The next few posts will be dedicated to illustrating the characteristics of narcissistic behavior and to pointing out how those characteristics were mirrored in my relationship with Mr. Unavailable. It took me a very long time to see that the last guy I dated was a narcissist and a master at emotionally manipulating others. After the relationship was over I readily accepted the label “codependent” and began to search for flaws in my own mindset and behavior. On some level, I knew that I was not treated fairly during our relationship, but putting all the blame on myself was exactly what I have always been used to. So instead of accepting that I was emotionally abused and manipulated, I thought that my codependency was responsible for the mess I had gotten myself into.
Looking at it now, after I had some time to deal with it, I have changed my evaluation of what went wrong: I now know that codependent people often attract narcissistic and unavailable men, who manipulate them and turn them into emotional wrecks. No matter how low our self-esteem and how high our insecurities, it never justifies being emotionally exploited and abused. So instead of readily accepting all the blame, we should also see that we have been victims of abuse, and that through their cunning strategies of manipulation they made it hard for us to understand what was going on and to opt out. I still think of myself as being a recovering codependent and of being to blame for a big portion of my misery. But I also have to point out that right before I met Mr. Unavailable I was doing just fine. I was reduced to a heap of misery, depression and insecurity in the course of my interactions with him.
Learning that I have been dating a narcissist was of help to me: Now I could begin to fully assess the relationship and both our parts in it; I finally had explanations for his shady behavior and I could begin to leave it all behind. At the beginning, I was a bit sceptical of putting the label “narcissist” on Mr. Unavailable, because I thought that maybe it was just my defense mechanism wanting to shield me from accepting all the blame. But after I have read a lot on the topic and every description of narcissistic behavior exactly matched his behavior, I began to accept his narcissism. There are overt and covert types of narcissists and Mr. Unavailable was more often being covert than overt. This fact made it so hard for me to see that he was indeed a narcissist.
The first characteristic of narcissistic behavior I will talk about is their tendency to see themselves as victims and to avoid responsibility for their own behavior and everything that happens to them. My Mr. Unavailable was constantly whining about his bad luck, how everything just went wrong, and how he felt trapped and put under pressure. Back then I accepted his role as innocent victim and thought that life has dealt him some harsh blows. After some time, I began to see that he was to a high extent responsible for his own misery and that he just avoided accepting this unpleasant fact.
He was constantly unsatisfied with his job, hating what he was doing, and lamenting that he did not really get ahead and that what he was doing was not intellectualy stimulating. However, he never tried to find other work, he never really initiated actions to get ahead. He just stoically went to work and then complained about it. He tended to blame Germany for not wanting to give him a decent job. However, after almost two years in Germany he still hadn’t even learned the language. He couldn’t even order food at a restaurant in German. If he really wanted to get ahead with his career, he would have learned the language, because that would have been the basis for improving his chances for a good career.
The next aspect he continually complained about was his living situation and the relation to his exgirlfriend. He always lamented the fact that he was still living with her and that she turned his life into a mess. He even said that she was responsible that his entire life was so miserable. In spite of his complaints, he never made a real attempt to move out but stayed with her and allowed her to harrass him without defending himself. He presented himself as the poor victim of her dependency, jealousy and hatefulness. However, he always could have changed his situation by just moving out and thereby giving both of them the chance to heal from their messed up relationship. I guess he enjoyed being the victim and avoiding responsibility too much to take action and work towards the betterment of his situation.
In general, he made it seem as if the entire world had conspired against him, keeping him from getting ahead and being happy. Everything seemed to be going against him and he never got tired of pointing out his bad luck and the many blows that fate has supposedly dealt him. It was not enough for him to present himself as a victim, but he also badmouthed those who had made something out of their lives. Whenever someone was cheerful, successful or ambitious, he would label him or her as suck-up, motherfucker (his own words!) and fake. According to him, the only reason for their success and happiness was sheer luck – something that has always been denied him. He complained that others were not appreciating his genius and that he had so much to offer, but no one wanted to see it. He never got tired of pointing out that his sister (who also lives in Germany) only got a good job because of her good looks. It never seemed to occurr to him that she had actually gone through the trouble of learning German, and that this might have increased her chances of getting a job here.
Even when it was obvious that he was to blame, he still somehow managed to avoid responsibility and to redirect the blame to others. He even did not take responsibility for the excrutiating love triangle he produced through his ambiguous, manipulating and dishonest behavior. He played both me and his exgirlfriend like puppets on a string and thereby he turned us into emotional wrecks (look at my last post for more information). Whenever one of us dared to complain, he would declare that he felt completely trapped between the two of us. That he had set this trap for himself never even occurred to him. At one point he admitted that he behaved poorly towards me by always giving in to the wishes of his exgirlfriend. But instead of apologizing and accepting the blame, he followed this statement with a simple: “But what was I supposed to do?”. It was just another prime example for his utter inability to accept blame and take responsibility. Whenever he declared that he felt trapped, I was immensely hurt, because I didn’t know what I had done wrong. The only thing I wanted was being with him. Was that too much to ask? Why did that simple request make him feel trapped? I just couldn’t find an explanation, but nevertheless accepted the blame.
So to come to a conclusion, narcissists always find a way to avoid taking responsibility and to redirect all the blame to others. According to them the reason they do not get ahead is that everything and everyone has conspired against them. Those that get ahead only do so out of sheer luck and because they are fake suck-ups. This refusal to accept blame can nearly drive you insane, beause you end up being the one who does accept it. You believe his view that he is not to blame and that he is only a victim. You readily accept whatever blame you can (especially if you are codependent and are used to putting blame on yourself). In the end, we feel completely confused and helpless: On some level we know that we haven’t done anything wrong. But as Mr. Unavailable so vehemently avoids taking responsibility, it must be us who are to blame? So there must indeed be something we have done wrong? We are racking our brains, trying to find out in what ways we are to blame, and Mr. Unavailable get what he wants: He is the blameless victim who never did anything wrong…
Constantly taking the blame for things we haven’t done is exhausting and confusing. It lowers our self-esteem and leads us to seriously question our judgments and behavior. Being with a narcissist is therefore extremely draining and unhealthy. We never should lower ourselves to such a degree that we accept blame for things we haven’t done. This leads us to see victims in those who manipulate and hurt us. We should always remember that those that so readily label themselves as victims are more often than not the perpetrators. Refusing to see this only prolongs the emotional exploitation we receive at their hands.