One terribly painful aspect of my experience of partnering with a narcissist was the revelation of my dire need for love. I had a deep, unmet need for affection and affirmation I had always suppressed, and this man lit it on fire. This man held my hand. This man cuddled me as though trying to become one with my own body. This man fawned over me and kissed me in public. This man looked lovingly into my eyes as though seeing his own future. I had never been free to do these things before. Most forms of affection had always felt oppressive, manipulative, for a pointed purpose of showing ownership or getting the needs of the other met at my expense. It was always draining and obligatory. I never was able to let my guard down and embrace my own desire to touch and be touched. I never was able to soak in compliments like a flower being watered, and believe them. I never comfortable with them before because I had never felt worthy of them before.
When the devaluation began he would say dismissive and insulting things during fights that appealed not to the intellectual adult self in me, but the terrified child. I could see the ridiculous nature of those threats: “you’re a ho, for real” and “deuces” to imply his impending abandonment. To my adult intellect the words were vacant rantings of a man still operating from within his adolescent nature. But the terror those words struck in me was the effect they had on my deep broken parts. Parts that agonized over the rejection, the abandonment, the discard. It affected me like the mortal terror of a scared infant afraid she would never again be retrieved from the crib, who may not receive her next meal. It felt like one more abandonment by a potential mate (caregiver), one more piece of evidence that she is unworthy of love.
I was a parched and neglected flower unskillfully planted in an old pot. He was water. He was sunshine. Dirty water and filtered sunlight, but nourishment, nonetheless. For the first time in my life, I was able to receive, flimsy as the offerings were. But I believed him. I was ready to believe that someone could finally see me, and I needed to believe it. When these things were snatched from underneath me, this flimsy foundation that I had built so much on, pinned so many hopes upon, it was a crushing blow. This was not a blow to the ego. This was not a flesh wound. This was a blow to the broken, traumatized, completely vulnerable infant self. The interior parts of me. The root and the core of me. With him I had exposed myself more deeply, more openly than I had ever before.
In retrospect and in recovery, the damage inflicted need not be seen as a bad thing. Here is where recovery (from any addiction) gets good: I now see where I have needs. I see how far I can stretch, how deep I can love, the magnitude and power of human love, touch and connection. I can receive love deeply and with purpose from people who actually love me, with fierceness. I can receive and pass on love and energy from the god of my understanding. This new found ability to fill myself up allows me to give back to the world that which I feel I am supposed to give. It allows me to love and give to my children who need for me to not be empty. My human frailty, in its intricate, woven web of beauty, fallacy, delicacy and heart, has been opened up for my understanding. I have fallen in love with the qualities I’ve recovered since a man disparaged them and muddied their beauty for me. I have seen the holes where he entered in my psyche on the ground floor, to plant infection from the inside out. I have seen what needs to be worked out in me, and I have found a purpose. Falling in love with this, the incredible amount of sheer work and determination it has taken to recover this love, this self-awareness, makes me truly cherish ME. I will not so easily part with it again.
During the course of the discard, he asked me with disdain, “Do I define you?”. It was an apt question, because he had truly come the define every aspect of my life. My relationship with myself, with my children, with my family, with my friends and the fellowship, all had been carefully and maliciously constructed by him and his abuse. There was nothing left in my day or in my life that was not him. The shock of this recognition, while simultaneously watching him withdraw from me, brought me to the brink of suicide. I had once again poured my soul out into the void, but this time I had really gone for it. I had completely emptied myself, and was left on the floor like trash. Without him and without me.
But I have come to see, empty is a template. It is a blank canvas. It is a clean slate. He did not break me. He did not bring me to suicide. I am still here and seeing the magnitude of the opportunity that lies ahead of me. I thank the pain he brought to my life for breaking me open.