(First published here 24/3/21, revised and updated 14/6/21)
I’ve recently had a really bad experience with a hardcore narcissist. It’s been particularly hard because my mother was one, so I’m completely triggered by this woman. She showed up in my YOGA CLASS, of all things. Right from the outset she made great efforts to get in between me and my (female) friend whom I will refer to here as Sally … me and my partner have been friends with Sally for about 25 years. She was the only person on our small island who I had a long history with and I trusted her implicitly and told her things I wouldn’t tell anyone else but my husband. She moved here because WE lived here, and we’ve given her lots of support during her transition. We had only seen Sally infrequently until she moved here, but the consistent lack of conflict and the longevity of the relationship had led me to believe she had chosen to be our neighbour because she was keen to deepen the friendship. And, coming into the latter part of our lives as we both are, I had assumed that we were choosing to be there for each other as we face the vagaries of old age. But since her arrival we only got together occasionally, sometimes for coffee, or because she needed something. She had seemed reluctant, for some reason, to include us in any social life she had developed – even though we’d been hyper-aware of her single status and had constantly invited her to events and dinners and introduced her to new people.
Although Sally had initially expressed concern at how quickly this new person seemed to be forcing their friendship, she soon fell into line. The newly-arrived malignant narcissist’s tactics started with Classic Triangulation – ie. tell Sally something she tells me, then when I mention it say, ‘I never said any such thing’ – also known as ‘gaslighting’, convincing the target that the evidence of their own eyes and ears is faulty and unreliable. Similarly, on hearing that my partner and I liked AFL football, she told me she used to work at one of the major clubs and how wonderful it was, so much so that some ex-players still called her to chat years later. To Sally she announced, ‘I hate football’.
From this point followed four months of Sally ghosting me while stabbing me in the back, revealing confidences and betraying my trust – all of which I knew full well was happening but was powerless to stop. By the time the narcissist had finished manipulating Sally I was a blathering mess, I was being ostracised and felt paranoid, and excluded from the group of women I’d been slowly forming friendships with and had come to care for these past 2 and a half years. My previously friendly and open-to-all-comers yoga group was now divided into two halves: those who were in with the narcissist’s collection of ‘cool girls’ and those who were not. Sounds a bit like bitchy high school girls, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. Narcissists aren’t known for their maturity.
On top of that, my health had been crap since October, I’d been in relentless pain for months due to my main medications for Rheumatoid Arthritis ceasing to work, and I was experiencing painful flares and was not coping. It was looking very much like writing and playing music – the two areas I’ve still managed to achieve some success in, despite my illness – would no longer be possible. On top of that, my ‘freelance career’ I’d worked so hard to establish got cruelled by bullies in the disability and freelance writing networks who’ve decided second wave feminists and people who call themselves ‘women’ are ‘trans exclusionary’ and should now be erased. (Never mind that I’ve spent a lifetime advocating for women and marginalised – including LGBTIQ – people … choosing to call myself a ‘woman’ is now apparently unforgivable.) So I had, obviously, been feeling a great deal of distress.
The ‘cool girls’ formed a kayaking group and I so wanted to participate. But I was never invited. My arthritic hands swell and hurt too much to paddle my two person kayak alone for very long, so I really needed someone to come out with me. Sally knew all of this, and I had mentioned it to the others – but instead of advocating for me Sally somehow made the others think I didn’t want to be part of it. All summer I felt like the kid in the wheelchair watching from the shore, ignored and treated as both incapable and unlikeable, while wondering how previously promising friendships had now come to this.
My mother had Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The stress of living with it – the violence, the gaslighting, the emotional and physical abuse – is what caused my illness to emerge when I was 20. I had a total immune breakdown from years of being in fight or flight mode, and was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis which has since caused me to become significantly disabled. In this way my mother stole my entire future from me. There have been no children, no career, a lifetime of sickness, pain, poverty, and welfare dependence. And to think at seventeen I was Dux of my school! Such a waste of potential and ambition. So it was VERY triggering to be targeted by such a doozy of a narcissist this time around. And doubly disturbing that she was able to recruit my trusted and loved ‘friend’ to find out information to use as ammunition to hurt me. Seriously, these people aren’t even human.
I am so, so disgusted with my ‘friend’. After months of silence, she texted about visiting me a couple of weeks ago and I replied, ‘What for? It’s clear I’ve outlived my usefulness to you, and you’ve been MIA for months when I could’ve really used a friend’. This was my first indication to her that I knew what had been going on. What came back was a vicious tirade that bore no resemblance to the reality of our relationship this past 25 years. It was quite clear to me that she only wanted to come over to trawl for more inside information on my life and feelings to then take back for the narcissist to weaponise against me.
I do feel somewhat sorry for her because she’s been mightily sucked in and will soon be discarded when this sick individual moves on to her next target – which she will, as such personality-disordered people are highly predictable and quickly become bored. By which time Sally will be so enmeshed that the sudden abandonment will feel very painful and like a loss of self. I would have done anything for Sally, such was my affection for her, but after this I certainly won’t be there to help pick up the pieces.
This narcissist is, predictably, simply jealous. She heard me and my partner play a couple of music gigs, something she can’t do, but which we have done professionally for decades. I have a strong, loving marriage. And a couple of degrees, while she’s barely read a book in decades. You’d think she’d allow me these small mercies, given the state of the rest of my life. But, no. She’s fifty-something and has been getting by on her now fading looks. She picked up a boyfriend overseas a couple of years ago, dragged him away to the other side of the world, away from all support systems, (another classic N move to give them total control), and then convinced her family to help them buy a house. She’s clearly used to being Queen of the Neighborhood and just can’t bear not to be the centre of attention at all times. When I googled her I discovered she’d even entered an over-fifties beauty contest in Las Vegas . (Because appearances are everything? She didn’t win, she came third, which must have smarted.) When she shares photos for her child’s birthday on social media, there are sixty of them, and this narcissist is in EVERY one, looking glamorous and facile. Because NPDs can be proud of their offspring, but only if the parent remains the centre of attention. Because everything is always, always all about them. Oh, and did I mention she’s as thick as two short planks?
So she went after my friend. Whom I now know is weak as shit and easily turned into a Flying Monkey.* Honestly, I almost suicided. This kind of thing is known as surreptitious bullying and is one of the primary drivers of suicide in school aged young people. That middle-aged women can behave like this says a whole lot about their level of maturity – or lack thereof – and the level of cruelty they are capable of towards someone who is already struggling with disability and chronic pain and has done nothing to deserve this persecution beyond inspiring their jealousy by merely existing.
I guess I should be grateful to her for showing me what a ‘fair weather friend’ and outright user Sally really is. There’s no coming back from this, and no chance of forgiveness. Such betrayal cannot be tolerated and nobody in their right mind would go back for more, even if the perpetrators apologised (which is unlikely). Because, you see, according to Sally, I am the problem. Because I ‘only talk about myself’ and think I am ‘better than everyone else’. Every kind word, every dinner, every invitation, even the job she got after my partner and I recommended her – has been erased. According to Sally I’ve NEVER supported her in any way, NEVER been available to her or listened to her. She says she ‘needs to protect herself’ from me because I am ‘toxic’.
Here is my apparent ‘sin’: When Sally came to my home, I did what friends generally do with each other, that is, talk about our lives. In this case, I revealed my distress over the career issues I’d been experiencing, and my feeling that years of studying and gaining relevant qualifications had all been wasted, that I’d now been thrown on the scrap heap, despite a lifetime spent advocating for women and minorities. All because I refuse to call myself a ‘person with a uterus’ and thus offended the ‘language police’ (women half my age who did gender studies courses in the 1990s and now demand everyone conform to whatever orthodoxy was being taught during that period). I am not the only older female writer to have experienced this in recent times, there are thousands of us, kicked to the kerb by younger people, even as they are benefitting every day from the fruits of our own activism over decades. On top of this I had, as I mentioned, been experiencing an unbearable level of pain for some months so was, quite literally, losing my mind.
Clearly, Sally was the wrong person to discuss this with. A real friend would have listened and ‘held space’ for me, or, if she’d felt unable to cope with my level of emotional,pain, simply said so. And, being very familiar with ‘holding space’ for people who are suffering, I would have accepted this. But she had already been ‘love bombed’ (or ‘glamoured’, in vampiric terms) by the narcissist and become convinced that I am ‘toxic’. So, any conversation that wasn’t overwhelmingly lovey-dovey and fakely ‘positive’ was added to my list of misdemeanours. Never mind that her friend going back decades was distressed and suffering. She was too busy looking for faults to justify the campaign against me.
Why am I sharing this? Because the best way to cure an infection is to expose it to sunlight.
Because I will no longer be silent while cruel people with no conscience slander and attempt to hurt me. Because I have recently been away, spent time with real friends who know and appreciate me just as I am, and this has helped me to come out the other side of this. I can now see the situation for what it is – a narcissist trying to drive somebody they are jealous of to self-harm. This is Malignant Narcissism of the worst kind. The only reason I am still alive is that I didn’t want to harm my beloved partner by checking out.
My only consolation is that I know the instigator’s whole life is built on lies, and that eventually her whole pathetic house of cards will come tumbling down. And when it does, and she moves on to the next victim and starts demonising Sally (which is how these sick people work) my door will remain firmly closed. Betrayal on this scale is not something I can easily forgive.
It’s been estimated that one in twenty people have Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
I’ve known so many NPDs over the years and they have a tendency to seek me out. I am resuming therapy in an attempt to remove whatever unconscious signals I am giving out that make them choose me as a target. In the meantime, I hope this little saga might help someone else who is going through this and wondering what the hell happened, where all their friends have gone, and why they are being ostracised and snubbed by people who were previously friendly.
Once you can recognise the signs it’s pretty easy as narcissists all have the same modus operandi. These people’s personalities are almost interchangeable, mainly because it’s all surface and there’s nothing going on underneath the facade except manipulation and self interest. They are the epitome of T S Eliot’s ‘Hollow Men’, all surface and no substance. I console myself with the knowledge that all this sick woman’s efforts to hurt and isolate me still won’t make her any smarter, or talented, or capable of sustaining an intimate relationship.
The memes accompanying this blogpost are from the Facebook page promoting the book ‘Narcissistic and Emotional Abuse: Shattering the Illusion’ by Mrs Anne McCrae, available from Amazon.
For those wanting to know more about NPD, here are many resources in print and online. My own personal recommendations are:
Golomb, Elan, ‘Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self’, Harper, USA, 1992
Miller, Alice, ‘The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self’, Revised Edition, Basic Books, USA, 1997
Van der Kolk, Bessel, ‘The Body keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma’, Penguin, UK, 2014