Question: Dear Stacy, I have been married a long time and unfortunately it has taken me that same amount of time to fully understand that I am married to a narcissist who emotionally abuses me. At this point in my life leaving him is not an option as we now own our home which I do not want to leave, and our finances are in a good place, which I manage. I keep myself busy and try not to “get in his way” so that I am not the target of negative slurs and abusive rhetoric, but what else can you recommend to help me survive the day to day interactions with my narcissistic husband?
—Surviving in Salisbury
Answer: Dear Surviving in Salisbury, Thank you for reaching out. Narcissism can be a huge issue in relationships and it is becoming more widely understood and written about than ever before. But in order to understand how to survive it, let’s first look at what Narcissism is. According to webmd.com, “Narcissism is extreme self-involvement to the degree that it makes a person ignore the needs of those around them. While everyone may show occasional narcissistic behavior, true narcissists frequently disregard others or their feelings. They also do not understand the effect that their behavior has on other people.
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.
People who show signs of narcissism can often be very charming and charismatic. They often don’t show negative behavior right away, especially in relationships. People who show narcissism often like to surround themselves with people who feed into their ego. They build relationships to reinforce their ideas about themselves, even if these relationships are superficial.”
All of us at some point or another have probably called someone “narcissistic”, but at what point does their behavior become abusive? In an article from Nafeesah Allen, Ph.D. in mindbodygreen.com, she shares licensed psychotherapists’ Carrie Mead, LCPC, and Kimberly Perlin, LCSW-C, explanation of the telltale signs of narcissistic abuse, how narcissistic abuse syndrome is diagnosed, and offers tips to heal from a toxic relationship with a narcissist. Due to space, I will only be sharing the warning signs, so be sure to check out the full article.
Mead and Perlin share that Narcissism is hard to diagnose, but narcissists display various patterns of behavior. These are said to be attributed to childhood experiences of trauma and shame. Keep an eye out for these early warning signs: 1. Controlling behavior; 2. Self-focus; 3. Gaslighting; 4. Social isolation; 5. Creating mistrust for those outside the relationship; 6. Digital invasions of privacy; 7. Verbal abuse; 8. Threats of physical violence; 9. Hoovering; 10. Disregarding boundaries; 11. Instilling fear of negative reactions; 12. Strategic people pleasing; 13. Censorship; 14. Excuses for bad behavior; and 15. A history of abuse in past relationships.
Also note that most narcissists do not seek treatment on their own, unless they are forced too. So if you are seeking peace, then be sure to find a therapist for yourself. The bottom line according to Nafeesah Allen, Ph.D. in mindbodygreen.com, is “Falling in love with a narcissist is easy to do, but staying in love is not. Admitting that your partner is a narcissist is an excellent place to start turning the tide on the power dynamic that narcissists prey upon. While your natural inclination might be to push them to get help, it is much more realistic for you to do so first.
Healing from narcissistic abuse begins with rebuilding your self-identity, restoring a self-care routine, and establishing personal boundaries that protect your mental and physical well-being. Regular healthy communication with a professional can offer new insights to improve the relationship or prepare the necessary groundwork for a safe breakup.”
I do not want it to seem that I am simplifying this issue, but since this is such an extensive topic, I have picked basic information that you can use to continue your research.
According to Hillary I. Lebow of psychcentral.com, here are some great quick tips to help you live more harmoniously with your narcissistic partner/family member. 1. Articulate non-negotiable boundaries. 2. Learn the signs of Gaslighting. 3. Detach from emotional outbursts. 4. Learn the art of negotiation. 5. Fortify your self-esteem and self-soothing. And 6. Cultivate a tight and knowledgeable inner circle.
“Living with a narcissist may feel difficult, but it’s possible to preserve your well-being with strong boundaries, a solid support network, and a therapist who’s informed on narcissism.”
You may also find it useful to attend a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) family support group in your area. Also, consider adding these books to your wish list:
“Should I Stay or Should I Go? Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist” by Dr. Ramani Durvasula
“POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse” by Shahida Arabi
This article is a simple overview of the issues of narcissism that can be applied to any human relationship, so please do your own research and check out the additional resources to get a complete picture of the topic as it pertains to your specific situation.
Here are some resources on the topic:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/narcissism (need to copy and paste to browser)
How to survive a Narcissist from a Christian perspective - https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/6c0a5854/files/uploaded/April%20all%20%281%29.pdf
Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare – (copy and paste in your browser, then download) https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/63854539/download-pdf-epub-becoming-the-narcissists-nightmare-how-to-devalue-and-discard-the-narcissist-while-supplying-yourself-by-shahida-arabi
When Loving Him is Hurting You - https://www.harvesthousepublishers.com/data/files/excerpts/9780736969819_exc.pdf
What makes Narcissists Tick - https://www.escapeabuse.com/npd.pdf
Surviving the Narcissist Epidemic - https://static1.squarespace.com/static/568f2ee8cbced686e2f4683a/t/57748c9f3e00be33b76bb4ba/1467255993131/Surviving+The+Narcissist+Epidemic.pdf
“Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft