I was reading an interesting profile of the Rwandan president Paul Kagame in the Sunday New York Times yesterday, “The Conscience of a Strongman,” which paints a picture of a man who seems to have very little conscience at all, really. Apparently, he’s doing a bang up job of stabilizing Rwanda and manages money well, but then again, he kills journalists and opponents who would say otherwise.
One of his opponents, a former friend now in exile in South Africa, Kayumba Nyamwasa, survived an assassination attempt and had this to say about Kagame.
“After I once wrote a speech for him to give, he said to me: ‘You think because you have a Ph.D. from Canada you are smarter than me? You are a peasant! You go and read the stupid speech!’ And then I would have to say: ‘No sir, you are the president, and in my hands it is a stupid peasant product. But in your hands it is something special.’ That is how we had to flatter and appease him,” Himbara said. “It was crazy.”
Crazy, yes. But an utterly familiar tactic to anyone who has ever lived with a narcissist. The only way to placate one of these freaks is with kibbles. And when a ton of kibbles isn’t enough (I wrote your speech), you have to shovel absurdist kibbles (It is a very special speech that can only be read by a Very Special Person). And even that is not enough. To really do it right, you have to abase yourself (“in my hands it is a stupid peasant product.”)
Anyone recognize that mindfuck? This valuable item you are giving the narcissist, in this case a speech, you cannot speak its value to the narcissist. Only if they accept it, if they put their sparkles on it, does it have any merit. Oh I suppose I will accept your stupid peasant speech if I must. Is this the best you can do?
And what does any of this have to do with infidelity? Every disordered freak uses the same mindfuckery. Substitute speech for reconciliation.
Chump: I am giving you the gift of reconciliation.
Narcissist: It’s not a gift. I am entitled to as many reconciliations as I desire. Why should I reconcile with you? You are but a peasant. Convince me! Do the pick me dance!
Chump: Well, with me it is but a feeble, peasant reconciliation, but in your hands it could be special. I know you have Very Special Issues that make reconciliation difficult (how hard it is for you to get closure with your affair partner, your insecurity, your brokenness, your FOO issues), but think of how good we are together! What a good partner I’ve been!
Narcissist: You can be replaced, you know. I need more kibbles. Now abase yourself.
Chump: You are a very special, sparkly person! So good looking! So intelligent! So accomplished! I am not worthy. I will examine in therapy all the ways I have failed you. Every way I have contributed to your infidelities.
Of course, leaving a murderous despot is much harder than leaving a run-of -the-mill narcissist, I’ll grant you that. But some of the tactics are similar, like throw them off your trail with over the top kibbles. When you run away, expect they’ll pull some revenge stunt. (For Mr. Himbara, it was a bullet to the chest.) Speak your truth and they’ll malign you, or spin it into a more palatable narrative. (Yes, we have no freedom of press, but the trains run on time.)
So how do you escape a narcissist? In retrospect, they seem so ridiculous. How did you ever drink that Koolaid? Reflecting on my own experience, I realized I needed to do two things — first, I had to free myself mentally, and second, I had to go on the offensive.
Freeing yourself mentally is the hardest step, and until you do that you won’t have the courage to do the second step, of striking out for yourself.
I’ve examined the reasons why people stay stuck with cheaters and I don’t like to lay a lot of blame on chumps. You tend to have a lot of sunk costs — children, mortgages, history. The sparkles were sparkly, you fell for them, you committed, I get it. But if you were married to a truly disordered person — a narcissist, sociopath, borderline, Cluster B — whatever you want to call them, I hate to say this, but some of this is on you. (I include myself here, I’m the original chump).
The punishment of choosing badly is completely disproportionate to the crime of being a chump, of course. No one deserves this shit. But to ensure that you fix that picker, it’s helpful to examine why you tolerated the intolerable. The book I recommend up in the Amazon box “Why Is It Always About You” is useful on that score. What was it in your background that groomed you for this shit? When did you learn to make your needs so small? Why was a lopsided relationship acceptable to you?
Did you like the reflected glory? Do you only feel worthy if you’re of use? Do you not value your gifts unless the narcissist gives you their seal of approval?
Healthy people don’t do the “pick me” dance. Healthy people walk away. You don’t appreciate my gifts? I’ll go elsewhere. Chumps chase.
When you start valuing yourself and start seeing the narcissist for the toxic bucket of slop they really are, you begin to emancipate. I deserve better. I’d rather be alone than put up with another moment of this shit. When you start recognizing manipulation and untangling it from hopium — you’re on your way to escape.
How to escape? Lay low and then sucker punch ’em.
Narcissists are really very vulnerable people because they don’t have a good grip on reality. They truly think they’re better than you. Smarter. More clever. And of course, far more deserving. So long as you’re still shoveling kibbles at them (however insincerely), they think all is right in their universe. This makes them vulnerable to the sucker punch.
You are but an extension of them. And the narcissist would never punch him or herself in the gut! So when you suddenly act with agency, you have the upper hand. Why? Because the narcissist will ALWAYS underestimate you.
Gather your evidence, collect your financial documents, plan your escape route and lawyer up. If you mediate, or try to come to some consensus, they will assume they can snow you, make it come out in their favor. It always worked before. But when you find a true advocate, a pit bull, who will fight for your interests? They are enraged. And frightened. (This comes out as rage.) They’ve lost control.
When a narcissist loses control, they try to gain the upper hand again. They may try to charm you, and if that fails, they’ll bully. It’s all about control. This is why it is so important to master the first step — freeing yourself mentally. A narcissist cannot manipulate you if you don’t give them access to the inside of your head. That’s why no contact is essential.
It’s not just that the narcissist underestimates you — it’s that they have grown very used to YOU underestimating YOURSELF. How will you ever live without them? Who are you really without their sparkles? You may doubt you can do it on your own. You may cling to some holographic image of What You Thought Your Life Would Be. Don’t underestimate yourself. You’re going to do just fine on the other side of this shit — immensely better really. Do not falter. Hit them hard, hit them fast, and run the hell away.
“You think you are smarter than me? You are a peasant!”
Yes, you are smarter. Way smarter than to tolerate another second of abuse.