Updated: Jul 11, 2022
In my 20s when dating, I wasn’t treated in the best way. I had relationships with people who you would likely consider narcissists.
Boyfriends would agree to see me at a certain time and wouldn’t show up because they had got drunk with their friends and said that I was difficult and demanding for asking them to show up when they sad they would. I had a boyfriend steal money from my credit card and I can’t remember the exact details now but I remember it was ‘my fault’ and he blamed me for it. I was also in a relationship where I caught my boyfriend in his underpants in bed with another woman. He got angry at me for walking in on him and not knocking first and how my presence was making the other woman feel uncomfortable - I felt great shame in that situation and also very guilty for how that woman felt.
I tell this information to show that I have been there. And in some ways those patterns can still show up.
Not so long after these disastrous encounters I met my husband. Although, like all of us, he has his faults, he was a safe guy and didn’t gaslight me. We spent years in the avoidant-anxious trauma wounding dance that so many of us find ourselves in. We have done so much work on ourselves and as a couple that we navigate these wounds quite well now.
But that’s not why I’m here. As you may have already read from previous posts, my husband and I back in the summer decided to try ethical non-monogamy and begin dating other people. There’s a link at the bottom of this post to an interview about why we chose this route.
So anyway moving back to dating. Although my husband and I are secure in our relationship and we communicate well, you would assume that dating works out quite the same for me too. What’s really interesting to notice is that the old patterns are to certain extent still there. The difference is now, I am consciously aware of them. Being aware gives me the opportunity to question and to check in with myself. Let me explain what I’ve noticed and what comes up so you can see how making the wrong choice could have me back in those old relationship patterns of manipulation, gaslighting and coercion.
My first date in September, I should have seen the red flag. We were having a discussion about a topic and he was triggered by it. He didn’t reply for days and when I reached out to see if we were meeting he said ‘yes’. This guy went on to fall out with his friend over the same topic. His own abandonment wound showed up when berating my friend over ‘taking sides’ when in fact we were just having a drink with her while he cooled down. The fact that the guy went silent and couldn’t handle healthy debate or place a boundary on not wanting to continue further with the debate was a sign that at the time I missed. I was so keen to get out there and get dating that I ignored something that didn’t feel right and tried to talk myself round to how he might be feeling.
I changed my dating approach. I now chat online, then have a Zoom call to see if they are who they say they are then we organise a daytime meet.
This red flag was repeated again, this time I caught it. I got on a Zoom call with a guy and he was really offended by something I said and started pointing fingers at me for how he was feeling and my responsibility for that. At the time, on the call, I noticed the pattern of wanting to placate him and apologised for my part. Coming off the call, I noticed how my body was feeling. I realised that actually, no, his reaction was really extreme. I didn’t like how I felt. I was starting to self-abandon, to not trust myself. So I made a note to myself, if I feel that I am starting to appease another person who is upset and people-please, this is another red flag, I sent the man a message saying that meeting up wasn’t in alignment with what I wanted and thanked him for the chat which had been interesting.
Next situation was a guy showering me with lots of attention and making me feel really great but not committing to meeting up. When I noticed myself trying to negotiate having him meet me, this also did not feel good. I made the decision for him and decided not to meet up with him. And to be extra sure I wouldn’t cave, I deleted his number and messages.
These are just some examples of my journey so far. The difference is now, I am consciously aware of my behaviour. Noting each time how I feel and watching how the other person reacts to situations of ‘conflict’ and difference of opinion.
Returning to the theme we came here for - narcissist. When someone says to me they were in a relationship with a narcissist, I always encourage them to say that they were with a person who displayed ‘narcissistic behaviour’. The narcissistic behaviour that someone displays is from their own traumas and wounding. They are patterns and coping mechanisms that they have embodied to keep them safe and protect them in a world that was uncertain at the time of them learning them - usually childhood. This is no excuse for their behaviour and like all of us are able to ‘wake up’ at anytime to change how they respond to the world around them.
The problem also is when we use the term ‘narcissist’ we are automatically putting ourselves in the role of ‘victim’. The problem can be, when we identify with labels in this instance ‘the victim’, it puts all the blame on someone else. It means we aren’t looking at our own woundings and own traumas that got us into that relationship in the first place.
Are you self-abandoning? People-pleasing? Porous with your boundaries? Are you behaving from a place of fear of not being liked? A fear of rejection for showing up as exactly as you are?
If so, you will attract those people who are out there who continue to take and gaslight.
What we need to come back to, both men and women, is our own self-worth, work on secure attachment and increase our self-love so that we are stronger than the toxic behaviours which confront us.
The healthiest thing we can do when coming out of a relationship with someone with narcissistic behaviour is to explore our traumas and core wounds so that we can make better choices in our next relationships and be aware of the red flags.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.