Being in a relationship with a narcissist is like living your life walking through a minefield. Any wrong move and everything could explode all around you. Your fight or flight response is always activated and you can’t even remember what relaxation or safety feels like. You are constantly exhausted, afraid to speak up, but you just can’t manage to leave the relationship.
If your partner doesn’t let you do any of the things on this list, either through direct order or through sabotage, that is a big red flag for a toxic relationship. If you have already left your narcissist or are in the process of leaving, keep reading! This article will help validate some of the weirder aspects of your experience. Validation is one of the most important elements of healing after narcissistic abuse.
Note: I use “He” to describe the narcissist in this article. This is just to make my life easier when writing. In reality, there are plenty of abusive narcissistic women in romantic relationships, gay or straight, and even in friendships. Don’t be put off by the gendered or even romantic language; this article can help you better understand all of the narcissists in your life.
1) Have Any Privacy
If you’ve been dating a narcissist, you probably know a thing or two about projection. Projection is when the narcissists accuses you of doing the exact thing they are actually doing. Most commonly in relationships, the narcissist will accuse you of cheating, when, in fact, they are the one who is having an affair. He will then become obsessively paranoid and jealous. The narcissist will go to incredible lengths to get access to you computer and cell phone. He will likely manipulate you into sharing all of your passwords with him, “I knew you were hiding something from me!” he’ll say if you refuse.
The narcissist will go through your phone, email, social media, journals, trash, work notes, absolutely anything to erode your sense of privacy and to maintain his sense of control. Whatever he finds he will punish you for and hold against you. A picture from Halloween three years ago with a male friend? “I knew you had sex with him. You’re such a liar! I forbid you from ever speaking to him again!” Compromising pictures? Gossip about a friend? Emails about your boss? He will forward them all to himself and threaten to release them if you ever try to break up with him. Of course, he’ll frame himself as a hero, claiming he just wants people to know the truth about who you really are.
2) Find Career Success
The narcissist always needs to be the center of attention. As a child, he likely suffered neglect from his parents and their love was doled out based on his achievements. If he had siblings, his parents encouraged competition instead of bonding. When the narcissist sees you, or anyone else for that matter, receiving attention or success, his wounded inner child registers it as a threat to his ability to have his needs met. He will lash out at you accordingly. The narcissist will humiliate you in front of your colleagues, get too drunk at the Christmas party, have an affair with your coworker, sabotage you before deadlines, pretend to get sick right before you have a big meeting. He will do anything and everything to prevent you from finding success and fulfillment outside of your relationship.
3) Have Friends They Don’t Approve Of
Control is the name of the game for the narcissist and having people in your social circle he can’t control is a threat to his power. What if they identify his behavior and tell you to leave? It’s not a risk he is willing to take, so he will slowly start to wear down your friendships. He’ll talk badly about your friends to you and start ugly rumors about them. If you still insist on being friends despite the lies he’s told about them, he’ll say, “I can’t believe you would be friends with someone like that. I guess birds of a feather flock together!” Then he’ll threaten to break up with you. He’ll delete messages they sent you before you see them, then convince you they don’t actually care about you. He’ll throw a birthday party for you and only invite the friends he approves of and tell you your other friends never responded to his invite. In reality he never invited them. He may even threaten your friends if they don’t stay away from you. And wow, you can forget about having opposite sex friends. When you’re dating a narcissist, everyone in your inner circle becomes a target.
4) Feel Confident
The narcissist’s control over you relies on your total lack of confidence and self worth. You may have entered the relationship a confident, secure woman, only to have your self worth slowly eroded through abuse, lies, and manipulation. Now, you’re a shell of your former self, afraid to voice your opinion, doubting yourself and your sanity, and allowing the narcissist to make all of your decisions, including what you eat and what you wear. Any time you find success, develop renewed confidence, or act like your old self, he has to shut it down. He will tell you how fat you are, that everyone thinks you’re a bitch, that all your friends talk shit about you behind your back, that you only got your job because your boss wants to sleep with you (and you led him on, of course).
He’ll tell any number of lies and invent any evidence needed to convince you that you are weak, pathetic, mental ill, unlovable, and unattractive. He wants you to believe that you need him around in order to function and that he is your only chance of finding true love. In reality, he is an energetic parasite sucking all of your life away. You were better off before you met him and you will be far better off when you are finally able to leave him.
5) Enjoy Intimacy With Family
Anyone the narcissist can’t control is a threat to him. Anyone who has influence over you is a rival to his influence. Anyone who you have established intimacy with is a threat to him having his needs met. So is it any surprise the narcissist doesn’t want you to be close with your family? In some cases, he will try to alienate you from your family entirely, similar to how he will handle your friends. Other times he will try to manipulate your family against you. Of course, this will all happen while he is playing the perfect boyfriend/husband/son-in-law. I’ve heard too many cases of a woman going to her family and saying, “I think I need to leave, Greg.” Only for their family to say, ” How can you say that?! He’s the perfect husband! Why would you want to break apart your perfect family?!”
“Perfect” is always the red flag. No one and no family is perfect. The narcissist creates the smoke screen of perfection to hide his abuse. If you try to leave him, he may turn to your family and manipulate them against you. He may try to convince them that you’re having a mental breakdown. He’ll accuse you of cheating, developing a drug problem, abuse, things which he himself is guilty of, not you (projection). He may even create and plant false evidence. He’ll become their knight is shining armor, swearing to save you. When your whole family is a party to the gaslighting, it’s almost impossible to actually leave the narcissist.
6) Lose Weight
Don’t get me wrong, he’ll tell you he wants you to lose weight. Right as you’re about to leave for a party or walk down the aisle at your sister’s wedding. He’ll take food out of your hands and humiliate you in front of your family on Thanksgiving. But when it comes down to your diet and exercise, he’ll sabotage it at every turn, bringing home treats you can’t resist, making you late for yoga, and refusing to let you go to the gym because there are too many “creepy guys there who just want to hit on you.”
Why? He doesn’t want you to have any success. He’s painfully jealous of every one of your accomplishments. He also doesn’t want any other man to notice you. He may even try to convince you to cut your hair, stop wearing make up, and dress more conservatively. But most importantly, he doesn’t want you to have any self worth. The stronger your sense of self, the weaker his grasp is on you. If you get too strong, too confident, too self assured, you might wake up to his tricks and leave him. Abandonment is his biggest fear.
7) See a Therapist
Again, the narcissist does not want you to have intimacy with anyone aside from him, this includes your therapist, heck, it even includes your doctor, your boss, your college professor. But why he really narrows in on your therapist, is because deep down he knows his behavior is wrong and that a professional will be able to spot it. The very last thing he wants is for a professional to call him out and help you to leave. The narcissist will do everything possible to stop you from going to therapy. He’ll pretend to be supportive and offer to take you out to lunch before your appointment, only to take you to a busy restaurant and get stuck in traffic on the way home so you end up missing your appointment. He’ll park outside your therapists office and beg you not to go in.
If your therapist is of the opposite sex (or same sex for same sex couples) he will try to convince you that your therapist is trying to sleep with you. He’ll try to convince you that your therapist has it out for him and just doesn’t understand the love you share. Actually, your therapist understands exactly the love you share, which is poisonous, and that is what he is afraid of.
The sad truth is that not all therapists will be able to see through his games and manipulation. If you opt for couples counseling, be wary of the ways he tries to manipulate your therapist. If you find that your therapist has become a party to the gaslighting (known as a flying monkey), leave immediately and find an abuse counselor. Most narcissist experts will tell you that Narcissistic Personality Disorder is almost impossible to treat and that narcissists never change, so don’t expect therapy to fix your relationship.
8) Go Out Without Them
He’ll bombard you with horrific stories of women being kidnapped, then install a tracking app on your phone so he always knows where you are. It’s for your own safety, he’ll tell you over and over. Don’t you see how much he cares about you? How could you go on that bachelorette trip to Cabo when you know he’ll be crazy with worry about you while you’re gone? Still plan on going? He’ll tell you a sob story about his abandonment issues. How could you leave him when he’s in this vulnerable state? He’ll even invent a beloved aunt who died while on vacation in Mexico. Don’t you have a heart? Really, you STILL plan on going?! He’ll feign sickness right before you leave and beg you to stay and take care of him. If you still go, he’ll break up with you just as you get to the airport, telling you how abusive and neglectful you are. He needs a REAL women, with a heart, who knows how to take care of a man. No man could ever love a heartless woman like you.
The truth is, the further you get from him, the more his grasp on you weakens. He also doesn’t like the idea of you being alone with other women who you may talk about your relationship with. Inevitably resulting in someone pointing out how dysfunctional and unsafe your relationships actually is. It’s common for narcissists to forbid their victims, ahem… girlfriends, from even speaking to other people about their relationship; he claims they’re too jealous of your relationship to trust. Actually, he doesn’t want anyone to see behind his smoke screen. He also knows that the less social support you have, the harder it is for you to leave him.
Ultimately, the narcissists biggest fear is that you will leave him. All of these tactics listed above all come down to him trying to prevent you from escaping his clutches. In order to leave, you are going to have to seek professional help from an abuse expert, set up safety precautions, and seriously educate yourself about the dangers of narcissistic abuse. Leaving the narcissist will likely be the hardest thing you ever do, but it will also be the best thing you ever do. And it might just save your sanity… and life. Check out my blogpost here on how to safely leave a narcissist.
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