15: Narcissists and other ghost stories

Could it be that your divorce was your fault? Maybe you weren’t the victim of a narcissist but part of a normal marriage and played a role in its demise.

Source: Why Your Divorce May Be Your Fault · Divorced Moms

Nearly every single day since C asked me to leave and give her some space I’ve raised my hand and said, “Her pain is all my fault. I’m a monster.”

And when I say monster, I mean what you are thinking: psychopathic, predatory, narcissistic, sociopathic, control freak. All the current buzzwords found in American’s obsession with pop culture psychology. We all think we “know” things because we read an article entitled “5 Signs You’re Dating A Narcissist.”

Talk to someone that was married and lived with a diagnosed narcissist and all of a sudden you realize you have never known one. You realize everything you know is simply a ghost story.

In reality, I’m not a monster.

As such, I’m calling an emotional and mental timeout on the nonsense. We all do things that someone else will be happy to label. Labels make us feel safe but they don’t actually address what is happening. If I want any healing for myself – or others – it’s time I started separating the acts from the actors.

For example, recently I referred to one of my best friends as “schizoid”. I certainly didn’t mean it the way my friend has taken it (understandably not well). However, in a moment in time where every single one of my actions is being examined under a microscope, there is little room for error.

She currently is not speaking to me because over the last 50 painful and miserable days I’ve broken her three strike rule on insensitive stupidity.

Earlier in the week after an emotionally exhausting and insulting afternoon, I voice texted someone. Hours later when I looked at what I sent I realized it was gibberish.

Between the time I send it and several hours later when I looked, I think the text was shared with an audience and interpreted as a sign of something much darker and dangerous. It was a voice-to-text that at any other time would have never been given a second thought – probably laughed off – but the gibberish, in that moment, indicated something sinister.

And of course, later, it came back and bit me in the ass because people want to believe their own ghost stories. We do this because it makes us feel better about our own sins.

As I’ve started to recognize how I’ve allowed others to steal the narrative over my infidelity I’ve begun to recognize that C had choices too. Not only choices but she is equally capable of making bad choices.

Today I was reminded by a pizza lady that the internet is a big place. If you make the effort you will find the dark corners. Knowing this I need to spend less energy trying to understand my pain through the mental machinations of the negative armchair psychologists hijacking my history with C and K. I need to stop trying to understand how others define what happened as a sign of something sinister and seriously wrong with me.

It’s self-flagellation. It’s confirmation bias.

I’ve spent dozens of hours reading monster stories. What I learned is there are lots of ways to be a monster in someone else’s eyes. It’s all perspective. Sure there are monsters, but in truth, most of what we are calling monster behavior is simply someone doing something stupid for stupid and innocent reasons. It’s just poor judgment, not pathological.

There are actually very few monsters.

Today I took the time to read about relationship communication and tools. About what happens in a breakup. How to loving hold the other person accountable and not roll-over out of guilt, shame, remorse or react out of anger. How to adult.

In the last 50 days, I’ve done some dumb things, but also typical. So has C.

For example, wanting to talk to the woman you love isn’t a sign of narcissism or control issues. Taken as a whole I’ve actually done a great many things well in navigating the demise of our relationships.


Like her, neither of us are doing it perfectly because neither of us has ever done this before. I need to be more respectful and patient with myself and with her.

Mistakes and misunderstandings are going to happen because we both physically hurt and don’t know what to do with the pain. Some people will gather around and try to alleviate the pain by telling us ghost stories. Others will gather around, tell us the truth and hold our hand as we live through the pain.

Who we choose to listen to helps define what happens next: sit in the pain and learn or hide and blame others. Neither is right or wrong, they are simply choices.

Only C’s opinion matters and she isn’t stupid. Just angry and in pain. Just like me. Combined with our communication and relationship shortcomings it creates a rich soup of spoken and unspoken expectations and fears.

Clearly, we have that in common still.

It also creates a fertile ground inviting other people to dump their shit into our garden.

For example, C has made my infidelity public in a cloistered community of 1,100 people and a small circle of mental giants. As a result, the gossip is becoming sport. The other problem is in my attempt to give her pain space I left town on a 13 state 4K mile road Oddessy. Therefore, there is no reality check, only ghost stories.

However, after my experience with W, S and a few others this past week it has become readily apparent that well-meaning, but ignorant people are applying their biases to our private issue. Gloryhounds are taking glee in working their own emotional issues out through our pain.

It’s why it irks me when people with their own relationship drama and emotional issues start offering advice or input on how to deal with the monster. Not everything is a horror story. As Esther Perel writes, “Surely millions of renegade lovers can’t all be pathological.”

Except, no one wants to watch the story of two well-meaning people navigating the end of a relationship. Friends and family slow down to snap pictures, speculate, and tell stories.

I was talking a friend that’s been a police chief for 20 years. He was telling me that after house fires people just show up offering to help. They hang around, make small talk and kick around the ashes. When they find something they pick it up announcing, “Look! I found an old picture!” They think they are helping but in truth, they just want to be part of the story.

Here is where we are today: We’re both scared. She ghosted. I’m confused. My imagination fills in the blanks.

I want to engage in the problem and solution head-on like a bull. She likes to hide behind a cape and deal with it from the side like a matador. Eventually, someone is going to be gored. Everyone wants to be around to see the gory details so eventually they can tell another ghost story.

And there is the root of our current dilemma.