Relationships with narcissists are horrible. These people drain you of the three most important things in your life: your time, your energy and, often, your ressources. Once you have realised that a person in your life, whether a partner, a parent, a friend or a coworker, exhibits traits of narcissism or toxicity, how do you get your life back?
In this article, I summarise the steps I use with my clients to help them change perspective and gain clarity in order to let go of the person, or rather the persona, that had seduced them.
When working with my clients, they often ask “is such a person a narcissist?”. I reply that the label we give people is not very helpful, however identifying specific behaviours is and, when we find patterns, we can perhaps understand better past events and make more informed decisions about the future events we wish for ourselves and for others.
If you need help dealing with such a situation, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Narcissists gaslight you and gaslighting makes you feel like you are crazy, like you are the one to blame for a relationship gone sour, that everything is solely your fault. Read the article for an analysis of common red flags of such toxic behaviour. Of course, the relationship did not start off like this. Initially, they were lovely, friendly, caring, grateful, their praise was mellifluous, it was honey to your ears. This was the love bombing period. We can undo the spell and gain clarity by reframing our mind to regain our sanity.
1. Get your facts right
So, you remember the person as being lovely. Write down, preferably on paper, what they said to you about yourself and about them. What were the exact words they used? How did they praise you?
2. Get your feelings right
How did you feel about them at first? Were they really always lovely? What was really your initial reaction to them? Did you feel friendly? Indifferent? Repulsed? Narcissists are very talented at figuring out what others want to hear and at adapting to this.
3. Get your chronology right
When did you meet? When did they start getting into your life? When did you start liking them? Did you really like them from the get go? Or did you only start noticing them after certain events? Perhaps after they were insistent to get into your life? Perhaps after the guilt tripped you into letting them in?
The moment when you started noticing and liking them can be considered as the honeymoon period: everything seems to good to be true. They were the friend you always longed for, the partner you dreamt of, the boss who you could rely on.
4. Understand the gaslighting
Then something started changing. You did something that made you fall from grace. Well, so they say. Or maybe they don’t say anything, simply you felt a change of mood. Things were less fun, less light. Maybe they said something. But they blame you for your reaction. This is where the gaslighting started, they made you feel like you are going crazy.
Gaslighting refers specifically to this. They create events to make you feel like you are losing your mind. They rewrite discussions, they shift blame, they play victims. One person I knew swore to me that we had had dinner with one of my relatives and I. I asked my relative to be sure, she told me that she had never met him. I confronted him, he swore she must have been mistaken. Given that he is Maldivian, it is impossible that she may have confused him with someone else is. Yet he continued to swear that both of us were mistaken.
In another case, a person justified her feelings for another man because of certain concerns her partner had expressed. However, that specific conversation took place after she had started seeing the other man and planning to leave her partner. A convenient justification, regardless of the fact it was untrue.
As Goebbels famously said “A lie that is repeated enough becomes truth.”
5. Understand the mask
We often fall in love with, or befriend, the person they claim to be during the honeymoon period. We long for a return to that period. “If only I hadn’t ruined it”, we think. If the person is a narcissist, the person by whom we were seduced during the honeymoon period actually does not really exist. This is perhaps the key to getting over a narcissist. To understand that it was just a mask, a persona, tailor-made to please us, to seduce us, to win our favours.
Though we all create personas to function better in society, the question that counts is “just how close to our real self is the mask?”: if it is a simplified version of who we are, that is one thing. If it bears very little ressemblance to who we are, that is more problematic. When the elements of the persona are actually lies, whether lies about qualifications, life history, past events, or feelings, we were actually misled.
6. Accept that we were lied to, that we were deceived.
To understand this means to accept that the image we crave for was a lie. Why do we feel such pain? First, because we have lost someone in our life, we have lost their presence. Second, because we can never get this person back, because they do not exist: we have lost even their existence in our world. Third, because we were lied to, we were deceived, our trust was abused and our ego bruised. And fourth, because we were deceived specifically in order for this person to be able to take our time, our energy and our ressources: our innocence (or naivety?) was taken advantage of. Yes, we were taken advantage of by someone mentally unwell.
What of the kind words? The meaningful shared moments? Lies. And this explains how someone who swore their feelings were strong and true can discard us within such a short time span. They never truly felt those feelings. These words were empty. We projected onto a shallow shell, fuelled by their lies and deceit. Perhaps we were a trusting fool.
Indeed, in the chronology, things do not add up. There was too much volatility of words and emotions. The person wanted to marry you, then said you were worthless and a waste of their time, but would not break off the relationship? It makes no sense. They said they were grateful for all of your efforts to understand each other better but became resentful every time you actually made an effort to understand them? It makes no sense. You find out that during the relationship they were courting someone else while telling you they couldn’t imaging themselves with anyone else? It makes no sense.
Or rather, they were lying. The persona told you what you wanted to hear. The true self did whatever they wanted. It didn’t add up and you are still trying to make sense of it? You are wasting your time, you are trying to reconcile a fake personality’s words with the actions of a liar. Of course it does not add up, because otherwise it would not be lying.
When in doubt, see how someone acts, that shows who they are. Words are mere promises of future actions – and when the words do not match the actions, they should be discarded.
The truth, simply, was that you were lied to. You were deceived. And no doubt there were red flags that you did not see or did not want to see. And do not beat yourself up, many of us have been there and many do not even realise it. To seek answers is a first and important step towards a better life. No doubt you are reading this because you aspire to a better life. Well done! This is uncommon, truly. And I hope these articles will support you in your quest!
Grieve this persona, grieve this mask, and you have made your first step towards recovery.
This was step 1. Step 2 is: Choose a truthful life or a life of deceit. Step 3 is: Respect yourself and get your life back.