It was September 2011. The month would end up being my personal 9–11 as I watched my entire life come crashing down around me and my children once I discovered the double life of the man I had married.
It had already been an awful year. My marriage was in trouble. The man I loved grew crueler by the day as I grew sicker and struggled just to make it from sunup until sundown. It would be two years later that my husband would be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but until then I remained convinced that all of our woes were somehow my fault and that I was the one with the problem.
Being in a narcissistic abusive relationship feels like being sucker-punched, then looking around for the one you love to help you up and discovering he was the one who made you hit the ground in the first place. It’s a relationship of confusion and surprises, of trick doors and funhouse mirrors, in a circus that we don’t remember buying a ticket to but waking up inside of one day realizing the one we love is the Ringmaster.
Fairy Tale Turned Nightmare: The Narcissist in Prince Clothing
One of my favorite movies as a young girl was Cinderella. Before I possessed the ability to think with too much reason…
There are certain aspects of Narcissists that are inherent: they are pathological liars and, like vampires, conceal their true identity in order to better feed their need for supply. Because of this, they wear different masks in front of different people in order to keep up the façade of being a good person. No different than the wizard in Oz who ends up being just a short bald guy with a microphone (oh the irony of this being literally true in my case), a Narcissist hides behind a curtain and furthers his own image through lies, manipulation, coercion, and deceit.
In truth, Narcissists live more than a double life considering how they’re presenting themselves to different crowds, wearing different masks. A spouse sees one variation, while friends, business partners, and family members may see an entirely different one. Naturally, anyone in an intimate relationship with a Narcissist is in for the biggest surprise since they are the ones emotionally invested in who the one that they love initially claimed to be.
Since Narcissists are masters at normalizing a victim’s own abuse to the extent that many victims (such as myself at the time) aren’t aware they’re even victims until after leaving the relationship, the eventual discovery of a double life truly does seem to come out of nowhere. Any victim has already been conditioned to the point where she believes any relationship trouble is her own making and may spend years helping the Narcissist to keep up the façade of nothing being wrong while behind closed doors suffering in silence and shame.
Before September of 2011, I had spent fourteen years building a life with the man I loved who had presented himself as my dream come true when we first met. Over time, when the mask started to slip and I felt as though I were living with both Jekyll and Hyde, never knowing which one would walk in the door at any given moment, I became a shell of my old self as I struggled to make sense of this man I no longer knew. And who was growing colder by the day.
In fact, it was only weeks before my discovery that I had collapsed on my bedroom closet floor, crying inconsolably after being the target once again of my husband’s cold glare and cruel indifference. I didn’t have the strength to get up, thus I resorting to begging the Universe to send me a sign — any sign — that would tell me how to ease my heartbreak and show me the way forward.
I’m just saying, but the Universe doesn’t fuck around. Only days later I would uncover his double life, which included but was not limited to grooming young immigrant girls to fall for him. Within a day’s time, I realized that I had not married a good and moral man who was faithful to his family. I had married a sexual predator who exploited young girls not old enough to drink for his own perverse gain.
Though nothing could have come as more of a shock for me then, all these years later there is no surprise factor left once I learned how a Narcissist works. Now that I have my Ph.D. in Hindsight, today I can easily go back through the sixteen years I spent with him and identify the different masks and for whom he wore them, all the way up to the one he wore to convince one of the girls he groomed to replace me and stay in the country with him for good.
This is why it’s inevitable that a victim of narcissistic abuse will one day be brutally awakened to the reality of what it is to love a Narcissist. This discovery is so brutal because a victim has usually no idea that a) she’s even a victim of abuse and b) she trusted that the one she loved was who he said he was. [change pronouns as needed]
This explains why healing after narcissistic abuse is so difficult and takes so much time. One woman I worked with came to me after uncovering the double life of the man she had loved for over a decade, which included his being married to a woman in another state while having multiple lovers in addition to her. The process of recovery after something like this is understandably a rollercoaster of emotions since any victim has to first face the reality of the one they love, realize their relationship was an illusion, go through the heartache of mourning the loss, before finally accepting the fact that they were duped and played by the one they trusted more than anyone in the world.
The good news — as I learned from experience — is that once we do pull that curtain back and expose the wizard for who he really is, we take that first step in taking our power back from the one who hurt us. And just like Dorothy, once we become aware of just how powerful we really are, the road forward to full healing opens up before us as we leave the Narcissist and all his masks far behind.