You know you are in a narcissistic relationship, you recognize the self centeredness, the sense of entitlement, the lack of caring for you, the constant 'me, myself and I' that is going on, the conceit, arrogance and boasting as well as the taking advantage of others, the lies, the manipulation, the control and the abuse.
If you are reading this then you have probably realized the need to get out of the relationship as well!
With this in mind, I won't be talking about how to spot the narcissist but rather I want to have a look at the dynamics of relationships with narcissistic people so that you get to understand what specifically happens and how they establish and maintain control over the people around them. Only in this way can you begin to make sense of what happened to you and what may be still happening to you.
The narcissist realizes that if he or she shows their true nature when they meet someone first that the person would run a mile so they make an effort to hide this aspect of themselves. Instead you are presented with this persona that seems to be wonderful, exactly what you need in the moment, flawless, confident and with the ability to provide you with the kind of life that would seem to be perfect.
The problem is that this persona doesn't exist. It is manufactured for you based on the narcissist's reading of your wants, needs, desires, fears, weaknesses and even strengths. The narcissist knows that first impressions count and they work at providing you a very, very strong first impression. Once we form ideas and opinions they can be very difficult to change, especially when they are formed with very strong emotional attachments.
This is very significant because when the narcissist starts with the 'bad behavior' initially we forgive it because, well, they are such nice people. And besides, we are already committed to the relationship at this stage. This commitment may take the form of having moved in with the narcissist, getting married or a pregnancy. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be such a milestone, it can simply be when the narcissist recognizes that they already have you hooked mentally and emotionally. When the bad behavior starts, it can even be a test, to see how you respond. The narcissist wants to know what your limits of tolerance are, how far they can push and what are the excuses that you will accept as justification for their selfishness.
The other aspect of this is that the start of the relationship can be a real whirlwind, you may be so thrilled with the thought of finding someone so good that it can be euphoric. This emotional high also has long lasting effects. When the bad behavior kicks in (as in invariably does in a narcissistic relationship) the victim excuses it for a variety of reasons. But then the nice times start to get less and less and the bad times get more frequent. What typically happens is that the victim often ends up thinking that if they can get through the bad times, there will be good times again, because they know that good times are possible because they have lived through a fantastic time with this marvelous human being.
The difficulty, of course, as I have said already, is that this so-called marvelous human being doesn't exist. He or she was fabricated by the narcissist to trick you. That nasty, cruel creature who appears and makes your life hell is the real person you are in a relationship with. But because of your initial engagement with the narcissist, plus the commitment you have made, it's often very difficult to recognize this; you don’t want it to be true and accepting it means accepting that the relationship is based on lies and deception, which is no easy task!
The other aspect to consider here is that all the badness is blamed on you. Somehow the narcissist twists and distorts the facts and manages to make it all your fault. When the narcissist acts badly, the victim is told that it's for their own good, they made the narcissist do it or that the narcissist is simply responding to what the victim did. It's typical that the victim in a narcissistic relationship comes to believe to some degree that it is actually their fault and they make attempts to change and adapt so as not to upset the narcissist. This is, of course, patently not true but it can often be very difficult for the victim to be able to realize this.
The victim often works very hard to not antagonize the narcissist so that there can be good times again. But this is an impossible task because, for the narcissist, there is never enough. It doesn't matter how hard the victim tries, or how much effort they put into it, it's never enough.
So how does a narcissist get their victims to this point? How do they establish such control that the victim accepts responsibility for things they are not responsible for, the victim cannot recognize this and even keeps coming back for more? How does the victim become so dependent on the abuser that they cannot easily leave the narcissistic relationship? Let's have a closer look...
The narcissist controls a person's behavior, thoughts and emotions and also will limit the information that is available to them. The emotional manipulation starts from the initial contact, making the victim feel all sorts of good things in relation to the narcissist. Later the emotional manipulation takes the form of making the victim feel bad, especially a lot of fear and guilt, in order to manage the behavior and thinking of the victim. The victim is guilted into doing what the manipulator wants and fear is used to keep the victim running around after the narcissist as well as to keep them in the relationship. This often works at the level of a phobia, that is a strong fear that has nothing to do with reality, in that the victim ends up being afraid that they cannot survive without the manipulator.
Behavior control is typically established with a series of punishments and rewards by the manipulator. Behavior the narcissist wants to extinguish is punished by arguments, criticism, shouting, withdrawal, denial of benefits, threats, physical abuse and so on. This occurs every time there are behaviors that are unwanted by the narcissist. Good behavior is rewarded every now and then, usually only often enough to keep the victim doing it. Sometimes the reward is not being shouted at or otherwise punished! The victim ends up thinking that they have had a good day if there wasn’t any arguing. This is obviously a horrible way to live!
Information control is exercised first by isolating the victim from their friends and families so that information is coming mainly from the manipulator. Any contradictory information that the victim receives is ridiculed by the narcissist, or twisted, distorted or redefined to fit the ideas and beliefs of the the narcissist. In this way the victim hears only the narcissist's ideas over and over again and this repetition leads to the victim believing whatever the narcissist says.
The narcissist does not allow the victim to have opinions or to criticize or question anything. There are often arguments about the same thing over and over and these can be considered as indoctrination sessions where the narcissist is imposing their ideas on the victim repeatedly. The narcissist also redefines words as a way to manage their victim's thinking.
Narcissists and psychopaths also have ways of thinking and talking that naturally induce altered states in their listeners. Being in a trance reduces a person's ability to think critically and resist mentally so that the manipulator's words go straight in the listener's ears and go unchallenged. The rapid fire talking, the contradictions of the narcissist and the linking of things that have no logical connection will all induce trance states in listeners.
Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance points out how changing either thoughts, behaviors or emotions will impact the other two aspects. If you can manage 2 of these things, you can begin to really have a profound impact on another person. In a narcissistic relationship, the narcissist is managing all three plus the information available to the victim. This gives them huge control and power over their victims.
What happens with all this control is that the narcissist destroys the personality of the victim, makes changes and freezes these changes into place as a new personality. If your friends or family have said to you that you have changed since starting with this person, this is what they are talking about. It may seem to them that you have changed radically, that they hardly recognize you, although you may not realize how much you have changed.
This new personality is actually a false personality, or pseudopersonality, and it is programmed in various ways. It is programmed to take care of the narcissist, to put their wants and needs first and to basically do whatever the narcissist wants. This is how people end up doing things they would never have done before, such as lying, stealing, accepting all sorts of bad treatment, tolerating traits of the narcissist that would have been deal breakers previously, engaging in sexual acts that before would have been unthought of, going against their own intuition, distancing themselves from their families and so on.
This pseudopersonality is also very dependent on the narcissist to the point that the victim may be unable to visualize a future without the narcissist. The thought of not being with the narcissist may cause the victim to feel so uneasy that they stop thinking of leaving and resign themselves to the fact that they have to deal with whatever the narcissist is doing.
The pseudopersonality is programmed to believe and accept what the narcissist says so that when the victim speaks up or is told something of the truth from say, their families, the narcissist will distort and redefine the information to keep the victim in place and the victim often ends up accepting what the narcissist says and ignoring the evidence provided by friends or family.
The pseudopersonality never fully suppresses the real personality and this helps explain why people often feel that they are doing battle with themselves. The real personality wants one thing but the pseudopersonality is programmed to do the opposite. A person may want to go and spend time with their family but the pseudopersonality is programmed to feel so bad at the thought of doing it that the person puts off visiting for months or even years. However, there is an ongoing inner conflict over the whole idea that can cause a person enough suffering that they think they may even be going mad.
Leaving a narcissistic relationship is never easy because of the level of control the narcissist has over the victim. The dependency of the pseudopersonality adds to this and the distortion in the victim's thinking makes it very difficult for them to recognize how bad things actually are. The victim has typically been subjected to so much abuse that it all seems normal. Any thoughts about leaving also bring ideas of betraying the leader, fear of retaliation and punishment, guilt about not living up to commitments made to the narcissist and sometimes even terror about being able to cope without the manipulator in an uncertain future.
All these things are built into the pseudopersonality, they are part of the programming of the victim. Therefore undoing the pseudopersonality is fundamental to leaving the narcissistic relationship, not going back and undoing the damage.
A major consideration here is that the pseudopersonality is imposed on the victim without their knowledge using heavy duty influence techniques. Just because the person leaves the mind control situation does not automatically mean that the pseudopersonality disappears. Some small aspects of it might weaken over time but the main beliefs, emotions and behaviors persist. This is why battered wives often end up going back to their abusive husbands, people who leave a narcissistic relationship often miss the abuser and want to return even knowing that they were abusive and people who have left cults may be angry with the leader but still think the ideas of the group are valid.
Because the pseudopersonality persists and because narcissists and sociopaths are very good at reading people, a person with a pseudopersonality is very vulnerable when they next meet another manipulator. That manipulator instantly knows that the person has been traumatized before and that they will be very easy to target. This is how people end up in several abusive relationships over time. Therefore getting rid of the pseudopersonality is very important.
People leaving a narcissistic relationship really need to learn about narcissists, psychopaths, cults and mind control. It's useful to think of a narcissistic relationship as a cult of two people because the leader in the relationship is using the same mind control techniques as the leader of a cult of 50 or 1000 people. The difference is that in a cult of 2 all the attention is on one victim and not 49 or 999. This can have profound implications for a person in a narcissistic relationship.
To undo the pseudopersonality you have to learn how it was put in place. You need to know what techniques were used against you, how they were used against you and why they were used against you. Knowing what was done to you and how it changed your thinking, your decision making, your emotions and your behavior is vital, because when you understand these things, the effects of the techniques wear off, so to speak.
It's also important to know what beliefs were imposed on you and what rules and regulations you were made to follow. Sometimes it's a matter of taking an individual belief or idea and figuring out how you were led to believe that in order that you can replace it with an idea or belief that is of benefit to you rather than to the narcissist. At other times you have to examine how specific rules were put in place, and why, so that you can choose not to follow them any more.
You are then in a position to start making decisions for yourself rather than following (sometimes unconsciously) the system that was put in place for you by the narcissist. Making your own decisions is not as easy as it might seem, especially coming from an environment where all your decisions were influenced to one degree or another by the narcissist. Some people have difficulty even deciding what to eat for breakfast or what to wear when they get out of bed. You may have to start small and practice before working up to the bigger decisions.
Coming out of a narcissistic relationship is not an easy task as you well know. There are several complicating factors, lots of stuff that was hidden from you, many conflicting emotions and ideas going on at the same time, and not much ability to understand what is happening to you.
Working with an expert in the field is absolutely worth it because it will save you time, effort and pain and it will also help you to avoid some of the common mistakes that people make. An expert will also know which beliefs need to be challenged and undone for the victim, something which can be extremely difficult for a victim to do for themselves.
Be careful about getting help from someone who is not an expert in narcissism or mind control, because when there are narcissists involved the rules are different, and if someone is not familiar with how the rules are different, they may inadvertently do more harm than good.
Would you prefer to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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