Last updated on November 25th, 2023.
We’ve all known a narcissist. The world revolves around them and if something doesn’t go their way, like a screaming toddler they get angry and often mean. Sometimes the narcissist is overt, like person who is constantly fishing for compliments by talking about everything they’ve been accomplishing “for the benefit of others.” Other times however, they are more subtle, throwing little verbal jabs and belittling people and ideas and waiting for just the right opportunity to be the fun one who saves the party.
The fascinating dichotomy with a narcissist is, with as much as they create suffering in others while trying to boost they own self image, in reality they’re like a playground bully, and the place they come from is their own internal suffering. See, narcissists lack self-esteem and believe they are victims of their circumstances. And, as much as it is difficult if you’ve been the emotional punching bag of a narcissist, what we can sympathize with is Narcissists are insecure and constantly scraping for validation.
That, unfortunately, can cause them to be cruel and abusive to their partners. The narcissist needs everyone to feel that they are the best, the smartest, the most worthy. And a sure-fire way to achieve all the praise and adulation is to cruelly manipulate someone or a group of people into worshipping them.
Read on as we discuss the ins and outs of narcissistic relationships.
Narcissistic Relationships: Beginning, Middle and End
In relationships, Narcissists tear their partners down slowly but thoroughly. They make their partner doubt themselves. They blame their partners for their own mistakes and even brainwash their partners into cleaning up their messes. Because again, to the narcissist, they are a victim of their circumstance and not responsible for what has transpired. These are some of the easiest symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder to spot.
A victim of a narcissist loses themselves. They are told over and over that they are not worthy and eventually they begin to believe it. They pull away from their support system over shame and self-loathing. They pull away from hobbies and goals because they begin to believe that they have no talent or brains. The narcissist isolates them from everything, including their inner self.
But, through hard work, courage and will-power, a person who may feel trapped in a narcissistic relationship can get away. And, either through therapy, building personal mental fortitude and resilience or maybe even with the help of a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program, they can find themselves again and start to live their lives to the fullest.
In this article, we’ll discuss what it’s like to be in a relationship with a narcissist. You’ll also learn how to spot and abusive narcissistic relationship, whether it’s your relationship or the relationship of a friend or loved one. We’ll talk about the length of narcissistic relationships and the typical behavior of a narcissistic after a relationship ends.
Further, we’ll do a deep dive into gaslighting, including its causes and the signs. Lastly, there are ways to recover from a narcissistic relationship and we’ll go through them. We’ll try to give the victims of a narcissist hope that there is a way out. That they have the strength to fly free!
What is a relationship with a Narcissist like?
At the beginning, you are swept off your feet. The narcissist makes themselves out to be the best and the brightest, and they make you, their partner, out to be their shining star. But, it’s all a lie. The narcissist needs to suck their partner in. They need to manipulate their emotions, psyches and beliefs to reprogram them.
See, the narcissist, with their low self-esteem, has a need. A need to be boosted up and worshipped. And what better way to be worshipped than to manipulate an innocent person into believing their manipulative partner is perfect. The narcissist will do anything to have their ego stroked. And they have no qualms about using physical, psychological and emotional abuse to fulfill their needs.
The narcissist will lie often enough and without guilt to cause the victim to feel that that they are the bad guy in the relationship. The narcissist will make the victim doubt themselves and their reality. It’s a way for the narcissist to take and hold control of the relationship. Ultimately, to feel good about themselves, they must make their partner feel small, weak, and powerless.
The victim will feel like they are going insane and that they are the problem in the relationship. They will feel powerless to fight or to leave. That’s how the narcissist works. They tear a person down, isolate them from their support system, and make them doubt their own mind.
A narcissist can make their partner feel depressed and anxious and even cause them to experience suicidal ideation. Often times these behaviors lead to arguments. It is important to learn how to handle arguments in a relationship, and we’ve got an article to help you out.
5 Key Ways of Spotting Narcissistic Abuse in Relationships
It’s hard to spot narcissistic abuse in a friend or loved one because the abuse victim may pull away from their support system and isolate themselves. But there are a few key ways to tell if your friend or loved one is in a narcissistic abusive relationship:
1. The relationship appears toxic and the suspected narcissist is mean and uncaring
2. The suspected narcissist is immature, and you’ll find that your loved one is always bending, making excuses, or giving in
3. The suspected abuse victim acts out of character, is overly angry, and has trouble coping in their relationship, even though they’ve always been calm and clear-minded
4. The suspected abuse victim feels the need to prove they are still a good person. They most likely are being manipulated into thinking they are not a good person, and their mind is slowly reprogramming itself into believing they are the bad guy in the relationship
5. The suspected abuse victim is fixing the narcissist’s problems, from paying their fines to covering for their lies
If you suspect someone is the victim of a narcissistic abuser, remember, they may be too ashamed to admit it. Being part of their support system will go a long way to helping them. You could also suggest they talk to a mental health care professional or seek help from an online community. But, being there for them and show them that they are worthy will help as well.
Your friend will not take the first steps to help themselves until they are ready. I’ve seen this first-hand. It’s embarrassing to admit to yourself that something is wrong and that not everything is perfect. You may beg and plead with your friend to leave their toxic relationship and to get help. But nothing will help until they gain the strength and the power to take their life back!
How Long do Narcissistic Relationships Last?
Narcissistic relationships frequently do not last very long, as the narcissist gets bored if they believe they have “won.” Six months are sometimes all a narcissistic can handle in a relationship, as they begin to require more intense adoration, the type the normally achieve at the beginning of a relationship.
And the narcissist has no qualms about dropping their partner like a hot potato if they aren’t receiving all the adulation they feel they deserve. It can be cruel and heartless, but the narcissist will drop one partner and begin a relationship with another partner in the blink of an eye, without feeling any guilt or remorse.
However, just as long as the narcissist keeps achieving a high level of ego stroking, enough to keep their self-esteem fed, they can maintain a long-term relationship with one partner.
What a Narcissist Does at the End of a Relationship
Narcissist only care for themselves, so, by the end of a relationship, they are showing their stripes. They have no need to fake emotion, compassion and love. They are in it for themselves and don’t care who they hurt.
Please don’t forget that no matter how a narcissist appears, they lack empathy. They will have no qualms about dropping someone like a hot potato, no matter how long they’ve been together.
And, if the abused partner drops the narcissist, frequently, the narcissist will rewrite history and will lie to everyone, telling them that they left the victim, not the other way around. See, they can only preserve their fragile ego with lies.
At the end of a relationship, the narcissist will try to hurt their partner as much as possible. They will attempt to take as much away from the partner as possible, be it children, money or pets.
But, in the middle of causing their partner despair, the narcissist can frequently do a 180-degree turn and begin treating their partner properly again. Why does the narcissist put on his “normal” mask once more? Well, we cannot forget that the narcissist possesses low self-esteem and sometimes needs a top-up. So, the narcissist goes to the closest to them, and manipulates their emotions so they once again trust and possibly love them again. The process is called “hoovering,” (or sucking the abuse victim back into the relationship) and is a quite common occurrence in a narcissistic abusive relationship.
By the end of a narcissistic abusive relationship, the narcissist may already be in another relationship. They continuously need to feed their ego. At the same the abuser could be showing the worst aspects of their character with their current partner, they may already be faking the characteristics of a perfect partner with their new, prospective love interest. The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle, is, as it sounds cyclical and the narcissist can rotate cycle multiple times with one partner or with multiple partners, one at a time.
What does gaslighting mean?
The term “gaslighting” comes from the 1938 play, Gas Light, in which a husband connives to convince his wife that she is mentally unbalanced. Narcissists deploy the tactic of gaslighting to gain power over their victim. Per Merriam-Webster Dictionary, gaslighting is an “attempt to make (someone) believe that he or she is going insane (as by subjecting that person to a series of experiences that have no rational explanation).”
In fact, gaslighting is not only used by narcissists. It’s the same strategy used by cult leaders and dictators to bolster their power. The phenomenon is rooted in a power imbalance between the narcissist or abuser, and the victim. The abuser is entirely in control and the victim is mired in a state of fear, doubt and insecurity.
Gaslighting can lead to low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, and confusion in the victim. There’s even a chance that they may experience psychosis as the abuser slowly manipulates the victim to make them question their reality. They will eventually become virtually helpless, making them even more susceptible to the abuser’s manipulation.
Psychology Today lists the warning signs that a person is a victim of gaslighting:
- The abuser tells bold face lies. This conditions the victim to become confused, unsure of what is true and what is not true.
- The abuser lies by denying they said something, even though there is concrete proof. Again, the victim begins to question their reality.
- The abuser attacks the things closest to the victim’s identity. For instance, the abuser may tell the victim they are a terrible parent, a terrible worker, a terrible artist, whatever the thing is that makes up their identity.
- The abuser wears down the victim gradually so that the he/she doesn’t realize what is happening.
- The abuser’s actions and words don’t match. Their actions may be abusive, but they will talk as if they are innocent and blameless.
- Not only does the abuser act terribly, they confuse their victim by giving praise.
- The abuser is cognizant that they are manipulating their victim.
- The abuser projects his bad behaviors on the victim. If they drink too much, they will accuse their victim of drinking too much.
- The abuser will turn the victim’s allies against them through manipulation.
- The abuser will tell the victim that he/she is crazy. The abuser will tell the same thing to the victim’s allies.
- The abuser will manipulate the victim and make them believe everyone is lying to them. This will make them question their reality.
How do You Resist Gaslighting?
Victims of gaslighting may feel helpless. They’ve been conditioned and manipulated into thinking they are weak and helpless. But, in reality, they are not. They can fight back.
Here are a few ways a victim of gaslighting can hold onto reality and resist being manipulated into believing lies and accepting negative behavior:
- Don’t deny the truth. A victim of gaslighting must hold on to what they know is the truth. They cannot give in to self-doubt.
- Take time to think things over. This is the easiest way to hold onto reality and maintain self-control.
- Instead of accusing the gas-lighter of lying, the victim should just succinctly state the facts.
- The victim must not take the blame for false accusations.
- The victim must not allow the gas-lighter to change topics or muddy the conversation.
- The victim must be clear that they will not tolerate inappropriate behavior and that they will bow out of a conversation until the abuser acts fairly.
- The victim must have the strength to give in when necessary. There may be situations when it is counterproductive to stand up to the abuser.
It may be difficult and even terrifying, but the more the victim fights back and holds onto the truth, the more empowered the victim will become. The victim may even be able to rise to a position of strength and show the abuser that they will not be manipulated. Staying strong and holding onto one’s convictions could even cause the abuser to reevaluate their behavior and begin to listen and grow healthier, both emotionally and psychologically. However, psychotherapist Stephanie Moulton Sarkis believes that the healthiest course of action is to distance one’s self or even leave the abuser.
How do you Recover From a Relationship with a Narcissist?
Healing from an abusive narcissistic relationship is akin to healing from trauma. It will take time. It will take a support system, and most of all, it will take strength. And, healing may feel impossible, but we are here to tell you that it is not. The best way to start is with a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program.
Recovering from abuse at the hands of a narcissist will make you feel like you are on a rollercoaster some days and slogging through mud on other days. It’s not a sprint to the finish line but more of a marathon.
But, with counseling from a mental health care professional, a support system of friends and loved ones, or even an online community, and the will to get better, a victim of narcissistic abuse will emerge stronger and more resilient.
Abuse victims go through stages of introspection, discovering, and healing after the relationship with a narcissist is over.
The stage when the victim realizes they are a victim. They may feel:
- Fear of the future
- Anger at the realization that they are a victim
The stage when the victim begins to feel like a survivor. They begin to feel:
- Easily triggered
- Ready for counseling
- Slow to trust
- Struggling to move forward
The state when the victim begins to thrive again. But they may still feel:
- A lack of concentration
- A desire for freedom
- A lack of forgiveness toward the abuser
To heal from narcissistic abuse, the victim needs to learn, through a mental health professional or from one of the many online courses out there, such as Understanding Narcissism on how to set boundaries, how to take their life back, and how to move on and move forward.
It’s very helpful for the victim to engage with other survivors. This will allow the victim to learn that they are not alone. That there are people out there who understand what they are going through. There are online and in-person support groups that will allow the victim to express themselves in a safe space. Support groups will also help build healthy relationships.
It’s also helpful for the victim to learn to know one’s self again. Yoga and meditation are great ways of restoring the self. They will go allow the survivor to refocus and achieve mindfulness. And, when the survivor peels back all the hurt and finds their true self, it will do wonders for their self-confidence.
We’ve discussed the characteristics of a narcissistic relationship. And we’ve hopefully given some key clues so that you can spot if your loved one is in an unhealthy and abusive relationship with a narcissist. We’ve gone through what a narcissist relationship is like, including how long they tend to last. And we’ve talked in-depth about gaslighting, a manipulation tactic used by narcissists to maintain the illusion of power in a relationship. And, most importantly, we’ve discussed ways for the survivor of a narcissist to heal and to flourish.
By seeking help from a mental health care profession, an online Narcissist Abuse Recovery Program, or a community of survivors, the victim of a narcissist can discover their power and self-worth. They will learn how to break free and how to heal. It will take time but finding themselves again after the trauma and abuse of a narcissist is possible and can lead to a richer and more purpose-driven life.