I had a question posed to me yesterday that I thought I would answer in a post because it is not something I have talked about before but I bet many other people are experiencing the same problem.
I have a question: Do you think is normal after an abusive relationship break is up to “8 months” that the victim doesn’t know how to deal with others? I feel I am foolish and don’t know how and what words I may use to speak; paranoia may be? very different from before. I miss my spontaneous way of being.. I am afraid to never be the same as before.
OMG a resounding yes! I have always been shy when I first meet people but even so I had a quick wit and was able to talk to anyone about anything. I was never at a loss for words. (not surprising I know) But after the N I felt totally inept in social situations, I found I would have a thought and not be able to come up with the words to express it. I would start to speak and 1/2 way through what I was saying I would trail off unable to find the words. Whereas I used to be able to come up with a witty one liner at the drop of a hat any attempts at wit fell flat. I had a hard time even pronouncing words properly and stumbled and stammered, nothing felt natural. I started to avoid going anywhere I would be expected to make small talk because it was so much work and I always came away feeling totally inadequate socially. I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to eat in a restaurant, for that matter I had a hell of a time even deciding what to wear to any social event. I would end up changing 1/2 a dozen times and then change again just as I was about to go out the door and feel uncomfortable all night because I chose the wrong thing to wear. I would go home and review and critique every conversatio and chastise myself for saying something dumb.
I am not even sure when, but I assure you it passes. Actually, it wasn’t until you asked the question that I realized I no longer have that problem and am almost totally back to myself. I think it took me 2 or more years to get to the point where I felt relaxed in social situations.
The thing that bothered me the most was losing my quick wit, I had never been able to tell a joke but I was the queen of the one liners and had always been able to be flirty and light-hearted and I missed that part of me. I felt boring and serious all the time. After the N I would go to social functions and listen to the conversations going on around me in order to try to remember how to make simple small talk, I felt like an idiot, what was wrong with me?
I think there are many reasons this happens:
- The narcissist twisted our words, corrected our grammar, ridiculed our thought processes, told us we didn’t know what we were talking about. Whereas we used to be able to discuss anything with him after the abuse started we could discuss nothing with him without it ending in a fight. Of course now we are very hesitant to say anything to anyone, even if we know the person isn’t our ex we have developed a fear of expressing ourselves.
- While with the narcissist casual conversation became impossible, our fear of saying the wrong thing made us paranoid to say anything. It is going to take a while to get your spontaneity back. When I first met my ex he and I could banter back and forth with ease but after we had been together a while all that stopped, he was witty and funny but if I tried to be funny it fell flat, he wouldn’t “understand” what I meant or would totally not respond. I lost my confidence when it came to being quick-witted.
- Lets’ face it, life with the narcissist was far from light-hearted and fun and left us with PTSD or at the very least depressed, it’s hard to make small talk when a person is depressed, when your thoughts are consumed with the pain you carry in your heart.
- When a person is suffering from PTSD I think it is pretty common to have a hard time formulating your thoughts, I remember thinking of something I wanted to say, some event I had recently experienced or something and start to tell the story and half way through stumble over my words, not be able to find the words to express myself and end up trailing off and giving up. I felt like a total idiot. What was wrong with me? I knew what I wanted to say but my thoughts just didn’t come out my mouth. I could type out what I wanted to say but to speak the same thing was impossible.
- I wasn’t interested in small talk, it seemed dumb to me, I would listen to people talk at great length about really mundane things I couldn’t relate to. MY world was falling apart, I had nothing to add to conversations about a new outfit I had bought or trip I had gone on, or what colour to paint the kitchen. Nothing was normal or ordinary about my life and I knew they didn’t want to hear the reality of my existence and I could not relate to their very normal life.
- I don’t know if it is this way for everyone but after leaving the narcissist I became very concerned about all injustices in the world, the wars, the famine, the poverty and it weighed me down. I simply was not in a light-hearted frame of mind.
- I avoided visiting with friends because I felt so inept at conversation and isolating myself did nothing to help the situation, it only served to silence me even more and gave me less to talk about.
- When you think about it, when a person goes out with friends or even at work talking with workmates energizes a person. The narcissist hated that you derived any pleasure from anything that didn’t involve him, he hated you being happy period so he isolated you. Imagine being shipwrecked on a desert island with no one to talk to for years and then you are rescued, what would you talk about? What would you have to talk about? how you struggled everyday to find food and water, how you waited for a ship to rescue you? how you made clothes out of palm tree leaves? You would feel totally inept at making small talk. It is no different after leaving the narcissist. You have lived on an island created by the narcissist, deprived of human contact; it makes sense that you would have nothing to talk about.
- Use it or lose it. If you don’t use your ability to function socially you will lose it for a period of time. If you are constantly criticized for saying something stupid you stop talking and you lose your confidence to say anything intelligent.
- In most abusive relationships the abuser talks about some undefined flaw of the victim. With my ex he used to always say things like; “I always knew your warped views of the world bothered me but I thought I could live with it.” but he could never tell me exactly what he meant by my “warped viewed”, in what way were my views warped? Or, he should have known better than to think he could “help” me but he was too healthy and couldn’t relate to me. It wasn’t my fault because I had such a dysfunctional upbringing but he had been raised in such a normal loving home he just could not deal with “it”. But he could never give me an example of what I was doing that was so weird or unacceptable. There is nothing worse than being criticized for some terrible flaw and not be told what that flaw is, how can you correct it? So you shut up and isolate yourself out of fear other people will discover how flawed you are.
- I found I could talk at great length about the narcissist with people who knew him. His sister and I could get together and laugh about the crazy things he did. We could discuss how angry he made us etc But that made sense, he had basically occupied my every thought for 10 years, he was all I knew, he told me what to feel, what to do, when to be happy and he could take it away. I am reminded of a dog who is well-trained, he will sit at your feet waiting for your next command.
How did I get over it?
It basically just happened. The longer I have been away from my ex the more I have to talk about in a social situation and the more comfortable I feel in social situations the easier it is to make small talk.
At first I was isolated, I was self-employed, I lived in a remote area and did nothing but work and in my off hours I spent my time with my dog. I worked 7 days a week, only taking a day off if I was sick simply because I had nothing else to do. I have never minded being alone but after the N I was more comfortable with my own company that anywhere else which can be a really bad thing. Isolation is NOT the way to get over being uncomfortable socially. The more you do it the better you get at it. Like anything, if we don’t use a talent we are going to lose the ability and have to practice to stay proficient at it.
Just like I used to be an excellent cook, I never had a flop when I cooked, I would entertain all the time and cook dinners for a dozen or more people any time and people always raved about my cooking. While with the N we often didn’t live in a place conducive to entertaining, didn’t even have a kitchen for a period of time. All my tried and true recipes were “stolen” and over time I lost my ability to cook. I had forgotten how to season things, nothing ever tasted good, I lost my confidence and cooking was no longer a natural thing to do, I grew fearful of failing and consequently I would fail. I have found more and more I am able to cook a tasty meal but it always surprises me when I do whereas in the past I was shocked if something didn’t turn out. Use it or lose it.
I used to go to the gym 5 days a week, I had very low body fat. If you stop working out you lose muscle mass very quickly but once you have developed a muscle it has a memory and comes back amazingly fast, it is the same with any talent we develop over our lives. You just have to exercise that ability.
The longer I have been away from the N the more normal my life has become giving me more to talk about. I don’t have the N occupying my every thought which leaves room for other things to think about. Makes sense right?
The pain of the narcissist has faded into being just a part of my past. I can discuss him without feeling any pain or anger, he is no more important in my life than any of my exs. He is simply the past. He plays no part in my today or my tomorrows so my heart is lighter, life is brighter, it makes sense that my conversations are lighter and brighter and my sense of humor is coming back.
I used to be very aware of NOT talking about the N or our relationship because I felt people didn’t want to hear it, like they say about subjects to avoid when making small talk in social situations, avoid talking about religion, politics, and they should add, narcissists. But now when women I am with start talking about some stupid thing an ex did or even a nice thing an ex did I can join in the conversation and relate some story about JC without it being depressing, I can relate a story of some experience I had with him without it becoming some depressing diatribe about domestic violence.
I had to realize also that I may be an advocate of raising awareness about domestic abuse but not everyone is going to be passionate about it like I am and I don’t want it to be my whole life. I have other interests, other things to talk about, and I have developed those other interests in order to have something else to talk about.
I most importantly I gave myself a break. We all have expectations of ourselves and those in our lives. We get to know a person to be a certain way. I was known for being the life of the party, rather loud, funny, excited, outgoing and the first one to say, “The party’s at my place!” or “You’re all invited for breakfast tomorrow morning.” I will never be that person again and I had to get comfortable with the new me and so did everyone who knew me.
I used to drink a lot, it is much easier to be the life of the party when you are half snapped, without booze I am much more sedate. I like myself sober, I cringe at the thought of over drinking and having a hangover. I have to accept that without a bottle of wine in my system I am not as funny (and I don’t find drunks as funny as I used to) that has nothing to do with the narcissist.
I am more interested in what other people have to say and have become a better listener. I don’t have to be the life of the party, it is not my responsibility to keep the conversation flowing. It took awhile for other people to accept the new me and learn how to interact with the new me. People in general don’t like change, they want a person to stay the same, they are uncomfortable with change, especially with something like drinking. If a person stops drinking the people they used to party with feel uncomfortable with you as a nondrinker, so you may lose some friends.
Life happens, events change people, divorce, the death of a child, bankruptcy, having children, many things can affect how a person relates to the world around them. Victims of a narcissist had a life altering experience, it is unreasonable to think it is not going to have an effect on a person’s personality, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing and everyone eventually levels out and gets comfortable with their new personality and the people who love them accept this new person; or they don’t. Sometimes friends leave our lives and new ones take their place, it is part of life.
I found that over time I stopped trying to be everything to all people and found my happy place, a place where I am totally myself and although I want people to like me I accept that not all people will, and that is ok.
Victims of narcissists tend to be perfectionists and to have very high standards for themselves and we have to learn to be kind to ourselves and not hold ourselves to higher standards than we hold the people around us to.
Try to relax and know this is just another step in your recovery, there will come a day when the narcissist is not part of your daily life, the scars have healed, you are comfortable in your own skin again and you once again have friends who love you for who you are.