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Relationships With Abusive Narcissists

garwen2: Hello, Dr. I am 53 and living with my elderly NPD mother...with my saint of a husband also. I have just learned, this last year, of her problem through your website and now reading your book. The main advice I saw for dealing with her is avoidance. And for almost a year, I have been more like a maid-in-waiting with not much social contact. The response I have recieved from this non-action is that she does not even notice. It is like OUtta sight, outta mind. This is really strange to me.

bunnie-41: A narcissist regards the person he is with as a source to accomplish his goals. I know, I was involved with one. They do not know how to feel real love or compassion.

kodibear: I am in intensive therapy for lack of self-worth from the abuse which started when I was a baby and I still am controlled by him, sorry to say. It makes it a little easier to understand what is going on and why he won't leave me alone after listening to you.

Neevis: My husband is totally lacking in empathy. I married a narcissist and the worse he is to me, the more I seem to want to be with him. What does that say about me?

KKQ: I have found that narcissists believe that they are GOD and all must bow to their desires or be punished.

LdyBIu: I have been married to a narcissist for 26 years and we are separated now.

David: Here's the next question:

kchurch: If a narcissist needs his spouse, what has to happen in order for the narcissist to leave a mate?

Dr. Vaknin: Before I respond, I wish to re-iterate what I said before: Living with a narcissist is a total experience. The narcissist takes over the partner, objectifies her (turns her to an object) and uses (and abuses) her. The result is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - a shock mixed with breavement.

To the question: If the spouse is an outstanding source of narcissistic supply (very rich, very beautiful, very admiring very accepting, etc.) - the narcissist will do everything in his power to stick around. The only way to get rid of the narcissist is to make him realize that it is over. That no matter what he does or does not do to receive narcissistic supply, he is unlikely ever again to receive it from this source. But such a message must be incisive (though not hurtful or humilating). It must be clear, unequivocal, unambiguous, and consistent. Once he digests the message and internalizes it - the narcissist vanishes. To the narcissist, all sources of narcissistic supply are the same, interchangeable, and indistinguishable.

Checky: Hi, Dr. Vaknin. You're up late! What is your opinion on this: Can an abusive narcissist ever become a tolerable narcissist while in a marriage and when the abuse has taken place over many years?

David: I'll add to that question. Can the narcissist ever make a "real" change in his abusive behavior or is this ingrained in his personality?

Dr. Vaknin: Whether the narcissist is tolerable or not is up to the spouse or partner to decide. If you are asking whther the narcissist can ameliorate, tone down, be mollified, reduce his intensity, refrain from abuse and modify his behaviour - sure, he can. It depends what is in it for him. Narcissists are the consummate and ultimate actors. They maintain emotional resonance tables. They monitor other people's reactions and behaviour - and they are mimetic (imitators). But it is not a real and profound change. It is merely behaviour modification and it is reversible. I hasten to say that certain schools of psychotherapy claim success in treating pathological narcissism, notably the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies and psychodynamic therapies - as well as more exotic, Eastern, therapies.

David: A few audience reaction comments here:

garwen2: So you respond by not having reactions? I call it emotional divorce...and it works

dolly: Oh! The ole "I treat you like you treat me" syndrome.

mcbarber: Dr. Vaknin, after being married to and abandoned by my narcissistic husband three times I am so angry, but deep down I somehow still crave him. How do I get over it?

Dr. Vaknin: You should talk to yourself. Ask yourself, in this dialog, why are you so atttracted to him? He probably fulfills very deep emotional (or maybe sexual or financial) needs. Prioritize your inner life. What is most important to you and what is the price you are willing to pay for it. Life is a trade off. Living with a narcissist - even with an abusive narcissist - is wrong only if it bothers you, hurts you, and prevents you from functioning properly. If you thrive in his company and take his abuse in stride - I say, why not?

moyadusha: Does the narcissist have a conscience?

Dr. Vaknin: No. Conscience is predicated on empathy. One puts oneself in other people's "shoes" and feels the way they do. Without empathy, there can be no love or conscience. Indeed, the narcissist has neither. To him, people are sillhuettes, penumbral projections on the walls of his inflated sense of self, figments of his fantasies. How can one regret anything if one is a solipsist (i.e., recognizes only his reality and no one else's)?

pkindheart: I was involved with a woman who is a narcissist. Her narcissistic supply was sex. She got a real high from it both during and especially afterwards. This high was intoxicating and addictive to me as well. Is this a common thing to happen with a woman who is a narcissist? I have had a very hard time dealing with the loss of this.

Dr. Vaknin: Pathological narcissism (rather NPD) is a clinical condition. Only a qualified mental health diagnostician can determine whether someone suffers from NPD and this, following lengthy tests and personal interviews. But there is something called addiction to sex. Like every addiction, it is connected to predominant narcissistic traits in the addict's personality.


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Last Updated: 11 April 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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