I have always wanted to go to a masquerade. To don an exquisitely made mask with a plume of feathers off to one side and dress in an equally exquisite ball gown. That just sounds so fun to me. But I wonder how much your identity is really obscured just because your face is partially covered, especially to those who are familiar with you. Some masks are probably more effective than others at concealing the identity of its wearer. The same is so in life.
None is perhaps more effective at concealing their identity than the narcissist. Like lifelong harlequins they wear their mask with ease and practice. In one venue they are a model citizen, father, mother, wife, husband, church-goer, deacon. But in private, when they no longer have to keep up the charade the mask comes off. And so Jekyll keeps his reputation intact publicly and Hyde comes out of the shadows at home.
In the Jekyll/Hyde continuum image reigns supreme. The narcissist must be well thought of, respected, and admired. While this is true across the board (yes, even at home) it is especially true in public. As I mentioned in the first post their reputation is one of their most prized possessions. Now while the Bible does state that a good name is rather to be chosen than riches, this is not the same thing. Here, it is about how they are viewed and how it fits in with the false-self they have created.
Now it is important to understand that they are not saintly creatures out in public and always monsters at home. Yes, Hyde is more likely to come out in private but the abuse would not be effective if it were this way all the time. This is the key to the power of Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde. Jekyll keeps hope alive.
In public, no one is more charming than the narcissist. Skilled at reading people and becoming a chameleon, a most skillful actor, the narcissist takes on the traits that they know will win people over. Many, if not most people are fooled. So, given the drastic changes in behavior one would think that the spouse, child, loved one of the narcissist would be savvy to this and see through the charade. Sadly, this is not the case.
The emotional bond you develop with this person is what enables them to continue on in this way unchecked. (There is also the belief that certain personalities are going to be more prone to falling for and staying captive to this behavior. “Givers,” are taken advantage of by “takers.” Nurses are high on that list of falling prey to this, go figure.) The desire to believe the words that the abuser is telling you plays right into their game. Also, because they are gifted at crafting their remorse and repentance, they really do seem sincere. Before you know it you are caught in an endless cycle of mistreatment, contrition, a honeymoon period and then either a slow or rapid decline back into the same unpleasant behavior. *NOTE: I did not say abusive behavior because it is ALL abuse, even the amiable behavior.
How many times did I go through this endless cycle? There is one example of this that particularly stands out to me. I received a hand-written note from my former husband laying out his unworthiness and despicable behavior. He stated I was a saint to stay with him and that no other woman would put up with what I did. He shamed himself while extolling my virtues and begged my forgiveness.
He signed it “Sincerely, (as sincere as I have ever been).”
I am looking at the letter right now. I had kept it in a drawer. From time to time I took it out and read it, especially when times were bad. It was a symbol of hope for me. That he could see what he was doing was wrong and that there was hope for change. Then, about two years after receiving that letter and having had countless more cycles in between, in a candid moment, he told me that that letter had changed nothing. That he had written that and went right on with his behavior. (This would be referring to the secret behavior he was involved in.)
I was crushed. That was at the 13 year mark, but it would be two more years before I finally said “enough.” Things would become progressively worse over those two years and in my opinion the decline was more steep.
So why did I put up with these cycles? To understand that, you would have to understand the abuser/victim cycle. Remember when I mentioned that my parents asked “why?” and I had no answer at that time. I understand more now. While I would say there is a textbook formula to how this works and in someways there is, the details are what differ.
For me there were several big factors that kept me in. First, I am a Christian and one that has grown up in a conservative “fundamental” sect of my denomination. As such, I believed that I had a duty as a Christian wife to submit myself under my husband’s authority. (This is not a concept I will elaborate on here as there is way too much to address about this). I believed that no matter the way my husband treated me it was my duty to respond in a God honoring manner. The problem with this was my interpretation of what that looked like. Jesus has much to say about how to deal with the enemy (do good to them that hate you, turn the other cheek, give your tunic, pray for them…and more). I took this and interpreted it into “be the mat for them to wipe their feet on and continue to do so no matter what they do.”
Now, please let me interject. I am a sinful, imperfect, depraved human being with plenty of my own faults. I would never project innocence when I had certainly added to the strife in the marriage, both instigating arguments and responding in an unwholesome and unhealthy manner. Lest, I appear to be sugar-coating my behavior, I was downright vicious at times. All marriages are composed of two selfish individuals and none are without problems. This is not at all what I am referring to though. This specifically refers to a relationship in which one individual attempts to exert control over nearly every aspect of the other partner’s life.
I will elaborate on my first point more in a separate post. The second factor, I believe, was my profession. I am an emergency department nurse. Eighteen years ago, I started off in a level 1 trauma center, a hospital equipped to handle any level of severity of trauma, and we did. Early on I had to learn how to compartmentalize this trauma. My first day on the job as a nurse and my first death in this capacity was an infant from SIDS. I went on to witness many more awful tragedies, but there was no time to dwell on them, to cope. In one moment you could have been fighting against all hope to save a life and lost, the next, offering a warm blanket and juice or crackers to the patient next door. One has to learn to adapt emotionally in this environment or you cannot function let alone survive.
I believe that that both allowed me to continue on for so long and survive intact and strong. It was, however, a double edged sword for me. I endured his behavior a lot longer than I should have, but it helped me to endure. This is an opportunity for me to tell you, if you are in this situation, there is no honor in enduring this behavior. What would you say to a woman who goes back over and over and over again to a man who routinely beats her senseless? Is there honor in that? NO! It is foolish. This is no different. You are not a better person because you allowed yourself to be abused. Let me go as far as to say this: You are not a godlier woman because you allowed yourself to be abused.
While I feel like a digressed a bit from the main idea behind this post, I also feel as though I said some more important things. Perhaps I will get around to talking more about the psychological aspect of the Jekyll/Hyde cycle and its ability to control because I really do think it is important to understand. Until you fully grasp it, getting away will be very difficult.
And this is what this blog is all about: recognizing, absorbing, and acting; finding freedom in whatever way that looks like for you.