It was three years ago this month, April 2011, that I wrote my Newsletter entitled “The Narcissist and His Woman.” Since that time the letters continue to arrive - at the moment there are 43 comments registered, and the pace does not decrease with time. Six already in the first quarter of this year. And there have been at least half that number sent to me directly.
So I write this newsletter to a specific audience - of narcissist-abused women - and by extension, to all abused women. For many of you, my broader fellowship of readers, my words may make little or no sense. But still say a little prayer for those whom I address. This alone can be a gift to them.
Each woman who writes here, validates each of the others, even when the common experience itself is of such deep level invalidation. How can a (seemingly everyday, often publicly esteemed) man be so cruel? How can a woman be held in bondage for so long, often by her own insistence that there must be something she can do better to please.
And often in the letters there’s a request for further advice. We need the support of each other. But advice also means there must be something I can tell you to do. And so often I have so little to say in the face of so much suffering.
But upon reflection, and for what it’s worth, these are the words I’ll now speak:
I’ll call it - Honoring the little shadow of what you once were.
Deep inside you there’s a shadow - sometimes only a small shadow left of the woman you once were. The soul you once had. So many of you speak of what you “once were.” It was love, it was shared happiness, life was working. So many of you tell me “I still love him deeply. I can’t stop!” This even while he strips away every shred of value, of the dream of relationship, of hope. Earlier he’s projected all the fault onto you, and you accepted it. Still would. That at least makes sense. If it can be my fault, it can make sense. Then he even takes that away from you as well - your precious fault now becomes more reason for him to despise and reject you. You are doubly broken and left with nothing but a shadow of your former self. That’s the little shadow I’m speaking of.
[For those of you who ponder the mystery of the woman and the serpent in the Book of Genesis, this is the best clue area I know. And I would apologize for just leaving you hanging with no further comment - except to draw the same parallel to the experience of these abused women.]
You would give that shadow away as well, but you can’t give that which has no public substance. Yet you can ‘water’ it, perhaps with tears of your battered heart, keeping it moist perchance like a single thornless rose growing in the desert. No-one else can even see it. Even the ever-present vampires of the world cannot see it, to desire and destroy it.
We often love where we are blind.
They say we fall in love in our blind spots. I know that to be true. Maybe that’s the best explanation of how all this works. We can never fully see, especially in the face of that rush of “love.” Whenever we worship something too deeply, it can destroy us. That’s why the First Commandment is the first commandment - the lethal danger of idolatry. It’s so hard to see in our blind spots - all we see is what we want to see. Like cocaine.
Go back to that little shadow - all that’s really left. Listen, perhaps with some mustered kindness, to those who would try to encourage you. So often they’re only looking into a mirror and soothing their own anxiety, even though they really do want to help. No, you are alone, you and that little shadow. Such a strange inner camaraderie. Perhaps that’s all that’s left of hope.
You may come upon someone who also knows that little shadow - the shadow of all-that’s-left-of-what-you-once-were; and there may be only a precious few such folks. It’s when my shadow speaks to your shadow, that healing can begin. Perhaps this sounds a bit like a fellowship of the living dead - and maybe that’s exactly what I’m saying. But no, where there’s a small seed, and some moist soil, there’s hope. Read the textbook of Nature. Know the seasons.
There’s a danger in telling a woman that fault is a two-way street - like almost 100% of the women who talk to me, saying “now I know I’m not perfect either” - one of the dangers of telling her she may also be “at fault’ is that she’ll take that as hope, and self-persecute more. When her abuser projects fault onto her, she’s strangely hopeful. She doesn’t even need the narcissistic abuser anymore. One of the hallmarks of good mental health is taking responsibility for your life. But again, doing what is “right” here can still kill you. That’s why the first healing words spoken in women’s shelters are often “it’s not your fault.”
I might be tempted to tell you that there’s gold in that little shadow - which is true. But once I would say that, there’ll be a false partner or comrade come along to steal it (again).
So my advice is (this is where I started about 700 words back) find that little shadow of your former self, and hold onto it, as if it is all you have left (because it often is all you have left). Decide to trust it (because it’s the only thing left that’s trustworthy). Begin to love it (not like the love you had back when it was all real). Love it for its weakness and vulnerability, as if it will always be weak and vulnerable.
More and more live forward. Let nothing pull you back. That was part of the original abuse. Live your life as if you have no regrets. And then live your life because you have no regrets.
Where hope begins
This is where hope often begins, in the very tiny spaces that are solely your own. Where nobody else seems to notice. Hope always seems to grow best in this world in the small places where it can feed us silently.
Don’t give it away to anybody. Be very careful with whom you would share it. Let it become your soulmate, your inner beloved, the one with whom you can trust your very life. If you ever (re)marry, make sure it’s not there at the altar with you - as tempted as you may be to give it away to “love.”
Guard it well, set your own boundaries
What I am saying is begin to set boundaries for her, for this new self. Let them become strong and firm, and your own. This may need to be a constant task, so let it be a constant task. As parts and bits of your soul begin to return, and begin to fill out this little shadow-of-your-former-self, that may mean you are becoming strong enough to love and trust and give - if you so choose. You may, as they say, get all your power back, and more. You may become a great healer, or champion for the weak and abused of the world. You may become a great leader of the people. You may be able to redirect the powers of the world, from within your own knowledge of suffering. There will be many who will want a part of it, a part of you. But I warn you, never give away to anybody this little shadow which becomes your rich new soul center.
Only with your dying breath will you ever release it.
That’s my “advice” for those of you who have asked. I give you this with respect and love - and a hope it can make your struggles a bit easier.
Your ‘little shadow’ truly matters.
So very true, thank you for this moment of perfectly timed validation
I get it @ a gut level and didn’t even read the original article. But now I want to….
Boundaries and limit setting does not come easy – it used to though. Maybe that’s the little shadow :)
Thank you Bill
Is this your inner woman speaking Bill?
I could swear this was written by a woman. An intimate explanation of how love for self can be forsaken. It is heartening, your analogy of a shadow, for shadows are simply not seen on a cloudy day but are there regardless. It takes a sunny day or a sunny attitude to be seen.
Susan. You honor me. Thank you.
Note from Bill McD:
A friend of mine sent me this, her “own soul's musing” in response to what I had written. She graciously allowed me to place it here on her behalf, for I wanted it to be shared among you. It’s long for just a ‘comment’, but worth every word of its space. Enjoy!
What is it about a man that makes us give ourselves to him woefully, wantonly, but worst of all willingly? Is it the desperation for touch in the thirst of our own desert? Have we wilted where there was once succulence? Are we culturally sterilized to stand down?
When I honor this landscape, this lusciousness of my own body, my own being…where is the man that can do the same? I see him in glimpses. He grabs the door and opens it for me in a moment of Grace. This mystical man draws me out to dance in the park and we splash in fountains of water like lost children giggling with unabashed glee.
But that pulse point where the petal meets the metal where it is time to accelerate…why am I the only one left at the gate? Have I made too much of him? Made it easy for him to repeat mistakes…are my fury, my fire what he needs? The dark “God”dess glances at him from across a great distance certain She could turn him to ash with a single glance.
She also fears his fealty to the lethal edge of the knife and the timeless folds of fury in his prescribed “Heart of Darkness.” She mindfully keeps her distance for a God and “God”dess at war are sure to tear both the self and the global village asunder.
How do we hold our own Light, stay devoted to the transcendent heart when the man we adore is gazing in the mirror at himself? While the first response may be to whimper and huddle down protectively in a pool of our own lifeblood, that serves no one. What if instead we took our cue from the wise women of our ancestral lineage? What if we actually grasped the mirror, prying it from their grip and gazed deeply at ourselves with an impish smile and a sexy retort over our shoulder to him of “I am more beautiful than you!”
It’s true, he will more than likely try to wrestle the mirror back. He is accustomed to the mirror of his own reflection whereas you may not have encountered the bounty, striking color, and creativity underneath your own world weariness for quite awhile. Don’t despair, search for the beauty, seek it out…this woman, this wonder, is far more worthy of your love than the man in the mirror (at least for the moment.)
When he holds the mirror between you as a shield and he grunts like a creature from the quagmire “I am more beautiful than you right back!” - fear not. For his death grip is actually loosing its hold. Like it or not, he is engaged…because you now have his mirror. Look at the wisdom, the loyalty, the love that you have offered and feel it boomerang back to you in the timeless reflection. Take the triumph of his momentary emotional turbulence as a sign that you are making great progress. Even if you are faking it, the actions of muscle and body memory are on your side with repetition. There is a joy that awaits you as you commit to your own reflection. Change is inherent. For one when one person makes a shift in the seesaw of relationship, it automatically moves two.
Had you walked away or stayed slumped over in unconscious oblivion, he may well have turned into a statue from single-mindedness. Transcendence, however, is an alchemy that can only be achieved together.
So next time he takes charge and grabs the mirror out of your grasp fully intoxicated with his own face…laugh, tease, teach him… it’s now your turn….
“I am more beautiful than you.” Don’t allow it to be a question, but a call to your own spirit, a command. “Attention!” This is not an inquiry that arises from a weak “Please?”, but a fully empowered, ardent “Yes!” that is dragging your bones back from the dust. Be big, bold, outright obnoxious in your incantation. The ego edges will begin to grab you with the ridiculousness. Don’t try to make it real, just simply commit to the absurdity of making the choice and stating it with every ounce of your being.
Drop every expectation of outcome and simply play your part…the narcissistic woman is part of the path back to being well. Sure, this is foreign territory, why not try on his shoes for awhile? Place your unwavering focus on yourself. How does that feel. Foolish at first, but as the myopia of the moment gives way to clearer seeing, you notice more in the distance. He is watching, witnessing, for he can’t stand not having the light that illuminates his very soul.
It’s very possible too, that this callous creep may also be a cunning coyote, a wise teacher, masked in the madness of his own self-absorption. He has done you a service drawing your attention to the areas of gross self-neglect. As you call your heart home in the mirror of relationship, he will sense what he cannot see.
Expect miracles. Slow ones planted in the soil of yourself that sleep, and creep, and spring to life when you least expect them. The garden that surrounds you gives off a delicious scent…tempting, teasing, tantalizing. When he has grown tired of grappling with his own boyish ego, he may return one day to take you as a man for you now finally and unabashedly respect yourself as a woman.
Bill, I love most of what Joy wrote except I fully believe now that the last line will NEVER come true with a narc. This last line makes it sound, again, like it is our fault for not being woman enough. In another one of your blogs you say it’s not good to give false hope and that it is NOT partly the victims fault and to not believe that if they would just change something about themselves then the disordered one would come back and be a good and loving man. A man should be the leader who leads by example and not excuse himself for not being a man because his victim was not woman enough! You also state that the narcissist is driven to destroy the good in the woman whom he first esteems. So, with this last line here...oh yes, he will be attracted to you again when he sees your strength but he has not changed. He only wants to destroy your strength and will HAPPILY do it again. They never tire of grappling with boyish ego. This is a lifestyle they love and have chosen as they believe it gives them power since they do not know what real power is (love). The narc is incapable of taking you as a man. He will destroy you again and say it’s your fault. Yet, the fault lies in a disordered person who cannot feel empathy. It is WHEN I (or his ex wives) have respected ourselves as women or stood up to him to stop him from abusing one of the children that he raged out of control and became even more vile. A true narc never steps up as a man and a true man doesn’t need a woman to become like a man in order to respect her. He respects her softness because he sees what a blessing that is and he wants to protect that softness because he values it and is not threatened by it and bottom line because he is commanded to do so by God. Just my two cents based on the many healthy men I have spoken to. But I am recently finding my own strength again so I appreciate the bulk of what was written. Maybe I have misread this last line but it doesn’t seem so? Or maybe she is talking about a very low-on-the-spectrum narc, lol?!
Bill, I agree with “Not sure”. The major part of what Joy wrote was exceptionally beautiful and a wonderful way for women to look in the mirror at themselves. However, when and if a woman finally and unabashedly respects herself as a woman, she will without hesitation refuse to open the door to this man. This woman by now realizes some damage can never be undone. Forgiven not forgotten.
man o man
Two weeks out...tick tock goes the wellness clock...determined this time.all my duckies in order.a three year process to hell n back... to health.not my first narc but my last. My life is forward moving...learned alot about what was missing in my arsenal of self protection. Not looking for anything or any one. ..just apprecia ting my self..how sane and solid and wonderful i am.
This is what I needed to hear at this very moment. I have always been one to give and love and think that everyone else is the same way. I need to be more guarded. I need to hold myself more sacred. I really appreciate your writings very much. This is not my fault! I gave this my all! I thought by treating someone the way that I wanted to be treated I would get that in return. I never thought in a million years that I was dealing with a narcissist. I guess you could say I have learned a lot from this experience. That evil truly does exist and that people sometimes are not what they appear to be. Trust in yourself first and foremost. I’m going to give all my love to myself and live life to the fullest. (with or without a man in my life)
Words of Encouragement
This is one of the most accurate descriptions of what women go through with a narcissist. I read this back when I was in the thick of the abuse, and it gave me hope. Then I read it again when I was trying to find the courage to escape. Now I am reflecting on it once again, after 17 months out of the narcissistic abyss.
Thank you for providing encouragement and hope to us all. You’re right-my little shadow did survive! After I finally escaped the abuse, my little shadow blossomed again, and became an even stronger force than it was before the narcissistic abuse. And my hope and optimism was overflowing again. What a blessing! It is a testament to the strength and determination of the human spirit.
I just wanted to say thank you for these wise, comforting, and validating words that have helped me so much!
God Bless you Bill!