Deciding to end a relationship or marriage is never easy. It can be especially difficult if you have a partner with narcissistic personality disorder.
In a previous blog we recommended a few ways to keep your distance and your cool when dealing with a narcissistic ex. But what about before that? What if you’re still in the relationship, you feel completely stuck and you’ve given up? What makes leaving a narcissist so hard when it seems like it should be so easy?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Defined
Let’s delve a little deeper into understanding this personality disorder.
In a nutshell, narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which a person has an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Behind the seeming ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem. The narcissist is vulnerable to the slightest criticism.
DSM-5 criteria for narcissistic personality disorder include these features:
- Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerating your achievements and talents
- Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
- Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
- Requiring constant admiration
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
- Taking advantage of others to get what you want
- Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Being envious of others and believing others envy you
- Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
Although some features of narcissistic personality disorder may seem like having confidence, it’s not the same. Narcissistic personality disorder crosses the border of healthy confidence into thinking so highly of yourself that you put yourself on a pedestal and value yourself more than you value others. This disorder causes problems in many areas of life, including personal relationships as others ultimately don’t enjoy being around the narcissist.
The article, “What to Expect When You Marry a Narcissist” lists 40 things to expect when you marry a narcissist. If you are already in this type of relationship, many (if not all) of these descriptions will hit home. Number 32 on the list: “You will feel stuck and unable to leave him”. Number 38: “You will begin to feel crazy; then, over time, you will begin to feel numb”.
Why is Leaving a Narcissist so Hard?
To an outsider, it seems like a simple decision. Who would want to stay in a relationship with someone who is arrogant, needy, takes advantage of others, and shows no empathy? It goes without saying that every situation is unique and there’s no easy answer to this question, however, there are some common themes for those who struggle with leaving a narcissist:
- Fear of being alone – Narcissists are skilled at destroying their partner’s social circles and relationships with family members. The prospect of leaving may equate to a feeling of being truly alone;
- Fear of reprisals – The narcissist may have created a culture of fear and anxiety in their partner’s life. Emotional, physical or sexual abuse may be present. Fear of revenge or fear of an explosive reaction to rejection or an attempt at reclaiming power may surface;
- Holding out hope for change – The partner of a narcissist often believes that if they stay, things will get better and return to “the way they were”; and
- Cognitive Dissonance – This is a way of thinking in which the partner of a narcissist lies to herself about the reality of her situation in order to rationalize the conflict in her mind that arises when she remains in a situation that doesn’t match the way she knows it should be. “I wouldn’t stay with somebody who mistreats me, therefore he must love me, and doesn’t actually mistreat me.” It’s a vicious cycle.
How to Make Changes
The partner of a narcissist needs to recognize that they cannot change the narcissist, and nothing about the relationship will improve if they continue to excuse or justify his or her behaviour. Herculean efforts will not satisfy the narcissist. The narcissist will only be able to improve his or her behaviour after they have accepted that they have a problem. That’s their job.
Leaving a narcissist involves the realization that you are a complete, whole person, and that you do not need the narcissist to make you happy. You choose your path and how your life will evolve. You define your own worth. The first step towards peace and recovery is the realization that separation from this toxic person is a good thing.