The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Seeing the Emerald Forest for the Emerald Trees

This is the second installment about the book “The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists“, by Eleanor Payson, M.S.W.

As stated in the previous post on the subject, I read this book because my ex was a narcissistic verbal/emotional abuser and I am determined to be able to recognize this type of person again if/when one should enter my life, so that I can either manage that relationship more effectively, or get away from him entirely.

I want to share some excerpts from the book that rang many bells with me regarding my ex’s behavior, in hopes that you may also learn to recognize this behavior in your abuser, your ex or others, and take appropriate action.

Chapter Two: Seeing the Emerald Forest for the Emerald Trees

In the public and social arenas, the NPD person often appears charming or perhaps reserved but always self-confident and in control. This outer image is projected with such consistency because it is motivated by the NPD person’s unconscious and all consuming drive to feel good enough.  In other words, the NPD person is often completely unaware of having significant problems. Only those who are closest to the NPD individual will be aware of a disturbance beneath the surface.

The NPD person’s success in maintaining this illusion of competence and control to the outside world is perhaps the greatest source of pain for you if you are in a relationship with the narcissist. Whether you are the son, daughter, spouse, friend, or coworker, the underlying difficulties of the relationship are generally never seen by anyone else. This, in turn, causes you to continually doubt yourself since you rarely receive outside validation of what you are going through. Even mental health professionals can miss the boat in recognizing what you are up against in this relationship. Without validation of your experience with the NPD individual, the erosion to your self-esteem becomes even greater.

As relates to my ex, he very much had a Jekyll-Hyde personality, as described above. To the outside world, friends, family, and in public, he was always very accepting and charming. In PRIVATE however, with me, he was more often than not: critical, rude, insulting, inconsiderate, and condescending towards me. He was very UNaccepting of me as an individual and was only charming and empathetic with ME in the very beginnings of our relationship (during the “idealization” or “romance” phase). After that, every time he was abusive, it caused what I call “emotional whiplash” – multiple instances which become increasingly difficult to recover from in the relationship.

Over time, the increasing accumulation of unresolved issues around the abuse, and the CONSTANT roller coaster of inexplicable and utter sociopathic meanness and total lack of empathy – alternating with periodic and equally extreme “kindnesses” fostered mistrust, resentment, insecurity, and destroyed the very foundation of the relationship:  the friendship and respect that any healthy relationship ought to be based upon. The relationship became a toxic cesspool. To make it worse, he consistently blamed me for the fact that things were so toxic, though HIS ABUSE was the the problem – and the ONLY problem, which all others stemmed from.

After the contemptuous treatment started, there was NEVER a doubt in my mind that he considered me an inferior human being to himself in most every way and he often said so in various ways ie: “I’m the better communicator”, “I’m better at relationships than you.”  And because he considered me so inferior, in his mind, I deserved his denigration, humiliation, and verbal/emotional abuse. I almost think he considered me something at least slightly less than human, because that’s the way he treated me.

“The narcissist idealizes and then DEVALUES and discards the object of his initial idealization. This abrupt, heartless devaluation IS abuse. ALL narcissists idealize and then devalue. This is THE core of pathological narcissism.” Dr. Sam Vaknin, Malignant Self Love, Narcissism Revisited

Near the end, he complained that I “had no self-esteem” and that I was “angry and depressed”, all while he simultaneously continued to do what he’d done for four years: BLAME me for every single problem we had in our relationship – though all of them stemmed from his abusive behavior – AND the abuse escalated at that time, as well. Public humiliation, name-calling, insults, blame, condescension, constant criticism, making me the butt of derogatory jokes – a constant barrage of it. There wasn’t a day or even a few hours I could spend with him without being subjected to his verbal contempt. I couldn’t express a feeling or opinion, talk to him about anything, make oatmeal, do laundry, or send email, post a blog or messageboard entry anywhere he could see it without his criticism, derision, snide remarks, put-downs, and self-satisfied air of superiority and inherent insinuation that if I wasn’t SUCH a stupid and inferior human being to him, I’d do it “right” – the way HE insisted it had to be done. Everything.

IT NEVER OCCURRED TO HIM that if my self-esteem was damaged or non-existent by that time, or if I was “angry and depressed” – it was years of his constant verbal and emotional abuse that might have caused that.  I told him one time I thought he HATED me due to the way he treated me constantly. I wondered why he bothered staying with me. He, of course just told me “oh you just hate yourself!” (projection, blame).

The TRUTH is, if I hated myself I’d have thought I somehow DESERVED his treatment of me and I’d have continued to tolerate it. But obviously I did not think that, because I attempted to address this with him. And I knew full well he’d never acknowledge or take responsibility for his abusive behavior or the damage it caused to our friendship – and that my confronting him with his abuse would end the relationship because narcissists cannot tolerate any criticism, or any suggestion that they are anything less than stellar, perfect, and superior.

At that point, I JUST WANTED THE ABUSE TO END even if that meant ending the relationship. And that was BECAUSE I had self-esteem in spite of him – NOT because I didn’t have any, as he asserted. By claiming I “hated myself”, he was again attempting to make ME responsible for the consequences of HIS abuse, and attempting to make me doubt my own perceptions (another common tactic of abusers). Certainly my self-esteem was damaged by that time, but I was in no way without any!  The paragraphs below from Chapter Two tell more about this (emphasis mine):

The awareness of your feelings of fear, guilt, anger, sadness, etc. about some difficulty reveals that you have the capacity to observe yourself and recognize that you have a problem.   This awareness also means that you will be more likely to seek some form of help to deal with it. … In a nutshell you are functioning at a significantly higher level when you have the capacity to reflect on your feelings and behaviors as well as the feelings and behaviors of others.

By contrast, the individual with the character disorder lacks the ability to recognize that he has a problem and, if confronted with this possibility, would not consider himself responsible in the matter. … Regardless of his culpability, the NPD person will blame everyone else or the circumstances of his life rather than acknowledge that he has a significant problem.

A person who has psychological pain and is able to self-reflect will generally recognize that he is responsible to work on himself. On the other hand the character-disordered person is unable to see his problem and expects others to take responsibility instead. Consequently, the deep and severe disturbance of an NPD person is primarily seen in the pain he or she inflicts on others. 

Overall, you can see that the NPD person displays a formidable set of traits that reveal a tremendous conscious belief that he is special, unique, and deserving of everything a person of such special status should have. … Because of his difficulty in receiving criticism as well as his inability to empathize with another person’s feelings, the NPD person usually finds it impossible to admit wrongdoing, express remorse, or apologize. Other traits commonly seen in an NPD person are a tendancy towards compulsive behavior, anorexia, bulimia, perfectionism, addictions (often cocaine), suspiciousness, hypochondria, aggression, and deceit. Above all is the NPD person’s need for control, particularly in close relationships.

My ex had a social life that would exhaust any normal person: out almost every night at some social function, club, meeting, party, or beer event, and getting drunk 2-4 times per week. Beer and socializing was his life – beer was his “hobby”. Outside his job, by the time we split, his life was entirely devoted to socializing and drinking – keeping up his narcissistic supply.  Drink and Drugs are to an addict as NS is to a narcissist.  It was VERY important to him to keep his “charming, accepting, good-guy” image up with all his acquaintances – the Dr. Jekyll outer shell that he projected in public. He spent all his free time on it, with exception of the first few months we dated when he and I spent a lot of time together (the “hoovering” or “romance” stage).  I told him near the end that I was concerned about his drinking. He of course blew that concern off with “Well, it’s a hobby.  It’s the first time in my life I’ve had a hobby. I’m enjoying myself” (Getting drunk 2-5 times per week is a hobby?)

Regarding deceit, my ex was a person who commonly withheld information (unless it could be used to manipulate me, ‘bait’ me, insult me, or make me feel insecure), lied “by omission”, was manipulative with information and facts, set up false premises, manipulated situations and people (especially me), and did a lot of “crazymaking” (saying one thing, doing something else, giving mixed messages about situations, people, himself, me, or the entire relationship – all depending on what – or WHO – he wanted at any given moment).  He was emotionally unreliable and unstable in that manner. This is another common tactic of abusers. They like to keep their targets/victims off-balance in this fashion.

As for CONTROL – his constant humiliation, manipulation, derision, contempt, and criticism were mechanisms he used to control me. And they never stopped. I can’t remember how many times I sweated bullets over just posting a message or writing an email, driving, doing laundry, making a comment in public or private, or any number of mundane things. I tried ANYTHING to avoid his criticism. And It NEVER worked. “Walking on eggshells” is how it’s commonly described.

Ironically, whenever I confronted him with his abusive, crazymaking behavior – he accused ME of trying to make HIM “walk on eggshells” all the time – while I was the one actually DOING it because of his abuse. This was more blame and projection (not to mention hypocrisy).

I will continue with another entry from this book soon. Suffice to say I’m learning a lot about what I had been dealing with in that relationship and learning what to avoid in the future. I hope my entries from this book along with my own anecdotal “diary” entries will help anyone else out there dealing with this in any of their own relationships.

Until next time…