Can you have a relationship with a narcissist?
The question that many of my clients ask is, can they have a relationship with a narcissist or how can they have a relationship with a narcissist. After being lured into a relationship with a narcissist, many realize that the actual person is not who they portrayed themselves to be, when they encounter narcissistic rage, devaluation, gaslighting, infidelity and being discarded. Sometimes having children makes it difficult for many to leave, so they attend marriage counselling in order to see if they can have a relationship with someone with narcissistic personality disorder.
The grandiose narcissist were treated special when they were idealised for meeting the parent’s grandiose expectations, they developed a ‘false self’ and hide their real self’. They were not valued for who they really were, and were shamed when expressing vulnerable feelings. A narcissist feels special, so they expect admiration, acknowledgement and perfect mirroring and gets extremely disappointed when others do not acknowledge their importance. A narcissist can portray that they are the victim, so others are wrong. They can discard their partner when others do not treat them special.
The narcissist has cut off from feelings. Underneath the grandiose false self is a vulnerable and fragile person (impaired real self), who hides to cover the vulnerability.
Why is it difficult to have a relationship with a narcissist?
Why is it difficult to have a relationship with a narcissist? Once a narcissist has captivated their partner into a relationship, the real problems start to emerge when the partner starts to expose what is really behind the false faade and the idealised fusion disappears. Once the partner stops mirroring their grandiosity or how perfect they are, the narcissist feels deflated, since they rely upon the idealised supplies or approval of others in order to keep their fragile self-esteem intact, to boost their grandiosity. However, the grandiose narcissist believes it is the partner causing them to feel inadequate or empty, instead of realising that these feelings become triggered within themselves, instead they devalue the partner and find fault in them. Gaslighting is one way to make the partner feel wrong about their perception of reality. The narcissist defends to protect their false grandiose self by projecting their inadequacies onto their partner, so the partner feels inadequate. For instance, a narcissist felt exposed when his partner caught him having an affair, he then said that the relationship made him feel exposed, humiliated and inadequate and he wanted to find a new supply to inflate his grandiose self and mirror how perfect he was, by discarding his partner. He blamed the relationship for how terrible he was feeling.
The partner is seen as a narcissistic extension, a reflection of their self-esteem, who must also be perfect. Many realise that the narcissist has high expectations of their partner, often correcting their behaviour. They expect a lot in a relationship and often the partner feels that they do not measure up to the narcissist’s standards. The narcissist can put pressure on their spouse to be perfect or do things their way. The relationship becomes about meeting their expectations in order to satisfy them. If the partner is not seen as perfect, it reflects how they feel about themselves. They do not see themselves as separate, but fused with others, who affect how they feel about themselves. Their child, partner and bosses must be perfect, or they feel empty on the inside. They will expect their child or partner to mirror how perfect they are by admiring them, or do the things they want of them. So the child often feels pressure to live up to the parents idealised expectations to make the parent feel special, when the son is winning football. So others give up themselves to meet the expectations of the narcissist, or they are devalued or criticised.
Many individuals feel it is like walking on egg shells, fearful to say anything that ruptures them, because the narcissist is fragile underneath. Many feel they have to be perfectly attuned to their needs and feelings all the time, otherwise the narcissist will devalue or stonewall. The only way to have a relationship with a narcissist is to meet their expectations, be on the same page as them, perfect oneself, and not disagree or have a separate opinion. Many accommodate their needs by losing themselves in the relationship or giving a lot, in order to meet their needs, to fill the empty void of the narcissist.
Many spouses say that the narcissist has no empathy for them and does not consider their needs. Any attempt to bring up their behaviour causes the narcissist to turn it around and blame them for the problem, so the partner backs down and gives up their own mind. It is often easier to go along with them and keep the peace, giving up ones sense of self.
Narcissists can avoid listening to their spouse when they feel injured or feel criticised, in order to protect their vulnerability and avoid getting hurt. They pick themselves up by having affairs, addictions such as porn. They cut off from feelings or attack back instead of take ownership for their problems, so they cannot take responsibility for their issues. They cannot handle criticism or exposure of not being perfect, so they devalue those who expose them. When others confront their mistakes they often prove that others are wrong, in order to defeat others and win. The partner questions themselves or doubts themselves, often backing down or gives up on their own thoughts and opinions. Narcissists cover up the things they do wrong, to avoid judgement, shame or humiliation. Narcissists hide their hurt, and avoid intimacy when they feel exposed. The relationships feels cold and empty.
They depend on others for supplies. Otherwise, they feel the emptiness underlying their impaired real self. When wounded, they inflate their grandiosity or boost themselves up by proving how good they are or criticise the injuring partner, to avoid feeling inadequate. Addressing their behavior causes them to devalue.
How can you have a relationship with a narcissist?
Usually the partner tries to accommodate the needs of narcissists or placates their anger, but it only reinforces their behaviour and supports their pathological grandiosity. The only way for the narcissist to change is accepting their real self that feels impaired for not being perfect, not propping them up by fusing with their grandiose expectations. Yet, they devalue those who expose their real self. The Masterson therapeutic approach dismantles the grandiose defensive layer by accepting the real vulnerable self underneath, while modulating the pain of not feeling perfect, so they can feel less defensive and able to process information, rather than become defensive.
The only way to reach a narcissist is join with them in fusion, by acknowledge them, or understanding them, such as joining with their vulnerable feelings, so they feel accepted for who they really are, in order to reduce the defensive layer and get to the real vulnerability underneath. However, this does not mean you collude with their expectations or give into them. If the narcissist feels criticised they will attack back, rather the take on board feedback about themselves. There is an art form for talking with narcissists, to open them up and let down their emotional guard. Behind the false self façade is usually a very vulnerable individual.
However, no one should put up with narcissistic abuse, or let them get away with their behaviour, otherwise it enables them to continue to get away with it and damage the partner. Therapy is always recommended, in order to deal with a narcissist. If the defensive behavior is too destructive, then perhaps the partner needs counselling to address why they put up with this, so that they can take better care of themselves.
When they feel criticised, they feel inadequate and project these feelings onto others, rather to listen to others, causing the relationship to be futile. Counselling in Melbourne assists to modify the harsh self representation, where the narcissist are critical of their real self and assist them to mange the pain of deflating grandiosity so that they could have a real relationship, rather then devalue, gaslight or discard people in order to feel better. Therapy assists to modulate the harsh feelings, so that they do not need to project their feelings onto others. Therapy helps to re-align their expectations in accordance with reality, while considering how others feel. Couples therapy for narcissists is designed to assist the narcissist to deal with issues in the marriage without gaslighting, discarding or devaluing, so that they can take responsibility for their problems. The entry point for reaching a narcissist is connecting with their real self, not complying with their false grandiose desires by giving them what they want. Once they feel understood, they are more open to listen to others, rather than being defensive. Yet, it depends on how severe the pathology is.
Nancy Carbone is a Psychotherapist. She specialises in working with personality disorders from the Psychoanalytic International Masterson Institute in New York. You can follow her at http://www.counsellingservicemelbourne.com.au/ and Facebook
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