Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said, “Everyone has their own Auschwitz.” Those of us in a relationship with a narcissist certainly understand Auschwitz. I’ve been married to a narcissistic woman for over 23 years. I mean no disrespect to survivors of genocide, but Frankl’s words ring very true in my heart, mind and spirit.
For those who are dealing with a narcissist in any way, I highly recommend reading MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING.
Note the title of the book. It deals with one’s SEARCH for meaning. Just as it wasn’t Frankl’s fault that he was a Jew living in Austria during World War II, it is not my fault that I got involved with a narcissist. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Looking back, I can see that I was too trusting. I was one of those people who said, “She didn’t mean what she said.” And, “Everyone is good deep down. You just have to find it.” I have since learned that some people really are not nice. We need to always be mindful of this. Knowing that I must teach this is one thing that brings meaning to my life.
Another thing that brought meaning to my suffering was my children. I made a conscious choice to endure living with a narcissist rather than try to convince the courts that I was dealing with an abusive gas lighter. Divorcing a narcissist is very messy, and it can be especially painful for children. Now that they are grown, that meaning is gone. To suffer without meaning, Frankl points out, is mere masochism. It’s time to move on.
So, how did I endure? I’m a teacher, so MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING is part of my curriculum. It is amazing how much more meaningful it becomes for me each time I read it.
Recently, I reflected on a speech Frankl gave to his friends in the concentration camp after a particularly difficult day. Hopefully other survivors of narcissistic relationships can relate.
First, Frankl drew from the philosopher Nietzsche, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” The truth is, I really like the person I have become on my journey with a narcissist. I am wiser, kinder, more patient and more insightful. She has not killed me, and I am a better, stronger person.
Secondly, no one knows what the future will bring. Great chances can open up quite suddenly. For example, for years I saw no way to leave and go out on my own due to our difficult financial situation and my wife’s insistence on controlling our bank accounts. Then, a new job fell into my lap. Now I had more money going into my own bank account, less financial stress, and could see a door opening to freedom.
Next, Frankl reminded his listeners not to forget the joys of the past. “What you experienced, no power on earth can take away from you.” A narcissist likes to control our thoughts. However, they cannot take away our happy memories, who we are, or what we have accomplished.
Finally, going back to the title of the book, Frankl pointed out that human life never ceases to have meaning, and this infinite meaning includes suffering, privation and even death. He says to suffer proudly, knowing that others see who we are, as well as our courage and our example. Our sacrifice thus has meaning.
Quite honestly, simply being able to share my thoughts with others gives meaning to what I have gone through. I can’t share my real name, but I can share my real story.
The world is changing because we are becoming more aware of narcissism. The more we share our stories, the less likely we are to elect narcissistic government officials, the less likely we are to hire narcissistic employees, and the less likely we will be to get into relationships with narcissists. The fewer of us who get into sexual relationships with narcissists, the fewer children will be born to a narcissistic parent. We are making a difference, and that is meaningful.
Our society abhors suffering. It’s important for us to understand that we did nothing wrong to get into a narcissistic relationship. This is where we are, and the goal is to bear the suffering in a meaningful way, knowing that it does not last forever.