Shortly after their marriage, Jack became aware of the narcissism in his wife. At first, he thought it was immaturity but after their child was born, things escalated. Unable to fully attach onto their child, she became more demanding and self-absorbed. There were times when life seemed to be a series of competition over who would get more of Jack’s attention.
Twenty years later and now divorced from his wife, Jack’s relationship with their child was solid. His attachment to their adult child was strong but not over-powering. During the road to recovery from being married to a narcissist, Jack overcame the destructive verbal abuse that he silently endured. His newly found freedom allowed him to discover fresh personal interests as he began to embrace life with zest and passion.
It was at a work convention that Jack met Steve, a young inspiring manager. At this point in his career, Jack had achieved success and in his desire to give back to others, he was looking to be a mentor. What began as work coaching quickly morphed into personal at the discovery that Steve was married to a narcissist. Eager to impart his knowledge onto Steve, Jack shared his wisdom:
- Understand narcissism. It is not enough to know the definition of the word when living with a narcissist, rather a full grasp of Narcissistic Personality Disorder must be achieved. This is the equivalent of obtaining a master’s degree on the subject. As new information comes to light, the understanding of the disorder must grow and evolve.
- Don’t expect change. One of the defining characteristics of narcissism is an inability to see that they are the problem. Instead, the narcissist believes they are superior and others are inferior. Expecting this to change is unrealistic and causes more issues, not for the narcissist, but rather those living with them.
- Don’t lose your identity. Narcissists have a way of trying to transform the people in their lives into mini versions of themselves. Their dominant ego dictates that other’s lives would be better if they were more like the narcissist. It takes a large amount of self-awareness to keep an ego intact in the face of such pressure. While it is difficult, it is not impossible.
- Establish own standards. Narcissists expect perfectionism and clairvoyance from those around them through constant demands and belittling remarks. To survive in such an environment, a person needs to establish their own goals, standards, and expectations independent of the narcissist. Staying true to those beliefs and guidelines helps to maintain a healthy outlook on life and self.
- Set invisible boundaries. When a person gives a narcissist a firm boundary, they constantly go up to the line and try to push things even further. It’s a challenge for them. So, the alternative is to set boundaries that are unspoken such as “I will leave if they have an affair,” or “I have a zero-tolerance for physical abuse.”
- Counteract the gaslighting. A typical form of mental abuse commonly utilized by narcissists is gaslighting. This is where the narcissist denies reality and instead paints a completely different picture so believable that the other person thinks they are going crazy. To counteract this tactic, it is useful to keep a journal of facts and incidents. For instance, writing down that the narcissist had a fit at Thanksgiving over an ungrateful relative. This is not to keep a record of wrongs, but rather to have some point of reference when the story is twisted into the relative losing it and verbally assaulting the narcissist.
- Have a safe outlet. A valuable asset, when married to a narcissist, is to have a safe person to talk about the struggles in the marriage. This could be a close friend or counselor, but should not be a family member. Preferably, as in the case of Jack and Steve, it is a person who understands the disorder and is willing to provide unconditional support. This should not be a person with localities to the narcissist in any way.
The relationship between Jack and Steve grew over the years as both received the benefit of each other’s experience. For Jack, he was able to pass on his life lessons to Steve who was grateful to have someone who understands his journey. This type of relationship fosters healthy individual growth and promotes well-being in both parties.