Many people (unfortunately too many) live in relationship with a narcissistic person.
Men and women likewise – as this is one of those things which doesn’t depend on whether you have XX or XY chromosomes.
In my coaching practice I see many men and women struggling beside a narcissistic partner. And this struggle can be brutal. It can destroy your self-confidence, your self-appreciation, it can ultimately make you believe that you are a genuinely bad person who does not deserve anything good in life.
But how is it exactly being in a relationship with a narcissistic person?
The best analogy I have found for that is the famous novel and movie from Stephen King, the Misery. For those, who haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I summarise the essence of the story in a few sentences (spoiler alert!). The famous writer, Paul, has a car accident in Colorado and he is saved by Annie, who is his fan and also a nurse. She takes him to her house, and starts to cure him there – as the roads are closed due to the heavy snowing.
Later it turns out, that Annie has no intention whatsoever to let Paul go, as she is obsessed with him. She also freaks out, when she finds out that in his newly published book, Paul ‘kills’ the main character of the book series. She takes revenge, continues keeping Paul closed in the room, intentionally causes him physical harm and forces him to write a continuation of the book series, where the main character comes back to life from the dead. Paul tries to escape various times, but as he cannot walk due to his (repeated) injuries, he does not succeed. And then on a nice spring day…. But I will not share the whole story, I let you read the book or watch the movie.
So, how does this story represent the situation of living with a narcissist?
First and foremost, I would like to point out, that Annie in the movie has a far more pathological psychological issue than narcissism. However, many of her moves and behaviors represent very well the way a narcissistic person functions within a relationship. So, let’s see what Annie does in the movie and how it is connected to real-life psychologically abusive relationships.
Annie saved Paul because she loves him – she says. So, she holds him hostage and does not let him return to his life. Sounds logical… This is real love… Oh, wait… It is not.
A narcissistic person most of the time doesn’t know how to love. Even if they say they do, they have no idea. It happens because their emotions are underdeveloped or hidden very deep down and as a coping mechanism, they have learned how to fake emotions or desirable reactions. But none of these are true. This is a mechanism running deeply in their subconscious, therefore most of the time they are also not aware of these themselves. As they do not know love, they cannot feel it.
Instead, they want to own other people. They want others to belong to them, to depend on them and they want to control them. And of course, to be better than their partner. So, they take each and every opportunity to push the partner down. Also, another aspect of this issue is that the narcissistic person tries to isolate their partner from the outside world. Making the partner dependent only on them, not letting them keeping in touch with friends or family. So that they have complete and ultimate control over the partner’s life and actions.
In the first days, Annie ‘sells’ herself as the real savior, showing the best of herself. Then, sometime later, she shows her real face – which has nothing to do with the nice and caring person she showed at first.
The same happens when you get to know a narcissistic person and you start a relationship with them. In the first period, they do everything the way you would desire. They behave like the best boyfriend/girlfriend of the whole universe. They do everything for you and even more. But then they get tired of pretending. Because what they have been showing so far is not the reality. It is only purely acting and faking. Which is indeed tiring. And when they have maxed out their faking potential, plus they also see that you are already on the hook, they show their real face. Being arrogant, everything but caring, starting to (at least) verbally abuse the partner, taking no responsibility for their actions, and for hurting others with this behavior.
They also start to make you believe, that the problem is you. That you changed, or that you are too sensitive. They can also understate their importance of hurting you – as they consider themselves perfect, without any flaws. So, the problem must be you, according to them. And what is especially scary is that sometimes they go back to being nice. For a day or two. Giving them hope to you, that things will be just fine from now on, until the end of time. But then sooner or later they lose the mask again and get back to the abusive behavior, which is their true self. Round and round it goes….
While reading the newly published book, Annie loses it when she finds swear words in the book, that she doesn’t like. She puts up a huge verbal fight with Paul. Later, she calms down and tries to reconcile with Paul, and confesses her love to him.
The narcissist cannot stand not being in control and not having things the way they want. If it still happens, they blame everyone but themselves. They start instantly a heavy psychological war against their partner and pour everything on them. Then, when they calm down, they act as if nothing has happened. Or, they realize that they might have done something bad. But as they cannot say sorry, they only start a reconciliation. Big bouquets of flowers, expensive jewelry, great surprises, home-cooked exquisite dinner, whatever you can imagine. Not saying sorry, only grand gestures. Which is meaningless for them. Which are actually empty. But they most probably win you back. All goes back to normal. But only until the next freaking-out situation, when it all starts over. Fight – calming down – act-as-nothing-happened/reconciliation. Over and over again. A never-ending story.
Annie continuously says that she is the biggest fan of Paul and his novels, but when she forces Paul to write she starts to shout with him what a piece of crap it is that he wrote.
Same done by your narcissistic partner. Sometimes they tell you that you are the center of the universe, that you are the best thing in this whole world, the most beautiful, and the smartest one of all. Then, all of a sudden, when they feel subconsciously insecure and offended by the thought of you being even slightly better than them, they start to push you down. That you are a bad person, you are too sensitive, you are stupid, you are ugly, you are worthless, etc. And that you should be happy to have someone so magnificent by your side, like them. Really?!
When Annie forces Paul to write the new book, Paul asks: “Do you think I want to write?” Annie replies: “I don’t think. I know”.
Oh, yes, that is right. The narcissistic person always knows. Always knows better. They know what you want, what you must do, how you should behave, how you should live your life. You are not allowed to know all these. They know it better – on your behalf. My favorite example of this was when once a man told me which makeup brand I must use because that is the best. Come again, please? Wait, what?
But this is just a tiny example. It can go as far as your narcissistic partner telling you what to wear, where you can or cannot go, playing the role of the prison guard of your life. And in the meantime, they continuously emphasize that they do it for your own good because they want to help you, protect you, they want the best for you. This is the biggest lie of all…. They only want what is best for them. Not for you. You are just the puppet for them in this psychological game, a mean and object to make themselves feel better. What you want or you need, is not important for them.
When Paul starts to write the book at Annie’s place, asks her to buy another type of paper. Annie gets extremely angry, starts to shout at Paul: that nothing is good enough for him, that she is doing so much for him and he doesn’t appreciate any of it. She claims to be the victim of the situation. And eventually, she throws a whole pack of paper on Paul’s broken legs, to cause him to pain intentionally.
Being the partner of a narcissistic person is not about you being allowed to express your needs. If you dare to do so from time to time, you are facing raging anger from your partner’s end. They cannot handle other people’s needs, so they start to attack. They turn the whole situation upside-down, you being the needy, the heartless, the ungrateful. How come that you ask for more when they have already done so much for you?! And maybe you start to believe them…. I can only wish, you didn’t…
And as the cherry on top, your narcissistic partner can also start to retaliate at you for expressing your needs: by even more quarrel, silent treatment, cheating on you because you deserve it, or humiliating you in front of other people. They do all that it takes so that you retreat and so that you will never ever have the courage in your life to ask for anything from anyone. Especially not from them. They want you to start to appreciate them, for being the greatest people who are supporting you in your life. I feel a little bit(?) of contradiction here in their thoughts…. Do you?
When Paul tries to escape from Annie’s house, she punishes him by breaking both of his ankles with a hammer. Then, she confesses her greatest love for him.
Narcissistic people think that they have the right to cause pain to others if they consider them not behaving well. Of course, it is not necessarily (always) physical punishment, but psychological abuse can also cause very serious damage in one’s life. And the most confusing is that while they are punishing you, they make you believe that they love you and they do it for your own good. Crazy….
While watching the movie again – before writing this article – I was thinking.
Did Mr. King intentionally write about these psychological games in this book? I would guess not. But what is for sure, is that in some aspects it represents extremely well how someone can suffer when being in a relationship with an extreme narcissistic psychological abuser. I have seen this happening with many of my coaching clients, unfortunately. Doubting their own selves, the integrity of their own minds, thoughts, and feelings. It is very sad to see this happening in real life.
If you feel that the above descriptions and situations match your relationship with your partner, my best advice for you is to quit as soon as possible! End this relationship, cut all connections, save yourself and find a therapist/coach/healer and start to build back everything that this narcissistic partner stole from your soul. Even if it will be hard sometimes and will take a long time, believe me, it is worth it!
Finding your way back to your own true self, despite all these kinds of hardships is the most rewarding feeling that can happen to you in life!
In the meantime, if you feel like reading more about narcissism and controlling people, visit my article compilation on this topic on my HCT – Holistic Coaching Therapy blog. And also, you can read about my personal dating experience with an extreme narcissistic person on this link.
Wishing you all the best with this quest,