Projection

“Tell a lie enough times, it becomes truth.” or so the saying goes.

Some of us are more susceptible to this kind of manipulation than others. Self-critical or self-effacing people, or just those who can’t stand to place blame on others are quite accepting of false charges laid against them. If something is off, it must be their fault, especially if they are told repeatedly that it is.

“You have anxiety” was drummed into my head for years. I accepted it as fact, I had generalized anxiety disorder. The fact that I was stressed all the time was ample evidence. It had to be true.

I was told over and over that my response to stress was disproportionate, that I was oversensitive, needy, too emotional. I had buzzwords and subjective terms thrown at me: “anxious”, “codependent”, “enmeshed”, “entangled”, “clingy”, “controlling”, “manipulative”, “unhealthy”, “obsessed”. Always negative terms, but never a description of healthy alternatives.

I became convinced that I was somehow defective.

Then the word “abusive” was dropped on me, over and over again, with no definition or explanation of what I did to abuse. Eventually, I was told my kindness and attempts to do the right thing while being abandoned, cheated on, and lied to were covert ways to control and manipulate. I was treating her “not like a friend, more like a wife who ran away”. I was too nice.

I was a sociopath. That was the only explanation. Not only did I not see my own abusive nature, I really thought it was kindness. If I could abuse the one person in the world who I promised to love, cherish, and protect without realizing it, who else was I abusing? No one deserved me blindly controlling and manipulating them to gain power and affection.

That was my breaking point. I literally ran away from home. I spent two nights in a sketchy hotel before my mind cleared.

I am not a sociopath. Abuse has a motive. Cruelty is nearly always abusive, kindness? Not so much. I do not use people for personal gain. I do not treat people well just so I can weasle my way into owning them.

We live in a subjective world. Words no longer hold objective definitions. When I looked into the words thrown at me I began to find many of them simply have no meaning.

“Anxiety” is a “disproportionate” amount of stress or worry about a situation or event. The first thing that popped into my head was “who defines what ‘disproportionate’ means?”

When I asked my therapist what the appropriate amount of concern is over a situation he replied that it has much to do with each individual’s resilience and experiences. The same applied to “what is the appropriate amount of affection one should have for or expect from loved ones?” and “What is ‘healthy’ and who defines it?”

There are many blogs and psychology articles out there that will tell you every single neuroses that you have. They will convince you that you are anxious, codependent, narcissistic, needy, unhealthy, etc but not one of them will tell you what “healthy” looks like.

Why I’m Awake at 4 AM (and Divorced)

Why am I awake right now? It’s 4:07 AM and adrenaline will not let my body back to sleep. It was probably a cat that woke me. Or a phone notification. Something. But now the adrenaline surges and the nausea begins. My brain will not shut up. There will be no more sleep tonight.

Why am I awake? Why am I where I am in my life right now?

Because in December 2019 I was told “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did.”

In March of 2020 I was abandoned and told “I’m not hurting you, you’re just hurting.”

Then I found a half empty box of condoms in her apartment. I was foolish enough to think her friends had given it as a gag gift. When I asked if there was someone else I was told “No, but if there was, this would be so much easier.” It would take me a week to break down and ask her point blank in the crassest terms if she was sleeping with anyone. She said she was sorry, but seemed more concerned that I had violated her privacy than sorrowful about her betrayal.

I’m awake because I kick myself for my naivety. I fought to keep her. I tried multiple therapists and counselors. I believed her when after four months of her abandonment she started saying I was abusive. I had to be the bad guy. There was no way she could ever be wrong.

“Even if you changed, I still wouldn’t like you.”

I’m awake because I still think in “what ifs” and wonder what went wrong. I’m awake because I know the truth. But the world sees her fa├žade and supports her. I got off social media almost entirely because it’s mostly garbage. She blocked me shortly after she moved out. But occasionally her account pops up in my face because one of the kids leaves it up on the browser. I know the truth, but so many people are supporting her.

I can only assume they don’t know.

I can only assume they believe her story.

I can only assume what they think of me.

I was accused of “abuse”. She couldn’t give specifics. She couldn’t name times, places, actions. I was simply left reeling and questioning my own intentions. She convinced me I was a monster. What crime was I guilty of? I still don’t truly know.

How many people believe her? How many people think I’m the one who cheated? I’m the one who lied? I’m the one who left her? How many people believe I’m a controlling monster of a man?

I didn’t just lose a 20 year relationship. I have lost pretty much everything. Sure, I got to keep the house (she didn’t want it anyway), but where are my friends? Where is my church family? Where is anyone? Why does she get to have a life on social media complete with likes and comments about how cute she looks with her new man while I lie awake at 4 AM wondering why God hasn’t just killed me?

Has anyone ever loved me? Is every person just a selfish narcissist with varying degrees of skill at hiding it? Am I? Is there something wrong with me for wanting justice here? For wanting people to know the real story? Am I a sociopath? I still don’t know my sins which warranted abandonment and betrayal. A sane person would know exactly what he did wrong. A sane person would believe a woman who accuses him of abuse, because women are never wrong. Men are monsters, we all know that.

She tried to break me. She told me as much. “When I first moved out, I wondered how many men I would have to sleep with to break your love for me. Five? That seemed like a lot…” She didn’t break my love. That’s the unfortunate thing about love. True love doesn’t break. I still love her, despite what she did and continues to do. I’m just very good at being numb. I’m very good at redirecting my love to others. She didn’t want my affection, someone will.

She did break me as a person. This is why I am up at 4 AM. Two years and a new life later, I’m still sick to my stomach.

What is the cure?

Because I Want To

Is selfishness a virtue? Depends on how you define it, I suppose.

A few months ago, I re-picked up a life coaching podcast that had been helpful to me last year. While browsing through the list of episodes one title caught my attention: “Because I Want To.”

It sounded so empowering. “Do what you want because you want to. Don’t worry about everyone else’s opinions or feelings about your actions. Take control of your destiny and define your life on your terms.”

After listening to the episode I just felt sad for the host and everyone else in her life. My sadness was increased even more after listening to another one of her episodes on the virtues of selfishness. The message of the podcasts was essentially “screw everyone else, because you aren’t responsible for them, do what you want. Be selfish, it’s virtuous.”

Maybe it wasn’t quite that harsh. She did define selfishness as “taking care of your own needs so you can better care for the needs of others.” But this definition conflates selfishness with self-care. I don’t disagree with the concept of self-care at all, but there is a fine line between self-care and selfish narcissism.

What happens when you take care of your own needs just because you only care about yourself? There is a blurry boundary between (bad) selfishness and (good) self-care. It is one thing entirely to say “I’m going to take a break to recharge my batteries so I can be better at taking care of my responsibilities.” It is quite another to say “I’m going to walk away from my responsibilities because I want to.”

The entire ethos of the host is basically “I do what I want because I want to. I don’t care how it makes others feel (after all, I’m not responsible for their feelings, they are). My selfishness is a virtue.”

But what if everyone lived like that? She has a rather optimistic view of humanity. Like so many humanists today, the host believes that most of us deep down really want to care for others. It is common to believe that most people are intrinsically good.

However, It doesn’t take much time among the general population to see this just isn’t true. Most people are looking out for themselves. They live her ethos every day. People are naturally selfish and inclined to look out only for number one.

The result is that most of us live in misery.

Podcasts teaching people that selfishness is virtuous only serve to validate narcissists, not that a narcissist needs much to validate himself. By his very nature a narcissist believes he is always right. He looks out always and only for himself. He makes himself an island and declares himself king. He does what he wants because he wants to, no one can require anything from him.

This is all fine and dandy until relationships get involved. Narcissists are incapable of mutually beneficial relationships. They only want relationships that “serve them.” If anything is required of them they immediately shut down the relationship.

Depending on the type of narcissist, they may require something physical or emotional from the other person, or they may pretend to require nothing (whatever “serves them”). Either way, they themselves contribute nothing, unless it’s begrudgingly.

Everyone is familiar with the overt kind of narcissist. This one is a noisy leech, the overt narcissist demands the world revolve around him and takes takes takes.

The lesser known kind of narcissist is the kind who requires nothing of those around him. This one is a bit more insidious. He gives nothing and validates himself by saying that he requires nothing in return. They put on airs of self-sufficiency and generally take care of their own needs. In their mind they are completely independent. They project this independence on everyone else. If they can be an island, so should everyone else.

Worse yet, when they do have needs they don’t express them, preferring to play a “victim” of the “selfishness” of others.

But needs are a bit more complex than simple air, water, and food. Humans require emotional support and affection as well. We are social animals. This is why we form mutually beneficial bonds in marriage or friendships. We give and we get in return.

As I mentioned before, narcs aren’t capable of mutually beneficial bonds. Not only are they not capable of such bonds, they thrive on destroying such bonds. Narcissists feed on chaos and controlling the emotions of others. So when some respected podcaster tells them that they should do whatever “serves” them, they naturally gravitate towards destructive behaviors. They can walk all over others and claim it’s healthy behavior because after all, selfishness is virtuous.

Both Sides Now

There is something exceedingly frustrating knowing both sides of a story. Watching a conflict is already heartbreaking enough without knowing all the gory details, but when you see one side and then the other, and both are guilty, it just rips out your soul.

Mediation is vital, but most don’t seek it. One side or the other refuses reconciliation, convinced that “their truth” is “the truth”. Meanwhile I stand by shaking my head at the complete fabrications I’m hearing.

Worse is when one party drops off the face of the planet, while the other lives their “best life now”. Both are secretly suffering, but neither are honest.

I’m growing weary of people. People lie. People mislead. People manipulate. People don’t forgive. All regard themselves higher than the rest. But all are fallen and disgraced. No one is above reproach, no one is innocent.

If you ever find yourself listening to one side of a conflict, stop and consider the other party. They will have their own perspective on the situation, and likely the truth is something down the middle.

And never ever ever validate someone on “their truth”. Acknowledge that they have a perspective, but understand that they have a bias.

There is “truth”, then there is “the truth”.