Are you in a relationship with a ‘Knightmare’ in Shining Armour or a Diva in Distress? Are you struggling with how to handle the self-absorbed charming braggart or the pre-occupied overly sensitive victim in your life? Trying to understand the personality of the narcissist objectively is the first step to dealing effectively with them. We need to keep ourselves from being triggered first.
Our adult personality is formed by a combination of genetic/biological and environmental/learning factors. We inherit traits of each parent and become shaped by experience, particularly by our childhood. The narcissist’s biological make up, such as innate competitive drives combined with being told by a parent that they are special and learns that nothing but perfect grades, plenty of athletic awards and good looks will lead to success or at least the appearance of success. No child of theirs will embarrass them with anything less. Not only do they learn that they are special but that any problems or failures are ‘the other guy’s fault’. The inherited traits of a parent become reinforced to influence the self-absorbed to learn to play by their own rules. For more information please see Is Your Partner a Narcissist?
The narcissist has the power to intoxicate our senses with their aura of charm and wit. This make us feel like we are the chosen one. In the beginning of the relationship you may have been swept away by his adoration and constant compliments or you may have been attracted to her feigned modesty when she fishes for compliments. If you are the spouse of a narcissist and have been captured in their emotional web, you may wonder:
“Why was I drawn to such a difficult person? What is it about me that attracted them? How did I allow myself to be fooled? Do I somehow enjoy the punishment I keep getting? Why is it so difficult for me to speak up?”
According to Wendy Behary in Disarming the Narcissist, you are likely to be vulnerable in the following three areas:
Your reaction to manipulation or abusive behaviour by keeping your feelings to yourself and do as you are told, is how you learned to survive as child when you had no one to protect you from parental cruelty. As an adult in a relationship with a narcissist, the old memories beyond your awareness are activated, so you shut down emotions and comply.
Your reaction to extreme criticism and withholding behaviour of the narcissist by working as hard as you can to be a good spouse is rooted in the childhood experience of being made to feel unlovable, inadequate, flawed or unacceptable. The submerged memories of old, lead to the constant approval seeking.
Your reaction to your narcissist spouse is to walk on egg shells, as a guilt-ridden giver, fearful of igniting their short fuse. You unintentionally enable their cruel behaviour and sacrifice your own needs. Your subconscious childhood memories of fear of being abandoned or neglected led to you believing that you will never truly be understood, given the love, affection and support you need.
How to Keep from Getting Triggered
This meditative visualization exercise recommended by Wendy Behary can help you start to become less reactive to your narcissist partner. Identify your own vulnerabilities from the list above three and do the following:
- Close your eyes. Try to recall a painful event from childhood involving one of your parents. What happened? How did you deal with it? Can you recall what you wished had happened? What did you long for?
- Take a slow deep breath in and exhale slowly. Blank out the images of that past event but continue to hold on to thoughts, emotions and sensations that fill your mind and body. Allow your gentle breath to soften any painful memories etched in your mind.
- Call up an image of your narcissist partner. See if you can zoom in to an upsetting and annoying encounter. Notice your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations that resonate as you review this event. If you could control the outcome, what do you wish would have happened? What are your deepest longings?
- Take a couple of slow, deep breaths in and out then open your eyes slowly to become fully engaged with your surroundings. Thank the part of you that helped you stay grounded as you take this journey in your mind.
- Compare the thoughts, emotions and physical sensations of the first image from childhood with the second, more recent one. Was there a shift, or were they the same? Do you see any common patterns? Have your longings from childhood changed?
- Write in a journal your thoughts and feelings from this exercise.
The exercise above is a small way to help you to keep from getting infuriated and feeling trapped in your relationship with a narcissist. If you decide to seek the help of a therapist for yourself, you will likely gain a deeper awareness of your vulnerabilities that prevent you from exercising greater assertiveness and boundary creation which is critical for surviving your relationship. This bolstering of your reluctant state of mind will help you to make healthy and wise choices for yourself when dealing with your narcissist spouse.