Can I be blunt for a moment?
75% of the material on the internet about narcissistic behaviors is totally pointless.
It’s mostly rehashed information that’s often inaccurate, biased, and completely useless if you’re truly serious about moving on and healing from narcissistic abuse. Here’s how I know:
Over the past six years, I’ve personally recovered from narcissistic abuse, codependency, and love addiction, performed hundreds of hours of research, bounced ideas off numerous healers and therapists, and worked with several hundred coaching clients from many backgrounds and religions.
I’ve learned firsthand what matters and what doesn’t when it comes to researching narcissistic behaviors and how they influence one’s recovery from this kind of abuse.
And lots of the information out there just doesn’t matter.
In particular, there are three myths about narcissism that really disturb me. If you’re struggling to detach from a toxic relationship or to heal after leaving a narcissist, perhaps you’ve bought into one or more of these myths that, in the end, mean nothing in the big scheme of things.
Here they are:
Sure, it might help to know what kind of manipulator you’ve been in involved with. It’s useful to be able to validate your experiences and finally understand why your partner, friend, or family member behaves the way they do. But, people tend to put far too much focus on “what kind of narcissist” these people might be.
Ultimately, knowing whether a person is overt or covert, somatic or cerebral, altruistic or malignant, etc., might satisfy one’s intellectual curiosity, but continuing to perform painstaking research into the subject and substantiating a person’s behaviors and traits to make sure they fit into a particular category is a waste of time. Why? Because knowing this information does nothing to erase the abuse or to change the outcome of the relationship. After a time, you are re-reading information you already know, which is symptomatic of toxic love addiction or codependency. In other words, it keeps the obsession about the abuse alive in your subconscious mind and deepens the negative neural pathways that formed throughout your past with an abuser. It’s a form of rumination, which makes it harder to develop new thought patterns which will empower and heal you.
What you focus on the most is what influences your day-to-day reality. This partly explains why people who’ve been out of an abusive relationship with a narcissist for years remain stuck in their pain, unable to move forward in any meaningful way.
What matters instead: In place of doing more research into the types and sub-types of narcissism, research ways you can implement healthy boundaries in your relationships and begin forming new, self-loving habits. Believing you can find emotional fulfillment in another person is an illusion. The only path to true happiness begins with learning to stop self-sabotaging behaviors, staying true to your values, and treating yourself like you would someone you care for.
The nature vs. nurture debate has been around for decades. There is definitely scientific value in studying human behavior regarding innate personality traits versus those a person develops due to environmental factors.
It’s important to realize, however, that by the time an individual has matured into an adult, their personality traits have become a near-permanent part of who they are. That’s not to say that a person cannot change and develop more empowering, healthy behaviors. But, for that to happen, they must first become aware that their behaviors are dysfunctional to themselves and to others and then commit to do something about it.
A person who is love-addicted and/or codependent has a good chance of developing healthier behaviors and thought patterns. People with these personality traits are more prone towards self-reflection and the desire to change their lives for the better. They are more likely to visualize a better future for themselves and the people they love and study ways in which they can improve their lives and relationships. The main reason for this is that love addicts and codependents typically possess high levels of empathy. Narcissists do not.
Narcissists, in general, are stuck in a state of arrested development. They care mostly for how they feel in the moment, which explains their erratic behaviors. They generally don’t’ reflect on the future or ways they can improve themselves to be better partners or friends. What they do reflect on is how they can better manipulate people in order to fulfill their selfish agendas. Therefore, whether they were born a narcissist or developed narcissistic traits as a child is mostly irrelevant.
What matters instead: To determine whether a person was born with narcissistic traits or developed them as a young child, we’d need access to brain scans and life-long, scientific data that’s been gathered over a person’s lifetime. Since these are generally not available to us, we are pressed to base our decisions on who the person is before us today. The person they are today is someone whom has been abusing and manipulating people for years. We must look at how the relationship is affecting us (and our children) and decide if it’s worth it to continue despite the psychological damage its doing to us, our children, and any other family members involved.
The old paradigm of “toughing it out” or “staying together for the children’s sake” is no longer useful to us as individuals, families, or as a global community. Part of the reason we have so many problems with depression, narcissism, codependency, and dysfunction is because the generations before us held these convictions, regardless of whether it was the right thing to do. That’s not to say we should abandon people who truly need our help, but when it comes to relationships with narcissists, it’s crucial to be cognizant of the fact that these individuals will take your help, give none in return (unless it will benefit them), and likely destroy the lives of you and your children if you remain in the relationship. Is that a risk you’re willing to take? And if so, why? These are the questions that should be analyzed instead of how a person became narcissistic.
The search terms, Am I With a Narcissist, are among the most popular in the area of narcissism. It’s also one of the most common questions I am asked by clients and followers. And with good reason, by the time one starts researching why a partner or other loved one is so cruel, they’ve experienced abuse and manipulation that has begun to affect their life in a negative way.
Where one gets stuck, however, is believing it’s absolutely necessary to label someone a narcissist, which is only possible by having the person in question take a battery of psychological assessments. Even then, if faced with the certainty that a partner or loved one is a narcissist, most people won’t leave the relationship right away, or even at all. I can relate because I was involved with a narcissistic individual for over eight years. Of course, I didn’t know about narcissism back then. What I did recognize was that I tolerated:
…and many other forms of abuse that we now know are carried out by individuals with narcissistic traits.
Like many other targets of emotional abuse, I researched all the possible reasons my Ex behaved the way he did. I tried to find ways I could reach his “wounded inner child” and dedicated myself to being submissive and forgiving. I allowed him to do whatever he wanted and tolerated weekly silent treatments.
In other words, I engaged in all the self-sabotaging, self-defeating behaviors of which I’ve since learned are indicative of love addiction and codependency. Therefore, it didn’t matter whether my Ex was a narcissist or not.
What matters instead: What I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter whether we can label someone a narcissist. What matters is why we stay in relationships with individuals who strive to destroy our self-esteem…who lie, cheat, smear our character to anyone who will listen, pull the rug out from under our feet on a regular basis. We need to reflect on why we permit someone to trample our boundaries and break our deal-breakers, normalizing the abuse to the extent that when we explain our experiences to someone else, the words coming out of our mouths sound foreign to us because we can hardly believe we’ve tolerated such mistreatment.
Ultimately, our misery and our happiness come from within. If we find ourselves in relationships with abusers, liars, and cheaters, it’s not our job to change them. Our job is to change the beliefs we have about ourselves and about life that have caused us to tolerate such a situation. Our job is to leave so we can heal our wounded belief systems, become the best version of ourselves, and live the lives we deserve.
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Kim Saeed is a narcissistic abuse recovery expert on a mission to help abuse survivors to heal, find purpose, and live joyfully after No Contact. She also hosts a podcast called Heal, Grow, Evolve, where she aims to help people create meaningful lives and relationships after emotional abuse. Listen and subscribe at www.healgrowevolvewithkim.com