Being in a relationship with a narcissist exposed me to massive amounts of pain on so many levels and in so many different ways that it has been difficult just to put what happened into words at times. There’s been sadness, grief, loneliness, confusion, fear, anger, humiliation, shame– all things you should never have to feel on a consistent basis in a healthy relationship with someone who claims to love you.
While in the middle of it and even afterwards as I’ve been healing from it, it has often felt like I had lost so much– parts of myself, friends, time, my ability to focus or to enjoy anything good in my life, the illusion that he was looking out for me and that he was the partner I needed him to be, the one he’d pretended to be. Yet while I was still in the relationship and trying to get out, there would be flashes of clarity that would let me know that even though I was hurting, I had learned a lot about myself, relationships, and the world, even if I couldn’t benefit from that knowledge yet. I knew that someday I would if I could just figure out how to untangle all the knots and start moving forward again.
So as I start off 2018, here are some of the things that I know I gained from being in this relationship with him.
1. I discovered I have the ability to love and trust someone that much.
Before meeting him, I had been rather guarded in my relationships. The intensity with which I fell in love with him happened because of a perfect storm of me having reached a point emotionally where I could share myself more openly with someone and of the someone who came along knowing exactly how to elicit those things from me. I had never really fallen in love before this, and now I know what the experience feels like and it was such a wonderful feeling. I know now that I have the capacity to love someone this much– someone who deserves it, and I can’t wait to share it someday with the right person when I’m ready.
2. I was able to explore my own vulnerability with another person on a physical and emotional level, which helped me “level up.”
Because I was ready to open up to someone and allowed myself to do so, I not only learned that I have the capacity to give that much love, I also discovered things about myself. During the time when I still viewed him as someone “safe,” I was able to let my interactions with another person help me explore more about how I feel and what I want, and now, today, I have a deeper understanding of who I am.
3. I learned what my strengths and weaknesses are.
Because he was able to exploit what are probably some of my best qualities as well as some of my existing flaws, I now have a greater sense of what both of those are. For instance, he exploited my deep need to feel accepted wholly and completely by another person by pretending to do so, then either blatantly or covertly betraying me by doing things such as mocking what he thought I might be insecure about or gossiping, exaggerating, or lying about me to other people in his life, including other women in his “harem” to get them to feel sorry for him or make them feel closer to him. He did the same thing to me with them. That’s just what he does– that’s what they all do, right? Now that I know what he was able to use against me, my job is to understand that I don’t need anyone else’s acceptance as long as I have my own. Yet he also took advantage of my willingness to forgive and give people the benefit of the doubt, my ability to empathize with the suffering of others, and the enjoyment I get from taking care of of other people’s needs. I’m also celebrating and appreciating those positive things about myself as I heal from this experience.
4. I decided it’s okay to have boundaries and look out for myself first.
Not only that, but if people don’t respect my boundaries or they expect me to always be putting them above myself, they don’t care about my well-being and they don’t deserve to be in my life.
5. I learned that not everyone deserves my attention or generosity equally.
I realize now, sadly, that not everyone has the same heart that I do. It’s sad because it was a shock when I had to truly face the fact that some people not only are not looking out for your best interests when they say they are, they may also actively be doing the opposite. Purposely, intentionally, blatantly. It’s hard to understand or even accept when you’re not that way, but by ending my denial over this fact, I am now in a better position to protect myself in the future by only giving the benefit of the doubt to people who demonstrate they are worthy of it. Otherwise, passing it out indiscriminately is setting myself up to be hurt by people who are waiting for opportunities to take advantage of others.
6. I learned that being treated nicely should not be a negotiable “checkbox” item in a relationship–it should just be standard.
Understanding this led me on a path to exploring why I didn’t already have that mentality in the first place. I was so willing to accept pain if it also came attached to love– or what felt like love. No, just no. Why was I willing to do that? That’s the question I’m delving even deeper into so that it never happens again.
7. I am even more aware of the silent ways people can suffer and why people do what they do.
I didn’t really consider myself a very judgmental person in the first place, but now I feel even more in tune with others than I was before. This experience has sharpened my world and given me a deeper appreciation for the pain that people experience, and why and how they can end up in situations they didn’t expect to find themselves in.
* * * * *
Ultimately, I’ve gained wisdom that makes my life even more worth living. I know what love is and is not. I know more about who I am and who I don’t want to be. I am even more empathetic than I was before, but I am simultaneously learning how to channel that empathy in ways that don’t weaken me.
Don’t get me wrong– I am still angry at the injustice over what I had to endure. I still mourn the loss of the love I thought I shared with him. I’m still sad that I gave everything I had to someone and he brutally and coldly violated it without guilt or regret. Nothing will take those emotions away but time. But they have faded into the background with the understanding that I am a more complete person now because of that relationship, because he came into my life and is now gone. I am on my way to living an even happier life.
Happy new year and here’s to living and moving forward into our best futures