My Letter to a Narcissist’s Ex-Wife / A desperate plea to heal my pain

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW

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Groomed by my narcissistic parents to be exceptionally adept at reflecting and affirming another while lacking a solid sense of self, made me a prime target for narcissistic men. Starving for love I was willing to be a mere reflection, a malleable and compliant source of supply. As in the Greek myth, I became Echo, spellbound by Narcissus.

Over time as I prevailed with therapy and achieved critical milestones, the narcissists I gravitated towards were more polished and covert.

When Joshua and I met I still couldn’t read the cues that would alert me to his perfidious nature. He seemed attentive, down to earth, and ethical. I loved his dog, that he taught kids, and was super smart and handsome. I was smitten.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of how insidious the garden variety covert narcissist is. They mingle their abuse in between acts of generosity, and often employ emotionally manipulative tactics, and passive-aggressive behavior. They are subtle and ambient. Hence, Josh never overtly belittled or harangued me. This made it even more agonizing to identify the source of my distress.

What did sink in was that he had an intentional need to make everything my fault. When he ditched plans and left me in the lurch it was chalked up to something unacceptable that I did, which prompted and legitimized his behavior. There was absolutely no accountability.

That should have been egregious enough for me to leave, but I was hooked. The more subtle forms of emotional abuse can be the hardest to escape from because the gaps between the loving, caring behavior and the emotional cruelty can span several weeks or months.

As demented as it is, I sulked over not being good enough supply. My intermittently questioning and expressing my disappointment was clearly problematic. Rather than view that as an outrageous red flag I’d reproach myself with incredulous expectations. If only I could have been more tolerant, less needy, more loving, and forgiving.

Although the pain, the insecurity, the uncertainty, and the heartache were real, they felt amorphous and untethered. I tried to “overlook” the emotional blackmail that was intricately woven into our dynamic. Deep down I knew if I dared to question and require respect I would be abandoned. So instead, I abandoned myself.

Until I hit a breaking point.

Josh moved back to New England, while making romantic proclamations and false promises. His absence plagued me. The distance from him and another betrayal with a close friend occurring during that time, jolted me into reality. I needed answers and I knew I wasn’t going to get it from him. So I dug deep, probing the internet to get to the truth.

Never underestimate the ingenuity of a scorned woman.

There it was! An idyllic black and white portrait of him and his beloved. They were officially engaged, and prancing around gaily in a beautifully landscaped garden.

The damn broke. I emailed them both, conveying my version of reality, noting that her chronology of their courtship overlapped with when he was sharing my bed. Naturally, he denied this and characterized me as a trouble-making whacko.

Going through the aftermath of what is known as the degrade and discard was debilitating. I was obsessed with this chosen woman. She was the special one who was buying into his narrative that I was not just delusional, but also trivial. I was livid that by believing his lies, she excused the infidelity. Yet I also understood the magic he conjured when he wanted you to feel wanted and adored.

About four years later I did receive an apology from his new bride for never responding to me when I reached out to forewarn her. Indeed, life with him was brutal and they eventually divorced. When the romantic pursuit waned and the novelty wore thin she was relegated to the realm of unsatisfying supply, to be replaced by a shinier more titillating model. She had to learn the hard way.

By that time I was well over him. What helped me break free was actually returning to my investigative role and tracking down Josh’s ex-wife Lisa. Mired in cognitive dissonance and degradation I was desperate for clarity. So I wrote to her the following missive.

This is not an easy letter for me to write. I pondered over calling or writing and I chose the latter, as it feels like a more ‘tentative’ introduction under very strange and unfortunate circumstances. I write this letter in confidence to you, with the full understanding that you may or may not be receptive to correspondence as you continue reading. Whatever you decide, please know that I respect your wishes.

That said, I am contacting you because I am experiencing a great deal of confusion and difficulty healing in the aftermath of romantic involvement with your ex-husband Josh. Please be aware that I have no present involvement with Josh, nor do I ever want to have any further involvement. What I want is to restore my peace of mind and inner stability, which has been profoundly shaken by the toxic dynamics I experienced while I knew him.

I am surmising in hindsight, that Josh is a covert narcissist and that given the nature of this disorder I have been grappling with a massive amount of cognitive dissonance. I am hoping that validation from a reliable source, such as yourself, would help relieve me of nagging rumination and deluded perceptions.

I am finding it to be extremely difficult to reconcile the disparate personas that Josh presented (kind, brilliant, loving, beneficent, morally upright presentations juxtaposed against unpredictable, unreliable, clandestine, cold, indifferent, elusive and abandoning) and the complete lack of empathy and remorse he exhibited when he simply, unbeknownst to me, took up with another woman while feeding me the premise that he was taking space for himself to heal from vague difficulties with his family.

When I discovered the truth I contacted him and his present partner. According to his reality, there was no ‘deception’ and the onus was on me for interfering in his relationship. His lack of accountability, lack of remorse and callousness and complete objectification of what we shared has left me feeling quite shattered and bewildered. As much as I process this and recognize this behavior as sick and abusive, I am left with a sense of incompletion. A lack of closure, that impedes my ability to shut the door and move on. Hence this letter to you, appealing to your first-hand knowledge of Josh and the truth of who he is.

According to what Josh did share about his marriage, there were volatile dynamics. I suspect your experiences would prove enlightening, given what I’m left to make sense of. If you do feel amenable to speaking or writing or emailing, I would be very grateful for your insights.

Lisa did respond. With enthusiasm in fact. Over dinner, we shared about our uncanny experiences with Josh. Naturally, his version of their past was distorted. He disparaged her character, painting a picture of her as an immature, materialistic, shallow woman. The woman I met was lovely, smart, and compassionate. In the aftermath of their divorce, however, she was not who she once had been. For the first time in her life, she required treatment for PTSD.

What I learned was far worse than I expected. What lurked behind his mask was more frightening than I anticipated. I never experienced the rages, the alcohol abuse and the constant overt ridicule that Lisa endured. She felt like she was going crazy, and he certainly did everything he could to imply that she was. Sharing our experiences further solidified the conviction that Josh was a quintessential Jekyll-Hyde narcissist.

I am forever grateful that Lisa was willing to help me in my time of need. She helped me realize that I dodged a bullet. She helped me restore my sanity.

Most importantly, she helped me realize that as victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse, it is our responsibility to support each other and expose the vile machinations of these emotional vampires. It’s how we heal, empower, and break the cycle.

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As a survivor (and thriver) of complex trauma and a seasoned therapist specializing in treating complex trauma, narcissistic abuse syndrome and addictions, I am intent on creating content that affords informative insight, hope and healing from psychological disorders. I aim for my creative content to assist readers with tapping into the resiliency of the human condition while recognizing the countless challenges of being human.

New York City, NY
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