Being in a relationship with a narcissist is extremely harmful to our well-being – both physically and mentally. We are readily exposing ourselves to high levels of stress and drama in a misguided belief that our self-sacrificing efforts will one day be rewarded. We are, thus, not treating ourselves very considerately. We neglect our own wishes, needs and desires; we are bending our morals and modes of behavior, because we are so focused on the narcissists and are more than willing to do whatever it takes to keep things going. Even though it is often a futile endeavor to try to make things work, we are neverthess prepared to neglect and sacrifice our emotional balance, and end up feeling exhausted, frustrated and drained of all joy and energy. Generally speaking, one could therefore say that being with a narcissist makes us treat ourselves neglectfully and accept a high dose of stress and drama.
However, paradoxically, we also feel the need to treat ourselves with increased kindness when finding ourselves in a relationship with someone who is emotionally abusing us. It is true that I was neglecting my own needs and lost touch with myself while I was dating the narcissist. I allowed him to overstep my nearly non-existent boundaries thousands of times and I changed my morals and modes of behavior to make things work. Yet, at the same time, I also felt the need to be extremely kind to myself. One could say that I tried to counteract the narcissist’s neglect and cold indifference by giving myself the comforting and kind words and treatment that he was unable to give to me.
Being constantly confronted with disappointments and heartbreak you really need a survival strategy in order to not go completely insane. During the entire time I was in a relationship with the narcissist I was investing so much, giving all I had to give, dedicating myself a 100% to someone who never had a real use for my affection and commitment. I got almost nothing in return – just empty promises and words that were never followed by actions. I was repeatedly pushed aside, disrespected, ignored, lied to and turned into a secondary option, and this treatment was clearly taking its toll on me. I somehow learned that I had to give to myself what he was so unwilling and unable to give to me. So in order to be able to deal with all the frustration and heartbreak, I turned into the one person extending kindness to myself. I realized that if I wasn’t kind to myself then no one would be, and that, as a result, I would surely turn insane.
The kindness and compassion I extended towards myself became evident in my strategy to use positive affirmations. I talked to myself in a very comforting and affectionate way, saying kind things to myself as a way of encouragement. It may sound ridiculous, but at times I stood in front of the mirror, looked myself in the face and told myself that I deserved so much more than what I was given at the moment; that I was deserving of love and respect. I had to remind myself of these simple facts because the narcissist had me continually doubt them. He treated me with such distance and neglect that I, at times, was convinced that I was completely undeserving of love and consideration. To counteract the feeling of emptiness and frustration stemming from his distance and detachment, I had to cheer myself up by being kind to myself.
I not only talked to myself, but I also started writing a journal with some of the entries being composed as letters to myself. In those letters I complimented myself for my stength and tried to comfort me as good as I could. I sometimes talked to myself as if I were a vulnerable child needing comfort and positive affirmations. I felt the need to do so, because the narcissist often left me feeling vulnerable, empty and unwanted. To fill the inner emptiness and lessen the negative impact of his emotional abuse, I had to be the one being kind to myself. Whenever the situation became absolutely unbearable, and I was suffering from extreme depression, I would fall asleep in a fetal position, hugging myself to give myself the strength and comfort that I needed. As I said before, it sounds sad – almost pathetic – but narcissists can hurt you to such an extreme extent that we need to take such measures in order to prevent being swallowed by darkness and hopelessness.
I not only started writing a journal because it enabled me to strenghten and be kind to myself. It also counteracted the feeling that I was losing touch with myself. Through writing down my feelings, I was somehow reconnecting with myself, giving a voice to my wishes, my disappointment and the frustration that came with being a victim of emotional abuse. In my journal entries I was brutally honest and I could vent my anger and say nasty things about the narcissist. I never would have dared to say these things to his face, because I was still too afraid of losing him. In some of my entries I would directly address him and thereby I had the opportunity to let go of all the pent-up anger and frustration. In our interactions I kept swallowing my pain and disappointment – in my journal entries I could finally express what I so desperately needed to express and it felt like an enormous relief. If I hadn’t written those entries, I’m sure I would have lost control far more often and said nasty and hateful things to his face that I would have regretted later on.
During the time I interacted with the narcissist, I not only felt the need to be kind to myself, but also to others. In my everyday encounters with others, I was all the more friendly because their positive reactions gave me the affirmation that the narcissist couldn’t give to me. As others were responding to my kindness by being equally kind and friendly I got the positive reactions that I needed and that I was denied by the narcissist. I could put all my energy into being compassionate, kind and loving to the narcissist and I almost never got any feedback at all. It was extremely frustrating to give to the point of self-sacrifice and to never get any kind of validation in return. I therefore started to search for validation in my interactions with others. I needed it in order to see that I was not completely without value and that my efforts were indeed appreciated and could lead to positive feedback. I desperately wanted to feel appreciated, because the narcissist constantly made me feel small, pushed aside and unworty of any kind of positive affirmation.
I never felt truly loved or cared for by the narcissist. Not even in the most intimate moments that we shared did I feel carefree, satisfied and happy. I could lie next to him, caressing his face, looking deep into his eyes, and still feel empty and sad. Normally, in such moments, everything should be engulfed by an enormous feeling of bliss, gratitude and carelessness. That one moment of intimacy should be so strong and magnificient to erase all worries and doubts. In my relationship with the narcissist, I was never even allowed to feel true bliss. There were always dark feelings lurking underneath the surface and it was eating me up alive. So in order to not completely lose touch with myself and be swallowed by darkness I had to be the one being kind to and comforting myself. He constantly made me feel so damn small by lying to me and treating me like a secondary option that it really took its toll on me. I had to be kind to myself to stay strong and to not be drawn into an abyss.
It was a relatively new experience for me. I had never before felt so low and so down that I had felt the constant need to encourage myself. Never before had I felt the need to be so considerate and kind to myself. However, if you are constantly being faced with ambiguity, insecurity and distance, you really have to come up with a survival strategy in order not to completely lose your mind – and my strategy consisted of giving myself the loving words and signs of affection that I was denied by the narcissist.
Considering all the aspects mentioned above it really is a paradox situation: On the one hand, while being with a narcissist you are inflicting enormous damage on yourself by allowing the narcissist to repeatedly hurt you and by coming back for more long after the situation has proven to be hopeless. We tend to sacrifice everything for the narcissists; we bend our morals and modes of behavior and we put all of our energy and dedication into a relationship with someone who has no use for our affection and commitment. Consequently, one could well say that we are treating ourselves with neglect, pushing aside our own needs to keep the narcissist satisfied. However, on the other hand, time spent in a relationship with a narcissist can also turn out to be a time of increased self-awareness and self love. As we try to counteract the cruelties and damage inflicted upon us by the narcissist, we often extend an enormous amount of kindness to ourselves. We are so in need of positive affirmations that we need to give them to ourselves in order not to go insane. As a result, we end up talking to ourselves, writing journal entries in which we pour our hearts out and are therefore able to reconnect with ourselves. The narcissists make us lose touch with ourselves through their detachment, drama and manipulation, and we feel the need to counteract that development by taking those different measures pointed out above.
Whenever I look back at my relationship with the narcissist, I see a lot of darkness and despair. However, there is always also a glimmer of light, and it stems from the fact that I was able to stay strong through my willingness to give myself the comfort and kindness I needed to counteract narcissistic abuse. This willingness to treat myself with kindness and consideration has stayed with me long after the end of my interactions with the narcissist: I still try to be good to myself, I still am very keen to treat others with kindness and respect, I try to enjoy my own company and to keep myself busy with meaningful activities in order not to be swallowed by feelings of regret and emptiness. In a certain way, being with the narcissist has taught me to reconnect with myself and to pay careful attention to my own needs and wishes. I will never go so far and be thankful for the abuse and all the pain and heartbreak. But I try to see the light…I try to point to those little islands of positivity in order not to be swallowed by darkness.