Skip to main content

Narcissistic Relationships: Asking How, Not Why

The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.


It's a very common thing for people entangled with narcissistic loved ones to ask why. Why is this happening? Why are they treating me like this? Why am I not good enough for this person? These are totally understandable questions, but they come from a misunderstanding of the situation. In many ways, they miss the point of what we can learn from this situation.

There are answers to the question of why—some complex and some convoluted. The simplest answer is because that's the way it is. Many times, people have trouble accepting that answer. It's painful and worse, it implies that there is nothing they can do about it. But these "why" questions generally apply to the behavior or feelings of another person, and in that context, there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot control another person. You can't make them do, think or feel anything. All you can control is how you behave, how you think, and how you react to situations and your own feelings.

You Can't Change How Someone Acts

A big part of understanding the why when it comes to other people is accepting exactly that: that there is nothing you can do to change how someone else acts, thinks or feels. Because of this, though it feels more natural to ask why, it is more productive to ask how. How did I become ensnared in this situation? How is it that I have stayed in it this long? How can I break this hold that the situation has one me? How can I break my addiction to the drama cycle?

This puts the focus on something that you actually can do something about. It's good to understand why the narcissist or toxic people behave the way they do—necessary, even—but it's more important to understand how you got into the situation. That way, you can change what you need to change so that it doesn't happen anymore. It would be great if the pathologically narcissistic person would change, but that doesn't seem like it's happening so now it's time to ask the harder questions.

Understand Yourself Before Trying to Understand Others

For some people, you may have been born into the relationship. Maybe the narcissist is your parent or a sibling or another relative. For others, maybe you're in a romantic relationship or a friendship. No matter what the relationship, it's essential to understand the motives behind your own decision making so that you can understand how the situation came to be. It's definitely true that narcissistic people are generally toxic. They are often abusive, callous and cruel. They can be selfish, self-absorbed, and manipulative. There comes a point where the victim realizes this. The question is, how did they come to a point where that behavior is acceptable from someone in their lives? And how do they change it?

These are difficult questions with even more difficult answers. Intellectually, it's not complicated at all. The solution is simple, right? Just figure out what it is that's the problem and don't do that anymore. But of course, emotionally, it's more complicated than that. Generally, there are unresolved issues, and then there are the patterns and habits that formed because of these issues, often going back decades that need to be identified and overcome. This sounds daunting, but identifying that you hold part of the issue is more than half the battle. Once a person can stop focusing on the other person and start looking at themselves, that is where healing and change truly start, and where the real work can begin. This is why narcissists have so much trouble changing or progressing in their lives. They are virtually unable to do these things.

You Deserve Your Own Attention

If there is a blessing or a good aspect of dealing with toxic people, it's that they show you the parts of yourself that you need to heal. These are things you may never have realized before you met them or before you went through everything you have now gone through. Some of you listening may still not have entirely connected the dots between the situation you are in now and things that happened when you were a child, or subconscious beliefs you hold about yourself, or whatever the unresolved issue is. The realization will come if you allow it, and when it does, it may be painful but it's necessary in order for things to get better. You will experience less pain in the long run if you can accept reality now and give up the fantasies you hold about the relationship.

It's always easier to see the other person's problem, and narcissists have so many blatant issues that in some ways, it's almost impossible NOT to focus on them. But you deserve that same focus and you deserve the same care and attention you are giving to the narcissist's problems. It may be that inside, you are scared to confront your own issues. If that's true, you're not alone! This is something that many people simply don't have the courage to do. Maybe you are subconsciously avoiding your unresolved issues by focusing on another person instead. Maybe you are trying to validate yourself and prove your worthiness by "fixing" someone else. The truth is, we are none of us perfect, and until people are willing to look at what our own issues may be, they cannot create any real and lasting change.

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.