5 Emotional Tools You Learn from Having a Narcissistic Spouse
Dealing with a narcissist has plenty of negative implications. But living with a narcissist can teach you valuable skills and lessons that make you smarter at relationships when applied correctly, too. In this blog, I share how you can benefit from the narcissist in your life.
Hello Divorce challenged me to write an “empowering” story about having a narcissistic partner. I immediately put a wall up. I thought: ”There’s nothing positive. I totally lost myself.” But I sat with it and realized there is a lot I learned through multiple relationships with narcissists.
But before we get into that, it’s important to clear up what a “narcissist” is. A narcissist is, in the simplest sense, a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves. This definition alone does not even scratch the surface of what someone with narcissistic personality disorder is – and the impact they have on people close to them.
Most people don’t even realize they are getting into a relationship with a narcissist because they do not reveal their true selves initially. They are skillfully manipulative which allows them to come off as charming and loving.
Narcissistic relationships are emotionally abusive, including put-downs, accusations, criticism, gaslighting, and threats. A narcissist’s end goal is always to have an abundant supply of constant attention and admiration – and will do all sorts of things to maintain (and build) on it.
But not everyone who can behave in narcissistic ways is a true narcissist, which is what this blog is about. In fact, it can be difficult to know for sure if someone meets the diagnostic criteria. Most narcissists are undiagnosed because a narcissist would not believe they need to seek help for their behavior. They usually don’t believe they have a problem, or they do not see an issue in how they are acting.
If you’ve been with a narcissist you know how draining they can be on you, mentally and physically. Research studies show that victims of narcissistic abuse can experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These people are sometimes diagnosed with “narcissistic abuse syndrome” if their mental health is greatly impacted.
I am a completely different person than I was when I was with my ex. And while I do not wish the pain of a narcissistic relationship on anyone, here are a few lessons I learned in healing from narcissistic abuse:
I learned what a narcissist is
I know that may seem obvious, but it wasn’t for me. Before a relationship with a narcissist I didn’t know what legitimate “narcissism” truly was. I thought it was someone who was overly confident and cared more about themselves than anyone else. I had no idea how complex it is, how many qualities a narcissist may have, how abusive they truly can be, and how common it is.
Learning what a narcissist is, how they behave, and what to look out for opened me up to a whole new way of thinking. I developed a new vocabulary and a new awareness. It is incredibly bewildering to be in a relationship with a narcissist because some things just don’t make sense, and instead of personalizing that, I can just see it for what it is.
I learned that I cannot change people
A younger version of me believed I could change people in a positive way. I thought I could influence them into being better, stronger, happier versions of themselves. I saw the best in my partners (even when the “bad” was very loud). I fell in love with that potential. I hoped my habits would rub off on them.
But you cannot change a narcissist – you can only be changed by their abuse. I learned this lesson HARD and when I did, it never left.
I no longer try to change anyone – partners, friends, or family members. I see people for who they are, and how they are, and I don’t expect them to behave differently than I am shown. If they are not respectful, or if they don’t respect my boundaries, I no longer ask myself, “Why are they treating me this way?” Instead, I ask myself, “Why am I allowing this treatment?” This was a huge shift that changed the way I interacted with people.
I learned how to set boundaries – and stick to them
Setting boundaries with a narcissist is incredibly hard. Narcissists tend not to respect boundaries or see them as a personal attack.
I had to learn to set boundaries that enforced how I wanted to be treated, and then hold the boundary when the line was crossed. This allowed me to create enough space from the relationship so I could start listening to myself and my needs again. Without any strong boundaries in place, I was consistently getting trampled by the narcissist.
I learned who “me” is again
I’ve gone through many life transitions and had my share of hard moments, and when I get on the other side, I always return to the same “me”: a woman who enjoys time alone, who likes to help others, who enjoys personal development and discovery, who taps into all the spiritual woo-woo things, and who journals.
I have returned to this “me” many times in my life, but I felt I lost my whole self at the end of my relationship with a narcissist. I couldn’t even look in the mirror. But over time (and a lot of personal work) I started to feel like me again – and the “me” I saw looked just like the old me I remembered.
I learned how to listen to myself
When you are in an abusive or narcissistic relationship, you are constantly being gaslit. You are told what you think and how you feel. Your opinion is devalued. You are discredited. You are reminded of past mistakes. Your insecurities are used against you.
I spent many nights sitting in my bathroom with my back against the bathtub feeling like the actual scum of the earth. That I wasn’t even worthy of the kindness of a conversation.
In scraping myself up off that floor and healing, I learned how to listen to myself again. I learned how to ask myself what I think before I speak. I also learned how to stand my ground, and not be shaken, when someone is trying to intimidate me. I also learned how to un-gaslight myself.
A narcissist will try to rewrite history, but I am not a narcissist and I started to trust my own memories and my own reality over and over again. Today, that intuitive voice inside is really strong and I do not let anyone tell me who I am or how I feel.
Sometimes we are unable to see the gifts in our story over the pain. I am grateful for my experience because I now help people identify and heal from abuse, and I am confident I will never find myself in an abusive relationship again.