It was day one of my three-month long travel adventure through the Balkans. The first leg, the first little stretch. I took an hour train from a small town in Poland to a larger city from where I’d catch a bus south to Slovakia the next day.
Getting inside a six-person train car, I noticed that my window seat was occupied by a man. He was thin and bald, in his forties, drinking a can of beer. Across from him was a young woman sleeping, book, in her hands, headphones in ears, sunglesses shading her eyes.
He didn't offer to release my seat. He just looked at me with that strange smile, where his mouth stretched but eyes remained serious. Chills. Proatively, I told the guy not to worry about the seat. All I wanted to do was to sit in silence and reflect about my upcoming trip. I didn’t care where. So many feelings were brewing under my skin, from nervousness to excitement. I wanted to pull them towards a middle and finally settle after a frenzied morning of packing.
Before I even took a seat, the guy had no difficulty firing all sorts of questions at me, as if we had known each other for years. The first red flag was the fact that he would not respect my space. Next came boundary breaking. I noticed quickly that the less I wanted to engage, the more upset he was getting.
On a phone call to his wife that came next, he openly demeaned her and swore out loud, with no regard to the passengers. It was as if we didn’t exist. The other woman in the car got up and went somewhere leaving me alone with the man for most of the trip.
Once he got off the phone and finished his beer, what ensued was something akin to a battle of minds — him trying to tear down my boundaries and me working hard to uphold them by deflecting his verbal assaults. He even stated that I should talk to him, because he was bored and there was no one but me to entertain him. What guts. What entitlement!
He was what I’d call a texbook example of an overt psychopath. Some of you might think I’m too rash in my diagnosis. After all, I’m not a doctor or a psychiatrist. But as a recovering codependent I’ve come across so many Cluster Bs (my family is full of them) and have studied the issue so intensely, that I can just feel it when they are near. With this man, within seconds, my whole body was on high alert.
It was not hard to tell there was something wrong. In fact, a lot was wrong. As an overt type, he didn’t even try to hide his character. In the minimal time I had engaged with him, he managed to disrespect me, demand amusement, showed too much interest too fast by probing me about where I was going/coming from, my family and my job. I gave him close to nothing. He teased me about being close minded and grumpy and was upset when I finally pretended to get a phone call and stepped outside to think about what to do.
There was zero empathy, respect, tact, or sensitivity.
While I pride myself for being a person of integrity, I didn’t feel it was safe for me to tell him the truth about where I was going or remain stuck with him in the train car. So I faked getting a phone call. And I felt fine about it.
If you ever find yourself stuck in the company of a person who tries to push through your boundaries, acts too interested on one hand and at the same time gives you that devaluing smirk of disdain, put your shield up! Lie if you must. Do anything you need to keep yourself safe.
I got a strong vibe of this man being unpredictable and dangerous, if angered. He was teetering on the edge of exploding in rage because I had caused a narcissistic injury by not giving him the attention he craved. Because of that, I felt it was better to tread lightly rather than move cars or call for an attendant. Knowing that he would disembark at the same stop as me, the thought crossed my mind that he could easily follow me to ‘punish’ me for my act.
What a start to my journey! In a sense, I’m not surprised, because as a recovering codependent (overly nice to strangers, people pleaser, etc.) I tend to draw these people to myself. But I choose to look at it this way — having stepped into an unfamiliar territory, the Universe was giving me a crash course in mental self-defense. As a result, for the rest of the day, things went really smoothly, though I did grow eyeballs on the back of my head.
Today is a new day, time to armor up. Yes, all this happened yesterday.
I hope this blog helped you in some way. Maybe it made you recall an episode that happened to you in the past where you felt like you unjustly judged a person. Judgment is critical. When we are out there in the world, we have to be able to scan and discern to know who is safe and who isn’t. I find that it’s better to approach people with a little bit of mistrust and let them earn it over time.
Maybe this little vignette made you feel validated after a particularly nasty encounter with a toxic coworker that tried to offload their shit onto you and blamed you for not being there for them.
Maybe you chose not being transparent with someone even though they demanded that, because deep in your gut you sensed that something was off. If you held back — good job! You don’t owe anyone anything.
Maybe it was something else?
According to stats, personality disordered people comrpise about 10% of our population (though I think it’more like 30%). So in a room of 10 people, at least one will have no empathy or conscience. If you have an example of an encounter and what you did about it, I welcome you to share in the comments below. It may save a life.
I hope this post was helpful to you and look forward to meeting you in the comments. Your 👏🏻 are the rocket fuel that inspires me to keep up this work.
Feel free to share this article and spread the love.
If you are suffering from the shock of being subjected to narcissistic abuse, have a look into my FREE three-step SOS program available on my website.