“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better. But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” -Elphaba, WICKED.
CW: Narcissistic behavior and abuse
One of the worst feelings is realizing someone you love is engaging in narcissistic behavior. It’s an inverse fairy tale of sorts--you’ve been thinking you’re in the hands of the noble and charming. But the mask slips off and you realize you were with a demon the whole time. Actors attract them like moths to a flame, which is why I feel a professio-personal responsibility to validate any action toward their removal from your life. Excising these suppurating wounds is tough business, but so is entertainment, and if they’re allowed to stay near you they will rob you via that sensitivity and openness that makes you so well equipped for the work we do.
“I’m having a hard time believing you deserve any of this” said my best friend of ten years. The world shifted sideways as it tends to when your cognition rewrites itself in seconds, as mine did with him in that moment. I recognized it because the year had been filled with so many shifts like that. My sister died on the first day of 2018. When I came back from the weekend off I took for her birthday three months later, I looked at all the assignments under my name on the whiteboard at my shitty nonprofit job, quit, and started acting full time again. Before my notice was even complete, I was being invited to audition and meeting wild success. In stark contrast, for years, I’d been financially and emotionally supporting him while he wrote a novel--after which he continued to rely on me even though he initially promised when it was written, things would change--and failed repeatedly to get representation or sell the book. “I’m trying not to be jealous” he insisted.
Like dead bodies poorly weighted in shallow water, incidents before this one floated to the top of my mind. “I’ll always hate you for making me late to Thanksgiving the last time I saw my grandfather” he told me as if talking about the weather. Yet, in the weeks leading up to his grandfather's death, he didn’t make a single attempt to visit or call his grandfather. Not even the night before the surgery that killed him, which had been scheduled for some time. “I don’t have time to fix her mental health problems like I do for everyone else” he commented when I asked him to reach out to our mutual best friend’s sister about the anxiety she was experiencing. “I want you to not exist” he’d told my partner when we asked him how we could help him feel better. In the following weeks, everything shifted into place and I finally saw that this was not my best friend. This was a white, cis, straight-passing man comfortable with constantly voicing hatred of femininity, who was 100% fine with living off of his black, queer, female, best friend. This was a man who couldn’t hold himself accountable for dealing with his grief. This was a man who when asked to confront his mental health issues, insisted that he knew everything a medical professional would say to him, so refused to get help. This was definitely a narcissist.
So I gathered my powers and blasted him out of my life.
If you’re dealing with a narcissist right now, go grab your Florida water and salt, bb. Here are some stress tested principles for you to lay in a circle and banish that from your life too.
“The Blood the Covenant is Stronger than the Water of the Womb”
Yes, that is the full quote and we’re lucky someone said it because it’s true. The promises we make to one another--which includes how we act--are much stronger than the ties we have by blood and bone. My father engages in that behavior and years before this friendsplosion happened, I’d identified it and cut ties. Many people have tried to convince me that because he’s my father, the abusive behavior that’s part of the suite of “I’m a narcissist” dead giveaways had to be excused. All those people started out brutal failures before opening their mouths, because excuses for abusive behavior don’t exist.
Excuses. For. Abusive. Behavior. Don’t. Exist.
Friend, foe, or family titles are just titles unless you live the behavior they encapsulate. As actors, we see this all the time when people refer themselves as executive producers, but never actually show up on set. When they do, they often tax resources--the first one is usually safety--rather than bring any, and then they go out and claim the credit for the work. Other than their ability to convince people who haven’t heard of them yet of an inflated value they don’t have, there’s no discernible talent. As someone whose job is to create intimacy at a moment’s notice, you wouldn’t want them in your socials, let alone work space. Now, replace producer with father and replace set with your life and you’ll begin understand how ridiculous it is to continue to abide someone far closer to you than an EP acting like this. Separating from my father hurt considerably more than avoiding that type in the industry obviously, but the need for removal was greater because he had a hand in my existence. What is a producer who only takes? What is a person who claims the title but neither invokes nor embodies the spirit of fatherhood? Nothing.
Behavior Makes the Narcissist
Actors know better than anyone that behavior is a core part of what makes a character, though it’s easy to forget when we’re off stage. And while some of us would like to think we create these behaviors, they don’t arrive from nowhere. It’s why everyone who’s played the Joker in any Batman film has played it differently, with different costumes, and different contexts, but the core of what makes that character hits you the same every time you see it. The Joker behaves a certain way. So does the narcissist have a specific set of behaviors.
I’ve also picked up two very effective anecdotal tells based in the idea that even when people are hiding, they will tell you who they are. Avoid anyone who identifies in earnest with Xander from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer or with Rick from Rick and Morty. Right toward the end, my former friend told me he was “of equal intelligence as Rick without all the science (so not at all)...held back by dozens of Morty’s” in his head and I literally laughed in his face. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this because even the creators of that show openly deride fans who identify with Rick. But he was serious. The major takeaway is that you need to let people tell you who they are. You know what they say--If it behaves like a duck who is constantly endangering their family for the sake of intellectual masturbation and the duck says to you “I am Rick”, roast it in Szechuan sauce and call it day.
Treat Non Believers The Same
This was the most difficult part for me, but after the recent news cycle I’ve never been more convinced. If you are trying to get a narcissist out of your life and BRAVELY identifying yourself to people as the target of abuse, and they don’t believe you, disappear them. They are as bad and at times worse than the perpetrators because they perpetuate the problem. I’ve really stretched myself to the limit trying to prove this principle wrong over the last few months. There were mutual friends involved and the reactions ranged from outright refusal to believe me, to chastising me for the way I brought it up, to minimizing this into some kind of latent high school friend fight. One person had the audacity to tell me that she had to be convinced by her best friend that I even needed support. She then made a lukewarm offer to connect and never called me again, but proceeded to watch all my videos on instagram. It was crushing, illuminating, and infuriating.
For weeks in my head, I stressed over ways I could convince them or make them see that they were doing this. I also waited for them to realize that their behavior was completely the opposite of what you should do for someone who’s trying to get out of an abusive relationship. “Do you hate him?” one of them asked, trapping me in a dehumanizing hell where I was not allowed to feel that very basic emotion. Hate, like anything else we feel, is a single emotion of a spectrum which is a proportionate and justified response to maltreatment. Experiencing persistent hatred is an issue, but just feeling the emotion is being human. I thought I would never ask someone who I knew had been abused that question. Especially a black woman because we’re constantly dehumanized. All of them were white and whenever I brought up the racist aspects of this whole situation, they either shut down or cried. With that came the realization that I had already been the back upon which these people sat heavy and learned about race. I didn’t want to be the classroom for abuse too. They were dismissed.
Getting rid of even passive non-believers is crucial to banishing a narcissist. For every indication that they don’t believe you, you have to believe harder in yourself, which means you can never let it go. The events of the relationship stay alive in your head as something you must carry to defend yourself against their erasure. But the longer they stay in your head and are openly questioned as reality, the less energy you have to heal because you’re trying to convince. And your body and brain require a tremendous amount of energy to heal from trauma. After they were blocked, I slept for about half a day, and for the first time since I cast him out of my life, I cried about it. I had been nervous that I wasn’t grieving the loss of my friend for a while, wondering why I hadn’t cried yet, and there was my answer. As long as they were telling me it wasn’t real, how could I grieve the loss? How can you?
Throughout my life, I’ve faced a tremendous amount of loss and trauma from which I’ve gathered myself and recovered. The vehicle by which I drove myself forward through the pain of facing all the damage was that on the other side of it was the ability to create a life worth living. I promise you on my professional reputation that getting a narcissist out of your life, along with all the idiots willing to enable them, will only serve to help you do that. Maybe you’re at the point where you don’t even believe you can feel happiness again, I certainly didn’t think I could not so long ago. But if there was a possible way for you to have a life worth living, would you continue to live and try it? Give banishing your resident narcissist a try. You have nothing left to lose anyway and all the power to gain.