A Spiral Downward

Relationships are the core of our being; we are designed for love.  What happens when that beautiful romance turns toxic or possibly even deadly?  Did you know that covert toxicity in a relationship can lead to denial and self-defeat?  These internal beliefs can stay with you long after the trauma of the relationship has left.  This is the first in a series of blogs to help us identify the reason why our relationships become toxic and how to execute change in your life.  Overcoming adversity can be our platform for self-awareness and self-love. I did not set proper boundaries in my marriage.  Over a few years, this oversight facilitated a gradual and very subtle increase of manipulation, lopsided compromise and growing erosion of the person I was. For years I felt as though someone had stuck a straw in my ear and life was being sucked out of me.  The love of my life commandeered my endeavors, interests, creativity and even my thought processes.  The fact is I was being mentally manipulated by a sociopathic narcissist. The kicker here; I was unaware of what was happening as the volume of abuse was slowly and deliberately being ratcheted upward.  Before I had recognized what was happening, my life had been hijacked from me.

Shortly before the divorce, long overdue counselling confirmed what my daughter Meli Hickman, a mental health counselor, had been tactfully describing to me for years.  I was following innate human instincts to avoid confrontation and reduce the anxiety induced by a covert narcissist.  Paraphrasing this, I knew from the depths of my wisdom that I was fueling a narcissist, giving in to unwise demands, financial insolvency and even family isolation.  However, my human instinct to avoid confrontation, to keep the peace and at times to make it through the day without an argument had weakened me to a point of ignoring my own intuition, blocking higher thought processes.

The patterns didn’t precipitate overnight.  I was always willing to try understanding global points of view of the diverse cultures I dealt with in the military and as an Engineer in a large Aerospace company.  This is a good trait in our personal and professional lives because we should always have holistic awareness and understand secondary effects of our own decisions and actions.  I listened and put myself in the other person’s shoes to achieve cohesive solutions. What I wasn’t controlling in my relationship was the fact that my critical thought process was being undermined, making me believe that my point of view was incorrect and that my approach of asking questions and explaining why I felt the way I did was nothing other than bullying, being selfish or acting condescendingly.  After years of this manipulative communication, I stopped trying to reason and just gave in; worse yet, I started to believe assertions that I was mentally unstable and had anger management issues.

My Aha Moment

What my daughter Meli Hickman had been saying and what the counselor convinced me of, is your life experience, emotional intelligence and intuition doesn’t lie to you if you don’t shunt it away.  You are wiser than you may believe.  As a victim of a sociopath, I used irrational excuses perhaps to detour confrontations or hope the problem solved itself. The irony here is that the primordial parts of our brains are hardwired to overcome adversity, to fix problems and strive-on to the next issue. The ancient part of our brain senses more immediately clear and present dangers that may affect our safety, security, sexual well-being or relationships.  Let’s use an example: Say your spouse suddenly quits his or her job.  You sense the ephemeral danger to your financial security and respond accordingly with alternatives; find a second job for yourself to supplement income or encourage him or her to find another career or even a new occupational path or profession.  A lot of this occurs in advanced part of the brain, but the quick thoughts of mitigating the problem is a primal instinct; you may have heard the term “knee-jerk-reaction".

A manipulative narcissist knows when to apply power and when to gently touch the brakes in an emotional relationship.  This is old-hat, the emotional roller coaster, ups and downs.  The roller coaster stays at a steady pace, slowly gaining kinetic energy, speeding up with higher ups and lower downs; it trends this way very slowly so you don’t even recognize the change until you live in isolation and dysfunctional waves wondering why you can’t please your partner.  You start believing the accusations of the hijacker.

It's Time To Ask Yourself 

Is there something off kilter in your relationship, family, friends or even co-workers?  Find a private space where you will not be disturbed or scrutinized for reading and answering the below ten questions.  This is where I need you to be completely honest with yourself: 1- Do you believe you over-compromise in your relationship(s)? 2- Do you believe you are trying too hard to achieve happiness for someone else? 3- Does a majority of what you say, don’t say, do or don’t do come under scrutiny? 4- Are all problems in your relationship deflected elsewhere or reflected to you? (Example) you’re the reason I’m not working. 5- Are you being belittled? 6- Are you reacting to someone else in a manner that is out of character for yourself? 7- Do you feel you are extorted emotionally for money, sex or over-exuberant demands for praise of your partner? 8- Are you losing touch with the person you once were, such as creativity, productivity or initiative? 9- Have you become more isolated from family or friends since your relationship started? 10- How happy are you in your relationship? On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the least happy and 10 being the happiest.

Question 10 is by far the most subjective of all.  If you just won the lotto yesterday, I’d presume you’d figure out a way to get to eleven.   When we constrain the question to a relationship with a significant other, what happiness to one person is something different for another.  However, it was also a trick question to evoke another metric.  When you placed yourself on the scale from 1 to 10, did you take an average over time or a snapshot of your current state.  If you had answered the question yesterday, a week ago, a month ago, would it had been the same?  If you determine there are sharp up-ticks or down-ticks, question why and again be honest with yourself.  If you see large fluctuations, it's time to peel the onion back and figure out why.

Don't Second Guess Yourself

We discussed the clear and present threat process of the primordial brain and our natural way of mitigating problems that clearly pose a threat to our security.  Now let’s discuss the advanced areas of the brain, a registry of complex thought processes.  The contemporary parts of our brain designed over the last few hundred thousand years is a marvel of nature.  The trillions of neuron synapses transactions aid us in complex decision-making processes that separate you and me apart from primates and fish.  Intuition is a part of the human condition but what is it composed of? Intuition is not magic or Extra-Sensory-perception; it's a gathered composite of your memories of life events, life experiences and emotional intelligence.  This homogeneous blend is processed very efficiently by your brain and becomes a perception, which is intuition.  While not always fool-proof, ignoring intuition to avoid critical thinking or fill in the blank questions is not prudent in terms of a relationship.  There is solidity in your intuition; learn to trust it and listen critically to what your advanced and very wise mind is telling you. The narcissistic hijacker is shrewd and not only can make you question your intuition but your mental health as well.  My “better-half” had very little education and very little initiative to grow.  Yet, when I approached her with what I felt was a significant issue, she was able to quickly diagnose me with multiple mental illnesses, some of which I’d never even heard of, enabling complete deflection of the issue I approached her with.

Let's Figure This Out Together

Let’s determine if that pinch you feel is the fact that your life revolves around providing unachievable happiness to someone close to you, someone who will never just be satisfied with your best; someone who demands 100% emotional support but rarely reciprocates.

Be Honest With Yourself

The trait of honesty with self alone will set you apart from a sociopath who is a perpetual liar, to the point where he or she believes the lies they tell.  Truth can be abrasive for you or those close to you.  It may hurt but it’s time to rip the band-aid off.  Change is inevitable and arduous when you have a false sense of security in a bad relationship.  Change is hard to precipitate when your life has been hijacked.  You may also be struggling with feelings for the hijacker, such as jealousy, fear of reprisals or your security if finances are fully controlled by the narcissist. We will explore this problem and learn how to overcome the adversity; turning the negativity into an energy to springboard us to a secure future and greater self-love.  Standby for the next of this series.

Disclaimer

I am not a mental health professional.  My information is derived from the writings and coaching from my daughter, Meli Hickman  I've written this from my experience and point of view surrounding toxic relationships.  There rests great synergy in the combination of mental health professional’s advice and experiences of a victim. Standby for the 2nd part of this series which will discuss what tricks a hijacker uses to destroy your self-worth and how to get it back. Please comment your story HERE..  We want to hear it and who knows the impact it may have on others. Your feedback is important our continued growth.  Let’s discover and dictate our own lives.