What to say when the people in your life do not understand narcissism?
- It can be hard to explain narcissistic abuse to someone who has never experienced it.
- People will have trouble understanding why you stayed after the abuse started or how you got into that situation in the first place.
- Even though you are the victim, some people may blame you or minimize your suffering.
Many people who have suffered narcissistic abuse at the hands of a mate have a very difficult time explaining their situation to people who have never experienced anything like it. They are usually asked some form of the following questions:
- What is narcissistic abuse?
- Why did you put it up with it?
- Why did you stay in the relationship for so long?
Everyone will have his or her own version of the answers to these questions. However, it can be hard to repeatedly explain what happened and why. My clients’ dilemmas motivated me to write out for them a general explanation that they could adapt to their situation, print, and hand out to their loved ones.
Note: In this post, I am using the terms narcissist, narcissistic, and NPD as shorthand for someone who qualifies for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I am using male pronouns in the example below, but this can be applied to all genders.
The General Definition of NPD
My partner (or ex) has narcissistic personality disorder. This means that although he can project an image of being very confident and capable, underneath he actually feels very insecure about his self-worth. This uncertainty makes him seek perfection, validation from other people, and high status in an effort to reassure himself that he is special and stabilize his shaky self-esteem.
People with narcissistic personality disorder lack emotional empathy. This means that my partner could not feel happy for me when I succeeded at something (unless it reflected well on him) or bad when he hurt me.
The combination of these two things—difficulty regulating his own self-esteem and having no real empathy for other people—made my partner very self-centered and preoccupied with his own needs, although he generally tried to hide this. Instead, he did his best to project an image of whatever he thought would make him seem admirable to other people.
All of the above made him ultra-sensitive to negative feedback, easily offended, and very aggressive towards me when he became angry.
In the beginning of our relationship, he was very admiring and attentive to me. I didn’t realize it, but “getting” me after courting me made him feel strong and special.
Once we were together, that wore off. He started to pick me apart and tell me what I needed to change. He became very bossy and punished me by yelling or coldly withdrawing whenever I did not do things his way. He also blamed me for anything that went wrong, even when it was obviously his fault. I started to be afraid of him after he threw the TV remote at my head.
Things got worse as time went on. He did not care that he was abusing me (no emotional empathy) and he wanted to hurt me because devaluing and abusing me made him feel strong and better than me, which upped his self-esteem. In essence, our whole relationship from the beginning was all about him using me to feel better about himself.
By the end of the relationship, I felt like a broken confused mess.
Back then, before I learned about narcissism, I could not understand why I was being abused by a person who claimed to love me. It took me a long time to realize that I would never be able to please him, and we would always be fighting because he was a narcissist and incapable of having a normal relationship.
Even though I now know this, it is still taking me a long time to heal because I really loved him and I believed him when he said he loved me and that we would be together forever.
It can be difficult to explain narcissistic abuse to people who have never experienced it. They are usually puzzled about how you could let this happen and not see it coming and why you stayed in the relationship after the abuse started. Some people may think that you are exaggerating. It is especially hard to explain when your narcissistic mate can project an image to other people of being smart, calm, and caring. In the end, you may have to settle for accepting that some people will simply not be able to imagine how you suffered or how badly you were treated.
This also appeared on Quora.
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Dr. Elinor Greenberg, psychologist, is an internationally renowned
consultant, author, and Gestalt therapy trainer who specializes in the
diagnosis and treatment of Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid
adaptations. She is on the faculty of the New York Institute for Gestalt
Therapy and the Gestalt Center for Psychotherapy and Training, where she
developed and teaches an 8-session course on personality disorders. Dr.
Greenberg is an Associate Editor of Gestalt Review, a peer reviewed
professional journal. She has trained psychotherapists in the USA, Canada,
England, Wales, Sicily, Sweden, Norway, Mexico, Serbia, Croatia,
Montenegro, Russia, and Malta. Dr. Greenberg is the author of the book:
Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love,
Admiration, and Safety.