Tony shares a question from his private Facebook group about gaslighting and “breaks down the game film” on why it is still difficult to change your patterns of communication with the narcissist even though you’re now aware of what you previously weren’t aware of. He shares some powerful responses to the question from members of the group who are on the healing side of their relationships. And finally, he gives perspective on what growth eventually looks like and how empowering that can be for you and your kids.
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Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 51 of Waking Up to Narcissism. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified mindful habit coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four, and host of the Virtual Couch podcast, which I encourage you to add to your list of podcasts to listen to as well. Today, though, we are going to jump right in because I just love this Facebook group, this private Facebook group for women who are in relationships with narcissistic fill in the blank; could be a spouse, could be a parent, an entity, a job, an adult child, you name it. And there is so much that just happens organically in this group. And so, I asked for permission to be able to read this example because I have so many thoughts and the things that the people shared in here are just phenomenal and this is the kind of support that is happening. So, I wasn't planning on plugging it, but if you are someone who is interested in joining the group, let me know. And my men's group is getting close. There's two types of guys I'm looking for, one, if you are starting to say, oh man, maybe I'm waking up to my own emotional immaturity or narcissistic traits and tendencies. Hallelujah. That is literally where I was years ago and why I started this podcast and what I think helps so much as a therapist. And if that is you then, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And my assistant Naomi is putting a list of people together. And I want to talk to you and we'll get a group going. And if you are someone that is a man who is in a relationship with the narcissistic, fill in the blank, entity of your life. Whether it's a spouse, whether it's a parent, you name it, then I'm getting more of you as well. And I see you, and I know that sometimes the emails I get will say, why do you only talk as if the men are narcissists? I'm not saying that. And again, we're all emotionally immature until we're not.
And the pattern that we see so regularly is the male who is more of the emotionally immature. And there's quite a bit of data to back that up. But that doesn't mean that it isn't the other way around. And quite frankly, it can be really, really difficult when the man is the pathologically kind person and the relationship with the emotionally immature or narcissistic or borderline traded wife, because a lot of the stereotypes that go along with that is men are not, they don't often talk at all about being in those situations. And I have a handful of men that I'm working with right now that are in that situation and admittedly, people just really don't believe them at all.
And so it can be incredibly isolating and lonely. So if you are a guy in that situation, reach out to me as well. And we're going to get there. We're going to put those groups together as well. But here's, and I've changed some of the details of this post that were in the group. But there's so much gold here, so I've changed the details. And then I'm really excited to get to the responses from the people in the group.
So the person posted and they just said, “Is this gaslighting?” So they said, “My spouse tonight knew that I had been up for all hours of the evening, since I think about one or two in the morning and he woke me up because it was some bad weather and he needed help moving some cars around.” And, she said that she had already worked a very long 12 hour day, and they have a lot of kids and the kids were at home because it was a snow day.
So she said, “While she was working, he had sent a text around dinnertime and said, ‘Hey, should I go get dog food since we're out?’” And she had already been up since one or two in the morning and had been working from home. And I'm sure dealing with kids who were home from school, who don't really respect that mom or dad is working from home. So much of that happened over the pandemic.
So she just said, “I barely read the message and I just replied, ‘I'm almost done.’” And she said, “I just kind of assumed that if the dog needed food and he knows what time the store closes. And he's available that he would go get the food.” So she said she finished working, she came into the kitchen and he said, “Hey, do you want to go get the dog food now? Or do you want to wait until tomorrow morning?”
And she said, “I'm pretty sure he knows that I work another long day tomorrow and I wouldn't have time either.” And she said, “I honestly assumed it was common sense for him to just go get it.” But she said he didn't. And I want you to know, I can jump in right now and say, okay, we've got a lot of assumptions happening and we'll get to that. But I will already say that if somebody doesn't just express, Hey, I'm busy. Can you go get it? There's a reason. I mean, there's my pillar. one of assuming good intentions, or there's a reason why people do or don't do or show up the way that they do. So I would imagine that she doesn't feel like she can necessarily point out details or say, hey, I'm busy, can you do that? Because I would imagine there's been a pattern in the past where that would be met with, oh, you think I'm not busy, but anyway, we'll get to that here in a little bit.
So, she said, yeah, I assumed it was common sense, but he didn't, so she put her shoes on and she grabbed a couple of kids and thought it's a time to bond. And said, let's go and let's go get dog food. So on her way to go get the dog food, she gets a text and it says, “Are you upset with me?” And she said, “I probably shouldn't have responded at all.” And, I get that. But she just replied back and said, “‘I'm not upset. I just kind of wish you would have taken the initiative to get things done sometimes.’ I genuinely wasn't upset. But it would make me really happy if he would just do things that need to be done without me holding his hand.”
And let me point out something that I think is pretty interesting is even just to do a little bit of self check-in right now of as you're listening to this, if you're listening to this and all you're thinking about is boy, she sounds like she's being pretty cold and mean, that is an observation of basically what you're hearing and then a judgment.
And so now you're listening with, okay, well, there she goes again, being mean. So this is what I talked about a week or two ago on Marshall Rosenberg's concept of nonviolent communication, where we just naturally do that. We have an observation, or maybe we hear something and we immediately insert a judgment in. And in reality, that judgment is something that we're using to make sense of something, trying to make sense of something through our own lens, or maybe to manage our own anxiety. Because if that's, if I'm the guy, and I've done that then do I say, oh man, I have done that. Or am I listening to this saying, well, she shouldn't assume, she should just tell me. I mean, I probably would've been okay with that.
So that's the concept. I just, I love being aware of this concept around nonviolent communication. So if you are observing or listening and already making that judgment, then what an opportunity to grow. So step back and just listen and try to separate yourself from your own ego, which can be a challenge, but what a good challenge to have. So she said again, I shouldn't have responded. And she said, I genuinely wasn't upset and it would have made me so much happier if you would just do things that need to be done without me holding his hand. So she said his response seemed very gas lit to me, and she asked the group, “What do you think?” Because here's what the response was. He texted and said, okay, are you mad? And she just said, I wish you would just take the initiative and do some things sometimes on your own. And he said, “It's always something with you. I do everything I can and it is never good enough. You're always coming down on me about something.I did X, Y, Z for you today, and this is the thanks I get? I don't know if I can take much more of this.” She said, “Am I crazy for expressing how I feel? I just wanted him to know that it would make me happy if he would go buy dog food when it was needed. And especially if he knew that I was working and he was the one that was kind of sitting there and texting about dog food.” So she said, “The last thing I said about it before he started the silent treatment was, ‘I remember when you told me to let you know if there's anything at all I need and you would help.’”
And so that's what she actually did. So she just said, “That seems a little bit contradictory.” And even when I dig into his response, “I do everything I can for you. And it's never good enough. You are always coming down on me about something.” And I just want to point out as well, and I know this is something that can seem simple, but when I have a couple in my office, I talk so much about those “all or nothing” or “absolute” statements. And people often say, I know, I know I do it, but she knows, or he knows that that's not what I mean.
But it doesn't really matter if he or she knows that we don't mean, okay, every single time or always, or never. Because I get to watch from my chair the shutdown, the facial expression, the tuning out when somebody says, you know, she's never thanked me for anything. And she doesn't lean in at that point and say, oh man, that'd be really hard if he feels like, I've never said, thank you.
What her mind goes to is okay, I can think of how about last night when I said thanks for this, or how about three days ago? And so at that point, when someone does that, uses these all or nothing statements, I call these reactants. Again, reactants are that instant, negative reaction of being told what to do. And I feel like it's a similar vibe where in couples counseling or when I watch people interact with each other, when somebody even just says, well, you know, what you don't understand is then that person's already on defense. I'm being attacked while I'm sure I understand what you're about to say. Or if somebody says, “You never, or you always,” or even I watch it happen if somebody says, “in the last, I don't know, 15 times that we've done that, you haven't said thank you.” And so honestly, the person naturally is inclined to start looking through, okay, 15 times.
Oh, I can think of four times ago where I didn't do that, so then we tune out. I would highly encourage anybody to use the good old, “I feel” statements. So instead of what you don't understand is, what I feel like is happening or what I worry about that we're missing here, or whenever you use those all or nothing statements, it's really simple to start to try to put into your speech patterns, you know, I feel like she doesn't apologize very often, or I feel like he hasn't said that in a while, but the reason why we go to these never, always, and we use those big statements is because they get a reaction. The unfortunate part is it gets a reaction. It doesn't get a true response. It gets a reaction.
So even in the semantics of when we're texting, even texting in our own emotional immaturity, I just feel like one of the biggest things that you can start to do in waking up to your own narcissism or waking up to the narcissism in your relationships is just being aware and be aware of our speech patterns, the semantics, how we show up, and I think that's a real powerful way because a lot of times people say, all right, I'm starting to wake up to this, what do I do?
And you go, this path of awakening, this path of enlightenment, you go from not knowing what you didn't know. And that is, you didn't know it. So boy, please give yourself some grace. And then the next step on this path of awakening, path of enlightenment, is, okay. Now I know, but I'm really not doing much about it. And that is one of the scariest places to be, because it feels like I kind of wish I wouldn't have known. And then you get to beat yourself up for not taking action. So in this scenario, a little bit of a lighter version of that, if I didn't even necessarily know the true effect that these all or nothing statements were having on my conversations with anybody. Now I know, but then I find myself still doing it. I still just said, okay, but you never did this. Or I always do this. So don't beat yourself up. Just look at that and go, oh man, there, I did it again. I mean, that's fascinating. So I'm going to get better at it.
The third step on this path of awakening or enlightenment is now I know, and now I use the new tool, whatever it is, pretty often more often than not. So in that scenario now, I'm pretty confident that I find myself saying “I feel” a lot. I don't know. I feel like we're on a different page here or, okay, I appreciate you saying that, I felt like you had said this. We start using those, I feel statements and we get away from, you know, it's been a long time since, or I feel like you don't say that very often. And that's a lot easier for somebody to lean in and stay present when they're hearing the I feels or it's been a long time since, or I don't think that usually we, so I just think that's a really important piece to know.
And then that last step, which is so cool on this path of awakening, path of enlightenment, again, we go from, I didn't know what I didn't know. Now I know, and I don't implement the tool that I've learned very often so I beat myself up. And please give yourself grace to now I know, and I'm getting pretty good with the tool.
So that's kind of cool. And when I don't use the tool, I'm pretty good at giving myself grace as well. And I can break down the game film and what am I missing? What am I pretending not to know? Maybe I was hungry or angry or lonely or tired. And then finally, this last step of awakening just becomes part of who you are and you find yourself saying, “I feel” all the time and you don't use the all or nothing statements, and then that becomes part of the interior landscape of what it feels like to be you. And that's a pretty amazing thing to feel.
So for people that are starting to listen to this podcast, Waking Up to Narcissism, you're on that whole path of enlightenment, path of awakening. So I know that I'm digressing from the topic today, but I just think that's so important. So the person shared all of that “is this gaslighting?” and the first person who jumped in is someone I know well in the group. And it's so funny, I want to share my own observation and judgment again, not like I'm a zen guru who gets all the stuff right all the time.
The first response to this person's post was someone that I know very well and this person is a very dynamic individual and she said, “Hey, can I share another perspective?”. And I have to tell you all of a sudden, my heart rate elevated, my anxiety started to peak and I thought, oh no, here's somebody that just poured their heart out, made this emotional bid to this group of hundreds of caring, thoughtful women.
And she's saying, let me tell you what you should have done. And it wasn't that at all, there was my observation, and my judgment was quick to follow. But she said, “He was not stepping into his masculine leadership role, but expected you to take care of everything. He seems to be trying hard to do what he is told, told you to make you happy. But because he can't read your mind, he won't ever be able to do it right now.” Again, I'm starting to swing back into, ah, this isn't a, you know, that's a good point, but where are we going with this? But then she says, “He needs to step up into that leadership position and take responsibility.”
And she said, “However, it's also important for you to help him know exactly what you're thinking rather than assuming he knows.” And she said, “Men can't read our minds as much as we would love for them to.” And so I just love the honesty, the vulnerability here, because she's saying all right, here's another perspective. She's saying, man, he was not taking ownership or accountability. He was not stepping up into that role of leadership in the home. But we were also making these assumptions now. That's why I go back to what I said earlier. I can understand why she made the assumptions. I mean number one, because she's a human being. That's what we do, especially when we've been in relationships for awhile.
But number two, I would imagine part of the interior landscape of her mind or what it feels like to be her is that hasn't gone well when she's brought up little things. So she's made it a pattern to kind of assume because I would rather assume and hopefully get things right then ask and then be made to feel dumb.
So then the person responding said, “Also to answer your question, oh yeah, he gas lit you, he did gas light you because I think he was frustrated thinking that you were upset and then he knew he fell short.” And she said, “Not condoning his behavior in any way, but unfortunately that is the emotional immature part of us humans.”
There's so much good to unpack here, but I just want to read what the next comment was. First of all, somebody just said, “I absolutely agree with what that person had replied with”, but then the next person said, “Yeah, all that defensiveness seems like gaslighting to me, a hundred percent.”
But she said, “Something else that stands out to me in this story, though, is the weird thing that I completely recognized for my own codependency.” She said that the phrase “Are you upset?” And I love this woman's vulnerability here. She said, “I guess it depends on how one defines upset, but in the past I felt like I couldn't admit to being upset or hurt or frustrated or angry because then his reaction would make me so dysregulated and uncomfortable.”
And she said, “In an effort to manage his reactivity, I would lie about or minimize my anger because I need to have a tiny bit of control over the situation.” So she said, “What I'm learning to do,” and this is why I wanted to do this episode today, “what I'm learning to do, and working really hard on is standing in my own space in autonomy. So here, I'm thinking you might have been at least a little upset.” She said, “I know I would have been. And I wonder what would've happened if in response to his question that you had answered, ‘Yeah. I am a little upset because I thought you were going to take the initiative to get the dog food.’” And then she said, “I'm sure he'll proceed with the childishness and silent treatment, but at least you're not as tangled up in it because ultimately the way he responds to your legitimate feelings is not your responsibility. And you weren't wrong to have the feelings in the first place,” because she said, “you are a whole human who gets to feel things like anger with your human partner who functions like one of the children.”
And I love, here's the pathologically kind of people in the group. She said, “And forgive me if this response was way off base, I just really read it and it was very familiar to my experience.” So bless her heart. It's an amazing response because I feel like this is when people are starting to wake up to this immaturity in their relationships, these narcissistic traits, tendencies, and behaviors.
One of the most difficult things to do is to change your own deeply rutted neuropathways. Stand in your own confidence of being able to speak your own truth, and know that you are allowed to have your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions, even if it causes the other person to gaslight, even if it causes the other person to shut down, or to defend their fragile ego because that is the tension where there is opportunity for growth. You're not crazy. You're just a human being. So in the scenario and what I loved about the first response, where she said, “he's not stepping into his masculine leadership position.”
And I haven't talked about this on the podcast and I've got some stuff planned for this down the road. But I want to dig in at some point really to the whole masculine, feminine, energies. It's about polarity and it's not about male, female, and that's why I've just sat back on this for a while. I talk about it often in my practice and on the group calls that we have in the Facebook group, because it's a big part of my marriage course, but the polarity masculine, feminine energy in Indian culture, I believe it’s Shiva and Shakti. And so it's not about male, female, but it's more about presence and radiance. It's about holding a firm boundary. It's about the riverbank to the flowing water, the picture frame to the art.
So it's about when someone is in their unhealthy feminine energy, which is absolutely something I can find myself in. Then when somebody steps into this unhealthy masculine role, now we just have two unhealthy people that are communicating in an incredibly emotionally immature way, and that will be a big topic for a later day.
But when somebody, and in this scenario he was actually acting from this immature, radiance.. And see, I hesitate to even say right now, unhealthy feminine energy, because it's not about male, female. And that's why I wish I could, I need to come up with better words, hotdogs and hamburgers. Although I don't know which one would be the masculine or feminine. My brain goes to jokes and that's not what we want to do here. So, when someone in this scenario says, are you mad at me? All of a sudden he wants her to manage his anxiety. So then if she then jumps in and I want to say, to the mix, the fray. And says, yeah, it is frustrating. Unfortunately at that moment, he is not ready for a connected conversation, for a four pillar, let's talk about this. We both have two opinions and let's get down to the bottom, and I'll take some ownership and accountability. And in that scenario he's in his emotional immature, dysregulated state.
And so he feels bad because she left, she took a couple of the kids. He feels like I'm in trouble like a little kid. So then he, instead of a self confrontation taking ownership of saying, man, I can understand that I could have gone and got the dog food. Unfortunately, this is where the emotionally immature or narcissistic person, be it the male or the female, they have grown up with this pattern of not taking ownership of anything and not wanting to sit with discomfort. And so instead of being able to sit with that and then get into an empathetic mode step outside of their ego. They need you to quickly manage their anxiety, or manage their emotional state.
Are you mad at me? If you say no, it's fine. Okay. Good. And unfortunately, when you're dealing with somebody that's incredibly emotionally immature, now they even get to say, okay, good because you seem like you were making a big deal out of something that wasn't a big deal. Because now unfortunately, the emotionally immature person, not only has to say, hey, can you manage my anxiety, but also can I just regain this one-up position and let you know that I still make more sense than you do? And I feel like that's part of what is just so maddening. So when this person who had just responded with this last comment said, I wonder what it would look like if you had shared your true thoughts and feelings, even if he gaslit and became emotionally dysregulated. I understand that is one of the hardest things to ask a pathologically kind person to do. Because that's what you've been doing for such a long time is keeping the peace and you know, the rules of the game, even if it's been subconscious of, is it worth the fight? I know my opinion is not going to matter. And so it's easier for me just to say no. Yeah. Yep. You're right now. I'm fine. You're good. My bad. Because we want to keep the peace. But what happens is we need to start being able to express ourselves because that is part of being in an adult human relationship. And if your partner is not willing to self-confront, not willing to seek help, then we really have to start taking a look at, is this a viable relationship? And that's really hard to say as a couples therapist, I got into this to save every single couple in the entire world. We would all live happily ever after. But you find out that there’s still this concept of, we all are so emotionally immature coming out of childhood and into our adolescent relationships and even into our marriages because we didn't know what we didn't know when we're trying to get the other person to like us. And we got our abandonment wounds and our attachment wounds. And then when we start having these different experiences in life, we need to be able to communicate because we're two different individuals, two different human beings. So it only makes sense that we would have different thoughts, different opinions, different views, and what an amazing opportunity to learn more about somebody that you care about. But it does seem paradoxical to the emotionally immature person. Because that fear of abandonment is so strong because it's there from childhood. It really is.
The thought is, oh my gosh, if my wife has her own thoughts and opinions, or if she starts dressing differently, or she goes and starts making her own money, she's going to leave me. So I have to control the situation. And the way I control is to put her in a one down position. And it is not healthy. You're not going to be the best version of you. And it's not something to model for the kids. But I digress. So the next comment I love though, after this person said, forgive me if this response was off base, I just read this really familiar to my experience. So another person said, “That is literally the scripted response of any underdeveloped person that they have such fragile egos, that they cannot handle anything that even remotely resembles a critique or feedback.” And right there I just thought, man this group is getting strong.
Because what I love talking about is that, unfortunately, the emotionally immature person takes any slight or even just a disagreement as criticism. Not just criticism, but in their mind, because this hearkens back to childhood, it goes back to shame. And remember, there's a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt: Okay, I did something bad. Shame: I am a bad person.
And I think it's so important to recognize that most of us have a default to shame because as a child, if we didn't get the unicorn for our birthday, or we didn't get the candy every day for dinner, we didn't get to go to sleepovers every night, then we were still looking at that from this tiny little immature lens and we didn't have an understanding or empathy or regard for others. So the only reason that people are not meeting my needs anymore must be because I am a bad person. That I must be tragically flawed in some way, because I don't understand what anybody else's experiences are, so we have a default to shame, unfortunately, that I am not enough. I am bad. I am unlovable. And so the whole point of growing up and becoming more emotionally mature and getting into relationships with other people, is with the hope that then we can start to express ourselves and feel connected, feel loved, feel heard, feel understood. And then in that process of that, we learn to let go of that need for external validation.
Which is where we are just so stuck in. It's not unusual for me to want somebody to tell me good job or that they like me. But we find out so much that it still doesn't quite scratch the itch. So we feel like we have to go find it from somebody else or something else. But the process of emotional maturity is being able to let go of that need for external validation and know that we're okay. And that we're enough.
But when you haven't ever, and I'll use an all or nothing statement here, we haven't really ever felt that validation during childhood or from your spouse and there's the gaslighting, and then of course, we don't have a strong sense of self and that can be so difficult because then I know people then listen to podcasts like mine or others, or they read books and they hear okay, I just need to stand on my own two feet. And I just need to really raise my emotional baseline and I need to take ownership of things. And I need to do the things that I know that are important to me.
But then when another person sees that as, oh my gosh, you're having your own thoughts and opinions. Therefore you are going to leave me. Then you are going to be gas lit. You are going to be controlled. It's coming from their subconscious, it's their confabulated memory.
But in this response, that's only two lines in, I appreciated this response that she gave, but so she just said, okay, that's literally the scripted response of any underdeveloped person. They have such fragile egos. They can't handle anything that even remotely resembles a critique or feedback.
She said, “You should be able to say what you said and to be frustrated, you were not even harsh in how you set it at all. You're allowed to have opinions and thoughts. You said that you would like it if he took more initiative and that's all it takes for them to have they're ultra fragile egos pinged. They pretty much immediately flood. They go into self protection mode and you get the toddler response.” She said, “It sucks. It's obnoxious and it gets really old. Could you have said, yeah, you will get the dog food. Sure”. She said, “There's no justification for the level of immaturity of his response though. And your complaint is valid. Does the dog need food? Is she busy? Am I available to get dog food?” She said, “I think he's old enough not to need mommy to answer that question. After the fact, that developed person would say, ‘Are you going to get dog food? Sorry, I should have taken care of that earlier. I know you're really busy’ and an emotionally stunted person says, ‘are you mad at me?’”
And I love where she said, “Note, it's not even about the dog food. It's, ‘I can't tolerate you being anything but thrilled with me because my ego is so, so delicate’. Followed by trying now to offload his discomfort onto you. And make you feel bad and responsible and make it miserable. So you are afraid to ever share a complaint again because he will flipping take it to a subtle divorce threat. ‘I can't take much more of this’.” This response was amazing in this group, what an amazing response.
This woman said, “My husband talks like this all the time. If anything he does, if it's even blatantly not okay, is ever questioned. And over the years, it's escalated to where,” she said, “if I didn't validate everything he does, even if I don't agree with it then I'll get a whole plethora of dysfunctional coping strategies to try and control me. So I will manage his emotions for him.” She said, and this is hard, but beautiful and brilliant. She said, “He wants to be married to his mother who just pats him on the head and told him he was wonderful, no matter how not wonderful, what he did was. He can't tolerate me being my own person and not being enmeshed with him and in charge of regulating his emotions for him, by giving up my own identity to manage his emotions for him, my identity and my life's mission.” She said, “It's not just your average, I had a bad moment, emotional intelligence level response, you don't take a, I'm not mad. I just wished sometimes you would take a little more initiative to, I can't take much more of this.” She said, “That's an absolute victim statement, a very over the top dramatic one used to make you the bad guy and flip the script. So now it's about how terrible you treat him. For daring to not think everything he does is wonderful. And how dare you have a complaint or be annoyed at him,” or might I add, or have your own opinions or thoughts? She said, “if he did do things to help, and this is his reaction, then he's not doing those things because he's a big boy and they need to be done. He's doing them to earn approval, pad up his fragile ego and tell himself how wonderful he is and how he might be rewarded by you padding his ego. So if his ego isn't unquestionably padded, and he's not told how wonderful he is, you get the reverse attacking, defending, denying victim loaded drama.” And she said, “It's actually very manipulative to respond like he did. The next time, you'll be scared to say anything for fear of how over the top he will respond and boom, now he has you managing his fragile ego for him while you eat your needs and ability to have thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are valid too, which he doesn't really care what it creates in your world because that fragile ego takes up the whole of his concerns. As long as he can get you eating your world to manage his fragility, then mission accomplished.”
I feel like I could just end it there, but I want to talk a little bit about then. Yeah. What does that look like to show up and to stand in your calm, confident energy, even if the other person is prone to defend that fragile ego and take up all the emotion and energy in the room? So let's talk about that.
So now I want to stitch together several pieces of the puzzle. If you are new to the podcast, Waking Up to Narcissism, then some of what I'm going to share may feel like a lot of cliches, a lot of jargon, buzzwords. You name it. And with that, I would love for you to shoot me an email with questions about anything that I'm about to share.
Because I know that people don't necessarily start at episode one and jot down everything on their way to episode 51. But here's why I want to go down this path because when I started this podcast much of the work that I do is because when people do start to feel like they are involved with extremely emotionally immature or narcissistic people or people with narcissistic traits and tendencies, let's just kind of cut to the chase. I mean, that word narcissism is overused in our culture right now, I definitely can understand that. And I've actually been accused on a regular basis pretty much by the emotionally immature or the narcissistic people, I might add, that I am one of those that is contributing to the overuse. And part of my message, my very intentional message was early on in the podcast to identify that true narcissistic personality disorder is only diagnosed in a very small percentage of the population.
But emotional immaturity, we are all emotionally immature in areas of our lives until we are willing to take a look inward, self confront, seek love and connection rather than control, learn to stand in our own healthy ego and healthy ego that's what's inside of us. It's built off of your lived experience. It allows you to truly find what matters to you.
What do you feel a connection with? It's embracing your strengths, your God given talents and abilities that allow you to not only embrace your path, find your sense of purpose, let your light so shine that you can lift others so you don't require continuous validation from others, especially those who don't respect you as a person, people are using you to manage their ego, but those who are not able to self confront, who can't take ownership of their role in situations, who continually take on a superiority or a victim position. Those are the emotionally immature or narcissistic people.
And when you wake up to that in your relationship, most of the things that you will read or see will come and they'll say, you know what, don't even watch this any longer. Don't read any further. Just go no contact and leave. And while I may completely understand why that message, why that drum continues to be beat, I also understand that that message typically comes in hindsight by somebody who has already been on this long road, long road of self discovery. And so now they want to share their experience. They want you to avoid the path that you are about to embark on altogether. They want you to trust them. They want to save you a lot of heartache. They want you to save the fact that it is most likely going to get worse as you stand up for yourself before it gets better. And the better is hard. The middle is messy. The more you stand up for yourself, the more the buttons are going to be pushed. Things that you have said at your most vulnerable moments with this person that you have dreamed of sharing a life with, the things that you've said in those most vulnerable moments will be used against you, which at times will break you down. And no, it isn't fair. And how dare that other person use what you find so important against you? And as you stand up for yourself and as you express your opinions and have your own thoughts and feelings, which is 100% absolutely okay, and shouldn't even need to be questioned, you'll start to hear how difficult you’re being.
You will now hear that you think that you're so smart, you'll hear that you are now destroying the person that you now understand has been destroying you. And those buttons will activate parts of your fight or flight response in hopes that you will return back to that one down position that you will be there, then serve your partner in whatever way they want, whenever they want, to manage when they need you to manage their anxiety, even at the cost of your sense of self. But that message that you're going to see and hear will be there because people have already gone through it. They've gone through it and they don't want others to have to deal with all those difficult things that come. That they now wish that they hadn't gone through just to then know they wished that they knew then what they know now. But you didn't know what you didn't know, and you are going to have to go through it. And that's part of the process and it breaks my heart, but you're here on this path, on this journey. I know sitting from this therapist chair for almost two decades now and dealing with well over a thousand couples, that it is never that easy because there are so many variables. Because you are the only version of you and with your nature, nurture, birth order, DNA, abandonment, rejection, fears, hopes, dreams. And you also want the best for your relationship and your marriage. And I don't want to say that's part of the problem. It's a gift. It's a beautiful thing when you are in a healthy relationship.
So part of that waking up to narcissism, may just be that maybe he or she, maybe they really aren't a narcissist. Maybe they are just more emotionally immature. And maybe if they will just listen to this podcast with me as well, maybe if they understand really what gaslighting is, maybe if they understand what their behavior is actually doing to me. Or maybe if I can point out an episode where I heard an example, an exact example of the way that they talk to me. And the way they talk to the kids and maybe just, maybe they'll hear that and they will go, oh, my gosh. You're right, that does sound like me. And I'm so sorry. And let's fix this. And that would be ideal. It really would. So I know that people really desperately want to at least see if that is a possibility. But instead, unfortunately, most of the time, so those are not all or nothing statements, you may hear, I'm not listening to that crap. That guy or that girl just wants your money for the podcast or the book. Or, okay fine, if you like this person so much, why don’t you go marry them, or you can move in with them. Or you might hear all right, no, you're right. I am actually the world's largest piece of crap. And you are a saint and just please tell me what can I do next to win back your favor? Or you might hear, okay yeah, you are absolutely right. You're so smart and fine, let's divorce. Then, guess what? I will tell the kids. I'll tell our church. I'll tell your parents. I'll tell everybody that this is 100% on you. But yeah, if that's what you want to do, no problem. So you're going through a process. You really are. And I have five things that I say often that I think will help you show up better in your relationship. Let's just start there because if we are all emotionally immature until we're not, then I know that you, especially you, the person that is still listening, the person that is desiring change in the relationship, the person that now is starting to be incredibly willing to self confront. You need to make sure that this just isn't one of those we didn't know what we didn't know situations. First, here's what I say, raise that emotional baseline. That is a term that I made up early in my practice, but now I believe it with every fiber of my bones or my DNA. I really believe it. Let's put it that way. Raise that emotional baseline. You must self care. Self care is not selfish and you need your baseline high enough that you can reach the tools necessary to show up as the best version of yourself. Second, get that PhD in gaslighting. You are not crazy. You're being made to feel crazy because you're arguing basically with at times a child in an adult's body. I didn't do it. You did. And you're dumb and mean, and I'm going to tell my mom. That conversation is going nowhere, which leads to number three. Get out of unproductive conversations, but know that exiting while it will help you eventually, but that is where the button pushing starts to come into play because that person needs you to come back and play your role of letting them gaslight you and letting them say you're crazy and letting them become the victim so that they now feel better about how they're showing up. And they don't have to self confront. So when you start to exit the relationship, the conversation, we start exit the conversation or the situation, get ready for that button pushing. And that's where I like and hate to say the fact that if you're doing number three, well, you're going to get those buttons pushed, which leads to the fourth thing to set healthy boundaries. I'm not going to continue this conversation when voices are raised or I'm going to go to bed. I'm not going to offer up my sense of self. My body, my sanity to manage another person's anxiety. That's a boundary. And again, A boundary to a narcissist is a challenge. It's a, oh really? This is what we're going to do. Well, let me push all these buttons and I will break that boundary. Thank you for this challenge, then that only makes me feel more strong, subconsciously says the narcissist. But then you know that's going to be more of that button pushing, which leads to the fifth and I would say most important thing. There is nothing that you will do or say that will cause them to have the aha moment or the epiphany. They have to have that moment. They have to do the work. It has to come from within them. And now you will start to then see, and you'll start to understand. And that every time you, every time, all or nothing statement, right? Most of the time, most every time that you try now to open up and explain and point out because maybe they'll see or they don't see. And then they attack you when you are trying to be open and vulnerable. When you have your aha moments and share with trusted people, now you'll start to understand that most every time you try and open up or explain or point out so that maybe they'll see, they don't see. They attack. And when you're trying to get them to have that moment, that moment has to come from within them. You have your aha moments, please have them, write them down, talk with a trusted friend, talk with a therapist that understands personality disorders. Your situation is different. It is. I often say yeah, here's the way that it takes two to tango and we're probably both 50/50 in this. But there's an asterisk for potential personality disorders. And you need to start from there because that's why so many of the things that you hear on episodes or podcasts like mine, or books about narcissism or emotional maturity or any of those resonate so deeply because it is so patternistic.
That's why I get all the feedback that says, oh, it's like you're in my car or my home. It's because I hear these conversations almost on a daily basis in my office and they are very repetitive and very patternistic. So if people have not been through conversations or relationships with a narcissist or an extremely emotionally immature person, then they're going to say things that sound great in other relationships, but feel completely invalidating to yours. Like, well, have you thought about how your spouse may feel? Yeah, that's actually the problem. That's all I do is manage their fragile egos. And guess what? There's absolutely zero consistency there other than number one, they didn't do what I did. And number two, please refer back to number one. So what the stories from earlier today then represent is that awakening. And during that awakening, those that have been through it, probably heard some of what I shared earlier. Or what was shared by the women in the group in response to that initial message and thought, how about you don't say anything and you just leave, but it's not that easy. So, what do you do is part of what I like to call these narcissistic rule outs? You're probably going to go through a period where you realize that you actually are entitled to have your own experience, your own thoughts, your own feelings and you're allowed to express yourself, and a mature conversation would typically come next. One with curiosity, one with self confrontation, accountability, differentiation. One where you start to recognize, of course we have two different opinions. We're two different human beings from two different backgrounds. And once we can accept that, and we both can just become the best versions of ourselves, no, it does not mean that that person is going to leave. It means, oh, we're doing it right. We are both growing. And what an amazing opportunity to have two differentiated people that aren't always saying, am I okay? Am I okay? Am I okay?
We're showing up. And then we're having these shared experiences and that is a connection. It is a real connection that we don't know until we actually have that connection with somebody. It's not this consistent seesaw of victimhood followed by an emotional attack. So, where does that lead next?
Welcome to your popcorn moments. Eventually you get to this point of non-reaction. You sit back, you eat popcorn, and you watch the show. So I have many examples of people who get to that moment when they no longer engage. And what does that look like? They stay present and then are able to just be there, be present and not go into this fight or flight. And then they get to watch an intense movie. Usually an intense drama might be seen, one full of allegations. And gaslighting, and just to have a bite of popcorn, sit back because if you don't react, here comes act two. The comedy. You know, they were just kidding. Come on. Can you take a joke? A little more popcorn, and act three, drama. Drama, gnashing, crying, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. If you bought a ticket to the blockbuster version of this movie, meaning if you've been in a relationship for a long time, your movie may be a lot longer than three scenes. Trust me.
And at that point, you are going to want to get the large popcorn because the medium was literally only a quarter more and get extra butter and watch and make sure that they put a layer in the middle, or when you pour that popcorn top out into one of those drink containers to hand to your son's girlfriend, then you're basically eating unbuttered popcorn. But, I mean, that's all hypothetical, but anyway, act four may be a horror movie. And forgive my levity for something that will sound unkind or uncaring, but the horror movie can be almost the worst version of the buttons being pushed because there might be threats of suicide when people no longer wanting to exist on this earth. And then make sure that you tell the kids that it was your fault and you hope you can live with yourself if you wake up tomorrow, and they're no longer here. And that part breaks my heart because I know that is such a button that can be pushed. It's hard to say it's just a button because I know that is scary. So that version is really, it is really scary.
But those buttons will eventually be pushed, and maybe then you get to the final act of the play or the final scene of the movie, which will be the narcissistic dramatic exit. Forget it. They are done trying, you just don't understand. Or they're having the narcissistic rule out, a medical rule out chest, chest pain. I'm just getting dizzy. I think I'm going to faint or my chronic pain is flaring up. I just can't do this. And then you rinse and repeat and you learn more and you grow and you find yourself and your people and you don't engage and you do your work. And as you do those things, your baseline will be so high that sure we will say that I hope that they look over and see the person that you've become and say, oh man. What am I doing? I don't want to lose that person. And maybe, I don't know what I don't know. But by the time you get to that point, that's why this is your work. This is your work to do that by the time you get to that point, you'll know that you absolutely deserve love. You are lovable. How dare they betray you? How dare they take your vulnerable moments and use it as a source of supply to feed their fragile ego. And if they aren't willing to do their own work, well, your baseline is so high now, that my friends, that version of you is of worth, it is enough, doesn't need to change for anybody else. That version of you is attractive from inside out. And that strength is truly what will allow others around you to also be their best selves, including your kids. And now when people say, oh, I liked you the old way, or they feel threatened by your change, okay, I see those words coming out of their mouth. And those are adorable and they don't offend me. And they don't cause me to want to jump back into an unhealthy pattern and unhealthy relationship, let me end this by reading the Marianne Williamson poem that I think will just get you and take on so much more meaning. Based on what we just talked about.
She says, “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. So our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fears that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous. Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us. It's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
In the context of what we just talked about today, I almost feel like, I don't know. I don't know her story. I don't know if that was escaping out of narcissistic abuse. But I hope you can see that then our greatest fear is that, and I finally feel like that resonates more. Our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We're familiar with the dark places. That's maybe where we've been operating for a long time, but that fear is of the light. A fear of stepping into the person that I need to be. Because I'm going to probably deal with a lot of invalidation, and that feels scary. But over time, when that starts to be what it feels like to be you, is that person, then that is liberating and it lifts others around you. And you don't need, you don't care about those emotionally immature people that are trying to take you down. Because, I mean, bless their heart.
So thanks for joining me today, feel free to share this episode if you feel like it can help anybody. And I will see you next time on Waking Up to Narcissism.