The Positives of Pain: Things I Learned from a Narcissist. ~ Katie Wilkins

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“Self-help has never been cool,” my friend bluntly replied after I admitted I’d been scrawling through every online blog about cheating, narcissism, relationships, depression, anxiety, trying to find some kind of answers to help me understand why my downright deceitful boyfriend had been living a double life—loving and living with one woman on the south side of the river and another on the north.

After I confessed that all those awfully optimistic, inspirational articles from people who spin yarns about compassion, forgiveness and self-love actually helped me, I felt like I’d just released my dirty little secret. It was as if I had let it out of the bag that when I’m alone in a cafe, I actually order an extra-hot, half strength, decaf, skinny, cappuccino (with no chocolate and two sweeteners).

Or, that I let my full-grown dog sleep under the covers with me and we spoon all night long; that the other day I walked face first into a tree, sober, in broad daylight; that not so long ago, I raced home from work every day to finish the entire series of Dawson’s Creek in a few short weeks; that I read my horoscopes religiously on a shitty app that is full of spelling and grammar mistakes or that when I was 15, hanging out with my boyfriend and all his mates, I laughed and blew a huge chunk of snot onto my lap in front of everyone.

All of a sudden, I felt a little embarrassed, slightly more vulnerable and realized that I’m that lady you see on the train reading a copy of How A Raw Food Diet Can Relieve Your Anxiety or Happiness in Three Easy Steps hidden strategically behind a copy of Time Magazine.

I’m that girl you know who went to India to “find herself” and considers replying to ads in the paper for a clairvoyant who can fix all your problems for $79.99.

I’m generally a pretty open person and don’t hide a lot about myself, but my tendency to seek refuge in the advice of strangers was something that I had never shared. Is it a bad thing though?

As far as I can tell, reading or hearing about other people’s problems does wonders for our sanity. Why do you think we want to watch Tyrion Lannister being constantly rejected by his family, or Joffrey Baratheon being a generally hideous human being? Why are there countless television shows about war, murder, rape, torture heartbreak, loss and grief?

Aside from the many factors influencing our mental health (a chemical imbalance, a traumatic experience or a million other things), what makes it all the more painful is feeling as if we are alone.

Facebook and Instagram and all the other brilliant social media devices that people use to glorify their lives don’t make it any easier. They are clogged with pictures of people with their partners (who would know they haven’t had sex in months?), pictures of puppies (not the diarrhea stained carpet due to their little one eating an entire packet of Gingko Biloba tablets) and families at Christmas (looking happy because everyone is too pissed to remember that Grandma doesn’t know any of their names). And so on.

Why do we get conned into believing that everyone else’s lives are so perfect? And better still, why do people feel the need to pretend like they are?

We need to get better at acknowledging our hurt and realize that it is normal and human and inevitable and believe it or not, good for us. My Dad (oh, wise one) sent me an email recently when I had just discovered my boyfriend’s infidelity while holidaying with him in Sri Lanka. “This has set you free”, he said, “I can’t do anything. It’s all up to you. There is no minister, psychologist or prophet who can do anything either. You can be strong, vulnerable, confused, weak and scared and take the actions you see fit. Do not try to erase the hurt. Sit with it. Something is waiting to be discovered.”

After spending 12 days at my parent’s house crying, eating nothing, not getting out of bed, chain smoking and drinking copious amounts of red wine, one day I woke up and the whole saga was just boring to me. I was tired of telling people why I was home early and I was emotionally exhausted from the self-perpetuated torment and misery I was allowing myself to experience.

So, I started writing again, doing yoga, I quit the job that I hated and decided to move out of the house I was no longer happy in.

The things that my Dad had said made a lot of sense; this painfully shitty experience had not only brought me out of the self-doubting state of inaction and indecision that I had been in, but had made me think a lot about self-sufficiency, trust and what I need and want.

I had spent so long waiting for a magical solution to my problems that I had consciously but hesitantly, dismissed anything productive, healthy or fulfilling. My depression and anxiety had absolutely nothing to do with my relationship or lack of, what I was studying, where I worked or anything else.

It had everything to do with my perspective, learned patterns of thinking and the way in which I relied on external things to make me happy.

Besides keeping his projector for my little brother, his heater, a hideously ugly teapot and getting whole lot of satisfaction from throwing all his belongings out on my front lawn like a movie star, I also gained some important wisdom from the man who hurt me.

1. Trust your gut feeling.

I felt painfully insecure throughout our relationship. No matter how many times he said he loved me, I didn’t believe it. He actually had me convinced that I had an anxiety disorder. Before I left for our holiday, I told my friend that I had an awful feeling things weren’t going to work out. She, having heard him say on numerous occasions how much he loved me, told me that I was just being insecure. But, as I realize now, I actually knew all along. Despite the words and the actions that went against my intuition, it was right.

2. You cannot blame yourself for the actions of others.

It’s quite easy to give yourself a nasty stab in the heart and cause worse damage than anyone else possibly could. There must be something fundamentally wrong with you because someone thinks you deserve to be hurt.

But, as I’m beginning to realize now, it’s usually them who is the one with the problem. Labeling my ex boyfriend with Narcissistic Personality Disorder helped me for some time to understand how someone could possibly be so deceitful, but no matter what his problem is, the point is that he was obviously scared, insecure and troubled.

Peaceful people do not hurt people; hurting people hurt people. When people’s actions are unexplainable and fall outside your moral code, it is not because you’re a bad person and you deserve it, it is because there is ultimately something wrong for them.

The only way to respond is to steer away from the tendency to self-blame and scrounge up any possible compassion and forgiveness.

3. “Love” often isn’t love.

What the fuck even is love? “You’ll know when you feel it,” my mum would say.

I think what the majority describe as “love,” is generally dependence, attachment, chemical addiction and desire, none of which comprise a very pretty picture of this illusive experience that is in such high demand.

I feel as though many relationships (all of mine, in fact) have not been true love, but rather an addiction to the feeling of being wanted (caused by chemicals in the brain), a dependence on another to fix/distract you from your problems, an attachment to the idea of companionship, and sexual desire.

What we describe as “love” can be painful, insecure and often uncomfortable, but the drama, games, lust and unpredictability keep us hooked in.

At least coming to some kind of understanding of what love isn’t can help to differentiate between love for the sake of desire and something more real.

4. Pain is equal to peace.

The clichés are absolutely spot-on in this one: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” “There’s no shortcut to any place worth going.”

Considering the usefulness of adversity can be a difficult thing to come to grips with when you are in a state of pain, as our parents and teachers have always said, “When you surface, you will be stronger, wiser and ultimately a better person for it.”

There are very rarely negative situations that don’t turn out better in the end or at least have a silver lining. They generally serve to teach you more about yourself, this insane world that we live in and how to live a happier, more fulfilling life.

In short, there is nothing wrong with helping yourself.

You are absolutely the only one who can do it and you will find your own way with or without a psychologist, medication, books or tapes, but, let go of the shame associated with asking for a hand.

Read all you can from other people who have experienced a similar situation, research ways to get through it, go see a bloody palm reader if you want to—whatever!

Don’t judge your own methods of coping, don’t regret your decisions even if they’ve landed you in a dark place—and be grateful for what you’re going through because it’s helping you develop your relationship with yourself.

That’s more important than all your Facebook friends put together.

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About Katie Wilkins

Katie Wilkins is a mother of a dog and two chickens, permaculture enthusiast, recently qualified yoga teacher and journalism graduate. When she isn’t working behind a bar or making coffee, she likes to play in the garden, make bucket loads of preserves, buy too many vintage knick-knacks and enjoy the wonderfulness of Melbourne city.


27 Responses to “The Positives of Pain: Things I Learned from a Narcissist. ~ Katie Wilkins”

  1. Kristie says:

    This rings absolutely true with me, and the timing is eerily dead-on. Thank you for helping me confirm things I already knew, finding myself in the same exact situation myself. <3

    • Katie Wilkins says:

      Reassurance and reminders always help! They stop that nasty little voice in our head telling us lies about ourselves and our situation. Im so glad to have reminded you of the truth. Big love to you my friend x

  2. Jenna says:

    Hi Katie, I love your honesty and I find it very cool you have shared your feelings with the world. Being deceived is always painful. I went trough a rough break up, but I found out it was the best thing that ever happend to me. Be grateful and follow your heart. My heart took me to India and there I met great people and learned so much about myself.

    Very proud of you right now! Keep up the good work and when will you start sharing the yoga-joy?

    Lots of love from your India friend in Holland.

    • Katie says:

      Hello sweet lady. Thank you for reading. Who knows when I will start sharing the yoga joy! Personal practice will suffice for now. I hope you are well and happy on the other side of the world. Lots of love. Katie

  3. M J says:

    There's so much truth in what you write. I cannot say how timely and impressionable your words are for me. 'Peaceful people do not hurt people; hurting people hurt people.' Wow. That picked me up from a dark place.

    Thank you very very much for sharing. Much love and peace.

  4. Cas says:

    I just read this twice. Thanks to you (and your dad) for the wise words and encouragement. A really uplifting piece of writing and exactly what I needed to read today! xo
    -Oh and thanks for sharing the snot in the lap story 🙂

  5. Sarah says:

    I am at a crossroads right now with a similar man. We have been married for 18 years and I feel like he is a stranger. Since he moved out 3 months ago, I was devastated at first, but have come to have some peace with it and am doing exactly what you say- read, explore life, and stop and think about me and what I want and I read goofy psychic horoscopes too. With 2 kids and a narcissistic husband, I haven't thought about me in years! I am a really great person, and at first he tried to blame me for everything and reduce me to "someone I'm not attracted to anymore". He is actually trying to be a better person, but still not sure he wants to be with me. Our marriage wasn't always perfect, but we did have our good times together. We are separated, seeking counseling, and dipping our toes in trying to see if there is something to salvage. I'm just not sure that I want to. I think I would just like some peace. This is a great article, comrade!

    • Katie says:

      Hi Sarah. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I am by no means an expert on relationships, and my experience was far different to yours as it was short-term and didn't involve children or marriage. But all I can say is that you probably already know what the right choice is, so listen to your intuition on this one. Research NPD and realise that absolutely none of it is your fault. It is in fact a part of the disorder that causes them to blame you. You sound clever and self-aware and I'm sure you will find some answers soon. It may not be easy or comfortable but I'm sure you will find that peace. Good luck Sarah x

  6. yogalatesblissblogger says:

    Excellent article – thank you!

  7. Maeve says:

    Thank you so much for this! I recently got out of a very abusive relationship with a borderline personality. At my most desperate, frightened moments I felt shattered, as if the only way out was to end it all. It was then that I found my core, my real strength and knew that I would do anything to get away from him. As much damage as he caused, there is a part of me that knows his abuse took me to my deepest, truest, strongest self, someone I'd never met. In that way, it was a gift. Blessings to you, Katie!

    • Katie says:

      Why didn't anyone tell us that the worst experiences can end up being the best?!?! I'm so glad to know that you got out of that relationship and now know your own strength and worth. Blessings to you too Maeve x

  8. Great article Katie. I went through a 3.5 year relationship similar to this… one I ended when I become strong enough to speak my truth in all moments. I learned so much from the experience, and will forever be grateful to it. You've summarised those learnings really well. One relationship like that in a lifetime is more than enough!

  9. Rachel says:

    Thank you! I experienced a similar situation – and I too spent a great deal of time crying, chain smoking, not eating…all of it and more. It was unlike me to behave the way I behaved. The funk I was in lasted far longer than the 48 hours I hoped it would. I too sought the self help and read every article and book I could find. It took me a while to understand how I, a normally strong, independent and confident person allowed a very narcissistic person rule, disrupt and nearly crush me. When the relarionship was over, I didn’t recognize the person left behind. It took me realizing I had mourned the loss of relationship (or me) for an entire season – I knew something had to change. I had to create a new me since I was unknowingly obliterated by the narcissist and the four year relationship with him. I have built a better, kinder me. I struggled with giving him gratitude for the months of misery but I knew without going through all I did – the person I am may have never been found. Instead, I am thankful for the countless hours on my yoga mat, me, my inner strength and resilience that until I was left a broken, confused mess, didnt know I possessed.

    Thank you again for sharing your story and helping me realize I was not the only one to experience the darkest spot and yet able to rise as a stronger, more loving, compassionate person!

    • Katie says:

      It's unfortunate that there are lots of people who have similar experiences to us, but fortunate that we can share our thoughts. I'm so glad that you could relate and find some solace in reading in the same way I did. X

      • Renee says:

        "It's unfortunate that there are lots of people who have similar experiences to us, but fortunate that we can share our thoughts."
        That is going into my favorite-quotes book! I love it! Sharing is often a lifesaver. Thank you.

  10. Katie says:

    You just made my day! I haven't written anything for a long time but have recently started to get back into it. It's very therapeutic and rewarding. Thank you so much for reading and bringing a huge smile to my face. X

  11. Bodhi says:

    It took a cancer diagnosis for me to see that the lightbulb over my head was burning bright.
    The light said from the beginning something is missing
    The something was empathy

  12. Ducks says:

    “I think what the majority describe as “love,” is generally dependence, attachment, chemical addiction and desire, none of which comprise a very pretty picture of this illusive experience that is in such high demand.” Somehow seeing it in print makes it all come together, thank you 🙂 amazing article, and perfect timing!

  13. Pauline Siebers says:

    It feels like I just sat down with my best friend and, without me saying anything, she told me everything I needed to hear – even though I secretly already knew. Amazing writing style Katie. Thank you for sharing!

  14. kelliethenextchapter says:

    I have to thank you and your dad. My mom sent me this blog about a week after my ex and I broke up. It was a pretty ugly breakup too. I read the quote from your dad and it just resonated so much with me. I wrote it down and kept it on my bedside table for the next 2 months. The line "something is waiting to be discovered" is beautiful. Thank you for sharing I really needed that.

  15. Stu says:

    Very inspiring, thank you.

  16. kirrie says:

    Thank you for writing this. I can relate to everything you have said. I was a happy person with a full life before I met my narc. He had me believe that it was all my fault that everything he was doing to me, was what I was doing to him. I had to go the doctors for help as the lies deceit manipulation had tore me apart. I didn’t know why I let it go on. I thought it was bad when I was with him but he always had an excuse for the things he made me feel. He would blame everything on his past and there was lots that had happened only he never told me the full story. when it ended he just left and didn’t look back didn’t reply to a text or answer a call. I thought he was cold when he was with me but he, but he cut me out like I didn’t exist I don’t understand how a person could hurt someone they claimed to have a loved. All the times he said he was so happy I never believed him. I don’t know why I didn’t trust my instincts because they were screaming at me. I did discuss some things with friends and they kept telling me to give him a chance

    I still crave answers but that is better than craving hugs & touches when I was with him. I know he won’t give me any answers as he can’t face them himself. He would have to address every single one of his problems and he can’t. He found out what I wanted at the beginning without me telling him. Then made out he wanted the same, only he couldn’t go through with it he hates too much. I did feel better when the doctor told me it’s not me with the mental health problems. I just want to stop beating myself up now and move on. I am trying to accept I won’t get any explanations from him as to why he chose me to play out his game on. I hope he gets help in the future. I am still trying to repair myself and get back to the person I was. It helps reading these articles as I know it’s not only me who is going through it.

  17. Joe says:

    I have to say its quite interesting how I see so many women talking about their NPD partner. What about your own role or underlying issues ?

    I've experienced a woman with diagnosed Bipolar and now BPD. The relationship was by far the most passionate I've had but. Filled with ups and down . An emotional roller coaster ride where nothing ever seemed enough.

    Constantly going out of my way for my ex BPD , trying to provide stability and do things to make her happy. Eventually feeling burned out bc nothing was ever enough. It got to a point where I had to lay down NY own boundaries of self respect and do things to make sure I was happy . as this happened I was met with resistance and even physical abuse that I never reported. I was told that I was a narcissist by this woman, that this woman's therapist claimed I was NPD based on the distorted reality of my ex. She had never met me but was able to determine that I was NPD ; reinforcing NY ex's theory of whom I was. Needless to say my ex then begin to think our relationship was doomed and began going on dates to replace me while we were still in a relationship. Yet I "was " narcissist…

    Needless to say I went to see professionals on my own accord, 3 different ones to see if there was any truth in this. 3 big no's. So I guess the point I'm trying to make is , whom are you women or some men to sit here and say that you were with a NPD person ? How can you diagnose someone without being educated and practiced as the people who pay to go to school for such ?

    The bottom line is that we are humans and we all have some qualities of narcissism. Some more extreme than others and its quite astounding of how many people throw the term around and act like they can diagnose other people. Especially women taking blame at their ex men.

    Maybe take a look inside to see what attracted you to this person rather than make accusations unless you truly know if someone is NPD . I went to 3 different professional s as I have said ; to rest accept or rest NY own mind . thankfully it was resting my own mind.

    I commented too bc it actually sickens me to see so many people flying the NPD term around. I guess if it makes you feel better go ahead; but until you can confirm it tread carefully. You can really create confusion and set a bad precedent for people that may have some qualities you think are NPD. We all have them, there is a remarkable difference from the average human vs a true NPD

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