Earlier I saw a comment that I’ve seen many times in support groups and it inspired me to make a post: I often see advice saying that if a person tells you that they’ve had multiple crazy exes, you should avoid them because they are the problem.
There is definitely truth to this. A narcissist who has abused multiple exes will claim *they* were all crazy so the narc can discredit their true stories and smear them. My ex narcopath had lots of crazy ex-girlfriends.
But on the flip side, re-victimization and repeating cycles of abuse are real issues. There are people who have dated more than one abuser without being “crazy.” These people might be in recovery and might be great partners who are truly deserving of a good relationship. It is a shame to cut them off because of their pasts.
You really have to be astute and watch the red flags to make sure you filter out the abusers without dumping the innocents.
After writing out that thought, I started thinking about how you can tell a narcissist who calls all the past victims crazy and a victim who has been abused more than once. It is a reality that predators are drawn to certain types of people, and that once a person has been victimized, they are more likely to be victimized again. Many of us repeat cycles of abusive relationships.
This is something I take personally because I went from narcissist mother to narcissist husband to narcissist sociopath husband. In my romantic relationship history, (which also includes a long-term boyfriend that was not abusive,) I was always loving, caring, loyal and enthusiastic. I’m the type of girlfriend/wife who likes to pick up surprise gifts at the store, who likes to make sentimental presents, who likes to plan great birthdays, who loves to support my partner’s talents. I didn’t yell, name-call, assault or any of those things. With my abusers, I just got fearful and obeyed to avoid more yelling. I took everything on myself and tried to fix myself to make them stop abusing. In fact, I recently realized that abusers targeted me, not because I was a problem, but because they knew I wouldn’t be. My ex narcopath told me he picked me out of a crowd and liked me because I was quiet and shy! So when I see these warnings that a woman with more than one abusive ex is a red flag, I want to shout, “No, no I’m not!” Please see the real me! Haven’t I been through enough already? Do I have to be ostracized and called damaged goods forever? I love to be loved and I love to be loving. When I do get to share life with someone who can give equally?
That’s why I wanted to sit down and share my observations on the difference between the real narcissist and repeat victim. Here are some ideas I came up with:
1. Look at behavior. Always look at actions over words! If a person has been victimized repeatedly, they are going to be hurt. They are going to show signs. They might be hesitant to meet new people or to go out. They might be fearful or show signs of PTSD. They should be in therapy. Predators rely on charm, words and dazzling conversations. It’s the real behavior that shows the truth. You have to be critical of words and look at actions.
2. Look at who is moving on. As a victim of a sociopath, I’m single nearly three years later. When someone shows interest, I want to be interested back, but mostly I lock up and get scared. I don’t want to go down the road again. My ex abuser has dated dozens of women. He didn’t show fear of moving on. He had no attachment to me or any of those women. He had nothing to recover from. He had no sadness, no disappointment, no remorse. Ever.
3. Look at changes in the person’s life. Does the supposed victim seem depressed? Did they change their lifestyle? Are they crying out for help? Are they reading articles and books on recovery? Did they lose vitality and lose interest in life?
4. Who is in withdrawal mode? Victims often pull away from friends and acquaintances. Or they might go back and forth wondering who they can trust. In contrast, the narcissist will cut off anyone who no longer serves them, but they usually won’t cut themselves off from their social life/hunting ground. Victims will be sad about losing friends that they trusted. Narcissists just move on.
5. Who is acting “crazy?” Society often sees the victim as “crazy” as they go through these changes. They seem unstable and in doubt. They are scared, they are mad, they are sad. They are experiencing overwhelming emotions and probably showing them as well. The narcissist doesn’t. As cruel as they are, they will remain stable and unaffected because again, they were never attached and they have nothing to fear. None of this meant anything to them. At most, they will be mad that they can no longer control the victim, (if the victim was the one who left first.)
6. Who shows genuine emotion? Actions, not words. If someone tells you they are sad and depressed, but they are out having fun and grinning, they might be covering feelings, or they might not have feelings at all. Real emotion shows up in many ways–including behavior, body language, expressions and words. For the narcissist, it’s all words.
7. Who has stories? My ex narcopath tells people I’m crazy, but I’m in support groups sharing stories of what happened to me. When I tell people what happened, I start feeling my emotions change and my heart rate speeds up at the memories of how scared I was. Sometimes I see something that reminds me of the abuse and I get a sick feeling. I have real stories that affect me physically. The abuser tells stories, but he remains calm and keeps blaming me and calling me crazy. He feels confident about just walking up to my former friends and telling them his lies, and he adjusts the lies to fit the listener’s emotional involvement.
Making judgement calls about people is tricky. I know from being on the victim side, that when onlookers saw me as the abuser and sympathized with the real abuser, it was a huge stab in my heart. I didn’t get the help I so desperately needed when I was trying to recover. I often fear taking the wrong side in such situations because I don’t want others to feel what I felt. But, I also know I have to protect myself against predators and I want to support the real victims. I know from experience that validation and support are so important for people who have been abused. And I know from experience that I don’t want to be cut off because people think I’m the problem after what I’ve been through.
When it comes to narcissists, yes they do twist the truth to make themselves victims, but sometimes victims truly are victims who are working on becoming survivors.
8 thoughts on “Narcissists have a string of crazy exes…but sometimes the victims do too”
It’s so funny that I found this today. I was having exactly these same thoughts last night. My experience was nearly the same as yours, minus the long-term non-abusive boyfriend. My most recent ex, the second man I ever loved, moved on and is now playing house with someone new. I know he wasn’t good for me, I know he didn’t work through anything, I know that I’m probably also being portrayed as the evil ex who hurt him so badly. It’s been a few months now, and when I found out yesterday, it hurt so much I had chest pains. I feel like a nut. I know the new woman has bought herself a handful, yet I am hurting so badly.
It’s the same as when my ex-H left, and took up nearly immediately with someone new. It took me well over 2 years before I even went on a date. And yet, you’re right — people would look at me, talking about multiple ‘crazy’ exes, and figure I might be just as likely to be the abuser as they were.
I came to the same conclusions you did, though — look at how each partner is acting. “Who gets into a relationship right away?” was my first thought. Then I realized…some victims go from one abuser immediately to another, because they are hurting and vulnerable and an easy mark for a predator, who can play loving and nice for at least a little while, til the mask falls off.
None of my friends can understand why I haven’t just ‘moved on.’ Frankly, neither do I. I wish I could. If it was something like a tumor, I could have it removed. But it’s not. It’s in my head. He’s in my head. Every single stinking day.
Thanks for letting me feel like I’m not alone.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I was married to a man that I now realize is a narcissist, and I experienced all of the behavior: his total lack of empathy, his coldness, his constant blaming, projecting, and failure to take responsibility, and his selfish, me-attitude. It was all about him. Honey, I went through so much. It wasn’t even a year into our marriage before I felt like I was losing my mind. But by that time, he had convinced everyone that I was to blame and that I was the one who had treated him badly. Never mind that I gave my all to him. Nevermind the fact that I put up with so much and still gave my best. And nevermind that these people had no idea what was really going on. They simply believed what they heard, and most of them didn’t even know me.
His family members verbally attacked me over the lies he spread. Believe me, I know how you feel.
Things got so bad that I ended up leaving. Once we separated, I tried to make things work with him only to be told that he simply wanted to move on. He wanted a divorce and without emotion, he spoke to me as to how he wanted to proceed. It was chilling, and it was scary listening him. It was if he had never even known me.
Months later, and I am still picking up the pieces. I am trying to move forward, but it is definitely a struggle. However, one thing I’ve learned when it comes to any kind of trauma is that if you want to heal, you must be proactive. You must deal with things head-on. I am determined to take care of the problem rather than let the problem take care of me. What I’ve learned is, this man never loved me. I cared for him, I loved him, and with all my heart, I invested in our marriage. He was only self-interested, so when he felt it did not serve him anymore, he simply tossed me out like a piece of trash. Sobering truth, but it is truth. The truth shall set us free.
It is hard to understand this kind of behavior, but I keep telling myself, “It is not me. It’s him.” I believe he has moved on, is probably in another relationship, and will most likely get married again (it would be his third marriage). But I firmly believe, if that should happen, it won’t last. That gives me a sort of solace.
I’m not sure if you believe in God, but the good Lord tells me, “Vengence is mine, saith the Lord. I will repay.” Sometimes we want vengeance, sometimes we want justice, but we must leave that to God. God will repay. People cannot do wickedness and get away with it. A man’s sin will find him out. His foot shall slip in due time. What a man sows, that he will also reap. People like this will mess up their life without your help. Let them. The truth will come out one day. You will be vindicated.
I know you feel so wronged, like no man sees the truth about the situation, but believe me. GOD SEES. God knows. God knows the tears you’ve cried and how hurt you feel about the situation. I hope and pray that you leave the situation in God’s hands and let him deal with that person. And please continue on with the precious life that’s been given to you. Life does not stop because of how one person treats us. Keep that love that you have in your heart.
M. Thank you. I am a believer. I am in the shoes you wrote of. Pained beyond recognition st times but trusting He works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.
I have often thought that i might sound like the problem when i mention my crazy ex, this is the first time i have seen any one pointing out that every one who has a crazy ex is might not be the narcissist,i also don,t understand why people do not look at the fact that this so called lovely person had a new woman right away after a 34 year marriage like i never existed, he also ignores all his grandchildren no birthday gifts or xmass because my kids have seen through him, lovely people don,t do that or should i say genuine people,i was asked by someone if i was jealous because my husband was in love with a dumpy woman, and cannot love you and look at you compared to her, i was dumbfounded as to what to say how do you explain to someone he does n,t love any one regardless of how they look without sounding jealous,he is a total fake and now has people convinced there must be something wrong with me if he left me for her,he didn,t i saw right through him and he knew it so went for someone he could fool with his fake charm, its nearly 3 years for me and i have not even looked at any one but no one seems to notice i am alone and he had a woman right away,i would never even speak to him now so why do i think of him day and night , not in a good way i might add
Okay, here goes. I am married to someone who has severe NPD.
I awake each day with an anxious feeling – like butterflies in my stomach. I am scared all the time… worried, fearful that he will tell me to leave again. Or… he will leave.
I am always worried, concerned about his motives. He lies, he has cheated on me with his ex-wife. He is always working deals… feels entitled above others… budges in line, things like that. I used to think that he was very bold – borderline obnoxious. He was tall, handsome and funny. Extremely brilliant, successful and he had such a magnetism that I couldn’t stay away from him.
I am paying the price for it today. I am in a hotel room after he once again demanded I leave. I packed up my bags and did just that. He said, “I’ve been trying to get away from you for months”… then I get a text later on saying, “There is something wrong with me. I need help. I’m messed up.” Then I want him again.
I am so extremely devastated by his behaviour all the time. I am a successful business woman. I currently own two businesses and I am independently wealthy on my own. I don’t need him, but I cannot stay away.
I need help. Even as we speak… I am waiting for my phone’s bell to ring letting me know if we wants me back or not. He gaslights so badly that I feel as though I’m going crazy. He changes the story – the words… “Remember you said this or that????” kind of stuff regularly.
I am always extremely confused and sad. I cannot bear to be around him and cannot bear to be with him.
I TRULY NEED HELP!
I have dealt with bipolar disorder so I can say that I am an easy target and have been. However, I think with some people who have unmedicated bipolar disorder and the more narcissistic and overt types of borderline PD are two cases that I have feeling too much sympathy for.
I specify those two because they are, have been and can be the culprit and it’s especially unfair to someone on both ends who sees the NAMI anti-stigma, “I refuse to apologize for a mental illness” response. It gives a free pass for the same thing that we condemn the narcissistic/sociopathic. And empathy as BPD types will claim to have too much and ironically spend 2 hours on a monologue of the “nobody has had it worse than me and blame abuse on “I can’t help it etc.” it’s the opposite.
I agree with this point too though but there are types with the ones I mentioned as well that we are all guilted into tolerating abuse from who refuse to do anything but suck people dry.