Are you experiencing narcissistic abuse in a relationship? If so, your current intimate relationship is far from what you hoped it would be. And your situation is far worse than simply unfulfilling. Instead, your relationship regularly harms you.
In her “Psychology Today” article entitled How to Handle Narcissistic Abuse in a Relationship, Darlene Lancer JD, LMFT shares the following:
“We’re all capable of abuse when we’re frustrated or hurt. We may be guilty of criticizing, judging, withholding, and controlling, but some abusers, including narcissists, take abuse to a different level.”
Lancer goes on to share that narcissistic abuse can include harm that is any of the following:
- Emotional (especially tough-to-identify types like manipulation)
Although you recognize your relationship is far from OK, it can be tough to know what’s happening and what to do about it. The lights go on for many individuals once they learn the specifics about narcissistic abuse in a relationship. They finally recognize they aren’t alone, that there is an explanation and an escape.
Your first step is to determine whether or not narcissistic abuse is regularly present in your relationship. If the answer turns out to be “yes,” you’ll need some strategies to handle these challenges better.
How to Handle Narcissistic Abuse in a Relationship
What follows are some ways to work through the challenges of being in a narcissistically abusive relationship.
Learn About Narcissistic Abuse
Ask yourself, “What is narcissism in relationships and how might it be affecting me?” and research possible narcissistic traits. Work to understand the types of narcissism. Are you dealing with an overt narcissist (the blatant “textbook” type) or a covert narcissist (the hidden and passive-aggressive type)? These are the two major subtypes of narcissism.
You may also come across grandiose narcissism (another name for overt narcissism) as well as vulnerable narcissism (another term for covert narcissism). Educate yourself so you can recognize the symptoms of narcissistic abuse. Researching other traits of narcissism and sub-types like malignant narcissism (no remorse and finding pleasures from harming others) can also help. Having a good working definition can lay the groundwork for surviving narcissistic abuse.
Document Your Experiences
Keep track of what happens in your relationship so you can refer back to it. This can also be helpful since you’ll tend to doubt what you see since you’ve been conditioned that way by your partner. We have a natural tendency to minimize how bad something truly is. Documenting your experiences can be helpful in understanding if this behaviour is pervasive and ongoing.
Avoid documenting out of bitterness or malice but instead, focus on surviving narcissism and healing as a person. It’s wise to keep this information private and stored somewhere where there is no risk of it being discovered.
Stand Up for Yourself
After documenting what you’ve experienced over a period of time, hopefully, you’ll slowly resolve that you don’t deserve to be treated as an inferior or with double standards. You’ll start seeing through the manipulation more too.
Now is an excellent time to be assertive and challenge false narratives that may come up in conversations. The key will be to do so with few words and little emotion. Just quietly and calmly stand up for yourself. If you get to the point that you can’t get any further in discussions due to manipulation, end the conversation rather than getting drawn into an impossible scenario.
You can and should still make statements like, “That’s not the way I see it,” to communicate that you are an individual and don’t have to embrace someone else’s false narrative when you clearly see something else. At the same time, only push as much as you have to. Confronting a narcissist too aggressively can lead to further verbal abuse and even physical aggression. Learn to find ways to calmly but confidently resist.
Setting Boundaries with Consequences
You can also work with your therapist to establish clear boundaries regarding potential abuse. Then, establish consequences if those boundaries aren’t respected. Narcissists are notorious boundary pushers. Be prepared for this and have a plan of how to handle this. Again, your therapist can work with you on what to do when boundaries are broken.
Find Other Supports
Look for an online or in-person support group with individuals who have experienced narcissistic abuse in a relationship. This type of support has several unique benefits. First, you’ll get to interact with people that your narcissistic abuser won’t be able to sway to their side. You’ll also get to interact with people who know exactly what you’re going through.
As well-meaning as your friends and family may be, until they’ve gone through this type of abuse, there’s no way they’ll understand it on the same level. Also, strongly consider therapy so you have a trained professional to assist you. Again, this is someone your narcissistic abuser can’t align against you, and your discussions will be strictly confidential.
Ending the Relationship – Going No Contact
As shared earlier, narcissistic abusers have no concept of boundaries, which means you’ll have to go no-contact if you choose to leave the relationship. Otherwise, your ex may sweet talk you to manipulate you. Or they’ll call you every unkind name in the book if flattery doesn’t work. They’ll try to get you back with any means at their disposal.
It will also be necessary to block your former partner from electronic communication with you. And if you must interact, keep it strictly focused on business. You won’t be able to reason with your narcissistic partner, as you already know.
If you don’t do a hard block, it will be extremely difficult to emotionally heal from the abuse. Instead, you’ll feel like you’re still in the relationship even though you left it. Worse yet, you could get pulled back into the abusive relationship and backtrack on the progress you made.
Only You Can Decide
If you share the information of emotional abuse with friends or family, they may put a lot of pressure on you to leave your relationship. In reality, only you can decide whether or not you should leave a relationship or when that should occur. Until you are ready to make a move, your attempts to leave the narcissistic abuse are likely to be unsuccessful. Leaving a relationship should be viewed as a last resort. It often happens after repeated boundaries are set and broken.
Do You Need Help Because of Narcissistic Abuse in a Relationship?
If you’re going through narcissistic abuse, this article hopefully gave you a better understanding of what is going on and what to do about it. At the same time, these challenges can be tough to handle without professional support.
While common themes run through all narcissistic abuse scenarios, everyone’s situation has its unique challenges. Having a trained therapist available to help you walk through these times can be essential to your recovery and healing.