One very difficult thing to get your head around is how a person who claims to love you can then go on to abuse you. If you’ve been in a relationship with an abusive narcissist (narc) which ended abruptly, you will understand the trauma and confusion it brings. How could this person go from telling me I was the love of his life to treating me like a piece of shit? And how could I have misjudged this person so badly who lied, cheated, and devalued me in front of people for his own amusement? How do you trust anyone again?
You may think that narcs are horrible people, and on the surface, they are! However, underneath they are hurting, they are sad, they need help. Narcs often use a variety of methods to numb and hide their pain, and abusing someone is probably one of these methods. From my experience though, alcohol was another method my ex narc used to numb his pain. Unfortunately, this only made his behaviour worse, as you could imagine.
Anyone who has experienced a narcissistic partner will wonder how they made such a huge mistake and how they can avoid making that same mistake again. The good news is, that like me, you would have learnt a lot about narcissists and how they operate. You understand the red flags now, those ones you ignored in the beginning. I know I saw HEAPS of red flags, and I ignored them all! Stupid, stupid.
Narcissists are predictable, they follow the same pattern in each relationship, from victim to victim. You can recognise the early signs if you pay attention to their behaviour at each stage of the relationship. Even though I saw all of these signs, I didn’t understand much, if anything about narcissists at the time, and I tried to bring the issues up with my partner. Little did I know that narcs are experts at lying and will say everything you want to hear just to shut you up. However, none of what they say is genuine. Once you settle and become comfortable again, they will go back into old habits and the cycle begins again. They do not change.
Why Narcs Often Have Abusive Traits:
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder often have a few things that predispose them to becoming abusive. These are:
Narcissists in Relationships:
Narcissists don’t do well in relationships. One reason is because they lack empathy and only think about themselves. But also, because they lack whole object relations, and have very unrealistic ideas about their partners. They see things in black and white, there are no grey areas. You are either perfect, or flawed.
As a result, narcs repeat the same relationship abuse patterns instead of settling down in a good, healthy and long term relationship.
Narcs have no middle ground. When they first meet you, they are likely to believe you're perfect. They will chase you endlessly with attention, gifts, texts, complements and anything that proves they're devoted to you. You may notice that they will come off as a very likeable, charming, and talkative person and you may even experience "Gaslighting", like I did.
The thing is that they are very charming and likeable in public, but later, behind closed doors this will change. They will hide this negative side from family, friends and others, so that you look crazy if you try to tell others what they're really like. No one else sees it, only you.
Narcs often move fast. They will “fall in love” with you very quickly. I put “fall in love” in quotation because from my experience, narcs cannot love properly, so this is very likely fake. If you notice that they are over the top, moving fast, or it all seems too good to be true, this may be a red flag.
The Narcissist's Former Relationships:
Soon you will start to hear about their past relationships. Now pay attention here because this will give away a lot about them and who they really are. They love to play the victim, so all of their former partners will be horrible people. They will talk about past partners as being crazy, abusive, or cheaters etc. Yet the narcs will always present themselves as the perfect one, and the victim each time. This is another red flag I ignored.
When you begin to see how badly they treat you further into the relationship, you will start to question these stories about their exes, and realise that it was more than likely the other way around. This became very clear to me when I noticed my ex narc would always tell “edited” stories. Even if I knew what actually happened, he would edit the story so that he was the hero or the victim and myself, or whoever else he was talking about was the “bad guy”.
Oh, You’re Actually Not Perfect:
Once a narc has “caught” you they begin to relax and start to notice little things about you that they don't like. This is when they begin their construction project. Narcs will start to criticise little things about you to try and make you into their idea of the perfect partner. They may insult what you wear (I got this a lot), how you look (I got this a lot), what you do etc. They may “suggest” ways to improve yourself so that you become the image that they want. Or, as I experienced, they will use insults to make you feel bad about yourself and force you to change.
The Lies, So Many Lies!
Narcissists are expert liars. Well, I’m not sure if my narc was an expert at lying because I caught him out several times! However, he could look me in the eyes and lie to my face with absolute ease; and even when he was caught in the act, he would still try to lie his way out! Although I will admit, there were probably countless more lies that I never knew about.
The pattern of narc lying is interesting. They will say or do something to you one day, and then swear until they’re blue in the face that they never said or did it the next day. If you challenge them, they will go on the attack. They will turn it around on you and blame you. You must have heard them incorrectly, or somehow, it’s all your fault. The narc will not take responsibility for their own mistake, because saying sorry is a sign of weakness to them. Their mistake, lie or abuse will be YOUR FAULT.
So why are narcissists so good at lying, even when they're caught? Even when you have evidence? Because it works. They are experts at manipulating you and turning the blame on to you. They can talk their way around almost anything and confuse you, and this works! You will start to doubt yourself. They are compulsive liars and excellent talkers. They talk the talk, but won't walk the walk. Yet sometimes I wondered if my ex narc really believed his lies, it often appeared that way. This is why narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition.
What Happens When You Put Up Boundaries:
The worst thing you can say to a narc is “no”. When I had had enough of being used, abused, lied to and generally treated like a piece of crap, I put up boundaries. These were very healthy and very reasonable boundaries. But they initiated what would be three months of hell.
Saying no to a narc is like taking their control away, and this hurts their ego. When you hurt them, they will punish you! They will get revenge. A switch flips and a monster appears. They will use what they know will hurt you the most. This is when I became the next victim to throw away, but not after he had gotten his revenge first. For what? Because I said no.
What a normal person would take with maturity and solve with a healthy discussion, a narc will take as an attack on their sense of self. This means their so-called love turns into hate. The revenge they unleash on you will be extremely hurtful. I won’t go into detail about what my ex narc did to me, that would need a whole other article. But once they're done, you will be thrown to the side like you meant nothing; and unfortunately, you didn’t mean all that much to them in the first place. They will soon move on to the next victim if they haven’t done so already.
What Positives Have I Gained from a Relationship with an Abusive Narcissist?
I went through a horrible experience, especially in the last three to four months. However, I’m thankful for what I learned. I have been pushed to become a much stronger person, a happier person. I’ve found a new life, surrounded with positive and loving people. I won’t take verbal, emotional or physical abuse from anyone ever again. I won't take cheating and lying. I know the signs now. And I hope I can help even just one person recognise an abusive narcissist before they get too deep into a relationship with them.
It doesn’t matter how much you love them, how much you care, or how much support you offer to help them. Narcs don't want your help, nor do they want to change. It’s a mental health disorder and only a professional can help. My ex narc desperately needs help, but will not admit or acknowledge the deep pain he has inside. I know how much this hurts. I loved him more than he deserved and I still hope he will seek the help he needs. But doubt he will. Narcs are miserable being miserable and enjoy it. In some way, that’s their comfort zone and they are happy to remain there, which is very sad. So move on; because (as a friend recently told me) you are FAR too good for them anyway!
Dedicated with thanks to those who have been there for me: Cammy, Kim, Jo, Rob, Leon and Lorraine.
I have recently gone through hell and back with someone who I believed to be one person, who changed in an instant. The change was shocking, scary and cruel. But it was something I am thankful for. Why? Because it helped me to learn a lot about what I want and need, and what happens when you challenged another person’s mask by putting up healthy boundaries. I saw the real person that had been hiding behind an emotional mask.
The Emotional Masks We Wear
Many people wear emotional masks to hide feelings that they don’t want to deal with. Emotional masks are worn due to fear. There are many reasons for this; some people come from family backgrounds that have never supported or encouraged open expression of emotions. Or sometimes a person has been through trauma or difficulties in the past and feel like they can’t express, or don’t want to express the emotions associated with the event.
Sometimes people who stop showing their own emotions to people around them, stop recognising their own emotions completely. Emotional masks are a common way to avoid dealing with these difficult emotions. These aren’t actual physical masks I’m talking about. So, what exactly are emotional masks? Here’s a few examples:
Unfortunately for those who live behind emotional masks for a long time may begin to find softer emotions trigger anger easily. Such as sadness, shame and fear. It can also lead to substance abuse, such as alcoholism and drug use as a way to numb the emotions that they don’t want to deal with.
Why Wear Emotional Masks?
Everyone wears masks to some degree. However, when it’s a long-term habit to cover emotions that you don’t want to face, it becomes unhealthy and it negatively affects your relationships. One of the most common reasons people wear masks is the fear of people finding them out. One of our greatest fears is showing our true selves!
“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde.
The Courage to Look Behind the Eyes of Another Person
What happens when someone see’s through your mask to the real person? This is a deeply unnerving experience for the mask wearer. They have been caught out. Everyone longs to be seen, and known for who they really are. But the fear of being seen may be too much for the mask wearer to handle. They may not be ready, or just may not want to face their difficult emotions.
“The greatest battle we face as human beings is the battle to protect our true selves from the self the world wants us to become.” E.E. Cummings.
Seeing another person for who they truly are, even if they don’t see it, can be a wonderful thing. However, if you challenge their mask it can trigger their fear of being found out causing them to turn on you. You have challenged their ego, their entire sense of self, even though it’s fake.
Uh oh spaghetti-O!
Challenging someone to take off their mask means showing their authentic self. This is a very vulnerable thing to do and requires a huge amount of courage, and a great deal of trust. But if you never do it, the past will continue to affect your present.
“You can’t change the past, but you can change how it affects you.” Unknown.
Why Should You Take Off Your Masks?
We ALL wear emotional masks to some degree, and this can be ok when it’s not taken to the extreme. However, there will come a point in life when juggling all of these masks becomes exhausting and pointless. Vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s a true strength. Masks are the real signs of weakness. Masks push away the ones who love you the most. Masks can create isolation and loneliness.
Most of us can tell immediately when we are in the presence of an authentic person. One without masks, who is not “putting on a show”. These are the people who enjoy the deep sense of peace authenticity brings. They experience life and love to the fullest. It doesn’t mean they don’t experience pain, but they don’t allow past experiences to prevent them from getting the most out of the present.