Because narcissists don’t think or feel like we do, it’s really not possible to establish a mutual relationship with them. And because we can hardly help but expect them to respond in ways similar to our own, their dissimilar reactions can confuse and surprise us— at times, deeply upset us as well.
This post, a companion piece to my recently published "9 Enlightening Quotes on Narcissism—and Why," will focus not on the narcissist but on their unwary victims. Largely employing their own words, it will center on the injured parties’ so disheartening and disillusioning experience in trying to construct a satisfying relationship with an individual whose self-serving egocentricity ultimately renders such a union impossible. The quotes from these victims are taken from a lengthy series of online forum comments excerpted in Narcissism Book of Quotes: A Selection of Quotes from the Collective Wisdom of over 12,000 Individual Discussions. And this is a resource (readily available on the Web) that I heartily recommend to anyone who’s had to deal with a narcissist (particularly as a spouse).
So how do the narcissist’s victims (more commonly women than men) get emotionally entangled with such difficult individuals in the first place? Simply put, narcissists “preview” themselves in ways every bit as attractive to their potential "prey" as—later on—they reveal themselves as fraudulent. And I’ve had to be highly selective in limiting my choice of quotes to those best describing how trusting individuals can unwittingly walk right into a situation that cannot possibly deliver on its all-too-alluring promises.
But before allowing the hapless victims to speak for themselves in characterizing their experiences of betrayal, I should emphasize that virtually all my quotes pertain to those narcissists relatively far out on the narcissistic continuum. Many narcissists meeting sufficient criteria to warrant the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) aren’t quite so brutal in handling those committed to them as, frankly, are those portrayed in these quotes.
Anyhow, let’s start by considering the sampling of quotes immediately below on the process of getting “hooked” by the narcissist (which, like the rest of the quotes presented here, are anonymous):
"If your daughter whipped out the pen to ink the deal, you'd smack her and say, ‘What are you, NUTS? This guy's a lunatic!!!’ Right? But that IS the deal. That is the contract. If that contract wouldn't be nearly good enough for your daughter, why would it be good enough for you?" [Here, the discussant is addressing others on the Forum woefully “bitten” by the "vampire narcissist."]
So much for the beguiling charms of the narcissist in the victim’s pre-commitment phase—vs. the truly disturbing reality of living with such an individual post-commitment. What do those duped have to say specifically after they’ve fallen for the bait? Quite a lot, actually. Above all else, those victimized in such a relationship emphasize their experience of being devalued—especially since they were made to feel so special and important during the period that they were wooed into commitment. But before introducing these quotes, I’d like to expand on a term that these so-disappointed individuals regularly employ in stressing how they came to feel used, manipulated, or exploited by their narcissistic partner.
This term—namely, narcissistic supply (NS)—was originally psychoanalytic jargon. But it’s been adopted with increasing frequency by lay people to help convey their distressingly felt objectification on the part of their “soul-sucking” partner: that is, exploited, diminished, and even dehumanized, As a result, the pejorative designation “narcissistic supply” has now entered the linguistic mainstream (cf. “anal compulsive”). What the term so well pinpoints is the fact that narcissists can only value others to the extent they bolster their self-image.
Focusing on the narcissist’s insatiable appetite for attention and admiration, NS refers to anything in the environment that feeds the narcissist’s hunger to feel superior to others. And probably the most commonly used NS in the narcissist’s arsenal is their typically co-dependent, enmeshed, self-sacrificial partner. It’s no wonder that these routinely manipulated individuals describe themselves as “bled” or “sucked dry” by the self-absorbed narcissist, who initially so convincingly attached him/herself to them.
So, once narcissists have secured the relationship with their significant other, what invariably surfaces is their incessant drive to denigrate them, to assert superiority over them. As treasured as they may get their prospective spouse to feel prior to getting their commitment, that’s how devalued they make them feel once winning them over. This is a central theme in the testimony of so many disenchanted individuals who become the primary NS for their narcissistic partners—a subservient, demeaning role they never realized they’d signed up for. Here are a few examples of their pitiable experience:
[And the final result of such constant devaluation? Of all the quotes I examined, none of them states the ultimate impact of such long-term abuse more powerfully than the following]: "Why don't we go? For any combination of reasons. Take a look at the 'you' before or at the time you started going out with the N—and the 'you' later on. Never was anyone less equipped to get out by that stage—your self worth is in the gutter, you feel a failure, a deep sense of being a nothing—the things the N said to you, the insidious drip-feed of negatives, their behaviour that says so much about how little they respect or care for you. Then of course we really do have to face some of the nastiest [thoughts]—the what ifs, the depression, the self-hatred (how COULD I have put up with this . . . what must he have thought of me, knowing I allowed him to do these things), the loneliness, sense of failure."
The psychological harm reported by so many of those “sucked dry” by their narcissistic spouse is truly lamentable. The descriptors I probably encountered the most include: “hurt,” “confused,” “lost,” “sad,” “empty,” “misunderstood,” “humiliated,” and “degraded” (cf. “devalued”). Here’s a sampling of quotes that reflect the protracted trauma of those “held captive” in such an intense—and intensely disturbing—relationship:
Of all the oppressive, crazy-making features of the narcissist, the one perhaps most frequently cited is their exasperating dishonesty. And such untruthfulness has at times led their no-longer-so-gullible victims to describe them as con artists. Here’s a highly selective sampling of such complaints:
The controversial Dr. Sam Vaknin, creator of this forum on narcissism and himself a self-confessed NPD, has written profusely—at times, brilliantly—on the subject. In his article “Pseudologica Fantastica,” he freely admits:
It should be added that because narcissists are so driven to prove themselves, they often accomplish great things in science, the arts, and the humanities. True, in the world of business and politics, they can not only be incredibly mercenary but astonishingly bankrupt morally. Still, when their ambitiousness is expressed creatively, they can “gift” us with a Beethoven, or Wagner, Tolstoy, or Picasso—or even a Sam Vaknin (!).
But where it becomes almost impossible to admire a narcissist (which is, of course, what they most crave—typically, to compensate for their deepest, hidden feelings of self-doubt) is in the context of intimate relationships. And the many quotes up till now should make it blatantly obvious that this is hardly an area in which they can be viewed favorably. Below, I’ll summarize some other distressing characteristics of the narcissist regularly alluded to by their victims:
The one consolation for victims of the narcissist’s “dagger” (or “vampirish teeth”) is the hard-won insights they eventually gain, which makes it possible for at least some of them to repudiate a relationship that’s been so toxic to them. Again, in their own (sadder-but-wiser) words:
And with those encouraging words, I’ll end this lengthy post. But for those wanting more advice on dealing with their narcissistic spouse, whether male or female, and whether they’re still in the relationship or have already left it, there are many books listed on Amazon that take up this thorny subject. Moreover, toward the end of Narcissism A Book of Quotes, there’s also a section on “reclaiming sanity.” So if you’re still trying to figure out how best to deal with such a personality-disordered person—whether that individual be your son, daughter, father, mother, spouse, friend, employee or boss—by all means, continue reading.
If you found this article useful and believe others might as well, please consider passing it on. And if you have any interest in checking out other posts I’ve done for Psychology Today —on a wide variety of subjects—here’s the link.
© 2014 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.