Letting go of narcissist-ish ex
December 24, 2015 3:38 AM   Subscribe

Need help on moving on from a relationship with someone who has acted toward me with what feels like overwhelming condescension and anger.

I posted an anon question about breaking up with my ex last year. Against everyone's good advice, I stayed in contact with this person, and we have discussed reconnecting a few times over the last months.

Each time we have talked it's been a similar pattern. We have a few innocuous conversations, but then when we get to the real stuff my ex responds to me with a lot of anger and condescension - following up with one criticism after another. More than once I have said "we don't have talk anymore, but I need you to stop piling on criticism" and they would just keep attacking until I ended the conversation.

It has been very hard to let go of this person because I just don't believe that they can see the harm they have caused (for the record, I am male, my ex is female; we are in our 30s/late 20s respectively). When we have had good conversations they have been so reassuring and healing, but they have been surrounded by anger and accusations. But my ex grew up in an extremely abusive household and is actively working on these issues (although not in the context of how it came up in our relationship).

I have every reason to believe that this will never get better, and we are not in contact now, so my priority is about taking care of myself and getting back to an emotionally stable place.

One thing that has helped recently has been to see our interactions in the context of narcissism and emotional abuse. My ex has a parent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder that has been an immensely negative force in their life. It is not my place nor expertise to diagnose anyone, but it has helped me to pick out events from our past that seem very clear cut "over the line" (ex literally telling me that they were the better partner in our relationship, saying that they did all the work in the relationship and only acted to support what I wanted, quitting couples' therapy and saying that the therapist was biased toward me, telling me that the things I said about my own feelings were lies, stonewalling my attempts to start conversations about empathy and healthy communication between us) and so on. I made a list of these items and review it when I am feeling particularly low.

If I'm honest with myself, I know that I'm not over this person, and I have internalized a lot of their reaction toward me. During stressful times I miss them like crazy and feel like they miss me too, and that we could patch things up if I were just more kind or patient or a better person. I don't want to self diagnose my ex, and I have a really hard time thinking about them as being a bad person. But reading about victims of NPD and emotionally abusive relationships has really resonated with me and helped me feel like this is a situation that is really outside of my control.

In short, I'd really appreciate guidance towards resources that can help me process these things and to stay on the path to better mental and emotional health. I have been doing my best with No Contact, but when I have talked with my ex she can show a tremendous amount of love for me, and it's hard to remember that I can't have that. Due to insurance changes I have moved from a good therapist to a lousy therapist, and I'm working on resolving that, but in the meantime resources (books, forums) would be greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Reread all the answers to your previous question. No contact means absolutely no contact whatsoever because each time you have contact, the wound opens up all over again. Block her completely from any source of contact. Then you can begin healing. There really is no other answer.
posted by Elsie at 3:59 AM on December 24, 2015 [22 favorites]

It doesn't matter if this ex has npd or not. She makes you feel icky. You can decide if you want to let someone who makes you feel icky back in despite determining that she's not going to play a major role in your life moving forward. Being really busy helps me move on from folks with many positive qualities who simply can't have a real conversation about problems and feelings. And I am cultivating a real appreciation for the folks I come across who are great at those conversations.
posted by Kalmya at 4:13 AM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Absolute, total, 100% no-contact is the only way to go here.

It makes no difference whatsoever if you want her to "see the harm [she has] caused", nor does it matter why she behaves like this: is she just your basic mean person, was she previously abused by someone, or does she have
NPD? NONE OF THAT IS YOUR PROBLEM. All that matters is that you cut her and her abuse completely out of your life, because she is extremely unlikely to ever change: she doesn't care when you say she hurt you.

You are not responsible for her behavior, nor are you responsible for her mental health: you can only be responsible for, and in control of, your own behavior.

Block her on facebook and everywhere else; delete her phone number, never accept any calls or texts or emails or anything else from her. Stop trying to 'reconnect' with her, for at least the next ten years --- and yes, I do mean ten full years minimum. You won't heal until and unless you remove her entirely from your life, until then she'll just keep the wounds open.
posted by easily confused at 4:45 AM on December 24, 2015 [18 favorites]

You deserve to be in a relationship with someone who will love you for who you are, instead of saying you need to change.

I had a somewhat similar relationship with my ex. And reaction similar to you when it all ended. Trying to analyse and figure out exactly why she behaves the way she does won't change anything. It won't make her treat you better or help you understand why she left you.

In addition to therapy, I would really recommend finding something immersive in your life - a hobby or interest that will consume you and substitute the driving need to keep your energy so focused on your ex. Something that will not only distract you, but give you a new voice to listen to when the criticism surfaces in the back of your mind.

Another thing that really helped me was working through The Grief Recovery Handbook. The examples include end of relationships and not just mourning the death of a loved one, and the exercises gave my brain some peace.

It will end. The deep grief and agony will lessen and maybe one day in a few years you'll reply to someone else's post and be surprised you can reassure them.
posted by A hidden well at 5:46 AM on December 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

For a lot people -- and maybe you -- "no contact" is simply another form of drama in which they can wallow, a big commandment you can spend a lot of time obeying and then a lot of time beating yourself over when you allow yourself to violate it.

You need to get another, better girlfriend. Then this old girlfriend will naturally fade to whatever level of (in)significance she warrants on her own merit. There's a reason you don't obsess over your college freshman roommate's opinion of you or his mental health, or suffer him berating you on the phone: it's because the place he filled in your life has long since expired. This girl is well past her sell-by date...
posted by MattD at 5:52 AM on December 24, 2015 [13 favorites]

Sometimes analyzing a relationship helps us understand so we can move on to better things.

Sometimes it's just a way to keep engaging in the same patterns that kept us stuck in that relationship in the first place. It's a way to keep the connection.

I recommend finding new activities, hobbies, take up a new sport, take a class, learn to bake bread...something. Every time you want to keep your ex as a hobby, do that instead...take that anxious knot of concern and just...lob it at non-dating things. Your last question was in March. I think you have given enough life energy to this relationship.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:58 AM on December 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Diagnosing her as NPD after the fact gives you a nice pat reason why the relationship ended that, conveniently, absolves you of most of the wrong doing. Rarely do relationships dissolve due solely to the behaviors of just one party, but see, if you can just determine that she was crazy then you don't have to do the hard work of owning the negatives you brought to the relationship. People seem to do a lot of this "diagnosing my ex with a mental disorder" at the end of relationships so don't feel bad that you're doing it too, but it's not going to really benefit you much at all.

Accept that you two weren't right for each other for a variety of reasons, it doesn't matter if she is NPD. Take all the mental energy you're spending to parse her mental state and instead spend it on becoming a better person for your next relationship or simply for your own well-being.
posted by scantee at 6:18 AM on December 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

I have been doing my best with No Contact, but

There are no "buts" with no contact.

I'd really appreciate guidance towards resources that can help me process these things and to stay on the path to better mental and emotional health

Yes: fill your life with pleasure and happiness and substance and luxury, whether that luxury is literally material or spiritual or sexual. The only thing that will make you feel better is time. Instead of thinking of this time as a jail sentence, think of it as a gift in which you can create something. What do you love? Do it. Run towards something!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:30 AM on December 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

You will keep engaging with a person or thing that causes you to feel pain and anger until you decide to stop engaging with this person or thing causing pain, anger and bad feelings. I'm not sure what resources to recommend. That sentence 100% covers it.

Accepting your past experience as true, this person brings a lot of anger and pain into your life, how do you want to proceed into the future?
posted by jbenben at 8:25 AM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

My armchair diagnosis is BPD not NPD because a narc would just quit you after you stop adoring them but she sticks around just enough to dump her anger on you... But then love bombs you just when you're about to make a real break. Classic BPD. Toxic BPD.

Anyways in that vein I would look up resources for overcoming a relationship with a person with BPD such as bpdfamily.com

It sounds like your confidence and self-esteem have taken a beating which is a hallmark of that sort of abusive relationship. I'm sorry and wish you healing on your journey.
posted by serenity soonish at 8:29 AM on December 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

The only way to get over her is to completely and truly stop communicating with her. Every time you two talk, you go all the way back to day one in the countdown towards accepting the loss of the relationship. Try to keep your thoughts firmly in the realm of reality... What actually is, instead of what might have been or how you wish it could be now.

It's quite normal to find yourself remembering the best aspects of a bad relationship. But when these thoughts come around, you have to remind yourself of your recent interactions, in which she showed no regard for your feelings. She doesn't love or respect you, and that's not going to change. She will never understand the harm she has caused you.
posted by wryly at 10:36 AM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

You have free will. You can listen to the advice here to go no contact, and you certainly have the right to disregard said advice.

But you won't be able to view this relationship with any clarity until you go 100% no contact.


If doing that is a struggle, I encourage you to get involved with a local Meetup. Or volunteer. Find a new commitment or preoccupation that isn't this person. Too much downtime to mull over the relationship becomes too much opportunity to slip up and reestablish contact.

I was in an emotionally (and, at its breaking point, physically) abusive relationship with someone for over two years. After we broke up and moved into our own places, in the two or three months that followed I made the mistake of getting together with him on a few occasions. It was painful and it did not answer any questions for me; in fact I was more confused and it was as if the pattern of abuse never ended. Sure, we weren't "together" in a relationship anymore, but he still knew how to push my buttons and make me feel bad about myself. That wasn't going to change.

Once I went 100% no contact and there was enough time and distance between us, I felt like I was experiencing sobriety for the first time. I felt like me. And the ex? Good riddance.

By definition, it's dosage that makes something a poison. All things are poisonous and toxic at a certain level. But this isn't like drinking water, where it's never at a 'poison' level unless you overdo it and drink too much too fast. This is beyond poison. Any dosage other than "none" is lethal.

For resources to help you, I can't recommend enough Melodie Beattie's "Codependent No More".
posted by nightrecordings at 10:57 AM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Rephrase this: "I have been doing my best with No Contact, but when I have talked with my ex she can show a tremendous amount of love for me, and it's hard to remember that I can't have that."

...to this: "When I talk to my ex, she uses her love as a weapon to batter down defenses that I am trying to build up against her, the better to hurt me, gaslight me, and otherwise continue to prevent me from moving on to other relationships where I could get the supportive kind of love that I need."

No contact no contact no contact.
posted by theweasel at 12:56 PM on December 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

But my ex grew up in an extremely abusive household and is actively working on these issues

No snark intended, but what about the household you grew up in? I read your previous question and I can't diagnose this person either, but the inability to accept a genuine "sorry" sure sounds familiar to me.

What would your family say if you told them that a woman who treated you poorly during your relationship continues to blame and criticize you now that you've broken up? Would they sound like most of the other advice-givers here, or would they tell you it really was your fault, it wasn't that bad, maybe you should give her another chance, etc.? Or would you never even dare to confide in them like this because they would just be too cruel and condescending (you know, like this ex)? I know it's easier to focus on her problems rather than on your own, and the affection alternated with abuse (or, in short, just abuse) can really drive obsessive behavior, but I don't think this woman would be able to get her hooks in just anyone. You know?
posted by ziggly at 2:18 PM on December 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

Seconding ziggly. This isn't something happening to you just because you're a man. This is something women have to deal with too... dealing with the mutter wunde -- a great term for the emotional void many people unconsciously carry from their childhood experiences of neglect. You don't have to come from a severely abusive family to have been substantially emotionally neglected; even growing up in a family that interacts in a cruel and condescending manner can do it. The point is there was a pattern of emotional neglect that left an impression during developmental periods of your life. You weren't aware of it, let alone had it defined, but then you met this other person whose pattern of interaction causes the wrong circuits for bonding to fire in your brain. That's why it's hard to disengage -- because the reward patterns in your brain that were forced to find your parents' style of interaction rewarding go very deep. The more cruel and condescending this particular person is, the more your brain is triggered to respond to her like she has the power to be your loving parent.

I gently encourage you to use this emotional crisis to look inwards and see where the void is speaking from. I personally thought as a woman that my man-hangups must be from my father, but in my late 20s when I went through a comparable experience as you're describing with this woman now, a lot of unintentional neglect from my mom came up for me. I also struggled to see the guy I was not getting over as a bad person. My brain could just not compute that he was behaving this way and it meant he didn't love me.

It sounds like you've done really well for yourself to find reading material that is helping to breathe language into your experience. Think about stepping it up a notch. Try reading some books by Alice Miller or books like Toxic Parents. At some point the narcissism we feel wounded by in our romantic partners reflects some aspect of narcissism we've experienced earlier in our lives. And yes, stay No Contact with your ex. I also had to stay No Contact with the man from my story, and later I did observe how the mother-wound adapts by eventually glomming on to another person. Rammstein nails the nature of this dynamic in their song "Amour". Good luck!
posted by human ecologist at 3:59 PM on December 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really appreciated Codependent No More. I think it's especially helpful to journal as well, because one of the mindfucks of abuse is unmooring your sense of self and time. Practice telling yourself your story with a focus on your present and your future, instead of letting this person define them. Your ex is your past, start letting her stay there.
posted by spunweb at 7:01 PM on December 24, 2015

Years ago, I was in a relationship with someone who constantly belittled me. I spent a lot of time after the relationship ended (she finally dumped me) trying to figure out how someone who could be so wonderful and loving sometimes could also have been so demeaning and cruel. I never did come to an answer that seemed either especially accurate or emotionally satisfying, but the decision to stop searching for answers was one of the final steps in letting go of her emotionally and moving on with my life. Obviously, we all wonder about these sorts of things, but dwelling on them became a way, however sick and unsatisfactory, to keep her a part of my emotional life.

What did work for me? Not being in contact with her and spending time with friends and family who appreciated me.
posted by Area Man at 10:55 AM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

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