Today, I’m sharing 12 signs you’re involved in a relationship with a narcissist, or that you’re married to a narcissist. Plus: what attracts narcissists and exactly what to do if you’re dealing with a narcissist in a toxic relationship. (See video on YouTube).
When I met my ex-husband, I remember feeling like he wasn’t right for me. I didn’t find him exactly attractive and we had almost nothing in common. Still, I found myself drawn to him and spending way too much time with him. I felt charmed by his smooth-talking ways, and before long, I even felt something that seemed like love to me. Within a few months, we were married and the BS began. But had I known then what I know now, I’d never have even married him. Because now I know that even before we actually tied the knot, there were plenty of red flags – obvious signs that he was not the one for me. Signs that he was toxic and in hindsight, signs that he might even be a toxic narcissist.
What’s funny about that is that once I realized that I had been married to a narcissist, I started to think about all of my past relationships. And it turns out, he wasn’t my first (or my last) toxic relationship. But what did that mean? Was it ME? Was I attracting narcissists somehow? Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about today at QueenBeeing dot com – how to recognize that you’re in a relationship with a narcissist and what to do if you are. So, let’s get started.
The beginning of a relationship with a narcissist can be very deceptive; in most cases, a narcissistic relationship begins just like any other—with the standard phases of initial attraction, infatuation and eventually falling in “love.”
What type of person does a narcissist go for?
There is no single “type” that a narcissist typically goes for, technically—there are no parallels to be drawn among the partners of narcissists as far as height, weight, eye color, race or any other physical or cultural characteristic.
While there seems to be no “ideal” or “standard” mate/friend/spouse for a narcissist, there are certain similarities about the relationships. For example, the narcissist typically begins a new relationship with a “honeymoon” period, during which everything seems perfect, almost too good to be true.
Living in a relationship with a narcissist can be anything from exciting and exhilarating to soul-sucking and traumatic. And it usually is one or the other—depending on what day it happens to be. You might compare it to a type of emotional rollercoaster.
And a narcissist cannot exist without someone to adore, someone who will submit to their will, someone to be available at their whim and willing to disparage him or herself to their benefit. The narcissist’s whole identity really depends on it—it’s called narcissistic supply.
What draws a person into a toxic relationship and keeps them there?
Most toxic relationships become toxic because of codependency between two distinct personality types – the “giver” or the people-pleaser type (codependent) and the taker or “controller” (narcissist). Codependents are likely to be compassionate and kind – they are giving, sacrificing, and focused mostly on the needs and desires of the people in their lives. They aren’t likely to emotionally disconnect (and may not even know how, exactly). And most aren’t aware that they need to avoid narcissists, who are primarily selfish, self-centered, controlling, and harmful to the codependent person. A codependent is likely to appreciate the differences and what they initially see as strengths in the narcissist. This is before, of course, the narcissist shows his or her “ugly side” or their true colors. After that, it can get a little muddy.
While physically, culturally and otherwise, the victims of narcissism are all different, there are certain qualities that typically unite them.
First, they must be insecure or at least have a distorted sense of reality. Otherwise, they’ll be out on the first or second exhibit of narcissism, early on in the relationship.
They will likely often belittle and demean themselves while glorifying the narcissist and putting them on an untouchable pedestal. Initially, this could be to combat the narcissist’s apparent lack of self-esteem, if they’re covert, or in response to positive feedback from the narcissist when they do this.
As a result, the codependent partner puts themselves in the position of the victim, which works fine for them as they have a tendency to punish themselves. Maybe they even seem to display a bit of masochism. Perhaps they even feel that they “deserve” this life of torment.
The codependent might become the narcissist’s eternal scapegoat, always put-upon, and putting their own needs last. In fact, that is part of how the codependent survives this type of relationship – putting their own wishes, hopes, dreams, and aspirations on the back burner in favor of the narcissist’s. I recall personally learning not to even consider my own wants and needs because my life became so much easier if the narcissist was happy. That meant I needed to put his needs before my own. And I wasn’t unusual that way – this is common to survivors of narcissistic abuse.
Victims of narcissism often call themselves “people-pleasers” or “diplomats,” but the truth is, they are often so downtrodden in relationships that they just become changed, reactive versions of their former selves.
Narcissists have this ideal image of what they want their partners to be, and if you in any way tarnish or cause them to doubt it, you’re going to be in the doghouse. They’ll also expect your home and your lifestyle to appear perfect and to make certain statements to the people he wants to impress. With them, it’s never about actually making their partner happy or safe – it’s always about what people on the outside think.
Can a narcissist also be codependent?
Contrary to popular belief, narcissists are not necessarily the opposite of codependents. In fact, while they appear to be completely different than their victims – polar opposites almost – they actually have often experienced very similar traumas to the very people they victimize. Often the victims of childhood abuse and/or neglect, the majority of narcissists could really identify with their victims and their own issues – if only they had the empathy to do so.
For example, both narcissists and their victims both experience certain symptoms of codependency, such as the overwhelming feelings of shame, living in denial of their childhood abuse and neglect (or of their own current issues), control issues, dependency on others for their self-worth, issues with setting and overstepping boundaries and communication problems. Ultimately, while it seems counterintuitive, narcissists are definitely codependent – they just manifest it differently than their victims. The difference is that narcissists seem to turn inward, while victims seem to turn outward, with the love that they’d normally have given their parents and other family members, had they been allowed.
How do you know if you’re married to a narcissist?
There are 12 common behaviors that spouses and partners of narcissists report. They are as follows:
1. It feels like you’re the one doing most of the “work” in the relationship.
2. Your partner does things to sabotage the relationship and prevent it from moving forward—but doesn’t want to let you go either.
3. Your partner has episodes of excessive and often unjustified anger— sometimes even infidelity—and he or she somehow makes it all your fault.
4. The relationship is mostly focused around your partner’s interests and activities. When it’s not, there will be an ugly argument or outburst.
5. You feel controlled or manipulated by your partner’s moods to the point that you might feel like you’re walking on eggshells all the time, a slave to his or her whims.
6. You might find yourself covering up, explaining or apologizing for his or her behavior.
7. Your partner might make one-sided decisions that impact your safety and well-being.
8. You might feel unsafe by some of the actions your partner takes.
9. Your partner will refuse to see your good intentions, always blaming you for every situation, always making you admit you’re wrong, even when that’s not the case.
10. You sometimes find yourself desperately trying to remember the times when your partner showed love for you, acted like you could do no wrong—often this is in the early parts of the relationship.
11. You feel emotionally exhausted, often completely drained, by how hard you have to work to make or keep your partner happy.
12. Your partner could have a history of troubled relationships and/or addictions.
But even if you manage to completely change yourself and morph into the narcissist’s idea of the imagined perfect person, it never matters.
Painful Truth: You Will Never Be Enough for a Narcissist
Here’s a harsh reality that we all have to understand. When it comes to the narcissist and his perception of you, you can never be enough. Even if you completely focus your energy on a narcissist, he or she will always look for somewhere else, something else to increase their own “supply” of attention. No matter how amazing you are – it will never be enough for a narcissist.
Don’t let yourself be confused here – it’s DEFINITELY not YOU! It’s totally the way the narcissist’s convoluted mind works, and you can’t take personal responsibility for the broken person you’re dealing with – you just have to find your way to self-confidence and peace OUTSIDE of the narcissist.
The fact is that since the narcissist is so personally “broken” on the inside, nobody on earth can ever fill the endless hole of “need” he carries around – at least not for long.
There are so many manipulation tactics that most narcissists have in common that most of their victims say reading about the abuse suffered by others can feel like reading their own stories. Their gaslighting and other manipulation tactics are underhanded and sneaky – often undetectable. And yet, they’re so definable that even a child can learn to recognize them.
So, you think you’re in a toxic relationship with a narcissist.
Now that you know, where do you go from here? You might feel like you’re all alone when you’re dealing with a narcissist in a toxic relationship, but the truth is that getting involved with one of these “Jekyll and Hyde types” is something a lot of people go through at one time or another. Sometimes, though, people have to endure so much soul-numbing mental abuse from their partners, which can have a powerfully and profoundly negative effect on them that lasts a lifetime.
After a painful episode of gaslighting or other forms of narcissistic abuse, it’s sometimes very difficult to bounce back from the mental abuse you had to endure and your self-esteem plummets because of it. Not only that; the torturous mental abuse you were subjected to by a narcissist is usually an attack on your personal character – an emotional assault committed all too often by your narcissistic partner.
They need to make you feel worthless and insecure, but you don’t understand why – the truth is that you’d be their biggest fan if they’d just allow it.
Why does a narcissist want to make you feel worthless and desperate?
It’s basic NPD 101 – the narcissist’s intent (whether they realize this or not) is to gain control and boost their own ego. The narcissist wants you to have low self-esteem so you won’t think for yourself. In an ideal situation, when you first recognize this, it is the time to go “no contact” (NC).
Truth is that getting out of a toxic relationship like that is the first step you need to take in order to save your own sanity. But sometimes, no contact isn’t possible. What do you do then? You start planning and figuring out what you’re going to do, but in the meantime, you learn how to deal with it. Here are a few tips to help you get through it.
There are other things you’ll need to do to recover fully from the gaslighting, manipulation, and mental abuse that you are experiencing (or have experienced).
1. Start by getting “back to your life” – so get out and do things with your family and friends, because an abuser loves to alienate you from your loved ones.
2. Keep your mind focused on other things so that you don’t isolate yourself at home and become dependent on the negative person who’s feeding into your self-esteem issues. I have found that focusing on what I CAN control (as opposed to things that are beyond my control) is especially helpful – you have to change your mind to change your life, right?
3. Get busy or start a project. Call your friends, read uplifting books or concentrate on a project like redecorating your house.
4. Do whatever it takes to keep you going. If you have a job, continue to work and take note of your goals and achievements. If you don’t have a job, look for one. Working can get your mind off of your problems and give you the necessary affirmation that you can do whatever you put your mind to – and that you’re not worthless.
5. Avoid jumping into other relationships until you’re fully healed emotionally. You’re more likely to fall for other partners who are just like your ex. You don’t want to get into the same situation as before and repeat the cycle of abuse.
6. Don’t waste time on thoughts of your ex – whether it’s negative or otherwise. Some people make the mistake of spending a lot of time with thoughts of how much they hate their former partner or how they wish they could get revenge.
7. Release the anger and focus on what’s important – you! It’s time to move forward with your life. Don’t be afraid to seek some professional help. A professional can help you work through your feelings and help you build your self-esteem back up. Don’t let a toxic relationship break your spirit – get out there and take back your life!
The question of the day is are you in a relationship with a narcissist? Have you been in one before? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments section below this video.
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.