Narcissists view partners as trophies under their power and may expect partners to show deference and adoring behavior throughout the relationship. Manipulation of a partner is emotional abuse, and narcissists resort to some pretty low behaviors if they feel that they are losing their hold on a partner.
- Jealousy. When they are fearful of a partner losing interest, they might create situations that generate jealousy in their partners to acquire power and control in the relationship and those narcissists with the most fragile egos also induce jealousy to take revenge on partners, test the relationship, prove relationship security, and build up their own self-esteem.
- Guilt. Narcissists will also try and make their partners feel guilty about any behaviors that the narcissist believes are signs of disrespect or lack of adequate gratitude. Narcissists are manipulators who have no qualms about twisting a partner’s words or actions in a way that would make the partner feel guilty or remorseful about things she has no reason to feel bad about.
- Threats. Narcissists will threaten to end the relationship if a partner begins showing independence or behaves in ways contrary to the narcissist’s expectations.
Love You, Love You Not: The Endless Cycle of Romantic Abuse
Narcissists need to be admired by their partners and everyday needs to be a “praise fest.” When they notice that a partner’s interest in them or enthusiasm for them is decreasing, they can become desperate to win back the person’s affection. They may buy expensive gifts, engage in over-the-top romantic grand gestures, whatever it takes to have their partner put them back up on the pedestal.
Little things can drive a narcissist into a state of anxiety and fear – like running late for a date, having to go into work early, hanging out with your friends, or forgetting to wear the outfit that the narcissist wanted you to wear.
Is the Narcissist or the Former Partner the “Crazy Ex”?
Narcissists who are especially good at winning the affection and praise of others are likely to also have a lot of broken relationships. They are good at hooking potential partners in the hopes of finding someone “bigger and better” who will make the narcissist feel “bigger and better” themselves. They will also work to ensure that each new conquest believes that they were the victim in past break-ups. They tend to embellish their own good qualities as they vilify their exes. It’s more likely that a partner who actually stays in a relationship with a narcissist is the “crazy current boyfriend or girlfriend;” it’s not the exes who are crazy – they were smart and got out of the relationship.
Symptoms of a Narcissistic Relationship
In healthy relationships, people make room for a partner’s mistakes. Unfortunately, when you’re involved with a narcissist, the blame for any bump in the road or misunderstanding falls on you. Narcissists are unable to accept ownership themselves for any relational or personal problems. Narcissists blame others for their own failings as any threat to their self-esteem is simply not tolerated. You may begin to accept that you are less than your partner and you may begin to belittle yourself and accept criticism as deserved, whether it really is or not.
Expectations of Perfection
Sadly, the individuals who are willing to remain in relationships with narcissists are probably in mutually dependent relationships, not interdependent relationships with their partners. Narcissists want partners they believe are good reflections on them. They want to exercise control over their partners in a variety of ways; these might include what partners wear, how partners speak, who partners see, and so on.
As the narcissist tightens control over a partner’s self-expression, their partners might begin to push back and this is when narcissists lose their cool and their fear takes hold. The relationship can become something like a yoyo – you try to get some distance, but get sucked right back into the old patterns. This can go on until the narcissist grows tired of you or you no longer serve their needs.
Boundary Setting Is a Challenge
Narcissists cannot handle a partner’s boundaries because narcissists cannot conceive that a partner could exist beyond the relationship. Narcissists objectify people and use people to meet their own needs – they don’t understand the normal needs for space and autonomy that partners would have. If you are being used to prop up the ego of a narcissist, if you try to claim some space for yourself, the narcissist may feel that you are trying to strip away part of their own identity. Your devotion to the narcissist’s needs is a measure of the narcissist’s self-worth in their mind. When you back away, narcissists try that much harder to reel you back into their lives.
Narcissists and the Elusive Friendships
Being a narcissist’s sidekick isn’t a lot of fun when you have to play the role of sycophant or superfan all the time when you’re together. Narcissists have trouble accepting that friendships don’t thrive when they’re built on a master/lackey model. The natural flow of “give-and-take” friendships are beyond the narcissist’s understanding. It’s not that narcissists want to alienate potential friends – they might even not realize what they’re doing.
Narcissists also expect their “friends” to be willing to shine the spotlight on the narcissist, no matter how stellar their own performance or personality might be. The chief job of a narcissist’s friend is to make the narcissist look good – even when he doesn’t. This can be tiring and it requires that you learn to stuff down your own need for recognition or attention in order to keep the light shining on your narcissistic friend.
Narcissists cannot maintain genuine relationships long term. Authentic relationships require that a person is able to “let down their guard” and be open and honest. Narcissists are terrified of being seen as “human,” as that would crack open the image that they try to project as “superhuman” and flawless. True narcissists, not just people with narcissistic qualities, are unlikely to have any normal, easygoing, give-and-take friendships – most of us don’t have the stamina necessary to continue to pump up the ego of narcissist friends. Narcissists suck a lot of energy out of the people who try and befriend them – enough praise is never enough.