Do you feel like you are becoming forgetful? Do you feel like you may be losing your mind? Are you confused about what is going on? You may have a narcissist in your life…
The word narcissism is being bandied about like a trend right now and it is getting confusing for those of us that actually have a pathological narcissist in our lives. Narcissism is not just another word for arrogant or conceited. You are not a narcissist because you post a lot of things on the web or take a lot of ‘selfies’. Narcissism, in the purest sense of the word is a pathology, a dangerous pathology.
True narcissists do not care if they hurt you and sometimes take delight in doing just that. Learn how to recognize them and how to deal with them.
I have condensed all of my knowledge into a little
In Part 1 we looked at the types of people that a narcissist is attracted to, now we need to consider why you chose a narcissist. It may mean that you have never received unconditional love. You may simply not know what this feels like. There can be many reasons for this. Your parents or guardians may have been narcissists themselves and were incapable of showing love. Your parents may not have been available to you because they were ill, too busy working or they had problems with addiction. True parental love differs significantly from conditional affection or kindness that is used to reward you for desired behaviour.
This means that you may have no basis for comparison. If you have never received unconditional love it is difficult to know how it feels or what to expect. In addition to that, the emphasis while I was growing up was always on “true love” as the gold standard for romantic relationships. This effervescent, transcendent thing was beyond definition except for the statement: “You’ll know it when it happens”.
More alarming than that was when I discovered that the true difference between lust and love, based on the above definition, was outcome. This is not a very good way to judge a relationship at the beginning. I am embarrassed to say that I may have tried to prove that I was in “love” not “lust” simply by staying in some of my relationships.
This “true love” view of the ultimate relationship is dangerous because it means that you are raised to believe that “love will conquer all” and that simply is not true, especially when the love is one-sided. Being raised with this notion of what love is plays right into the narcissist’s hand.
The narcissist pretends to be deeply and truly in love with you. They need to see you all of the time. They may shower you with gifts. They want to spend every minute with you. They call, text, leave notes and basically reassure you constantly. They may also have this idealized “soul mate” vision that they convince you is attainable.
As I pointed out, while describing the signs that you are dating a narcissist, those behaviours are not actually love at all. This obsessive behaviour is smothering. Perhaps, not initially, but soon you realize that you cannot go out without disapproval. The narcissist needs to know where you are all of the time and there is no room for your wishes or desires.
So, lets look at what is important for the long term. The overall goal is being with this person enhances your life. They bring enough good that you are better off with them than you are without them. Sounds wonderful, but there are a lot of pitfalls in this, let me explain.
We all have needs. Needs to care for others, to be around others, to receive affection and companionship. If you have been lonely, like to have someone to take care of, or want to be taken care of, it may seem that the narcissist is “improving” your life simply by being around. The difference in a bad relationship is that spending time with them is often not that pleasant.
Everyone has good and bad moods and cannot be expected to always be pleasant. The distinction with a narcissist is that they have extremes and they are unpredictable. This creates two problems. The first is that there is an uncertainty when you are with them about what type of mood they are in and what type of mood they’ll be in soon. This puts a lot of pressure on you to ‘behave’ in a way that you know will lessen the possibility of them becoming unpleasant.
The second thing is that the swings are extreme. Some of the people that I have coached on this adore the passion that a narcissist brings to the table, but this enjoyment is usually short lived. What is happening is not the normal ups and downs of day-to-day life. It is the mood swings of someone that is not stable. A narcissist will use extreme anger or self-pity to control a situation. “Poor me” no one loves me. Or the opposite, “Fine, I won’t speak to you for days and days on end”. Both of these responses are exaggerated.
In normal relationships, a partner may lose their temper, be snippy or mean and then immediately become remorseful because they realize that they have hurt you. The narcissist will not recognize that they have hurt you because they have an inability to empathize. You find yourself demanding an apology and whether or not you get it is not the point. You have discovered that this person did not “care” that they hurt you.
We need to examine two things at the beginning of any relationship:
Are they capable of love?
What is reasonable to expect when someone says they love you?
So, after a terribly tumultuous time you have discovered that your partner is a narcissist. Yes, it is good to know that you are not going crazy. It is comforting to realize that you were not the source of all of the problems; you were simply the victim of a pathology masked as a lover. But, as the first wave of relief hits you, you begin to wonder, why did I pick a narcissist? This is a good question to ask, because it speaks to a deeper, often painful truth. A truth that you must understand before you pick another one.
Consider the following statements:
You had been lonely for a long time.
You are a gentle and open-minded person that is not quick to judge or jump to conclusions.
You are unable to distinguish the difference between someone who truly loves you and someone that pretends to love you.
You are highly independent and have learned to take care of yourself and those around you.
You knew that you could help this person achieve their full potential.
You thought that this person would make your life easier (more money, more support, more companionship).
Do any of these statements resonate with you? At first glance, the list above does not seem that remarkable. A lot of people are lonely. Being open-minded and self-sufficient are both good things. Knowing that you can help someone attain a better life, or hoping that someone can help you, both seem like reasonable things.
The alarming one is that you may be unable to distinguish between someone who truly loves you and someone who pretends to love you. When you combine that with one of the other things on the list, you can be exactly what the narcissist desires. There are three categories of narcissistic needs: the necessities of life, nourishment and a receptacle for their anger.
If you are willing to help this person achieve their full potential, or you are highly independent and can take care of yourself and those around you, the necessities of life may be what you can provide for the narcissist.
An individual that is looking for someone to take care of them, or is tired of being lonely is a sure bet for a narcissist. It is much more difficult for a person like this to leave an abusive relationship. Lonely or dependent individuals can swing between being a source of nourishment and a receptacle for the narcissist.
A gentle, open-minded person is easy to deceive. They are the type of individual that will give the narcissist “the benefit of the doubt” when the narcissist starts to show their true colours and this can lengthen the relationship considerably.
So these are some of the reasons that you may have been a target for the narcissist, but they do not speak to the larger problem, your ability to pick a partner might not be well developed. For many of us, we did not learn the basics of partner selection because we were brought up under less than ideal conditions. This is not to say that our families were not doing the best that they could, it just means that they were not equipped to help us to make good choices in the partner department. More on that in Part 2.
Should I stay or should I go? This is not an easy question for those of you living with a narcissist. True to their nature, these people are able to woo you the way you like it best, so it is difficult to move away. They are exceptional at knowing how to make you feel the way that you want to feel. Unfortunately, they can make your life a living hell as well.
If you have had enough of the emotional drama, the swings in your relationship, the unpredictability from moment to moment and the soul crushing doubt that can descend when your confidence has been undermined, it may be time to develop an exit strategy. This, of course, is not your only option. Even though these people are highly pathologic and difficult to be with, you may decide to stay. They can be very charismatic people and you never get bored. Either way, the tips below can help you cope with your situation and may or may not be your ticket out the door, if you do decide to leave.
The starting point has to be the acceptance of the fact that things will not change. They will not change. This is simply the way that your relationship will be for the rest of the time. This is the most difficult and most important step in either staying or going. Finally letting go of the hope that the narcissist will change and do all of the things that they have promised that they will do is quite difficult. Make it your mantra. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. What I mean by this is that since the narcissist is so good at telling you what you want to hear, they will know what to promise. It does not matter to them if it is a lie or not because they lie as a matter of course. They will agree to anything, go to counselling, try new things, anything, if they think that that will make you stay. It is all a lie. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.
Then you must accept them and forgive yourself. What I mean by acceptance is not the absolution of sins. It is the understanding that anything in the past, is what it is. It does not mean that it is OK. It does not mean that you weren’t hurt, that you aren’t disappointed in yourself for your past behaviour or that you would want to do any of it again. It means that you stop trying to rewrite history. Any thought process that starts with some variation of, “if things had been different, then….. ” means that you have not accepted the truth of what happened. When you find yourself wishing that your life was different, pay attention, remind yourself that you cannot change things that have happened in the past and accept the past for what it is. You know that you have been successful with this step when you stop berating yourself for your failings, you stop wishing things had been different and you feel a sense of calm come over you when you think about past events.
Start small. Accept that the narcissist forgot your birthday, or something small, and then work up to when you were really hurt by them. It happened. It is part of the past now and there is no way to change that. Forgive yourself for believing the lies and staying in a relationship that brought you so much pain. There are worst things in the world than loving and trusting. It does not make you a bad person or a stupid person. You were a loving person and a trusting person. You were purposefully misled by someone that does not care about you. It is what it is.
When you can honestly say to yourself that you know that your relationship will NOT improve, it is time to move to the next step. I detailed how to protect yourself from the narcissist in an earlier post. That post outlined keeping a journal and always asking yourself the question, what do they want right now? Moving into this observational stage is very important. It allows you to get some distance and improves your objectivity. Instead of swimming in a sea of confusion and being overtaken by waves of emotion, you can come up for air, reconnect with your sanity and see the shore.
The most powerful next step is to become less valuable to them. If you are still the person managing their lives and meeting their needs, you have value to them and they are less likely to let you go easily. When you ask yourself, “What do they want right now?” and you have a solid answer, do not give it to them. If they want a fight — agree (not to the fight!), instead of letting them pull you in. If they would like you to do something for them — don’t. Be careful here. You know whether or not they might become violent if you do not follow their rules. If you have any concerns for your safety, you are better off leaving. Some narcissists can become very violent if they cannot control you in any other way, so don’t be stupid about this. If you are in danger leave.
As you become less and less reliable and valuable to them they will begin to look for someone else. They don’t actually care about you, they only care about themselves and their needs aren’t being met so they will find a way to get them met. Expect this. Prepare yourself. Do not let jealousy pull you back into fighting for a relationship that you do not want. See it as a something you planned. If the narcissist can replace you, they will let you go without a fight and this is a good thing. You want to be replaced. The narcissist must always win and if you want to leave, you have to let them think that it was their idea.
Develop an exit strategy. Where will you go? How can you manage on your own or with the help of friends? Plan ahead. They must be the one that wants you gone or they’ll pursue you for a long time. They must win. In order to get what you want, which is your freedom, you must have a plan in place. Bide your time. When they finally have had enough with you, since you no longer meet their needs, they’ll want you gone. Agree. Go.
We have all laughed at videos of little ducklings following inappropriate things around. Ducks and geese both imprint on the first moving object, that is larger than they are, that they see upon hatching. Imprinting is designed to ensure survival since the hatchling must rely on its mother for both food and protection.
Oxytocin is responsible for this behaviour. It might be alarming for you to know that oxytocin plays a similar role in bonding in humans. While siginificantly fewer people follow someone around all of the time, bonding is just as important in human social interactions and survival of the species as it is to the duckling.
Opioids that are released during relationships may be responsible for how awful we feel during a break up. We become addicted to them, in the same way that we become addicted to taking drugs, and consequently feel the same withdrawal and the associated pain when the relationship ends.
Oxytocin, on the other hand, is instrumental in the formation of social attachments and the reduction of fear, especially fear resulting from social interactions. Simply being with other people can create a certain amount of bonding, even if it is just a gathering. This mild effect may be totally offset by how much you dislike the people, however.
The more intimate the interaction, the more oxytocin is produced and it is produced in large quantities during childbirth, breastfeeding and coitus. It is not difficult to see how bonding can be very valuable during these activities ensuring a pair is created. This is in the best interest of the survival of our species since babies with loving parents are the most likely to thrive.
There are however, people that are not as affected by oxytocin and their personalities are associated with callous-unemotional traits. So, in a relationship with say, a narcissist, you get a hit of oxytocin and further bond and they do not have the same hormonal response. This immediately tips the power into their favour. They are not as bonded as you are.
Ironically, even in a bad relationship, the oxytocin that is produced, makes you feel “safer” even if you are not actually safer. In addition to that, oxytocin is responsible for the feeling that “our group is better than their group” and supports the practise of excluding others. This double wammy makes it very difficult for a person to be rational when they have pair bonded with an unfavourable person. Simply put, they feel safer with this person and they feel separate from other groups of people.
Threatening situations, even those created by your partner, may encourage the return to a secure base and the strengthening of social bonds, which are, provided by your partner. So, a vicious cycle ensues. You feel threatened and then you form a tighter bond with the person threatening you. We have all seen someone that chooses to stay with someone that is not good to them. It is nice to know that it is not just a lack of judgement.
There are two take away messages here. First, you should make sure that you really like someone before you become intimate with them because the hormones that you produce during intimate contact can make sober thought difficult. The second is that if we find ourselves in these terrible relationships, perhaps with a narcissist for instance, we should be gentle with ourselves. Our biology, in these cases, is working against our greater good, not unlike the duckling imprinting on a predator.