Think you could spot a Narcissist from a mile away? Don’t be so sure! Narcissists are very charismatic and can seem superbly warm and engaging. They can be the magnet of the party and they are able to get things done. They can have world class manners and a style that seems friendly and enjoyable. Narcissists can be the type that will help you out with anything… at least until you set a healthy boundary. Then, forget it! All bets are off and now you are the forbidden enemy and a target for anger! You might wonder, "What did I do? I don’t understand, everything seemed fine for a while."
Narcissists can be male or female, small or tall, scruffy or well put together. They definitely evoke strong emotion in the people who relate to them, and it will most likely feel like a roller coaster ride ranging from elation, to anger, and maybe even deep sorrow. This may be a long blog post but it is difficult to describe in only a few short paragraphs. I use mostly male pronouns when referring to the Narcissist but women can be just as harmful in the way they treat men with similar dynamics if they choose to.
When with a Narcissist, they initially seem to value their significant other and it's easy to fall in love quickly. The honeymoon phase of the relationship seems so wonderful and interesting and you feel loved, cherished, sought after. Then, gradually, subtly, things change and you may not be able to put your finger on what's wrong, but it doesn't feel right anymore.
The shift starts happen after time and you, knowing that he (or she) can be wonderful (because he has been in the past) you may conclude that if you just hang in there, he will become that person again, and you will be happy again. You may start to make accommodations, change to be what he wants, work harder at the relationship, and try to be a better girlfriend (or boyfriend/spouse). Narcissists are skilled at making others feel like they are the ones that need to do all of the changing. It can get out of balance pretty quickly.
When you try to do the communication work of being assertive and try to use your "I" statements such as, "I feel hurt when____," they will often rapid fire "switch it back" onto you, and at the end of the dialogue you find yourself apologizing for hurting them. By now you have forgotten what you brought up, or feel vaguely confused, and possibly you are now in the abuse cycle. The abuse cycle has a honeymoon phase in which everything seems good, gifts may be given, or apologies made, then the tension builds up and there is an episode of acting out. An episode can involve verbal abuse, insults, physical abuse, silent treatment, passive aggression or other issue.
After the episode of aggression (in which you might also behave in ways you aren't proud of) there may be remorse or an attempt to make up, and then a slip back into the honeymoon phase. Most people want to maintain the calm after the storm, so you may find that you have started to suppress your own emotions and thoughts just to keep the peace and avoid the tension building phase (It is important to note that these are done in extremes, all relationships have some tension, and little fights and miscommunications. This is describing a much deeper and pervasive pattern than what is common to healthier relationships). It feels that issues never seem to get resolved and you don't get heard or understood in the relationship.
To add to the confusion, when Narcissists are in front of others they may acknowledge how wonderful you are and boast about your beauty, or your smarts, and every one may compliment you about how lucky you are to have him (or her). All seems perfect and the outer image of endless beauty is maintained. Then, much to your dismay, when everyone is gone, he dismisses you, criticizes you, and makes some kind of issue about how you hurt his feelings or embarrassed him in public. It's back to you being the one to fix it, so you may continue to try, because you still love him, and feel badly that he is so hurt by the thing (real or perceived) that you did to hurt his feelings.
Other telltale signs are that he lives in the Karpman drama cycle of Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer (Transactional Analysis Theory). He functions in one of these aspects most or all of the time. When he plays the “Victim” his feelings are hurt (perceived or real hurt) and it must be the other person's fault. When emotional reasoning is used it is easy to say "because I feel bad, someone must have wronged me." That may or may not be true, but emotions are very tangible so we use them to draw conclusions, sometimes false ones.
When he (or she) moves into the “Persecutor” role he attacks you verbally, physically, or gives you the silent treatment (a common tool of the narcissist), or he complains to someone else how awful you are, gaining an ally. A passive aggressive move might be attempted as well (or you might be tempted to retaliate with passive aggression as a means for gaining some sense of control). He feels justified in treating you this way because of the "Victim" mindset. He truly believes it's okay to treat you this way because after all you, "hurt him so badly." His family and friends start to believe that you are terrible and he may gain alliances (Triangulation) against you, you might feel very isolated.
As the good and loyal person that you are, you might get increasingly confused and start to lose track of who you are, you keep trying to fix the problem by apologizing more often, or making bigger adjustments. Your self esteem may lower from the jabs and criticisms, and you start to believe that he must be right (that you are a horrible person). He isolates you from your friends and feels threatened by your family and friends and so he successfully isolates you from anyone who will help you see that how he is treating you is not okay.
Just wanting to be loved for who you are, you might attempt to fix it again by being better (thinner, prettier, kinder), working harder to make sure he doesn't leave you, and apologizing to him (or her) when really you are feeling pretty hurt by it all too. You have lost your voice in the relationship because if you mention that you are hurt, he will dismiss it and make it about him.
Then, when he goes into “Rescue” mode (in the drama triangle) you feel loved, appreciated and hopeful. He is finally helping you out with something, he is coming your way for a change. The only problem is that there are often strings attached. He may do these nice things for you so that you now feel obligated to him (your loyalty, your time, money, or other resource). Nice things are done in a manipulative sense rather than "just because." He might feel it is important that you appreciate him by letting him have his way, and learn not to stand up for yourself because he's "done so much" for you. It gets so confusing because you may want to see his nice gifts as genuine because you so desire to feel loved. It is a hard cycle to get out of.
You see how this is cyclical. Often resulting in lower self esteem and sometimes even loss of your sense of self. To stay with this person you have to change who you are to be who they want you to be, and to stroke their selfish ego. People who have been with a Narcissist (boyfriend, girlfriend, mom, dad or friend) for a prolonged period of time, lose track of their own wants and desires, hopes or dreams. It becomes all about the Narcissist. The narcissist is always right and if you want to stay you had better accept that. They like to insult in subtle and not so subtle ways, such as referring to their significant other as, "mentally retarded" for example. That is a very obvious example.
Other insults might be more subtle, but you can feel the sting, such as questioning your motives, "You don't love me if you don't do that for me." Your character is always in question and much of your time is spent defending it. The road to recovery involves finding yourself again and learning to love and appreciate yourself rather than suppress who God created you to be.
Getting out isn’t usually easy either. Once a Narcissist feels they are losing control they often become vicious or hostile. They can become an emotional bully. I have seen it over and over again (and experienced it) and it can be brutal and ongoing. They are so astute at character assassination that they can successfully cause the person (who is leaving) to lose their entire support system.
It can be devastating and traumatizing in it’s extremes. There are many scenarios that involve narcissistic behavior. No matter what your circumstances it can be tough to move forward to find yourself again. It is important to start finding yourself again.
The first step is to reach out to your supports and start talking about it. Sometimes they won't believe you but you might find someone who does believe you and can listen. Reach out for a good counselor or group support. Find community, and get back in touch with friends you have lost touch with. Read books such as The Verbally Abusive Relationship on the topic to get yourself the insight and sense of direction you need. This book gives you tools if you decide to stay and tools if you decide you want to leave.
If it’s your friend or family member going through this, it is important that you are patient and not critical, but also persistent in encouraging them to get the help and support they need. They are often in denial and you may find that what you say gets you nowhere. But keep loving them, don’t write them off, and pray. It is so hard to leave and it can take a while. It can be hard to watch a person you love in an abusive relationship.
When leaving don’t worry about defending your character. Defending your character keeps you in it, and truthfully, your reputation, among some, may be in shreds by the end of it all anyway. What you need to focus on is landing on dry land after the shipwreck and the hurricane force winds quiet down. You can rebuild, rediscover who you are, and you can find hope and peace once the toughest part is over. If there are kids involved, you will need to have a good lawyer who “get’s it.” Go to www.BPDcentral.com for great resources on how to manage custody issues and educate a lawyer on what is going on with pamphlets that describe the dynamics of splitting so your lawyer can also see what is happening.
If you choose to stay in the relationship, I recommend finding a good couples counselor to help repair some of the broken dynamics that both of you may now participate in. A healthy relationship is one that both parties feel respected and loved for who they are. You may choose to love the person through the pain or give it a time period to attempt to work through the relationship dynamics. If you feel unsafe you need to have a plan B for yourself. Some narcissists just become more hostile and vindictive when challenged, and others become outright frightening and you may be at risk (think of the case of Oscar Pstorious and Reeva Steenkamp). I always recommend prayer for wisdom, courage and guidance through it all.
The main thing to remember is that you are not wrong to desire to be treated with kindness and respect. You are a beautiful person and it is okay for you to desire to be loved for who you are. Start out by trying to remember, or tap into, who you are. Journal about it, ask your friends what they like about you, treat yourself with kindness. Do nice things for yourself. Get support, and pray for wisdom, strength and direction.
Many blessings on your journey to health!