Dealing with narcissism is challenging. In this article, we’ll explore the 4 fundamental steps to resolving pain and hurt that result from being in relationships with narcissists.
Narcissism is born out of a natural instinct to feel safe
To some extent, we’re all a little bit narcissistic. Some of us more than others. It’s in our nature – at least until we’ve transcended fear – to want to feel safe and to protect ourselves from perceived harm. That instinctual tendency triggers us into looking at the world through our lens, i.e. the lens of ‘am I safe or not?’ Unsurprisingly, the more unsafe people tend to feel, the more narcissistic they become.
When we don’t feel safe, it’s quite natural that our instinct would be to tend to ourselves and make sure that we are ok. This self-centered, survivalistic tendency does not in any way preclude us from being in relationships with others, though it does come in the way of enjoying more loving and fulfilling relationships.
Narcissists enjoy being the center of social interactions
Most narcissists actually enjoy having many people around them, who approve of them or even adulate them, as this gives them the illusion of being safer. What that means is that when assessing relationships, the primary objective of a narcissist is her or his own self.
Interestingly enough, and not surprisingly, most narcissists are not aware that they are narcissists. They are often too self-absorbed to notice how they relate and interact with others. At a subconscious level, it would feel very unsafe for them to realize and recognize that they are narcissists, as this could potentially lead to their own self-judgment and abandonment, or judgment and abandonment by others.
Judgment and generalization create feelings of victimhood and disempowerment
When people think about narcissists, they tend to generalize and to be quite judgmental. Understandably so, they may have experienced much pain and suffering in their relationships with narcissists. When picturing a narcissist, most people usually see someone who’s selfish, self-centered, self-assured, overly confident, bad, wrong, verbally or/ and emotionally abusive, or both, consumed with the idea of how good they are compared to others and someone who has no time, energy, respect, attention, or love for anybody other than themselves.
When you think about your narcissistic partner or a narcissistic parent or boss, maybe you think about all the love they haven’t given you, their lack of respect towards you, all the attention and care they’ve kept from you, and all the ways in which you’ve felt victimized by their words and self-centered behavior. You may then look at them as ‘perpetrators’ and the cause of your negative thoughts, feelings, emotions, reactions to them, and things that have not quite unfolded the way you had preferred them to.
If you’ve felt hurt and disempowered for a long time in your relationship with them, you may even feel hatred towards them in some part of you, conscious, subconscious, or both. That’s totally normal.
Narcissism is often misunderstood as a state of empowerment, which it isn’t
If you dig into your childhood memories, you may recognize references to famous narcissists who were known for their cruelty and self-centeredness. Remember the ‘Evil Queen’ looking at herself in the magic mirror as she cold-heartedly planned how she would get rid of Snow White and reclaim her title as most beautiful woman in the kingdom?
That doesn’t mean that she was happy, at peace, content, personally empowered, or important. Quite the contrary.
A narcissist can be very driven in their process of proclaiming themselves the ‘most important person’ there is, not because they are, but simply because they don’t truly feel that it’s true. How interesting is that those of us who feel the most shame, guilt, self-hatred and lack self-confidence end up looking like the most obnoxious and self-assured!
How being in relationships with narcissists can affect us
If you’ve lived, or currently live, with a narcissist, or interact with a multitude of narcissists in your daily life, you may have noticed that (1) they come first, (2) they come first, and (3) they come first. Of course, that’s not in any way, shape, or form, a criticism, it’s simply an observation of a subconscious emotional dynamics that most narcissists are not even aware of.
That said, if you’re on the receiving end, i.e. living or interacting with narcissists, it can still feel like you ‘always’ come second, or last. Over time, this feeling can become very challenging and lead to a lot of unresolved feelings and emotions in regards to feeling invalidated or unappreciated in these relationships.
For instance, you may struggle with feelings of anger, resentment, sadness, despair, depression, loneliness, rejection, abandonment, low self-esteem, not being good enough, not being important, not being heard, not being acknowledged or validated emotionally, or even not being loved.
The 4 fundamental steps to healing from exposure to narcissism
In order to help you resolve these disempowering feelings and emotions, heal the relationships. and achieve the results that you want in your relationships, here are 4 fundamental steps you can take:
1- discover the underlying emotions that bring about narcissism
Narcissism is the costume that narcissists wear over their pain. It’s the personality they’ve created in an attempt to stay as far away from their pain as they possibly can. And for the most part, they are not even conscious that that’s actually what’s driving their self-absorbed behavior. They want to believe in the stories they tell themselves and others. It feels better this way. But does it really?
The pain and negative emotions narcissists feel are so intense that they feel safer burying them deep down into their subconscious mind. There, it remains until they can one day, eventually, muster the courage, intentionality, motivation, and strength to deal with it. Sometimes, for some of them, that day never comes. Deep down in those subconscious layers, there’s so much pain, self-judgment, shame, guilt, self-punishment, and self-hatred that they’d rather not look at any of it.
Through these new understandings, can you see how what you’ve looking at from the outside is much different than what’s actually going on on the inside? Understanding what’s really going on is key if you want to resolve your own emotions and start healing your relationships with narcissists and narcissism itself.
2- stop reacting in disempowering ways to others’ narcissistic tendencies
If you can start responding instead of reacting to others’ narcissistic tendencies, your experience of narcissism will shift permanently. If you react emotionally to your pain when someone speaks or acts in what feels like a self-centered, unkind, unsupportive, disrespectful, uncaring, or unloving manner, you are now taking an active role in the distorted dynamics that play out in those relationships.
In order to respond instead of reacting to others’ narcissistic tendencies, it’s important to first be willing to completely release any and all judgments that you may have of their narcissism. Of course, this is often easier said than done, at least until you get to a point of complete understanding that you can never be a victim to narcissism.
In times of challenge, where you feel judgment and reactivity building up, remember that judgment will not help you accurately and comprehensively assess what’s going on. Judgment always comes in the way of our understanding and thus disempowers us in our attempt to resolve any challenging situation we find ourselves in. How can you resolve something you don’t fully understand?
Once you’ve released your judgment, and gain greater understanding, next, it’s useful to subtract your emotional reaction from your response. This is usually greatly facilitated by having released the judgment.
If the words or behaviors of narcissists trigger your feelings of not being good enough, important enough, deserving of love, smart enough, being rejected, or abandoned, then you have just gained the opportunity to heal those parts of yourself that are in pain. By resolving those feelings within yourself, you can no longer be triggered in them.
Once you’ve done that, now you’ve gained the capacity to respond to any narcissist without resonating with what they say or do as if it was a reflection of you, who you truly are, and your worth. It can never be.
Nothing anybody says or does ever really has to do with you. It has to do with their pain. It has to do with their mind. It has to do with the way they see the world, and their interpretations of you in the context of their beliefs, fears, and limited understandings.
When you subtract your pain and their pain from the equation, now you have the capacity to respond in a way that’s going to help everybody involved heal instead of getting caught up in the cycle of victim-perpetrator roles and scenarios. When you stop feeling victimized by others’ narcissistic tendencies, you can start focusing on taking accountability for your pain and resolving the parts of you that feel pain.
3- start taking care of yourself so that you start feeling better immediately
How much time, energy, intention do you put towards taking care of yourself, and healing your pain, so that you can start feeling better right away?
When you stop focusing on the narcissistic tendencies of others as the root cause of your pain, you can now look at your own pain, understand where it stems from, and permanently resolve it using tools, methods, and processes that will bring about the results that you’re looking for.
You now have the capacity to feel loved, safe, good enough, validated, empowered, valuable, worthy, and deserving, regardless of others’ words, habits, beliefs, and behaviors. You can now cultivate loving and kind thoughts, speak words of love and compassion, enjoy feelings of well-being and wholeness, and act with love, kindness, acceptance, and compassion for yourself.
When you do that, you start to feel more and more love and acceptance towards yourself and, through positive reinforcement, you gain the capacity to focus your intentions towards doing things that will further reinforce your self-love and self-acceptance.
As a result of this inner focus and self-healing, you are able to release the feelings of anger, resentment, sadness, despair, depression, loneliness, rejection, abandonment, low self-esteem, not being good enough, not being important, not being heard, not being acknowledged or validated emotionally, or always being put last that were dragging you down, taking up your energy, joy, inner peace, and bandwidth, and leading you to react negatively to narcissists.
4- start enhancing your relationships with narcissists
Have you ever asked yourself how you could make your relationships with narcissists better than they’ve ever been, and how you could transcend the pain and hurt that has transpired in those relationships?
As you become aware that your emotional state is not a result of your others’ narcissistic tendencies, you are empowered to resolve all your negative emotions at the root and support those who also hurt on their journey to do the same.
Over time, with a lot of care, love, patience, understanding, consciousness, and support, your relationships with narcissists can completely transform and blossom into the love, care, mutual respect, and connection that you’ve been wanting to share with them all along.