Being in a narcissistic relationship can be frustrating, exhausting, emotionally draining and seriously impact your mental health. Narcissistic relationships tend to begin in a whirlwind of social, emotional and seductive intensity that can leave you feeling breathless and a little off-balance. That feeling of being off-balance and a little out of sorts is one of the key characteristics of a narcissistic relationship, as is an ongoing sense of things never being quite settled. The narcissistic partner often leverages these circumstances to isolate, create conflict and control out comes. This doesn’t happen overnight, and is sometimes so subtle and insidious that you can land squarely in the middle of a dysfunctional, abusive relationship before you’ve even realized what’s happened.
One of the most obvious social characteristics of a narcissist is grandstanding. This can come in the form of exaggerating accomplishments, overemphasizing status or status symbols, bragging about professional successes, physical accomplishments and a large ego. Basically, the narcissistic partner will take every opportunity to impress upon his or her partner—and anyone else who will listen—that s/he is better, special in always “one up”. This kind of behavior is really covering up a deep-seated insecurity and sense of inadequacy.
Closely tied to grandstanding is the narcissistic partner’s expression of entitlement. This presents itself in a number of different ways. The Narcissistic partner may behave as though the rules don’t apply to him or her, or that he or she should get what they want or be treated in a certain way just because that’s the way it should be. This attitude has no real basis in reality and connects back the narcissistic partner’s misguided notion of specialness.
Grandstanding and entitlement are the context the narcissistic partner emerges from, but what more detrimental to you and the relationship is how this kind of dysfunction plays itself out.
One of the primary tactics a narcissistic partner will use to control a relationship is passive-aggression, which means he or she shill intentionally or subconsciously not do something as a means of revenge or retribution. This doesn’t have to be anything big, or abusive. It can be as simple as slamming the bathroom door when s/he knows you’re sleeping, dragging his or her feet when s/he knows you’re late for an engagement, or waiting until the last minute to tell you a plan. None of this behavior is destructive in itself, but it sets a tone, keeps you off-balance, is generally frustrating and introduces a constant state of stress into the relationship.
The reverse blame game is another hallmark of a narcissistic relationship. The narcissistic partner will often take an accusatory position about something you are doing, when, in fact, s/he is the one who is doing it. It can be something as simple as interrupting or not listening to something weightier, like overspending or neglecting childcare responsibilities. These conversations typically have a tit-for-tat kind of rhythm that goes hand-in-hand with the narcissistic partner’s competitiveness and need for one-upmanship.
Projection is often the harbinger of a much more insidious manipulation, gaslighting, which we might think of as the ultimate projection. Through words and actions, the narcissistic partner creates a certain reality. They do this, in part, to meet their own needs, but also—and this is what’s most important to consider—shape the reality of those around them. For instance, a narcissistic partner might say, “I would do anything you ask, but you never let me do anything for you.” With enough pressure and repetition, you might start to think that you can’t accept help and, given enough rope with which to hang your psyche, you may even begin to doubt yourself as lovable.
Getting out of a narcissistic relationship can be especially difficult because often when a narcissistic partner senses you are on the cusp of leaving s/he will do everything in his or her power to seduce you back in. This might include anything from promised of renewed devotion to threats of self-harm. One of the most effective tools for removing yourself from a narcissistic relationship is to set firm boundaries and stick with them. That can mean refusing contact, blocking on social media or even getting a restraining order. The most important thing os to remove yourself from the relationship so you can regain the balance you’ve lost and reestablish your sense of reality and self. One of the saving graces of a narcissistic pattern is that, once a narcissist recognizes that your sponge has been wrung dry, s/he will stop squeezing and move on.