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Narcissistic Relationships: Was It Ever Real?

I am a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders who has worked with people with disabilities and mental illnesses for over 10 years.

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When someone finds out their loved one could be pathologically narcissistic, it is often very shocking. The information out there about narcissistic people is not hopeful. Much of it is hurtful and even hateful. They are referred to as evil, despicable, horrible, and, most of all, fake. When you research this topic, you may hear over and over again that a narcissist does not love you, does not know you, and is a fraud. You might even hear that you don't really know the narcissistic person. Some people may know this already in their hearts, but to hear it said out loud or to read it can still be a shock. Others are not ready to hear it, and it can be extremely upsetting.

That's understandable. When you love someone, when you have poured your heart and soul and energy into a situation, when you have done everything you possibly can, when you are desperately searching for a way to fix the situation and you hear that, it can be devastating. It can also profoundly affect how you feel about yourself and about the time that you feel you've wasted on this person. Many people become very angry at themselves or feel bad about themselves because of it. They often ask, "Was any of it real?"

Their Narcissism Has Nothing to Do With You

However true it may be that pathologically narcissistic people are not capable of what most would consider truly loving others, it's important to remember that this has nothing to do with you. The narcissist's ability - or lack thereof - to recognize or genuinely feel love has nothing to do with yours. The narcissistic person's inability to be their authentic self has nothing to do with you, either. It doesn't matter whether it was real to them or not. It was real to you. Your emotions are real. The relationship was real to you. That is what matters.

Dealing with the shock and trauma of these revelations can be very difficult and it's very common for people to feel tricked. They may feel duped, fooled. They may doubt their own emotions, their judgment, their value, they may even doubt their own perception of reality. This is understandable, but it's also not necessary. The only thing that was fake was the narcissistic person. Your feelings, your commitment, your plans, your part in the relationship were all real. Because of that, these things must be considered. The relationship must be grieved, just like any other relationship. It must be processed and dealt with, just like any other relationship. Perhaps even more so, as it's likely that people have given more in a narcissistic relationship than they did in others. They often have fantasies or hopes for the relationship that may also need to be grieved. And that's OK. It really is. Judging yourself harshly for believing in what was later revealed to be something other than what it appeared is not helpful. You wouldn't judge a friend like that, so don't do it to yourself.

Your Feelings Matter

Many people get stuck in a trap of berating themselves for their feelings. They say things like, "How could I not know? Why am I grieving over a relationship that was not real? Why am I so stupid? Why do I care about someone who never cared about me?" The answer to all of these questions is: you're human. Yes, it's often true that those become entangled in relationships with narcissistic people or can't break free from narcissistic family members have issues of their own, but everybody has issues. That's what makes people human, and it has nothing to do with intelligence. Nobody's perfect. So give yourself a break. Don't punish yourself for not knowing the lesson before you even learned it. That's silly, and it's unfair to yourself. Now that you do know, you can make better decisions.

That's important. Remember, a person can only claim ignorance once. After that, they know better. It's like that old saying: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." If a person continues to make the same decisions after they know better, they would do well to look within themselves and try to understand why they are doing that. That's the only way to change things because waiting around for people who have abused or taken advantage of you to suddenly wake up and decide it's wrong to do that is probably not going to work out. You have to decide when enough is enough. No one else is going to do it for you.

It may not seem fair and it may not seem right, but this is what it is. In a perfect world, nobody would hurt another person on purpose, and if they did, they would stop as soon as someone asks them to. But this is not a perfect world. Sometimes people are toxic and that's just how they are. They probably aren't going to change. Maybe some of them can't change. But everyone's feelings are their own responsibility, as is their well-being, so if something is hurtful or damaging, it is up to them to protect themselves from it. This often involves ending any association with the toxic or abusive person. That may be the healthiest response to the situation. However, don't make the mistake of discounting your emotions, your worth or the relationship as a whole just because for whatever reason, someone else didn't invest in it the way you did. It was important to you. It mattered to you. It was real to you. Your feelings - and you - matter. You can honor yourself - and therefore care for yourself - by honoring that.

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.

© 2018 The Little Shaman

Comments

Sasha on September 12, 2019:

I have found information on the trauma bond that occurs between a narcissist and his or her partner to be instrumental in my healing and recovery. It is a very real chemical dependency that forms in the brain of the victim when inconsistencies in affection, withdrawal and punishment from the narcissist pervade the relationship. It is distinct from codependency issues (which also need addressing) and needs to be understood in order to break that bond.

steve on February 24, 2019:

Aye, I've found all your articles on narcissm helpful, but this one in particular has been a balm to my soul. It is so necessary to forgive oneself for loving an illusion. Thank you so much...

Denise on February 07, 2019:

thank you thank you