The Crazy-Makers Part 1: Stonewalling

There will be a handful of you reading this who aren’t familiar with the term “stonewalling,” so let me lay it out for you: Stonewalling is exactly as it sounds – the person you are attempting to communicate with turns into a literal ‘wall of stone,’ refusing to interact in any way, shape, or form until you’ve completely lost your $#!€ trying to get them to respond. And then, once you’ve lost your $#!€, watch out. Your reaction just gave them exactly what they were looking for – a reason to turn you into the bad guy. Suddenly, you find yourself apologizing to them for your reaction, and the initial issue you were trying to discuss with them gets brushed under the rug. I mean, you don’t want to bring it up again after he just accepted your apology, right? Do you see the insanity here?

My ex ‘Dirk’ was a master stonewaller. Our situation was unique in that he lived 500 miles away, so he could block me out for days and there was nothing I could do about it. It was infuriating at the time, and as I look back now it is actually a bit humiliating, begging my own husband to answer my text messages.

Here is an example of a stonewalling “exchange” between a husband and wife, via text messages:

W: “Hey babe! What are you doing?”

H: “Just starting my lunch break.”

W: “Has it been busy today?”

H: “Sort of, I guess. The weather sucks.”

W: “The bank just called about our mortgage being late…they said they have tried your number a bunch of times but you aren’t answering. I have to call them back in ten minutes – what should I tell them?”

H: No response

W: “Ummmm, are you still there? I have to call them right back and I have no idea what to say.”

H: No response

W: “You just told me you’re on lunch, I know you’re reading these and just not answering me. We need to tell the bank something, we can’t just let it go unpaid.”

H: No response

W: “Would you rather call them yourself?”

H: No response

W: “Seriously, you need to grow up and act like an actual husband/father/adult/human being for once! Every time there’s a problem you run and leave me to deal with it! I wish you would be responsible and quit forcing me to play the role of your mother!”

So, the wife calls the bank and tells them her husband is “unreachable” at the moment and she will have to get back to them the next day. Then, hours later, another text comes in:

H: “Are you done being a bitch now?”

The wife – actually feeling guilty for the way she reacted earlier and not wanting to begin the cycle all over again – apologizes and refrains from trying to solve the issue with the bank.

These issues – the ones that never get resolved in the end – don’t go away. Not to the wife. They turn into resentment and bitterness and contempt tucked in the back of her mind. They poison the relationship until the wife can’t handle it anymore and needs to write a blog about her horrible ex to get it all out…trust me. I know.

Narcissists don’t like to have their flaws pointed out. When something isn’t going their way, they prefer to pretend it’s going perfectly fine. They can’t face failure or have their facade of perfection revealed or questioned. Stonewalling, in my experience, is a way for the narcissist to protect their ego and exert control over their energy source (yes, “energy source” – these people are emotional vampires).

So what do you do when you are the target of stonewalling? You don’t engage. Period. You don’t give them the satisfaction of turning you into the bad person, don’t give them control of your emotions. And eventually, one beautiful day, you will realize you don’t want to play this game anymore and you will walk away. Because you’re better than that. And you will never look back.

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Narcissists are made, not born

As a mother who shares her children with a narcissist, I have done hours of frantic, white-knuckled research, scouring psychology journals and personal testimonies, looking for assurance that my kids are not doomed to become mini-narcs. I’m happy to report, they are not. And to all you worried mamas out there reading this, neither are yours.

Babies do not hop out of the womb with superiority complexes. (Don’t be confused by their whole “feed me/bathe me/change me/love me” M.O.) They aren’t born feeling that they are better than the baby drooling next to them in the hospital nursery. Until their little brains are programmed to think otherwise, they see their peers as equals.

There are a number of parenting styles that turn these innocent little bundles of sweetness into narcissistic teenagers/adults, but I will focus on what I have personally witnessed – parents who act as if their child(ren) can do no wrong.

My ex husband (we will call him Dirk, because I hate that name) never talked much about his childhood throughout our 15 years together. He would tell me little snippets here and there, but I never really got a sense of what home life was actually like for him growing up. I knew he and his two brothers got into quite a bit of trouble, and those were the stories he loved to tell the most. Looking back now, I realize that that none of these tales ever ended with consequences. Never. Had I put two and two together, this would have been a huge red flag. Those boys were above the law – the rules didn’t apply to them, in their minds. For example, take the time 14-year-old Dirk was brought home by the cops after getting a smoking ticket – his mom was angry with the officers for “overreacting”. Red flag. Like when his teenaged brother was allowed to walk around smoking joints in the house without so much as a peep of protest from their parents. Another red flag. Like the time their mom told me how as kids the boys would blow up frogs with fireworks and she laughed it off as “boys being boys”. RED. FREAKING. FLAG. This type of passive-aggressive (aka “lazy”) parenting is not parenting at all – this is letting the lunatics run the damn asylum. And this is a breeding-grounds for narcissistic behavior.

Dirk and his brothers are now in their mid-to-late 30’s and can still get away with murder. They can break up families, cheat on spouses, enjoy being alcoholics and deadbeat dads, all while their parents sing their praises and support them every step of the way. To be honest, it’s sick. The lack of expectations feeds the narcissistic ego.

So my advice to you is to take a good look at your partner’s history and how he was raised. Were his parents the type who only loved him when he was successful? Were they hypercritical of everything he did? Or were they like my ex-in-laws and instill the belief that they were not only perfect, but also untouchable?

You can almost bet that they, as parents themselves now, will emulate the way they were brought up and embrace a very similar parenting style to what they are familiar with. The tricky part is trying to counter-balance what they are putting out to your children, being the one who keeps them in check without becoming the “bad” parent. The good news is that “tricky” is not the same as “impossible” and with mindfulness and vigilance you can steer your child down the right path. Love them and praise them while teaching them right from wrong. Set boundaries and rules and enforce them. Emphasize the importance of empathy (which narcissists desperately lack) and kindness. Hard-wire their brains for love and positivity through your own example.

They are not doomed. Not by any means.

Because they have you, worried mama.

The 7th Circle of Hell

For us ladies who were unfortunate enough to somehow find ourselves trapped in the seventh circle of hell (also known as a relationship with a narcissist), it can be difficult to decide which of their “qualities” was our favorite when we decided to enter these so-called unions. Was it their behavior in those first weeks/months that sucked us in, with the love-bombing and never-ending compliments and bi-weekly romantic dates?  Or maybe it was the fact that this man was unbelievably perfect in every way?  He had a great job where he was so important that the entire company would have imploded if it weren’t for him, where he played on the company softball team that would have been complete crap if he hadn’t single-handedly saved their asses every single game.  He came from a family of saints – his mother hadn’t uttered a curse word since 1987, his father was the inspiration behind The Kinks tune ‘A Well Respected Man’, and his sister was living in a convent where she and the other nuns raised sick orphaned puppies with no legs. (Narcissists often see their immediate family members as extensions or reflections of themselves, so they tend to build them up to meet their expectations).  If it weren’t for this man, the planet may stop turning and fall out of orbit. I mean, you know this because he told you so, not through any observed actions, but with his charm and charisma, why wouldn’t you believe him, right? He wouldn’t lie – he’s perfect, and perfect people don’t lie. Better grab him and hold on tight, because you will never find anyone else on his level – those people don’t exist. He will convince you of this.

During the initial phase of the relationship, we think we have nailed this man down, right? But what we don’t see at this point is that it’s the other way around. We are under the impression that we have been blessed to meet this fabulous guy who is way out of our league and how lucky are we to have caught his eye out of the hundreds of other women who would love to date him. What he sees – and what he is currently creating – is a woman so blinded by his self-exaggerated greatness that she feels unworthy of the relationship and will go to great lengths to keep it in tact. We will go to any measures to please him so he won’t leave because, after all, he is irreplaceable. We, ladies, have just unknowingly become the energy-source for his insatiable ego. Looking back, this is where we all should have high-tailed it for the hills, but hindsight is 20/20, of course.

Let me tell you right now that I am not a therapist, although I do have five years as a psychology major (go UMD Bulldogs!) and five more working in the mental health field under my belt. What I am is a survivor of fifteen years of emotional abuse by a narcissistic partner, and I feel that sharing what I have learned through experience may be more beneficial to my readers coming from somebody who not only has knowledge on the subject in textbook form but is also able to take into account the feelings and emotional turmoil involved. Because I have been there. I have done that. I have seen that. I have heard that. I have felt that. And I have escaped from that.

And now I want to help anyone and everyone I possibly can who is in the place where I used to be…because the seventh circle of hell is not our place – it belongs to the narcissist.