Being with narcissists presents its own set of challenges. In general, narcissists are both calculating and moody, making it difficult to coordinate engagements. Being strongly controlling, they can be stubborn and superimposing. Likewise, they are argumentative and even in simple disagreements they can be ridiculously defensive. Commonly, when you are with them, you feel as if you are looked upon as “less than.”
Simply put, narcissists let you know that you don’t measure up, and if there are defects within the relationship it was caused by your deficiencies. It’s exasperating.
As your many episodes with the narcissist pile up, the impact upon your psyche can linger for a long time. This is especially true when the narcissist occupies a position of influence and significance with you.
Let’s take a look at some illustrations:
- A couple marries young and starts a family. The father becomes a tyrant, the mother a shell of who she could be. The kids fear dad greatly and Mom is too weak to help them sift it through. Decades later, one son deteriorates into longstanding substance abuse, the other has multiple failed relationships. Both have major anger issues. And the father remains as belligerent as ever.
- A husband and father lives a secret life of womanizing and questionable financial habits. Once it’s discovered, not only does his immediate family fall apart due to the predictable divorce, but the extended family splinters as evidenced by no more family gatherings and ongoing bitterness toward the perpetrator.
- A woman marries into a stable family, but over the years she systematically alienates her partner from family and friends. When he finally says he can’t take it any more they divorce, then the woman alienates their daughter from the entire family and does all she can to stain the family’s reputation.
- Over time, a long-term friend develops controversial opinions about politics and social practices. He is increasingly argumentative and polarizing, creating strong “in versus out” labels. Friends leave him, but in the process, a once vibrant social group is splintered and formerly healthy relationships dissolve.
Cases such as these remind us that phrases like “Out of sight, out of mind,” or “Easy come, easy go” are not at all applicable. A narcissist’s influence can remain for a long time, and as you try to adjust in the aftermath, it can become the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.
That understood, let’s identify eight of the most common patterns that can linger, with the idea that you can heal more readily when you know what to watch for.
- Ongoing trust issues. You might question: “If a person I once trusted turned on me, who else might do the same?
- Reflexive defensive tendencies, even when there is no need to defend. When you have been repeatedly invalidated by the narcissist, it is common to assume others will too.
- Lingering guilt and shame. A favorite tactic of narcissists is motivation by shame and guilt. Life with a narcissist can create a brainwashing effect prompting you to wonder if indeed you are as difficult as the narcissist says you are.
- Embarrassment and humiliation. A common byproduct of being attached to a narcissist is a feeling of foolishness. It is easy to wonder: “How could I have been so easily duped by that person?”
- Rebellion, often resulting in self-sabotage. When you have been controlled so persistently by a narcissist, defiance can well up inside as you determine that you will not be dominated by anyone. Often this can result in irresponsibility as you think: “Nobody gets to tell me what to do any more.”
- Cynicism settles in. A narcissist’s tactics can create great disillusionment, and it is quite common for that disillusioned feeling to generalize. You can wonder who will be the next person who will screw you over.
- Emotional numbness. A narcissist’s rejections can leave you feeling worn out, prompting you to think: “Just leave me alone. Go away.” The net result can be pervasive withdrawal as depressive moods can become prominent.
- Developing your own controlling tendencies. Narcissists are highly controlling, and over time you can choose to respond with your own controlling reactions. You can compensate by assuming: “From now on, I’ll be the one calling the shots.”
It is quite understandable that you would respond with a wide array of emotions due to longstanding narcissistic invalidations. You need not apologize for feeling futile. That said, your futility can foster positive resolve. And a major first step toward healing is to determine that you will ground yourself in healthy initiatives.
Understand that the narcissist needed you to be both deferential and dysregulated. You were trained by a master manipulator to run your choices through that person’s grid. That needs to cease.
True to the nature of narcissism, that person sought control over you and wished to rob you of your True Self. Narcissists want you to forget that you are a free agent who gets to choose how you will prioritize your many needs and responsibilities. Your task is to take back your freedom by asking: “What does a free me look like?”
If you stay in a reactive mindset, you are allowing the narcissist’s negativity to linger indefinitely.
But as you freely choose a proactive mindset, you will cease participating in the narcissist’s codependent dance and lean into your own intuitions and preferences. Yes, there will be aftereffects that will rise within you, but over time you can learn to trust your Real Self.
Be patient with yourself.
Also, do not assume the narcissist will ever endorse your desires to be distinct. Yet, go back to the basics of healthy living. You are meant to be loved and respected, and if the narcissist proves incapable of that, it proves that you are making the right decision to move away from such distorted thinking.
~Les Carter, Ph.D.
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