Part 1: Jason and Caitlyn…the early years
This is the first part of a 6 art series told in fictional format, detailing the lives of a narcissist and his target.
After narcissistic abuse the biggest question most women have is ‘How did this happen to me?’ The question can’t be answered in a sentence because the journey to narcissistic abuse doesn’t start when you meet the narcissist. It begins in childhood. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at Caitlyn’s story.
Caitlyn’s journey began in the mid-west where bullying was seen as a right of passage. It toughened you up. It made you strong. She spent her junior year of high school crying for one hour every day after school. That was the amount of time she had before her mother got home. Caitlyn, like many future targets of the narcissist, had learned at a young age to put a happy smile on over her pain. When her mother walked in the door it was like nothing had happened.
At home, Caitlyn’s mother was a nurturer, and tried to make up for her absentee, workaholic father. Caitlyn did well in school, trying to impress her father who valued intellect above all else. Caitlyn’s naturally happy demeanor competed with the perfectionist tendencies she used to ‘prove’ she was lovable.
Back at school Caitlyn’s particular bully was a year older and popular. Her name was Lacy. Teachers liked Lacy and she had a lot of friends. What no one knew is that every time Lacy got Caitlyn alone she shoved Caitlyn up against a wall and threatened to hurt her if she told anyone what Lacy was doing. She’d been secretly bullying Caitlyn since the sixth grade.
‘You’re so ugly.’
‘What boy would ever look at you?’
‘Nobody wants a girl who has no boobs.’
‘I hate you.’
‘If you tell anyone, I’m going to hurt you.’
This went on for six years. Caitlyn was terrorized for six years by a girl who would be nominated for Homecoming Queen her senior year.
Lacy did other horrible things, and by Caitlyn’s junior year she was making herself sick just so she could stay home and avoid Lacy’s bullying. Caitlyn rode out the pain until Lacy graduated and Caitlyn never told a soul. Caitlyn didn’t think anyone would believe her over the popular girl that everyone liked.’
There are multiple layers to the conditioning as a result of the high school bully. When bullying is seen as normal behavior and you’re told to just get over it, then those records get stuck in your head. ’You’re ugly.’ ‘Who would ever want you?’ When that becomes your belief at such a young age and the narcissist walks into your life and he tells you that you’re beautiful and flawless and amazing it’s like you’re a plant in the desert that’s been starved of water and suddenly you get this deluge. For the thirsty soul the narcissist feels like a miracle. You’re perfectly wrapped with a big bow around your neck, which later feels like a noose when his words begin to mimic that of your high school bully.
Many people talk about the family issues that cause our blindness to the narcissists in our lives, but the effect of society on children should not be underestimated, nor should it be overlooked when we’re healing from a narcissistic relationship. Falling for love-bombing doesn’t make you weak, it’s more like being more susceptible to a virus because you have a weakened immune system.
I have not met one women who suffered through a narcissist that didn’t say about him,
‘But he just got me like no one else. He didn’t make fun of me for being smart and using words no one understands.’ Or, ‘He told me all the time how beautiful I was and no one had ever done that before.’ Or ‘My college boyfriend always made fun of me, and when I met the narcissist he was so kind.’
No one without past trauma runs into the extreme flattery of the narcissist and thinks it’s normal. No one who hasn’t been brought up believing in fairytales and romantic films thinks love at first sight is normal. No one who isn’t in pain thinks the narcissist is their soulmate on their second date. Healthy, non-emotionally distraught people view the narcissist for what he is…a used car salesman, not the love of their life.
If bullying and Disney-generated stories about a Prince on a white horse can create our beliefs and make us an easy target for the narcissist then what creates the narcissist?
Let me tell you the story of Jason, Caitlyn’s future narcissist.
Jason started his life in the normal way. He was the oldest child in the family with two younger sisters. While this should have made him the ‘special’ one, his father didn’t much enjoy the competition. Jason’s dad was busy at work and didn’t want to spend time with him. As Jason grew older so did the neglect. His sisters and mother all catered to the mood swings of their father and Jason was an afterthought. Silent treatments were given out as a matter of course. At one point Jason asked his father, ‘Do you love me?’ His father looked him up and down with contempt and walked away. Of all the moments in Jason’s young life this may have been the most defining. At that point the protective self took over to prevent Jason’t true self from ever being hurt again.
As Jason grew older he discovered something. If he wanted attention from his mother and sisters he simply had to listen. His father didn’t listen to anyone and if he was forced to he’d always say with contempt. ‘Well, that’s stupid. Do you actually think you’re clever?’
As Jason grew he learn to hide all of his true feelings for fear of ridicule. Like Caitlyn he learned to hide behind a smile and he became well liked at school, but unlike Caitlyn who’d taken the abuse of the bully and believed she deserved it, the neglect and contempt Jason suffered at home turned him into something else, into a narcissist.
And like his father Jason learned to hide his true darkness from everyone except those closest to him. In high school Jason found himself a girlfriend, Jessica, a sweet girl who adored him. To the school they were the perfect couple, but behind closed doors Jason was slowly eroding Jessica’s self esteem. ‘You know Stacey flirted with me today.’ ‘I’m going to help Samantha with her math homework tonight. Her parents won’t be home.’
Jason was the nicest guy at school. They didn’t recognize that this facade was covering up manipulation, a lack of real self and an inability to connect with anyone. Jessica gave him a semblance of normalcy which is why he chose her. Sweet and malleable was a necessity. Anyone who was strong willed wouldn’t do as he instructed.
Jessica wasn’t allowed to be involved in any school activities without him. He told Jessica she shouldn’t need any friends. Why? She had him.
At the end of high school Jason broke up with her in the most humiliating way possible, publicly in the hall, but he emerged unscathed. He told everyone that he needed to be free when he went to college and everyone agreed with him.
A lot of factors go into creating the narcissist over time. Pull away one of those lego pieces and perhaps he becomes a normal, emotionally open man, but combine them all together and you have the roadmap in making a narcissist.
- Distant and emotionally unavailable father
- Co-dependent mother focussed on the father’s needs
- Siblings where the role of golden child and black sheep rotate so the siblings are in constant competition (In narcissistic families, the narcissist will choose a ‘golden child’ to praise and a ‘black sheep’ to demean. In the case of an only child the narcissistic parent will create competition between his spouse and the child, often making the spouse the black sheep. It’s a sick method of triangulation)
- The narcissist gets older and finds an overly giving girlfriend. The likelihood is she was raised by at least one narcissistic parent as well.
- The girlfriend’s reactions to withholding and isolation teach the budding narcissist what works.
- He creates a nice guy persona that fools teachers and other students as well.
Just take away one of these building blocks, like the girlfriend who doesn’t give into his demands for isolation or a mother who stands up to the narcissistic father and maybe another narcissist isn’t born. Creating a narcissist is a bit like cooking. ‘You need all the right ingredients to make it perfect.
And if we look at Caitlyn, we see how the lego bricks start clicking together.
Her childhood path to narcissistic target shares some remarkable similarities to Jason’s road to narcissism.
- Distant, narcissistic father
- A need to ‘perform’ in order to get attention, achieving in school and perfectionist tendencies
- An over giving mother who always tried to protect the children to keep the peace. The motto in a family like this is, ‘We have to keep dad (or mom if the narcissistic parent is the mother) happy.’
- Isolation from dating because dad wants to keep his little girl ‘protected’
- Bullying and secrecy… creating shame that Caitlyn doesn’t speak about
- Well-liked by adults… seen as a good girl
- Has a rich inner life, highly creative and believes in true love
And click, click, click… the lego bricks of target and narcissist lock together in perfect formation.