Wouldn’t it be nice to tell a narcissist to just go away and leave you alone?  You want nothing to do with their toxicity, so “out of sight, out of mind” would be a welcome strategy.

But here is the rub.  It’s entirely possible to remove yourself physically from a narcissist, yet that person’s influence can remain.  Though physically absent, they can still haunt you like a ghost whose impact remains palpable.

See if any of the following depictions might mirror what you have experienced:

  • I divorced 15 years ago and had a great relationship with my daughter.  But over the years, her mother was very dominant and fed her so many lies that I lost my “insider’s position” with my daughter.  On the rare occasions when I see her, it’s like she has been truly brainwashed.
  • My son-in-law was with us over the holiday season and he was beyond critical the whole time.  Now that he’s gone home, my wife and I have been arguing about what he said and what he meant, and that is very unusual for us.  His presence is poison and it takes time for us to “detox.”
  • I had a business partner who was like a brother to me.  But my business collapsed when I learned he defaulted on major loans, left the country, and I had to face the IRS.  It’s been years and I have still not completely crawled out of the hole.  My family has faced many, many challenges because of it.
  • My ex-husband was prominent in our community but we divorced because he was a chronic womanizer, and at home he was an angry control freak.  Now that we’re divorced, he gives my adult son lots of money and is turning him into a mini version of himself.  My son treats women just as his dad did…like chattel to be used for immediate gratification.
  • My sister was the quiet one in our family growing up, and she holds lots of grudges due to being the family scapegoat.  Now she has 3 kids of her own and has taught them to have nothing to do with my parents.  Our family is splintered, and I feel like I’m also paying the price for their (especially my mother) abuse toward her as a girl.

In each of these depictions, a narcissist has been predictably manipulative, selfish, controlling, and haughty.  And even when they are physically absent, there is a haunting aura that lingers.

As you experience your own similar ghost effect, it can leave you with plenty of perplexing questions.  For instance:

  • How can a person be so cruel that they don’t ponder the impact of their choices upon others?  Sadly, narcissists have little future thinking (considering where their decisions are leading).
  • How do I manage my emotions like anger, bewilderment, distrust, loneliness, and resentment?  Clearly, the preferable approach of collaboration is not a viable option.
  • What in my life is real?  This was supposed to be someone you trusted, and yet time revealed how they have little real appreciation for human interconnections.
  • Can I ever get rid of that person’s stench?  The negative impact of a narcissist’s patterns does not go away quickly or easily.
  • How do I come to terms with the narcissist’s split personality?  It’s very disillusioning to realize how the positive moments with that person were actually a form of gaslighting.
  • How do I process the positive messages I used to receive from the narcissist, implying that I was desirable?   Time reveals that narcissists are masters of phoniness.
  • Could I have done something to prevent that person from being so conniving?  You know that you need not take responsibility for the narcissist’s dysfunction, yet even as you remember that it’s not about you, it’s common to struggle with self-blame.
  • Can I ever trust again?  The good news is that not all individuals are like the ghost-narcissist, yet you wonder what your odds would be elsewhere.
  • Should I seek revenge?  Restitution in the form of consequences and boundaries are reasonable and necessary, but honestly, vengeance feels appealing.

It can be difficult to remove the ghost from your home since the impact has such a predictable “come and go feeling” to it.  Yet, your task is to individualize your choices from today forward.  That means that you would pour your energies into maintaining your own integrity and resolve.  It’s healing to remember that a narcissist cannot make the final decision about who you will be.

Yes, you can have lingering tensions due to exposures to a narcissist, but you can determine to remain a lifelong student who incorporates applied wisdom.  And in the meantime, you may also need to ghost the ghosting narcissist.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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