Monday, May 24, 2010

Drawing a line in the sand

Boundaries are such a necessary and beautiful thing. They are good for a person and good for a relationship. However, it has taken me a while to fine tune my skills when it comes to clearly delineating my own boundaries in certain situations. Growing older is a blessing because with each hard lesson learned another batch of tools is earned.

Recently, I met someone who I at first thought I had the potential for a great relationship with. I felt a sense of connection with him. However, I was able to step back and recognize that I really didn’t know the man at all. I was able to pay attention to some of the early warning signs-the way he kissed me for example. The first kiss was nice, but every other one thereafter was wrought with aggression and utter lack of awareness. I felt as though he were trying to eat my face. When standing up, he would push me so far off balance that I felt in a perpetual state of almost falling. At one point, I finally figured out that I could put one foot directly behind the other and this would balance me against his torrential shoving.

Perhaps as I grow more in my abilities, I will be able to assert this boundary much sooner. As it was, I told him after about the third time that he was pushing me over. It didn’t do any good at stopping him from continuing the behavior, however. This was yet another red flag. After I communicate that something is not working for me, the response should not be to carry on as before.

The last part about his kisses that I found most disturbing was, on a couple of occasions, when he took his hand to the back of my head and pushed it with all his might, as if trying to unscrew the lid of a tight peanut butter jar. I had to actually break the suction and pry his hand off of my head. I believe a more normal response would be to at least apologize if you find that a person has had to physically remove you from them. He, however, just tried to then push me over onto the floor. I again had to push him off of me so that I could stand up. I asked him why he would want to push me into the coffee table and he said he was being playful. I thought maybe I could kick him hard in the shins and “be playful” right back.

It was more than just the physical lack of boundaries on his part that I found so disturbing. There are certain tell-tale signs when you come across a narcissist. Some of the traits are an emotional lack of boundaries, a sense that whatever he is thinking and feeling is exactly what you must be thinking and feeling (because, again, there is no sense of you as a separate person from him). So, when I told him that I wasn’t having fun, he said, “but I’m having a fantastic time!” as if the two realities could not possibly coexist. The lack of ability to read another person is another sign as is a flat affect and lack of empathy for you.

At the same time, a narcissist can be very manipulative. This man, for example, reacted to me telling him that I thought we should go our separate ways by saying, “I know you said you didn’t want to hurt me, but you did!” Then, when I explained to him that his comment left me feeling like I was being put on a guilt trip, he said, “you’re assuming too much!” The truth is, I was not assuming anything, I was simply telling him about my experience and he was simply denying my truth in the hopes that he could twist it into what he wanted it to be.

When I gave him this bad news, he would not take “no” for an answer (another narcissist quality). He wanted to talk about it more in person. I would rather take a sharp needle to my eye and can’t understand why he would want the rejection to continue for himself. I’m pretty sure he hoped to change my mind, to bargain for getting things to go his way. Again, the truth of my own experience is completely lost on him. A narcissist sees himself as a victim always, never the person responsible. Sometimes he will tell you what you want to hear, pretend that he is complying with whatever it is you are requesting of him, but it is only to manipulate you into giving him what he wants.

Another aspect of the narcissist: he will do favors for you, give you things, create situations where you are in his debt. Again, this is only to afford him more leverage over you at some later time. There are lots of other things about narcissists that one would do well to study. Much can be discovered from Beverly Engel’s book, “They Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome”.

I say all this truly not to be mean-spirited to this poor soul. I wish him well on his journey and hope that he will somehow find his way. I admit that I know very little about him and could be completely wrong about who he is. But, I know that the unhealthy dynamic was there between us.

I’ve been here before. The difference is that this time I stopped it before it got very far out of hand. I’m so proud of myself for being able to take control and protect myself just as I had hoped I would be able to.

Part of what allowed me to do this was first recognizing that I can too easily create a victim role for myself. It’s a part I have felt comfortable playing for far too long. I attribute some of this waking up to a very dear friend of mine-actually the friend I’ve held onto for the longest in my life. She pointed this out to me and I was smart enough to listen. I started telling myself that I am not a victim but am instead the creator of my own experience. I started to see this truth play itself out in many small ways. Eventually, I have arrived at this day where I can see how much power I really do have to notice when things are not right and to use my voice to speak out about it. Most of all, I see now that I am totally empowered to take the necessary actions that will keep me healthy and safe.

I hope that others out there reading this can use this information to help them stay strong, protect their precious selves from all the many predators out there, and realize that saying “no” to one person is not unloving when it means saying “yes” to something else.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! You've summed up a personality disorder that's rarely understood or talked about into a visual for all to understand. As an expert in this topic let me tell you that hundreds of thousands of victims are preyed upon by these predators every day. For more on this behavior that is largely not even understood by therapists or the media, check out and click on the link called "Surviving Difficult People." Mary Jo Fay, RN, MSN Author of "When Your Perfect Partner Goes Perfectly Wrong"