes, so I never actually felt threatened. One night, after a party, one of my good friends observed him yanking me around in a parking lot during an argument and stepped in to intervene. He told him to get lost (my friend was a tank, so my ex couldn’t take him) and walked me home that night, saying he didn’t like the kid’s antics, and that I should rethink the relationship. Still, I thought it would all be fine.
The first night he put me in a headlock during a heated exchange, I forgave him. I knew he wouldn’t REALLY hurt me. But then it happened a second night, and this time the blows came with it. I don’t remember any pain. I just remember my spirit ascending from my body and looking down at my physical body, shaking its head that a smart girl like me had ended up there. When my spirt re-entered my body, I recovered my wits and grabbed an iron from under the bed, prepared to bash his face in. Before I could make impact, he released me and fled. I ended it the next morning.
Since then, I’d never even thought about the other kind of abuse; the emotional kind. The kind that comes from a Nice Guy Narcissist. They put their best mask on up front. The same one they show to everyone else on the outside, saving the Mr. Hyde underneath exclusively for you. With my last ex, it started small. I asked to please not continuously ask to borrow money from me, as it’s a certain thing I’m uncomfortable with, especially in relationships. My requests went ignored. Every paycheck he asked to borrow money from me, and eventually got abrasive when I’d remind him how much I didn’t like it. Eventually I relented and gave in every time because I wanted to make him happy. Maybe that’s where I went wrong, setting aside my deeply uncomfortable feelings in the name of love.
Eventually, I began to give in on more and more things that made me uncomfortable, convinced by him that I was wrong for feeling uncomfortable about it in the first place. Not only that, my discomfort BOTHERED him. It was no longer something for him to acknowledge; it became something I had to hide. And just like that, it was all turned around and the downward spiral began. I could no longer guess what about my normal self would randomly set him off and suddenly become a problem I had to take it upon myself to change.
On a trip to an amusement park, two girls cut the line in front of us and he flipped.
I took a laid back approach, because I was just happy to be on vacation with him, saying it would be alright, it happens sometimes and let’s let it go.
He said I wasn’t taking his side enough and proceeded to publicly lash out at me for the next hour, as passers-by looked on with concern and I gave them the reassuring eye-contact that said “I’m fine, I can handle this. I’m okay.”
This was after the night after I’d found myself hunched on a bench wondering why he was emotionally pissed because I’d asked, “Can we go to one haunted house first to kill time since the alcohol stand isn’t open yet?” No. We had to sit and wait until the stand opened and apparently, I hadn’t asked with the right attitude, so now he was upset at me. No compromise.
I could never call what would trigger his explosive reactions. If his friend did something I considered disrespectful and I got upset, he got mad at me for feeling and reacting disrespected. If I was too curious about a girl he’d hooked up with but was still friends with, he was resentful. If I got upset because I wanted his attention during an hours-long video game binge (unless I whipped out a vibrator and started pleasuring myself in front of him, that was the only proper way not to trigger it), he became incensed, then made it clear the game would come first before any tears or serious matters that needed immediate attention. If I was cleaning in the evening because it hadn’t been done yet, he’d feel guilty because he hadn’t done it, and demand that I stop and wait until he was ready. If I ran away from a bumblebee in fear, he’d get furious and say I would make it sting him, even though everyone (and the Internet) has told me bumblebees (yes, those giant furry, bear-looking things) are harmless and don’t sting. If he blew all his money on frivolous things and I didn’t want to bail him out when he suddenly needed an expedited passport or to book a cabin for his friends, it was my fault.
I couldn’t be sad. I couldn’t be pissed. I couldn’t ask one too many questions. I couldn’t bring up something that bothered me if 24 hours had elapsed already (although he could); it meant I was thinking about it for too long, which angered him. I couldn’t do what genuinely came naturally. I was only allowed to express happy emotions and say things that equaled praise in regards to him. If he had made me sad, it meant he had failed in all aspects and couldn’t handle it, which resulted in him lashing out at me or saying he may as well leave then. If I read a menu improperly in his mind, he had to devote time to explaining why I was wrong about it, until the food came exactly as I had depicted it would, then there was nothing more to say. He could do no wrong. The rules didn’t apply to him. He could be jealous but I couldn’t. He could announce when it was time to leave an event or outing, even if I wanted to stay, but we could never leave if I was ready to go before he was. I wasn’t allowed to point out any faults of his.
If I tried to say, “Here’s something that really bothered me and I need to talk about it,” instead of listening, he said “Well here’s something that bothered me a few weeks ago and we need to talk about THIS now and i’m angry!” Always overshadowing my needs. Always tossing what I needed to the side. If I tried to say, “Please, how do we stop this argument from happening,” I was accused of wanting things to end on my terms and being “over it”. If I remembered something differently than he did, I was crucified for not adopting his version of the memory. At times, he’d violently punch himself in the face or bash his head into the walls. I suggested a therapist, but he refused. I thought of secretly contacting his father on multiple occasions because of the fearful level of destructiveness he showed to himself. This was not normal. Once he knew that I was cautious about what I said to him, because I was afraid of the outbursts he might have in response, he grew angry at my fear.
One night, on a company trip, he locked me in our room and said he was going to go kill himself and that I had caused these feelings because I wanted to stay in a hotel that night. I had to escape by climbing over the wall of the outdoor bathroom. I was terrified to tell my boss. My friends later said it was better I hadn’t.
He blamed it all on anxiety. That was always the excuse for the lengthy, bitter reactions. He viciously battered me with harsh words as retaliation for bringing up my issues to him. Only in hindsight did I realize how ridiculous it was to pander to these temper tantrums time and again (God forbid I ever argued back that I felt I was right, it would have made the conflict last 48 hours instead of 24). I don’t believe anxiety should make you lash out at people. I have it sometimes, and it never makes me angry at someone, just scared. It never makes me want to attack someone. His anxiety made him interrupt my aunt while she was speaking to me one night, when she said she didn’t want us sleeping in the same bed at my grandparent’s house. I may reside on the social outskirts of polite normalcy, but I know better than to try and pull someone away from their mom or an elder family member because I feel my need to immediately speak to them is more urgent. Even I know that’s rude.
The amount of money he also borrowed from his father, in addition to me, showed me I might never get the the level of respect I craved. Because that’s someone who’s been there his entire life, and far nicer than myself, and I just popped up late in the game. The professions of marriage and kids seemed like the strangest thing coming from him, blurted in moments of drunkenness. He stormed away from me during every argument, even though he told me he hated when I did it (so I’d stopped, but he continued), multiple times, so the conflicts lasted even longer because a proper conversation couldn’t even be held. He’d admitted to me that whatever he didn’t like, he walked away from it. That was his M.O. in life. Which is exactly what he did to me. Straight into his ex’s arms the same night he left me. It was proof that whatever I had tried so desperately to protect, was flimsy and provisional. Why didn’t I see it before? Why don’t we ever see it? The abuse and manipulation runs so deep, you don’t even notice it hidden behind the emotion which equals passion which equals…meaning…? You don’t realize the bonds you thought were so strong were really transient cancers, and the longer cancer lasts the more it leaves you sick, ravaged and exhausted. After the breakup, I stumbled across posts asking “Were you dating a narcissist?” and the lightbulb flashed and grew in brightness. The selfishness, the need for instant gratification, the manipulative tactics when they don’t get their way, the sense of entitlement, the charming mask for outsiders, the table-turning.
Objects can hold energies, and with each one I threw out, I felt my heart cleansing. Only those who have been through an emotionally abusive relationship understand how tossing the articles that belonged to the abuser helps to purge the nightmares. So maybe that’s why my mom didn’t understand when I wanted to toss all the decorative pictures he’d put up, but she wanted me to save them “just in case” she might want them. I knew that she WOULDN’T, it was just a case of sticky-eyes at seeing something free, but if she wasn’t going to take it then and there, I couldn’t stand to have them in my house any longer emanating poison memories. “You’re a brat, you know that,” she said to me, in a cruel moment where I needed someone to think about me and my feelings the most.
I believe life wanted to remind me of my strength. I distinctly remember coming home from a night hanging out with friends towards the end of it all. He hadn’t wanted me to go. In fact, he had made plans with his father earlier in the week, so I had made plans after for the same night to avoid being depressed in the house alone. His father ended up canceling. Of course, my ex got pissed at me because I didn’t immediately cancel my plans. I told him this was unfair, as I really needed to talk to my girlfriends and I knew he would absolutely NEVER do the same thing in my position. Hell, he wouldn’t even drop the controller if I was distraught. He didn’t like me talking to my girlfriends about my relationship either. Well, he did in the beginning, when he still had the mask on.I came back that night with positive vibes, and he felt them, and said something very poignant. He said that he could tell after speaking with my friends that I had come back with a strong, black woman, no-nonsense mentality.
And I could tell it distressed him to say that.
Why wasn’t he proud of me? I had forgotten that’s exactly who I am, and I could never be ashamed of that or have someone, especially not a man, make me feel as if being a strong, black woman with a no-nonsense mentality is problematic. Do you want to know the hidden meaning behind my fifth tattoo? It’s not JUST my favorite Smash Bros. character on my leg. It’s a sign of strength. It is a reminder that I am strong, sexy, confident, regal, and a worthy soldier who holds her head high with a powerful stance for what she believes in. A narcissist will make you try and forget that. My head had been brought down so low, I almost didn’t recognize myself anymore. Now I have a permanent reminder when things get rough. Stand tall.
The scars from the physical abuse over a decade ago were nothing compared to the mental wounds I was dealt as of late. But the beautiful thing about the mind is, while it can be cripplingly weak, it can be blazingly tenacious. We all may die a little sometimes, to be reborn from the ashes with renewed vigor, lessons learned and a vibrant healed wingspan, thirsty for flight.