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“But… he was so kind, thoughtful, and attentive. What happened?”
“I’m really confused as to why he’s behaving this way.”
“I mean, I know he loves me, so there must be something true about what he’s saying, right?”
When a person is facing high narcissistic traits in their partner, these are some thoughts that might creep into their mind. They may be wondering if they are really the problem, if they are just crazy or being irrational, or if they are just overreacting. They introspect, they try their best to love the narcissist, and they try to examine themselves in order to change. If you remember from last week’s blog post, narcissistic people are drawn to the most kind, generous, compassionate, and gracious partners. An interesting pairing, right?
That’s because a person with high narcissistic traits wants a spouse that will make them look good. Someone who is genuine, thoughtful, or even highly competent. All of these positive traits serve one main purpose for the narcissist: they make the narcissistic person look good. And when the core motivation for narcissism is shame, feeling good about themselves the best way to mask this shame.
So, what do you do if you find yourself married to a narcissist – a person who praises you in public, yet criticizes you in private? Who only cares about their own image, and who tears you down (overtly or covertly) to build themselves up? Who has a unique way of causing you to doubt yourself?
You tap into a little bit of that healthy narcissism in yourself.
Now, I’m not telling you not to care about others or to become selfish. I’m simply asking you to care about yourself at least as much as you care about your loved ones. When you begin to care for your own needs, you will begin to see your marriage with open eyes and a clear mind.
Here’s the step-by-step scoop on how to tap into that healthy self-awareness – an awareness that will set you free from narcissistic manipulation. You (yes, you) are completely capable of relational and marital healing. You just need the next steps to take.
Firstly, seek support. You can look for what I call “reality checks” by talking to a professional or to people who know you well.
Not just any support will do. In order to see the situation clearly, you may need an objective opinion from someone outside your family or friend group. Often, your family or peers may view the situation with an emotionality that can be unhelpful. They may either refuse to recognize your partner’s manipulation, believing the lies, or they may be too sympathetic or confused to offer objective insight.
When you find at least one honest, unbiased support person, you can ask them about what problems in the marriage are caused mainly by you and what problems are caused mainly by your partner.
Secondly, you make the time and get the space to self-reflect.
By “self-reflect,” I don’t just mean journaling the story of how your marriage has progressed (although this may be helpful for some). I mean making a point to look at your marital situation as objectively as possible. Imagine that you’re watching the interactions between you and your partner as if you’re watching a play on a stage.
Initially, this step may require physically getting some space from the narcissistic person. You may find that you need to spend a night in a quiet hotel room, an afternoon in a peaceful park, or even a morning in your kitchen to stop and reflect.
Write down incidents and facts. Take an honest look at your life and marriage as if you’re looking at them from the outside. If you feel overwhelmed with emotions, take a break; go for a walk, or even have a good cry. Then, come back to the facts.
Thirdly, begin taking responsibility.
Once you’ve clarified the facts of your situation, you will be able to identify your part in the marriage. Most likely, you will discover that you’ve either been taking too much responsibility for marital problems or not enough responsibility for them. Consult your support person/people during this step in order to clearly delineate what elements of the relationship are your responsibility.
This is when the popularized, yet often elusive idea of “boundaries” applies best. You will be supported in drawing your “property lines” appropriately so that you are able to care for what you are accountable for – and in doing this, you’ll find that you begin to care for yourself and your needs.
In taking appropriate responsibility, there’s freedom! Once you focus on what you’re responsible for, you can stand strong, confidence, and humility. You won’t lose that kindness, compassion, and integrity that you had. In fact, instead of killing these qualities, you will learn to nurture them.
Fourthly, determine your needs.
What do you need in order to be your best in your marriage?
What dynamic do you need in your home?
What convictions do you need to honor?
How might your expectations need to change?
Which of your strengths do you need to give yourself more credit for?
Then, fifthly and lastly, rest into your identity. Tap into your conscience and do not let circumstances sway your convictions. Sink deeply into truth and into who God created you to be. Promise yourself that you will make decisions according to your lasting identity – not your fleeting emotions or the hurtful actions of others.
Right now, you may not even know who you are. But know this… at your core, you are valuable, capable, and worthy of respect. Lean into God, and as you do so, lean into life.
Remember, even during this step, you’ll need intentional support. It’s impossible to see clearly on our own. We need the companionship and wisdom of people who can look at our lives impartially and reveal to us what we might be missing.
That’s where I’d love to help you through this process of healing. I’d love to offer my support as you self-reflect, take responsibility, determine your needs, and rest in who you are.
You no longer have to be a victim of narcissistic abuse. With the help you need, personal victory and a life you love are both within your reach.
Allow me to walk alongside you as you grow humbly in your strength.