As I admit, I have been abused by more than one narcissist. I now know that this is common because children of narcissists learn poor coping skills and learn to repeat the abusive relationships. But even knowing that…I entered a second abusive marriage. Today, someone asked me why.
Why didn’t I see the signs if I’d already been through it once?
And so I answered….
First of all, when I was living through an abusive childhood, I knew I was miserable, and I knew I wanted to escape. I did not call it abuse, though. No child wants to acknowledge that their mother is an abuser. It’s not natural to have a hateful mother, so we rationalize the abuser’s behavior, blame it on ourselves, and accept it as normal behavior. But, I also knew that one day, I wanted to run away forever. Even though I had normalized it, I also knew it was wrong, so I had competing ideas in my mind. I knew the way I wanted life to be and I knew the way I knew it really was. Sometimes I ignored what really was, and tried to make it what I knew it should be. But that doesn’t work with an abuser or a narcissist. You cannot fix them. So, I thought if I just got married to the right person, I’d find the loving family I’d always wanted. I didn’t realize that I was carrying negative life skills with me, and that combined with my naive and idealistic plan, they’d help me marry an abuser.
My first husband seemed like my dream come true. He lived on the other side of the country, he’d had a bad childhood as well, and we had a lot in common. When he offered me the chance to move far away from my mother very early in our relationship, I took it. Within days, he was criticizing me. He said my teeth were ugly and he was embarrassed to let me meet his family, he said I was too shy and embarrassed him in front of his friends, he said I was lazy because I didn’t do dishes or make the bed the right way, he said I was selfish because I didn’t watch TV with him, he said I was ungrateful because I didn’t thank him enough. It didn’t take long to kill my fairy tale dream and my life turned into a race to try to make him happy. Nothing I did was ever good enough, but I kept trying and trying. He only hit me once, and claimed it was an accident. He blamed me for everything and even specifically told me that 100% of our problems were my fault because I wasn’t good enough. I knew that was wrong and I knew he was abusing me, but I still thought I could fix myself enough for him to like me again. Eventually he discarded me…which was the best thing he ever did since I was too bonded to him and too determined to be good enough to protect myself.
But even after therapy, I didn’t learn a lesson. I still had that naive hope that I couldn’t have this happen to me again. I believed there were mostly good people in the world, and I’d just made a bad choice. I thought just going through it would make me educated enough to avoid it happening again. I thought just thinking I didn’t want it to happen again would be enough.
But it wasn’t.
The first abuser was a light and covert narcissist. He was the vulnerable martyr type who exploded whenever something wasn’t done his way. In my opinion, I think this is because my doing things my way threatened his fragile ego. Some people believe narcissists truly have low self-esteem and that is why they abuse. In this case, I think that theory fit well. I didn’t do “bad” things, but I did different things. He equated different with wrong and bad because his boundaries were so poor.
The second abuser was an overt narcissist. Unlike the first one who pushed me to get married very soon after we met, the second one groomed me for two years. He wasn’t a garden variety narcissist. He was a practiced predator with years of experience and hundreds of victims behind him. Because he groomed me for two years, I had a false sense of security and believed I “knew” him. When we did finally go on a date, he pushed me really fast just like the first husband, but I believed I had a two year friendship as a basis for dating the second abuser. In reality, I knew nothing about him and just thought I did.
I thought after one abusive marriage, I was smarter, but I was not. Since the second husband was a far more charming, intelligent and aggressive predator, he truly did prey on me while the first one just pushed me. The second one had been watching me for weaknesses and knew what to say. In particular, because I had talked about some of what I went through with the first abuser, the second one used key details to convince me he was the opposite. Despite having been abused before, I fell for it.
Fortunately, when the devalue phase came, I recognized it easily. Even though I was naive enough to marry a second abuser, I can say I was alert enough to recognize it very quickly. I guess that’s a step. The good news is, after an abusive childhood and two abusive marriages, I realize that recovery isn’t as simple as just expecting things to get better. I had to take steps to actively learn and build boundaries. I had learned to recognize abuse, but I hadn’t yet figured out how to be assertive and avoid it. Again, despite all the abuse, this abuser did me a favor. Or maybe this time I did myself a favor! I got out fast, and took the necessary steps to begin learning the life skills I didn’t learn in my family of origin. Just like reading directions about doing something doesn’t make you an expert, I learned that I had to get beyond just learning about abuse and move into actively changing.
This time, I really do get it. No more abuse!