Have you ever dealt with a full-blown narcissist in your life?
They flatter you, court you, are nice and accommodating while it serves their purpose. Once you realise that this isn’t a mutual relationship, you are stuck.
The narcissists invest just enough time, energy and money to keep you amused. They tangle carrots on sticks in front of your nose and persuade you to stay another day.
But all the while you know that they are taking advantage of you, betraying you behind your back and abusing your good will, loyalty and dedication.
Living with a narcissist as your partner, parent or in work is frustrating, exasperating and painful. It undermines your self-worth and confidence. You feel inferior, never good enough for them.
Yet, it is extremely difficult to escape their clutch and free yourself. Because they know exactly how to lure you back in.
And once you sever your relationship for good, once you choose your physical and mental health over them, their wrath can be brutal, disproportionate (sometimes with psychopathic tendencies) and unforgiving.
But why is that?
Why do narcissists act and react the way they do? What is driving them?
And why do we fall in narcissists’ traps? Why is it so difficult to escape?
But, most importantly for you: how can you protect yourself?
My husband and I have struggled with 2 top-of-the-class narcissists for many years now. First we fought for their acceptance, respect and love. Then we battled to escape their abuse. And now, after almost 7 years we still ward off their attacks.
I know everybody’s situation is different. And the narcissistic spectrum is wide. But through my own experiences, I learned how extreme narcissists think and why we get caught in their trap.
I also had to discover how to overcome the trauma of their bullying and find peace while the narcissistic storm raged around us.
Today, I want to share these important lessons in the hope that it may help you in a similar situation.
Let’s start with the sad reasons why narcissists behave the way they do.
Narcissists are addicted to wealth, power and status and the resulting recognition and admiration. They don’t seek love, human connection or mutual relationships. Severe narcissists are incapable of these feelings (poor sods if you think of it!).
They crave other people’s admiration, adoration and devotion. That’s their #1 goal in life. Why?
Because narcissists have no self-worth. Despite their overinflated egos, subconsciously, they feel entirely unworthy.
They compensate for this feeling of complete worthlessness by focussing on the accumulation of status symbols. And by surrounding themselves with people who admire, adore and approve of them.
They need people who agree with them, overlook their mistakes and never challenge anything they propose. Because any opposition, objection or error plummets them into a deep abyss of unworthiness.
So, narcissists surround themselves with people who want to please. They feel important and worthy when others agree, serve and provide for them. But they only care for themselves.
This is hard to accept if it’s your spouse, friend or parent. You love them. And you hope that your love is reciprocated. But the devastating truth is that narcissists don’t strive for love.
Don’t get me wrong! They care for you. Enjoy your company. Flatter you. In their own special way maybe even do love you. But only as long as you give them what they crave: undivided attention, unwavering admiration and submission without ever questioning them.
As long as you can provide narcissists with this fix, they will humour you. Psychologists call this “Narcissistic supply”.
But what happens once you decide to leave the one-sided relationship and emotional abuse? What happens when you end the relationship, file for divorce or remove yourself from their company?
Narcissists siphon their fleeting sense of worth off other people. Either by being admired or by making others feel inferior to them. The latter makes them top-notch bullies.
Let’s face it! Even if you love somebody blindly, you can only endure this treatment for a limited period of time. Sooner or later, your dedication will crumble, your enthusiasm will fade and the relationship will drain you. You can’t give the narcissists everything they need any longer.
If you don’t abandon the relationship at that point, the narcissists will look for alternative supply. Their behaviour towards you will change. Interactions will grow colder, you may be ignored or punished and affairs may start. Bullying, humiliation and abuse will increase. Because, as much as it hurts, you are no longer of use.
The narcissists might tolerate you for as long as you aren’t a threat. But this is what you become once you start to challenge them, hold them responsible for their actions, point out their mistakes or end the relationship. At that point, you are likely to experience what is called “narcissistic rage”.
Narcissistic rage occurs when you dare to withdraw the admiration and approval narcissists require to feel good about themselves. You are basically stealing their self-worth.
Furthermore, the loss of control over you causes fear and distress. You could defame them, ruin their reputation and dispute their importance. You could publicly expose their worthless and ugly self. A true narcissist won’t tolerate this threat, insult and insubordination.
The result is anger. Depending on the degree of narcissism, this anger can be extremely aggressive and totally over the top.
They will do everything to protect their reputation, material possessions and way of life. They will make your life difficult.
And as long as you remain in their reach, you are reminding them of the fact that they are worthless. Despite all the lengths they went through to gain admiration and build a reputation, there is this one person who knows their worthlessness and true motives. This person becomes a scape goat that the narcissist blames all his misfortune on.
But where does this leave you?
The effects of dealing with a narcissist every day, be it your spouse, partner or a family member, are detrimental on your own self-worth.
Yes, their love might return if you could just be slimmer, look younger, work harder, serve better.
Yes, they might see the error of their ways if you become the person they want you to be. It is easy to believe that it is you who is wrong, unacceptable and unworthy.
But it is imperative to remember that the way they treat you has nothing to do with you not being good enough as a person!
It is the narcissistic personality that takes advantage, doesn’t care much for others and uses them for their purposes. It is not a reflection of you or your worth!! It doesn’t mean you are a failure or unlovable!
Narcissists will treat everybody the same. They don’t know any other way to boost their self-worth than leaching it off others. It is not your fault!
We can’t choose our parents or siblings. And we certainly aren’t actively seeking a love relationship with a narcissist.
But you are stuck in the co-dependent relationship with a narcissist because your own self-worth is low. Deep down you feel unlovable. And you compensate by pleasing others. You only feel worthy of other people’s love if you do what they want, provide what they need and look after them.
Let’s face it, it’s the much nicer way to compensate for low self-worth! But it is still compensation.
It is fundamental that you boost your self-worth by realising that you ARE worth. You are loveable! Infinite, unconditional worth is your essence and nobody can take it away from you. You are good enough! No matter what! Even if the narcissists make you feel interior. This is just their (much less nice) way to compensate for lack of self-worth.
If you find yourself involved with a narcissist, it is crucial to realise that you are not a victim. You have a choice:
I don’t want to scare you. But if you are dealing with a full-blown narcissist, your life might be difficult for a while after you leave.
This is because the narcissists need to ensure that you do not damage their reputation, finances and way of life. And they do this through attack.
Below are the top 4 realisations that helped me get through the trauma, move forward and live a happy life despite narcissistic rage directed towards me and my family.
The typical narcissist strategy of dealing with a person they lost control over is by discrediting them. My husband and I were called thieves, liars, embezzlers and even terrorists. Yes, it hurts. But it is important to remember that people who really know you won’t believe it and people who don’t know you won’t care.
We found that the best way to deal with it was to ignore it. Not reciprocate, not respond, not bother. After all, what other people think of you is none of your business!
Keep boosting your self-worth! Keep reminding yourself that you are a lovable, worthy person who deserves happiness. And what other people say or think about you does not change anything about it!
When the narcissistic storm started to rage, my worst problem was the fear. I spent whole days hiding under my desk. Literally!
And fear is an understandable reaction! Your life is under attack, your livelihood threatened. It’s a horror scene from a soap opera you never wanted to be a part of.
But there are ways to cope with the fear. Here are my favourite exercises:
I remember in the early days of the narcissistic storm, we received daily threatening letters. We experienced distress, anxiety and heartache.
And I wanted justice! How could they mistreat us and get away with it?
We went to the police but they said they couldn’t help. Where was the justice? We were good people with good intentions. Why did this happen to us while the perpetrators remained unpunished and untouched?
The feeling of helplessness and injustice almost killed me. But then I realised that I had the choice to be happy. Not once they stopped attacking us, not once justice was served, not once I had my revenge. Now.
The truth is that narcissists are highly unhappy people. Deep down they hate themselves, feel worthless. They are driven by unconscious compulsions and consumed by anger, hatred and fear. Whether they see it or not, they suffer. Every minute of every day.
And the best revenge you can serve is to be happy, to live a fulfilled life. Love, laugh and know your worth. Invest your time and energy in happiness, not resentment and revenge.
Your life will never be perfect. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be happy! Focus on happiness now.
I know what you’re thinking…
How could these people that attack, bully and threaten you even deserve your compassion? The answer is not for their sake but for your own.
Wishing them misfortune, punishment and gout will not change anything about their life or behaviour towards you. But the resentment, anger and hatred will erode your soul, destroy your happiness and damage your health. You can hold on to all these negative feelings or you can let them go. You have a choice.
They are miserable people living miserable lives. They need your compassion. But more importantly, you need it too. You deserve happiness. You ARE worth!
It is imperative to fight for your rights. You ARE worth and you deserve respect.
The thing is though that narcissists fight as a matter of principle. Losing, being in the wrong and defeat is a testimony of their worthlessness. Their feeling of worth and relevance is a fragile construct of illusion, self-deception and lies. And they will defend it.
If you only still fight to be right, then ask yourself whether your happiness and quality of life are worth more than having the last word. Maybe it’s time to move on.
Not winning an argument doesn’t mean that you weren’t good enough to succeed. It means that you love and respect yourself enough to leave a miserable situation behind without shame and feelings of inferiority. So you can finally be happy again.
I don’t know your situation and I cannot tell you what to do. My experiences might not reflect what you are going through. But I hope that they can help you understand your struggles and make the next steps to free yourself and regain your life.
I know it is terrifying. But you will get through it. One step at a time. Detaching yourself from a narcissist can be difficult, uncomfortable and scary at times. But the end result is worth it. YOU are worth it!
You deserve to be free, live without abuse, humiliation, exploitation and neglect. You can start to re-build your self-worth. And your life.
You can be happy. You deserve to be happy. Always remember!
You don’t need to serve, please and bow to be acceptable. You ARE worth! You are lovable. You are good enough. Unconditionally.
Once you realise this, you won’t fall prey to a narcissist ever again. They are attracted to low self-worth. If you increase your own self-worth, they will go and ruin someone else’s life. Sad but true.
So speak after me: I AM WORTH!
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Dr Berni Sewell, PhD is a health scientist, energy healer and self-worth blogger. She is on a mission to make you feel good about yourself, no matter what. Download her free guide Instant self-worth: an easy 4-step solution to heal your self-worth in under 5 minutes a day” and start to boost your confidence today.