Do you remember how you felt in the first few weeks or months after meeting your partner? Did you have butterflies in your stomach? An insatiable urge to spend all of your time with them? Were you initially convinced they were “the one”, only to be horribly blindsided when they began to show their true colors?
If you’ve ever been in a relationship with someone who seemed perfect at first, but then didn’t turn out to be who they claimed to be, you may have been dealing with a narcissist.
Narcissism is a very sneaky disorder, and it isn’t always spotted right away. In fact, narcissists tend to be very smooth operators, knowing all the right things to say and do to win you over. They may shower you with expensive gifts or take you to the fanciest restaurants, flattering you incessantly, and going out of their way to make you feel like you’re the best thing to ever happen to them. These are all tricks narcissists use to capture your attention. Then, after you have been thoroughly tricked into believing they are “the one,” the narcissist changes the rules and, ultimately, the game.
Soon, the gas lighting begins. What do I mean by “gas lighting?” Gas lighting is a term used to describe the slow and methodical process of tearing down someone’s reality and replacing it with an alternative reality, the one preferred by the narcissist. This is much like a gas light being turned up or down to illuminate the surroundings. And guess what? This is a very bad situation to find yourself in.
Many partners of narcissists go into the relationship for two reasons:
- They were so charmed and flattered by the attention, they didn’t see the warning signs, and/or
- They needed something to fill their own emotional hole, and the attention was exactly what they needed at the time.
What usually happens next in situations where one (or both) of the people in the relationship is a narcissist can be very ugly and unhealthy: the narcissist changes the rules of the relationship.
The narcissist masterfully manipulates and controls their partner. Any attempt at independence is quickly thwarted, and any attention directed elsewhere results in punishment – either with threats of violence and abuse, or actual acts of violence. The situation can become dangerous.
Here are some ways to recognize a narcissist:
- They are consistently charming and flattering at the start of the relationship. This is very different than being compassionate and interested in you as a person. Their charm is in their superficiality in compliments, gifts, etc. There offer nothing of substance to you because they are empty inside.
- They insist on being in charge at all times, over everything.
- They are seen as powerful and persuasive people who get others to do whatever they want them to do, making those people feel grateful for having the opportunity.
- They never, ever apologize, and never accept responsibility for their behavior. This is a red flag and is without a doubt the sign of a narcissist. When something goes wrong, they will always shift the blame onto you or someone else – another sign of gas lighting.
How to deal with a narcissist:
- Get out of that relationship as soon as possible. It won’t get better, only worse! (My mother-in-law is a narcissist and I will have nothing to do with her. There is no safe place around someone who will stop at nothing to destroy others.)
- Do not give them the attention or affection they desire. It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s important to understand narcissists are often sociopaths as well. They lack empathy and the insight to change.
It isn’t very often I say relationships are worth ending, but when it comes to being in a relationship with a narcissist, my advice cannot be overstated often enough:
GET OUT. GET OUT. GET OUT.
You need to get out of the relationship before the damage becomes too great (just trying to cope with a narcissist can be damaging in and of itself, so it’s healthier to just sever the relationship).