Welcome! I am so glad you are here. Narcissism and narcissistic abuse are popular words and phrases right now. But what exactly do they mean? How do you know if you are with someone who is a narcissist or someone with strong narcissist traits?
I want you to know that you can get the love you want and deserve. You can have the relationship that you want. You deserve more than what you might have been settling for. You may have been through relationship after relationship, wondering each time if this would be your last, the one that works. You may keep hoping the other person is going to change and become the person you thought they were at the beginning of the relationship. You might be betting on their potential, each time getting more and more disappointed.
We often get into relationships and find that something big isn’t working for us; then we have trouble leaving the relationships. The soulmate we thought we met turns out to be our worst nightmare. It doesn’t take long to hope for something better, either with or without them. I hear this story over and over again, how amazing my spouse/partner was at the beginning. A common question that I also hear is “Where did that person go? We had such an amazing connection.” That person didn’t go anywhere. You just got to know them better. That amazing person may never have existed.
So, how do you know if someone is a narcissist? We all have complicated traits that can appear when we get into an intimate relationship, and some people with stronger ones can wreak havoc in relationships. Someone with very strong narcissistic or emotionally abusive traits will only see their own needs/wants/desires. Essentially, everything will be about them in the relationship. It is as though they don’t see you as a separate person with your own thoughts, concerns, interests and desires. They might want to show you off for their personal gain. You may make them look good and help them feel good about themselves for a time. But once the honeymoon period is over, the relationship with someone with strong narcissistic traits can make you feel alone, abandoned, sad, and angry. These relationships can be extremely difficult to leave.
Most emotionally abusive relationships follow a similar pattern. They tend to begin very quickly, almost too quickly, where the one partner gets hooked on the more abusive partner and feels like they have truly met the person they are meant to be with. The relationship can then move to a place where things are just ok – with the highs of the relationship not as high anymore and the lows becoming more frequent. You might begin to feel more at odds with your significant other and that something isn’t quite right. Or you might not feel heard or seen by them. You might find that they are in other intimate relationships while seeing you and still claiming that you are “the one”. Another common thing that could happen is that they might keep a handful of former partners around just in case they are needed to help keep you in line and behaving as the narcissist wants (more on this in future blog posts as this is a very common aspect of these relationships).
Narcissistic abuse cycles
The relationship trajectory is fairly predictable. It is almost as if every emotionally abusive person got together and wrote a book on how to handle these relationships.
The stages roughly are:
(can feel amazing, wonderful, joyful)
This might look like the start of the most amazing relationship of your life. You feel like you have found your soulmate. Amazing, right? Maybe not. Sometimes relationships do last when it is love at first sight. But sometimes, it is neurosis at first sight. We all know people who met on a blind date and immediately started planning their life together. That does happen but I encourage people to slow down and take their time when they meet someone new. If this is truly the person for you, he/she will be there over time so there won’t be a reason to rush into anything.
(or the “not so great” stage)
This is where things seem ok but not wonderful. You might notice that your partner is more critical of what you do – or don’t do. You don’t quite understand so you try to do better. They went from adoring your every move to being critical more often. Obviously, if there are any issues in the relationship, you are partially to blame, right? Your partner seemed to walk on water so you just need to try harder. And harder. Trying harder might look like spending more money, walking on eggshells so you don’t bother your partner, doing everything for them when they aren’t doing much for you in return. They may even start blaming you for everything. They can’t take responsibility for their lives so you slowly become the problem. If you stay in the relationship long enough, you will begin to believe that you are solely responsible to make them happy and to make the relationship work. And no one person can make someone happy or make a relationship a success.
(or the “really not good, horrible phase”)
The pattern of idealization and devaluation can repeat itself over and over until either the abuser walks away or the victim gets strong enough to leave. Sometimes, both people decide to end the relationship at the same time. Either way, it would be good to understand what is happening and why. And no, you are not going crazy. Lots of factors led you into this relationship, and there are ways to get out and move on. You have been discarded. Now what?
(or “the narcissist/emotionally abusive partner needs you and starts to draw you back into whatever is left of the relationship”)
I think this is the hardest stage to deal with when leaving a narcissistic abuse relationship like this. You are determined to start rebuilding your life, and your partner shows up giving you all of the love, attention, and admiration that you received from them at the beginning of the relationship. Your partner during this phase might seem like they have changed and that they are committed to doing whatever it takes to make the relationship work. But are they really? How do you know if this is real or if they want to keep you hooked into a relationship that will never quite be what you want and need? Time will tell. If the person really does want to work on the relationship with you, it will become apparent over time. Rushing right back into a narcissistic abuse relationship most likely will not be your best option.
Narcissistic abuse recovery
Recovery from a narcissistic abusive relationship starts when you realize that you want and need more than what you have been accepting in your relationship. Starting the recovery process is a journey, and everyone’s journey looks different. Some people begin by educating themselves on what to expect from a relationship with a narcissist. I encourage you to find out everything that you can during this time. It could help you to realize that you are not alone and that everything you are experiencing is fairly predictable and expected.
Lastly, be kind to yourself at this time. Start cultivating your own friendships and relationships separate from the narcissist/emotionally abusive partner. Begin to honor yourself again. There is freedom when you can start knowing that you are ok at a deep level within yourself.
Don’t give up. You are worth it.