Do you ever find yourself in a relationship where you are doing most if not all of the work? Do you find yourself bending over backwards for someone but getting nothing in return? Do you find yourself answering the phone every time they call but getting no answer when you call them? Do you find yourself caught up constantly doing things for someone simply because they "need" you or demand that you do these things yet, they do nothing for you? Do you find that you are constantly being hurt by someone you think is supposed to love you and also feeling like it is your own fault that you are hurt? Are you constantly believing that you are the only cause of the problems in the relationship? These are some questions you may answer yes to if you are in a relationship with a narcissist. When I say relationship, I'm talking about any relationship whether it be your boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, family member, etc.
In today's society, narcissism has reached it's peak. Could it possibly be because social media is at our fingertips? We can easily show off the glitz and glamour of our lives, post selfies on a daily basis and even swipe to find a date. I want to point out that narcissistic behaviors and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are two completely different things. You don't need social media to be a narcissist and being a narcissist isn't about being full of yourself. We all have narcissistic traits with the "hey look at me" world we live in. However, NPD is a diagnosed disorder that can potentially lead to harmful behavior towards others, domestic violence and can leave you feeling emotionally, physically and financially drained. People with NPD cause hurt and gain control. For the purposes of this post, let's talk about how to recognize when you are in a relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder and what to do about it!
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), which is used by the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose and treat mental disorders states that an individual with NPD will exhibit five out of the nine listed standards or behaviors (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). These nine standards include:
A grandiose logic of self-importance
A fixation with fantasies on infinite success, control, brilliance, beauty or idyllic love
A credence that he or she is extraordinary and exceptional and can only be understood by other extraordinary or important people
A desire for unwarranted admiration
A sense of entitlement
Interpersonally oppressive behavior
No form of empathy
Resentment of others or a conviction that others are resentful of him or her
A display of egotistical and conceited behaviors or attitudes
There is no known cause of NPD but it is understood that those with it had some form of an inadequate childhood. They could have had a lack of reasonable parenting whether it was being overprotected or under protected. The individual may not have developed a sense of their true self that is necessary for confident living. Lack of care or too much care during their childhood disturbs the development of self-esteem and the ability to function in society. The individual will develop a false self which becomes their defense mechanism.
Someone with NPD can be hard to recognize. In fact, it is one of the most rarely diagnosed personality disorders to date. This is likely because an individual with NPD does not agree that they need some form of therapy. The individual can be extremely manipulative, highly materialistic, entitled and impulsive yet it can be hard for those close to them to recognize the signs until they are too invested into the relationship. Most individuals with NPD actually have a low self-esteem and strong feelings of inadequacy. However, they are incapable of receiving disapproval or being rejected by anyone or anything. Once they receive this type of treatment, they can become angry, aggressive, violent, unforgiving and even move on to another person quickly without showing any signs of regret or guilt for their behavior. They can be known to have a victim for a certain period of time until that person recognizes their lack of empathy and even love for them. This is when they move on to someone else leaving their loved one to grieve an ended relationship and most cases having to build their lives back together. Someone with NPD can leave their "victim" broke, ashamed, jobless, lonely, depressed, homeless, suicidal and/or traumatized without any remorse or apology. It could also be the opposite where the individual with NPD convinces the other person they need them while at the same time gaining control over that persons mind and their heart. They then begin to do things that are not a characteristic of love but somehow convince you that it is in order to get you to stick around. In these cases the victim usually has to find the strength to end the relationship instead of the person with NPD. The person affected will quit their job, get fired from their job, stop talking to close friends and family members, stop going places and enjoying themselves, etc. This occurs when the person with NPD convinces you that you do not need those things in your life and that you're better off without them. They'll convince you that "all you need is them."
A lot of times the individual with NPD will have their victim feeling that everything is their fault. This is referred to as gas lighting and can be recognized when the individual with NPD says things like "see what you made me do?" or "because of you I..." or "it's your fault I cheated" or "if you weren't so annoying I would be around more." Do you see how this works? The narcissistic person does something that causes damage to the relationship but then convinces you that you are the one who actually caused it. You end up staying in order to prove to them that you love them. You begin doing things to "make up" for the damage you caused even when you're unsure of what you did to cause that damage.
So what does all of this mean? It means that narcissistic people are abusive. This doesn't necessarily mean physically but more so emotionally and mentally. They can be abusive in the form of stonewalling, smear campaigning, projection, gas lighting, and triangulation. It means that you should not have to put up with this type of treatment or behavior from someone else just because you love them. It means if you think you are in a relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder, get out now!
There is a real thing called narcissistic victim syndrome and this is something that develops over a period of time. It happens over a period of time because in the beginning of the relationship, this person seemed so perfect. They were loving, kind and generous. They made you feel so good and appreciated until you did something that displeased them. You have now become their victim and because they know you love them and will do anything for them even if that means losing yourself, they will take advantage of you. Here are some signs that you may have fallen victim to a narcissist.
You experience dissociation for survival
You walk on eggshells around this person not wanting to upset them
You forget about you wants, needs and desires and only focus on theirs
You struggle with health issues like weight loss, weight gain or anxiety and maybe even have somatic symptoms
You develop a pervasive sense of mistrust
You isolate yourself from your friends and family
You blame yourself for the way the narcissist treats you
You develop self-destructive behaviors
You fear doing things you love
You fear achieving any goals
You protect your abuser at all costs
You may have a distorted sense of reality
You experience suicidal ideation
It is hard to believe that another person can make you feel this horrible, isn't it? Especially when it is someone you love. Hear me out, you do not have to be in this controlling relationship any longer! There are things you can do and should do so that you may live a fulfilling life on the other side of abuse. Listen to this, TRAUMA MAKES US VULNERABLE! In other words, those who are in a relationship with someone who has NPD tend to want to stay because their bond can be so intense. I want to be clear when I say that this is not a healthy bond. In fact the bond that you may feel could really be a sense of hopelessness, helplessness, control or even feeling like you can't do any better because this is what your abuser has convinced you of. No one owns you, not even the mother or father of your children. There are other people out there who will treat you the way you should be without having to manipulate you.
The first thing to do is tell someone what is going on! Whether that be a friend, family member or even a mental health specialist. Here is why... you need someone who will remind you of the type of relationship you are in because when you try to leave, your narcissistic abuser will convince you to stay. They will tell you that you won't find better, they will berate you, they will convince you that they need you when in fact they don't. You want to tell someone who will remind you of the truth when you decide you are going to stick around for the 50th time. Sometimes it takes several attempts to leave before it is successful and in some cases you think you are done and your abuser will continue to pop up months or even years later. If you are in deep, you've likely told your friends and family lies about this person already making them seem like a wonderful person. It is okay and it is okay to now tell the truth. It's likely true that those close to you already knew about this persons real behavior so you telling them will bring you closer and you will now have some support!
Educate yourself on all aspects or narcissism. The more you know, the easier it is to understand and accept. You will also become more comfortable telling the truth and telling your story. There are so many self-help groups for those affected by narcissist. You can find them locally or even online sources. Through these groups, tell your story. Don't be ashamed because you are not alone.
Recognize that this is not your fault! Those with NPD are so convincing and usually seek those with a giving heart and a lot of compassion. No one is able to spot a narcissist from a crowd or even in a small group. Once you recognize this, learn about NPD. Understand that the person you love is incapable of loving you back, incapable of providing healthy affection, understanding and commitment to an adult relationship. It is a hard pill to swallow but once you realize you do not actually know this person, it is easier to get out and move on. It is easier to find yourself again and live a fulfilling life without control and abuse. Also realize that you will likely never receive an apology from this person and you will never know the exact reason or point in time when you fell victim to this person. Be strong and stay strong because it is not an easy process.
Walk away from anything that no longer serves you! You are not sinning, you are not wrong, you are not a bad person and you are not giving up if this is the situation you are in! Make sure you have support when doing this and make sure you are safe. If you need to call 911, a domestic violence center or a police department do so! Don't have any contact with your abuser after you walk away whether that involves changing your phone number, not giving out your address or even taking out a restraining order! Get away and stay away.
In some cases, individuals with narcissistic victim syndrome may suffer greatly from things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stockholm Syndrome or Cognitive Dissonance. This typically happens after longer periods of abuse from the narcissist or years of being controlled. Understand that you are not permanently damaged and that happiness can still exist. If you feel like you may be displaying symptoms of a more serious traumatic disorder, seek help from a mental health professional. You don't have to live the rest of your life this way!
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a Doctor or practicing professional in mental health. I earned my M.A in Forensic Psychology from Argosy University. I am currently a member of the peer support team for first responder's and those who work with first responder's. I enjoy studying mental health and I take trainings to further my education on current mental health issues.