Named after an Ancient Greek myth, Narcissism is a characteristic wherein the individual has an inflated sense of their own importance. They also deeply desire attention and admiration, to the point of excessiveness. Both these characteristics result in them lacking empathy for others, which, in turn, causes friction in almost all of their relationships.
However, a narcissist’s extreme confidence actually acts as a mask for fragile self-esteem. These individuals are incredibly sensitive, which means that they’re unable to take the slightest criticism. Most of them tend to take these admonishments to heart, which results in the further deterioration of their interpersonal relationships.
WebMD further explains that:
“It’s important to note that narcissism is a trait, but it can also be a part of a larger personality disorder. Not every narcissist has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), as narcissism is a spectrum. People who are at the highest end of the spectrum are those that are classified as NPD, but others, still with narcissistic traits, may fall on the lower end of the narcissistic spectrum.”
Experts claim that around 5% of people have NPD; however, individuals who exhibit narcissistic behaviors could be more than that. To reiterate what WebMD says – not every narcissist can be diagnosed with NPD.
There are so many scientific and technical ways to define a narcissist, but perhaps the best way to describe them would be to look at how other people usually perceive them. These types of individuals tend to hide their negative behavior at first, which causes them to come across as charming, charismatic, and personable, which is why many are instantly drawn to them.
Narcissists love to surround themselves with people who are unable to criticize them and instead feed into their egos. Their relationships aren’t based on mutual trust and respect but rather on the need to reinforce their inflated sense of self.
More often than not, this leads to superficial and shallow connections with others, although they’re perfectly fine with that, as long as the idealized versions of themselves aren’t shattered or questioned.
Given their self-obsession, it isn’t surprising that narcissists love using other people for their personal gain. One of the things that they do to achieve this is exerting control over them, taking advantage of their shortcomings, vulnerabilities, or insecurities to ensure that they remain co-dependent and easily influenced.
Another strategy that narcissists use to control others is “love bombing,” which is when they make another person feel special through excessive compliments and flattery to get them on their side.
Once a narcissist has another person within their grasp, they manipulate their emotions by using deep feelings like shock, awe, and guilt to maintain their control over them. In the end, their victim is unable to leave the relationship without believing that they were somehow in the wrong for doing so.
As much as we try our hardest to avoid narcissists, it’s easy to fall for their tricks and manipulation tactics. Unfortunately, recovering from such an experience is incredibly difficult and often takes years.
So, why do we find it so hard to recover from the narcissist in our life?
Relationships with narcissists often cause life-long trauma. Many victims find themselves going back to that person, in the belief that their sweet words, promises, and apologies indicate a genuine desire to change.
Dr. Perpetua Neo, a clinical psychologist who has worked with victims of narcissistic abuse, explains that:
“If you’re fresh out of that relationship, you’ll blame yourself and fall prey to their requests to meet because they’d love to apologize and thank you—during which they’ll hook you back. They’ll intermittently appear and disappear from your life, especially when you’re starting to live better again because they don’t want you having a good life without them.”
This push-and-pull makes it challenging to recover from a narcissist, even if you’ve managed to physically, emotionally, mentally, and even legally cut off all contact with them. More importantly, though, the belief that you need “closure” to completely heal from the relationship may drive you to either keep returning to your narcissistic abuser or subconsciously seek out people who exhibit the same characteristics.
If you do manage to break this spell, though, then you may still find yourself unable to trust others, even if they give you no reason not to.
Unfortunately, Dr. Neo claims that studies have proven that unresolved trauma from narcissistic abuse can sometimes pass on to the next generation. This means that the effects of your experience with your abuser can, in turn, affect your children. They may either end up involved in relationships with abusers or become abusers themselves.
Besides the push-and-pull aftermath, as well as the relationship itself, the difficulty in recovering from a narcissistic abuser lies in the fact that they’ve conditioned you to believe that you’re inferior to them, and thus, to others. This results in a breakdown of your previous ideas about romance, marriage, and loyalty – all the beliefs you once held about humans and their capacity for love have been smashed into pieces.
The pain from this disintegration is like no other, and oftentimes, it can still be felt years down the road when you’ve thought that you’ve completely recovered from your narcissistic abuser.
While being involved with a narcissist is an all too common experience, most victims don’t recognize that they’re victims and that the people they claim to love the most are actually abusing them. Since the road to recovery starts with acknowledging the problem, this makes it even harder for them to find healing.
Recovering from all kinds of abuse is undoubtedly important, and the same goes for narcissistic abuse, no matter how long the relationship lasted or who it was with. Besides the life-long trauma that it can cause, this experience also has the potential to affect your other loved ones, turning them into either victims or abusers too.
With this in mind, it’s crucial that you find the strength to do whatever it takes to heal from the narcissist in your life.
In the next article, we’ll discuss several expert-recommended tips that will help you recover from narcissistic abuse. We’ll also go through things that you can do to make sure that you’ll never be a victim again.