Now that I am seventeen years free of being held captive in an abusive marriage, I am quite a good narcissism detector. But a friend recently recommended the youtube videos of a life coach named Richard Brannon in Southern California. He made some extremely wise connections that answered some serious questions that I could never seem to get answered. (I am putting a link to his channel at the end of this blog. He is excellent but he does use language that some might find difficult to listen to.) Seriously, he is the best narcissism detector I have heard.
His first observation that struck me was that if you want to be a narcissism detector, you have only to administer one small test. Smile and say no. You see, boundaries are intolerable to narcissists. Brannon described it as sitting in a restaurant with your milkshake. The narcissist across the room stretches his straw all the way into your milkshake and drinks it down. The invasive behavior of a narcissist is always about destroying personal boundaries with the goal of complete domination. He is after you and everything you have.
My in-laws always sent me a check for my birthday which my ex-husband would promptly confiscate. In the fourteen years I was married to him, I was never allowed to have any money given to me by others. I circumvented this with my parents by requesting specific gifts, but it was a source of serious resentment for me. Occasionally I would pull myself together and decide to say no.
One birthday in Kentucky, we were seriously low on groceries. I went to the post office box and found my birthday check there and decided to spend it on groceries at a local Asian market. I came home with several bags of groceries and about fifty bucks in my pocket. I still remember the absolute rage on his face. In fact, he kicked me and the girls out of the house.
I had kind neighbors who drove me five hours to the Atlanta train station where I crossed the country with my four daughters. At the time, my youngest was four months. I remember the anxiety and exhaustion of crossing the country in a train. We did not have a sleeper car. Any attempts to put up a boundary generally met with this kind of response. People often asked me why I could not talk to him, bring him to reason. How could I possibly explain? This kind of reaction happened over a hundred dollars.
Another question that Brannon answered for me is why the narcissist is so hard to break ties with completely. They always come after you, over and over to the point of being ridiculous. After a five-day train trip with three little girls and an infant, I arrived at my parent’s house to find John calling incessantly. I can’t describe how apologetic he was. He trapped me for hours on the phone, pleading with me, begging me to take him back. Note to self: Narcissists talk for hours and hours.
You see, a narcissist isn’t satisfied until you are completely destroyed. They lure you back over and over so that they can wreak more and more destruction. The reason for this is that because they are incapable of accessing, much less owning, the horrific void within themselves, they strive to create it in others so they can experience it vicariously.
When Brannon put this into words, some interesting contexts came together for me. When, at seventeen, John and I told my mother that I was pregnant and that we were getting married, she was shocked. Later, she described to me the eager look on John’s face when we broke the news. She felt at the time that he enjoyed her emotional pain at the news. She was more right than she knew.
He often seemed to enjoy my suffering, putting me into situations that were at best impossible and at worst humiliating. At one point I was about to start my first job as a teacher. The morning I was to begin, he took the keys away from me, leaving me to disappoint my employer. I think that was just the beginning of his plans to destroy my career as a teacher, though fortunately, he did not succeed.
Another point he made in the video I watched was that not all narcissism is overt. Certainly, my ex was aggressively narcissistic. But one of the dangers of being a naturally empathetic person is that secret narcissists often search you out as well. These narcissists spend a lot of time talking about empathy but rarely give any. They come to you and pour out their woes and then after they leave, you discover yourself drained of energy.
Basically, if you want to be a narcissism detector, you have to be willing to say no to the boundary pushers in your life. The last point he made was that it isn’t up to you or me to diagnose Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Even trained psychologists find it challenging since the relationship between narcissism and lying is well established. All that really matters is that you become the narcissism detector in your own life.
Narcissistic abuse, whether pathological or not, damages people. Find out early in a relationship by erecting boundaries. If the person you are seeing views those as threatening or amusing, opt out. Say no a couple times and see how they handle it. How people respond to a refusal speaks volumes about them.
My last observation is that in Proverbs it says that a righteous man is satisfied from himself. What this means is that a good person has developed themselves enough that their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual life is fulfilling. A healthy person doesn’t have to drink down anyone else’s milkshake. They like theirs just fine.
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