Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
I’ll get to the specifics of the words above within the context of intimate relationships in a bit, but let me start by saying this:
I am not currently in an official romantic relationship. And that’s by choice. I have been comfortably single for almost 4 years now, with no sense of urgency to engage in a romantic relationship for any reason, especially not those that may have acted as driving forces for me in the past, such as social expectations and the belief in “soul mates”. Additionally, I’m not one bit embarrassed about my single status, I have no interest in anybody’s opinion on whether or not it’s about time I move on in that department, I don’t feel lonely in my own company, I don’t long for feelings of “completeness” through another person (Jerry Maguire, anyone?), I don’t engage in fantasies about fairytale love – in fact, those classic bedtime stories and princess movies we have grown up with? Not great for a healthy perception of what love is…
You may choose to call this bitterness, fear, and self-imposed isolation – and I mean no disrespect when I say what you choose to call it is irrelevant. I will say, however, these elements most certainly were ingredients of how this started off and, in that sense, this perception wouldn’t be that far off from the truth. But at the same time, just as much as I choose not to engage in stereotypical love affairs under fantasies of “happily ever after”, I also don’t see myself falling into the opposite stereotype of a bitter cat lady either.
I have come to understand that life has a flow and the more we can go with this flow with proper emotional intelligence in place, the more likely life is to unfold in ways we are ready for and the more likely we are to engage with all the moving parts in a healthy, constructive and positive way. And this is where I am now. Comfortably single, open to possibilities, not eager to make any relationships happen, choosing to allow what resonates with a normal flow, but still challenging myself into healing and empowerment, as I have no interest in staying stuck. And this goes both for relationships, as well as all the other areas of my life.
So, within this realm of possibility, and in not actively searching, but also not completely denying the option for intimate relationships either, I have eventually been presented with a situation that made it clear to me what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like. And this is what I want to explore here today.
I don’t call this a committed relationship and I also most certainly don’t call it or engage with it as a fling. Within clear and established boundaries and agreed upon expectations, there’s a respectful, mature, and gradual construction of intimacy that is unlike anything I have ever allowed myself to experience before. It also isn’t something we’ve just turned the corner on – this has been an extended period of time coming. Enough for a fairly solid assessment on respect for boundaries, consistency, behavioral patterns, reaction quality, conflict management styles, resonance between words and actions, personality and background differences, overall perception of character. On both sides, not just mine.
That’s not to say that I’ve got this all figured out or that the possibility of my assessment being inaccurate doesn’t exist – these guarantees are unrealistic in life. However, even if the person in your life is emotionally and psychologically healthy, you won’t know that until you do. This may take a long, long time and it still won’t ever be a sure fire predictor of future behabior, it’s simply a collection of observations that act as a compass to guide us through the path of trust and intimacy. And building both these things takes time, there are no shortcuts – and that’s how it should always be. So the only way to move forward is by moving forward and assessing behavior as you go. So far, I have no reasons to believe I should be worried about this person’s motives. In fact, quite the opposite.
As different types of situations arise, as they naturally do, there is also that inner dialogue going on in our minds, that responds to them. I have become very mindful and intentional on observing what my internal dialogue says, what it means and whether or not it needs to be deconstructed or encouraged. I often put myself as a third person observer of my own thoughts and feelings, as a way to preserve objectivity and honesty towards myself and the other party. This has been substantially valuable in providing myself with more accurate perceptual assessments on a variety of contexts and situations. More importantly, it has allowed me to sit with such assessments and draw conclusions and insights on the fundamental distinctions between relationships that are healthy and the ones that are dysfunctional, toxic, pathological and destructive. It can be a mindblowing experience if you pay attention not only to the main aspects, but also to the subtleties in the dynamics.
I’ll mention one simple, though powerful example of how this plays out in context:
It wasn’t long ago that this person got excited about going to an upcoming sporting event. As he described his plans with enthusiasm, I found myself feeling genuinely excited for him. I was encouraging, I held space, I wished him a good time and enjoyed him sharing his experience with me afterward.
However, as a mindful observer of my inner dialogue, it was impossible not to notice how drastically different this felt to me in comparison to when the narcissist would communicate most sorts of social interactions he would engage in, with or without my presence. So, let’s explore this a little further:
These would typically be followed by a sinking feeling, high levels of anxiety and a sense of uncertainty about how big of a conflict would ensue from that situation – as it always, inevitably would. Over time, I had learned that his descriptions and plans for going to a sports event, a night out with friends or anything of that nature, were misconstructions of the truth, planned out omissions, ill intentions – kernels of truth surrounded by an amassment of lies that, time after time, invariably surfaced, – causing endless conflict, realizations of deceit, gaslighting and blame shifting episodes. I eventually became trained in expecting these unavoidable results, thus feeling and sometimes even reacting defensive at the simple mention of things that should (and would) be seen as normal, harmless occurrences in a healthy relationship.
Of course, that wasn’t what I was dealing with. So, as I reacted in what I thought were boundary setting ways, I was repeatedly accused of being overly jealous, paranoid, not being able to let go of past grudges and trust, being controlling and clingy. And this, I’m sure as a matter of fact and not perception, is how he portrayed me to others, to include the people he was out with and his family.
This inverse logic leaves you nothing to work with. You have a clear and traceable history of that person’s toxic misbehaviors, the narcissist and the victim may both be fully aware of it, but it isn’t “allowed” to be used as a predictor of future behavior because it is framed as bitterness and grudge holding – regardless of the most recent incident having taken place the week before or 6 months earlier, or if it happened 3 times or a thousand. That, right off the bat, neutralizes anything you may have to say past this point because that is all it will boil down to in the narcissist’s mentality. If we insist in pointing out logic regardless, now that will be dismissed under allegations of us having insecurities that they shouldn’t and refuse to be “punished” for. They adopt a dismissive attitude towards any feelings being communicated to them and laugh at the boundaries we try to put in place. In my situation, this would sound like “I don’t need this”.
So, they go on their merry way, completely disregarding logic, feelings, their own responsibility in why you feel defensive and anxious in the first place. And if you choose to stay in the relationship despite the utter disrespect and dismissiveness of your partner towards you and keep putting yourself through this, you might as well stock up on liquid tranquilizers and drink them from a straw every time, while they drink a gallon of vodka and do as they please (to include cheating), though this won’t change the fact that nothing you do will change how they behave and you’re repeatedly setting yourself up for heartbreak, conflict, sorting through lies and deception that will likely follow, while being so gaslighted you sit there wondering if maybe they are right about your “pathological insecurities”.
So, yes, it was quite a challenge for me to feel excited about an upcoming social engagement the narcissist happened to have. It was always an announced disaster. I knew it, he knew it, I consistently made the mistake of thinking it was just a matter of getting him to understand basic concepts like respect and empathy, he didn’t seem to care at all what he did and how it affected me, just as long as he could gaslight me into staying. Rinse, repeat.
Is this just the narcissist’s fault? No, it isn’t. I know a lot of the abuse stays under the radar (hey, I’ve certainly been there myself) and it’s clear in retrospect and difficult to objectively detect as you’re living it, but we have responsibility in it too. However, it is in no way related to owning or managing said “insecurities”, rather it lies in not having enough self respect and assertion to look at this the second time it happens, recognize the pattern, laugh at their attempt to gaslight us and say “You know what? I don’t need this!!”. And walk away before any major damage has been done. If we lack that ability, for whatever reason (often because we tend to take it upon ourselves the role of proving to the narcissist that we won’t be yet “another person to break their heart”), this will be exploited to the fullest. The silver lining, however, is that if you’ve been there and now recognize it, hopefully that lesson has been learned (though at unimaginable costs, I’m sure) and chances are, anyone who ever attempts to pull this trick with you, will be out the door before they can say “trust me”.
Now, fast forward to present time and I’m standing in front of the fridge looking for a snack and this person in my life is telling me about this sports event they are excited about going. What a breath of fresh air to think “That’s awesome, what a great opportunity! Oh, carrots sound good right now”, instead of “ok, which is the nearest bathroom where I can throw up? I feel sick.”
I said I’m being mindful and intentional about listening to my inner dialogue, so as I observed my emotional response to this situation, the calmness and the healthy quality of how I felt stood out like a watermelon on a haystack. There were no insecurities, no irrational fears or anxiety, no thoughts of how this could end up in an argument (as I write this, it makes me want to laugh at that perspective, that is how downright absurd it would be in this situation). Just simple, honest feelings of excitement for the opportunity he had to go do something fun and create some cool memories.
It is important to notice that this is how I felt, despite the narcissistic abuse I’ve been through. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that after being in an abusive relationship for 7 years, made to feel constantly anxious about the other person’s whereabouts, actions, intentions and behaviors, one could easily end up developing a suspicious nature, even if it wasn’t innately there. Furthermore, if I had any type of deeply seated and ingrained insecurities stemming from childhood or previous relationships, then not only would those insecurities manifest in both relationships, but they would likely be severely worse after abuse. The fact that there was no sign of insecurity, suspicion, fear or anxiety whatsoever in this situation tells me a couple of things that I want to share here, because I’m willing to bet they apply to a lot of other victims and survivors out there:
- I was never originally insecure. This is putting things in simple terms for the sake of argument because clearly nobody is 100% secure, 100% of the time, about 100% of themselves, but what I mean is, I can’t identify that level of insecurity I experienced in the narcissistic relationship prior to being in it. I had a solid sense of self and whatever insecurities I happened to have, were minor in comparison and simply felt like areas I was aware of and actively taking steps to improve in, such as losing some weight for my own health’s sake. But that didn’t make me feel unlovable or less worthy. The insecurity I experienced in the narcissistic relationship was manufactured by the narcissist by expanding on minor vulnerabilities, which then were used against me as a tool for emotional and psychological control. Outside of the sick dynamics of a narcissistic manipulationship, the insecurities he accused me of having simply do not exist. More on this on a separate post I’ll link to here, once it’s published, because this assessment is more complex than what makes sense to explore here right now. But the main point is this: we are typically nowhere near as (or at all) insecure as the narcissist wants us to believe we are, but since they can’t control victims unless they start doubting themselves, they repeatedly and intentionally fabricate situations to cause just that. You become insecure. You start believing this is an issue you actually have. And you won’t realize how this came about until you are out of the relationship, educate yourself and find yourself responding and reacting in completely different ways to similar triggers.
- Just as I recognize my responsibility in allowing myself to be manipulated and gaslighted, I also recognize and pat myself on the back for my empowerment in understanding that if I were to see that type of behavior again, I have control over my own choices and decisions, and how I react and respond. Therefore, I don’t experience anxiety over someone else’s potential actions, which I can’t control. Instead, I now experience peacefulness and empowerment over my acquired wisdom. I do have the narcissist to thank for this valuable lesson in spotting an abuser.
- Narcissistic abuse absolutely changes us, and sometimes in pretty fundamental ways. However, who we are in our core is very much like a cork being pushed underwater: letting go of resistance is all it takes for it to bounce back up, resurface and float, like it is in its nature to do. Hear me out on this one: while we don’t need to wait for a healthy relationship to come along for our cork to bounce back up, don’t be surprised if it does under these circumstances. In healthy relationships, there’s space, encouragement, and appreciation for the expression of our authentic selves and no interest or intention in fabricating issues that aren’t there – and, if minor versions of them happen to be there, a mature, psychologically healthy partner will encourage and help you get past them, and not prey on them for his or her advantage.
Love is patient, love is kind: the healthy relationship thrives under the understanding and acceptance that things take time, that what is rushed misses the point and, therefore, patience and kindness towards each other are building blocks that shouldn’t be skipped or the relationship has nothing to stand on. It is through time that we are able to develop a sense of trust, intimacy, a better understanding of the other person’s nature and intentions, how our goals as individuals line up (or don’t), how we really feel about the person past the elation phase and more.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud: there will be no envy, nor a need for jealousy or competition in a healthy relationship. Instead, there will be cooperation, collaboration, and a genuine interest in bringing the best out in each other. An understanding that the better we can be, individually, and the better we can encourage the other person be, the stronger the union we’ll have. Emotionally mature partners are on the same team.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered: emotionally healthy adults don’t try to win arguments, they try to resolve disagreements for the benefit of both parties – and not just for their own. They don’t resort to yelling, name-calling, belittling, diminishing. Conflict doesn’t look like war and communication pertaining to differences involves listening, just as much as it involves talking, with a good balance between an intent to understand and the respect for boundaries. Rudeness and yelling are the weak-minded’s imitation of strength.
It keeps no record of wrongs: because it isn’t a competition!! It’s collaboration. Issues get resolved and put behind – not shoved or bottled down inside. Therefore, resentment doesn’t need to festering inside anyone. Accusations designed to show the other party how many times they’ve been wrong, even when they weren’t, are tools of the manipulative individual, who has no interest in keeping the peace – but rather in keeping a facade. In order to do so, the narcissist thinks someone needs to be wrong so that they can be right. Therefore, they will definitely keep record of all the times you’ve actually been wrong, but also of times they accused you of being wrong even if, in reality, you weren’t. It’s ammunition in their hands, being collected for when the time is right to use it.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth: and with this simple, but powerful statement, it becomes clear that the narcissist is incapable of loving like a normal person. Narcissists absolutely delight in evil and what their wrongdoings cause in us – and crumble in the face of truth.
And this is why it is often said in the context of narcissistic abuse, that the truth sets us free.
What is love?
People have their own definitions of love, so I don’t feel like it’s helpful to encapsulate it in one single statement. Instead, I’d like to point out, by exclusion, some of the things that love is not:
– it isn’t controlling
– it isn’t selfish
– it isn’t elation
– it isn’t lust
– it isn’t passive-aggressive
– it isn’t aggressive
– it isn’t a roller coaster ride of emotions
– it isn’t blind making excitement
– it isn’t rushed
– it isn’t the best sex of your life
– it isn’t a competition
– it isn’t judgemental
– it isn’t forced
– it doesn’t feel like entrapment
– it isn’t fabricated
– it isn’t deceitful
It isn’t a lot of other things, bu above all, it isn’t there in the absence of self-love. No one can pour from an empty cup – and this goes for narcissists, just as much as it goes for us.
If you’ve been in an abusive relationship, you may have come to believe some, if not all, of the lies that the narcissist has instilled in you about yourself, your sense of worth, your insecurities, your perceived flaws. He emptied your cup because you couldn’t recognize the staw in it for what it was. He held your cork way down, then taught you how to keep pushing it down yourself to save him the extra trouble and to keep control over you long after you or they’re gone (just in case they may need to extract from you ever again). Through his self loathe and hate, he taught you to diminish yourself so he could say and think “I’m better and more valuable in comparison”. Give yourself the love that you want and deserve, build yourself up, let go of the pressure you may have been putting on yourself and watch how your cork bounces back up, rises and floats. That is self-love.
And once you’ve filled your cup, whatever is poured on top of that will simply overflow. That is the abundance of mutual love in action, that’s what we deserve and if anything good can come out of narcissistic abuse, it lies in rediscovering, revaluing ourselves and understanding that no one can tell us who we are. Empowerment truly lies within.