Coping with narcissists is a challenge that many highly sensitive people have to face. I’ve yet to hear of a fellow HSP who has not had to deal with a narcissistic relationship. But one of the hardest things about coping with a narcissist is accepting that the person you love, and who you thought loved you, is not a loving person after all.
Whether this person is your spouse, your parent or your child, recognising the narcissistic traits in them can be extremely difficult and painful, especially when you’ve been in a relationship with them for a long time, if not your entire life. When the narcissist is a parent, you grow up believing that the kind of conditional, selfish love you receive is normal and naturally you don’t question it. Consequently, it’s very common for children of narcissists to grow up and attach themselves to narcissistic mates, not because they like being treated badly, but because it’s familiar to them. We are all attracted to what’s familiar, whether it’s good for us or not.
The relationship with the narcissist spouse probably didn’t start off badly. Narcissists are experts at getting what they want so there was probably a lot of flattery and attention at first, which slowly dissolved into a controlling and demeaning relationship that you felt guilty about both creating and not being able to leave.
But at some point the belittling, blaming, criticism and the complete lack of empathy, support and respect start to feel just plain wrong. Even if you have been treated this way for a very long time, you know somehow that it shouldn’t be like this.
Facing the reality that your loved one is not who you thought they were or even who you thought they should be can be too much to cope with. After all, how can a mother not love her daughter? How can a husband always blame his wife? It is often easier to believe the lies the narcissist tells you, that you are the one who is making life difficult, that you are not doing a good enough job, that you are not trying hard enough. And so you continue to struggle on, with the faith and the hope that if you just become the person they want you to be, everything will be all right, and that you will, eventually, be loved.
The trouble with that plan is that is never works. You will never be enough for the narcissist because they always want more. And trying to be something for someone else will only weaken your own self-esteem even further. So instead of getting the love you so desperately want, you work yourself further and further away from it, all the while increasingly believing that you don’t really deserve it anyway because you’re doing such a lousy job. It’s a path to self-destruction and years of loneliness.
So what is the solution? Awareness and acceptance. First, recognise what’s really going on. Is any of your partner’s negative behaviour similar to that of your parents? Do you feel drawn to people who have a sense of entitlement and you feel compelled to obey their commands? It is very easy for highly sensitive people in particular to fall prey to the manipulative motives of a narcissist and to feel guilty and depressed about it as a consequence. The key is to understand who you’re dealing with. If you are not feeling good about yourself when you’re with someone, they are probably not good for you. Trust your feelings. Trust your instincts. HSPs have a gift for intuition, so use it to help yourself.
If you think you are in a relationship with a narcissist, get out. If the narcissist is your mother or some other person you can’t eliminate from your life completely, accept them for who they are. They will not change. They don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. They think you are the problem. Trying to avoid facing the truth that this person is not ever going to give you what you need is easier, but it’s only going to fuel their fire and make you feel like a doormat. The alternative, acceptance, is harder, but it works. Accept that they will never change. Accept that you will never get love from them. And accept that you deserve love and can get it, from someone else. Love yourself. And others will love you too.