Narcissists tend to be attractive. If you fall for one, it’s understandable. Over the last few years I have worked with a number of people married to or caught in other relationships with narcissists, and a number of things are very clear. I thought I’d share them.
Whatever glorious, glittery, outlandish, sleek or well-mannered package your narcissist arrives in that person will be doing one thing for sure: answering a call in you for something you wrongly feel you can’t do without.
A hero, a dynamo, a clown, a magician … as a survival strategy (which is how I tend to look at narcissism: the narcissist on some level feels so overlooked that they have almost eliminated the trying reality of other people, in fact most kinds of otherness, from their life) narcissism is pretty (literally) potent. Certainly all highly attractive people are not narcissists – it’s perfectly possible to have a healthy relationship with your own and others’ narcissism – but … many of them are.
People who become trapped in corrosive relationships with narcissists are themselves often highly desirable – to everyone apart from themselves. The partner of a narcissist usually needs waking up to their own appeal. Even if they see their own power of attraction, they will most likely have a blind or insensitive spot to a narcissist’s controlling force. They may feel inclined to be with a narcissist as a way of feeling in control, or feeling safe.
Never underestimate a narcissist’s potential for duplicity. The thing that usually keeps our more self-centred behaviour at bay … shame … tends to be hard to locate in a narcissist. You are, for all intents and purposes, part of them. An extension of them like a kind of fairground long-arm grab is to a child at a funfair, or a periscope to a submarine captain, or a pair of wheels to a sports car, or … I could go on. You are there for them to get by in life.
Most relationships involve a degree of this. All relationships are to some extent selfish, or they won’t work. Try staying with anything without in some way ending up holding on. But a relationship with a narcissist is like finding yourself in the grip of someone who is drowning and won’t let go. They look, however, as if they are gliding on the water’s surface like a swan.
Gaslighting. Narcissists specialise in forms of control that drive their partners to feel crazy. Partly this is because some of the control methods are likely to be fairly crazy (extreme forms of surveillance and dominance are not uncommon), and partly this is because the narcissist specialises in appearing reasonable. Watch out for what gets called ‘common sense’ or ‘rational behaviour’. Common sense usually incorporates a good deal of unacknowledged historical power-play, misogyny for instance. Rational behaviour can crush other’s behaviour on the grounds that emotional responses are irrational.
People who fall for narcissists often feel scared from the very start, but things happen that mask that fear. They are likely to tell small lies or hide things rather than face their partner’s strangely hostile, disappointed or irritated attitude. They may cover things up until a problem arises that in fact makes them look inept, weak or stupid. Narcissists need to have a place for weakness in their lives, and they usually, almost undetectably, cede that to their partners.
Narcissist feed off their partners. They draw on their organising, loving, and creative skills. A narcissist’s partner might feel tired, stretched, flat, listless or angry more often than feels normal.
If any of this rings true, the chances are you should be pressing the eject button on your relationship post haste.