One of the most difficult things to understand in life is how someone who professes to love you can then go on to abuse you. Many people feel traumatized and confused after a romantic relationship with an abusive Narcissistic partner ends. They wonder: “We were so in love, yet he went from telling me that I was the love of his life to treating me like garbage. He cheated on me. He devalued me. He embarrassed me in front of our friends. How can I trust anyone again, if I so badly misjudged this person?”
If you have ever been abused by a Narcissistic mate or lover and now are out of the relationship, you may be wondering how you could have made such a big mistake—and how you can avoid doing it again in the future.
The good news is that most people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are very predictable. They tend to follow the same relationship pattern over and over again. And, unlike common perceptions about Narcissists, most are not very devious. Narcissists are continually signaling that they are Narcissists. You can learn to recognize the early signs that the new love of your life is a Narcissist by paying close attention to how they behave towards you in each stage of the relationship. Then it is up to you to decide if you want to continue the relationship. Here are some of the basics that you need to know:
Why Are Narcissists Prone to Being Abusive?
When people have a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, two things interact to predispose them to be abusive:
They are low on emotional empathy.
Emotional empathy is the capacity to feel what another person is feeling (or what you imagine that the person is feeling). Having emotional empathy decreases the likelihood that you will want to hurt other people because you will literally feel some of their pain. Without emotional empathy, you have less motivation to pay attention to the pain that your words and actions are causing your partner.
Narcissists can have “intellectual empathy” without also having emotional empathy. Intellectual empathy is the ability to cognitively understand that you are causing the other person pain. Intellectual empathy requires that you stop and think about what the other person might feel in response to your actions. Narcissists, therefore, can understand that they may be causing you pain, but they have less motivation to care because they are not feeling anything negative themselves.
They lack “whole object relations” and “object constancy.”
One of the main reasons that people abuse others that they profess to love is that they lack “whole object relations” and “object constancy.” Briefly defined: “Whole object relations is the capacity to see oneself and other people in an integrated and realistic way as having a mix of good and bad qualities, some that you like and others that you dislike. If you have “whole object relations” you can accept that someone is not perfect and still value the person for the good qualities that he or she has.
“Object constancy” is the ability to maintain your positive emotional connection to someone that you care about while you are feeling angry, frustrated, disappointed, or hurt by the person. Having “object constancy’ helps you rein in your impulses to hurt someone during a fight. Not having “object constancy” makes people more likely to be willing to emotionally and physically damage their mate.
NOTE: Not all people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are equally abusive. Narcissists range from those who put you on a pedestal and then verbally devalue you when they realize you are not the perfect being that they expected you to be, to people who physically abuse their mates and try and control their every move—who they see, what they spend money on, how often they speak to their family.
The Three Stages of the Narcissistic Relationship Abuse Pattern
Although there are Narcissists who are “players” and not looking for a serious long-term relationship, many people with Narcissistic disorders do want to settle down and get married. Unfortunately because they lack whole object relations, they tend to be extremely unrealistic about what they expect in a mate. They have only two categories, perfect and flawed.
Perfect = You are pleasing me right now.
Flawed = You are doing something that I do not like right now.
As a result, instead of finding the perfect relationship that they crave, Narcissists end up repeating what I think of as “The Narcissist Relationship Abuse Pattern” over and over again. Each relationship stage has its own form of Narcissistic abuse that you can learn to spot. Below are the three basic stages, the type of Narcissistic abuse typical of that stage, and the behaviors that predict the abuse…