What it’s like to be in a relationship with a narcissist
I've heard many stories lately of people who’ve been very wounded by someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Whether that be a partner, parent, boss or any other significant person in their life.
Often, people think of a narcissist as someone who is just pretty self-centered. If that’s the case, then we all have narcissistic characteristics in us because we can all be selfish human beings.
But the actual personality disorder takes it to a whole other level. It is a very REAL and serious disorder. One that includes intense psychological torture, gas-lighting, severe manipulation, character assassinations, shaming, and blaming… to name a few.
It’s hard to put into words the horror of being in a relationship with a narcissist, but it’s something like this:
You know the feeling you get when you see a puppy? A super cute one… like an Australian shepherd or golden retriever pup. Your heart melts, and you instantly fall in love. You’re smitten. The overload of cuteness is real.
The delight, joy, and warmth you feel in your heart when you see a puppy is similar to what a narcissist feels when they destroy your soul. And I don’t mean that lightly. I mean they meticulously destroy your very personhood until you are driven to madness, depression, or suicide.
They take your personhood and all of who God created you to be and find delight in taking those unique character traits about you, placing them in a blender and watching your heart be shredded to pieces.
So how do I know if someone in my life is a narcissist?
So how do I know if someone in my life is a narcissist? Here are some common characteristics of all narcissists:
A Lack of Empathy
Narcissists are incapable of empathy. They are wonderful at putting on a show in front of others (see my next point below), but when it comes down to it, they have no real empathy.
This could look a couple of different ways. It could flesh itself out as complete indifference towards your hurt, a playing of innocence and misunderstanding as to why you’re so upset, including downplaying and invalidating your appropriate emotional reaction to a situation. They could rip you to shreds with their words and stand there and watch you cry with literally no emotional response. Or even twist a situation around to make you seem or feel crazy for reacting a certain way.
People who are in their direct family see this best. It isn’t often anyone outside the circle of abuse who sees this.
In the end, it comes down to their lack of ability to relate to you in any emotional capacity outside their circle of manipulation.
Living a Double Life
Narcissists are always one person in front of people and another person behind closed doors. They have a tremendous talent for putting on such a facade in public that oftentimes when the abused family member comes forth, people don’t believe what the victim is saying. The narcissists have done such an excellent job of manipulating people by their charm and subtly blaming their partner that others think they are dramatic, sensitive, or crazy.
I can’t count how many people I’ve talked to that have had their narcissistic partner cheat on them, and once confronted, look them in the eye, and with sincere conviction, lie about how they would never do such a thing. All the while, subtly twisting the conversation around to how you don’t trust them, look at all they’ve done for you, they never do anything right, etc. Basically, the conversation is twisted, so it’s about your flaws, so you’re left defending yourself, or they play the victim, and you’re left trying to comfort them and tell them what a reasonable person they are.
Ultimately keeping anything else as the center focus of the conversation rather than what they did wrong.
Speaking in General Terms
Say you go to couple’s counseling and you’re talking to the counselor. Your conversation might go something like this:
"He deserves the best, and I haven’t given that to him. I made mistakes, but I’m sorry for those and promise to try harder. I should have done more! I should try harder to change. I love him and will do anything for him."
Well if you break down those statements, they mean nothing. Start asking questions like; “What do you think you’ve done wrong?” “What mistakes did you make?” “what do you need to try harder at?” “What are the specific things you need to ask for forgiveness for?”
The NPD may say something like:
“I should have appreciated you more.” Well, in reality, all that’s doing is placing the blame on the spouse. It sounds good on the NPD’s part, but they might as well be saying, “She’s so needy and high-maintenance that she didn’t appreciate the affirmation I already gave her, so I guess I need to give her more.”
Or the NPD may continue with listing things the spouse thinks he has done wrong. Like, “she said I need to do this.. or change that,” etc. But if you continue to dissect further, they can’t list anything they believe they’ve done wrong in any specific way because the NPD doesn't think what they’ve done is wrong.
An NPD only gives apologies out of manipulation and as a means to keep the victim trapped. Whether that be to shut the other person up so they don’t have to deal with you anymore or to make it seem like they’re remorseful so you think they’ve changed and you’ll stay in the life-sucking relationship. They derive power from being able to control you.
They Never Change
At their core, a narcissist doesn’t think they’ve done anything wrong. Ever. So, for example, if you, as the spouse, have asked the NPD to change, you’ll often see “change” happen immediately and quickly… but it never lasts. I’ve heard people talk about the NPD’s “change” lasting anywhere from 1 week to 6. But regardless, things never truly change.
Which leads me to my next point…
The Relationship Runs in a Cycle
Part of the way an NPD keeps the victim trapped is by maintaining a very cyclical relationship. For example, you may put up with their manipulative verbal and emotional abuse for a while and once you take a stand and threaten to leave they start to “change.” They will woo you in by being very lovey-dovey and kind, help out around the house, etc. But in reality, what they are doing is throwing you bait. Causing you to doubt yourself, so you’ll forever stay trapped.
You may have thoughts like, “I'm too hard on her.” “ See, she can change, I’ll give her another chance.” etc. But after the honeymoon phase is over, it always comes back around to the abusive behavior.
Is There Hope for the NPD?
Part of the grieving process of realizing the truth about this person is always holding on to the hope that they will change.
So is there hope?
To be honest, no. And to think so is to be in denial.
But I’m a Christian, right?
This isn’t an issue of whether God can change someone or not - it’s an issue of the NPD being inherently unable and unwilling to submit to God’s authority. At the very core of their being, they have such grandiose thinking that they do not believe God know’s what’s best for their life or that He is the authority to which to submit to.
Be warned, an NPD can and will say all the right things! They are master craftsmen at saying and doing all the right things in public, especially in Christian settings.
What they’re saying may sound deep, thoughtful and accurate, however, the problem arises because there never is nor will be real application in their own lives, nor do you ever see real fruit come over time.
The number of pastors and ministry leaders that have NPD is unfortunate and startling. In fact, many churches, especially ones that lean more on the legalistic side, create a culture that allows narcissists to thrive.
Narcissists are pathological liars. And do any and everything in their power to maintain their ego. An NPD is incapable of relating outside of manipulation and is incapable of relating to their spouse or children outside of abuse.
Nothing is what it seems with a narcissist.
What I often tell partners of an NPD is that there is a reason you were attracted to this person. There is a reason why you put up with this abuse as long as you did. The wounds we have don’t just magically disappear, either. Just because you end the relationship with the narcissist doesn’t mean you’re healed and will never fall into another unhealthy relationship.
It’s vitally important to let God piece your heart back together and mend the wounds that were there in the first place that caused you to get into this relationship before moving forward in life.
If you have a narcissist in your life and are struggling with how to heal, contact Lauren today!