What Are The Hallmarks Of A Relationship With A Narcissist?

Anything that costs your peace is too expensive

(Read time 1-2 mins)

I was recently asked what are the hallmarks of a relationship with a narcissist. This is a good question to ask, because it provides important guideposts to the partner to assist her in evaluating her relationship based on the following hallmarks, and whether they are present:

  1. Verbal, emotional, mental, and physical abuse, if not all, certainly at least one form
  2. Criticism and devaluation
  3. Pathological control
  4. Gaslighting
  5. Making the partner wrong
  6. Humiliation
  7. Jealousy and provocation
  8. Manipulation, especially using guilt and shame as a control tactic
  9. Blameshifting
  10. Walking on eggshells
  11. Complete absence of emotional intimacy, support, and trust
  12. Chronic feeling of emptiness within the marriage, isolation, loss of hope
  13. Infidelity, if not physical, then emotional
  14. Betrayal on every level
  15. Dehumanization and trauma

A relationship with a narcissist is loaded with tension and anxiety, and it puts the spouse’s emotional, physical and mental well-being at risk. The longer the partner stays with the narcissist, the worse off she or he will be. Narcissistic abuse is progressive. The abuse becomes more severe, the wounds deeper, and the  trauma bond stronger. It is possible for the partner to become so devalued and invalidated over time that she loses herself completely.

As the partner clings onto the love-bombing version of her NPD partner, and with fierce hope and a desire to have what she thought she was going to have with him, she will continue to try to make her narcissist “see the light” and believes that once she does, he will “get it” and change back into the man she met.

What is really happening, however, is the toxic trauma bond is being reinforced making it more difficult for the partner to maintain her sense of self, identify that she is being abused.

Narcissists are masters at manipulating their partners to question their own thoughts and feelings, even to the point that the partner herself will become her own worst critic, and over time, automatically assume any feelings she has are wrong. Invalidating her own thoughts, feelings, ideas and reactions becomes an automatic reflex. The result is that the partner is conditioned through narcissistic abuse to negate and invalidate herself. This exacerbates the already serious risk to her well-being, and ultimately will make it nearly impossible for her to ever leave the narcissist.

It is critical to get out of any relationship where abuse is occurring, and get to a safe place. Recognizing the hallmarks, and leaving a narcissist takes tremendous strength; but it is possible, and empowers healing and growing, and positions the ex-partner to empathize, support and empower other victims.


*Please note: All of my articles are written with the use of masculine pronouns to describe the narcissist. This is solely due to my own experience, and not meant to imply that men are not also victims of narcissistic abuse, as they are too.

The Turmoil Trap and The Path To Freedom

“The path to freedom requires but one thing: that you choose to take it.”

(Read time: 1-2 mins)

One of the most distressing elements in healing from narcissistic abuse is the intense emotional conflict between the relief at being free from the toxic dynamic and abuse, and the longing to have what you thought you had, with the person you fell in love with. There is a tidal quality to this emotional and mental struggle. The conflicting feelings ebb and flow, and sometimes pound the shore of your soul. It’s a turmoil trap of pain, confusion, and emotional exhaustion. Read More

Clearing The FOG Of Narcissistic Abuse

(Read time: 3-4 mins)

“Some sensations … take up all the extent of the mind like a fog, don’t let us think, don’t let us act, don’t let us live clearly.” – Fernando Pessoa

“Keep on moving forward. The fog will lift, a fresh wind will heal your mind, you will see clearly, and you will be free.” – Grace

FOG is an acronym that is used in the narcissistic abuse community for Fear, Obligation and Guilt. The narcissist uses FOG in relationships to manipulate and control his partner during, and even after the relationship is over. Fear, obligation, and guilt provoke intense feelings, and the narcissist knows how to use them very effectively against his partner to exert control.

Fear

Fear is a powerful manipulative force. Narcissists are vindictive, which becomes evident over the course of the relationship. The narcissist harbors a constant “You hurt me, I’ll hurt you!” mentality, and makes sure his partner knows this. His abuse, explosive rages, temper tantrums, and hostility increase his partner’s undercurrent of fear, and walking on eggshells anxiety that generally becomes chronic.

Many partners of narcissists experience a gut instinct that the narcissist is capable of doing anything, and has no limits when it comes to exacting revenge if he feels he’s been wronged. Because of this, the partner “stays in line” out of fear of what the narcissist might do in retaliation. The partner becomes fearful of being herself, of feeling her feelings, of speaking her mind, and having her own opinions. The narcissist is so critical and devaluing of the partner that she begins to restrain her own personality, her own self, because she is fearful of the narcissist’s reaction.

Physical abuse, which occurs in a number of narcissistic relationships, and the mental, verbal, and emotional abuse the narcissist inflicts on his partner, further suppresses her inclination to stand up for herself, defend herself, and often prevents her from leaving the relationship. And, if the partner manages to leave the relationship, she is often fearful of the repercussions, which can include stalking, defamation of her character, potential violence, and other cruel and vengeful acts.

Obligation

Obligation is a very potent form of manipulation. The narcissist starts to cultivate obligation in the lovebombing stage of the relationship. He leads his partner to believe she is the only star in his universe, she is the only one who truly understands him, his soulmate. He leads her to believe that she is the only woman in the world who can satisfy his needs. He combines this with “woe-is-me” stories from his past, depicting himself as the tragic victim. This plays on the partner’s compassion, and her desire to be the one who can make everything better for him. And, the physical intimacy that narcissist typically – and successfully – rushes his partner into, reinforces the partner’s feelings of intense bonding, and her desire to be the one who can make him happy, and feel true love.

The result is that the partner, intoxicated by lovebombing, and emotionally manipulated by the narcissist, feels that she, and she alone, truly understands the narcissist, and that she is uniquely qualified to give the narcissist the kind of love he needs, to heal him of his suffering. The narcissist plays on this repeatedly until the partner’s sense of obligation to, and compassion for, him are hardwired into her brain.

Her feeling of obligation becomes hardwired from the lovebombing bonding biochemicals that her brain releases during this phase of the relationship. The frequency, and amount of oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins released during the lovebombing phase with a narcissist are in much higher amounts, and with much greater frequency than would ever happen in a healthy relationship. So, while the partner is being groomed and manipulated into feeling obligated to the narcissist, her brain is releasing, at the same time, a flood of very strong bonding biochemicals. The result? The partner becomes biochemically bonded to feeling obligated to the narcissist.

Guilt

Guilt is one of the strongest forces of control and manipulation that exists. Narcissists are experts at inducing guilt in their partners through projection, blameshifting, self-victimization, and being punitive. The narcissist will provoke situations with the sole purpose of upsetting his partner, blameshift onto her, and cause her to feel guilty. When she reacts to the narcissist’s provocations, he aggressively pushes back, invalidates her feelings, and punishes her, accusing her of hurting him. He will call her uncaring and self-centered. He will pout and give her the silent treatment, leave – anything that causes her to feel guilty and ashamed of her feelings. And, the powerful stress biochemicals, adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine flow in her brain. When the partner capitulates to the narcissist, and apologizes, he will show his approval with lovebombing gestures, affection, approval, even physical intimacy. And, the powerful love bonding chemicals flow in her brain.

This toxic abuse cycle spins like a wheel, repeating itself over and over and over. Every time it does, the partner’s brain becomes more biochemically hardwired to the abuse cycle, and FOG dynamic that keeps partners trapped in relationships with narcissists, and ties ex-partners to the narcissist after the relationship has ended.

The narcissist’s manipulation of fear, obligation, and guilt causes the partner to become psychologically and emotionally conditioned to:

  1. Fear retribution for being herself, and standing up for herself
  2. Feel deeply obligated to care about the narcissist’s feelings and put his well being above her own, and
  3. Feel guilty and ashamed of her feelings, and her reactions to the narcissist

The FOG Will Clear

The good news is, leaving the abusive relationship with narcissist, establishing safety, maintaining No Contact, and focusing on self care and healing, will clear the FOG. It will take time. It is important to be patient with yourself, and the healing process.

Tips to clear the FOG:

1. Don’t allow the FOG to victimize you. Take ownership, and validate the feelings of fear, obligation, and guilt. Accept that they are normal feelings to have in these circumstances – but they are not permanent. *If you fear for your safety, are being stalked, harassed, and/or threatened, always contact the authorities, and take the steps you need to stay safe.

2. Tell yourself the truth: feelings of FOG are a conditioned response to a toxic, abusive relationship. It is a conditioned response, it is temporary, and it will pass.

3. Surround yourself with support: There are a number of online support groups for narcissistic abuse survivors where you can receive the validation, understanding, and encouragement you need to keep you moving forward. Life coaching is very helpful, and therapy by a licensed professional counselor who has experience in treating victims of narcissistic abuse is very helpful, and often necessary – given the level, and complexity of trauma that victims endure.

4. Engage in activities that make you happy and give you peace: have you ever wanted to learn to paint with watercolors, raise orchids, knit, crochet, volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter, learn to play the violin, work a 1,500 piece jigsaw puzzle, join a book club, write a novel, take a cooking class, do yoga, train for a marathon? Reach out and explore your interests, you may discover a gift and talent you never knew you had!

5. And, most importantly, take care of you, and be kind and compassionate to yourself: celebrate your strength, celebrate the wisdom and resilience you have shown by getting out of the abusive relationship, and staying out. Be encouraged, knowing that you can use your experience to help and empower others someday – that you can be a force of beautiful strength to help other abuse victims move forward and thrive in their lives.

“Making a decision to see through the fog is a commitment to life.” – Chosen

Articles are written with the use of masculine pronouns to describe the narcissist, and feminine pronouns to describe the partner. This is solely due to my own experience, and not meant to imply that men are not also victims of narcissistic abuse.

The Empath and The Cold Empath: A Perfect Storm

(Read time: 1-2 mins)

Says the empath, “Milan Kundera is right, ‘For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.’”

“No,” says the cold empath, “Steve Martin is right, ‘Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.’”

Now, imagine these two together in a relationship. It’s like light, and a black hole. Light: the empath, comforting warmth, a giver, a feeler, a healer. The black hole: the narcissist, cold empath, dark cruelty, a taker, a taker, a taker.

An empath and a narcissist together in a relationship is a perfect storm of one-sided woe.

The empath is highly sensitive to others’ suffering, compassionate, intuitive, and has an inherent desire to heal other’s pain.

The cold empath (narcissist), has a cognitive, dictionary understanding of empathy, but no emotional correlation with it, whatsoever. The narcissist is conceptually aware of empathy, but the only connection the narcissist has with empathy is his expertly manufactured pretense of it, in order to manipulate and control his partner.

It is difficult to grasp that a person feels no empathy and has no regard whatsoever for others’ suffering. It is extremely difficult for an empath to grasp and accept this. She truly believes that there is a caring, considerate person underneath all of the pain, and that the narcissist only needs more love, patience, and understanding to draw it out. That the empath believes this, is genuinely noble and compassionate. It is also self-destructive, and is a reason for the empath’s prolonged and intense suffering during, and after the relationship with the narcissist.

All relationships with narcissists are destructive, and involve conflict, confusion, suffering, and abuse. And empaths, because of their natural drive to heal others, are particularly vulnerable to a narcissist’s pretense of empathy, guilt trips, abuse, control, and emotional manipulation. Because of her nature, an empath is likely to remain in a relationship with a narcissist longer than a non-empath would, this magnifies the impact of the toxic abuse, and increases the likelihood of developing C-PTSD.

It is important for empaths to understand that, the devotion they feel to the narcissist is based, to a large degree, on their inner drive to heal and give, and their need to do this in order to feel fulfilled, but that not everyone deserves their unique gifts, and loving compassion.

To help determine whether you are an empath, the following is a list of empath traits, as identified by Judith Orloff, M.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, and author of “An Empath’s Survival Guide”:

1. Highly sensitive
2. Absorb other people’s emotions
3. Highly intuitive
4. Introverted (become overwhelmed in crowds, prefer to limit social engagements)
5. Need alone time to recharge
6. Can be overwhelmed and engulfed in intimate relationships
7. Are targets for energy vampires
8. Are replenished by being in nature
9. Highly tuned senses – excessive noise, talking, smells, activity, can fray nerves
10. Have generous and giving hearts, and can be taken advantage of

Empaths are eternal givers. Narcissists are eternal takers. The empath will give of herself until she literally has nothing left. The narcissist will take until the empath is completely drained, with only wisps, folds, and fragments of herself in a damaged heap on the floor. The narcissist will grind his heel into what remains of the empath. And he will walk away. He will look back at her with contempt, criticize her for not meeting his needs, blame her for failing him, mock her, and move on without a care in the world. He will be a mile away, and he will have her shoes.

But this is not the end of the story. As much as the empath is a giver, she is strong and resilient. It takes an incredible amount of strength to offer the level of compassion and love that an empath offers. All the empath needs to do is take this strength, and give it to herself. It is a transformative opportunity to grow, and develop areas within her that need development: boundaries, and self care, which empowers her to thrive, and share her beautiful and strengths with others, without compromising herself.

*Articles are written with the use of masculine pronouns to describe the narcissist, and feminine pronouns to describe the partner. This is solely due to my own experience, and not meant to imply that men are not also victims of narcissistic abuse, which they are.

Cognitive Dissonance: A Mental Tug Of War

(Read time: 1-2 mins.)

Cognitive dissonance, the state of holding two, or more contradictory thoughts or beliefs simultaneously, is the mental twisting, twirling, tug-of-war that survivors of narcissistic abuse experience during, and after, the relationship with the narcissist. It is very distressing, and can be unrelenting in its torment. Many partners, and ex-partners, say they feel like they are going crazy from the “push-me/pull-you” dynamic running amok in their minds. The good news is, it can be overcome. In order to overcome it successfully it’s important to understand how it develops, and what keeps it going, so it can be stopped.

Read More

Word Salad: Always On The Narcissist’s Menu

(Read time: 1-2 mins.)

“Word salad” is a psychiatric term used to describe words expressed in a random, incoherent order, resulting from a neurological disorder. The words may be grammatically correct, but semantically confused, making it impossible to extract any meaning from them.

The term “word salad” is also used in the narcissistic abuse community to describe a common gaslighting tactic the narcissist uses to frustrate, confuse, and subjugate his partner, such as in the examples below. The narcissist will employ these tactics when he feels he is losing control of his partner, or sometimes out of sheer boredom. Read More

Gaslighting Scrambles Your Brain

(Read time: 1-2 mins)

Gaslighting is the term for an insidious type of psychological abuse that a narcissist uses to gain more control of the partner. This is done through manipulating the partner’s perceptions of reality, and deliberately confusing the partner’s memories of conversations and events. This causes the partner to doubt herself, and her feelings, memories, and experiences. Gaslighting victims often describe feeling like their brains are scrambled eggs. Read More