When you are in the grip of narcissistic abuse, it can be hard to think about your own needs. You may be so preoccupied with what is happening to you that you feel numb, or so angry that you feel like an emotional volcano about to explode. Either way, it can be hard to take care of yourself.
Is Self-Care Selfish?
No matter what the toxic people in your life would have you believe, self-care is not selfish. It is essential in order to maintain your physical and emotional health. And this is even more important for people who have survived narcissistic abuse because, for many of us, our whole lives have been about making other people happy. It’s time to focus on yourself, possibly for the first time in your life.
Have you survived narcissistic abuse?
If you have been in a relationship with a narcissist, you know how frustrating and exhausting it is to repeatedly deal with their crazy-making and mind games. When they aren’t treating you like your feelings don’t matter, they are making you feel crazy for having feelings in the first place! It can be that hard to be in a relationship with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), but you probably already know that it is possible to leave such relationships when you learn how to recognize the signs of narcissistic abuse and how to set boundaries.
What you might not realize though is that self-care is a vital part of healing from narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship. If a partner or ex-partner has been abusive toward you, you might have experienced a lot of trauma. It can be hard to get out of bed in the morning, and even to take care of yourself and your needs when you’re in the depths of recovery.
Why is self-care important in narcissistic abuse recovery?
Everyone heals on their own time frame, but by practicing some self-care tips for narcissistic abuse survivors you can improve your quality of life and begin the process of healing from narcissistic abuse. But without proper guidance, healing from narcissistic abuse can be long and arduous.
It’s very common for adult children of narcissistic parents (ACONs) to suffer from Complex PTSD. Worse, many ACONs also end up getting into romantic relationships with narcissists and other toxic people – it feels normal to them. That’s why, without proper support, it is so easy to fall back into old patterns.
Did you lose yourself to narcissistic abuse?
Narcissistic abuse is a particularly vicious form of psychological abuse. It is important to recognize that narcissistic abuse takes a toll on your mind and body. After experiencing an abusive relationship, it is normal to feel like you have lost yourself. You may also feel like you don’t know how to take care of yourself anymore. These feelings are often due to the way you were treated in your past relationships and can develop into a very unhealthy pattern if not addressed. After abuse, your whole sense of self needs to be rebuilt and nurtured.
Self-Care Tips for Narcissistic Abuse Survivors
Self-care is important for all of us, but especially for those in the healing process following narcissistic abuse. You can use these self-care tips as tools to help you heal and recover from the effects of narcissistic abuse and re-establish a sense of inner peace within yourself. Even if you have not left your abuser yet, self-care can help protect your mental health while you decide to leave or work on other aspects of your life that are related to the abuse.
Here are some self-care tips for narcissistic abuse survivors:
1. Remember You Are a Whole Person.
It may sound silly, but if you are still reeling from the abuse of a narcissist, it can be difficult to remember that you’re still a whole, multifaceted person. Narcissistic abuse survivors often find themselves existing in a fog of confusion and pain, and being told repeatedly that they are “crazy” or “imagining things.” It can be hard to muster the motivation or energy for self-care when you feel so beaten down. If you’ve been abused by a narcissist, it’s important to know that what you’re experiencing isn’t your fault. Narcissists are experts at gaslighting their victims into believing that they have no right to their own feelings or opinions. You have every right to grieve the loss of these relationships and experiences, and to take time to work through your feelings. You also have a right to care for yourself in whatever way is best for you. This video explains exactly what happens to you during narcissistic abuse and why you stop feeling like a whole person – this is exactly why it’s so important to take care of yourself now.
2. Assess Your Needs and Make a Self-Care Plan.
Maybe the most important step in self-care after narcissistic abuse is knowing what you need in order to feel cared for and nurtured. You’ve been through the hell of emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of a narcissist. You might just need to start by taking a bit of time for yourself. You can practice setting boundaries. Take a week or a weekend and just turn off the phones, close the door, and relax. If possible, use this time to disengage from the narcissist. Breathe deeply. Meditate. Stretch out any kinks or tension in your body. Do something creative or spiritual. Then sit down and write down your self-care plan. Note: Make sure you pencil in time to get enough sleep and relaxation. You can’t think straight or make good decisions when you’re stressed and exhausted. Watch this if you need to remember how important self-care is for survivors of narcissistic abuse!
3. Don’t Discount the Value of Positive Affirmations.
You’ve spent way too much time worrying about everyone else in your life – and the narcissist has facilitated this by requiring you to make them the center of your world. This means you’ve got a lot of thoughts, feelings, and unspoken words flying around inside you, likely adding to your pain. My suggestion here is to go out and buy a journal or a diary. Or just use a plain notebook if you prefer. Either way, use this to write in every day about how you are feeling, your thoughts, what you have been doing, and any other information that is important to you. The idea is that whatever you put into this journal is just for you. You can tear pages out if they are painful to read later on, or you can keep the book forever as a reminder of how far you have come. Personally, I prefer bullet journaling these days – here’s how I do it.
6. Pay Attention To Your Breathing.
Did you know that if you breathe through your mouth, you are going to feel more anxious? It’s true! And that will only cause you to think more about the pain you had endured. The best way to stay relaxed is by breathing through your nostrils. In fact, this is something that patients that suffer from insomnia are told to do before they attempt to fall asleep. Breathing through your nostrils will help lower anxiety levels and the more you do it, the more you will rewire your brain into a calmer state. Try the exercises I share here for help.
7. Tap Into Your Creativity
I always say that narcissistic abuse recovery is a great time to start a new project. Maybe you want to redecorate a room in your home, or learn to paint. Perhaps you’d like to write a book or a story. Maybe you’re a songwriter? When you listen to songs like Stronger Than Ever by Christina Aguilera, you know she was inspired by her own healing from abuse. And this is a positive way to deal with pain and trauma. Channeling your pain into creativity is highly therapeutic. Or, if you’re struggling with finding a project because you’re drowning in your own clutter (a common issue for survivors), you might try a decluttering project, as described here.
8. Ask For Help
Possibly the most important step to practicing healthy self-care tips for narcissistic abuse survivors is surrounding yourself with supportive people who understand what you’re going through. I think it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are millions of people who have experienced the pain that comes with being in an abusive relationship, so don’t feel like your situation is unique or uncommon. If you are struggling, be sure to look into finding a therapist and/or a narcissistic abuse recovery coach who understands what you’re going through. They can give you some helpful tips and since they may have been there themselves, they can empathize in ways no one else can. There’s also the option to join a small Zoom coaching group. If therapy or coaching aren’t within your budget, you can also join a free support narcissistic abuse recovery support group. The more support you have, the better! It MATTERS.
Get help with narcissistic abuse recovery right now.
The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. It 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 and 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.
Is toxic narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder always caused by bad parenting? Is it possible that a person raised by healthy, loving parents in a good, decent home could become a narcissist? Could someone turn into a narcissist as an adult? I’ll answer all of your questions in this video.
If you are in any way related to or otherwise involved with a narcissist, you’ve probably asked yourself at one time or another how they got that way, right? What made them a narcissist? How did they GET LIKE THIS?
And, if you’re like me, you needed to know in order to heal. So, you did your research and you found out that in most cases, it is related to their parents – and sadly, most often, to their mothers or primary caregivers and their attachment styles. That’s why, when you think of any narcissist, the first thing that likely goes through your mind is how badly their parents messed them up.
Because of the fact that most narcissists seem to stop developing emotionally when they are toddlers or middle schoolers at best, and because most research points to the fact that their parents did not give them the love and attention they needed in order to evolve, which led to their emotional immaturity, it’s easy to blame their mothers or parents in general.
But if you’re the parent or sibling of someone who might be a narcissist, and you know for sure that these issues don’t apply to them, you might doubt this theory and find yourself digging for an alternative possibility. And what about those families that have more than one child, and only one turned out to be a toxic narcissist? Or what about people who had good families and didn’t suffer any trauma in childhood?
You want to know if it’s ALWAYS the fault of the parents, right? Well, let’s talk about it.
Are parents always at fault when someone develops narcissistic traits?
Published research studies tell us that the area of the brain that controls emotional empathy and compassion is thinner in those who have NPD than in those who don’t. So, neurology as well as genetic predisposition will have an effect on how a person’s personality turns out.
And then you have situations where their parents who really did their absolute best to raise their children right, but due to their jobs or other responsibilities, might inadvertently neglect their emotional needs, which leads to their child developing a narcissistic personality. They may be clothed and fed well and taken care of when they are sick, and they may have all of the material things in the world – but the parents may not have given them the love and attention they felt they needed.
In these cases, the parents were clearly not in any way abusive. It may have been due to the fact that they had other kids, or they had a sick parent to take care of, or they had a demanding job that was necessary to support the family.
Of course, there are also times when narcissists end up becoming that way because of parents who were, believe it or not, overly validating (such as praising a child when the child may not have deserved it) and overly permissive. These parents may have not provided enough limits or discipline for their kids. And while some kids will sort of naturally self-limit, others won’t, and in some cases, they may become narcissists themselves as a result.
Research on How People Who Weren’t Abused or Neglected by Parents Can Become Narcissists
A 2015 study points to the fact that some parents might have overly praised their kids when they might not deserve it, or have always focused on how much “better” their kids were than other kids. And in some cases, they might have simply given too much attention and indulgence and not enough discipline.
“Loving your child is healthy and good,” as one of the study authors, Brad Bushman, a psychology professor at Ohio State University points out, “but thinking your child is better than other children can lead to narcissism, and there is nothing healthy about narcissism.”
In these situations, kids will often develop an overblown sense of entitlement, which they carry into adulthood. In many cases, they were also not required to show any empathy, nor were they asked to check their egos at the door.
This can happen in a number of situations, for example, being overly permissive with and over-praising children are often reported with only children. Please note that this isn’t always the case and that in fact, it is relatively rare. In some cases, though definitely not all, it can be a bigger issue when parents have struggled to get pregnant or when they’re adopted after a long struggle with infertility, or when they are born prematurely or with other issues that caused their parents to fear for their lives .among others.
And of course, in both the case of the adopted child who is older than newborn at the time of adoption and in the case of the premature or otherwise sick child who spends weeks or months in the hospital after birth, their attachment styles can be affected. That’s because parents aren’t able to connect on the same level as they would normally, so they develop a less healthy attachment style, which goes back to the original theory of the attachment style predicting narcissism.
Sometimes, people become narcissistic that has nothing to do with the parents at all. For example, if a child was ruthlessly bullied at school, or if someone else in their lives caused trauma in any way for them. In these cases, while their parents could have been loving and caring, the trauma they experienced at the hands of bullies or other outsiders could certainly have also been a risk factor for them becoming narcissistic.
And then there are those who end up with something we call acquired situational narcissism.
What Is Acquired Situational Narcissism?
So, we know that it might be possible that someone who was raised in a relatively healthy home by decent parents, but who had other traumas and issues, to become a narcissist. But what other situations could lead to toxic narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder?
And if so, what other types of situations and factors can play into it? Let’s talk about it.
Research on Acquired Situational Narcissism
Research published back in 1996 points to a condition that is referred to as transient, temporary, or short-term narcissism. And even before 1996, psychologists often recognized something they called “reactive narcissistic regression,” which meant that when someone was dealing with a big life crisis, they might end up going through a sort of temporary narcissistic phase where they’d behave like a toxic narcissist until the crisis was over.
And, according to what I’ve found in this and other published research papers, these types of temporary narcissism can also be triggered by medical conditions and even injuries. For example, traumatic brain injury (TBI) has often been linked to narcissistic behaviors and antisocial traits in people who had not previously displayed them.
How to Identify Acquired Situational Narcissism
So what does acquired situational narcissism (ASN) look like in real life? Well, do you know someone who is normally quite humble, but who ended up getting a high-end job and makes a lot of money, or who suddenly ranks high socially, or who ends up gaining celebrity status out of the blue? In these situations, many people are able to keep their heads on straight, but others will seem to sort of lose their humility.
In fact, according to Robert B. Millman, a professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical School, this is what acquired situational narcissism looks like. He points to known narcissists who are among the billionaires, people who become suddenly famous or who manage to rise to aspirational levels in their careers who develop narcissism in adulthood.
Millman adds that celebrities and other suddenly wealthy people will often have lives that are outside of what we’d consider typical. Plus, they might be surrounded by “yes men,” who will ensure that they are given filtered feedback, excessive admiration and are never told “no” for any reason. Plus, anytime someone is a celebrity or a CEO or otherwise wealthy, they might be sought after in ways that will cause them to feel more important or better than others. All of this is like narcissistic supply on steroids if you think about it.
And, let’s not forget celebrities and other public figures might feel a certain amount of pressure from the public – fans and haters alike – to present a certain image and to live a certain lifestyle.
An Example of Acquired Situational Narcissism
A good example of this is the guy you grew up with who was considered a nerd and who was often picked on, but who grew up and invented some big app, or he created a YouTube channel that somehow got a bazillion subscribers and brought him fame, or he became an actor or singer – or who otherwise found himself a celebrity. In any case, this formerly geeky guy managed to attain success to the point he began to be recognized in public, or he suddenly became a member of the social elite for whatever reason.
As soon as he found himself outgrowing that geeky, quiet image, he suddenly felt like a whole new person. Maybe he went a little overboard and started to focus too much on his self-image, and on his own needs and wants. This, along with the fact that his life is very different from the average person’s (as the lives of all public figures will be), might cause him to lose any sense of compassion and emotional empathy he once had. That might lead to him being unconcerned with the “little people” to the point that he would end up inadvertently or directly abusing the people closest to him without remorse. So, while his transition wouldn’t happen as a child, he still would essentially have developed his narcissism the same way that any other narcissist did – just not in childhood.
But why does this happen to some people and not others?
Well, according to Millman, while it is possible to develop narcissism in adulthood for these reasons, among others, acquired situational narcissism is most likely to happen when there were already some pre-existing factors that would have led to narcissism under the right circumstances. All of this means that, at least in some cases, narcissism can be developed by people who had good, healthy upbringings – and that it isn’t, in fact, always the fault of the parents.
Narcissists have perfected the art of emotional abuse, fulfilling their need to be adored and idolized in a way that keeps their partners (and other loved ones) in check. But what if you’re not affected by this kind of emotional abuse?
What happens when a narcissist can’t control you?
How does he or she react? The lack of control is what makes narcissists go berserk. The thought that you might be going off and having a life that they don’t know about drives them into a fit of narcissistic rage. They tend to become irrational, emotional, pushy, and demanding. They may show signs of physical aggression or even threaten to take their own life if they feel that they’re being left behind or not getting their way. Yes, it’s THAT serious.
Growing up, I was always “under my mother’s thumb,” as in, she was, as far as she was concerned, in control of every aspect of my life: my activities, thoughts, feelings, ideas – everything. And this didn’t end when I grew up and moved out. In fact, it continued until I was 35 years old.
I learned that her feelings, thoughts, and ideas were more important and more “real” than mine. She taught me that I needed to keep her happy and that I wasn’t ever good enough because I couldn’t be, say or do whatever it was she thought I should. It never seemed to matter how hard I tried, either. Even as a dang adult.
But that day, everything changed. See, I had recognized that she had betrayed me, in an unforgivable way that I could never have imagined. It woke me up and fast.
The very moment I realized what she had done, I almost physically felt something break inside of me – that seemingly indestructible cord of obligation that had always been there and had always caused me to bend to her will – it broke.
In one single moment, I lost the ability to care how she felt. And more than that, I lost the fear of her. She had always intimated that if I stopped doing what she wanted, or refused her too many times, she would abandon me, and then I’d have no one. I lived in that fear for 35 years.
I could never have imagined (nor would I have believed) that she would stoop so low to hurt me. I cannot even come up with the right words to describe the way I felt – it was almost like the time I was running in the dark as a kid and tripped over a branch, knocking the wind out of myself. I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me.
But then, I got mad. Well, not just mad. After years of being a people-pleasing, self-hating codependent, I was filled with blistering, blinding rage.
You know, the kind of soul-twisting, screaming, ugly rage that comes up from deep inside and nearly forces you to take swift action. The kind that causes you to get crystal-clear on what you want and what you deserve real quick. I was filled with what I now know is justified rage. I was indignant. And in that very instant, I was done. I went no contact and I have not looked back.
But it wasn’t so simple. My mother wasn’t done yet. She had been in control for 35 years and she wasn’t about to give it up without a fight. First, she got very angry. Then, she told a lot of lies about me and spread malicious gossip to everyone in the extended family, as well as to some of her friends.
And later, she’d end up publishing my name in her little work newsletter, asking people to pray for me and my “mental health issues.” After that, I heard through the grapevine that she was playing the victim, telling everyone how she had absolutely no idea why I wasn’t talking to her “after all she had done for me.”
She minimized me and justified her feelings by saying things like, “She’s always looking for attention.”
In fact, I was doing the opposite: I was looking for peace. I wanted nothing else from her. But a few months after I went fully no contact, I heard that she planned to send my brother over to my house during the holidays to straighten me out. The plan, according to the grapevine, was that he would just show up without calling. I nipped that one in the bud.
But why did she play all these little mind games? I suspect it was for one simple reason: because she was no longer able to control me. See, narcissists don’t like to lose control over any source of narcissistic supply. And when they do, they have some fairly predictable ways of reacting. Nearly every manipulative thing a narcissist does can be broken down into a pattern if you look for it.
So that’s exactly what we’re talking about today – the standard pattern a narcissist will use when they lose control over you. Plus, what you can expect when the narcissist in your life realizes that you have taken control of your own life and how you can and should respond when that happens.
What Happens When A Narcissist Can No Longer Control You?
Let’s say that you have figured the narcissist out, and you have realized the hard way that someone you believed in and trusted turned out to be a complete nightmare, to put it mildly. Now that you have seen through the mask and understand what the narcissist is all about, you have set your boundaries. You are no longer letting that narcissist control you. And while you already know that you should expect some kind of retaliation, you are worried about what comes next. And, given what you’ve been through, who could blame you?
The Narcissist Will Begin A Smear Campaign Against You
The first thing they will do is utilize the smear campaign tactic. They will never accept the fact that they cannot control you. This means the narcissist will find other ways to be controlling. They will demean you, ruin your reputation, and they might even intentionally expose any sensitive private information about you to everyone who knows you – and even to some people who don’t. And because the narcissist is so good at believing their own lies, they’ll seem genuine. They will seem like they’re “worried about you” or just so “shocked you’d do something like this.” In other words, they’ll play this game in a way that makes it believable – which means your reputation will be ruined in no time.
The Narcissist Will Play The Victim
During and after the smear campaign, the narcissist will play the victim. They’ll act like you’re the one who caused the whole issue, and/or they’ll pretend that you just went crazy and ran away. By going to others causing them to feel sorry for them, they reiterate their point: they believe that they have been “wronged” by you. Yes, they will take advantage of that “poor me” act and they will do this without remorse, for as long as they want. An added benefit of this tactic is that it helps them get some replacement narcissistic supply in the meantime. The people they whine about you to will of course be sympathetic towards them – because, after all, the narcissist actually has convinced themselves that what they’re saying is true. So even the most skilled empath can’t tell that they’re lying in some cases – which means they will happily dole out the attention that the narcissist craves.
The Narcissist Will Refuse To Take No For An Answer
Some very tenacious narcissists will never accept the fact that they can no longer control you. Rather than just backing off, these particular narcissists will instead step up their game. They will utilize manipulation tactics such as showing up unexpectedly to your doorstep, or they might even show up at your job to make it clear that they will always be in control. They might even actually stalk you and literally show up whenever they want in an effort to send the message that they will always be the ones in charge. They will call you in an apparent emergency and try to get your attention that way. They’ll make stuff up as to why you need to come back and provide the necessary supply they are missing. This is what we call the hoover maneuver – because they are literally trying to suck you back into the toxic relationship.
The Narcissist Will Ghost You
If you can hold out and get through all of that stuff, you’ll finally be rid of the narcissist because, once their little bag of tricks is empty, they’ll ghost you. This is the best-case scenario because the narcissist will be out of your life. Eventually, you’ll be lucky enough that they will realize you’re truly done, and they’ll just go dark for you. This is because, without another move to make, they might just finally give up and move on to a different source of supply. You can bet you won’t get closure, though. And you can expect they will continue to tell sob stories and spread lies about you to anyone who will listen. But at least they’ll be leaving you alone. At least you’ll have peace, finally. Since they realized that the narcissistic supply that you used to give them sort of “ran out,” they will focus on someone else for a while. Fair warning here: don’t be surprised if, at a later date, the narcissist shows up again looking for more supply from you – they’ll try to suck you back in with a standard hoover maneuver. This is usually because they are bored with, angry at, or in some way removed from their new source of narcissistic supply.
How Do You Deal With the Narcissist’s Retaliation?
So, now that you know what to expect when the narcissist knows they’ve lost control of you, you’re probably wondering what you’re supposed to do next. Well, I want you to keep standing behind your boundaries. I want you to stay focused on yourself and your healing. I want you to keep control of yourself and your own life. If you’ve gone no contact, I want you to stick it out.
Watch for Flying Monkeys
You should also keep an eye out for flying monkeys – the people who will happily do the narcissist’s bidding for them. These are the ones who try to talk to you on behalf of the narcissist or who try to convince you to see them. They’re the ones who take whatever you tell them and run back to the narcissist with it.
Steer clear of areas you know they’ll be and keep your business to yourself. If you are worried about your physical safety, do not hesitate to contact the authorities and do whatever you need to do to get and stay safe.
Ultimately, though, it’s important to see this for what it is. For just a moment, I want you to look at this whole thing from a different perspective.
Recognize That You’re In Control
The thing is that if you’ve managed to get away from the narcissist and out from under their proverbial thumb, it means you’ve taken back control of your own life. And if the narcissist pulls all of their standard tricks, you have to know you’re already succeeding in your goal to free yourself from the burden of being their source of narcissistic supply. You have to know that you’re actually already winning this so-called game.
How do I know this? Because the narcissist tells you with their behavior. Think about it for a second: the narcissist has recognized that they can no longer control you, and their reactions are literal proof of that. Do you see what I mean?
Considering that fact, I want you to recognize that you’re the one in control now – even as they desperately try to maintain it. And rather than feel weak and afraid, I want you to feel strong and empowered by these behaviors. Recognize them for what they are: a pathetic attempt to claw their way back into your life. These behaviors – these patterns – are a clear reaction to the narcissist recognizing that YOU HAVE TAKEN BACK YOUR POWER!
And listen, my friend: the only way you can lose now is by letting them back into your life. Not that I’m the sort of person who would ever recommend revenge of a standard nature, but if you ever wished you could get revenge against the person who ruined your life, here’s the key: live your life well and happily without them. Pretend they don’t exist. Live like they don’t matter. Be happy, and be unencumbered by their toxic energy. That is the very, very best way you can win this whole toxic game – by living a life you love, a life that you create and choose. Are you with me?
Embrace Your Power!
Take the time to recognize that you no longer need to give your power away to the narcissist. Recognize that you have every right to make your own choices, to like and love what and who you want, and to be the best, most fulfilled version of yourself in any given moment. It’s an amazing feeling, my friend, and I want you to have it too.
(Prefer to listen instead of read? Click here to see/hear on YouTube)My ex was the king of crazymaking. A couple of days before our wedding, our best man and maid of honor (which was our whole wedding party) came to town, so we decided to go out and have our bachelor/bachelorette parties – which were really just a night out on the town with our individual friends. He and his friend went one way, while my friend and I went another. And since my friend was a recovering alcoholic, we had a sober night out. But when my then-fiance came home that night, he was so intoxicated, I am pretty sure he didn’t even know his own name!
As you can imagine, it wasn’t enjoyable for me, being stone-cold sober and fully aware of everything that was happening. It was more than just worrying about his seemingly excessive level of intoxication, though. It was also that I was overly concerned with what they had done on their night out.
Now, let me just be totally transparent here. I’m not saying I was in any way perfect. In fact, I admit to being overly concerned with a lot of things back then. Honestly, I was very insecure about myself, thanks to growing up with a toxic mother, and being that I was only 22 when we got married, I still had a lot of growing up to do.
And that, along with the fact that I instinctively didn’t trust him any further than I could throw him, is probably why I insisted that we create rules for ourselves for that night out, ahead of time. And of course one of the things that we agreed on was that we wouldn’t go to certain kinds of places. I’m sure you can imagine what I mean. But in hindsight, I’m about 99 percent sure that he did go to one of those places that night and that he lied about it. Well, maybe “lied” isn’t the right word. Unless we’re talking about a lie by omission. And if I’m being honest, part of me thinks that more could’ve happened that night than I care to know.
But like always, he would tell me what he thought I wanted to hear and then just go ahead and do whatever he wanted. Ironically, somehow, that night would, in so many ways, be very representative of that relationship as a whole.
And, just like anytime I’d catch him red-handed doing something he shouldn’t, or something he promised he wouldn’t, he got really weird that night.
While a normal person might own up to what they’d done, or at least try to discuss it, my ex was confusing. See, he was hard to read. And rather than send me running, it drew me in – because I could read nearly everyone else.
When he was guilty, he might or might not argue with me. He might or might not defend himself. He might try to say things that made me feel better, or he might say things that would hurt more – depending on his mood and his goals at the moment. What I mean is that at the beginning of the relationship, he was more likely to pretend to care how I felt, but as time progressed, there would e occasions where he’d pretend pretty hard that he cared – at least, when it served him to do so.
But he did this one thing that was totally perplexing to me, even when he was still in the idealization phase of the relationship. If I’d ask questions – especially about something that could somehow incriminate him or get him in trouble, he would literally just say…nothing at all.
Now, it wasn’t exactly the silent treatment. Maybe it was a kind of stonewalling. But it wasn’t that he would not talk to me during these times. It was just that he wouldn’t answer any of my totally valid questions. He’d either say nothing, or he’d say something that was in no way an answer. So, for example, if I asked, “did you go to the strip club last night?” He’d say, “Well, I told you I wouldn’t,” but never actually say he did or didn’t go.
It drove me crazy. I mean CRAZY. And I’m pretty sure that was his intention.
Now that I think about it, it wasn’t ONLY when he was going to get in trouble that this narcissist wouldn’t answer questions. There were other times where I’d ask him a perfectly innocent question – such as whether he’d go with me to an event or something, and he’d refuse to answer those questions too. He’d say stuff like, “We will see.” And then I couldn’t make plans. And these are just a couple of examples of this all-too-often used manipulation tactic.
So let me ask you. Have you ever experienced this – a narcissist who just won’t answer your questions sometimes? So why don’t they answer your questions? What does it mean? How can you tell? Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about today – why narcissists don’t answer your questions and how to read that behavior.
Why don’t narcissists answer questions?
Have you found yourself in this situation, wondering why anytime you ask a narcissist a question, you don’t get a straight answer? I know – it is extremely frustrating, to put it mildly.
1. They Don’t Think You Deserve Answers
They really do think you don’t need or deserve the answers to your questions. This is hard to admit to ourselves, but narcissists really don’t see us as “whole people,” or at least they don’t see us as people who are quite as “real” as they are. What I mean is that a narcissist sees you as a sort of extension of themselves, and at the same time, they see you as somehow “lower than” or “less than” they see themselves. By giving you a straight answer, the narcissist would be acknowledging that you are important and that you deserve to be treated like a real live human. They would be honoring you as someone who they saw as an equal, or even as a superior. Giving you a straight answer would essentially be acknowledging that your feelings, thoughts, beliefs and ideas are as important as their own – it would mean they would have to have some level of empathy, and they just plain don’t. This brings me to my next point.
2. They Really Don’t Care How You Feel.
Like I said, narcissists don’t have any empathy for you or anyone else. And even when they appear to care how someone feels, you can bet it’s only because in that moment,it benefits them to do so. Maybe they want something from you, or they want to shut you up so they can go and do whatever they want. But when it comes to answering your questions truthfully – or at all – it would require a certain amount of concern for your feelings, and they just can’t go there, if they’re going to maintain the facade that keeps them going. And speaking of false fronts, this brings me to number 3.
3. They Like It When You’re Confused.
Narcissists don’t answer questions because they like it when you are confused and uncertain. So rather than give you any sort of clarity, they either don’t answer at all, or they only offer very vague answers. Or, in some cases, they’ll say something that is completely out of context. They may give you a little “word salad,” or they might just straight up gaslight you. In any case, they want to keep you in control, and if you are feeling confused and uncertain, you will keep walking on eggshells around them and that is exactly what they want from you. And, of course, this is also a way they hurt your self-esteem because when they don’t give you a proper answer, they’re also openly disrespecting you.
4. They Want to Deflect and Project
When you ask a narcissist a question that feels like an accusation, the narcissist instantly goes on the defense. If you ask them why, they’ll tell you something like, “I hate being investigated,” or “You’re always accusing me of something.” The truth is that narcissists won’t answer questions that they deem accusatory in any way – even if they’re not. For example, if you asked them why they didn’t put their dishes away after they were finished, they might turn around and say something like, “What, are you saying I’m a slob?” Then they will take it even further, either attacking you for being so mean to them, and/or pointing out all the times you’ve ever not put your own dishes away or let the laundry pile up. Or they’ll point out the fact that one time 10 years ago, they helped you out by washing your dishes for you and they’ll ask how come you never do anything to help them (despite the fact that you literally bend over backward every day to make their lives easier). Before you know it, you’ll be the one feeling guilty, begging them to forgive you for having the nerve to ask them to put their own dishes away – and that’s exactly what they want.
5. They Want to Kill Time.
One simple reason that narcissists don’t give you answers is that they have not yet figured out a good lie to tell you. So, in order to make time to dream up a real whopper, they stall so they can kill enough time to figure it out. They will keep stalling as long as they have to in order to come up with a believable lie. Or they might just stall long enough that you’ll forget about it completely – at least that’s what they hope for. After all, they don’t feel the need to provide any sort of closure or satisfaction for you, and let’s not forget that they are completely happy with leaving you hanging anyway – which, of course, brings me to my next point.
6. They Want to Take Over Your Brain.
Narcissists love to see themselves as mysterious and fascinating. They enjoy the idea of you being laser-focused on them – and having to guess what they have been up to or what they are doing offers them the assurance that you’re only thinking of them. They want to take up ALL the space in your head, and by not answering your questions, they feel that they are finally getting the proper amount of attention from you. You won’t be able to think of anything else, they reason, and that’s how they like it. It’s just one of the many debts they feel you owe them as their primary source of narcissistic supply.
So how do you deal with a narcissist who won’t answer your questions?
Honestly, the best thing to do is to never expect a straight answer from a narcissist. Always take everything they say with a grain of salt, and don’t hang your heart on the idea that they might one day be real with you. Understand that narcissists will do their best to always leave you hanging and will never give you the answer you need for the sake of their own agendas.
This is exhausting and painful if you’re not careful. But when you can learn to see a narcissist for what they are, limitations and all, you can really empower yourself. Because when you understand what to expect from them and you can identify and label their behaviors, it can really take the sting out of some of it. It’s a way that you can reassure yourself that it really ISN’T you, that their manipulation and drama is always all about them and their own issues. You just happen to be one of the cogs in their toxic machine – at least until you figure them out. Speaking of which, here’s what to expect when the narcissist knows you have figured them out. Take a look right now, if you have time. It’ll give you some real insight into their psychology.
Immediately, I picked up the phone and called her to confront her. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have given her the satisfaction – but I didn’t fully understand what I had been dealing with at the time. Anyway, when I told my mother that I knew what she had done, she began to scream and yell and rage. I pretty quickly told her never to call me again, and I hung up the phone.
At the time, I didn’t understand the concept of “going no contact with a narcissist,” but I would later learn that I had somehow instinctively made the right decision in that moment.
Over the next couple of weeks, I learned through the grapevine that the extended family was talking about me in some pretty interesting ways. It seemed that they believed I’d be back – and that at the very least, they’d see me for the holidays. They reportedly said I was just being dramatic and begging for attention.
In reality, I was done. And I still am. But at the time, they were apparently in denial, or so I thought. Later, I’d learn that my mother was playing the victim. She acted like she had absolutely no idea why I’d stopped talking to her, and she told people she was afraid I’d come and physically hurt her, despite the fact that I’d never even raised a hand to her or even been verbally aggressive. She of course omitted the fact that she had been very physically aggressive to me until I was 18.
A few weeks passed by and I learned that my mother had planned to send my brother to my home without notice, as a sort of “sneak attack,” to apparently “straighten me out” or confront me for having gone no contact. When I learned this, I sent a quick email explaining that he wasn’t welcome and that the police would be called if he showed up.
A couple of months after that, someone told me that my mother had been using my name in a newsletter that was sent out to around 300 people by mail – saying that I had “mental health issues” and that people should pray for me. That was taken care of with another quick email and a brief reminder that I happened to have had a much bigger audience than she did, some of which included her people. It turned out that the threat of exposure was enough to stop the smearing in this case.
So, why did this narcissist behave this way? What was she thinking and what was the one thing that she just couldn’t accept? It seemed that I had somehow managed to do the number one thing that narcissists just can’t accept. What was it? What exactly was the thing I did that made her act like that?
If you have been profoundly impacted by one or more narcissists in your life, whether it was a parent, an ex, or a friend, or even a co-worker, you might already know what to expect from them. And you are well aware that there are many things that a narcissist will not and cannot accept. You know they will not accept being confronted or criticized, they will not accept you living your own life on your terms, and you know that they won’t tolerate you speaking up for yourself.
They most definitely cannot stand being humiliated or embarrassed. And they can’t imagine what would happen if they were to be exposed for what they truly are – the idea of it is so painful for them that they literally lie to themselves about who and what they are.
But none of those things are as big of an issue for a narcissist as the one we’re discussing today.
So, what is the number one thing that narcissists can’t accept?
It’s simple: a narcissist will never accept rejection. They just can’t. That’s right. Rejection is the one thing that narcissists cannot accept.
What does rejection mean to a narcissist?
Fearing and disliking the feeling of being rejected isn’t just a narcissistic thing – nearly everyone has this fear. But for narcissists, feeling rejected can happen in any number of situations. Obviously, if they are turned down when they ask you to be with them, they’ll feel rejected. Or if a friend or family member refuses to speak to or see them due to a decision to go no contact, they will feel rejected. If they don’t get the job they wanted, they’ll feel rejected. And I think all of those things are fairly normal. We can all relate to that.
However, a narcissist might also feel rejected if they simply don’t get what they want, or if a situation doesn’t go their way. They’ll feel rejected if they call you and you don’t have time to talk, or if they want to see you and you’re at work and can’t leave. They’ll feel rejected if you’re spending time with your kid and you make that a priority over them. They might feel rejected if they see you in public but you don’t see them. Or if you decide to go out with your friends one night and ask them to stay home and take care of the kids.
They might feel rejected if you win an award, because they didn’t win one too. Even if the award is for something they’re not involved with – like your job or a particular talent you have that they don’t. They’ll even feel rejected if they don’t know the answer to a question and someone else does. Or if they misspell a word and are called out on it. Or if they fail at literally anything at all.
Of course, the biggest rejection for a narcissist is the moment you decide you’re done with their abuse and you go no contact. You refuse to see or speak to them. You block them on social media. You actively avoid them. This makes them feel like they’ve absolutely lost control of you – and they have. But you’ve also taken away their source of narcissistic supply, maybe for good.
What Happens If You Reject A Narcissist?
The first thing you need to know here is that rejecting a narcissist, if you ask the narcissist, is practically the kiss of death. It just isn’t acceptable in their world, because their ego cannot handle the emotions associated with it. Plus, if you ask them, they’re the ones who get to do the rejecting – NOT you or anyone else.
If you reject a narcissist, you’re essentially cutting off a source of narcissistic supply. And my friend, you can expect to deal with a very unpleasant reaction from the narcissist. For all the bravado and grandiosity, you would think that narcissists are practically indestructible. But the truth is that a narcissist will feel like their word is ending at even the tiniest “slight” that an average person would just let roll right off their back.
Let’s discuss the primary reactions you can expect from the narcissist after you make it clear that you want nothing to do with them again.
1. Narcissistic Injury
No matter what actually happened that caused you to reject them, the narcissist will quickly change the narrative of the situation to cast themselves as the victim. They will also talk about you mercilessly during this time, focusing on spreading lies to everyone they know about how you victimized them in some way. This is what we call a smear campaign, and it’s how the narcissist sort of “advertises” their “victim status” – and at the same time, how they try to get their narcissistic supply needs met. This is very difficult to imagine for your average person – we don’t see things the same way as a narcissist. Maybe this will help you see it a little more clearly. Think about how you feel if you unexpectedly stub your toe in the dark. It throbs with pain! You might find yourself cursing and screaming about it. Well, the narcissist will react the same way to being rejected – it almost feels like a literal injury to them.
2. Narcissistic Rage
If the narcissistic injury doesn’t work, the narcissist will inevitably become enraged. They are feeling a mixture of anxiety, shame, and depression as they turn the rejection inward. And when that happens, they will direct their narcissistic rage towards you or anyone who rejects them. They will scream, yell, hurl insults, and more. They’ll call you names. They’ll tear you down as a person. They’ll dig at you on every single sensitive topic they can think of – whether it’s how you are in bed, what kind of parent you are, how you keep the house or how bad (or good) you are with money. Or, if they’re more covert, they’ll go passive-aggressive on you. They may behave vindictively by sabotaging you in ways that can really mess up your life. For example, let’s say you have an interview for your dream job. The narcissist might send screenshots of the photos your friend posted on Facebook that one time you got drunk 5 years ago, hurting your chances of getting the job.
3. Hoover and Reject
This one might be the most painful way a narcissist could react to being rejected, but it’s not uncommon. See, in this case, the narcissist will hoover you – as in, do anything they can to get you back on board with the relationship, whether it’s a romantic one, a family connection, or a friendship. In the story I told at the beginning, it didn’t work. But I’ve experienced it in other relationships and have heard it from many clients. Essentially, in order to get you back, the narcissist will say all the things you’ve always wanted them to say. And they’ll bend over backward to convince you that THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT! This time, they’re REALLY serious and they’re TOTALLY going to follow through with all of the promises they’ve made you. You’ll doubt them at first, but eventually, you might give in – either out of exhaustion or hope. In either case, hold on to your hat, because once they’re sure you’re 100 percent committed to them again, they’ll do something you won’t be expecting: they’ll reject YOU. And then you’ll be back to square one, wondering what is wrong with you and posting in your narcissistic abuse recovery support groups about how you can’t believe you fell for it yet again. You’ll doubt your own intelligence and you’ll feel humiliated and embarrassed. They, however, will – at least temporarily – feel vindicated because they “got you back” for rejecting them in the first place.