Flowers, dinner and romance….nothing quite sets the tone like being pursued. Engagement, passion, abandonment. What? Is anything as lonely, isolating or unravelling, as being dropped like a hot potato? Did he actually get up and call the office right away? Is this really happening? He didn’t even pull on pants.
One of the hallmarks of the narcissistic personality is their ability to charm and romance a person into getting what they want. Another is how quickly that person is dropped once the narcissist gets what they were pursuing all along. This is part of what makes it so confusing. You can think back to all of the nice things that this person has done. You have memories of thoughtful acts, nice gifts, small kind gestures, and yet, you are now alone again and cannot seem to find the person that was so solicitous.
Unlike healthier relationships that are all give and take, that leave you feeling supported and loved, a narcissist does many of the same behaviours and then simply leaves. This may be emotional abandonment or physical abandonment but you are not supported and loved.
You know that you are in a relationship with a narcissist if you are often confused about what the status of your relationship is. If you have no idea what is going on and have the suspicion that you may be losing your mind, or at least having difficulty with your memory. If you are starting to feel off-balance you may feel that way because the narcissist wants you to. Part of the manipulative nature of a narcissist comes from their ability to make you doubt yourself. Most people, are not 100% sure that they are right all of the time and the narcissist knows this and uses it against you.
So, what to do? The first place to start is to try to tease out the difference between the normal ups and downs of any given relationship and the emotional swings of a relationship with a narcissist. They are superficially the same, but the intensity is different. In some cases, the narcissist needs conflict to “feel” anything at all and will cause fights just to experience the emotions that they dreg up. Another difference is how they behave in periods of crisis when you actually need them. For instance, if you come home from work with bad news, how do they react? They despise having to “give” in a relationship and needing to support you is off-putting. Often they will be too busy with something important that they must do, will find an excuse to leave or simply attack you for not handling it better and for being so needy. These are all large red flags. The gold standard of narcissistic behaviour is the compromise. They don’t. If there is a situation when you want something and they want something else and there is no way that you can both have what you want they always win. Finally, nothing is ever their fault. If they forget, you should’ve reminded them. If there are problems at work it is because of the jerks that they have to work with. If something is done wrong the information was insufficient. It is never their fault. Consider these signs. Do any or all of them sound like your relationship? If they do, you can begin to see the relationship for what it is.
Protecting yourself is a step-by-step process. Begin by determining whether or not you are happy right now with your life as it is. This seems like a broad way to look at things, but narcissists affect your entire life. This is way bigger than your relationship. If you are often confused, lonely, angry or questioning your sanity how many friends do you think you’ll have? What is the quality of those relationships? How well will you be performing at work? Will you be able to find the energy to engage in your hobbies, passions or interests? Are you content with your life? If yes, you are done. If no, go to the next step.
Start taking notes; as often and as many as possible. Be honest, NEVER exaggerate. This becomes important when you are reviewing them later. If you make a promise to yourself to record what actually happened and how you actually felt, it is your truth. This is how you remember things. It may not be the “truth” but it is how you experienced it. Part of the power that the narcissist has is that they know that you cannot be completely sure of yourself and they occupy that space like ice freezing in a crack, expanding until a large hole is left where your confidence used to be. Now you have a tool to protect yourself when they start to rewrite history or say things that make you question yourself.
Also, it is common to underestimate how awful something in the past felt. By promising yourself that you will never exaggerate, you can revisit how you actually felt. It will surprise you to see how differently you remember the bad times. The mind has a way of forgetting the bad parts of our lives, to some extent. It will be harder to tell yourself that it is not as bad as you imagine because you wrote down how you actually felt at the time.
Record the good times and the bad. Try to make notes about what preceded the bits that you like or did not like. The purpose of this is to see if there is a pattern. In a healthier relationship, nice time together is followed by a sort of after glow. You had a great day together and now you are content, perhaps at work or doing what you do in a day. In a narcissistic relationship, time spent together is used as a way to meet their needs, whatever they were, and now you are not needed. There is no “after glow” you are now ignored. They may not have even spoken to you before you left the house. You have no idea what you have done to make them so distant. Fights may spring out of no where. Romance is always in pursuit of things. Keep as many notes as possible, because if you try to discuss these concerns with your partner they will deny the patterns, rewrite the sequence of how things happened and make it about you, not them. It is never their fault.
Observe their behaviour with this question in mind: What do they want right now? This is a powerful question because it helps you see them for the manipulators that they are. If wine and a good dinner have ended in romance in the past, decide to not engage this time. What happens? If they are trying to start a fight, notice how they are purposely pushing your buttons. Why can that suggestion give them so much power to make you feel defensive? Isn’t that an old issue that was never resolved? Why are they bringing that up now? What do they want right now? What do they want right now? What do they want right now? Repeat it when you are in good and bad situations.
Make peace with the fact that there are good aspects to the relationship. Yes, you would not be with this person if all you saw was the bad. Know that there are people in the world that you can share good times with that do not also destroy your life and your self-confidence. When a narcissist is charming, they are very charming. It is normal to be attracted to someone that treats you so well. It is normal to want to be loved. It is normal to find many things that you like about this person. That is OK.
Understand that part of the pathology of narcissism is that they do not love the way that others do. They do not have the emotional attachment to you that you do for them. They may: want you around, like what you can do for them, enjoy having sex with you; but they do not have the same bonds as you do. This gives them all of the power. You need them more than they need you.
So, there you have it. You have identified that you are in a pathologic relationship. You realize that you do not like how it is affecting your life. You have noted the patterns and the manipulations. You have learned how to maintain your sanity. You understand that this is who they are and despite promises they will not change. You know that they do not love you as you love them. Now, you have to decide. Should I stay or should I go?
Martha Beck coaching in ways that are meant to help you get out of places in your life where you are stuck.