As humans, we have a never-ending ability to see the good in others. We forgive, we forget, we give the benefit of the doubt. Admirable as these qualities are, it might sometimes leave us with a lack of objectivity. The objectivity we need to make decisions. In the case of relationships, we can react appropriately if there is enough evidence in front of us…physical abuse, infidelity, neglect are all good signs that we should get away quickly. However, anyone who has become involved with a narcissist will know that these signs are not evident and if they are, often we cannot see the wood for the trees.
When you first become involved with a narcissist, the world could not seem a better place. That broken road you have been walking to that point is suddenly blessed with all the things you have been missing. Attention (emotional and physical), understanding (it is amazing how much), hope (that the future will be brighter) are all in abundance at the beginning of the relationship. It is like the gift that keeps on giving. You wonder where this person has been all your life and why it took you so long to find them. You believe all the cliches…”love at first sight”, “every pot has its lid”, “all good things come to those who wait” “this is my soul mate”. You are swept away in a tide of emotional abandon with a seemingly like-minded person who only has your interests at heart. You fall in love fully and completely, you drop your boundaries and do not listen to your instincts that might hold some warning signs. The odd things they say, the way they dealt with previous partners, those occasions when you thought to yourself..”ok..that was strange”. You convince yourself that you will be the one who can change them, they will be different with you, you blame the ex-partners. YOU BELIEVE THE ILLUSION. You give up your own activities, sometimes your friends, you do not listen to any dissenting voices and you give your all to that one person. It doesn’t matter that you don’t seem to be getting much back or the new partner seems on occasions to be emotionally distant or unreliable. You can always find justification for that. Everything will be ok in the end and if we get married and have children, they have to change, don’t they?
The bad news is..they won’t change. You have fallen in love with something that never existed. Once the euphoria dies down, the true character comes through. Like holding a tiger by the tail, it will only be a matter of time before you get bitten. The relationship can, however, run seemingly functionally for long periods and to the outside world, it can seem like a dream partnership…”those two are meant for each other”. At this point we have to explain that the most likely couple in this scenario is the narcissist-codependent type. A codependent puts everyone above them and keeps on giving (to their own detriment), the narcissist puts themselves above all around them and keeps on taking (to their own advantage). They are like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in an unhealthy, unrealistic picture of harmony. The codependent fashions an environment that makes the narcissist feel comfortable, they become indispensable, they martyr themselves. They believe the hype spouted from the narcissist that it is their fault for everything. The narcissist, devoid of compassion and the ability to love, sucks the life out of the codependent but allows Mr or Mrs Charming to reappear and hook them again, when he or she senses boundaries or resistance. And so this goes on until a certain point is reached. Either the codependent learns healthy ways to set and maintain boundaries, forcing the narcissistic to eventually look for his or her next victim after much punishment has been handed out (please note: it is never as easy as this!) or the narcissist discards when there is nothing left to take (but usually still tries to re hook at some stage).
Sound familiar? In my practice, I deal with this kind of relationship all the time and once you realise that you are dealing with a narcissist (I appreciate that some people do not realise this until the very end), the advice is clear. Get away from them as soon as possible and go no-contact. This is extremely difficult to begin with and many falter as it is the exact opposite of what has been normal behaviour for the codependent. When I mean no-contact, that is exactly what it means..cutting off all means of possible contact with your abuser. Email, phone, text, social media…anywhere, where Mr or Mrs Charming can break through. Block, Block; Block!!! (We have to draw a distinction here between no-contact and the silent treatment which is often a punishment tool for narcissists. The silent treatment is an abusive method of giving the message that you are below contempt and not worthy of contact. No contact is a protective measure and allows space for recovery and self-healing)
What happens if you have had the misfortune to have children with a narcissist? Then you must have contact? Yes, this is true. However, keep communication focused only on the child, Set up a communication method that suits you. For example, create a new email address where this communication goes. If it is too difficult to check, ask a friend to filter through it, picking out the important ones. Never give in to spontaneous requests for visits. Regulate when your partner sees the child and stick to it.
Part of the recovery process is to turn the love you have been throwing at the narcissist inwards towards yourself. After years of being told directly or indirectly that you are not good enough or are at fault for everything, this may take some time. It is however, work worth doing. Understanding how you got yourself into the situation where you could be abused and manipulated can be extremely enlightening and can create emotional space for the RIGHT relationship.