8 things that can keep you trapped in a relationship with a narcissist
It’s hard to walk away from a relationship you’ve put time and effort into. Sometimes it’s right to fight for your partner, while other times it’s best for you both to walk away.
But when it comes to dangerous, toxic people, it’s even more difficult to know what to do. Narcissists — people with a grandiose sense of entitlement — are particularly damaging to be in a relationship with. They spin lies to keep you hooked, while they simultaneously chip away at your self-esteem.
There are certain red flags to look out for in a relationship, or on a first date, that indicate you could be dating a narcissist. If your partner happens to be one, continuing the relationship is going to be hard work— but not impossible.
If you do decide to leave, there are still a number of things that could keep you stuck in the toxic cycle. Here are seven of them to be aware of.
1. Love bombing
Manipulative people, like narcissists, can hook their victims in with a tactic called “love bombing.” It’s the stage of the relationship where they identify their target, then make them feel like the most special person in the world by showering them with compliments, affection, and gifts. At the time, the victim is likely to feel like the luckiest person alive, and believe they have found true love.
But the manipulator’s intentions are not pure. Love bombing is simply reinforcement, where the abuser showers the victim with love if the victim acts how they want. If the victim doesn’t, then the manipulator withdraws and becomes a new person — like Jekyll and Hyde. They withdraw all their kindness and instead punish the victim with whatever they feel is appropriate — shouting, giving them the silent treatment, or even physically abusing them.
Love bombing is a smart tactic because the victim believes the affectionate, caring partner is the real one, and they blame themselves for bringing out the monster in front of them. This keeps victims trapped because they bend over backwards trying to get their loving partner back — but nothing they do will ever be enough.
According to psychologist Perpetua Neo, gratitude can keep some people stuck in abusive relationships with narcissists, because nobody is 100% bad all the time.
“You can always find evidence of your partner being good, that’s the whole point,” she told INSIDER. “That is the way in which they operate so that you will always have selective evidence.”
Narcissists expect any tiny, piecemeal changes they make to be applauded, and their mistakes ignored. But if their victims ever slip up, it’s blown way out of proportion. But they are incredibly convincing.
“They will always use that to hold you hostage,” Neo said. “In this sense you have to be really honest with yourself.”
3. You’re an empath
This is especially hard for people with high levels of empathy, Neo said, who are often targets for narcissists.
“People with high levels of empathy, people who over-give, people who are fixers, they tend to be in such relationships,” she said. “They will over-inflate the gratitude and will underplay how much they are suffering.”
Narcissists and highly empathetic people, like empaths, make a toxic partnership because the empath will want to fix the pain in the narcissist. Empaths have a lot of compassion and understanding to give, while narcissists thrive on someone worshipping them.
But while the empath gives and gives, the narcissist takes and takes, which is incredibly emotionally exhausting.
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