Red Flags: When Gifts Destroy Identity 

“An individual, a thing apart from its environment, and apart from all things in that environment; an individual was a type of thing for which symbols were inadequate, and so names were invented . I am invented. I am not a round warm blue room. I am someone in that room; I am—” —Samuel R. Delany Babel-17

It took a while, but I recently hauled four bulging black thrash bags of my clothes out of the narcissist’s house. As I sorted, washed, and folded the clothes, I realized something I’d never noticed while I still lived with the narcissist and those clothes hung in the closet: the clothes just weren’t “me.”

We lived in a constant state of never having enough money, but that never stopped the narcissist from impulse buying whatever he wanted. It did, however, stop me from buying clothes for myself. This meant most of my clothes, and there were so so many, were “gifts” from the narcissist. 

How very interesting!

I brought this realization up with a friend who immediately pegged this gift giving behavior as manipulative and controlling. She was right, of course. It’s amazing what other people can see when they look in from outside. 

I had very few pieces of clothing that predated the birth of my oldest child. Most of the clothes were purchased after “the beginning of the end.” At that point we’d been together for probably five years and he’d turned the corner where narcissism becomes a personality disorder. By the time those clothes were purchased our boundaries were completely fucked.

His gifts of clothing, some of which made me feel self conscious and uncomfortable, were another way of saying “You’re really just an extension of me. You as an individual don’t exist.” 

Guilt or necessity made me put on those clothes that weren’t me, that I didn’t feel comfortable wearing. Mostly guilt made me not replace them or give them away. I feel like a violence was committed against my identity and I just smiled and said “Thank you.” Then I perpetrated the destruction every time I put on my clothes. 

Today I donated those clothes to charity. 

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