They say the relationships in our lives impact the way we see the world. When we’re happy, everything is brighter and when we’re sad it all seems dark and dreary. It wasn’t until my toxic ex was out of my life that I realized just how much dating a narcissist had affected my outlook on love.
Before him, I was as innocent as they come. I was the last of my friends to be interested in guys and the last to act on the interest when it finally came. I watched everyone else get boyfriends and learn about love and I stayed blissfully untouched by heartache. I was a hopeless romantic through and through and really thought my Prince Charming would come and sweep me off my feet.
My inexperience made me the perfect target. He took full advantage of the fact that I had no other relationships to compare ours with. Whatever happened, I thought it was normal because I assumed that if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be happening to me. He slowly pulled me away from my friends, my family, and my passions until I barely recognized the person in the mirror. And the whole time, I thought that was how all love felt.
He broke me down until there was nothing left. His constant questions, his ability to make me feel lower than low, and the demands he placed on me tore through every layer of self-confidence I had. He saw the world through a “trust no one” lens, and my carefree sense of self was no match for his narcissistic outlook.
His rigidity was contagious. It was bad enough that he was set in his toxic ways but he made me the same way. When we started dating, I was convinced that I could help him lighten up and see the good in people. I really thought I would rub off on him but the opposite happened. I became inflexible, self-centered, and paranoid whenever anything didn’t go my way. It was almost like his ego grew so large that it swallowed me up inside.
He convinced me that he was the best I’d ever find. He told me no one else would ever love me as he could and at the time, I totally believed him. I was convinced that this was what love felt like and that the sacrifices I was making were just what people did when they were in a relationship. Even though the people in my life had healthier relationships, I was unable to see what was right in front of me because I was in denial that anything was wrong.
I’m free now, but I still find it hard to let people in. Even with the darkness of his relationship behind me, I’ve noticed that the mark his narcissism left isn’t fully gone. It’s difficult for me to trust others, especially men but also the friends and family whose relationships were strained during that period of my life. I sometimes feel myself holding back in my new relationship even though he’s a wonderful man, and it’s all because of my toxic ex.
It’s hard for me to admit that I deserve better. I know now that what I experienced was not real love, and that while love may not be a fairytale like I thought as a kid, there’s certainly something in the middle. Even though I’ve accepted that I didn’t deserve what he put me through, that doesn’t mean I hold love to the standard I should. I constantly remind myself that just because he set the bar so low doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be aiming for the stars.
I’m paranoid that people will change. The problem with our relationship was that my ex wasn’t always so grim. At the start, he was charming, loving, and put on a facade of being carefree—it’s why I was attracted to him. But over time it shifted and he slowly began showing me the dark parts of himself that I never knew existed. Even now, I’m secretly terrified that others in my life will do the same and show me a side of them that I don’t want to see.
All this time later, he still haunts my nightmares. Years have passed and I have an incredible new partner who has shown me exactly what I deserve. But reminders of the narcissism I experienced at the hands of my ex still creep into my mind while I’m awake and while I’m sleeping. All this time later, I can still hear him berating me, judging those around us, and making demands.
It gets easier every day. I have to believe that one day, I’ll see the world the way I once did. I’ll look at a dense forest and see the beauty in nature and not him lurking in the shadows. Or I’ll hear a couple laugh and feel a warmth in my chest instead of the regret I have for wasting my time on someone who couldn’t love me the way I needed.
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