Relationships with Abusive Narcissists 'Part I
What kind of a spouse/mate/partner is likely to be attracted to a Narcissist?
On the face of it, there is no (emotional) partner or mate, who typically "binds" with a narcissist. They come in all shapes and sizes.
The initial phases of attraction, infatuation and falling in love are pretty normal.
The narcissist puts on his best face 'the other party is blinded by budding love. A natural selection process occurs only much later, as the
relationship develops and is put to the test.
Living with a narcissist can be exhilarating, is always onerous, often harrowing. Surviving a relationship with a narcissist indicates, therefore, the parameters of the personality of the survivor. She (or, more rarely, he) is moulded by the relationship into The Typical Narcissistic Mate/Partner/Spouse.
First and foremost, the narcissist's partner must have a deficient or a distorted grasp of his self and of reality. Otherwise, she (or he) is bound to abandon the narcissist's grip early on. The cognitive distortion is likely to consist of a belittling and demeaning of the partner 'while aggrandising and adoring the narcissist. The partner is, thus, placing himself in the position of the eternal victim:
undeserving, punishable, a scapegoat. Sometimes, it is very important to the partner to appear moral, sacrificial and victimised. At other times, she is not even aware of his predicament. The narcissist is perceived by the partner to be a person in the position to demand these sacrifices from the partner, superior in many ways (intellectually, emotionally, morally, financially).
The status of professional victim sits well with the partner's tendency to punish his self, namely: with his masochistic streak. The torment, which is life with a narcissist is, as far as the partner is aware, a just punitive measure.
In this respect, the partner is the mirror image of the narcissist. By maintaining a symbiotic relationship with him, by being totally dependent upon the source of masochistic supply (which the narcissist most reliably constitutes and most amply provides) 'the partner enhances certain traits and encourages certain behaviours, which are at the very core of narcissism.
The narcissist is never whole without an adoring, submissive, available, self-denigrating partner. His very sense of superiority, indeed his False Self, depends on it. His sadistic Superego switches its attentions from the Narcissist (in whom it often provokes suicidal ideation) to the partner, thus finally obtaining an alternative source of sadistic satisfaction.
It is through self-denial that the partner survives. She denies her wishes, hopes, dreams, aspirations, sexual needs, psychological needs, material needs, and much else besides. She perceives her needs as threatening because they might engender the wrath of the narcissist's God-like supreme figure.
The narcissist is rendered even more superior through and because of this self-denial. Self-denial undertaken to facilitate and ease the life of a Great Man is more palatable. The Greater the Man (=the narcissist), the easier it is for the partner to ignore her own self, to dwindle, to degenerate, to turn into an appendix of the narcissist and, finally, to become nothing but an extension, to merge with the narcissist to the point of oblivion and of dim memories of one's self.
The two collaborate in this macabre dance. The narcissist is formed by his partner inasmuch as he forms her. Submission breeds superiority and masochism breeds sadism. The relationships are characterised by rampant emergentism: roles are allocated almost from the start and any deviation meets with an aggressive, even violent reaction.
The predominant state of the partner's mind is utter confusion. Even the most basic relationships 'with husband, children, or parents 'remain bafflingly obscured by the giant shadows cast by the intensive interaction with the narcissist. A suspension of judgement is part and parcel of a suspension of individuality, which is both a prerequisite to and the result of living with a narcissist. The partner no longer knows what is true and right and what is wrong and forbidden. The narcissist recreates for the partner the sort of emotional ambience that led to his own formation in the first place: capriciousness, fickleness, arbitrariness, emotional (and physical or sexual) abandonment. The world becomes uncertain and frightening and the partner has only one sure thing to cling to: the narcissist.
And cling she does. If there is anything which can safely be said about those who emotionally team up with narcissists, it is that they are overtly and overly dependent, even compulsively so.
The partner doesn't know what to do 'and this is only too natural in the mayhem that is the relationship with the narcissist is. But the typical partner also does not know what she wants and, to a large extent, who she is and what she wants to become.
These unanswered questions hamper the partner's ability to gauge reality, evaluate and appraise it for what it is. Her primordial sin is that she fell in love with an image, not with a real person. It is the voiding of the image that is mourned when the relationship ends.
The break-up of a relationship with a narcissist is, therefore, very emotionally charged. It is the culmination of a long chain of humiliations and of subjugation. It is the rebellion of the functioning and healthy parts of the partner's personality against the tyranny of the narcissist.
The partner is liable to have totally misread and misinterpreted the whole interaction (I hesitate to call it a relationship). This lack of proper interface with reality might be (erroneously) labelled "pathological".
Why is it that the partner seeks to prolong her pain? What is the source and purpose of this masochistic streak? Upon the break-up of the relationship, the partner (and the narcissist) engage in a tortuous and drawn out post mortem. But the question who really did what to whom (and even why) is irrelevant. What is relevant is to stop mourning oneself (this is what the parties are really mourning), start smiling again and love in a less subservient, hopeless, and pain-inflicting manner.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love 'Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain 'How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and searcheurope.com.