There’s a saying out there that goes, “sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.” I love that saying, as I really do believe that everything in life is a lesson. I think we could also add another saying to it, and that is, “good judgment comes from bad judgment.”
While these two statements are true, if you are just getting out of the “bad judgment/learning lessons” stage of your relationship, I want to point something out that trips a lot of people up: When you “learning the lessons” make sure it’s the right lessons, or you will be doomed to repeat them!
I’ve known a lot of people (myself included) who have learned a lesson, but they’ve learned the wrong one. The might go through years of Narcissistic abuse, and once they finally get out, say, “Well relationship was just awful. I’m never dating a younger/older/richer/poorer/certain nationality, religion, gender, hair color, body type, etc. again!” Whenever I hear other people talk like this, I cringe, as I know they haven’t learned the right lesson, and run a high risk of repeating their mistakes until they figure out what the right lessons are.
For example, I began dating Jack, my first covert Narcissist, a few weeks after my husband and I separated. Our relationship seemed very healthy and ideal. I considered him to be one of my best friends, and we were working towards opening a business together. There were never any put downs, and I really thought we had open and honest communication. I had no devalue stage (done to my face), so needless to say I was shocked when I came across his double life which included him cheating on me with dozens upon dozens of people, lies and deceit of all kind, and him potentially drugging or poisoning me!
I couldn’t figure out where I’d gone wrong. The red flags that I’d been taught to look for weren’t there. He was great with kids, other people, and animals. He was funny and likable and good to me. He didn’t seem to have issues with power and control, and I never heard him raise his voice or lash out at anyone.
for these reasons, I had a REALLY hard time making sense of what happened. All I knew was that what I’d experienced wasn’t normal behavior by a normal person. The only term I could think of to describe his behavior was that he was a “con artist”–both emotionally and financially.
When I came across the terms Narcissist and Antisocial (Sociopaths/Psychopaths), I knew instantly that’s what he was. I walked away from that relationship learning the lesson that he was able to manipulate me because I was freshly divorced, vulnerable, and apparently didn’t have the best judgment. And while these things were all true, I failed to learn the most important lesson:
I didn’t see the red flags he was waving, as red flags.
I justified his behaviors as either mistakes that anyone could make (multiple children outside of committed relationships, bankruptcy, etc.), or due to a lack of maturity/not thinking things through (bouncing checks, telling me he loved me in the first two weeks, lack of planning ahead, etc.) I also took his explanations of his past for face value.
The red flags I was used to looking for involved more issues with power and control, having a temper, or just if someone was a jerk to kids, his parents, a waitress, or animals. These were the red flags I’d run from–but not other behaviors that seemed like a normal person who’d made some mistakes in their life.
All manipulative and destructive people come with red flags, and these red flags may or may not be the same ones that dangerous people come with–which is why I think so many of us get tangled up with these people: we expect bad people to come across like bad people–in recognizable and consistent ways.
And they generally don’t. …At least not at first.
Had I known that Jack was waving the red flags of a manipulative, destructive and potentially dangerous person, I would have seen them, and I would have run for the hills. They honestly just didn’t even register on my radar as problematic, as his behavior when I knew him seemed a bit immature, but overall he seemed like a really great guy to not just me, but to everyone.
It took me another relationship with another covert Narcissist to really learn the right lessons: that I wasn’t seeing the red flags that these people were waving; that I needed to slow down and give the red flags time to surface, and that I needed to gather more information (ideally from a variety of sources) once I did see the red flags.
I know I’m not alone in learning the wrong lessons, as I get emails everyday from people who have lost their faith in men, or women. They now won’t date an Italian, or go to church, or meet people off the internet. Or they believe that if that fix their codependency issues that they’ll stop being targeted by these people.
While some of these beliefs have merit (it’s good to work on healthy boundaries and not be co-dependent, and meeting people online can be risky), they won’t in and of themselves guard you against getting involved with another Narcissist/Antisocial person. See, the issue isn’t that men (or women) are pigs, or that latin men always cheat and lie, or that people use their faith to get away with all kinds of terrible behavior, or that codependency is the only reason a person is targeted.
Then, when these people get tangled up with another highly manipulative person, they think they someone must attract them. Again, while that idea might have some merit, there is no avoiding these people until you learn the fundamental lessons once and for all:
The lessons to learn here is that highly manipulative people come in all shapes, sizes, genders, sexual orientations, religions, ages, and nationalities–and they all target people for different reasons.
The fundamental lessons to learn here are that we need to: learn the red flags, have a healthy degree of skepticism when getting to know people, and take things slow enough when the red flags time to surface (which most of us have behaviors and/or situations that could be seen as red flags). When we spot the red flags, we need to take the necessary time to gather more information about what it is you are seeing–and then trust, but verify that information with other people–and then to have healthy enough standards and boundaries to cut (or limit) contact with them.
My goal is to educate, empower, and inspire other abuse victims in understanding more about what happened to them (and how to prevent it from happening again), as well as how to go on and rebuild an amazing life.
Even though I have had a lot of "in the trenches" experience with highly manipulative people of all kinds, I consider myself to be a student of Narcissism, mindset, motivation, healing, and life in general, and am by no means an expert on any of these topics.
It's for these reasons, that when you are reading my information that I encourage you to hold to what helps, and let the rest go.
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