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As I’ve stumbled through the process of recovering from a breakdown, I’ve acquired many things.
One of which is an in-depth understanding of narcissism. Not in a clinical sense—I am a mere mental health support worker, not a psychiatrist. But in the sense of narcissism as a verb, as a descriptive way to explain behaviour.
I never intended to attain this knowledge. I simply sought answers to a few incidents that occurred in the build-up to my admittance to a psychiatric ward and, before long, found myself in the rough seas of extremely toxic behaviour. It’s been enlightening in that it’s given me some of those much-needed answers.
For instance, trauma caused by narcissistic abandonment is a real thing. You will never know how much comfort that gave me. For a long time, I thought I thought I was just being a weak-willed, ruminating idiot who was stuck in the past. But knowing that I was legitimately traumatized by certain relationships enabled me to actually accept, face, and then deal with that pain.
And as for gaslighting? That was eye-opening. Discovering I’d been gaslit for years was both a chastising insight into how low my self-esteem had fallen, but also that I really needed to learn how to stand up for myself and either call people out on their hypocrisy or bullying or general lack of compassion or just walk away from them for good.
It’s also shone a light into the darker corners of psychology. And, as I work in the field of mental health, such information will never be wasted.
But it’s also been grim.
For these are not pleasant waters to spend time swimming in. To be honest, exploring narcissism has been as draining as actually spending time with real-life narcissists. And then there’s the occasionally sobering moment when you read something about this toxic behaviour and say to yourself, “Oh, crap—I’ve done that.”
Everything about the subject is depressing.
However, it’s also perversely addictive.
We see a car crash and we rubber-neck. As a species, we’re attracted to the darkness. And there are fewer things darker than narcissism. We can’t help but look. And look. And look. And—
Except I’m done.
It’s time to kick my addiction to narcissism. I’ve become a narc-whore and I need to practice abstinence.
Why? Simply put, I’m bored. Tired of trying to find answers I will never truly find.
An Awfully-Big Awful Adventure
I set out on this quest to find the answers to three questions, all of which can be summed up in one word: Why?
One: Why did people who said they cared for me abandon me whilst I was in that ward? How could they walk away from me when I was lost, enduring the single worse experience of my life?
Two: Why did none of them even speak to any of the professionals who were treating me, nor for that matter why didn’t they even talk to me, but instead leapt to assumptions about what had happened based on gossip and hearsay?
Three: Why did they then rewrite that event? Actually, not just that event but the entire sequence of incidents that culminated in my spectacular mental disintegration.
(Yes—it was clusterf**k of epic proportions.)
Why did all of that happen? Why? Why? Why?
Was it arrogance? Or guilt? Or apathy?
Or am I just a really bad person who got what I deserved?
Stop. Just stop. Now.
The simple answer is—who cares? Things happened the way they did.
My only duty is to look at my part and learn from it. That’s it.
The reasons why others did what they did are not on me. Not any more. I don’t care why they did it—all that matters is that they did. And that is all I can ever truly know.
I’m tired of trying to find a way to justify or understand the behaviours of others. It’s a futile quest I’m never going to be able to satisfactorily resolve. I’m never going to have all the answers because I’m seeking an explanation about the actions of people who are not me.
As I’m not them, and as I cannot relive their significant past life events or experience their emotional states at pivotal moments, I can never know for certain just what they were thinking or feeling at any given time.
More than that, I don’t need to.
Not only are we not responsible for what someone else did, but we are also not responsible for trying to figure out why they did it. I could spend the rest of my life asking myself, “Why?” and I’d still never know for certain. Educated guesswork can only take you so far, and I’ve reached the end of that particular road.
The quest to try and figure out why someone else did what they did is over. It’s a weight I no longer chose to carry. To be frank, I should never have picked it up in the first place. It’s a crippling one, and it’s held me back.
One of the things people who exhibit narcissistic behaviour excel at is projected blame. There’s a fantastic quote which warrants an article in itself—a narcissist will accuse you of doing things they are actually doing. It’s spookily accurate. If a narcissist says you never turned up for them, you can bet they never turned up for you.
Someone, whom I’m incredibly glad isn’t in my life anymore, once made a pointed barb directed toward me along the lines of, “Be aware of a liar who believes their own lies.” Considering they had the ability to redact reality with the skills of a tabloid editor, it was a shocking lack of self-awareness and hypocrisy. It was also deeply hurtful to have the pain they caused me dismissed with such callous ease.
However, it’s par for the course—the culpability for the things they did will be shifted onto you. It’s never going to change.
But there’s an added dimension to projected blame. Not only do such people accuse you of doing things they are, in fact, doing, nothing is ever their fault. Ever.
You know that really crappy thing they did to you? Yeah—turns out that was your fault. Let’s ignore the fact that they’ve always done that thing—a runner has always run; a user has always used; a victim has always been a victim. No—you made them do it. And if you have chronically low self-esteem or are mentally ill, it’s a lie you find easy to swallow. But it remains that: a lie.
Because you didn’t make them do any of that.
They’re an adult—they did the thing they did because that’s who they are. If they hadn’t done it to you, they would have done it to someone else. In fact, they probably have. Repeatedly.
And that’s not on you. Never was.
You can mire yourself in in-depth explorations of narcissism, as I did. But what are you really going to learn? Ultimately it all boils down to one simple takeaway; sometimes crappy people do crappy things. Sometimes you’ll be on the receiving end. It’s your job to work through the trauma and learn from it. But you can’t do that if you’re obsessing about them.
The more I focused on them, the slower my recovery was. Experiencing narcissism is bad enough for your mental health, but the continual researching of it afterward and the legacy of damage it leaves behind is a million times worse. If you’re trying to rebuild your life and your sanity, this outward focus on others is vastly unproductive. You’re not concentrating on yourself.
Exploring why I went down this rabbit hole was insightful.
I discovered that I was a bit of a coward, and too afraid to really look at myself and my failings.
This then led to a realization that my chronic lack of self-confidence had resulted in ridiculous codependency, which meant I tolerated being treated awfully and thought such behaviour was normal.
Which then made me see that (metaphorically-speaking) I really, really needed to grow a pair of balls (honestly, I really should’ve had the courage to tell people to “f**k off” far more than I did… well, maybe not f**k off’; “thanks and now go away” would have sufficed). And unearthing all of that has been a far more useful process than ruminating on them.
I will never forget about them—I just don’t care anymore.
I’m no longer interested in trying to find answers I’ll never find. It’s a goose chase and I’m done running.
They are who they are. That’s it.
And that’s not on me. It never was.
My journey is picking through the trauma they caused. I am still resentful that of the time, effort, and money I have to expend doing that, but it also seems a small price to pay for not having to deal with them anymore. I’m happier they’re not in my life—that’s enough. But as far as they’re concerned? That’s it. They’re no longer my concern. They never were and I’m just glad that I’ve finally seen that.
Instead of fixating on them, getting better requires me to look at my part in it all. For I am far from blameless. I made more mistakes than the Trump administration. At times I was a total idiot, a toxic shambles of a human. But that’s where my recovery lies; learning and growing from my mistakes.
Other’s errors? Not my bag, baby. I am not responsible for the actions of others.
Do we affect others? Yes—of course, we do. Human relationships work on reciprocity; you can never ignore cause and effect. But the choices we make when everything is at stake, in the white-hot crucible of a crisis? They’re on us. Difficult times only reveal who someone really is, how much you really matter to them. They reveal our essence.
And someone else’s essence is not your weight to carry.
So put it down.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a parent, sibling, partner, friend, or boss—their essence, worldview, attachment style, thoughts and assumptions, and (biggest of all) their mistakes….none of that is on you.
Stop looking for answers and accept the simple, yet brutal, truth: that person did something sh*tty to you, and that’s it. Deal with that, not the reasons behind it. You can explore pathological toxicity until your head hurts, read about narcissism until the end of days, and you will find some answers. I know I did.
But as to whether that individual is a narcissist or whether they simply didn’t care for you very much or whether they’re just not a kind person (or even maybe a combination of all three)? You’ll never know. More than that, it’s not your responsibility to know. And trying to know will only distract you from what you should be doing—getting better.
I’ll still write about narcissism because it’s fascinating. Sadly, I’ve also learnt that it’s amazingly common—whether it’s in the workplace or a romantic relationship or lurking at the heart of a dysfunctional family unit or even perpetrated on a national scale by the political elite, narcissism is rife. It’s everywhere, and its damage is profound. Toxicity causes psychological pain, and that’s never going to stop being a worthwhile discussion.
But as for me and my life? I’m done.
So, today I make my pledge: My name is Christopher and I am a recovering narcissistic-information addict.
And it’s time to get clean.
My mental health requires it.