When I was eleven years old, my father put me in a life jacket and water skis and gently lowered me into the lake. He said, “This is something I have treasured, and I want to pass it onto you.” Well, I loved it! I can remember drinking half of Lake Hamilton in Arkansas as I tried to learn, but I finally got the hang of it.
My dad later learned to tie tractor tires to the back of the boat, so my brother and I could ride tubes while dad turned tight circles. We would howl with laughter as we sailed across the wake and bumped into each other. We still call that old, puke green bass boat “The Green Bean” as we tell stories from decades ago.
Years later, in college and during my 20s, I accepted any invitation to go to the lake and ski or ride in a boat. Water had become my happy place.
During my 16-year relationship with a narcissist, however, my love of water quickly diminished. The narcissist, Shane, sapped the fun out of what was once my favorite water sport. Shane bought a boat when my son was around 5 (without asking me, and we were married) and forced my son to learn to ski. Connor cried and cried. If we dropped food (my son adored Cheetos) or spilled a diet coke or juice on the waterproof seats, Shane considered the day ruined. The narcissist would use the silent treatment or become loudly angry to punish us. As you can imagine, I began to despise going to the lake because it was always an ordeal, and my son and I could do nothing right.
After I left the narcissist in 2015, the first thing I asked myself was, “What do I miss about my old life? How have I changed? What do I want to eliminate, and what do I want to bring back into my new, single life?”
A week later, I got on the website developed by Boat Trader, and I found a 14-year-old wakeboard boat that I could afford. I test drove it, and as I steered that gold and white vessel, peace overwhelmed me. I remembered why I loved the water so much – especially when the narcissist wasn’t navigating the water.
Now, every summer, my son and I spend evenings and weekends on the lake close to our Texas home. It’s there I find harmony and comfort, no matter how bad a day that I have had.
The list is long, but in a nutshell, we know that narcissists are skilled at stealing our confidence, self-esteem, self-worth, soul, happiness, gentleness, peace, excitement, passions, beliefs, values, money, and sometimes even our kids. What does this equate to? They steal our identities.
Narcissists do this because they ultimately need control. If they control our thoughts and actions, then they can control us and what is around us. They have full reign over us to give them the supply that they need continually.
In a nutshell, we lose who we are. We turn into a human version of gray rock. We have no emotions, and if we feel them bubbling up, we bury them and shut ourselves down. Why? Because having self-worth and standing up for what we need and deserve is against the narcissist’s wishes. We will be punished if we ask for something, so it’s better to stay quiet.
Here are some questions to ask yourself if you think you have lost your identity.
1. Have you let go of your dreams, wishes, and goals? Are you passing up on the promotion at work because the narcissist doesn’t think it’s a good idea? I remember interviewing for a pharmaceutical sales job at a smaller, more niche biotech company. It was a definite step up in the industry, where I could earn more money and call on larger pediatric institutions. The narcissist scoffed when I told him I was interviewing, and he told me if I failed, which I likely would, to not come back upset to him. After I cried for an hour or so, I decided to do my best without his help to prove myself to him and me. Guess what? I got the job. The narcissist barely offered congratulations.
2. Do you think about the narcissist all the time, even when the narcissist isn’t around? Are you trying to formulate a plan to make that person happy? Are you trying to figure out better ways to walk on eggshells around that person? If so, that’s not a healthy way to live. It certainly isn’t enjoyable or peaceful.
3. Are you depressed? All the effort that survivors put into relationships with narcissists offer diminishing returns, and that can make anyone depressed. Take a long look at your life and your personality. Have you changed? Is it hard to get out of bed in the morning? Is your first thought like mine was every morning, “How can I survive today?”
If you answered yes to any or all those questions, it might be time to get some help. Find a therapist who understands narcissistic abuse and recovery. Look into hiring a healing or recovery coach or spiritual healer. Join a support group. You need to begin to find yourself, even if you don’t plan on leaving the relationship soon.
Also, start making a list of things you enjoyed doing before you met the narcissist. What happened? Do you want to go back and do those things? Then do them.
Finally, pick your battles. Decide what is most important to you and set boundaries around that. Perhaps you miss yoga class. Plan to do a class once a week and do not miss it, no matter what! You deserve to have a function besides catering to the narcissist.
It’s not easy to find the old or newly reconstructed version of yourself, but it is 100% possible. Dr. Dharius Daniels said, “What you’ve been through may change you forever, but you will be whole again.”
And you will be the best version of yourself that has ever existed.
If you need help navigating narcissists in the workplace or simply getting your confidence back at work, my friend Holly Caplan is starting a new series ion January. She’s dealt with narcissists in the workplace for over 20 years. Holly was a speaker at the Surviving Narcissism “Fly Girl” confidence last January.
You can register here:
I’m thrilled to launch my January 2021 webinar series titled,
SPARK – Finding Your Kick-Ass Confidence in the Workplace!
Together, in 4 weekly sessions we will be discussing these relevant topics that affect many of us in the workplace:
– Imposter Syndrome
– Setting Boundaries
– Overcoming Fear
– Narcissists in the Workplace