All sorts of ingredients are necessary for relationships to be rewarding and successful, but none is more crucial than trust. Healthy relationships require teamwork, good conflict resolution skills, understanding, humor, intentionality, encouragement, shared values, reliability, respect, availability, and patience. But without trust, none of those qualities can be sustained. Trust is the rock bottom foundation for relational success…in family systems, at work, in social circles, within political structures, and inside organizations.

Now, let’s consider the question: Do narcissists put a high premium upon building trust within their various relationships? Certainly, they desire loyalty, conformity, pleasure, measurable gain, goal attainment, and gratification. But trust is not among the qualities they engender. They may say they wish for trust to be found, but their definition of trust is quite self-serving.

For trust to be trust there would be an absence of self-indulgence.

Control tactics would be absent. Honesty would be unambiguously present. Empathy would be practiced as a matter of routine. A commanding attitude would give way to give-and-take practices. There would be a complete absence of exploitation, but instead a desire to be of service.

By definition, the narcissistic pattern is not conducive to trust. Narcissism sets up a strong propensity toward acts of betrayal, defined as the violation of the standards of honesty and credibility.

A defining feature of narcissism is living behind a tightly crafted False Self. Consciously or subconsciously, narcissists have convinced themselves that they cannot afford to be open or forthcoming. Fearing the potential of humiliation if the depth of their insecurity is fully known, they have become masters of disguise. What you see on the outside of a narcissist can vary wildly from what is going on behind their pretentious façade.

There are all sorts of qualities or behaviors associated with narcissistic betrayal. Narcissists are connivers. They are schemers whose nefarious plans are hidden as they pull you into their confidences.

And over time, you will eventually become aware of certain patterns like:

  • Being friendly while playing a socially acceptable role, yet simultaneously sitting on lots of unresolved anger and tension.
  • Being guided by a “what can you do for me” attitude in all sorts of relationships.
  • Harboring an attitude of entitlement, convinced that you owe them favors.
  • Telling lies or speaking in half-truths.
  • Talking with others about you regarding topics that should be confidential.
  • Inclinations toward clandestine activities such as affairs, money manipulation, sidling up to unsavory people, hidden substance abuse, and more.
  • Infatuation with themes of prestige, even if it means compromising personal values.
  • Not living up to agreed standards or common expectations.
  • Mocking you for having flaws or weaknesses, all while rationalizing one’s own flaws.
  • Unable to come to terms with one’s own dark traits, but justifying them when confronted.

Typically, those qualities and behaviors are not observed in the beginning, which is why the eventual discovery of betrayal can be so painful. Over time, though, you can wise up to their plans. As you discover the narcissist’s betrayals, it leaves you with all sorts of disillusioning experiences. At some point, when the bankruptcy of the narcissist’s lifestyle becomes apparent, you are left scrambling with a wide array of emotions.

That is when you will be prone to difficult reactions and questions. For instance:

  • It’s disillusioning to admit that you’ve been duped, that the relationship never really was what you had once presumed.
  • You hate that you connected to someone who could be so calloused.
  • Anger wells up inside and sometimes it is hard to adequately articulate the resentment you feel. You can become prone to wild emotional expressions.
  • As you learn that others have been pulled into the narcissist’s schemes against you, it leaves you wondering who you can trust. “What lies were told about me?”
  • You can feel perplexed, wondering how to proceed as you try to get your life back on track.

Yet, despite your hurt, you can find healing. Even with all the accompanying bewilderment, you can still find ways to grow. Or maybe we could even state that you can be determined to grow because of narcissistic betrayal. Your recovery won’t be quick or easy, but you can survive.

To get onto the path toward healing and trust, there are some crucial insights for you to incorporate:

  • Even after a narcissist’s betrayal is exposed, the narcissist might continue to hold you in disdain. The narcissist doesn’t really care if you struggle with feelings of despair. Seeing this, you will need to remember that the narcissist is a tortured soul. You can’t afford to filter your self-esteem through such a person.
  • A narcissist’s betrayal is not a commentary about you. Frequently, narcissists will use tactics like blame-shifting or victim shaming (implying that you are the cause of the betrayal), but don’t buy it.
  • You might be prone to second guessing yourself, wondering what you might have done to minimize the problems you now face. Cut yourself some slack. If you were guilty of anything, you were probably too loyal, too willing, too forgiving. In the right context, those are actually good qualities.
  • Don’t fault yourself for emotions that won’t abate quickly. Yes, you wish for closure, and that is a reasonable desire. But it takes time, sometimes lots of time. Be patient with yourself.
  • Be careful that you don’t use all/nothing thinking as you move forward. It would be tempting to declare that you will never trust anyone again. That is an understandable feeling. Yet keep in mind that there are still people who know how to relate well. You will need to strengthen your boundaries, but there are still decent possibilities out there.

Moving forward

Narcissists probably won’t learn the necessary life lessons once their betrayals are exposed. A few will make good adjustments, but most won’t. In fact, a high percentage of betraying narcissists will eventually find new targets to exploit. In the meantime, it can become your lifelong challenge to remain a person who embodies trustworthiness. You’ll definitely need to maintain tight standards as you engage with others. But you can have an appreciation for your own good character, beginning with trusting your own capacity to learn and grow.

If you would like to watch the video version of this topic, please click here.

~Dr. Les Carter