As time with narcissists passes, disillusionment can build due to emerging patterns illustrating a lack of relationship healthiness.  It is quite common for individuals to reflect: “I thought we had something good, but in retrospect it wasn’t what I once assumed.”  This realization can occur with family systems, marriages, living partners, work acquaintances, social setting, organizations, and more.

To have vibrant relationships, certain ingredients are required: genuine interest, availability, consistency, encouragement, honesty, trustworthiness, the ability to sift out differences, and mutual regard.  Those ingredients are not consistent with the narcissistic pattern.

Let’s consider how this can work:

  • A person learns through the gossip grapevine that a “friend” was mocking her behind her back about simple habits and preferences.  It was quite demeaning.
  • A man marries into a family system and is seemingly coordinated in the beginning, but over time, that person’s anger and demands are so over-the-top that family gatherings are ruined.
  • As a person explains to a friend about a serious fallout with a mutual acquaintance. That friend minimizes what is told, then makes excuses on behalf of the acquaintance despite the egregious nature of the offense.  Empathy is non-existent.
  • A woman is blown away when she learns her own brother spoke poorly about her to members of the extended family.  Facts were twisted to make him look good at her expense. 

Once you have suffered the indignity of being mischaracterized by a presumed friend who proves to be narcissistic, it casts a pall upon the entire history with that person.  What is real?  What else has been said about me that I haven’t heard yet?  Why would that person feel the need to disparage my character?  Were our good times just a ruse, a mirage?

Over time, narcissists cannot disguise two very common relationship ingredients: 1.) They are emotionally shallow, and 2.) They see individuals as tools to be used.

In what could be a friendly relationship, narcissists bring traits that ultimately sabotage true connection.  For instance:

  • They are image conscious, meaning they place more emphasis on looking good than being good.
  • Over time, narcissists cannot contain their need to be in control.  It is central to who they are.
  • They have an unnatural need for others’ favorable feedback, and if that need requires them to elevate themselves at your expense, they are willing to go down that path.
  • They are incapable of harmonizing as thoughts and feelings clash.  Instead, they play the role of victim and they blame.
  • Narcissists prove to be loyal to you…until a better deal comes along.
  • They cannot be wrong.  Instead, they must have the final word and will push an agenda about how you should think, feel, prioritize, and interpret life.
  • They have a natural bent toward finding flaws, and for a while you may be in their good graces.  But once you disappoint them, you will be on the flawed list.
  • Narcissists are data gatherers.  Initially, you may sense they are curious about you, but over time it is revealed that they seek “dirt” that can be used when it could elevate them.
  • With narcissists, vulnerability is one way.  They may appear open or self-disclosing, but time reveals it is calculated to allow them to keep an upper hand.
  • They need (require) you to prop up their reputation.  And if you do not, it is your reputation that is at risk.
  • They can feel offended when you seem too independent.

When you have assumed that a person is a true friend and confidante, only to learn it was phony or conditional, you can struggle with incredulity. “I can’t believe this person would treat me so poorly.”  Yet, once they show their willingness to disparage you with no regret, the proverbial cat is out of the bag.

With sadness, you can be forced to accept an unfortunate truth…people with a narcissistic bent are not what they initially purport to be.  What might have seemed gratifying can give way to hurt specifically because you were misled.

Ultimately, life reveals that while we can have plenty of pleasant acquaintances, deep friendships are a rare treasure.  Narcissists, in particular, cannot sustain friendships over the long haul. They carry too much turmoil and unfinished psychological business inside.  For a season, they might seem compatible (especially the covert narcissist), but time reveals an inability for them to engage in a trustworthy matter or with healthy mutuality.  They do not have the psychological maturity for that.

As narcissists prove to be the schemers that they are, a prime lesson rises to the surface:  Friendliness is not the same as friendship.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

To watch the video on this topic, click here.