This week I received a blast from the past, a communication from a decidedly narcissistic family member. It worked – no doubt, as intended – to unsettle me. I found the old, unhelpful “Yes, maybe they have changed…” thoughts kicking in. These thoughts are a hazard for anyone who has ever been in a close relationship with an abuser. So, in this article, I want to look at how to deal with those dangerous thoughts before they trip you up.
Your psychology can trip you up
First off, you have to acknowledge that your own psychology can trip you up. As a nice person, you want to believe the best of people. You like to hope that anyone can change. As I can attest from my own recent experience, that hope doesn’t just wither away, simply because you know better. From time to time it has to be actively pruned right back.
Plus, you need to work your distinction muscle. Most people not only can change but are willing to change, given the right circumstances. When confronted with the evidence of just how beastly and wrong they have been, most people are prepared to own responsibility for their bad behaviour. They will commit to behaving better in the future.
Narcissists are not “most people”
Sadly, abusive Narcissists are not most people. What holds true for most people does not hold true for them. They do not see deep personal change as being remotely in their interest.
Why would they ever bother to change themselves when they can always change the people around them? Why would they do anything that suggests there has ever been something wrong with them? What would be the point of that, when they can “prove” – by moving on to fresh prey and establishing a new relationship – that there is so much right with them?
Narcissists are geniuses when it comes to creating a great, superficially credible, illusion.
So, you have to get wise to yourself. That means you have to contend with your own internal dialogue, which likely goes something like mine did.
My unhelpful internal dialogue
Me: “Why are they coming out of the woodwork, now?”
Also me: “Hey, come on. They sound really quite reasonable. I know they are at a different life stage now. People always say that that life stage changes you. Maybe they really have changed.”
Me: “You think? Why would they do that now, when they never have before?”
Also me: “Well, I remember times when they really did seem more caring and open to my way of thinking. Maybe they have finally woken up to themselves.”
Me: “Really? Anything else?”
Also me: “Okay. Maybe they have finally recognised that they do care about me.”
Me, banging my head against a brick wall: “So, why now? What about all the evidence of past performance?”
Also me. “Yes, but I truly want to believe that people can change.”
Me: “And you still hope t that they could give you what you have always wanted from them?”
Also me: “Well, yes… Is that so unreasonable?”
At that point, a third me, the abuse recovery coach kicked in and thought,
“Perhaps we need to go a little deeper with all of this.”
So, that is what I shall do now.
But, before I do, are you wondering if I am crazy because there are different parts of me representing different interests and concerns? Or do you accept that what trips you up from time to time are precisely the different parts that dive in uninvited to muddy the waters of your thinking?
Actually, it is really helpful to acknowledge that you are a creature of parts. Some parts of you are still trying to get their childhood wounds healed by the person who inflicted them. (If so, you may well need to do the kind of healing work that I do with my individual clients.)
It is when one of those irritatingly irrational parts takes over that you find yourself saying, “I know I shouldn’t be doing/saying that but…”
You like pretty much everyone else on this planet could be having an issue with parts that need upgrading. That is important information for you to work with.
Having established the problem that you, likely, face with your own psyche, we can now turn our attention to the person who seems to be holding out the dream. What is going on there?
How Narcissists achieve a certain ring of truth
What my family member wrote struck me as having a certain ring of truth to it. That initially swayed me.
Why did it sway me?
Because it matched the way that I would express myself if I were seeking to reopen an honest dialogue.
Of course, it would, wouldn’t it?
Narcissists in general, and this one in particular, are very good at mirroring and matching a person that they want to… what?
- Emotionally ensnare.
- Gain (or regain) control over.
And let’s be honest here, when someone speaks to you in the language of your own beliefs and values , it feels so instantly validating that it can be hard to step back and ask the killer question,
The killer question
“Yes, but how does this fit with the person that I know and have loved deeply – at huge personal cost?”
When I stepped back and asked myself that killer question, I did so in the context of actions – and lack of actions.
- Where was that person when I was at rock bottom?
- What did they ever do for me? As opposed to what they said they did for me?
- Why now?
- What might they be hoping to get out of it?
- What proof of genuine change did one well-crafted communication give me?
- What were the emotional hooks in that carefully crafted communication? And what was their purpose.
And then, being the kind of personal that I am, I had to ask myself the clincher,
Am I just being a cranky old bat? Or am I acting in a justified way out of self-care?
At the end of all of that, my conclusion was, unsurprisingly, that I was being played.
I don’t know the exact reason why. But I do have a few highly credible ones to choose from.
The person in question is not interested in my well-being. That communication came to enhance their own public image and possibly gain access to some kind of personal benefit that the old me could have been manipulated to provide.
The current, upgraded me is not going there. I simply don’t have the energy for that kind of drama and disappointment anymore.
Be kind and be analytical
When you feel unsettled by a blast from the past, be kind to yourself. Listen to how you respond spontaneously. Then take charge of the situation by getting analytical about it. Ask yourself the killer question with all its different sub-questions. At the end of it, you may still feel unsettled. But you will have the strength not to let the toxic person destabilize your life once again.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.