A long time ago, I was talking to a fellow dating coach about a situation I was having with an ex.
“Go look up gaslighting,” he told me.
Then he told me a story about a woman from his past.
He described her as a narcissist, a word I hadn’t heard before.
That conversation set me off on a quest to find out more about this mysterious word.
It blew my world apart. I suddenly understood things about myself, my past partners, even my family that I’d never understood before. It changed me forever.
Today, that word narcissism is EVERYWHERE.
On the news, in survivor groups, support forums, anywhere relationships are discussed.
It’s become so easy to accuse someone of being a narcissist.
Which is why I wanted to share my healing journey.
The Easy Story about Narcissism
The usual story about narcissists is that they’re evil monsters who destroy other people’s lives without a shred of concern or compassion.
For those of you who’ve been in relationships with narcissists, that story sounds pretty accurate.
When you’re in pain, you need moral certainty. You’re good, he’s bad. You’re right, he’s wrong. You’re innocent, he’s guilty. There’s tons of evidence to support that conclusion.
But it’s not helpful in the long-term.
It’s just a stage in your healing, and hopefully a very temporary one.
When you first learn about narcissism, you get this feeling of moral superiority, because you know you’re not a narcissist! You don’t put yourself first. You’re always thinking about other people. You’d never be that cruel or selfish.
But that’s just the beginning of your understanding.
As you integrate your knowledge, you start to see the shades of gray.
You start to realize that YOU were part of the dynamic.
You start to wonder:
What attracted you to him in the first place?
Why didn’t you walk away when you saw how he was?
Was there something in him that you admired, perhaps even wished for, for yourself?
Those are hard questions. They’re extremely uncomfortable. They’re sticky.
But they’re necessary, because they shift you out of blame into ownership, and ownership will set you free.
It’s time to face 3 uncomfortable truths about narcissists so that we can heal.
Truth #1. There is something incredibly compelling about narcissism.
Not everyone is attracted to narcissists.
Some people look at a narcissist and shrug. “Whatever.”
But if you have ever been in a relationship with a narcissist, then something in you finds—or at least has found—that quality compelling.
Why do you think you might have been attracted to that quality in him?
Now, if your answer is, “But I didn’t know he was a narcissist back then!” I’m going to gently suggest that’s a cop-out.
Did he seem confident? Decisive? A take-charge kind of guy?
Did you LIKE that in him?
I hear so many women complain about not being able to find a strong man. They want an alpha male who’ll sweep them off their feet and make decisions and pay for dinner and not ask them for permission.
That’s the classic romantic hero, right?
But what does that also sound like?
Well, to me it sounds like lovebombing.
If you go back and look at a lot of classic romantic movies, there’s a dark element to them.
You could say, “Well, this guy is crazy in love, and that’s why he’s acting that way,” but if you look at it from another angle, what you see is a narcissist who’s lovebombing this poor girl and won’t stop until he gets her.
We’ve been trained to believe that lovebombing is a sign of true feelings RATHER than a man’s desire to possess something he’s decided he wants.
Plus, it doesn’t help that the alpha male is a classic narcissist.
Alpha males are self-centered—that’s why they’re so successful. They focus on going after what they want and not thinking about the consequences.
The typical alpha male is not concerned about other people’s feelings and helping others. He’s concerned with achieving his goals and living a life of mastery.
So, if you love the idea of an alpha male who’ll sweep you off your feet, then don’t be surprised if you end up with a guy who’s more narcissist than not.
Truth #2. We don’t just allow but encourage narcissists to act the way they do.
Something that often frustrates me is when people blame a leader for ruining everything. They forget the fundamental truth that no one has any power unless we give it to them.
Nowhere is that truer than in relationships.
A relationship takes TWO willing people.
If just one of you says, “Nope, I’m not doing this anymore,” then there is no relationship.
You can walk away at any time. You can tell him, “That behavior isn’t okay with me,” and then break it off if he keeps doing it.
The reason we don’t feel that we have that freedom is because we have a habit of being unable to say no.
We don’t know how to express boundaries. We don’t know how to enforce boundaries. We’re susceptible to a good pity story. We forgive everything he does.
And we do that because it makes us feel like good people.
We get something out of being the selfless one.
We don’t want to be the bad person who says no and then ends up creating conflict and hurt feelings just because of this silly boundary that probably isn’t ABSOLUTELY necessary if it comes down to it.
And, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, narcissists hate boundaries, so any conversation where you try to set limits and rules is bound to blow up in your face. Why do that to yourself?
You just want everything to be happy and fun. You want to preserve harmony. So of course you’re not going to draw a hard line in the sand that might make him feel bad about himself.
That’s on you, because not all women feel that way.
Many women are perfectly happy upsetting a guy. They know they’re not responsible for his feelings.
If he gets upset because she has other plans, she goes ahead with her plans and trusts that he’s a big boy and will get over it.
Those women don’t tend to end up in relationships with narcissists.
So this is your invitation:
Get comfortable with upsetting people.
Say no when everyone wants you to say yes. Point out the inconvenient fact no one wants to hear. Lay down a boundary and don’t move it just because someone thinks it’s unfair.
Don’t take on other people’s feelings. If something you do upsets them, let them be upset. They can deal with it.
What you may find, as you embrace this “bad” part of you, is that you no longer feel attracted to men who refuse to apologize. You’ve owned that part of you, so you don’t seek it out in someone else.
Which brings us to…
Truth #3. You need a little narcissism in your life, too.
Narcissism is not a bad thing.
Like every trait, narcissism exists on a spectrum. Some is good. You just don’t want to take it to the extreme and end up with NPD!
A healthy degree of narcissism is responsible for so many amazing things. You’ve got to be pretty full of yourself and self-centered to put yourself out there as an artist or a performer or an entrepreneur or a CEO. Young people’s natural narcissism inspires them to believe the world is just waiting for their voice and their talent.
Which is why, as a parent, I can’t condemn narcissism at all. All children are naturally narcissistic. That’s how they’re supposed to be. They need to focus on themselves as they grow.
I believe that a lot of us—particularly us empaths—could use a bit more narcissism in our lives.
Empaths have the opposite problem of narcissists. While narcissists center the self, empaths de-center the self, to the extent that they absorb other people’s energy.
A little more healthy narcissism would help empaths create a clearer sense of self and stop taking on responsibility for everyone else’s feelings.
So there you have it:
The road to healing does not lie in demonizing narcissists.
Narcissists are not some cartoon caricatures out to get you.
Rather, narcissism is a trait that can be good or bad, depending on how it’s used.
And if you don’t want to end up with a narcissist again, then it’s up to you to heal the part of yourself that finds them so compelling!