(First published here 24/3/21, revised and updated August 2021)
I’ve recently had a really bad experience with a hardcore narcissist. It’s been particularly hard because I was raised around such people 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 had 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, whom I will call ‘Princess Jenny’ 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’. This is where they attempt to convince 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’. Then Sally herself became very passive-aggressive towards me. When I told her about a gig we had booked, she said ‘Well, I’M not coming’ (to which I replied, ‘I didn’t ask you!’) My regular readers will know about my breast surgery in 2019, and the reasons for it. Out of the blue Sally informed me that it was good I’d had the surgery because in her opinion my breasts were ‘really disgusting and gross’. She made rude remarks about my hair because the roots were growing out. Through us, she’s met an older couple we’d become friends with after we included her in social events with them, but after getting involved with Princess Jenny decided these fine people weren’t good enough for her. ’I don’t want to hang out with them, they’re too OLD!’ (Sally is 64, by the way, so not exactly that young herself.) Claiming loneliness, she’d asked me to introduce her to any single men I knew. She dated one for a few weeks, who was rather thrilled about it, but then unceremoniously dumped him. I felt awful about this as I knew he was hurt. She then relayed to me a vast litany of complaints about him, his personality, his lifestyle, his very way of being, and was particularly scathing about his interest in listening to music ‘all the time’ (he is a working musician). She did, however, say he was ‘very attentive’. Another single friend told me she’d sent him unsolicited flirtatious messages and was ‘creepy’. Of yet another she said, ‘Oh no, he’s an old man, he’s too old for me’ … though I later noticed her using him as a ‘Plus One’ when she didn’t want to go somewhere unaccompanied.
From this point followed 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 Princess Jenny had finished manipulating Sally I was a blathering mess, I was being ostracised and had begun to feel paranoid, and excluded from a 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. As well, 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.) I had to leave my networks after extensive bullying and being labelled a ‘TERF’ by these judgemental, language policing women. So I had, obviously, been feeling a great deal of distress.
At Xmas the yoga group was to go out sailing, and soon after formed a kayaking group. I was not 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 my inclusion Sally chose to exclude me. All summer I felt like the rejected cripple kid, ignored and treated as both incapable and unlikeable, while wondering how previously promising friendships had now come to this. Their fun filled outings were then endlessly paraded before the world on social media. Two other women I’d been getting to know and had had friendly conversations with unfriended me out of the blue. And now when I went to yoga ALL the Flying Monkeys openly and obviously snubbed me and refused to speak to me.
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 actually 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 Princess Jenny 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.
I know that Princess Jenny is 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 and is as thick as the proverbial two short planks. You’d think she’d allow me these small mercies, given the state of my health. 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 narcissistic 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 she appears in EVERY one, looking glamorous and facile. Because, as I well know from experience, narcissists can be proud of their offspring, but only if the parent remains the centre of attention. Because everything is always, always all about them.
So she went after my friend, whom she knew I loved and confided in, and whom I now know is weak, opportunistic, and vain enough to easily be turned into a Flying Monkey.* Honestly, I almost suicided. This kind of thing is known as covert 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 Jenny for showing me what a ‘fair weather friend’ and outright user Sally really is. According to Sally, I am the problem. Because I ‘only talk about myself’ and think I am ‘better than everyone else’ – neither of these things are true, but they ARE true of Sally.
Every kind word, every dinner, every invitation, even the job she got after my partner and I recommended her – as well as the business income and free publicity we threw Jenny’s partner’s way – 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 of how my generation uses words. I refused to call myself a ‘person with a uterus’ and thus offended the ‘language police’ in my networks ( ie 1990s graduates in gender studies who read Judith Butler’s bizarre take on gender and swallowed all of it whole). 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 Jenny the narcissist who had convinced her 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 her new friend Princess Jenny had started against me. Or perhaps Sally wasn’t ’real’ to begin with, or a ’person’?
My mother had Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The stress of living with it – the violence, the gaslighting, the emotional and physical abuse – is, I believe, the root of my illness that emerged when I was just 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, no choices … 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, one wonders if these people are even human.
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 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 now is that I didn’t want to harm my beloved partner and much loved pets by checking out.
My only consolation is that I know Princess Jenny’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.
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 have resumed 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 of ‘Princess Jenny and her Flying Monkeys’ efforts over many months to hurt and isolate me still won’t make her any smarter, or talented, or capable of sustaining an intimate relationship.
As for me, I’m finally bouncing back. I’ve become convinced that Sally is also a narcissist. Her complete lack of empathy, the gaslighting and backhanded remarks, the using and discarding, and the blatant ghosting and gossiping all point to this quite clearly. Under the guise of ’friendship’ I had welcomed a venomous snake into my henhouse, and ended up getting bitten by it. Online I have blocked both Sally and Jenny, and every other person (and there were many) who participated in this campaign of bullying and lies. My mental health has taken quite a hit but, with the help of my doctor, my psychiatrist, and medication, I’m slowly beginning to feel more like my old self. I now know that I was just too trusting, that a person I’d thought was a friend was actually a jealous and opportunistic user, who got some kind of sick enjoyment out of bullying a disabled woman to the point of suicide.
As the saying goes, Good Bloody Riddance to Bad Rubbish! And I hope Sally is looking forward to a very lonely old age as people wake up what a cruel and toxic individual she really is.
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