The Narcissistic Relationship: Take Back Your Power


The tale of Narcissus in mythology is a heartbreaking one. The son of the Greek river god, Cephissus and a nymph named Liriope. Narcissus was young, attractive and an accomplished, with a life full of potential in front of him. Yet, Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected back in a pool of water. Entranced with his own reflection he wasted away until he died staring at himself. 

The story of Narcissus is where the term " narcissism" comes from. Narcissism is the inability to see past your own needs, wants, desires and display empathy for others. Being in a relationship with someone like this is extremely emotionally traumatizing and can even lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Attachment issues, and low-self esteem. 

Narcissism develops from early childhood trauma when a child learns that they can not show their "authentic self" due to an unavailable, selfish or neglectful caregiver. In order to survive, the child develops a "false self" as a defense to protect against the emotional pain and rejection of the primary attachment figure. 

This "false self" becomes the way the person learns to exist in the world. Essentially, these people are unable to acknowledge their internal pain, vulnerability and go through life pretending to be someone they are not.  Because of this, they use external validation to feed their ego, numb their childhood trauma and feel better about themselves.

Narcissist's lack a coherent sense of self so they use environmental stimuli to feel worthy and powerful. They may seek out travel, expensive clothing, powerful jobs or beautiful partners to project to the world that they are "good enough." Using life experiences, things and interesting stories about their lives to feel worthy and lovable. 

It can be hard to spot a Narcissist, especially early on because there is something about them that is powerful, intriguing and captivating but also wounded, helpless and vulnerable at the same time. 

There is.

The moment that they feel they are safe in a relationship and know that they have been unconditionally accepted, their true character begins to show. Suddenly, they become critical, selfish and demanding. Spinning things to make you feel crazy and demanding that everything is on their terms. 

A narcissist is a lion dress in sheep's clothing and sheep dressed in lion's clothing. They are wounded children deep in their soul- going through life longing for acceptance and love. While at the same time destroying everything and everyone around them, causing havoc and breaking heart after heart. 

Here are some signs that you may be involved with a narcissist: 

  Story Telling: Narcissists LOVE to tell stories, especially stories about themselves, their lives and their conquests. Often they will dominate conversations and exaggerate their accomplishments. 

To the narcissist, there is nothing more externally validating than having a great story to tell that makes them feel "special" or "better" than everyone else. That is why narcissist often seek out adventure, travel, care about their external appearance and want to have "the best" of everything.

However, at the same time, they feel inadequate and lonely if their story gets old or someone has a better one. Because of this, the narcissist will resort to putting down others to defend against feeling less superior. 

Idealizing and Devaluing: During the initial stages of a relationships narcissist can come across as being extremely charismatic, flattering and seductive. They can make you feel extremely special in their quest to win you over. 

However, narcissist are not able to love others in a normal way. For them, people and relationships serve a purpose: to feed their ego and validate their "false self." Narcissist use love to fill their internal void and temporarily fulfill their need for intimacy. However, once they get what they need... They will begin to devalue you and eventually drop you without looking back. 

This leaves many people feeling confused, traumatized and guilty. How can someone pursue you so much and then be so hurtful?! 

It's because to a narcissist- people and relationships do not matter. They only serve a purpose to get validation. You are essentially just a character in the play that they have created to uphold their "false self" and validate their image. Just like an actress- once you have played out your role in the story, you will be replaced by "the next best thing." But only after he criticizes, ridicules and devalues you to the point of feeling like YOU are the problem (it's never him.) 

This is extremely painful, especially if the narcissist moves on quickly to another relationship and is "charming" the new person.

Remember one thing- narcissist can't change how they relate to people- the new actress is only a temporary stand-in and her faith within the relationship is no different than your own. 

Avoiding Responsibility: A Narcissist is unable to face their own flaws or acknowledge any mistakes they have made or short comings that they may have. What can be more threatening to the "false self" than admitting that you may not be perfect?! 

The narcissist will blame everyone other than themselves. If you get out of the relationship- be prepared that family and friends who are close with the narcissist will hear stories that paint you as the one who ruined the relationship and makes them look like the victim. When things don't go the way the narcissist wants they can become easily angered,  tantrum, negative comments, ridicule, withdraw love and play an unavoidable "blame game." 

This is called Gaslighting and is a form of emotional abuse, common in relationships with narcissistic partners. You may notice that they also blame others for conflict at work, friendships or inter-personal problems, this is because the narcissist doesn't have the ability or insight to take accountability for their own negative actions and behaviors. 

Lack of Follow Through:  Another way to spot a narcissist is to measure her or his actions against their words. Many narcissists lack reliability and follow through. This can range from regularly breaking appointments, to habitually falling through on promises and agreements. The lack of dependability can be emotional as well - being there for you one minute and gone the next. When you observe a pattern of inconsistency between what your partner says, versus what she or he actually does, you may be dealing with a narcissist who is on their own timeline. 

A Sense of Entitlement: Narcissist expects special treatment from others. In their world, they deserve to have the "best" even if they didn't put in the work or effort to get it. Whether that's a job, partner, food or accommodations, they want the preferential treatment. They are master manipulators and are very good at getting what they want out of others, without much effort on their part- notice how they treat people who are able to get them what they want in the moment. Then notice if they say something negative about that same person later on- because a duh, why would that person deserve something that the narcissist thinks they deserve?!

If any of this has struck a chord or resonated with you, it is very important to seek help. Often, being in a relationship with someone who has this personality disorder can lead to emotional and psychological abuse, which can be extremely traumatic. 

You can read more about the symptoms of narcissistic abuse and the trauma bond here. 

***If you think that you or someone that you know is in an emotionally abusive relationship, it is very important to bring awareness, educate yourself and begin the process of healing. 

I highly recommend doing some research on Narcissistic Personality Disorder and relationships. An amazing place to start is by reading the book: Help! I am in Love with a Narcissist.  

You can also download the free handout that I created here:  Understanding and Healing From Narcissistic Abuse. 

Youtube has a lot of informative videos and there are support groups avaliable online.