Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is characterized by a lack of empathy, an undeveloped sense of self, and frequent, shocking eruptions of narcissistic rage. Because of their fragile self-esteem, narcissistic people are externally validated, and that makes them obsessive about controlling everything and everyone around them.
Narcissistic personality disorder has an extremely detrimental effect on relationships because of the behavior patterns associated with the disorder. Many people in a relationship with narcissists report being constantly criticized and devalued which is why most relationships involving a narcissist are doomed to failure.
Here are some common reasons why relationships with narcissists are so difficult and why they feel the need to devalue their partners.
Why is a Relationship with a Narcissist So Hard?
There are a number of factors that make living with a narcissist very difficult. Perhaps the biggest difficulty derives from their need to obsessively control every aspect of their environment.
The reason that narcissists are control freaks is that they fear anything that might make them look bad. Remember, they are externally validated, and thus, if something happens that reveals a flaw or that stresses them beyond what they think they’re capable of handling, it will crush their already fragile sense of self-worth.
It’s also important to remember that narcissists are extremely sensitive to changes. Changes represent challenges and they are unpredictable. The narcissist fears change because, despite their arrogant facade, they constantly question their own ability to adapt or manage surprises.
That means that as the partner of a narcissist, you have to be on alert all the time. You might make an offhand comment or plan something special and be met with narcissistic rage. Narcissists don’t like surprises and even the gentlest criticism feels like a nail driven into their heart.
This constant need to walk on eggshells all the time makes it very difficult to live with a narcissist. You can’t feel free to be yourself because they need you to be an adoring extension of them. They need your constant support, and more than that, they need your constant adoration.
What’s more, no matter how adoring and supportive you are, it simply won’t be enough. People with such a damaged sense of self can never really get enough. That creates a very frustrating environment for anyone in any kind of relationship with a narcissist.
But what’s worse is that not only do they want your adoration, they will not return the favor. In fact, they will take any opportunity to devalue you to undermine your own confidence.
Why Do Narcissists Devalue Their Loved Ones?
While many narcissists seem to be confident in their own abilities because they are constantly bragging, the truth is that they need to point out what they have accomplished so that you will validate that they are good, important people.
If you fail to do that or if you criticize them, no matter how gently, they will often turn to the toxic technique of devaluation.
When a narcissist devalues you, it really has little to do with you. It’s more about their need to feel superior by comparison. If they are putting you down, then–in their mind–that makes them look better than you.
They also use devaluation as a means to undermine your confidence and make you question your own thoughts, actions, or interpretations. If they can make you feel as though you’re not good enough, they believe that will make you afraid to leave them.
This is, however, a toxic tactic that you need to resist in order to preserve your own mental and physical health. If not, you can easily fall prey to narcissistic victim syndrome.
What are the Effects of These Toxic Traits?
Most relationships with a narcissist deteriorate over time because of their toxic behavior. While they are often charming in the beginning of a relationship and when they need something from you, they are usually manipulative, critical, and moody the rest of the time. They might also ignore you altogether.
As practicing psychologist Madhumati Singh says, narcissists are “very sweet, giving ,accepting, open minded in the beginning (couple months) almost like too good to be true.” As it turns out, it is too good to be true. You can read more of Madhumati’s post here.
Most people can’t continue to be around such destructive behaviors, and that’s why most relationships with a narcissist are doomed to failure. But some people don’t have the choice of leaving their narcissistic abuser and they need other strategies to deal with the toxic behavior.
You might choose to stay in a relationship with a narcissist for many reasons. Perhaps they are your parent or they might be your child and you can’t bring yourself to go no contact.
Maybe it’s the case that despite their terrible behavior, you still see the good in them, or maybe it’s as simple as the fact that you still love them. Maybe you’re dependent on them financially and can’t leave.
Whatever the case, if you can’t leave the narcissist in your life behind, you’ll want to make sure that you set strong boundaries and take good care of yourself because they won’t do that for you.
What Should You Do If You Must Stay Connected to a Narcissist?
There are a number of things you’ll want to do if you have to continue a relationship with a narcissist. Probably the best thing you can do is let go of your expectations.
You might think they’ll change if you just love them enough, but the truth is that doesn’t happen very often. You have to look at it as if they will always be like they are right now, and you have to know that they might even get worse over time.
Since they are so manipulative and toxic, you’ve also got to take good care of yourself. Make sure you eat well, get exercise, and take plenty of time for yourself. You’ll need time away from them just to recharge your batteries. You might also want to practice positive affirmations to counter their toxic criticism.
Finally, it’s imperative that you learn to set strong boundaries and enforce those boundaries every time the narcissist you love violates them.
If they fly into a narcissistic rage, leave the room. If they lie to you, call them out and refuse to talk to them until they can be truthful. These are just a few examples, but you’ll need to set strong boundaries and determine consequences for violations in every part of your life.
You’ll probably never have a more difficult relationship than one with a narcissist. They are toxic, dishonest, manipulative, and unpredictable. But you might still love them nonetheless. If that’s the case, you will have to take strong measures to preserve both your physical and mental health.
You’ll need strong boundaries, positive affirmations, and plenty of time away from them. Even then, it’s not guaranteed that you can still manage to stay in the relationship.
Now that you understand better how narcissism affects a relationship, you might be interested in this post about how to leave a narcissist.
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