First question:  If you have had an ongoing relationship with a narcissist, have you been victimized?  The likely answer is yes.  They are defined by their exploitive tendencies, dishonesty, irresponsibility, derisiveness, and invalidations.  Narcissists are known by their willingness to inflict pain.

Second question:  If you have been victimized by a narcissist, how long might the suffering last?  This question has a broader answer.  Sometimes the aftereffects of narcissistic mistreatment can be short-lived, while in other cases it can create emotional scars that linger for a lifetime.  The impact of their misdeeds does not always have an expiration date.

Third question:  When you have suffered as a victim of the narcissist, can you expect to find normalcy in the aftermath?  The answer is yes, you can.  While you may move forward with a “psychological limp,” it’s possible to re-engage with others in a rewarding fashion.  You do not have to be permanently defined by a narcissist’s mistreatment.

Some individuals have great difficulty with the third question.  They truly have been victimized by a narcissist’s mistreatment, and they carry emotional scars.  That’s to be expected.  Yet, they can feel so burdened by the unfairness of it all, peace seems painfully elusive. 

Some victims will categorically reject the potential for personal healing.   Others may make efforts to progress, but will regress quickly and often.

For instance, a woman expresses disgust because her husband had an extramarital affair.  Rightly so, she felt disregarded and dismissed by him, and she languishes over the lack of lack of trustworthiness that resulted.  That established, the affair occurred 24 years ago and she repeatedly brings up the topic when they have conflict.  It is the problem that will not be resolved.

Or as another example, another woman describes how her highly narcissistic mother was full of insults during her childhood.  The mother was a micro-manager who could not be pleased and spewed mean criticism often.  As an adult, this daughter continues to be triggered by the mother’s many complaints and continues to be reduced to tears, especially after extended visits with Mom.  The daughter is now in her 50’s.  

Obviously, each of these victims of narcissistic misbehavior can rightly say they did not deserve the pain inflicted upon them by insensitive people.  Yet, going back to that third question, we could insinuate that they would answer the question about returning to normalcy with a strong no.  At least, that’s what their ongoing languishment would imply.  In each case, the abuse and suffering experienced at the hand of another had become central to their identity.

There are strong cues indicating that a person is carrying a victim’s identity with little or no confidence about moving into a more optimistic space.  For instance:

  • They cling to feelings of resentment with no particular end in sight.
  • They might talk about wanting to heal, yet little progress is made.
  • They might practice appropriate assertiveness, but when the narcissist does not respond as desired, they balk: “See?  Nothing gets through to this person!”
  • When confronted about being stuck in their misery, they can maintain: “You have no idea what I’ve been through.”  That’s probably correct, yet the statement is set on auto-repeat.
  • If another person shares a painful story of a similar nature, they might still insist: “My circumstances are different.”
  • The victim’s ability to heal is strongly contingent upon the narcissist changing.
  • As the victim moves forward with new relationships, the centrality of their historical pain keeps them from bonding well.

Let’s underscore, the victim of narcissistic mistreatment is not to be shamed for carrying pain.  But we still go back to the question:  When you have suffered as a victim of the narcissist, can you expect to find normalcy in the aftermath?  

As they consider the potential of moving beyond victimization, some victims might sarcastically ask: “So, are you saying I can just choose to be happy?  That’s it?”  Actually, there is choice involved, but it’s not quite that cut and dried.  You can’t dictate your emotions entirely, but you can certainly position yourself to thrive.  It’s a process involving many micro-decisions along the way. 

The key is to see yourself as separate from the narcissist and from the messages they wrongly conveyed.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a prominent Russian writer and dissident living with the new reality of communistic rule post-World War II.  After eight years of confinement for expressing “wrong” views, and another three years of internal exile, he wrote: “It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”

Solzhenitsyn’s tact was to individualize internal growth.  No one wants or seeks psychological pain or unfairness.  And yet, narcissists are purveyors of suffering and mistreatment.  That said, you show honor to yourself when you determine that another’s imposition of impropriety will not define you.  Healing remains a real option.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

To watch the video on this topic, click here.