Narcissism impacts more than just its immediate victims and can have far-reaching effects for the loved ones of a narcissist. Pathological narcissists typically become skilled at manipulating and tormenting family members, significant others, and close friends, which gives them more opportunities to inflict harm.
Supporting victims of narcissistic abuse
For those victims who are unable to leave a narcissistic relationship, it is imperative that family members and support systems know how to help them survive the abuse. There are several ways that loved ones can reinforce victims and bolster their well-being to improve outcomes.
1. Unconditional Positive Regard. Unconditional regard—acceptance and support of the victim regardless of the circumstances—is a therapeutic tool that loved ones can master to help victims of psychological abuse. Regardless of the mistakes victims make, what their abuser accuses them of, or their own choices, they will need a support system that never gives up on them.
Loved ones will experience fatigue when trying to help victims navigate relationships with pathological narcissists. It becomes exhausting to watch someone you care about be manipulated, used, and constantly agitated from the immense stress that results from interacting with narcissists. Often, loved ones will feel the need to point out to victims that their reactions are exaggerated, that they should just “let it go,” and that they should not allow their abuser to impact their feelings—although this usually comes from a perspective of wanting to help, it can also divide support systems and isolate victims.
Victims of narcissism have to learn on their own how to avoid personalizing attacks in order to protect their psyche and be able to withstand the emotional torment that goes with the territory. Loved ones who provide positive regard that is not dependent on the situation will offer an invaluable resource to victims. Most victims of narcissism learn that love is conditional in every sense of the word, making an unconditional support system outside of their narcissistic relationship all the more important.
2. Marathon Patience. Chronic psychological manipulation is wearing and exhausting to those who are affected by it. Victims’ support systems will indirectly experience exhaustion and can sometimes be directly impacted as well, depending on their specific situation. Watching a loved one be continually abused is heartbreaking and distressing.
Support systems should view chronic narcissistic relationships as a marathon instead of a sprint. In situations where there is no escape from psychological manipulation, victims and their loved ones need to have enough endurance to finish the race. If support systems expect a quick and fast resolution, it sets everyone involved up for failure.
Setting expectations for long-term patience will immensely help victims of narcissism. It will give them a breath of relief, a sounding board, and security they can turn to in their darkest moments.
3. Self-Control. Just as it is essential for victims of psychological manipulation to possess control of their emotions and behaviors, it is equally important that their loved ones do the same. In pathological narcissist situations, support systems will be attacked alongside the abuser's primary victim. The more they are able to maintain steady and calm reactions, the more positive the outcomes will be.
Support systems that become overly emotional, lash back at abusers in uncontrolled ways, and take attacks personally, will cause more stress in an already overtaxed situation. Loved ones have to learn the art of self-control when they are attacked—or when they become overwhelmed by the attacks on others—to help fortify victims.
4. Willingness to Have Fun. Though it may seem superficial, a support system that is willing to focus on enjoyable experiences can improve the morale of victims. Most victims of chronic manipulation expend all of their energy on surviving; they have none left over to enjoy the lighter side of life.
Due to the unique circumstances of narcissistic relationships, victims can find it difficult to engage in enjoyable activities. They often struggle with ruminating thought patterns, making it challenging to focus on the present without thinking about the past or feeling anxious about their future. This constant fear can become overwhelming and exerts a heavy toll on victims.
Having a support system that takes time and resources to engage in pleasurable activities together can be a true lifesaver for victims. It gives them hope, provides a break from the gloom of reality, and changes their focus to the positive.
Loved ones are an invaluable resource for victims
The support systems of victims in general have a heavy burden to bear. In situations of long-term narcissistic abuse, they often feel they are fighting an unseen enemy with no end in sight. To improve the well-being of all involved, support systems should be educated on the effects of narcissism and encouraged to actively participate in positive ways that will uplift victims.
Loved ones will play an essential role in helping victims successfully undermine narcissistic abuse, and those victims who are fortunate enough to have a well-functioning support system will typically have more positive outcomes than victims who are isolated and alone.