“Are you sitting down?”
“Yes,” I said. “What’s up?”
“I logged into Pete’s Ipad and I found all these email addresses that I didn’t know he had.”
“Ohhhhh. I don’t like where this is going.” I replied.
“The emails are linked to all these dating websites. He was not only talking to other women online, but he was meeting up with them. There are emails making plans to hook up and then emails afterwards, saying how hot it was. And they go back to before we got married. He’s been cheating the whole time.”
This was the phone call I got this week from a dear friend of mine, pretty much verbatim. I felt sick after I hung up. Sick at the feelings that I knew my friend was going through and sick at the fact that her partner Pete, had fooled us all.
I liked Pete. He was exceptionally charming, handsome and cultured. They seemed so happy and everyone used to tease them about being the perfect couple. They threw elaborate dinner parties and Pete was a consummate chief and the perfect host.
When I look at their relationship backwards I can see the signs, but none of us recognized them at the time. When something isn’t even on your radar – you don’t see it – you can’t see it, because the possibility of it doesn’t even exist in your mind.
Our first instinct as human beings is to trust. It’s an innate part of our nature. We believe someone, usually until they give us a reason not to and sometimes, even beyond that. If we see the world as good and we believe that people are generally kind and honest, then that is how the world appears to us.
“How will I ever trust anyone ever again?” My friend asked. And this is the question most of us ask ourselves after we’ve experienced a betrayal and our faith is shattered.
But trust is an essential part of all deeply intimate relationships. If one enters into all new relationships believing that they will be lied to, cheated on and betrayed, then they will create the circumstances that make that a self-fulfilling prophesy. If we are mistrustful, we will look for deception around every corner and it will change who we are, and how we behave. Without trust we are suspicious, guarded and we don’t let anyone close to us. Mistrust allows us to build walls to protect ourselves from ever feeling vulnerable, so that we never have to experience hurt again.
But hiding behind walls is a coping mechanism and while it does serve a purpose, it also keeps us from true intimacy and living rich, fulfilled lives. When we’ve been betrayed in the past, it’s not someone else that we need to learn to trust – it’s ourselves.
There are people in everyone’s life that we trust without fail, it could be your mom, dad, son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, boss….. and why do you trust them? Because you have, on a consistent basis, witnessed them – be true to their word, they have a moral compass, because we haven’t been let down or disappointed by them ,without good reason, because they’ve proved to us, by their actions, that they care about us, because they do what they say they are going to do, because they don’t hurt us….
But people can change and people can fool us. Just look at all those neighbors of serial killers that look shocked when they tell the media that they can’t believe it was that nice boy down the hall. Some people get really good at fooling others. When people are bent on conning others, for their own personal gain, they become really good actors. Like in the case of my friend, how her husband could finish work, go sleep with another woman and then come home, cook dinner and snuggle up on the sofa with his wife all night like nothing happened, is utterly baffling. Most people would be crushed underneath the enormous weight of the guilt, but he wasn’t feeling guilt. He played the part of the faithful, loving husband for five years and fooled us all in the process.
Learning to Trust
When we’ve been through a traumatic relationship and our ability to trust has been shattered, the only way to heal ourselves and break down those walls is to learn how to trust ourselves. Because it all starts and ends with us. People are going to do, whatever they are going to do, and there is nothing we can do about that, but we do have to learn to, as Iyanla Vanzant says, “call a thing a thing.” This means trust yourself enough to not only recognize when something is off, but to call it like it is. If someone lies to you constantly and you keep catching them in lies – let’s call that what it is – that person is not a truth teller – that person is a liar. When a person has an aversion to the truth and consistently behaves that way – it becomes habitual and part of their character. When we can recognize it and call it what it is, it forces us to be aware of it and it doesn’t allow us to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist.
The second way we learn to trust ourselves, is to stop minimalizing and rationalizing other people’s bad behavior. Over-givers always make molehills out of mountains, when they should be doing the opposite. I had a neighbor invite me out to dinner a few days ago, to talk about her relationship problems. She told me how her guy stood her up for Christmas and then New Years and then Valentine’s Day, to be with someone else. She continued with her story and when I finally got a chance to speak I said, “Angie the fact that he kept standing you up to be with someone else, should have been a bouncing neon red flag for you.” She said, “He didn’t stand me up.” I looked at her like she had three heads and said, “You just gave me three instances where you had plans and he didn’t show.” She thought about it for a second and then she proceeded to give me some really lame reasons why he stood her up.
You know those V8 commercials, where the person wishes they could have had more servings of vegetables in their meal, and then someone hits them in the middle of the forehead, thus cluing them in and they say, “I should’ve had a V8.” That’s kind of what I kept doing to this neighbor in my mind. After we talked about it some more, I told her she was being fed a plate of horse manure and told it was prime rib, she started to realize that she had gotten into the habit of making and accepting excuses, for all of his horrible behavior, because she didn’t want to face the truth.
There is a time and a place for compassion and understanding, but when someone always seems to be disappointing you and causing you pain, you have to recognize when you are being fed horse manure. Sure, we are all going to be let down and disappointed a few times in our lives, but if somebody keeps disappointing you – you have to learn how to call a thing a thing, you can’t keep brushing something off as insignificant and not speaking up about it, when it has caused you pain. When you do that you are telling yourself and everyone else, that your feelings are insignificant. You innately know when an issue is a mountain and when it’s a mole hill. The problem arises when you continue to ignore your gut instincts and the facts, that are right in front of you. When you doubt your own senses you are learning to not trust yourself.
How my neighbor was able to make being stood up at Christmas a mole hill, when it was Mount Everest, is a prime example of a person who has lost the ability to trust herself. If a partner, who is consistently with you, and committed to you 364 days out of the year, wants to go out of town to spend the holidays with his family, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, if its something you’re both ok with, but if you keep getting let down and if he’s made plans with you and then doesn’t make an effort to communicate with you at all over the holidays, that behavior right there says, “I’d rather be somewhere else, than with you. I made plans with you, just incase my other plans fell through.” It’s too bad Hallmark doesn’t make a greeting card like that, because some people don’t trust themselves enough to see the truth, until it’s spelled out for them, by someone else.
When we build that protective cocoon around ourselves it does feel safe and comfortable, but it’s still a barrier, keeping us from experiencing a full life. When we learn how to trust ourselves and our own instincts, we will find that we no longer need that protection, because we know that we can protect ourselves. Trusting others all depends on whether or not, we trust ourselves and we do that by:
- Calling a thing a thing. If Bob smokes everyday he’s a smoker. If Bob tells lies everyday he’s a liar. If Bob cheats on his wife, he’s a cheater. Don’t be afraid to call it like you see it. When we miss this step we fool and lie to ourselves about what’s right in front of us. When we acknowledge it, we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.
- We stop minimalizing and rationalizing someone else’s bad behavior. We need to learn how to see something, as it truly is, not how we wish it would be. When we brush off something huge, we negate our own feelings to ourselves and to the person that has caused us harm.
- Stop accepting flimsy, lame-ass excuses for bad behavior. You have to look at a pathetic excuse and put it to the test. If it doesn’t seem right to you, ask for proof. If asking for proof sparks a fight, or a deflection back at you – you have your answer. If someone cares about you and they’re telling you the truth – they’ll give you proof.
- Trust your inner voice. That feeling in your gut always knows the truth. When we’ve been lying to ourselves for a long time, we learn to ignore it, but by constantly listening and asking it for confirmation, it will grow stronger.
So when you’re ready to date again, leave your walls and your barriers behind. If you can trust yourself, you have all of the protection you will ever need.
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I’m really finding these earlier posts so helpful as a ‘go to’ reference, particularly these ones around dating post Narc and leaning to trust agsin! I see it is myself I need to trust!!
I always thought I had good instincts but I totally ignored my gut early on , hence 9 years on I share a child with an unrelenting Narc!
Im naturally suspicious, heightened by years of having good reason to be….so being on an online dating website certainly has a high % of offenders, but I feel I can spot them more easily. I’m more than happy to take a very slow, wait and see approach and if need be, a quick get the hell out approach should I see red flags… But I’m not going to assume to find them…
after 2 years of on/off separation from a 7 year relationship with my ex Narc, who I met online, it is time to trust again! I won’t let one bad bad apple rob me of happiness in a future relationship.
Great article – I want to have the four reality checks at the end, tattooed on my forearm!
That happened to me. I thought this man had such integrity and character and i would have trusted him with my life. I discovered many websites and emails, etc. Just like your article. It was the most devastating thing that ever happened to me. I initially connected it to the loss of his job and decided to give him a second chance. Same thing all over again. He couldn’t give me a reason he did this over and over to “the great love of his life”. Promised he would not do it again. I just found he registered on 2 new websites. I am done with policing this relationship. You have helped me more than you know. I am having a hard time understanding how i got here. Modt people would say i am strong. i try to be kind. He is almost pathological. He looks me in the eye and tells me something so outlandish and i want to believe him. I know that i am stronger and better than this. The Dr.Phil quote was very powerful. Thank you again to you and all your brave posters.
I just have to say that finding this blog has really helped me – I am a long way from my narc relationship time wise (4 years apart)and it is over for me. I would never return to it (not that it is on offer) – however every so often I have unhelpful thoughts (we share children which makes distance hard at times) – this blog always sets me straight – despite anything positive between us nowadays that may make me think twice, bottom line my ex is a liar and a cheater. That is my experience of him and who cares what he does with anyone else? I cannot thank you enough for this blog. Outlining the draw in – distance – discard pattern was so helpful to me. I am so grateful that I can carry this information forward and use it in potential future relationships. Thank you so much Savannah!
I keep reading your blogs which help me understand the kind of liar I was with but even after 8 months free of my narc I am still hurting!!!! I feel I trust myself but still attract liars who turn out to be married how can men do this is beyond me I just want to hide away but really don’t like being on my own I used to have so much confidence and really struggle to understand how someone who had wanted to be with me for over seven years slowly over 5 years destroyed every thing I use to be I can not stop thinking about my ex and if anyone can give me any idea on how to free myself from this misery please do.
Nutter (and everyone struggling)–I understand your agony. I am 3+ yrs out of my Narc relationship and at 57 yrs old, he is one for the record books. He actually left me in the middle of a New Year’s Eve party; left just before I served Christmas dinner and there were many many more deceitful and horribly painful transgretions—all with sudden outrageous lies to go be with ‘former girlfriend/supply #1 or with supply #2, or any other woman who would fall for his schtick.
I am hoping you are maintaining NO CONTACT—which is incredibly hard but must be done. One tactic I use to get past this pain is whenever a ‘sentimenal thought’ of the goood times, how sexy he was and how good he could make me feel, how we were perceived soulmates— I immediately stop myself and bring to mind one of his MANY HEINOUS, callous and disrespectful actions.
I still think of my Narc daily and I miss what I thought we had. We got along in everyway except for the womanizing and his excessive drinking (kind of major, huh? LOL) but it was just an illusion–all I was was a meal ticket, bed, car and as much as I hate to say it—enabeler. I warned him many times he was going to reap what he’s sown his entire life and he has in spades. Cast out of my 7 figure home into a homeless shelter. No one cares to help him, family, childre and his few former friends have washed their hands of him. Narcs get what they deserve in the end…the charm wears thin, they lose their looks and these days more and more women are aware of these manipulative wastes of DNA and won’t give them the time of day. That’s where he is now. He grows weaker as I grow stronger–and we ALL will if we make it happen.
So, just call to mind something crappy he did and you will be stronger each time you do. It’s not easy and doesn’t come quick. After 3+ years of him being out of my life I still can’t bring myself to date because no one looks like him, has his smile, charm, charisma, etc. Not to mention, I am terrified to trust any ,an now whether they be a potential date or contractor who will do work at my home. These Narcs can really wreck us if we let them–and that’s what they want so don’t let them win.
Wow, this came right when I really needed it. I got out of a relationship with a true narcissist a few months back and have been tentatively dipping my toes back in the dating pool via online dating. Have been chatting with this man for a few weeks, and my gut has been saying something is “off” on more than one occaision. He kept asking to meet me, but refused to call me. Then he said that he would call me….and didn’t…I am going to call a thing a thing on this dude….he’s a liar…hes OK with lying! I have been down that path before with the last one…blocked him on the dating site. Yup, he can keep on lying to women…but, it won’t be to me!
Great post….as always:-)
It’s so important to stand your ground call a thing a thing even when nobody else sees it (yet!) Because getting u to doubt your perceptions is the best way they grab control. I love the idea of telling my journal the truth as I SEE IT. Right now im down on myself for being so weak & stupid again and again.being.a fool while everyone watched n mocked me. And truthfully I was that desperate not to lose him. I’ve been NC 16 mos. But his life was great while mine went down n I still don’t know how to fix it.
why would you even want to ever trust anyone again? You can’t un-ring the bell. Once a trusted person has betrayed you, why would you ever put yourself into that kind of a position again?
Stepfordlegs – We aren’t talking about learning to trust someone that has betrayed you in the past. I’m a firm believer in, as Dr Phil says, that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior – so if someone betrays your trust once – then you know all you need to know about that person to make a sound judgement on theircharacter. What we are talking about in this blog is not carrying around those feelings of fear, or putting up walls to protect you when you begin your next relationship with someone new.
Incredibly helpful. You are gifted at breaking down everyday concepts that most of us take for granted. But this was a crucial piece that was skimmed over.and because i never really thought it through it eventually caused the erosion of my self identity when I came up against the strong will sociopath. While I think I did these things….I didn’t understand the absolute importance. It seemed futile I didn’t get respect or consideration. I kept trying harder n obviously lost more ground. Now I feel shame, humiliated that he didn’t love me but I could NOT except it or move on. I knew the pain n loneliness I was in for.
Great information, Savannah. I reckon that trusting ourselves is the most important thing we can do, and so well worth working on.
It took me a very long time to start seeing things as they really are, but something that really helped me was to start being absolutely truthful when I wrote in my diary. I realised that I sometimes wasn’t because I didn’t want to look bad in my own eyes, but the really interesting thing is that although I admitted things I didn’t want to it had the effect of trusting myself more and more…because I was telling myself the honest truth. From then on I could no longer ignore red flags and it was much easier to ‘call a thing a thing’.
Just wondering – you say it was obvious in hindsight that your friend’s husband had been untrustworthy. How was it obvious? I like to be able to look out for these things. It sounds like she, and you, were unable to see signs at the time…
And the biggest thing is to call him what he is and to remember that a 25 year pattern doesn’t change in a year. He has not reformed,he’s just desperate to get his supply back–until he does and than he will gradually revert right back to being an abuser.
I was pondering last evening again “The Great Gatsby”. And how many people have been fooled by his “undying love” for her. Yet, the whole entire movie was in search of his Narcissistic Supply–and the purity, or whatever the narrator called it at the end–was only the pure obsession with his one source of Narcissistic Supply. There is something perhaps worse than being one of the harem.
This is one thing about narcissists that make my skin crawl: When they are confronted about a lie they told — even when there is hard, TANGIBLE evidence proving that they lied, they will still continue and stick to the lie, and then start to deflect, try to make the situation somehow your fault, and try to make you feel crazy, whereas most people would crack or fess up at this point.
The advice in this column about trusting this gut is so important. That is one thing a N or a manipulate person will do — they will lie so much that you will start to doubt yourself, wonder if you are overreacting. Pretty soon you won’t know up from down.
Question: Is this guy Pete a narcissist? Or just a run of the mill cheater?
NR and Mediummac the signs I was referring to were not about cheating, because he hid that perfectly. I’m referring to the fact that something was way off about him and there were things like, odd comments he would make – my friend works in TV and makes a lot of money and he would say things like, “I’m not stupid you know.” Meaning he knew the right horse to attach his wagon to. They lived in a well-to-do neighborhood and he would say, “I like rich people.” They got their house only because of my friends income and when they first moved in together in my friends home he insisted on getting his name on the title of the house. He was always very jealous -projecting. My friend plays tennis in a few leagues and even travels abroad to do it and he was so against it and always tried to keep her from playing and keep her from her friends. Pete has no friends – not one – he doesn’t even speak to any member of his family – not even his identical twin. This shows us that he doesn’t form attachment bonds to anyone. He hasn’t filed his taxes in 7 years and owes a huge amount of back taxes – he has a history of irresponsible behavior. But probably the thing that stands out to me the most is – I consider myself to be a highly sensitive person (HSP) and as such I believe I pick up on a lot of non-verbal cues from people and I notice with all of the Narcissists I encounter they all give off a vibe of needing attention and needing to be complimented and I would find myself complimenting them. Pete was someone who gave off that vibe and I always felt compelled to oblige. When you look at each one by themselves, it’s easy to brush them off, but when you add them up it gives you a clearer picture.