The narcissist appears at the optimal time. A grieving family is destroyed over the death of a parent and is in desperate need of emotional stability. A spouse is torn apart by divorce and is starved for normal amounts of positive attention. A friend is destroyed by the betrayal of another and is craving a close relationship for support.
Now, enter the narcissist. Hidden by a veil of perfection, the narcissist immediately endears themselves to the needy person (pets included) and navigates any personality differences with ease. They are charming, caring, generous, kind, and seem to have it all together. They anticipate the needs of others and come willingly to the rescue without complaint.
The broken family, spouse, or friend instantly falls in love and adores the narcissist for the lavish gifts and the net of protection they seem to provide. The rescuing narcissist feels their admiration and is drawn in even further. For the narcissist, this family, spouse, or friend gets how special they are and fully appreciates them for all they do. Finally, the narcissist has found what they were missing in their other relationships: someone to rescue.
The rebound marriage/relationship often happens quickly with everyone still wearing rose-colored glasses. But something happens when the vows of commitment are made. It is as if the magic spell has been broken and a new harsh reality is established. The family, spouse or friend no longer needs to be rescued. Instead, they come to expect the narcissist’s attention as normal, so they no longer show appreciation for the little things. The narcissist, on the other hand, feels unacknowledged so they withdraw or lash out in anger. And thus, the backlash begins.
But how does a person know that they are dealing with a rescuing narcissistic? Here are some characteristics:
- Once the rescuer, always the rescuer. The narcissist believes that when they entered the other person’s life, they rescued them from devastation. From this point into all of eternity, the narcissist expects to be recognized and appreciated for this one act regardless of their current behavior. When the rescuing is forgotten, the other person is reminded of their need to be rescued and immediate gratitude for the narcissist’s generosity is demanded.
- Picture perfect. Watch out Facebook fans, the narcissist will post picture-perfect photos of just how wonderful everything is. The narcissist expects others to live up to their strict standards of appearance, especially in public, without considering how they looked before the relationship began. The narcissist doesn’t fold into another family unit; they expect others to conform to them.
- Friendship shift. As time progresses, the narcissist will find fault with friends and family members that are outside of their influence. Anyone known prior to the narcissist becomes a threat and therefore must be eliminated. The new friendships are frequently shallow and short-lived because few people live up to the demands of the narcissist. This results in a person feeling alone without their previous support and love from family and friends.
- “It’s my way or the highway.” There is no negotiating with a narcissist. It’s either all their way or they will leave citing the other person’s lack of appreciation for their efforts. Threats of abandonment are frequent and inappropriately timed especially when done in front of any children. The kids, who are already struggling with the abandonment issues, will do nearly anything to keep it from happening again.
- Emotional blackmail. The emotional backlash that the narcissist inflicts has the potential for re-traumatizing others who already experienced loss. So, in a desperate attempt to keep the same mistake from happening, they willingly conform to the narcissist’s unrealistic expectations. The narcissist knows this and uses it whenever their needs of attention, affirmation, appreciation, and affection are not being met.
- Shifting compassion. At the beginning of the relationship, the narcissist seemed so empathic about the rescued person and their needs. However, as time progresses, that compassion shifts from the other person onto the narcissist. Now the narcissist demands that the other person is not sympathetic to the narcissist. Everything is turned on its head leaving the other person to feel even more lost and confused.
- Missing parent jealousy. One of the things the narcissist will claim is that they are constantly being compared to the missing parent. They will even admit to being envious of how much everyone idealizes the absent parent regardless if that statement is true or not. It becomes a self-fulling prophecy. Once the narcissist has brought this to the family’s attention, it is impossible to not compare the two and secretly wish for the issues of the past over the present.
- Condescending remarks. The backlash results in condescending remarks which eventually escalate into the other person verse the narcissist. In the case of a family, if the narcissist has successfully alienated each family member and turned them on each other, it becomes the family versus the narcissist. Nevertheless, it is the constant nick-picking that deteriorates the family/relationship unit.
All is not lost, however. Even when it is apparent that there is a rescuing narcissist, there is still a chance for hope and healing. The key is early identification and intervention.