Many people (unfortunately too many) live in relationship with a narcissistic person. Men and women likewise – as this is one of those things which doesn’t depend on whether you have XX or XY chromosomes.
In my coaching practice I see many men and women struggling beside a narcissistic partner. And this struggle can be brutal. It can destroy your self-confidence, your self-appreciation, it can ultimately make you believe that you are a genuinely bad person who does not deserve anything good in life.
But how is it exactly being in a relationship with a narcissistic person?
The best analogy I have found for that is the famous novel and movie from Stephen King, the Misery. For those, who haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I summarise the essence of the story in a few sentences (spoiler alert!). The famous writer, Paul, has a car accident in Colorado and he is saved by Annie, who is his fan and also a nurse. She takes him to her house, and starts to cure him there – as the roads are closed due to the heavy snowing.
Later it turns out, that Annie has no intention whatsoever to let Paul go, as she is obsessed with him. She also freaks out, when she finds out that in his newly published book, Paul ‘kills’ the main character of the book series. She takes revenge, continues keeping Paul closed in the room, intentionally causes him physical harm and forces him to write a continuation of the book series, where the main character comes back to life from the dead. Paul tries to escape various times, but as he cannot walk due to his (repeated) injuries, he does not succeed. And then on a nice spring day…. But I will not share the whole story, I let you read the book or watch the movie.
So, how does this story represent the situation of living with a narcissist?
First and foremost, I would like to point out, that Annie in the movie has a far more pathological psychological issue, than narcissism. However, many of her moves and behaviours represent very well the way a narcissistic person functions within a relationship. So, let’s see what Annie does in the movie and how it is connected to real-life psychologically abusive relationships.
Annie saved Paul, because she loves him – she says. So, she holds him hostage and does not let him return to his life. Sounds logical… This is real love… Oh, wait… It is not.
A narcissistic person most of the times doesn’t know how to love. Even if they say they do, they have no idea. It happens because their emotions are underdeveloped or hidden very deep down and as a coping mechanism, they have learned how to fake emotions or desirable reactions. But none of these are true. This is a mechanism running deeply in their subconscious, therefore most of the times they are also not aware of these themselves. As they do not know love, they cannot feel it.
Instead, they want to own other people. They want others to belong to them, to depend on them and they want to control them. And of course, to be better than their partner. So, they take each and every opportunity to push the partner down. Also, another aspect of this issue is that the narcissistic person tries to isolate their partner from the outside world. Making the partner dependent only on them, not letting them keeping in touch with friends or family. So that they have the complete and ultimate control over the partner’s life and actions.
In the first days, Annie ‘sells’ herself as the real saviour, showing the best of herself. Then, some time later, she shows her real face – which has nothing to do with the nice and caring person she showed at first.
Same happens when you get to know a narcissistic person and you start a relationship with them. In the first period, they do everything the way you would desire. They behave like the best boyfriend/girlfriend of the whole universe. They do everything for you and even more. But then they get tired of pretending. Because what they have been showing so far is not the reality. It is only purely acting and faking. Which is indeed tiring. And when they have maxed out their faking potential, plus they also see that you are already on the hook, they show their real face. Being arrogant, everything but caring, starting to (at least) verbally abuse the partner, taking no responsibility for their actions and for hurting others with this behaviour.
They also start to make you believe, that the problem is you. That you changed, or that you are too sensitive. They can also understate their importance of hurting you – as they consider themselves perfect, without any flaws. So, the problem must be you, according to them. And what is especially scary is that sometimes they go back to being nice. For a day or two. Giving the hope to you, that things will be just fine from now on, until the end of times. But then sooner or later they lose the mask again and get back to the abusive behaviour, which is their true self. Round and round it goes….
While reading the newly published book, Annie loses it when she finds swear words in the book, that she doesn’t like. She puts up a huge verbal fight with Paul. Later, she calms down and tries to reconcile with Paul and confesses her love to him.
The narcissist cannot stand not being in control and not having things the way they want. If it still happens, they blame everyone but themselves. They start instantly a heavy psychological war against their partner and pour everything on them. Then, when they calm down, they act as if nothing has happened. Or, they realise that they might have done something bad. But as they cannot say sorry, they only start a reconciliation. Big bouquets of flowers, expensive jewellery, great surprises, home-cooked exquisite dinner, whatever you can imagine. Not saying sorry, only grand gestures. Which are meaningless for them. Which are actually empty. But they most probably win you back. All goes back to normal. But only until the next freaking-out situation, when it all starts over. Fight – calming down – act-as-nothing-happened/reconciliation. Over and over again. A never-ending story.
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