When you have been connected to a narcissist for a significant time, you can feel drained due to repetitions of many harmful patterns. Experience reveals that narcissists are not constructive, but destructive since a primary goal is to tear you down as they attempt to build up oneself. It is a terrible relationship strategy, nonetheless, it’s what they do.
In the process of tearing you down, narcissists invariably offer plenty of criticism, leaving you wondering if you will ever measure up. (The answer is no.)
Likewise, they will repeatedly invalidate, illustrating the narcissist’s pervasive lack of regard. Additionally, they are not bashful as they impose many opinions and preferences. Then making matters worse, they live with many double standards as they remind you of their privileged status, and your lack of the same. And to top it off, they offer many messages of shame, often delivered with anger and derision.
Ongoing exposure (sometimes for years) to their erosive messages can leave you feeling worn out, a shell of who you are and should be.
Ideally, it is best to completely remove yourself from their influence, but if logistics don’t support that, then you should minimize contact as much as common sense will allow.
Yet even after you minimize your physical contact with the narcissist, psychological wounds can linger. It’s possible to move forward in growth, but to do so, you’ll need to identify the patterns that are in play, then initiate plans emphasizing self-care.
Let’s look at four of the most common tensions that persist after a narcissist attempts to tear you down:
- Loneliness and its accompanying perplexity. After chronic mistreatment, it is quite normal to experience quizzical bewilderment. You can ask: What was that all about? Who will ever understand what I’ve been through? How can I explain the many layers of frustration I’ve felt? I’m struggling to find closure. Am I the problem?
- Feeling out of control. Looking back, it becomes clear that you were placed inside a box of unrealistic requirements and expectations. You were not allowed to voice your own opinions and preferences without recrimination. So you wonder: How do I recover the real me? I’ve become so accustomed to the “walking on eggshells” feeling…can I ever just relax? I wish I could control that person in reverse, but wouldn’t that be hypocritical?
- Embedded fear. As you felt disregarded, your capacity for trust was likely compromised, leaving you feeling like you are in an ongoing state of defensiveness. You may wonder: Will I ever be able to open up again? Do I even want to take that risk? If I am too vulnerable, will I just be inviting more scorn? In my world, who is safe? Can I, should I, ever pull down my walls?
- Anger and its residual disillusionment. In the process of being torn down, you were exposed to many undue anger episodes, and sometimes you participated with your own raw anger. This can remind you: I don’t want to be bitter, but it’s hard not to feel that way. Sometimes I feel rage and hate, but what should I do with that? That person needs to be taught a lesson, but is it right for me to seek vengeance? I know I’m carrying free-floating irritability…can that be tamed?
Naturally, you wonder if you can ever get back onto the path that is more consistent with your core values and preferences. This can be done, and it begins with a fundamental thought: The best way to gain control of your life is to cease worrying about controlling others. No matter how hard you wish, you cannot change the facts about what happened. It is truly regretful that narcissists are so self-impressed and entitled that they shun others’ input about the mature way of life, nonetheless, that is who they are. Most will not change, no matter how obvious the need.
Understanding that, there are certainly adjustments you can make within yourself. Let’s take a look at some possibilities:
- Accept your raw emotions as normal. If a person has physical surgery, it would be naive to assume there would be no pain associated with it. In the same vein, you have been through great strain, and it’s reasonable to expect your emotions to come into play. Allow yourself the privilege to be what you are…human.
- Connect with someone safe. Not all people are destructive like the narcissist. Avail yourself to those who offer a caring, loving heart. Tell your story, and let others give you kindness. You are not alone.
- Tune into others who may have had similar struggles. Tension is built into the human experience, which means that even if others may not have had the exact difficulties as you, they too have felt emotional pain. There is strength in shared efforts, and as you become aware of others who seek healing, alliances can form. “Me too” conversations can prompt team building.
- Refrain from all/nothing thinking. While it is tempting to seek definitive answers to your past problems, not all matters can be neatly put into boxes. Loose ends will remain, and nuanced memories can remind you that not every difficulty is subject to clean solutions. Don’t be shocked when you have “gray zone” situations.
- Focus on today. Rather than insisting on final healing, zero in on the experiences in front of you and determine how you will respond to immediate needs. As you develop discipline on a day-by-day basis, habits will emerge that will serve you in the long term.
The bottom line is that narcissists will indeed bring a destructive attitude into relationships, but they do not have to have the final word. You have one thing the narcissist absolutely cannot own…your character. Narcissists may (sadly) seek the next person to latch onto, but you can move forward with the notion: “I’ll take ownership of who I am, and my first item of business is to get back to defining me.’
~Les Carter, Ph.D.
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