It’s Narcissist Friday!
I was one who simply hated the ending of “Lost,” one of the most popular television shows in recent years. I thought it was contrived and disingenuous and, frankly, just dumb. Many viewers felt betrayed by the ending. But I wasn’t writing the show, was I? No, the ones who controlled the story made the decision and there was little any of the rest of us could do.
One famous mystery writer is known for introducing the perpetrator of the crime late in the book, so you don’t have any reason to wonder about the other characters. The readers feel tricked by the last minute introduction. That’s just the way he writes and my only recourse is not to read his books. He controls the story.
The one who controls the story leads the reader/listener around by a hook in the nose showing only what he wants to show and twisting reality in whichever way he desires in order to accomplish his goals. Because there is no other story, we are forced to follow the path and timing the author sets. If he gives us inaccurate information, we may never know. If he doesn’t want us to know something, he simply won’t tell us. If he wants to distract us or deceive us, he has and uses the means to do so.
Now, all of this is fine when we are talking about a work of fiction, a novel or a movie or a television show. But it is something quite different when it is the narcissist telling the story of your relationship. Like Citizen Kane, or Stephen King, or Hillary Clinton (all of whom are credited with the quote), the narcissist says, “They will believe what I tell them to believe!”
I remember a man (whom I have always suspected of being a narcissist) telling me that his wife was “either sick or evil.” That had come to him as a revelation one evening, and he needed to tell me. At the time I thought he was actually trying to understand her, while ignoring his own cruel behavior. Now I understand that he was testing the story on me. He wanted to know which choice would be believed. If I agreed with either one, that would become the story. “She’s sick and that’s why she says all these things about me.” “She’s evil and is doing everything she can to hurt me and my reputation.” Of course, I did what I could to bring him back to his own actions and his own responsibility for the situation, but he never did accept his fault.
As long as the narcissist controls the story, he controls the world. That might seem over-stated, but some readers here know exactly what I mean. Controlling the story is the ultimate projecting/gaslighting/isolating tool for the narcissist.
Time after time I have read about someone who stepped outside the narcissistic relationship to talk with friends or family members only to find that the story they had been told was very different from the truth. In fact, the victim was surprised to find that there was a story at all. Yet, when he/she stepped out that door, people were already against him/her, had already made their judgments, had already heard THE STORY. What happened? The narcissist planted information with the people who mattered so that the victim had no choice but to stay in the story.
For example, a wife (Merry) finally realizes that nothing is right at home. Ted is cruel and conflicted and angry. Their marriage has been difficult for years. She has been too embarrassed to talk with anyone, but decides finally to confide in a friend she has known for a long time. When she begins to tell her story, she hears, “Oh, Ted told me you were becoming unhappy, and I should expect a call.” What? He already talked with her? Of course, he is getting the story out. Soon Merry learns that all of her friends have been prepared, even her family members have been told Ted’s version. But no one will listen to her side. She has been labeled as the “crazy one.”
Merry has only begun to venture outside the story that Ted has been telling for so many years. Eventually, she will find that he is the patient one, the one who has to endure her ranting and raving. She learns that she is the one who abuses and overspends and might be having outside relationships (or at least interests). She is the problem for poor Ted, the reason he can’t do certain things and the explanation for any of his incompetence or failure. But what a guy he is for standing by her all these years!
I wish this was purely fiction, that nothing like this had ever really happened, but I know better. I have read your stories. Siblings, parents, co-workers, and spouses—particularly those who are narcissists—tell stories that serve their purposes. You are just a character in the story. Your purpose is to make them look better than they are. You are controlled by the author of the story, and people will think of you what the author tells them to think about you.
It honestly seems almost cruel to talk about this. Yet, many have found just this to be true. The narcissist has controlled information to others long enough that they believe him. Some have found that their own parents and siblings believe the narcissist, as do the people of their church. No one has heard any other story.
In the past, when people were more isolated, the narcissist’s story would simply stand. For some, that is still the case. To get out of the relationship may mean losing everything: friends, family, finances, reputation. Some will decide that it is still worthwhile. Their own health and sanity is worth starting all over again.
But we do have other means of getting the story out today. Let’s go back to Merry:
When Merry decides she must move forward even if Ted’s story seems to rule her time and space, she remembers family members who have been estranged because they never got along with Ted. Humbly, she attempts to reestablish those relationships. She begins to build a support structure from which she can move forward. She seeks out a shelter for abused women; and, even though she was not physically abused, they set up an appointment for her with a counselor who understands. She begins to learn techniques for controlling the emotions Ted usually brings out of her to control her. She starts to gather a little money and takes some classes that might lead to a job.
To anyone who will listen, she calmly and consistently tells a new story about the marriage. Some people don’t believe her and won’t listen. Others will at least listen. For some people, Ted was a little too good to be true, and they are not as surprised by Merry’s story as she thought they would be. The counselor has helped her set and maintain boundaries in the relationship, and Merry is not overwhelmed by fear when Ted learns that she has told a different story to some people. Eventually, Merry realizes that it is not as important that others believe her story as it is that she no longer has to live under Ted’s story.
Of course, Ted will react to all of this. He will feel out of control. His story, which was designed to support his image, will begin to crumble. He will have to find ways to discredit Merry or adjust his story to overcome hers. But if Merry patiently, calmly, and consistently tells a different story, Ted is no longer in control. He will win some battles, but he will not rule the world.
And, in the real world of today, Merry could move away and establish new friendships in another place. She could start her own blog and let her story become public. She could begin to work with others who need to escape the stories written by their narcissists. It is even possible that Merry’s story could become the story others read and Ted’s story will fall aside.
Yes, what I am writing here is idealistic. There are many battles and failures that have been omitted. But this new narrative is happening—and it can happen for you. Don’t be surprised when you learn that the narcissist’s version is out there, and don’t be intimidated into thinking that it’s all over. You can write a new story.