Sally knew she shouldn’t have done it. But against her better judgement, she decided to give it a try. Sadly, the relationship ended up causing her much more pain than it was worth. That’s what can happen when you date a narcissist.
“It’s easy to fall in love with narcissists,” said Darlene Lancer, marriage and family therapist. “They’re seen as charming, confident, open, and entertaining. Their alluring performance is designed to win trust and love.”
However, once you’re hooked, narcissists lack the motivation to maintain a façade and soon become disappointed in their partner. Their criticisms escalate, Lancer said, and they may act distant and dismissive. In vain attempts to win approval and stay connected, partners thread on eggshells, fearful of displeasing the narcissist.
“The partner worries what the narcissist will think or do, and becomes preoccupied with the relationship,” Lancer said. “They have to fit in to the narcissists’ cold world and get used to living in an emotional desert.”
This was Sally. Her whole life revolved around Bill, as he flirted with the cashier, cut to the front of the line, castigated the waitress, and did so much more to embarrass Sally.
Willingly, she contended with his demands, judgements, and self-centeredness. She let Bill act anyway he wanted, and she dared not say a word about it.
When she did speak up, he quickly made her feel like a louse for “damaging” his needs and fragile self-esteem. He chastised her for not appreciating his specialness.
“Narcissists put themselves first, and their partners concur,” Lancer said. “Both agree that the narcissist is great and that his or her mate isn’t and should sacrifice! This makes their relationship work . . . in the beginning. Eventually, the partner feels drained, hurt, resentful, disrespected, and lonely.”
Sally pined away for years longing to feel respected, important, appreciated, and cared about. Her self-esteem suffered. She risked turning into an empty shell of her former self.
Unfortunately, she had more power than she thought, but failed to use it. Then, she realized through the help of a friend that it was possible to break away from Bill, and recapture her self-worth and dignity.
It wouldn’t be easy. But armed with a good support system and a therapist with expertise in treating codependency, Sally had a chance.
Sally was codependent, meaning she needed Bill to feel okay about herself. As odd as this might sound, she was terrified of being rejected or abandoned by him. She was depressed and lonely at the thought of being without him for too long. She believed she could not function on her own.
This trait made it hard for her end the relationship, even when it was painful and abusive. She ended up feeling trapped.
Why would Sally choose a narcissist in the first place? Why not find someone who would treat her well, with love and respect, value and admiration?
“If only that were true,” Lancer said. “Codependency has been around for almost four decades. Although it originally applied to spouses of alcoholics, first called co-alcoholics, research revealed that the characteristics of codependents were much more prevalent in the general population than had been imagined. In fact, they found that if you were raised in a dysfunctional family or had an ill parent, it’s likely that you’re codependent.”
Research also reveals that codependent symptoms progress in stages, and get worse if untreated. But it is possible to reverse them. You can’t change the narcissist, but you can change yourself.
For Sally, it began by embracing the belief that she was a separate valuable human being. At the same time, she developed practices that led to calming her nervous system—gentle yoga; a form of meditation, including prayer and scripture reading; listening to music; going to tai chi classes; doing cardiovascular exercises that lowered stress, got her endorphins working, and strengthened her immune system.
Getting a Support System in Place
Linda Martinez-Lewi, PhD, Narcissistic Personality Clinical Expert, encourages codependents like Sally to develop a support system of people whom they can trust. They don’t have to understand the narcissist in your life, Martinez said, but if they are truly empathetic they will help as they listen and care deeply about you.
“Do what you love—photography, sketching, writing each day with freedom and lack of judgment, spending time in nature, gardening, cooking—whatever appeals to you and introduces beauty into your life,” Martinez said.
If you are married to a narcissist it is possible that you will make the decision to divorce this person. Often it is impossible to live with this kind of psychopathology. But do careful research, interview attorneys, obtain the tools you need to move through the divorce process. Often this is a battle royale with the narcissist playing very dirty, according to Martinez.
Even so, choose to be a victim no more, said Psych Central author Monica Magnetti. “The relationship has ended. Embrace that truth.”
“You want to move forward, with no more abuse,” “Rise to the top—your top—by consciously shifting from putting yourself down to showing deep empathy for yourself. Then rebuild your self-confidence by taking an objective inventory of who you are. No cheating! No counting yourself short!”
“Promise yourself that from now on, you will be your own leader,” Magnetti said. “You will believe in yourself and your achievements and will shower yourself with empathy. Yes, empathy, the quality totally missing from a narcissist, may just be the perfect antidote to dating one.”
Martinez added: “Remember, now is the time to finally think about your own needs. You have never done this in your life before. Take very good care of yourself. You are entitled.”
Lancer, D. “5 Red Flags and Blind Spots in Dating a Narcissist.” Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/5-red-flags-and-blind-spots-in-dating-a-narcissist/
Magnetti, M. (2017). “How Do You Recover from Dating a Narcissist?” Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-do-you-recover-from-dating-a-narcissist/
Martinez-Lewi, L. “The Narcissist in Your Life.” August 29, 2014. Blog. Retrieved from http://thenarcissistinyourlife.com/author/linda-martinez-lewi-phd/