I have written a lot about how dangerous narcissists are and how important it is to learn to spot them and handle them like the poisonous snakes that they are.
If you read my articles about the various phases of the narcissistic relationship cycle (love-bombing, devaluation, discard) based on what I experienced in a four-year relationship with one pretty deranged narcissist, you probably got the idea that I think that my ex is a pitiable pathetic characterless loser that deserves to go down with cancer and Parkinson’s.
You are right. I don’t subscribe to the new-age ‘forgive and wish them happiness” bullshit. I think that we should not wish happiness for toxic people who harm others. We should wish for them to experience deep psychological healing. We should wish for them to be forced to face themselves and heal their defectiveness so that they become good worthy people and stop hurting others. The world will only become a better place if we eradicate toxicity and narcissism.
But that’s not the point of today’s article.
Own your story
We all love demonising narcs. We love the satisfaction that we receive when we do to them what they routinely do to others. The narc I used to be involved with was a pro at ridiculing others behind their backs, making jokes at other people’s expenses, even at the expense of his own friends (but don’t you dare making fun of him, of course). I guess as much as he enjoyed making fun of all sorts of people on Facebook, I enjoy writing about and mocking his hilarious mental processes. In fact, I think that treating bullies the way they treat others is the right way, just as much as I think that the death penalty is the right treatment for deranged serial killers like Ted Bundy (you may have noticed that I like to use the Ted Bundy example a lot. That’s probably because something about him reminds me of my narc ex – he was also a total sweetie that would fool about anybody. Besides I do think my ex is a closet sexual pervert, I think I have described some of his weird ways in one of my earlier articles).
As much as I enjoy and love this game of narc-shaming, I totally believe that one thing is paramount for all of us going through the recovery process: Being able to understand why and how did WE end up in this situation.
I’ve seen many people on Quora virtually jump up as soon as you use the word codependent or damaged to describe the narcissist’s target.
“I am not codependent, I am strong, everyone thinks I am strong, I am awesome and the narcissist targeted me because I am so awesome!” That’s what you would frequently hear.
But let me tell you something – yes, the narcissist may have targeted you because of your status-enhancing qualities. I was the narc’s pretty little accessory, for example, and even in the devaluation phase he would aloud contemplate whether he should keep me because I was so beautiful (his words) and it made him look good in front of his friends (his words again).
You might be rich famous, whatever – and yes, that’s why the narc would be interested in you. You might be loving, giving, sensitive, and helpful – and yes, that’s why the narc exploits you.
Loving, giving, sensitive and helpful sounds like a definition of a care-taker and a care-taker is generally always a codependent.
No matter what your brilliant qualities were, the reason that you got so deeply enmeshed with the narcissist was not your amazingness.
Close your eyes and travel back to the early days of your relationship with the narcissist
Let’s do one exercise together. And I promise to be absolutely honest with you. I know that suffering from flashbacks related to the time with the narcissist is one of the least pleasant things about the post-traumatic stress disorder that we have to deal with in the wake of our discard.
Memories of those great times with the narcissist when he seemed to be the perfect prince charming can suddenly well up, causing enormous pain and the feeling of missing him.
Frequently, we are trying to push these flashbacks away, compartmentalise them and burry them deep into the unconscious. But that doesn’t work. Your subconscious and your unconscious mind has much more control over your actual life than your conscious mind.
So we are now going to do the exact opposite. We are going to revisit the memories deliberately. We are going to revisit the early days of our relationship with the narcissist. We are going to remember who we were back then (we for sure were not who we are today). We are going to remember why did we feel so mesmerised by the narcissist.
Why did you bond with the narcissist?
Reason #1: Physical chemistry
In my case, this was certainly true. The physical chemistry with narcissists feels kind of different. It’s very physical. In fact it’s purely physical. There is nothing emotional or psychological about it. It’s very animalistic (It’s the ‘let’s have sex’ type of chemistry, not the ‘wow, this person is fascinating’ type of chemistry).
I am certainly not immune to this chemistry these days. In fact, I recently started experimenting with online dating and I am fairly convinced that one of the guys I went out with was either a narcissist or a psychopath. The totally same chemistry as with the ex narc. The ‘maybe I could just have sex with him’ thoughts.
There is no emotional connection with the narcissist at first, there might not even be much to talk about. When you reveal something personal, their reaction is a bit weird, kind of delayed, as if they are trying to asses you. The entire conversation feels kind of staged – and it is, they are trying to impress you. But there is this strong physical chemistry. It’s easy to get confused by it.
The narcissist, in fact, knows how to stir up this chemistry. Being on a date with that guy from the online dating app brought me right back in time to my first dates with my narcissistic ex.
The fleeting touches (especially narcissists from some Mediterranean countries are experts at this and it does really work. It does create a feeling of closeness where there is none), the statements of inappropriately intense interest (given you have only just met them).
Anyway. I think the problem with this chemistry is that we all in one way or another have been exposed to some rather mythical concepts of what ‘love’ is. We might be prone to mistaking this chemistry for a ‘sign’ that this might be something ‘real’. At this stage, we don’t understand yet that chemistry might be toxic and based on all the wrong stuff.
If you stay connected to yourself and watch for the red flags – those ‘hmmm this is weird’ gut kicks – you will not allow this chemistry to lure you in.
So let’s have a look at why were you so willing to dismiss those gut kicks and red flags. Or perhaps you didn’t see them at all?
Reason #2: Looking for excuses for his behaviour, thinking you can’t be too demanding
So you are experiencing this strange chemistry with the narcissist. But you start noticing behaviours that make you feel uncomfortable.
Perhaps on the second date you have nothing to talk about and the narcissist looks totally bored (my case). But you decide to stick it out – there is still that chemistry, right?
Perhaps the first time he comes to your place, he immediately takes his laptop out and starts watching an episode from some ridiculous TV series. You yourself don’t watch TV at all. You think TV series are deliberately addictive and make people dumb. But guess what? You don’t really want to be a nagging bitch, do you? No one likes nagging bitches… And if you were born in such an enlightened country as the Czech republic (as myself), were misogyny is abundant and women are frequently slammed for all sorts of things, including having an opinion, – then guess what? You are afraid that if you speak up, if you are not a nice pleasant little girl (the type they like where you were born), you will lose that awesome guy, right? It’s up to you to be tolerant and kind – that’s what they have been drumming into your head since your childhood – men are like this and the only happy women are those that go with it – all those codependent mothers enmeshed with rude narcissistic dominant men would preach. And so you go with it… the first decision to let go of your standards out of many on your way to hell.
Why were you excusing this behaviour?
– Because of your family or cultural conditioning. You think you are not worthy the way you are and think you have to be a certain way to be able to have a relationship and be the ‘good woman’ as defined by the toxic culture you grew up in.
So what else where you excusing?
Perhaps he calls his ex a crazy bitch and tells you that he was always the reasonable one and she was always the crazy one. You have been through some failed relationships yourself and know very well that there are always two people responsible for a situation but you let him get away with it…. Maybe she was really crazy, you think. Good that he found you then, you think….
Perhaps another of his exes comes to visit suddenly, only a week after you have started dating. That’s odd you think. He tells you he didn’t want to hurt her (translation – he didn’t properly break up with her, he was keeping her on a back-burner and she thought they were still in a relationship). And you choose to trust him. You feel sorry for that girl but foul play you do not suspect.
Why are you excusing this behaviour?
Reason #3: Your own narcissistic traits!
Yes, you hear me right. Close your eyes and try to remember what was going on through your head when you heard the narcissist slamming his ex: It’s different with you, right? You are sure better than her. She probably really was crazy. And the one that travelled across the whole Europe to see him because she thought they were still an item? There certainly must have been something wrong with her as well. I guess she was childish, immature, clingy…. You are sure not like that… You and him are the real thing. He wasn’t really into her but sure as hell he is into you (because he says that, right?). You would know if a man was not interested in you anymore. You would never embarrass yourself like this.
Just please, be brave and be honest with yourself. You thought you were BETTER than the other women.
I guess you might be feeling a bit embarrassed right now. I know, you didn’t know anything about the narcissistic relationship cycle back then. You understand now that the girl who travelled across the entire Europe to visit him was probably struggling with cognitive dissonance. You know that right now, you are the worst bitch the narcissist has ever had to deal with. You are so crazy that he had to report you to police because you were asking too many uncomfortable questions and refused to accept that he’s done with you – no explanation given after this dead serious relationship.
Anyway. It was one of the most profound lessons I learned on this journey – women need to have each other’s backs. We were the oppressed gender for centuries and in fact we still are, although in more subtle ways.
I call it the secret sisterhood – it’s my duty to stand up for any woman, even if I don’t know her personally, who is being slammed by a guy. A mentally, emotionally evolved guy would not call an ex a crazy bitch and would have some level of self-awareness about why he got himself into a perhaps toxic relationship. So don’t be like the narcissist. Own your shit. Own your shit and expect others to own theirs.
And don’t for Christ sake get lured into believing that you are BETTER than someone else, that’s exactly what narcissists are known for!
Reason #4: Getting kicks from being excessively praised
Let’s have a deeper look at why are you ready to actively look for excuses for the narcissist’s strange behaviours.
He has started baiting you already, hasn’t he!
Did he tell you how beautiful you are? Did he tell you how smart, talented and special you are? Did he tell you that he couldn’t wait to show you off to his friends when he takes you home with him for Christmas? Did he tell you that he had a photographer friend and that he would have him photograph you?
Why the hell did it feel so good? I will tell you why – he was giving you an equivalent of what we in the narc jargon call narcissistic supply. You were getting massive ego kicks from this over the top flattery. You were feeling special, weren’t you? SPECIAL! Do you hear me? According to narc expert Craig Malkin (whose book Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists contains some of the most dangerous advice on how to handle narcissists), describes narcissism as an addiction to feeling special.
Buy Malkin’s Rethinking Narcissism from Amazon.UK by clicking the image above. The text link in the previous paragraph leads to Amazon US.
Reason #4:Your own inferiority complexes, praise and affection deprivation
Why were you so susceptible to the love-bombing and excessive flattery?
I will very happily give you the answer: Because you were, at that stage of your mental development, dependent on external approval and validation.
You weren’t solid and truly confident inside. In fact, you most likely felt pretty unworthy inside, and were starved for praise, flattery and compliments. But chances are you were not totally aware of that.
If you look even further back into your past, into your childhood, I believe you might be able to trace back the origins of these feelings to your parents. If what is called conditional love had been applied to you by your parents, then you very likely have been trained to become and approval and validation seeker.
You had to be a certain way, you had to deliver, behave, be right, look right to be praised by your parents. If you weren’t the right way, there was no love.
Or perhaps there really was not much love at all and now you are like a starved dog – going to overeat on anything that resembles food even if it’s the worst junk. It certainly used to be my case.
So when the narcissist came about it felt so damn good! Wow, finally! Finally someone sees how great I am! Finally! Finally! Finally! Please give me more of that intoxicating praise!
I will tell you something – if someone wants to manipulate you, how do you think they will do that? Exactly! By sucking up to you!
Reason #5:Bonding over common enemies (negativity bonding)
In general, I think the bond we had with the narcissist was really based on the lowest and least healthy in us.
I might not like to admit that but there was a time in my life when I didn’t feel too good about myself. I would get into disputes with people because I couldn’t let go. I would clash with every narcissist that would cross my path (I didn’t know they were narcissists back then). Frequently, I would deal with these little wars in the least constructive and rather toxic way – yes, I loved to vent and gossip about my enemies. And guess what – the narcissist I was in a relationship with loved that too (he was in fact even more into it than I was).
I met the narcissist when studying abroad. There was a guy in the class that many people later concluded was a full-blown NPD, the go-getter achieving type (I will call him the big narc for simplicity). My ex was the covert underachieving type. He was pretty much the first person to spot what the other guy was about.
Being a naïve narc magnet at that time, I ended up clashing big time and fighting against the big narc. I was assigned to a team project where the big narc ended up being the boss and because of my own ego, I couldn’t just take the back seat at that time.
I was trying to fight with the big narc. Of course, I ended up gaslighted and ostracised. I was handling my frustration by venting and gossiping about the big narc in the group of my then friends, centred around my ex narc. It was the only control I could have over the big narc – just make fun of him and talk about him and gossip about him with my friends.
In a similar way, I would love to gossip about the big narc’s flying monkeys of which there were many. And my ex narc would very much play with me (little did I know that the ex narc, who at that time fed me all the ‘love of my life’ bullshit, would eventually go even further than the big narc to destroy me and assassinate my character).
You can read my article here about the narcissist’s mask, it could save your life if you are involved with a smug covert like I used to be).
Years later, when I was in a much better life situation and didn’t have this need to compensate for my low self-esteem by gossiping about others anymore, I noticed that the ex narc was still trying to bait me into this behaviour – dispensing gems of gossip about random people I barely knew, expecting me to rejoice about how ridiculous they were. He loved to bond with people in those negative ways.
Reason #6: Craving emotional soothing and acceptance, not being able to sooth and accept yourself
One of the biggest deepest hooks for me was the narc’s ability to be so totally understanding of all my issues and problems (displayed only during the love-bombing stage of course).
I was a scapegoat child of a narcissistic mother and became a highly reactive co-dependent. There was a time in my life when I would qualify for the diagnosis of a mild borderline personality disorder. As emotional invalidation has always been the default parenting strategy of my mother, I had a lot of supressed emotions in me and as a result I had frequent anger management problems.
My anger would frequently erupt in the most inappropriate situations and get projected onto people who would touch my triggers.
In my previous relationships, my issues were certainly causing problems and my previous boyfriends did feel intimidated and scared by my emotionality. Not so the narc. In the early stages of the relationship, he acted like the perfect understanding and loving parent that I never had.
It felt unbelievably soothing to me. And I very easily got addicted to it. It was my inability to sooth myself, take care of my own Inner Child (as Inner Bonding author Margaret Paul would put it) and my need to have the narcissist sort of ‘re-parent’ me. This need is quite common for borderline patients, according to psychotherapist Elinor Greenberg.
I felt totally accepted and loved by the narcissist, the way I couldn’t accept and love myself because I had always been made to feel faulty by my family. Except of course, it was all fake with the narcissist…
Buy Elinor Greenberg’s Borderline, Narcissistic and Schizoid Adaptations from Amazon US by clicking the image above or from Amazon UK by clicking this text link: Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration, and Safety
This memory of the narcissist as the loving, kind and supportive figure was the deepest of all the hooks that I had and learning to sooth myself and work with my own emotions was absolutely key for my recovery.
I would like to end with this: True healthy connection and love between people is based on the good in us, not on the worst. So if you are still longing for the narcissist, be honest with yourself – what is it that you miss?
When it comes to your recovery – how can you heal those hooks? Inner Bonding, meditation, psychotherapy and the work of Melanie Tonia Evans have worked wonders for me (see the links below).
The image above leads to Amazon US, this text link takes you to Amazon UK: You Can Thrive After Narcissistic Abuse: The 1 System for Recovering from Toxic Relationships
Get Inner Bonding from Amazon US by clicking the image above or from Amazon UK by clicking the following link: Inner Bonding: Becoming a Loving Parent to Your Inner Child