It’s just a fragment of a memory, out of context, out of time, but a dramatic one none-the-less. My mother is in her room, on her bed, writhing in agony. She is wailing in pain and sobbing. My father is pacing back and forth in the livingroom, lost, unsure of what to do.
I am in the kitchen immobile. I can’t move. I am frightened and worried. My mother is in distress. There is nothing that I can do. My sister is home. I know that, but I don’t know where she is.
My father says, “We should take you to the doctor’s”.
My mother replies, sobbing, “Dr. Dean can’t see me until….” I don’t remember how far away the appointment was, but it is strange at this point in my life to remember my mother saying that.
If she had in fact been in as much pain and discomfort as she appeared to be, why was she refusing to see a doctor? Why did she not go into the emergency room of the hospital? Heaven knows that we had been there on many occasions.
I blurted out, “Dr. Dean will be dead by then.” I’m not sure why I said this. Perhaps, it was in recognition of how ridiculous her statement was in the midst of all of this drama. Perhaps I didn’t want the only solution, the only end to this to be so far in the future. All I know for sure is that I felt helpless, lost, worried and panicked.
I don’t remember any more. I don’t remember the outcome, other than the fact that Dr. Dean did die before my mother got in to see him. He was rather old at the time.
Now, in hindsight, I realize that this was probably just one more manipulation. My mother used illness as a way of making herself the centre of everyone’s attention. She was sick throughout my entire life. In this particular instance, the likely reason that she did not want to go into the emergency room was that there was nothing wrong and they would be able to tell. Her family could not. We were focusing all of our energy on her and that is the way she liked it.
In this book, Martha Beck examines the truly pathologic relationship she had with her parents and how she managed to get out from under it.
You know you are going to encounter them during the holidays. Here is a little refresher video to help you circumvent the drama when you see them. This technique can be used to keep calm and out of the line of fire.
I saw him swerve and stop and get off of his bike. He was a little ahead of me as we were biking down the highway, the only road that we could take to get to his parent’s place. Now, there is a “rails to trails” path that goes along this route that would’ve been nice at the time, but on the day we were travelling, we were right on the highway.
This incident occurred a considerable distance from our apartment. His parent’s place is a full 45-minute drive and we were two thirds of the way, but we had ridden our bikes. We had spent a lot of the summer biking around. Our trips had included biking to my hometown, to a wedding and up to see nicer scenery north of where we lived.
It appealed to him because we were doing something that he could brag about. We didn’t just bike; we biked 120 miles (200 km) in one day. We were adventurers; we were out there doing things other people could only imagine.
I enjoyed biking and being out on the road with just some equipment and my bike. This was something that I would do again. But, at the time, I didn’t realize why it was so important to do it in the shortest time possible and to only break if absolutely necessary. Now I know. It is all about bragging rights. If you are going to do something, specifically so that you can tell others that you have done it, it must be exceptional.
Now we were in trouble. The fork had broken off of the front of his bike. Two forks are necessary to hold the wheel in place and the right one had bent to the right and snapped off. We were just outside of a city and a significant distance from his parent’s place. This happened before everyone had a cell phone; so even calling someone would mean moving a bike, on one wheel, a considerable distance until we could get to a phone.
We were essentially stranded. After a few minutes of examining this fork and thinking about the laws of physics, yes physics — forgive me but I’m a scientist at heart — I realized that the pressure on the fork was down. In other words, it only had to have strength in one direction. In order for the fork to support the body of the bike and hold the wheel, it did not have to have sideways support. It had broken to the side. It did not need any strength in this direction.
What the fork needed was to be kept in alignment. If I could keep the top and bottom part of the fork lined up, the force down could be applied and it would be supported by metal on metal. There did not need to be a lot of strength sideways.
I found an appropriate sized piece of wood and rammed it into the fork and rammed the broken piece onto the other end of it. This perfectly aligned the two pieces so that pressure could be applied to the fork by the tire below and the handles above. He reassembled the wheel and we made it successfully to his parents’ place. I was thrilled. It is very exciting for me to come up with an innovative solution to a problem.
Every time I said something to him about it he brushed it off as obvious and not worth mentioning. When I tried to tell this story to friends or family he was interruptive and down played the significance. He never said that it was a good idea and just made it seem like this was so obvious that I was childish wanting recognition for it.
Now I know that he did not want to tell this story because he was not the star. There was a solution at hand and he didn’t find it. It hurt my feelings that day and for a few weeks afterwards, but I had no way of knowing that it was just a symptom of a larger problem and that I wouldn’t get credit for doing anything — ever…
Here we go again, live, or it was when I shot it, How to Outsmart a Narcissist.
There were fifteen minutes left before the job interview. I knew that if I called a taxi right now, I would still be late. I only had enough time if he showed up immediately with the van. I hadn’t called a cab earlier because I had reminded him that I had an interview and asked him to come right home after his lecture. He said he would.
So, here I was, ready, dressed and starting to panic. I was almost finished my masters of science and I was actively looking for a job. One of my supervisors was working for a government agency that was a perfect fit for my degree. She was an accomplished woman that I had gotten to know a little during my studies and I thought that I would enjoy working for. She was highly respected and I had come across her name a disproportionate number of times while researching scientific papers for my research, so I knew that she would be good to work for.
Casually, or so I thought, she asked me to come by her office and discuss, next steps, as in, after my master’s. I took it to be a job interview, and she had insinuated that was what it was, but it also could’ve been a discussion about another advanced degree. In either case, it was a great opportunity. If you are pursued to do your PhD it is much more prestigious than if you have to go and try to find someone to supervise you.
I had agreed immediately. I knew that I could make it to the appointment. I was so excited that I came home and told him about it. It turned out that he had one lecture that afternoon, but there was plenty of time to come home and then I could take our only vehicle to the interview. We also had one preschooler at the time, so I needed to have someone to take her for the 45 minutes, or so, that I would be out of the house.
So, the clock was ticking. He had not come home. This was a time before cell phones, so I could not call him and remind him. I had no way of knowing where he was. I called his office and he had not been there. He had done it again. He found a way to undermine me.
I called to tell her that I would not be able to make the interview and I tried to set up another time. She realized that I would always be this unreliable. She knew him as well and probably already had some preconceived notions about me based on her knowledge of him, and she declined. I asked her what she wanted to discuss and she begged off of the call and said that she had to go. She said that it was not important.
When he arrived he said that he had forgotten and that he had gone to the beer store. This of course, did not account for the amount of time that he was missing. I was angry and he attacked. He pointed out that I could’ve made other arrangements. He said that it was my own fault for not getting to the interview on time. He let me know that I was being unreasonable and that I was “losing it”.
Ironically, this turned out to work in my favour. There was no longer any question that he was sabotaging me every time that he got a chance. When I defended my thesis, he did not even know it was happening and I didn’t tell him about the next job interview until after I had the job.
We were in a hurry. We had a lunch to attend. It wasn’t so much that time was tight as the fact that he was the one that called the shots. If he was going to get the most out of his day, doing anything for someone else was always inconvenient. We were on the highway on the way home from a lodge. He had been working at the lodge, giving a talk, and because it was such a scenic setting, it was decided that I would go along.
I had golfed with him once at the lodge and I found it too challenging for me. He had wanted to golf again, so we went out that morning. I had no intention of golfing, it simply would have taken too long, and I knew that we didn’t have enough time, so I travelled along in the golf cart. The problem was that when we were as far as possible from the clubhouse, I realized I needed to pee.
Now, this is not normally a huge problem on a golf course. There are large relatively private places where you can take care of things discretely. Unfortunately, the people managing the course seemed to be a little suspicious of two people going out onto the course and only one person paying for a game, so they kept sending people around to make sure that I was, in fact, just watching.
Each time that I left the golf cart and tried to move into an area of relative privacy, someone from the club would come by in a truck, on a golf cart or simply walk in our direction. It was not going to happen. I was not going to get a chance to pee.
When he was finished playing golf he asked me not to go into the club house for fear that it bring up questions of whether or not I had played. We were leaving the lodge right away and it was decided that we would stop along the highway. I was becoming somewhat impatient.
As I write this story, it gives me that tense feeling that I get watching movies when you see the person making mistake after mistake and you know for sure that they are digging themselves into a hole. You want to scream, “Don’t do that!” or “Pay attention!” Little did I know at the time, but I was giving him great power. He fed off of this feeling of being in control, of having someone that desperately needed him to do something for them. He started to abuse this power.
I did not recognize at the time that he was probably amused by all of this. I could see that there was a place to pull off ahead and I said something like, “There is a Tim Horton’s up here.” He drove by it. Now, this is a four lane, restricted access highway that we were on and rest stops and exits were not that common on this stretch of the road.
I got angry. He claimed that I had not been clear enough that I had wanted him to stop. Now, I was at the point where I wanted him to just pull off to the side of the road. I would take my luck on the embankment. He would not stop.” We are in a hurry.” “I may be late if we stop.” “They are expecting us for lunch.”
Then the attacks started. I should’ve used a washroom before we left the lodge. I should be clearer if I want him to pull over. I was stupid for leaving things until I was so desperate. My choices were quite limited. I was uncomfortable now to the point that I was starting to worry that I might damage my bladder. I could just pee on the front seat of the van, or anywhere else in the van.
He was smug. He was certain that he was right and that my demands were unreasonable. Then I started to scream at him. Now, he pointed out, I shouldn’t get so emotional; I was insane and acting foolishly. I knew that if I was forced to void my bladder in the van I would never live down the humiliation. I did not know, at the time, that this all made him feel superior, in control, powerful. I didn’t learn that until much later.
He did eventually pull over at a drive through and I popped out as soon as the van was moving slowly enough that I could escape. He taunted me for getting out when we were still so far from the building, but I could see that if he pulled into the drive through that there was not enough room on my side for the door to open and I would once again be trapped.
We arrived early for the lunch but I was completely frazzled. I’m sure he pointed out to people that I was just a little unstable, most of the time, and that he had just learned to deal with my mood swings.
Once again, you find yourself struggling to remember what actually did happen. You are having THAT conversation again during which you are told your memory is bad, you are making things up and you must be losing your mind.
Anyone who has been in a relationship with a narcissist has been told this. It matters very little if the narcissist is a co-worker, parent, lover, acquaintance, family member or simply someone who lives next door. This tactic is very common because it works.
Very few people are completely certain of everything they remember. Did I say that when I was angry? Was there any way I was misunderstood? I’m certain she said that, maybe I didn’t hear her right or understand what she meant.
For narcissists this is one of the many games they play. They want you to feel off balance, to question yourself, to spend inordinate amounts of emotional energy trying to remember what was said, the order things happened in and how the events unfolded.
When you realize they have been “gas lighting” you, making you unsure of yourself, your memories and perceptions, the natural response is to want to do it back. Unfortunately, they have several advantages.
Narcissists lack empathy. This means they do not feel bad when they hurt someone. They do not “feel” the pain they cause other people. So when you are trying to remember if you did say what she says you said, she is enjoying your discomfort, not feeling badly because you are in a disagreement.
Another tact a narcissist will take is to overtly lie. He may tell you he “forgot” or “got stuck at work” when in fact he simply did not want to show up because he knew you were relying on him. This may have put you in an awkward position, like sitting at a restaurant with two other couples waiting for your date to arrive.
The narcissist has an advantage here because when he does arrive, he tells the whole table that you made the mistake. You had the date or location wrong. You were supposed to pick him up on the way to the restaurant and you come off looking foolish for having let everyone down.
Another tact to make you look foolish is to keep “poking” you until you snap and behave “irrationally”. If the narcissist can get you to explode in public, this provides nourishment in the narcissistic form. The narcissist thrives on drama and causing drama, especially public drama. Most people, find this distasteful, which is part of the appeal to the narcissist.
Here are three examples of things that narcissists will do that most people will not do:
2. Hurt You on Purpose
3. Make a public scene
Even if you are willing to lie, do hurtful things and try to get them to act out in public, it will backfire on you.
1. If you lie to a narcissist, they are certain you are wrong.
Unlike a person with a conscience, narcissists do not doubt themselves. They just turn it around on you. Now they have “proof” that you are losing your mind. Then, forever, this example will be their way of reminding you how you have been wrong before.
2. If you hurt them on purpose, they will play the pity card.
You hurt them. You are a nasty person and they can’t believe how mean you are. Since, I’m assuming, you do have empathy, you will feel bad. You may even feel fully responsible for hurting them and they win this one as well.
3. Finally, a public scene is their dream come true.
If you try to cause a scene, where they look foolish you will end up looking more foolish than they will. They do not feel emotions like others do so it is much easier for them to regroup and turn it around leaving you as the only one who is acting out in public.
If a crazy person and a normal person are fighting,
it is NOT possible to tell who is who.
If you are a neighbour, acquaintance or a co-worker, you cannot win. The cycle will devolve into a nightmare of them trying to get back at you and you doing what you can to get back at them.
So, don’t try. Never rely on the narcissist or believe what they say. Never confide in them or speak to them more than necessary. This will allow you to keep it light and superficial and minimizes the amount of harm that they can do.
If you happen to be in a personal relationship with a narcissist (parent, sibling, lover) and want to outsmart them, develop an exit plan. Do not tell them. Make sure you have considered everything. Where will you go? Do you have your own money? Do you have extra clothing and personal effects? Then, get into an argument with them and have them either kick you out, or have them break off the relationship. (I have to add, think safety here. I don’t want anyone starting an argument if there is a possibility of physical harm as well.)
Then leave. You have won.
It is only by making them believe that they left you and they came out on top that they will let you go easily. In their minds, you will try to get them back. So, they are much more likely to leave you alone. They will wait for you to come crawling back, which you have no intention of doing. They have lost you and you no longer provide any emotional nourishment.
My commute into work was unsustainable. I was driving almost 70 km (40 miles) into a large city. This particular highway would come to a complete stop if one drop of rain, or heaven forbid, a snowflake, landed on it. On more than one day it took over three hours to get into work.
In addition to the commute, the job was not during normal working hours. This is very important when you have small children because school and day care are during the day. If you have to work different hours, childcare becomes difficult. Spending time with your children is almost impossible if you are working evenings, or early mornings — think 4 a.m. All of this to say that I was highly motivated to get a new job.
At my place of work, promotions were rewarded through a competitive process that could easily be described as memorizing the assigned materials and being able to answer questions on it in both written format and during an interview. There was a job available about 20 km (12 miles) from my place. It was an office job, during the day, and would be a significant raise in pay and quality of life.
I made the first cut and they informed me that they would send me a fax. The information in the fax would be a significant part of the “interview” process and it was understood that I was supposed to be prepared to discuss its contents. The technology at this time was not what it is today. We did not own an actual fax machine. Our computer was hooked up directly to the phone lines (Yes, this was quite a while ago!) and was configured to answer the phone when a fax came in and download the file in electronic format.
I’m using the word, “our” but it was definitely his computer. I did not know how to use it well and we “shared” an email account during this time. It was before I was aware that you could create free email acounts, or perhaps before free email accounts were available.
I was anxious to read and start thinking about the fax so I asked him if the fax had arrived yet and he assured me that it had not. I asked daily for about three days and it was not there. Then came the day of the interview and the fax had still not arrived. I did not know who to contact about the fax and the people I spoke to at the office were not able to help me track it down.
I confidently went into the interview knowing that someone on their end had not sent the fax and that they would know how to deal with the interview. I had underestimated how competitive my husband was. He saw this job as potentially better than the one that he had at the time and he had done his best to undermine me. It would not be acceptable to him for me to have a job that was better than his.
As a narcissist he always had to “win”. He had to be on top. He always said that he supported me, but the underlying message was, “Go ahead and do whatever you want as long as you take care of everything that you are currently taking care of and don’t ask me to help.” By the way, this is not support.
The fax had been sent almost a week before and he had simply lied about it. The receipt for the sent and received fax was shown to me. I requested that the interview be rescheduled but that was not possible. When I confronted him he said that he had made an honest mistake. He did not realize that there was a new fax on his computer. He got angry and said that he was too busy to “discuss” this right now and started to criticize me for interfering with his ability to get his work done.
He liked to say that the best defense was a good offense and I was often the target of his anger. If he could attack sufficiently then he would not need to take responsibility or apologize — ever. I naively thought that it might have been a mistake. Unfortunately, it was part of a larger pattern. I just hadn’t figured it out yet.
This is an excerpt from my first book, “I Woke Up in Paradise“.
I was receiving cheques from the government. They had started to come again after my work at the emergency clinic, but they were about to run out. I had been applying to jobs and despite Bob’s insistence that I work; he was actively interfering with this process.
One company called to set up an interview. The job would have been in sales. Bob told the person that called that I was pregnant but that it would work out really well because I could take the baby with me to the sales calls. He explained to me afterwards that he had told the guy this. I was never interviewed for this position.
One job that I did get interviewed for was with the federal government. Not an ideal job but government jobs have a lot of benefits and security. On Thanksgiving weekend that year I got a call saying that I could start on the Tuesday. There were twelve weeks of training set up and if I could start right away, I could attend the training. If I could not start away I would not be able to start until they ran the training course again and that might be a year or so.
It was 12 weeks until the baby was due, so if all went well, I could work the twelve weeks and then the baby would be born. A woman that I had met through the playgroup said that she would take my youngest daughter for the twelve weeks. I explained that I would only need day care until the baby came. My daughter and her son were the same age and had gotten to know each other pretty well.
So, I took the job. When animals are being used for food, they are brought to slaughter plants. These places are more or less disassembly plants. The animal comes in one door and it is processed until all of the edible parts have been removed and all of the inedible parts have been disposed of.
Unfortunately, one of the known drawbacks to working in slaughter is that you become exposed to all of the bacteria that naturally occur on the animals. All of the caution about cooking your food before you eat it does not apply when you are not actually eating the animals. There is no way to protect yourself from exposure to these bacteria. They are in the air. You can inhale them on a water droplet.
All this to say that near the end of my pregnancy, I got a type of food poisoning from my initial exposure to these bacteria. When the smooth muscles of your digestive tract contract to aid in the removal of these pathogens from your body, it stimulates the contractions of your uterus. Some of the things that pregnant women are told to help bring on birth are based on this understanding. Eating spicy foods, for instance, can cause your digestive tract to become upset and have extra movement. This movement stimulates the uterus as well.
I can’t describe how awful it was not knowing which end to put closest to the toilet and having a contraction, each time my body tried to expel the toxins. I managed to call Bob at work and told him about the situation. He assured me that there was nothing that he could do about it and he was quite upset that I would not be able to pick my daughter up from day care. I guess I was not doing my part. There was no question that I was completely alone in the world.