This is a post that I have wanted to write for quite a while. I believe it’s an important one. Too many narc victims, when they first discover that the significant other who went from loving them like no other to treating them like trash likely is a narcissist, frequently receive condescending looks from those they try to confide in.
“You just have a broken heart,” would be a common response. Or the really misguided “there are two sides to every story.”
I really think we need to be very clear that the anatomy of a relationship with a narcissist is very different from a relationship with a regular ‘jerk’ or a troubled person of the more regular kind. The behaviour of a narcissist carries such significant hallmarks that there is no mistaking it for a simply failed relationship. If we stick to the facts, describe the behaviours and the patterns and focus on their identification, we will have clear diagnostic criteria. To be able to ‘perform this diagnosis’ we need to be able to see things for what they are and not be swayed by the narcissist’s attempts to manipulate.
How does a jerk or a troubled person behave in a relationship
Let’s stark with a troubled person or a jerk in what would be a strained relationship. The keyword here is consistency – that is consistency in behaviour, in opinions, in personality. Sure, the jerk might be on better behaviour during the honeymoon stage. That person’s personality and patterns, however, would be there from the start. Is he a drunk? Does he have anger management problems? Is he non-commital? Is he doing drugs? Is he a couch potato? It’s going to be there right from the start.
The other partner, though, might have a saviour complex and fall for the belief that they could change the ‘jerk’ or save him. That surely happens and this partner usually ends up deeply troubled. However, it is important to remember that that partner knows more or less from the start who he or she is dealing with.
I have never dated anyone I would describe as a jerk but one of my exes, who by the way is still a very good friend, was very openly non-committal. He was very clear about it from the start and he was very clear about it with his subsequent girlfriends too. Fair thing. Obviously, women like to ignore that and persuade themselves they would change such a guy’s mind. The misjudgment is on their side.
I was with another guy whom I admired for his work-ethic and talents but not really for his general lifestyle and personality. I fell into that unconscious ‘I will change him’ trap. My problem and my mistake, not his.
Let’s have a look at myself. I am not a jerk (really, I am a good girl:-)), but I certainly used to fall very much into the deeply troubled person category. The extremely unstable family environment that I grew up in left me with extreme rejection and abandonment issues. These issues would, obviously, flare up massively in relationships. I knew that I had issues and all of my exes knew that I had issues. I liked to compartmentalise it and not think about my problems when I was in a stable state but the problems would become obvious very early on in every relationship. The pattern of my behaviour would be consistent.
What happens after the relationship with the jerk or a troubled person ends
So let’s have a look at what happens after the relationship with a jerk or a troubled person ends. Again, the keyword would be consistency. After a certain period of drama and upheaval during which either one or both parties might feel some rather negative feelings towards the other party, the emotions would subside.
Hopefully, both parties would be aware of their contribution to the failure of the relationship, or their mistake in investing into someone who wasn’t compatible or interested in a serious relationship. Some grievances might linger but generally, the feeling would be ‘I still know this person, I know who they are’.
Hopefully, after a period of either conscious or unconscious contemplation and recovery, the ex-partners would still acknowledge what they liked or loved about the other person, they would understand their incompatibility, they would understand the hurt that they caused or which was caused to them.
The relationship might continue as some form of friendship or might not. The key point that there will be clarity and peace.
The recovery of the rejected partner in the ‘jerk’ situation
The person that is recovering from a break up with a jerk generally has to focus on their inner work and heal their codependency. Understand that they may have fallen in love with a projection. They may have projected onto the jerk (ex-partner) qualities, which the jerk either did not possess at all or did not really nurture. The healing curve is relatively straightforward and generally not that long because a lot of the work has been done leading up to the break-up, which didn’t come out of the blue but was preceded by a period of struggle.
How does a narcissist behave in a relationship
Let’s have a look at the narcissist and how he behaves in a relationship. The keywords here are what I have previously described as psychic rape and a complete fraud.
Here, we really need to talk about a victim and not a rejected partner who mistakenly invested in a wrong relationship. The victim didn’t project anything onto the narcissist. The victim didn’t make a decision to save a jerk from himself or change his mind about commitment. The victim was force-fed a facade, a narcissist’s persona, which the narcissist created to get the victim on the hook.
The ultimate feeling of the narcissist’s victim would be ‘I had no clue who I was with. If I knew who he was and what he was capable of I would never have wanted to have anything to do with him’.
The hallmark of the narcissistic mind-fuckery is the absolute lack of personality consistency. The story changes so much it feels like a plot from a bad film.
In the early stages of the relationship, the narcissist would be as committed as it gets, as serious as it gets, as caring as it gets, as awesome as it gets. He will have the noblest interests, very identical to those of the victim, and generally present as the highest quality relationship material (too good to be true after closer evaluation).
The victim is actively manipulated and misled by the narcissist and is left terribly confused when the narcissist’s mask starts slipping and the real ‘personality’ starts taking over. Pretense can only be maintained for a certain time. But the victim is completely in the dark and ‘in a relationship’ with a non-existent person.
What happens after the relationship with a narcissist ends
We need to have a look at what happens on the narcissist’s side as well as on the victim’s side.
Let’s start with the narcissist. After the love-bombing, or pedestal phase, comes the devaluation and eventual discard. The victim is no longer the perfect love of the narcissist’s life but unwanted trash and an inconvenience. Her/his insistence to resolve the relationship in a ‘mature’ way is perceived as a nuisance and does cause serious discomfort to the narcissist.
Obviously, he can’t tell the truth: that he manipulated and used the victim and now has no more room for him or her. He has to persuade her and everyone around that indeed, he is the normal one and she is crazy. He has to paint himself as superior and more mature.
The victim goes from ‘the love of my life’ and ‘the best thing that ever happened to me’ to ‘leave me alone you stalker or else I report you to the police.’
The twist is so unexpected that the victim goes through a severe traumatic shock, suffers from cognitive dissonance and simply cannot comprehend the situation with her normal human compass. As long as she keeps trying to make sense of the situation in the framework of the normal human existence, she keeps digging a deeper and deeper hole for herself. She still has a deep attachment to the memory of the person the narcissist used to pretend he was.
To reconcile the awesome fake persona and the real personality of the narcissist is extremely difficult and takes a lot of time.
The narcissist, to justify for himself his outrageous treatment of the victim has to essentially rewrite history. He obviously no longer has the qualities and interests he pretended to have to lure the victim. He has to negate all the professions of love and respect he had made previously, the match made in heaven jargon he used to use abundantly and make it sound as if the victim misunderstood his commitment to the relationship from the start. He’ll be very smug and condescending, even proud of himself, making sure that everyone around is told that the victim had always been unstable, difficult and crazy.
It might end with a smug ‘I have always been the type of a person who just walks away and burns the bridge’.
Where the regular jerk would have been non-committal from the start, the narcissist deliberately manipulates the victim only to cruelly toss her on the garbage dump once he is done with her.
He might be intelligent enough to cover what is going on inside him into a more palatable coat: “I am really sad that she cannot get over me,” or his dream “I am really sad that she couldn’t get over me and killed herself.” The information he chooses to tell those around him would be carefully selected with impression management in mind.
The narcissist really does rewrite the history. His ability to compartmentalize is incredibly strong. It is likely that the narcissist eventually takes his deconstruction of reality for real. The power of projection in people who lack self-awareness is strong. At the beginning, the victim was a target of powerful positive projections, now she is a target of the most negative projections. Where she used to be a perfect little goddess, she is now a deranged crazy bitch. The actual personality of the victim, who she really is, remains completely unrecognised by the narcissist who lacks the ability to truly relate to other human beings and lives completely in the world of his or her projections.
The recovery of the rejected partner in the narcissist situation
It will take much longer for a person to recover from a relationship with a narcissist than from that with a regular jerk. In the early stages, the victim is likely not recognising her victimhood and is accepting the narcissist’s narrative that she indeed is the faulty one.
There has been no processing done together and the victim is left to figure it out all by herself, while frequently being devalued by those close to her who have no knowledge of the workings of the narcissistic personality disorder. The narcissist’s intermittent reinforcement and occasional drips of the ‘old him’ behaviour further confuse the victim.
Since narcissists do tend to target people who are already vulnerable, the victim is likely going to spiral for a period of time into a really troubled place. The work that needs to be done here is about understanding self-love, self-respect and boundaries. The healing is very much about the cognitive learning of the behavioral dynamics of the narcissistically personality disordered person. The victim needs to recognise and accept that this totally alien human form exists. The narcissit challenges the victim’s human moral compass and shatters her predominant world view and understanding of people as generally good.
It’s not about owning her mistakes, shortcomings and failures. The recovery of the victim is about understanding that she had been utterly used, duped and defrauded. That she was manipulated to attach and commit to a mentally unfit person.
It appears to me that a recovered victim must ultimately gain the upper hand and take back control of the narrative. It is at the same time liberating and scary to understand that nothing in that experience was personal and about the victim. The victim was just unfortunate to get caught in the world of a serious mental disorder, the workings of which had been completely alien to her.
There will never be any friendship with the narcissist, there will never be any embrace of the past other than understanding it as a painful lesson. The person the victim used to love and the person the narcissist really is are two different entities. It’s a love that never was. It was a psychic rape. The lessons for the victim are profound, lasting and life-changing. It’s not a broken heart she has to recover from. It’s manipulation and brainwashing.
A victim that keeps the door open for the narcissist to return or still believes there was anything real about the fake persona is not yet recovered and is in danger of falling for a possible hoover attempt, which would only bring about another cycle of devaluation and discard.
As much as I am trying to understand this disorder from the psychiatric perspective, I can’t hide that my contempt for the person I once used to think I loved is such that it can’t even be described. I feel absolute contempt for the narcissist. I believe in equality in society, but it appears to me that we are not all equal in terms of human qualities and narcissists are certainly the absolute bottom of the human barrel. There is no excuse for messing an innocent person’s life and causing trauma. Suffering can’t be undone. It can’t be forgiven. The energy has to go back to where it came from. I dream of a world where everyone understands these disorders and no one falls for their game. It would be a wonderful world. With no supply available, the narcs would start imploding. And the world would be a much better place for that.
The narcissist’s ultimate undoing is the fact that he cannot see people for who they really are and therefore he underestimates them. It’s great to be underestimated. It gives you the upper hand. I wish for all narc victims to use their upper hand, their insight, all that they have learned from their horror experiences, to contribute to the change in the world that we need to see. And one they, there will be a world where there will be no room for narcs. I hope I live to see it.