I really enjoy and try to apply the expression, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” to my own sufferings and I encourage my clients to do so too. Being in a relationship with a narcissist is like having to keep a big sour lemon on your tongue for a prolonged time period, which can leave a very bad taste in your mouth. One of the things survivors can always control is how they think about, recover from, and move on from narcissistic abuse. Even though the task may seem scary and daunting, you really can decide to make lemonade out of the narcissistic lemon that you had in your life and this can be the most validating and satisfying part of your journey.
When I refer to making lemonade, I am referring to you doing something positive, uplifting, and healing for yourself after your narcissistic relationship ends. I do not mean that you punish your narcissist, seek revenge, or enjoy any suffering that life hands their way. I mean you grow, evolve, and do something great that makes you feel proud. My lemonade was writing my book and helping other survivors of narcissistic abuse to heal. I had the privilege and honour of turning my pain into something that helps others and continues to help me.
I am not unique; there are countless survivors of narcissistic abuse who have joined the “lemonade club”. These brave men and women have taken the lessons that they learned from narcissists and turned their pain and suffering into something inspirational and beautiful. I am in the process of continuing my research and gathering materials for my next book and wanted to highlight the story of a very inspirational survivor who really turned a sour lemon into a fine glass of lemonade.
Rose is a friend of one of my relatives who is a survivor of narcissistic abuse. She is now retired and in her 70s but still has a passion for working and helping others. Rose presents as a smart, confident, artistic, and elegant woman. She exudes style and confidence when she enters a room and has a very warm and caring way about her. Rose is easy to talk to and has a beautiful energy that is easy to feel in her presence. Rose had an extremely successful business career where she fought hard for gender equality and supported countless women in addition to her day-to-day duties. Interestingly Rose’s passion for women’s rights, equality, and achievement was sparked by a long marriage to a malignant grandiose narcissist. Let me share a little more with you about Rose’s journey.
Rose got married very young and did not have a lot of experience with dating. She married her high school sweetheart when she was 19 and was excited about becoming a wife and a mother. Rose grew up in a family with an alcoholic father and from an early age she learned how to make excuses, fib, and put on a good face to cover up for her dad’s drinking problem. Rose had a lovely and supportive mother but saw her fiancé as her only ticket out of poverty.
Rose’s husband already had a college degree and job when they got married. Rose felt that she was in love but now when reflecting on her relationship, she is able to identify many red flags.
Rose said, “Looking back there were just so many red flags that I didn’t see at the time, I knew of the word narcissism but I didn’t really understand what it was.”
Rose’s husband always needed attention, would talk bad about others if they were getting attention that he wanted, had a temper and anger problems, would put Rose down, controlled Rose with money, acted erratically, woke up in the middle of the night to make phone calls, and would go on extended business trips.
“He had two sides; when we would go to work events he would be so charismatic and charming to other women right in front of me and I remember thinking who is this guy? He isn’t like this with me at home, at work he seemed like a different person.”
Eventually Rose found out that her husband was a serial cheater and had multiple affairs. This was devastating to Rose but due to her values about marriage, she wanted to try to save her relationship.
“At that time I had a daughter and I had no job, I also thought I had to stay and keep my family together, that was the right thing to do.”
Over the years, Rose’s husband’s behaviours took a toll on her. He would disappear, lie, and be nasty to her. Rose would often find herself crying on the floor and stated how her sister and mother carried her through and emotionally supported her during her dysfunctional marriage.
“I don’t know what I would have done without the support of my dear mother and sister; they always listened to me and put the focus on me. They never said anything bad about my husband but would say ‘alright we have talked about him enough, now let’s talk about you, what you are going to do?’”
Rose’s husband was a lot for any person to deal with. He hid money from Rose but found a way to get his pilot’s license and buy a small plane so he could fly to visit his girlfriends he met on business trips behind Rose’s back. Her husband seemed to have a very strong need for supply, even leaving her bedside when Rose was having surgery so he could visit a girlfriend in a nearby city.
“Sometimes he would be shaking because his addiction to the other woman was so strong and he just wanted to see her so much and I would just look at him and tell him to just go, I didn’t even care anymore.”
The betrayals were painful and caused Rose a great deal of anger and shame that eventually turned into indifference. Even though at times Rose still got angry, she was not the one with the anger problem in this marriage.
Rose’s husband had a short fuse and seemed to always be angry and she never quite knew what would set him off. He would often demonstrate explosive behaviours over trivial things. In his rages, her husband once tried to run Rose over with his car and on another occasion Rose jumped out of the car because of his erratic driving and the police had to intervene. Rose decided to downplay the situation and let the officer know that everything was fine and got back into the car to avoid causing a scene.
“I was terrified, I thought he was going to kill me but when the police officer came, I smoothed things over and said we were just arguing and that things were fine. Looking back I can’t believe I allowed that.”
Rose eventually got sick and tired of the verbal abuse, walking on eggshells and the constant affairs. At this time, Rose did not have financial independence or any income. She was a stay at home mother and did not have a university degree or many employable work skills. Even though her husband liked to tell Rose that she was “stupid” Rose knew that she was smart. She decided to enroll in University when she was 34 years old. Her plan was to get a degree so she could get a job, support herself and her daughter, and leave her marriage.
“I was the oldest student in all of my classes and the only person to graduate with grey hair but this was an advantage because I didn’t go out drinking and was focused on my work. I threw myself into my studies and excelling academically meant so much to me.”
Rose flourished at school and started to take classes in what was a new field at that time, Gender and Women’s studies. The course material really resonated with Rose. Rose said that she felt passionate about women’s rights and began to go to rallies and protests.
“I truly found my voice and passion when I became involved in the women’s rights movement and decided that I wanted to help other women to achieve and to feel strong.”
Rose was an excellent student and easily found a good job after graduation, allowing her to finally file for divorce. In true narcissistic fashion, her husband tried to hide money, liquidate assets, and blamed her for “looking for the women he had affairs with”. However, eventually the divorce was settled and then what did Rose do?
Rose thrived. Even though she was a single mother entering a competitive male dominated industry late in life, Rose went on to have an extremely successful career. In addition to her workplace duties, she started support groups for women and fought hard to raise awareness about the gender gap in wages. She served as a mentor and role model for multiple women in her field and improved the work environment for countless others.
“Over the years I was my husband’s sounding board and even counsel when it came to business issues. He was always talking about himself and I always had to listen. I learned a lot about business from him and even took a job in a very similar field because I knew the background and I knew I could do well, even better than he did.”
During our conversation, Rose said that she is now thankful for her narcissistic husband because his mistreatment pushed her to go back to school, be more independent, and to fight for other women’s rights. Rose attributes a great deal of her success to hitting an emotional rock bottom and having to pick herself up and find a way to support herself and her little girl.
“My husband thought that for me going to University was like taking a cooking class, a distraction, and a way for me to get out of his hair. He never thought I would actually do anything serious with my education but as soon as I graduated and even before, I was planning my exit and how I was going to support my daughter.”
Rose said that she would like to share with other survivors that narcissists do not change and often get worse. She advises fellow survivors that when a narcissist shows you their true colours, head for the hills and don’t give second chances. Rose also said that she encourages women to go to school and work to help secure their identity and independence, but did recognise that even with a job and degree; it is not easy to leave an abusive relationship.
What do I like about Rose’s lemonade story? She did not let her age or lack of skills stop her from pursuing an education and then a career. Rose was fortunate that she married a financially secure man and had a supportive family but there is always a way to improve your situation. It is never easy, but you can do things to make your life better. Rose is a great example of how it is never too late to start over and to reinvent yourself. Rose’s horrific story of verbal and emotional abuse sparked a passion for helping and advocating for other women. I think it is very powerful to picture her marching and protesting at women’s rights rallies. How inspiring that she found her voice and used it to help others!
Rose eventually did become much more successful in business than her first husband ever was. I particularly love this part! Go Rose! I admire that Rose was not afraid to ask for help and support when she needed it and was willing to take big risks to take care of herself and her child. Maybe it would be fair to say that Rose was stuck for many years but she found a way to get unstuck and stand up and provide for herself and her family. Eventually Rose got her storybook ending; she re-married a very kind and gentle man, has a great relationship with her daughter and frequently visits with her grandchildren and due to her successful business career can fully enjoy her retirement.
Rose, the daughter of an alcoholic who was raised in poverty and married an abusive, unfaithful narcissist when she was 19 turned out to be a strong, extremely successful, secure, and healthy woman. Remember where you start in life does not dictate where you will end. Your choices have a lot to do with that. Now Rose is enjoying her life and living as her best self, a joyful, liberated, narcissist-free self.
“If it wasn’t for being married to a narcissist I would not be the women that I am today, I am thankful that I went through that.”
Way to look at the positive Rose and make lemonade out of lemons!
By Jenny Tamasi, survivor and author of The Psychologist and Her Narcissists: A Guide to Surviving Toxic Relationships
Names and demographic data have been changed to protect the identity of the individual mention in this case study. The individual consented to her story being represented for educational purposes.
Thank you Jenny for submitting this story for our readers!