Editor’s note: Following is an email exchange that I had with a Lovefraud reader whom we’ll call, “Susana21.” She describes encountering the narcissistic ex, and how it affected her.
Susana 21 writes:
After a long and difficult relationship, I finally ended things and, even though my logic had been screaming at me to do it years sooner, it took my heart a few more years and MUCH pain before it finally caught up. I was doing No Contact and was finally starting to feel better. Finally. !! And then …
A few weeks ago, totally by coincidence, I was leaving a store and a car pulled up beside me. My narcissist.
If the situation was reversed, I would have totally ignored him and kept driving, but he was driving and I was walking. He greeted me and was very pleasant. Knowing from others that his father had recently died, I offered my condolences and expected to move on. However, it turned into a longer conversation about the illness and funeral, and I could feel myself becoming anxious.
When I finally broke away, I kept replaying the conversation over and over in my head (totally not like me), wondering if I should have stood there and listened or walked away immediately … and why was I so paranoid and anxious over a random encounter? Clearly, I felt that clawing my way to my so-called progress and thinking I felt better was just an illusion if I could be undone and upset in just a few minutes.
Several days later – now several weeks, with nothing else happening – no additional contact, I feel I am back at Square One. Everything is playing in an endless loop – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
And I KNOW he hasn’t even thought about the parking lot encounter for one second after it was over, which makes me obsess more and more, as to why I was NOTHING. Less than nothing. And I am not nothing.
Donna – is it going to be like this forever? I feel like I will never move on from this. Even if I never see him again. Why is this SO hard? I feel like I am losing my mind and myself. He was never worth it; why am I still, still, STILL giving my life up for this piece of crap person? Is there hope?
Yes, it will get better. In fact it is better – because you did NOT resume the relationship! But there are still remnants of the emotional pain to be processed. This encounter is providing you with an opportunity to do that. Remember, the emotional effects of these relationships go very deep, and it takes time to unearth them and let them go. You are doing that. Just keep going. It will get better.
I’d like to respond to your question more fully in a blog post. May I reproduce your letter for an article?
Thank you for your response, and of course you may use my email. Maybe it will help me further.
One point I would like to respond to from your email, which was when you said to me “it already is better because you did not resume the relationship.” I know I could never go back; I could not unsee or unhear or unfeel everything that happened – but that is exactly the point. He has moved on unscathed with lightning speed, and I am the one who is stuck.
Perversely, I keep thinking that HE should want the relationship back, but it is not even a thought in his mind. As I said, I am NOTHING to him, tossed away without a second thought like a used tissue. Obviously, he is still important to me or this would not matter, and I don’t want him to be, but I don’t know how to make that stop.
I guess it just boils down to the fact that I am glad he is gone, but I want to be missed. Red flag #42 was that he went through people and got rid of anyone who didn’t drink his Kool-aid. I can’t be surprised that I was one of them.
Thank you for letting me vent and get my words out. No one understands.
Recovery from a relationship with a sociopath
It takes a long time to recover from a relationship wit a sociopath, especially if you’ve been involved for multiple years. But Susana21, you ARE on track. As I said, you DID break away from him, and even though you’ve been thinking about him showing up again, you did NOT go back to him. You are to be congratulated.
Still, your equilibrium has been upset. You feel like you’ve lost ground. You haven’t. Let’s take a look at some aspects of your experience.
Encountering the narcissistic ex
You may have wondered if, when your ex, the narcissist, pulled up in his car, you should have just ignored him and kept walking. In reality, that’s a difficult thing to do. We are social creatures, and we naturally respond to others.
As a human, I’m willing to bet that you are considerate and polite (like most people targeted by narcissists). The considerate and polite thing to do was to respond and express condolences about his father. Not doing that would have gone against your nature. So you spoke briefly, then ended the conversation. That’s okay.
Emotional reaction to the narcissist
Afterward the encounter, you felt anxious, and wondered why a random encounter would cause that. But the anxiety wasn’t a result of the encounter — it was the result of years of manipulation, lies, betrayal — whatever you endured.
The narcissist hooked you, deep in your heart. It takes time, and attention, to get the hooks out.
And that’s okay also. The wounds from involvements with sociopaths go very deep, and usually require multiple rounds of healing work. Usually we do intense work right after the discard — we have no choice but to cry. Sooner or later, however, we want to stop dealing with the painful emotions and get back to our lives. And that’s fine. But our recovery may not be finished yet.
That’s what happened here. The encounter told you that you need more healing. You could actually reframe the experience as an opportunity — some of your deeper pain was brought to your awareness, so you can access it. It’s an invitation to spend time and energy allowing yourself to feel your emotions, no matter how painful. That’s how you release them — by feeling them. The more you do it, the more negative energy is cleared from your essence.
The painful discard
You also expressed dismay that you meant nothing to your ex. He was able to discard you ” like a used tissue.”
Unfortunately, this is the truth. None of us ever really mean anything to a sociopath/narcissist. We are objects to be used, or temporary entertainment. That’s all. It’s really painful to acknowledge this, but it is the truth.
Always remember, however, that the problem isn’t you, it’s him. The sociopath/narcissist is disordered. He cannot truly connect. He cannot feel love. Your love was real. His was always fake.
Yes, encountering the narcissistic ex is upsetting. But look at it this way — you can recover. He never will. It’s much better to be you than him.