If you’re recovering from narcissistic abuse in relationships and you’re thinking about dating again, you might want to know what to look for so you can avoid getting involved with a narcissist again in the future. (more…)
What’s wrong with me? Why do I keep going back to the narcissist?
Why do I miss them so much when they were so terrible for me?
Why won’t the narcissist just leave me alone?
Believe it or not, these are some of the biggest questions I hear from both readers and coaching clients as they work through their narcissistic abuse recovery program. Almost always, when you finally gather up the nerve to end a toxic relationship, you’re going to be faced with a rocky road at first.
What Makes the Narcissist So Hard to Leave?
Most narcissists will try to get your attention again after you’ve been separated – whether it’s immediately or after a period of time. And many survivors of narcissistic abuse admit that they get sucked back in from time to time. This has a lot to do with trauma bonding. Trauma bonding is similar to Stockholm Syndrome.
It’s a condition that causes abuse you to literally to develop a psychological dependence on the narcissist as a survival strategy during abuse. And of course, trauma bonding also makes recovering from a toxic relationship significantly more difficult.
Speaking of “sucked in,” let’s remember that narcissists love to “hoover” you when they feel like they’ve lost control of you. Read more about hoovering here.
Oh, and let’s not forget the love-bombing of it all.
What if you’re the one trying to get back together with the narcissist?
Now, if you’re the one trying to reconnect with the narcissist, you’re probably experiencing a lot of emotional abuse right now – it’s exactly the type of thing a narc enjoys. You’ll repeatedly go through the devalue and discard phases, peppered with brief episodes of reprieve in which you almost catch a glimpse of the person you once knew.
If you think about it, the psychology of people who have been abused by narcissists is so altered by the abuse that their reactions to things that happen in their life aren’t “normal,” for lack of a better word.
Trauma Bonding in Action: The Biting Puppy
What does that mean, exactly? Well, let me offer up a quick example using puppies. (Stick with me here, it’s not as crazy as it sounds!)
The Happy Puppy and the Biting Puppy
Let’s say that you were out to buy a puppy. You find a group of perfectly adorable pups and it’s time to make the choice.
One puppy seems happy and friendly, and when you hold out your hand, he sniffs it and offers up a little doggie kiss.
Another puppy seems a bit stressed, to say the least, and when you hold out your hand, he bites your finger, drawing blood in the shape of his tiny little puppy teeth.
A “normal” response would be to take the happy puppy home and never think of the biting puppy again, while a person who has experienced narcissistic abuse is more likely to keep going back to the biter and hoping for different results.
The fact is that it’s “normal” for us as humans to go toward pleasure and away from pain – after all, pain is a warning sign that something is WRONG. You feel me?
Along the same line, let’s get back to those dogs for a moment.
Think about the stories you’ve heard about dogs who stay loyal to their owners who hurt them. Why would they do that? It’s because of programming – the training and conditioning that you instill into them, along with their need to look to their “pack leader” for guidance.
How is this relevant to your situation?
Well, the fact is that if you’re going to voluntarily return to someone who has abused you, you’ve experienced a similar kind of conditioning. And sort of like the dog, or even like hostages who experience Stockholm syndrome, you find that you become addicted to the need to please the narcissist, or the need to find out if he or she is okay, or even of the need to get some of his coveted “positive” attention if that’s what he’s been depriving you of – those glimpses of what he once was. This is what brings you back, at least on one level.
And, like the dog who is beaten, the narcissist uses fear to control you – and when you’ve gone no-contact or when you threaten to, the narcissist reaches deep into his manipulative toolbox and pulls out your biggest fear of all the fear of being utterly, desperately alone.
So, in a way, you have to recognize that the feeling of obligation and almost desperation that you feel when you’re away from the abuser isn’t real.
The Ugly Truth: Maybe You Keep Going Back Because You’re Scared That the Narcissist Was Right
The bottom line, though is this: the reason you want that abusive jerk back, even though he put you through absolute hell, is because the pain of the idea of being ALONE, abandoned, helpless, worthless – that’s so much worse, in your mind, than the actual abuse.
Sometimes, having someone who just seems to have all the “right” answers – someone who keeps you right on the edge of sanity – just feels like home, especially if you’ve been stuck in a toxic relationship for long.
And that, my friend, is where we all sort of figure out where our places are in this world – it’s part of what makes us attractive to narcissists in the first place.
And what makes them attractive to US – they can sort of seem like what we’ve always wanted, our hero, our savior – that is, until we discover that they’ve been secretly consuming our souls, one bite at a time. Before you know it, you’re left spinning and feeling empty.
So how do you get over the need to keep going back to the narcissist?
- You’ve got to change your mind. I know, it sounds simple. But if you change your mind and literally DECIDE that you don’t need him, you’ll eventually get there – even if you have to fake it a little at first.
- Use the law of attraction to your advantage by employing a simple-to-remember mantra or affirmation that you repeat to yourself anytime you have feelings or thoughts that make you want to go back.
- And, if you have to, create a little “narc-resistance” file – one where you write down or record your reasons for leaving – and staying away – and make sure you’re very honest with yourself – after all, no one else needs to see it.
- Stick to your no contact plan.
Avoid the Hoover Maneuver – How a Narcissist Sucks You Back In
Often, when the narcissist in your life feels the need to gain more of your attention and “narcissistic supply,” they will use a technique we call the “hoover maneuver” – and it’s meant to suck you back into the relationship, or at least, into the drama.
Have you ever experienced a desire to reconnect with a narcissist after you’ve separated from him or her? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
Finding Your Catalyst to Save Yourself From Narcissistic Abuse
Knowing that you want your life to change requires that you take stock of your life, and for victims of narcissists, this can be really tough – especially when you consider what happens to us when we’re in these kinds of dehumanizing relationships. It means that you have to examine every area and look at what’s not been working to make you feel the inner satisfaction that you’d like to have.
The first way that you can find your catalyst is to understand the things in your life that matter to you. Your catalyst for motivation won’t be the same as someone else’s, because no two situations are the same. I think maybe for people who are dealing with narcissists, the situations may be more similar than we think – we tend to feel that we have to prove to them that we’re not like “all the others” who didn’t stand by them, or we are too full of fear to move forward. I have talked about this topic earlier before, actually.
What gets you up in the morning?
What really matters to you?
As you move toward removing yourself from your relationship with a narcissist, or even after you’ve done so, you might find yourself feeling sort of lost – and who can blame you?
You’ve been under the influence of the narcissist long enough by now that you may be suffering from any number of common side-effects and complications of narcissistic abuse in relationships, both physical and mental.
But now, it’s time to decide who YOU are – and what YOU really want.
Maybe you really dream of having a beautiful home, or perhaps you’re more concerned with financial security for your retirement, or more time to spend with your loved ones.
If having time to do what you want to do with creative work is what matters to you, then your catalyst will be whatever action gives you the chance to free your inner artist.
This may be something as simple as cutting back on hours with work or finding a different job.
Try something new, whether it’s career-related or otherwise. You
It might be the catalyst of taking an art or a writing class. Whatever it is should be something that you truly desire – something that you feel your life would be lacking if you didn’t have it.
Get ready to change – and accept that it’s necessary.
The second way is to accept that you’re going to have to change things in order to get what matters to you. Many people are willing to acknowledge what matters to them, but then they balk at the change.
You won’t get what matters to you without change. It’s like losing weight. You can’t shed pounds if you stay sedentary, eating like there’s no tomorrow. You have to be mindful of your movement and intake – it’s simple mechanics.
Be Open to Receiving What You Want
The third way to find your catalyst is to give it the opportunity to happen. You’ve got to be open to receiving what you want!
For example, if you want to start your own business, but your personal and professional life doesn’t leave you with room to learn about business development or to increase your talents, then something has to give.
You have to make room to let the change in. Maybe that means spending a little time after work on the weekdays or on the weekends to educate yourself. It’s a temporary sacrifice for a long-term benefit. You feel me?
Firm It Up: Know Exactly What You’re Going For
The fourth way to find your catalyst is to make it concrete. Write it down. Share it with others. Find a mentor. Don’t allow this change you want to remain nothing more than a desire.
Be Freaking Fearless and Plan Ahead
The fifth way is to not let the size of the change throw you off your goal. Some changes that people want to make really are pretty big. Changes like moving from your home to live in another country because it’s what you’ve always wanted is a huge change – just like the changes you’ll be making as you go through your recovery after a narcissistic relationship.
You wouldn’t want to pack up overnight and head out the next morning. You can’t throw away personal responsibility when a catalyst happens. What you have to do is focus on the things you need to do in order to reach that change sensibly.
If your goal is moving to another country, you would want to find a place to live and secure a way to support yourself financially before taking the leap. Those are action steps that you can take that lead to the big change.
Small change is what equals big change and it gets you closer to where you want to be in life. Think about how often you’ve just accepted your fate – your lot in life.
Have you ever made an action plan to get to a better place? To have more peaceful relationships by setting boundaries? To feel the thrill of waking up each morning, ready to lead a life that excites you?
If you’ve been watching time pass by, waiting for a bolt of lightning, consider this day your wake up call. It’s time to embrace every catalyst you encounter so that years down the
road, you’re not still stuck in the mud wondering why life passed you by.
What do you think? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
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“Understanding how a narcissist works is the key to living or working with one. If you can understand his or her behavior, you may be able to accept it as you realize their behavior is NOT a result of anything you did or said despite them emphatically blaming you. If you can accept their behavior and not take the abuse and other actions personally, you can then emotionally distance yourself from the narcissist. If you can emotionally distance yourself, you can either cope with the narcissist or garner the strength to leave.” ~ Alexander Burgemeester, The Narcissistic Life
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 is a toxic narcissist?
The most commonly understood definition of a narcissist is a person who has a very inflated opinion of him/herself. In fact, most every conscious human has some level of narcissism, which at its most basic level is simple self-interest. But that’s different than the kind of narcissism we’re talking about when we are talking about toxic narcissists.
It is a toxic narcissist we find ourselves dealing with in narcissistic abuse situations. Also known as a malignant narcissist, this term refers to a toxic, verbally (and sometimes physically) abusive person who may or may not have been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.
What type of person does a narcissist go for?
What kind of person is ideal for a narcissist? 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 between 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, submit to his will, be available at his whim, and willing to disparage herself to his benefit. His whole identity really depends on it—it’s called narcissistic supply.
So what draws a person into this type of relationship and keeps her there?
Common Qualities Among the Partners of Narcissists
“The inherently dysfunctional ‘codependency dance’ requires two opposite but distinctly balanced partners: the pleaser/fixer (codependent) and the taker/controller (narcissist/addict,” writes Ross Rosenberg. “Codependents — who are giving, sacrificing, and consumed with the needs and desires of others — do not know how to emotionally disconnect or avoid romantic relationships with individuals who are narcissistic — individuals who are selfish, self-centered, controlling, and harmful to them. Codependents habitually find themselves on a “dance floor” attracted to partners who are a perfect counter-match to their uniquely passive, submissive and acquiescent dance style.”
While physically, culturally, and otherwise, the victims of narcissism aren’t the same, there are certain qualities that typically unite them. I’m going to use the “she” pronoun here, but note that there is no single sex that is a typical victim (although, to be fair, men reportedly make up the majority of narcissists).
First, she must be insecure or at least have a distorted sense of reality, if you expect her to stick around. Otherwise, she’ll be out on the first or second exhibit of narcissism, early on in the relationship.
She will likely often belittle and demean herself while glorifying the narcissist and putting him on an untouchable pedestal.
As a result, the partner becomes the victim, which works fine for her—she has a tendency to punish herself. Maybe she even feels like she “deserves” this life of torment.
She’s his eternal scapegoat, always put-upon and putting her own needs last.
“It is through self-denial that the partner survives,” says Sam Vaknin, a self-proclaimed narcissist. “She denies her wishes, hopes, dreams, aspirations, sexual, psychological, and material needs, choices, preferences, values, and much else besides. She perceives her needs as threatening because they might engender the wrath of the narcissist’s God-like supreme figure.”
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.
“When you are the partner of a narcissist, you are there to project the image he wants for you—that he wants his partner to project,” writes Diane England, Ph.D. “Of course, your house and lifestyle probably fall into this category, too. They are all about making statements to others he wishes to impress, not about providing you with the type of environment you might find comfortable or restful–an environment that feeds your soul.”
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 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.
Do you know someone who is in a relationship with a narcissist? Perhaps you recognize yourself or someone you love in this post.
Get help with narcissistic abuse recovery, right now.
- The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this to be the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. Offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
- Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups – We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery, as well as some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next stage of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
- One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your own narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
- Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist – If you’re looking for a therapist for narcissistic abuse recovery, either because you cannot afford coaching and want to use your health insurance or because you have additional issues you need to address that do not fall within the realm of coaching, you will want to find the right therapist for you – and as far as we’re concerned, that therapist must understand what you’ve been through. This page offers assistance to help you do exactly that.
- Where Are You in Recovery? You might not be sure exactly where you fit in and what level of recovery you’ve achieved. If that’s the case, you’ll want to check out this self-assessment to help you determine exactly where you fall in the stages of recovery from narcissistic abuse. Once you finish and submit the assessment, you will be given resources for your own situation, along with recommendations of which groups to join.
- Which Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program is Right for You? If you aren’t sure which program you want to utilize to facilitate your recovery from narcissistic abuse, this self-assessment will help you decide.
More Helpful Resources for Overcoming a Narcissist’s Emotional and Psychological Manipulation
- READ THIS! BE POWERFUL: Stop people-pleasing and take back your life.
- Are you being gaslighted? Here are the top 10 warning signs that you’re being manipulated by a toxic narcissist.
- Stop letting people walk all over you. Click here, READ THIS and stand up and TAKE BACK YOUR LIFE, RIGHT NOW!
- Twisted Toxic Love: Inside the Distorted Mind of a Narcissist