FULL TRANSCRIPT – PERSONAL STORY OF DIVORCING A NARCISSIST
WITH ALYSSA DINEEN, SEASON 3, EPISODE 26
Jessica: Are you struggling with a narcissist in your life, either divorcing one or did divorce one, and having trouble moving on because they’re still burdening you in multiple ways? Are you wondering if your ex is a narcissist and how to handle things? That’s exactly what we’re talking about in today’s episode of the Divorce etc… podcast. We’re the exEXPERTS, Jessica and T.H. We focus on helping you navigate your divorce and successfully move on with your life. Please follow us on all social media at exEXPERTS, and check out www.exexperts.com for tons of free divorce related resources. Let’s bring in today’s guest.
T.H.: Hey everybody, it’s T.H. here with Jessica, and our guest Alyssa Dineen is the founder of Style My Profile. But she is not here today to talk about styling your profile on your dating apps and how to dress for the season and how to get your style and your swagger back. We are actually going to talk about hard relationships. I was married to a narcissistic sociopath. I don’t throw either those words around frivolously. I really understand what they mean. It’s really important that you do, because this person is going to be in your life, especially if you have kids, and you have to learn how to respond, and how to protect yourself and still be able to grow. So Alyssa was on a similar journey, and is still after being divorced, in a post judgment situation now, and it’s hard. We’re going to talk to Alyssa about her journey, what’s worked for her, what’s not worked for her, so we can share our stories with you guys. You are not alone in dealing with a difficult person. And so hopefully, our stories and our advice can help you a little bit better. Welcome to the show.
Alyssa: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Jessica: Thanks for coming back, Alyssa, and for being able to open yourself up and share all of this, what you wish you knew. I mean, we love, as T.H. has said, opening up and bringing people other people’s stories, because it’s so relatable. So many people are dealing with things that are so similar to what both of you guys went through. We really appreciate that.
Alyssa: Yeah, thank you. And you’re welcome. I’m happy to do it. Because as T.H. and I have talked about, I wish that I knew so much more when I was going through this myself. I learned so much as I was going through it, but really, so much more kind of after the fact. I really wish they had more education around it, honestly.
T.H.: So what made you want to speak out now? Because you and I’ve been speaking for a while, and then you came to me and you said, “All right, let’s do this. I want to put my message out there.”
Alyssa: Well, I mean, several things. One is that everything really is finalized, finalized. We just had another custody situation come up last year, and that’s finalized now too. I think I was just finally ready and really feeling again, I want to help other people cope with the situation. I mean so much of it I really learned on the fly and just started doing my own research. Now, it’s so much more available. I don’t know if you follow a lot of the Instagram accounts that are centered around co-parenting with a narcissist—
Jessica: We do.
Alyssa: —leaving a narcissist, yeah, all those. I think because of those, it’s so helpful for women who are going through this. But I think I finally just felt like I really wanted to share my story and be able to help other people.
Jessica: I just want to pause on that itself for a moment. Because for everybody listening who feels for whatever reason, either people are pressuring you to give them details about what happened in your situation, or you feel your particular path, maybe you’re not where you think you should be, or you feel like you’re having setbacks and you’re struggling with all of that, everyone’s path takes place on their own timeline. So always be okay, to the best of your ability, with where you are and what you’re willing to share at any given point. Because just because you’re in one place today, doesn’t mean that’s where you’re going to be next week. I feel like Alyssa is the perfect example of that. So give yourself a little grace, and thank you for admitting that Alyssa, that like now’s the time. Maybe you weren’t ready to share back then, and now you are.
Alyssa: Yeah. Yeah, and it’s been eight years since I left my marriage. Actually, maybe more like eight and a half, which sounds crazy to me. But yeah, it took me a while to be able to talk about it with just other than my close friends and my therapist. But yeah, I mean, it was just a very confusing time. I thought I was going crazy. I really did. If you’ve been with a narcissist, you know that they can really make you question everything and question your own judgment and question like, did I do that? Did I say that? Am I the bad one? Am I? I mean there are just so many things going through your mind. I think that going through that and getting through that is one of my biggest achievements at this point, honestly. It really is, like getting through all of that. I remember having friends around me who no one had ever experienced anything like this. I think I got so many questions like, was he always like this? Was he like this the whole time you’re married? Did you know this when you married him? And you know, honestly, I think there are so many layers to it. I think there are so many things you gather throughout the years. Of course, looking back now, there are so many things that seemed glaringly obvious. But at the time, I really just was like, “Oh, you know, he loves me. He says he loves me. This is just our dynamic. This is just how we are.” I was very insecure, and he really took advantage of that, unfortunately. If anyone here who’s listening is in a relationship with a narcissist, you know that can really be insidious and eat away at you over the years. That’s exactly what happened.
T.H.: I mean I totally know how you feel. I was a shell of a woman for the last four years of my official marriage, I’m sure it was. It was a slow burn. But you know what, first of all, you have a therapist and you have friends. Those are the first two most important things, a really, really excellent therapist, by the way, who knows how to help you not hear the noise, not take it all in, not take it personally, not think you need to be fixed, to just kind of change the way the words sound when they come at you. I used to just literally shut down and I didn’t hear anything: good, bad, or ugly, because then I couldn’t get hurt. That was just how I functioned through the day, but that’s not living. That is barely existing in a healthy way. Because then that can make you sick. So for anybody out there who thinks they’re going through this, you’re not crazy. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re going to be okay. You are so not alone. Don’t be hard on yourself about: you know people ask me all the time, how did you marry him? How did you not see this? How did you not know? He was always disrespectful to you like. That doesn’t help me. It makes me feel even worse. I guess, yes. But now, so therapy is honestly what helped me see things now and hear things that I refused to see and hear before. What kind of things did your therapist help you with that gives you clarity now? Because when you’re in it, you’re drowning and you’re paralyzed by it. So how could you possibly see? You can’t.
Alyssa: Yeah. No, I know, it was really was so painful and so hard. She was really good about recognizing a lot of the signs and the behaviors. Again, I’d never really heard—I mean, sure, we’ve all heard of narcissism, but you think of somebody who’s really obsessed with how they look.
Jessica: Right, someone who’s stuck up and just brags about themselves, which is a whole different definition.
Alyssa: Which is really just a conceited person and has nothing to do with actual narcissism. So I was completely in the dark. Actually, it was between my therapist and then a really good friend of mine, who doesn’t live in New York, she lives in Portland. She had a close friend going through something similar, just basically six months ahead of me. This friend of hers found this information on narcissistic personality disorder and she said, “I want to ask my friend to send me what she found and send it to you, just to see if this like clicks with you at all.” Because she said, “Your situation sounds so similar. It’s really weird.” She sent it to me, and it was just like a PDF. It was before anyone was even really writing about this, you know what I mean? It was a PDF written document that was 15 pages long, that this woman had written on leaving a narcissist, and how that was challenging for her, and co parenting, or trying to co-parent with a narcissist. She sent it to me and it was literally checking off every single box. I was like, “Oh my God,” and then I started talking about it more with my therapist. She was really good about just making me feel I wasn’t going crazy and just really keeping me centered and knowing what I knew what to be right and how to parent the best I could personally with my kids, when dealing with him. He was constantly telling my kids inappropriate things, and sharing very weird things with them, and just all this strange behavior. My kids were so confused, and I just really had to keep myself the safe, sane parent. I really had to keep myself on track, because I couldn’t fall apart. I just couldn’t. And so I think she was really good in keeping me facing forward, moving forward, just knowing what was right and what was wrong with my own parenting and my own life with my kids and really trying to—now I think they call it parallel parenting, which at the time, I hadn’t even heard of that phrase before. But that’s basically what I was doing and was starting to do.
Jessica: Can you tell a little bit for people who are listening and having suspicions that maybe that’s the type of situation that they’re dealing with, can you give some, I don’t want to say concrete examples, but more details of the types of things, that now you wish you had known, that would be indicators?
Alyssa: Well, it’s a lot of baiting, because narcissists feed on your emotional states. Whether that’s anger or sadness, or lashing out, or whatever it is, they feed on that. And so in the beginning, I was constantly writing him back texts and emails like, “No, that’s a lie. That’s not true. You know that’s not true” and constantly fighting back. That does actually nothing.
Jessica: So having to defend yourself.
Alyssa: Yes, trying to defend myself, which now in hindsight, I know it doesn’t matter. There’s no point in defending yourself. There’s no end goal in that way. You just have to know what is right in your own heart and your own mind and just keep moving forward because they’re always going to throw you under the bus. They’re always going to make you look like the bad one. You just have to really, as much as you can, I know this sounds probably to someone who’s going through it is like, “FU,” because that’s not so easy, but really, having an armor around you and just knowing what you know is right, and what you know you did and didn’t do, and what you said and didn’t say, and not reacting to them, because that’s really what they want from you. They want a reaction. They want to feed off of your emotions. It’s really hard to do, but now they call it “gray rocking”, I’m sure you guys have heard of that term—
Jessica: I haven’t heard of gray rocking. What is that?
Alyssa: Yeah, where you’re just basically like a gray rock.
T.H.: Shut down.
Alyssa: There’s no emotion. You reply to their emails in the most, basically, in a business like way, where you’re addressing the situation, not getting emotional, and just moving on as fast as you can, just putting things to bed as quickly as you can. I know, again, that sounds easier said than done. And with kids, it’s harder to gray rock than not because your kids’ emotional states are at stake. And so that’s really hard. I just always have to check in with myself and just know am I doing what’s right, what’s best for my kids? I know that that’s my guiding light is I always know that whatever decision, and it may be a decision that makes it harder for me and easier for him, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. It’s whatever is best for them. That’s hard too because when you get emotional and when you get angry at your ex for being the way they are, it is hard to give them anything. You don’t want to feel like you’re being run over and taken advantage of. I think that’s a lot of what I struggle with too, is just trying to just again, stay true to who I am and not let that—I really just need to make sure I’m making the best decision for my kids.
T.H.: Yeah, 100%. Let’s keep going, but we’re going to take a quick pause here. Because we know it’s hard to get honest and reliable information about your divorce, so we’ve done the work for you. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and get exEXPERTS in your inbox, and join our events where you can ask us questions live and our exEXPERTS, where you can sign up for a private session with either one of us to work with us so we can help you move forward and thrive. You can get all this information at www.exexperts.com. Back to the show. We’re human. I mean, everybody can lay out how to, but you’re human, and you’re going to feel things, and you’re going to be upset. I think one of the top things that I wish I knew was that my gut was really honest and that I was going to be okay. The fear, I mean, it’s so weird, because I’m such a strong person, that I was so afraid to get out. I had met with lawyers. I even went to a psychiatrist, who basically told me, “You can stay and eat shit, or you can leave.” And I stayed. I frickin stayed, and he told me that.
Jessica: But that’s partially, and Alyssa, I’m curious whether or not you had anything similar for you, T.H. and I have spoken a lot about that in and of itself, specifically about how—
Jessica: About staying—I was not married to a narcissist, but my husband did have an affair. That was wrapped up with T.H.’s husband and his affair. They were cheating together and covering for each other.
T.H.: Which is a whole other story.
Jessica: Well, no, but it’s related because I too had suspicions about what was going on with my husband. I consider myself a very strong person as well, and I didn’t leave. I didn’t leave until it was so in my face that I was like, “I am fucking out of here. There’s no turning back now.” We’ve talked about how, but why? You know why? Because I wasn’t ready before, because my daughter was literally two months old and I just was clearly not in the right headspace. Two years later, when she was two and my son was four, I had the inner strength to say, “I’m out of here.”
T.H.: Because it sits with you for a while though. It wasn’t like the first time you heard it. It was sitting with you and—
Jessica: And you need to process it. But all I’m saying is like, the guy who told you “You can stay or go,” and you stayed. You did. You stayed until you, inside, were ready to take the steps and have the inner strength to move on.
T.H.: You did more than me. I got a phone call that set me free. You did it based on—I’m just saying, you’re giving me credit, but I needed someone to like, hit me in the face with a truck.
Jessica: We all get to a point though. My point is we all have whatever our breaking point is. And so Alyssa, I’m curious, when you look back now, are you like, “I don’t know why I didn’t leave then?” Or is the answer because you didn’t know until you knew?
Alyssa: No, no, I definitely thought about leaving for years and years and years. Yeah, and I was too scared to do it and didn’t think I could, and yeah, I didn’t know how that would even work. I was only working part time. I think everybody does this where you think there’s no way I’ll be able to survive on my own financially. Everybody goes to that dark place. I hear that it doesn’t matter how much money you make. I hear that from people that are in millionaire marriages. It doesn’t matter how much money you actually have, everyone thinks that they’re going to not be able to survive on their own. Which I can totally vouch for, you can.
T.H.: 100%. You’ll figure it out, whatever you want.
Alyssa: Yeah, you really do figure. I look back and I’m like, “How did I do that?” But yeah, you do it. I think it got to the point where I was scared to be home. I didn’t want to go home. I was scared to be there. I was in my room most of the time when I was home, just completely avoiding the situation, basically. That was going on for a long time. And I remember I turned 40 and I threw myself a 40th birthday party, which was very unlike me actually because I am not a birthday person, nor am I the person that would plan a big party at our home. That was my ex husband. That was his role. But I decided to throw myself my own party. I remember the night of my party, all that kept going through my head was my ex wanted nothing to do with it. He barely helped me with anything. It was all a big chore for him that we were doing this at all. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I’m fucking 40, and basically, I feel like I live with a tyrant.” I felt like I lived with my father, who was actually not a good person and was very domineering and aggressive. I was like, “I feel like I’m 40 years old, living with my father, who tells me what to do and what not to do.” It really shook me. For some reason, turning 40 was a big thing for me. I was like, “This is ridiculous. I’m living my life as if I’m a child.” It was really eye opening. After that was when I started really deciding how I was going to do it and when I was going to do it. I just took baby steps. It still took a little while, but I finally did it.
T.H.: Well, it takes a lot of courage. The other common thing that you and I have here is that it was my mother. I married my mother, except my mother loves me. But the messaging is negative. I mean, I tell Jessica stuff. I’m like, “You’re not going to believe what she said this time.” I don’t even know where she comes up with it. But it was the same thing all the time. That’s basically what I did. That’s why also the therapist is really important to help you in co-parenting with your ex and divorcing your ex, but also figuring out your own shit so you don’t let somebody treat you like that again. I mean, I did date someone after who was like a shiny, happy guy. Except it was the same thing. It just looked and sounded a little different. And I didn’t recognize it because it wasn’t negative. It was just draining. You learn. You learn, but the therapist is so crucial, especially in helping you heal. I stand up to my mother now. There’s no way; I don’t take that anymore. I really don’t. I laugh at her when she says the crap she says to me now. I’m like, “Seriously? Does that make you feel better? Because I don’t feel much better.” And so it’s really growing as a person and unraveling your history. That’s definitely how I landed in the marriage that I landed in. There’s no question about it. Ironically, she never liked him. Isn’t that weird?
Alyssa: Mm-hmm, that is very weird.
Jessica: Well, that’s maybe because she saw more on the outside, the way that he was treating you. But Alyssa, I’m curious, for people listening and feeling like this sounds familiar and I can relate to this, what kind of advice or tips would you give them in terms of starting to prepare and gathering the courage to leave?
Alyssa: Yeah, I mean, actually, I would give tips that are very different than how I did it myself, because now I know so much more. One is to really educate yourself on what narcissism it really is. Everybody throws that word around now. It’s kind of frustrating actually, everyone’s like, “Oh, I divorced a narcissist.” Everybody says that now. I feel like it diminishes the people that are really in—
T.H.: I agree with you 100%.
Jessica: So do I.
T.H.: It bothers me a lot.
Alyssa: It’s serious and yeah, they’re abusive and degrading and belittling and more than just—you guys had this episode, I think it was called, “Is he an asshole or is he just—
Jessica and T.H.: Narcissist versus Asshole.
Alyssa: Narcissist versus Asshole.
T.H.: There were two parts to that.
Alyssa: Yeah, and there’s plenty of exes that are assholes. I get it. I really do. But it’s very, very different. And it’s very manipulative. It’s very scary. There were times when I really thought I was actually going insane. I mean, actually. Luckily, I had a huge support system. Not that it was a lot of people, but I had several people that were just very much for me that I could call at anytime day or night. I think having a strong support network, people that you really can call at 2am when you’re terrified. Definitely educating yourself on what narcissism is and how to handle that, and how to email with a narcissist, how to handle them. Now I actually don’t see my ex at all in person. I make it very, very clear. In fact, it’s been hard because I finally had to tell my kids too that I just could not be in the same room with him. It’s very triggering for me. I mean, people also throw around the word triggering all the time now, but it really is truly like very PTSD reactions for me. I really can’t. I can’t handle it.
T.H.: It’s just the energy in the room. Your ex doesn’t even have to do anything, but just them being there, it used to make my skin crawl. I would make myself go out for my daughter’s birthday and stuff with him and his girlfriend and everything, and I would be literally sick to my stomach.
Alyssa: Yes, sick to my stomach. Yeah, exactly.
T.H.: I want to add one thing is really creating those boundaries like you’re saying, because I should have, and I don’t like the word should, but I wish I knew to have a conversation with my daughter and say, “Let’s have two birthday parties. Let’s do that. Where do you want to go? You can go celebrate in two places.” Instead of sacrificing myself yet again, when I didn’t really have to do that anymore.
Alyssa: What I realized too is that it’s not good for them either—
T.H.: Totally not. They know.
Alyssa: —because they sense your whole energy changes. It definitely was never good for my kids either. I think they were relieved too when that kind of—and I was just talking to somebody else that I was introduced to who’s divorcing a narcissist. She’s still doing the parent teacher conferences with him. Every time she has a parent teacher conference, she’s like, “I’m having an anxiety attack.” I’m like, “You don’t have to do that.” I right away realized that was not a good situation for me, and I told all the teachers beginning of the year, “I’m sorry, but I have to have separate parent teacher conferences.” You think that’s going to be this big deal and literally, nobody thinks anything of it.
T.H.: It’s so not a big deal.
Jessica: Yeah, it happens a lot of the time.
T.H.: Especially now after COVID, they could just Zoom with you.
Alyssa: Yeah, exactly. Now with Zoom, it’s even easier. But that was back when you were doing it in person. There are little things like that that took me a little bit to get to that point where I figured out, “Oh, I can’t do that. I can’t do that. I really need to not do that anymore.” But like you said, just creating really clear boundaries for yourself and not making yourself feel guilty if that’s what you need to do to keep your own sanity, because at the end of the day, your sanity is way more important to your kids than you both being in the same room together, for sure. That was something I wish I’d figured out a little bit sooner, but I actually feel like I got that down pretty good. But yeah, I feel like those things are really important. The research, a support network, setting boundary boundaries, and then just as much as possible, not showing any emotion and really just be very business like. I would sometimes even run my emails by a friend, and now I do with my partner, and just like, “Is there any emotion involved in this email: yes or no?” That’s also helpful if you have somebody to kind of run those things by.
T.H.: Yeah, I always say that I just handle business with him. We set an appointment, and I make a list of what I want to cover. I just read my list of what I need to cover if I have to speak to him on the phone. Otherwise, I read my list, I let it sit. The other little tip is they’re going to piss you off for as long as you’re going to have a conversation. Leave a voice memo on your phone, put it in your journal, type it out, go for a run, and don’t show your emotion like Alyssa said before, because that engagement is what they thrive off of. The minute you put it out there, you’re a goner.
Alyssa: And they want more.
T.H.: Right, right, you’re too vulnerable to put yourself in that position. Just don’t. And we have so many tips on our website at exEXPERTS of what to do and how to handle business with a difficult person, and certainly with a narcissist, because you just go back to that place. Until you build up your strength, really set your boundaries. And also, please, everybody, remember you’re a great parent. You’re a great mom or a great dad who’s ever dealing with this other difficult spouse. It’s not a reflection on your ability to be a great loving human, woman, man, business, friend, or mother, whatever. It’s not. This is shit that you have to deal with, and you have a choice. When you’re ready to make the choice and to do the work, it takes time. It is well worth it. I’m living proof.
Jessica: So is Alyssa.
T.H.: Alyssa is living proof. A bunch of us are. You can do the work. You just have to commit to it. And you’re worth it.
Jessica: Well, Alyssa, I mean, as we can see, this conversation could go on for quite a while. But this was part one. Thank you again really for being willing to open up the way that you have, because we know for a fact, and I’m sure that you can imagine as well, like you said, it’s relatable when people listen to other people’s stories and understand in real life and in real time what they should be looking for and how to handle it. It’s worth so much. We really appreciate that. For everyone listening, if you enjoyed this episode of the Divorce etc… podcast with the exEXPERTS today, then please help us out. Because when you subscribe, rate, and review, it helps us get the word out so we can help more people like you going through divorce and beyond. Check the show notes for more info on Alyssa, her company: Style My Profile, and her book. But also look at our website: www.exexperts.com for a lot more about narcissists and dealing with them through a difficult divorce. Of course, share this with anyone you know who can benefit from listening. Have a great day.