It is a Taylor Swift song that touches on the increasingly interesting conundrum of narcissistic relationships. There is a high to the rocky road with a passive-aggressive narcissist, and then there is the low. The high is perfect, making every move you have ever made and will make under their spell so very worth it. The low…the low is like a kick in the groin, a screwdriver stuck in your eye, a long descent into hell with no return.
We get off the phone. Her son has a minor procedure tomorrow and she is naturally worried about him, regardless of the statistical significance. That is called motherhood, and I get it. In my inevitable desire to please, I share a light-hearted anecdote about my own wisdom teeth removal — long ago — that turned out to be wackier than necessary and hopefully fun. Before I uttered my first word, I knew I would miscalculate, no matter what.
Once again, the familiar silent treatment that psychologists describe so well when they give a rundown of a narcissists’ traits was there. Her chosen response was aggravation instead of connection. Instead of the predictable “twilight complicity” between two people who, for better or worse, have been together for almost a decade, I get overt censorship and disregard.
Her voice is strained as she issues a snarky, half-serious reprieve. It is all so natural to her and so boringly familiar to me by now that it doesn’t hurt anymore. We say goodnight and I tell her that I love her, in a monochord wrap-up. Noise cancellation is an amazing engineering discovery, and my brain has half-learned how to go ANC as she drops off the call enjoying the rush that petty power gives the lost souls who know no better than to drown in the pool of their reflection. A classical move from the narcissistic textbook: redraw the battle lines when there is risk of seeing your power wane; you can change them again tomorrow.
In the sharp mind of a narcissist, anything you say can and shall be used against you, if not now, at some point. Your words doom you more than they will ever exalt you. What you and any normal human being would think is fun becomes the worst possible offense in their eyes, a hurt beyond repair, and most of the time will trigger an escalation of hostilities.
Open conversation eventually becomes impossible with them, and that is what they want. They never cared about how or what you feel, so why should they indulge you? Sharing your feelings, being you, equals handing them the gun that will shoot you into oblivion..your own more than theirs. They will never leave. Repetition and reinforcement of how useless and powerless you are is a practical technique that they can use flawlessly.
They pull the strings in measured increments. They continue to draw the line farther away from them and closer to you in unnoticeable ways, so that ultimately you are left to take care of the broken pieces of your surprising offense. Their talent to make manipulation work to their advantage is immense.
In the process of loving the narcissist and investing yourself in a fruitless relationship, you waste invaluable energy to end up the wiser and also the worst, doubting yourself and allowing you to be engulfed into their always-changing swamp. In their world, black is white one day, grey the next and nothing if they simply wish it so. Gaslighting you is an art they master, a weapon of mass destruction that narcissists will not hesitate to use against you if it serves them well.
The blank space of denial lurks in the background. After all, tomorrow is another day.