How Narcissistic Relationships Can Change You
It's not uncommon for people in narcissistic environments or relationships of any kind to feel that they are different than they were when the relationship first began, or - if the relationship is family - to feel that they were prevented from being the person they could have been.
Narcissistic Abuse Is Stressful
Narcissistic abuse creates a huge amount of stress in someone's life. Pathologically narcissistic people are never satisfied. They are never happy and they often intentionally hurt others. The victim is left with the idea that nothing they do is ever good enough, that they must be perfect in order to be of any value. People who are subjected to narcissistic abuse are continuously required to push their own feelings, needs and wants aside. They are told that it is wrong to have these things, that they are selfish, cruel and abusive just for being human. Self-esteem and self-worth suffer immensely in a narcissistic environment precisely because nobody is allowed to just be a human being. There are no mistakes allowed in life with a narcissist. There are no flaws allowed and absolutely no failures of any kind. These things are severely punished. Not only will your own failures be held against you, but so will the failures of the narcissist. This results in a situation where people are repeatedly savaged and punished for no reason, which creates not just anxiety and fear but huge amounts of anger.
Many Narcissistic People Were Abused Themselves
A narcissistic environment can also become a situation where one person is scapegoated for the failures of all the people in the entire group. This is not uncommon at all in families or work environments, and it is caused by a narcissistic defense mechanism called splitting. For example, one person in the family - often a child - is chosen to carry and be responsible for all of the negative qualities of the entire family and is mistreated continuously.
Most narcissists are themselves victims of narcissistic abuse and/or emotional neglect. We can simply look to them to see the wreckage and damage created by narcissistic abuse. It creates a person who feels unloved, invalidated, invisible and very, very angry. They know they have been cheated and they want revenge. They want what they believe they are due. The difference is that narcissists take this anger and entitlement out on the entire world at large because they have no way to separate themselves from it and no perspective regarding their own feelings. For narcissists, their own feelings are the only thing that matters. People who are not narcissistic may still feel unloved, invalidated and angry, but they also understand that everyone in the world did not hurt them and is not deserving of abuse. They are still able to love and care for others. They are still able to understand the feelings and situations of others and keep their own feelings in perspective.
If the Relationship Changed You, It Doesn't Have to Be Permanent
Narcissistic abuse can result in feeling anxious or panicky, hypervigilant and distrustful. It can cause irritability, a general feeling of tension or fear, even insomnia or nightmares. Some people might find themselves emotionally burned out and unable to get close to others. They can feel stuck and unable to move forward or make decisions. They may find themselves inordinately focused on themselves, preoccupied with their own feelings or needs and otherwise exhibiting narcissistic tendencies or traits because again, narcissism is a defense mechanism. It is also not uncommon for those who have been exposed to narcissistic abuse for long periods of time to be diagnosed with PTSD.
These things can change a person. However, the good news is that it doesn't have to stay that way. Unlike pathologically narcissistic people, those who do not have personality disorders are able to see that there has been a change in the way they see things, and in their own behavior. People with personality disorders or very high levels of narcissism are of course unable to see a change in themselves because there has been no change. This is how they've always been. Those who are more emotionally developed and mature than narcissists are able to recognize the issue. They have a goal, a "normal" that they can focus on returning to. For narcissists, being broken, hostile, distrustful and paranoid is their normal.
You Can, and Will, Heal
This is why changing narcissistic behaviors or perceptions is much easier in people who are not pathologically narcissistic. They are whole, therefore they can heal. Pathologically narcissistic people are not whole. They are shattered personas walking around doing everything they can to get other people to fulfill their needs because they can't do it themselves. This is the key to recovering from narcissistic abuse, or anything else: recognizing that you can take care of your own needs and solve your own problems. You can sustain yourself. You don't have to wait around for someone to care enough to do it for you. The only other thing you need besides this knowledge is time.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.