I can’t tell you how many Introduction to Psychology classes I’ve taught over the last 23 years, and every time I teach one, I go over the stages of grief as theorized by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. I used to think these were ‘static’ stages. That you would stair step through them, starting with the first and ending with the last. A nice, clean grief process that followed a pattern which could be counted on and understood. Yep. That’s what I thought and when I have lost people in the past, the stages did pretty much go the way they were ‘supposed’ too. But, we all know that NOTHING with narcissists proceeds normally, and I’ve found myself thinking about these stages and finding myself experiencing some of them at the same time…moving through them out of order…and really not able to predict what might be coming next in my ‘grief’ process.
And while we’re on it, I often wonder what it is I’m actually grieving. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Am I grieving the loss of the relationship I had with Sarge? Am I grieving because I know he never loved me…never cared for me…never wanted me as a human being but just as a supply to fulfill his own selfish needs? Am I grieving that I will never look at potential mates again without the fear and ‘paranoia’ they could also be narcissists just priming me for another victimization? Am I grieving the loss of his kids who I adore? Am I grieving the loss of my heart? My spirit? My confidence? My self-image? My self-esteem? Myself? Is it me I’m grieving for? Or Sarge? Or, is it all of the above? I’m really not sure.
When you study Ross, you see that her stages of grief are these:
- Denial (this isn’t happening)
- Anger (how dare this happen)
- Bargaining (I’ll make a deal with you…)
- Depression (I can’t believe this happened to me)
- Acceptance (It’s happened…and I have to move on)
Here’s the problem in dealing with my grief from narc abuse…my stages look like this:
denial, depression, anger, depression, bargaining, denial, depression, bargaining, anger, denial, anger, depression, anger…and you get the point.
My ‘stages’ are a complete roller coaster…exactly like my relationship with Sarge was. BUT wait…I just realized something as I’m typing this. I’ve been using the term ‘relationship’ to describe what I had (or didn’t have) with Sarge, and that’s really a misnomer. A relationship is 2 people who connect together…who have an emotional and intimate bond. Bond. Like 2 pieces glued together as one. That is not what we had. I had a one-sided ‘interaction’ with him. Not a bond, but me being just one piece trying my best to connect to this man who I realized was made of a material that could never take hold. Could never make a connection at all. It’s like trying to put tape on sand and thinking it will stick. It won’t. There’s just nothing there to adhere to. So, I guess from now on, I need to use the word interaction. It’s much more descriptive of the situation.
Getting back to my stages of grief, I’m going through them in such an unpredictable way that I don’t know, day to day, which one I’ll be experiencing next. Some days, my depression is less, and I’m feeling more anger. Then, like a tidal wave, the depression comes back, worse than ever, and I feel I have to apologize to my friends and family for being down again. Depression is almost a constant, and anger surfaces from time to time, and it’s been doing so more frequently.
I’ve also bargained. I’m going to be honest. When Sarge left the last time, I prayed that God would ‘cure’ him of his narcissism, open his heart to me, and be the person I saw him being in the first stages of our ‘interaction.’ In fact, I prayed a lot. A whole lot. God didn’t answer that prayer. Or, did he? Did he know that without a ‘soul’, Sarge simply couldn’t be what I needed him to be, so he cut me free from him? Was God protecting me from further hurt? I truly think he was. I believe that God knew how deep I was sinking and how close to hurting myself I was. And as my ‘Father’, he chose to save me. To get me out of the abyss I was in, so I could move towards light and life again.
And, I have to admit this as well, I bargained with Sarge many times. I told him how I understood narcissism now (he is self-proclaimed) and I would build boundaries that would reign in his behavior and give me more power and control in what could be a true relationship. I told him I would give him more space when he needed it. I would better learn his cues and behave accordingly. I told him my love could fix him. And I believed it. I still do. I’m sorry…but I do.
I’m also great at denial. When I look at pictures of us together (and I try very hard not too…in fact, I’ve cleaned them all out of my office at school so that’s a good thing), I see happy times. I see our smiles. I see a man I still love. I don’t see the monster in the picture, and I wonder, who am I writing about in this blog? This great guy who I rode horses with and played mini-golf with and went hiking with? He CAN’T be that bad! Maybe he’s NOT a narcissist. Maybe he’s just a very mixed up man who needs a good woman to help him heal from his past. Then, I look back at my post on the characteristics of narcissists and I understand that he is one…and he can’t be fixed by me…and this ‘interaction’ is truly over. Denial is so damn easy though. And sometimes I need this journey to be easier.
Have you noticed what stage I haven’t mentioned at all. Yep. Acceptance. I can not bring myself to acknowledge I was in an abusive, toxic, narcissistic relationship that hurt me to the core of my being, changing me forever in so many ways. I can’t accept how depressed and anxious I am all the time. How much debt I’m in which literally makes me feel as if I’m drowning. I can’t accept this man never loved me. I can’t accept that. I can’t bring myself to recognize all of the love was on my side only. Because that makes me a fool. A victim. And admitting this to myself, and accepting it, is something that’s going to take a long time. I know I need to eventually get to this stage. I have got to get to acceptance to have closure. But right now, that door is wide open. And I’m worried about what I might let inside.
This is what I know: nothing about narcissistic ‘relationships’ are real or normal or typical of any other relationship out there. And dammit, that makes the healing and grief process abnormal too. It’s amazing how powerful narcissists are…they can change everything in your life so very drastically. Including yourself.