This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’
‘What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. ‘Explain yourself!’
‘I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.’
Advice from a Caterpillar | Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Living with a Narcissist is chaotic.
The reason it seems hard to focus is because, in response to continuous abuse from the Narcissist, you turned inward. You shut off your emotions to numb the pain. You might have even self-medicated or prescription medicated. You willed yourself to stop focusing on the pain but that also means that you stopped focusing on other things, too (like happiness, for instance). This is the Fawn Response in the Fight/Flight/Freeze/Fawn Trauma Response Spectrum.
While you shut off your emotions, you couldn’t afford to not stay focused on what the Narcissist is doing, because you never know when or what is going to trip the Narcissist’s fuse. You must always be on high alert. Thus, the “chaos”. When you live with a Narcissist there is never any energy that can be focused on yourself because the Narcissist consumes it all.
If this scenario “feels” familiar to you, it’s because, as a Codependent, you are re-living your childhood through your adult relationships. A child who was punished for disagreeing, “talking back” or defending themselves, learned that the Fight Response was ineffective. The Flight Response didn’t work either because being captured after running away resulted in more severe punishment, and as a toddler you had nowhere to run to and no way to support yourself. The Freeze Response might have worked in some occasions but more often it resulted in you becaming an immobile target. Most Codependents develop the Fawn Response, where they become servile and beneficial to the Narcissist in hopes that by having value to the Narcissist, the will be less cruel.
Of course the Narcissist is not less cruel. Fawning only serves to draw you to more Narcissists. The same chaos from your childhood persists. And it is this chaos that keeps you feeling crazy and unable to focus. Long periods of chaos result in PTSD.
And as it is the same with any form or cause of PTSD, the disorder doesn’t come to an end just because the traumatic event ended. Often, the Codependent, despite being discarded by or escaping from the Narcissist, feels exactly the same sense of chaos when they are alone as they did while actively walking on eggshells. The Codependent has such messed up wiring that they are unable to turn their emotions back on, or to focus on themselves long enough to recover. So the Codependent returns to the Narcissist because living in fear felt better than living in an emotional void.
Even the Codependent who manages to end a relationship with a Narcissist, is not out of the clear unless s/he commits to healing and emotional growth. Unless the Codependent learns to value themselves, practice self care, and to FEEL their own emotions without fear, the Codependent will be drawn to the chaotic buzz that the Narcissist provides.
Pam McCoy is a writer, author and co-host of Crazybusters.