3 Ways Narcissists Consume Your Cooperation (Which Leads to Your Exploitation)

By Kim Saeed | Narcissism

Jul 21

You live by the Golden Rule, treating others as you’d like to be treated.

You take criticism to heart, reflecting on how your words and actions might affect other people.

You are highly empathic, having the ability to sense the emotions of others and respond instinctively in ways that help those in need.

You have a high level of tolerance, embracing the beliefs, practices, and lifestyles of other people.

One thing is true of victims of Narcissistic abuse.  They are the most caring, thoughtful, helpful people I’ve met.  And if you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you possess these same traits I just described.

If everyone in the world boasted your qualities, we’d live in a Utopia.  But, sadly, the world is full of manipulators who seek out and exploit people with your character profile, especially your toxic partner.

Does this mean you should turn villain, acting with cold-hearted callousness – in other words, take on the character traits of your abusive, manipulative, and exploitative partner?  No.  Believe it or not, there are actually people in the world who would love and respect you for your reputable qualities and morals.  Even more, people who would reciprocate them back to you!

However, regarding narcissists and other manipulators, your friendliness and compassion are like a big, flashing neon sign that says, “Hey!  Over here!  I’m like the Energizer Bunny!  I can take a licking and keep on ticking!  I’ll keep going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going…”

You get the picture.

So, how do you maintain your core values while maintaining your dignity and trust in others at the same time?  It starts with knowing how narcissists think and how they use your very best qualities against you.  This knowledge will help you establish boundaries going forward, and allow you to save your efforts for people who truly deserve them.  Following are the top three accommodating qualities narcissists look for in prospective sources of supply.[1]

Cooperation

Being cooperative is generally a good thing.  It helps us gain respect, excel in the workplace, and form friendships and other relationships that have the potential to be long-lasting.  However, where cooperativeness gets us into trouble is when it turns into unbridled selflessness.

Narcissists look for cooperativeness in partners because they know that they don’t possess this trait at its most basic level, and excessively cooperative partners will put in the work of two people to keep the relationship going, projecting their own desirable traits onto the narcissist, thereby filling in the yawning gaps in order to make the relationship seem more normal.   This high level of cooperativeness is the most significant trait narcissists look for in partners because they intuitively know that such partners will stay in the relationship with them way beyond reasonable limits. [2]

Narcissists test their partner’s level of cooperation by starting out with small boundary violations and, over time, are able to get away with severe relationship crimes while simultaneously keeping their cooperative partner believing there is hope for change and improvement.

Signs of excessive cooperativeness –

  • All of your efforts at cooperation result in outcomes that only benefit your partner
  • Your level of teamwork smooths the cracks that result from your partner’s non-cooperativeness
  • You believe that the more cooperative you are, the more connected it makes you to your toxic partner and that he or she will eventually acknowledge your efforts and appreciate them
  • You consistently compromise your own interests and goals to help your partner achieve theirs

What to do:  If you find yourself making all the compromises and consistently putting your own needs last, it’s possible that you’ve developed pathological altruism (which is very common in dysfunctional relationships) and may need therapy to work on boundaries and empathy-derived guilt issues.[3]

Empathy

Your partner has suffered a string of failed relationships, a terrible childhood, and is always taken advantage of at work (if they even have a job!)  In turn, you stay with them because everyone else has left the Narcissist out in the cold, and you believe your love might one day change them, or at the very least, prompt a divine epiphany where he or she suddenly realizes the pain and suffering they’ve put you through.

You’re always there to lend a sympathetic ear, though they barely stifle a yawn when you attempt to confide in them your own problems.  (Or worse, if your problems involve them, you’re suddenly faced with a hulking brute who’s hell-bent on making you pay for pointing out one of their flaws!)

Ironically, your high levels of empathy trigger you to forgive the narcissist repeatedly because you believe his or her behaviors are derived from causes outside of themselves.  You feel sorry for them down to your core and don’t want to leave the relationship because you feel personally obligated to help them and not abandon them.

Believe it or not, the narcissist doesn’t need your empathy, but instead uses it to maintain power over your emotions and the relationship. The same can be said for your high level of cooperativeness (Brown, S.  2009).

Signs of excessive empathy (or hyper-empathy) –

  • You offer compassion and understanding in the face of your partner’s severe cruelty and abuse, believing that your undying patience will eventually have an effect on them
  • You try to educate your partner on the underlying reasons for their weaknesses, character flaws, and emotional wounds, believing that doing so will help them see the error of their ways – even though they’ve raged at you for doing it before
  • You often wind up helping your partner at the expense of your own needs

What to do:  Excessive empathy can be a sign of an underlying mental or emotional problem and can also increase the risk of substance abuse and other unhealthy behaviors (such as codependency). If you find yourself participating in extreme empathy, talk to a therapist who can help you set boundaries and resolve unhealthy relationship patterns.

Tolerance

Tolerance is defined as the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.

Have you tolerated the following in your relationship:  pathological lying, numerous infidelities, sexual deviancy, financial abuse and manipulation, porn and other addictions, and/or your partner’s long-term unemployment?

Though you never would have thought you’d put up with these behaviors from a romantic partner, the narcissist likely started out with small boundary violations until they were eventually bull-dozing over all of your deal-breakers, while having you tell yourself it isn’t all that bad (much in the same way that they tested your cooperativeness).

As you can see, tolerance can reach pathological levels when you’re in a relationship where all of your values, deal-breakers, and personal ethics are violated on a consistent basis.  The Narcissist’s ability to have you tolerate more and more unbelievable behaviors on their part feeds their sense of entitlement and dominance over you and also perpetuates their power to get you to tolerate even more awful behaviors the next time (Brown, S. 2009).

Signs of excessive tolerance –

  • You’ve stayed with your partner through their long-term affair (and/or numerous affairs)
  • You agree to sexually demeaning acts to “keep your partner happy”, even though it brings about severe self-loathing (this may include threesomes – with your partner asking you to find the sex partner, an ‘open’ relationship, participating in degrading acts you’ve never considered before)
  • You’ve lost hundreds or thousands of dollars to your partner, perhaps even going bankrupt or losing your home due to all the money you’ve given them

What to do:  Make a list of your top five deal-breakers and be willing to walk away from anyone who doesn’t respect them.  This will feel uncomfortably awkward at first, but only by setting personal boundaries and enforcing them will you be party to healthy relationships where you are respected on an individual level.

Remember, cooperativeness, empathy, and tolerance are all good qualities to have, but offering too much can cause you to lose your voice, feel used, and walked over – which in turn can lead to depression, anxiety, and PTSD in the context of pathological relationships.  If your good qualities are filling the cracks of your partner’s scandalous shortfalls, you can decide today that you won’t let them exploit you anymore.  Get yourself into therapy or a CoDa group in your area, work on setting healthy boundaries, and commit to breaking unhealthy relationship patterns so you can live the happy, fulfilled life you deserve.

Copyright © 2015 Kim Saeed. All Rights Reserved

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References

[1] Brown, S. (2009). Women who love psychopaths: Inside the relationships of inevitable harm (2nd ed.). Penrose, N.C.: Mask Publishing.

[2] Brown, S. (2009). About Her. In Women who love psychopaths (2nd ed., p. 131). Penrose, NC: Mask Publishing.

[3] Schreiber, K. (n.d.). Too Much of a Selfless Good Thing: Pathological Altruism. Retrieved July 20, 2015.

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