One of the most common reactions you can have after pulling away from a narcissistic person is the “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” game. You know…the second guessing of yourself about how you may have been too naïve or how you saw signs that you ignored. Realistically, in the earlier stages of a relationship with a narcissist, you can be hindered by a lack of insight or awareness or wisdom or options, only to learn at a much later date that you were being played. So, what is the key?

You can find comfort in knowing that at some point in the relationship you gained a clearer focus. It may have been a bit late in the game, but at least it happened.

For instance:

  • A woman recalled that her boyfriend used to make rude, chauvinistic comments, then when she would call him out, he’d say, “I was just kidding.” Once they married, this continued and she realized he wasn’t just kidding. Later she explained, “By the time we divorced, I hated him. I should have listened to my gut a long ago.”
  • A middle-aged woman repeatedly spoke with her girlfriend about how men routinely treated her poorly. She had a penchant for painting herself as the sweet innocent victim. Later this girlfriend learned that the woman had just broken off an 8-month affair with a married man. She remarked, “It was then that I realized that despite her complaints, she was the real manipulator.”
  • A man explained how his father was very critical, never pleased, and prone to rages. This man decided he’d be the one family member who wouldn’t take the father’s crap, so he’d yell right back at him. Later he admitted: “It finally dawned on me that I was wasting my breath, and what’s worse, I had become the jerk in the family!”
  • A lady felt she had found a true confidante. She’d talk about all sorts of personal matters with this person, but over time it was apparent that the relationship had become a one-way street. The confidante did not share vulnerabilities in reverse, and what was worse, she would retell this lady’s stories to other people. The lady eventually concluded, “It turns out, she was just the town gossip.”

Once you gain clarity regarding the narcissistic person, you can feel duped or angered…and that is quite natural. So, to know you are moving forward into a healing place, you will need to determine not fall back into similar traps. To facilitate that, there is one key to moving forward successfully:

The Key- Listen to yourself.

In a high percentage of relationships with a narcissist, red flags appear that you might minimize or ignore, and you can’t allow that trend to continue. Listening to yourself means paying attention to the discomfort you feel in your gut, prioritizing self-care and relationship boundaries.

To do this, you will first need to be cognizant of the most common red flags indicating potential trouble. One or two red flags may be evident with some people, but when the numbers pile up or the frequency of those flags is persistent, that is when you hold onto the thought: “I’m not feeling comfortable, so what does that mean?” Listen to yourself. That is the key.

A narcissist’s red flags can include:

  • Making seemingly personal disclosures that prove to be little more than gripe sessions.
  • Being a bit too friendly, over-smiling, being too helpful…especially in public or if there is something to gain.
  • Speaking critically about others, but not about you…yet. (Your time will come.)
  • Being a poor listener…interrupting, forgetting what you said, making too many “me too” comments.
  • Problems are never their fault. Lots of blame shifting and victimization.
  • Cannot be coached, being thin-skinned at simple suggestions.
  • Offering too much unsolicited advice, which is little more than criticism.
  • An ongoing “what can you do for me?” mentality.
  • Extremes in time management, either too rigid or too loose.
  • Undertow of annoyance about minor issues.

Narcissists are masters at gaslighting, meaning they want you to feel confused about what is really happening right in front of you. They are skilled at making excuses or promising to do better, but in the end, those red flags don’t go away. If anything, they increase.

As you listen to yourself, honestly deciphering the meaning of the narcissist’s behaviors, you can draw all sorts of conclusions about how narcissists think and act.

For instance:

  • Narcissists are all about winning.
  • They want your deference, as if that’s their right and your obligation.
  • They “care” only to the extent that you are useful to them.
  • When you show insight, narcissists will discount. But that usually means they are threatened by those insights.
  • When you practice self-care, you will be accused of selfishness, even though it is not.
  • Your confrontations, assertions, and boundaries will be invalidated, even when they are necessary.
  • The honesty you have scares them.
  • Your healthy relationships with others scare them, too.
  • Narcissists like your “yes” but hate your “no.”

Sadly, when you pay attention to a narcissist’s many red flags, when you act upon your gut intuitions, and when you choose not to be pulled into that person’s entitlement, you will be vilified. It is then that your hunches and intuitions will be verified. The narcissist’s unwillingness to hear you (no empathy) can lead you to one major conclusion: “This is exactly why I need to listen to myself!” Keep that key in mind.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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