The Last Straw

It has been called to my attention, by someone with the degrees to speak to these things, that my husband is a narcissist.

My first reaction was denial.  Surely this kind, gentle, loyal man who wouldn’t hurt a fly, surely this absentminded professor, surely HE isn’t a narcissist.  Everyone loves him.  He’s so congenial.  He’s always the last to know when he has bumbled his way into hurting someone.

I must have misreported, I thought.  I must have painted the picture too dark.  I spoke to only the bad times, the 20%, when there’s the 80% where he’s easy to get along with, where we make a good team, where everyone looks at us in action and goes, “Aww, what a cute couple.”

Granted, I have to tiptoe here and jump through hoops there and avoid this and that in order to make that 80% work, but I’m well trained enough at this point to think that this Peter Panda Dance is normal, so it’s not that big a deal.  I may look a little funny doing it, but I can put up with that.

Until, of course, we find ourselves in the 20% of the time when he turns on me and starts accusing, starts twisting things around to be my fault.  When he makes me doubt my own perception of reality.  When he lies and undermines. When any attempt to point out what he is doing bounces off armor so thick he doesn’t even seem to notice what was said. When he is so convinced of the fact that he is really all right, after all, that straight talking and plain words don’t even seem to penetrate and he looks at me quizzically and asks what he can do to help me with these mysterious emotions I am suddenly displaying out of nowhere.

In other words, when he acts like a narcissist.

I have known all along that something was off-kilter.  It’s always been this big mystery of wrongness that I could never fully quantify.  I wrote it off as Aspergers, as ADD, as childhood issues, as fear.  I just never went for narcissist tag because that seemed over the top.

The counselor who identified this pointed out that his very phobias are part of the narcissism.  He controls me and the kids with his need for extra help.

Which led me to realize that he’s a kind of Drunken Master of behavioral issues, acting needy and out of control and yet somehow leveraging that into a skilled manipulation of the people around him.

I was still not completely convinced, because honestly, he presents as such a harmless, likeable guy.  Oh wait, but that’s what narcissists do.

But no, really, he doesn’t ever seem to really know what’s going on.  None of his harmful behaviors seem intentional.

Except, you know, when he gets super mean and either attacks me for everything I’ve ever done wrong, or failing that, gets petty and starts jabbing at me verbally and pointing out every little faux pas and sabotaging my confidence.

Oh, wait, but that’s what narcissists do.

So perhaps he’s not the over-the-top, planning mayhem for the fun of it, “accidentally” destroying my personal identity documents and ruining my credit so I can’t leave him narcissist that I’ve read about in articles online.  And perhaps he has himself fooled too.  But the behaviors, whether they are conscious or subconscious, are definitely there.

All this was rattling around in my brain the other morning, and I was trying to decide how much of it was true, when something so small, and yet so undeniable happened that it tipped the balance.  It was the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back.

He and I decided to go for a walk.

Within five minutes, all four dogs caught on, so I got them all harnessed while he finished up an email for work. I still had doggy-do bags in my pocket from the day before, so as we were about to leave I said, “I have three bags- do you think that will be enough?”

He shrugged and said, “Yeah, the puppies never poop on a walk so even if one of the big ones goes twice you’re good.”

So I said okay and reached for the door but he stopped me and looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Aren’t you going to get more?”

And I said, “But you just–” and he interrupted and in a mildly scolding tone told me of course we need more than three bags with four dogs.

I’m not making this up.  It happened that quickly.  In the space of time it took me to say “Okay” and reach for the door, he flipped what he was saying to the opposite and denied that he had ever thought differently.

If all he had said was “Yeah” when I asked him about the bags, then it could have been a simple misunderstanding.  It could have been that I heard “yeah” when he said “nah.”  That’s a normal thing that can happen, especially when you have four excited dogs at your feet.

But there’s no way I misheard his entire statement about the puppies never pooping on a walk and one of the two other dogs going twice, as she sometimes does.

Is this petty? Am I splitting hairs?  Should I have just shrugged and let it go?  Sure, I could have.  Just like I did every other time he flipped on me midstream.  Every time for the past 25 years. Every time it was such a small thing, it didn’t need to be a big issue.  I could have easily let that go.

But I’m done with letting him undermine my self-confidence.  I’m done with pretending. So I started to protest, “No, you said we DIDN’T need more bags,” but he cut me off again, smiling a funny “what is wrong with you” smile and saying, “I just told you to get more.”

I looked at him for a beat.  He wasn’t going to back down. I suddenly remembered the words I had read about narcissists.

Covert narcissists use very cleverly hidden emotional blackmail, mental abuse, suggestive techniques and manipulative linguistic patterns to force their partner to question their own sanity; behaviors which people that know them would never ever dream of them of ever being capable of.

Every time he has done this to me in the past flashed before my eyes, and those times have been many, but this time, instead of falling for his sabotage, I finally saw through it. I saw it for what it was.

I’m on to you, I thought.

So I smiled pleasantly, and while I was grabbing more bags, I said, in a very light, non-sarcastic tone, “Oh, my mistake. You didn’t say what you just said. No problem.”

He didn’t reply. He didn’t even acknowledge I had said those words.  Nothing.

He did, however, then tell me that five bags wasn’t enough either and insisted that I should bring the whole roll of bags like he usually does.

And at this point it occurred to me that he was feeling threatened. You know why? Because he is usually the one who carries the crap bags. It was just a fluke that I was pulling them out of the cupboard instead of him, but for some reason, he didn’t like it.

He was miffed for the entire walk. Even when I was the one who picked up the poop, which again, is usually his job. He took issue with the fact that I didn’t immediately deposit a bag in a nearby trash can that I hadn’t noticed while I was picking up the poop, smiling that superior “what is wrong with you” smile again.

And just like that, the camel came crashing down. I can’t decide if I am delighted or horrified about the fact that the last straw was a bag of doggy do.

Either way, the fact that I saw his narcissistic behavior as it happened and then chose to side-step it made me feel like he can never get to me again.

Wait, I need a little pause there.  Let me just bask in that a little.

He can NEVER get to me again.  The jig is up.

He can narcissize until the cows come home, but I’m not falling for it again.  This is what I meant when I said the other day that he had lost me.  He has lost control.  He has lost his ability to manipulate me.  He has lost the last shred of respect I had for him.  He has lost my heart.

He hasn’t lost my physical presence, simply because I’m not going to let his crap disrupt my family and my kids’ lives. Not over the bad 20% of his behavior.

Now that I can side-step the attacks that come in the 20%, his fangs are removed and I can put up with the annoyance of his roaring.

Of course, if, when he realizes he has completely lost control of me, he gets mean, I’ll revisit the issue then.  If that 20% grows, I’ll reassess.

But for now, I can still get along with him day to day, and I can even be cooperative and friendly.  As long as he’s not trying to control, he’s okay.

And when the kids are all safely out of the house and moving on with their lives, I will too.  I have my survival plan.   I’m working on an exit plan, but that one will have to be long term so I have time.

If he miraculously becomes honest and faces his stuff in the meantime (God can do miracles… it can happen), then I can scrap the plan, but for now, it appears inevitable.

Not what I signed up for.  Not what I ever dreamed would happen, but then again, this is what happens when you marry a narcissist.

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