Do you have a narcissist in your life? You might, but don’t yet know it. The narcissistic personality is not always obvious at first. Often charming and fun, they flatter you and appear generous and accommodating. In the beginning. By the time you realize they took advantage of your goodwill and betrayed you, it’s too late. And once in their clutches, it’s very difficult to get out. It happened to me.
Not All People with Narcissistic Tendencies Are Narcissists
This distinction is important. We all know people who are arrogant, self-centered, and entitled. Usually, these friends are not that way all the time; they have redeeming qualities that make you want to remain connected. These relationships cause frustration, but it’s not the same. Narcissism is actually a mental illness for which there is treatment, but unfortunately no cure.
A narcissist’s behavior is calculated. They pretend to care about you with every intention of taking what they want and need – right from the start. They grossly overestimate their own value and contributions. It seems they truly believe their self-assessment, even when no visible proof exists of their accomplishments. They take credit for the work of colleagues, blame failures on others, and consider themselves the smartest person in the room. Any room.
Why Do Narcissists Behave the Way They Do?
Narcissists act overly self-confident when, in reality, they are extremely insecure. They convince themselves of their awesomeness and fully expect others to see them the same way. They have addictions to wealth, power, status, recognition, and admiration. Why? Because, despite their overinflated egos, inside they feel worthless. Because any opposition or rejection pushes them into an all-consuming spiral of shame, they surround themselves with people who adore them.
If unmasked, others see their vulnerabilities. Their wrath is brutal and unforgiving if you expose them. It is disproportionate, sometimes with psychopathic tendencies. Narcissists are bullies of the worst kind, unrelenting in their efforts to make you pay.
Why Do We Fall Into the Traps Set By Narcissists?
I can’t speak for others, but I know I overlooked what now seem to be obvious red flags. I was happy to have a partner for a project on which I worked at the time. We all have people in our lives who we love, but we still don’t like everything they do – and that’s OK. Everyone has their good points and bad, so I focus on the positive. I am far from perfect myself, so I appreciate it when people give me a break when I am not my best self. So, I assumed good intent despite the warning signs.
Truthfully, the narcissist I allowed into my life was great at the start. Charismatic and likable, she flattered me and appeared to appreciate my contributions to our project. And I appreciated hers. We had completely different skill sets with almost no overlap. After a few months, though, I noticed some disturbing behavior. The stories she repeated were significantly different each time she told them. With the truth, a story stays the same no matter how many times it’s relayed; with lies, it’s hard to remember the untrue details from the last conversation. The one constant was she was always the victim. I was baffled when she began to take credit for my personal accomplishments in conversations – both conversations directly with me and with others. I think she actually believed what she said; the stories became “her truth”.
Gaslighting: A Common Tactic Used By Narcissists
I gave my narcissist friend the benefit of the doubt again and again. The situation became increasingly difficult, so I attempted to discuss my discomfort with her. She responded calmly and convincingly with what I now know is called “gaslighting”. She assured me I imagined the behaviors that upset me. It worked. Gaslighting is a common manipulation technique for narcissists and an effective one. Everyone is susceptible because a narcissist proceeds slowly, and only after they establish trust. They are expert bullies. Regrettably, I let the working relationship continue a little longer.
After the conversation where I confronted her about my discomfort, she gave me the silent treatment. I finally had no choice but to completely sever our association and withdraw my contribution to the project. She became enraged. Her response came as a shock to me as we knew each other only a very short time. Later I realized the reason for her anger; she planned to keep the work I contributed to our joint effort and intended to take full credit for it – as she had all along, unbeknownst to me. Though she clearly was not a reasonable person, the extent of her fury still surprised me. In my world, people can part pleasantly and proceed with civility. Relationships don’t always work out – that’s just life.
With no prior experience with this mental illness, I was naive; a narcissist, when exposed, cannot get past what they consider public humiliation and embarrassment. But does the “public” really care? Probably not. Everyone is busy with their own lives. No one thinks about narcissists as much as narcissists think about themselves.
A Narcissist Cannot Forgive or Forget
To say I was ill-prepared for the unrelenting rage of the narcissist is an understatement. For almost two years, I was unable to extricate myself from her toxic behavior; a narcissist cannot forgive or forget. As I distanced myself from her further, she became even more angry and determined to punish me. I became her scapegoat, responsible for all her misfortune. She was a victim, just as she told me she was the case in so many other situations. Think about it, it can’t always be the other person – but in her mind, she was never at fault.
Eventually, she fully exposed her true and ugly self to all involved. Her lies about me became too ridiculous to take seriously and people stopped listening. By the end, I felt sorry for her. I realized her behavior had nothing to do with me. We all have vulnerabilities, but by this stage of life, most of us know that ultimately, we are each responsible for our own successes and failures. If something is not working, it makes sense to try something different – not blame others. Why give someone else that much control over you?
A Narcissist Needs Constant “Supply”
Psychologists call the constant admiration and recognition needed by narcissists “narcissistic supply”. This type of one-sided relationship is draining; sooner or later, like me, you won’t be able or willing to endure it any longer. When you no longer provide the narcissist with the unwavering submission they crave, they start to look for a new “source” to feed their egos. They can’t help themselves.
Healing from Narcissistic Abuse
Is healing from narcissistic abuse possible? The answer is yes, though how it’s done is likely different for different people and depends on the severity of the abuse. As I extracted myself from the situation pretty quickly, I did not have deep scars. Moving forward, I decided that the best approach for me is to make sure to keep a healthy distance between myself and the person who bullied me for the better part of two years. I began to appreciate the important lessons I learned during that time. I choose the people with whom I spend time more carefully now. The signs are obvious to me now and I can recognize them quickly. Perhaps most importantly, I moved on and no longer waste precious time and energy beating myself up about what I could or should have done to protect myself. It’s done.
I recommend if you find yourself involved with a narcissist, whether in an intimate or professional relationship, proceed with caution. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Here are some common questions with corresponding answers related to protecting yourself from narcissistic abuse:
What is narcissistic abuse?
Narcissistic abuse refers to a form of emotional and psychological abuse inflicted by a person with narcissistic traits or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It involves manipulation, exploitation, gaslighting, and other tactics used to control and dominate their victims.
How can I identify if I’m experiencing narcissistic abuse?
If you suspect you might be experiencing narcissistic abuse, look out for signs such as constant criticism, belittling, blame-shifting, emotional manipulation, gaslighting (making you doubt your reality), isolation from friends and family, and feeling like you’re constantly walking on eggshells.
What are some common effects of narcissistic abuse on victims?
Narcissistic abuse can have severe and long-lasting effects on victims, including low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty trusting others, and a skewed perception of reality.
How can I protect myself from narcissistic abuse?
To protect yourself from narcissistic abuse, consider the following steps:
1. Educate yourself about narcissism and abusive behaviors.
2. Set and enforce clear boundaries with the narcissistic individual.
3. Limit or cut off contact with the abuser if possible.
4. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist who can validate your experiences and offer guidance.
5. Work on building your self-esteem and self-worth.
6. Practice self-care and engage in activities that promote your well-being.
7. Avoid engaging in arguments or trying to reason with the narcissist as they may use it against you.
8. Develop a support network to help you through difficult times.
Can I have a healthy relationship with a narcissistic person?
Establishing a healthy relationship with a narcissistic person is extremely challenging, as they tend to lack empathy and manipulate others. In most cases, it’s best to set firm boundaries and limit your exposure to protect yourself emotionally and mentally.
Is it possible to co-parent with a narcissistic ex-partner?
Co-parenting with a narcissistic ex-partner can be difficult, but it is possible with careful planning and adherence to boundaries. Keep communication limited and focused on essential matters related to the child. Utilize email or a communication platform to document interactions.
How do I regain my self-confidence after narcissistic abuse?
Rebuilding self-confidence after narcissistic abuse takes time and effort. Engage in self-affirming activities, surround yourself with supportive people, practice self-compassion, and seek therapy to work through the trauma and regain your sense of self-worth.
What should I do if I can’t escape the narcissistic abuser (e.g., in a family or work setting)?
If you can’t escape the narcissistic abuser immediately due to family or work constraints, focus on creating emotional and physical distance. Establish strong boundaries, limit interactions, and seek support from external sources like friends, support groups, or therapists.
Remember, if you’re dealing with narcissistic abuse, it’s essential to prioritize your well-being and safety. Seek professional help if you’re finding it challenging to cope or escape the abusive situation.