Toxic Relationships – Narcissism and its Deadly Effects

 Thank you, Lin, for asking me to guest post on the topic of narcissism and its deadly effects. This is a subject that has come into its own. Lin’s awesome post, Toxic Relationships – Toxic Family Members has garnered almost 200 comments and 700+ Facebook “likes” since it was written three years ago.

Many more resources are available to folks who find themselves in a relationship with these insidious people than when my co-author, Lori Hoeck, and I first wrote The Narcissist: A User’s Guide a scant eighteen months ago. Since then, our User’s Guide e-book has been downloaded over a thousand times, and continues at a steady rate.

People are recognizing that they’re dealing with a person whose behavior hinges upon creating a partner dynamic designed to elevate the narcissistic person’s self-esteem by way of depleting it in another person. Where the struggle remains is what I’m going to discuss in this post.

It would be wonderful to say that the incidence of narcissism has declined since Lori, Lin, others and myself have sounded the alarm bells. This doesn’t appear to be the case. If anything, it appears that narcissism might have increased somewhat as the recognition factors became more well-known.

We’ll never truly know whether this perception is accurate, however, because, as Lori and I were among the first non-academics to point out, narcissists rarely seek treatment. There’s something wrong with them, not everyone else, after all. Estimates vary widely concerning the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder within the general population, ranging from .5% all the way up to 16%.

The negative effects these toxic people have are highly disproportionate to their numbers, whatever those numbers may ultimately be. Direct interaction with them creates dread and drains emotional energy, but we also expend additional energy anticipating, deflecting and developing strategies to neutralize their behavior. Extended interaction with narcissists in the workplace or social/family situations can be detrimental to physical health as well, with partners exhibiting physical manifestations of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other effects.

Still, even with the word getting out about how dangerous these people can be to good emotional health, many of us find ourselves ill equipped to deal with narcissists effectively. Lori and I have received many heartbreaking stories from people – both men and women, gay and straight – who were caught totally off-guard and sucked into a relationship with a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde-like charmer. The pattern is fairly predictable:

  • the person initially appears too good to be true
  • an escalating series of interactions where the partner is caught off-guard and devalued
  • incidences of hypersensitivity and overreaction (including rage) to criticism, perceived slights or other behaviors in the partner they deem unacceptable
  • increasing demands for narcissistic supply and corresponding passivity from the partner
  • difficulties in ending the relationship because the partner is emotionally incapacitated and/or fearful of physical or emotional retaliation

Many self-help references get hung up on understanding the whys and hows behind narcissists becoming what they are. It’s all fine and good, but this is where most people get stuck. They think it’s their fault: if they only were better at holding up their end of the relationship, it would improve.

You must know what you can do other than blame yourself. Yet, time after time, we see well-meaning advisors who have the non-narcissist partner adapting in an attempt to create a more harmonious relationship. The problem with this advice is it amplifies the root causes of the toxic dynamic and can actually exacerbate its troublesome aspects.

As a result of the research and personal experience that prompted us to write The Narcissist: A User’s Guide, Lori and I concluded the most effective way to deal with a narcissistic person is to minimize contact. Ideally, you would eliminate it completely, but of course, this isn’t always possible. Ultimately, you’re going to have to reduce it to the bare minimum. In our e-book we provide strategies and scripts you can really use when you’re ready for that path.

Once you’ve left the relationship, you can’t let your guard down. There’s evidence to suggest a repetitive pattern in many co-dependents. If this kind of relationship is only what you know, then you may sub-consciously seek it over and over again. Fortunately, if you recognize this as a pattern in your relationships, you can overcome its causative factors and be on the lookout for triggers that affect you. For some this is a life-long process, but it’s well worth the vigilance.

If you or anyone you know is in a relationship with a toxic individual, you owe it to them or yourself to be aware that it’s undeserved and there are ways to escape. Lori and I used to say that if we helped just one person put behind the agony that these relationships cause, our own painful experiences would be vindicated. I think it’s safe to say we’ve done that, and we’re asking you to pass things along. We’ll probably never eradicate narcissistic behavior, but we don’t have to tolerate its toxic effects, either.

Be sure to “Like” The Narcissist: A User’s Guide on Facebook – Stop struggling with toxic people and learn to deal with them on your own terms!

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17 Responses to “Toxic Relationships – Narcissism and its Deadly Effects”

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  1. Alicia C. says:

    OMG! When I was 21, I took a duffel bag of clothes and ran all the way to the other side of the country (with NO money) to get away from one of these people, who I had married! The true personality didn’t show until there was a marriage license. I didn’t realize that this was something that other people experienced, too. He had my entire family fooled and I ended up living with no family, friends, etc. for years!
    Alicia C. recently posted..Did I Just See ELVIS?! {Music in the Park #2}My Profile

    • Hi Alicia – It’s heartbreaking when a narcissist can convince people who seemingly should be able to see through them that you are supposedly the one at fault. This is pretty common among the stories that we received after we wrote our book. I’m glad your survival instinct kicked in and you got away. Thanks.
      Betsy Wuebker recently posted..What Our Move to Location Independence is NotMy Profile

    • Lin says:

      Good for you Alicia for taking the steps you felt necessary to get away from the narcissist toxicity. A lot of people who struggle in relationships with narcissist personality types tend to accept the blame for the problems, and many actually start to feel as though they’re losing their minds. It’s a very good thing that you had the wherewithall to get away from it.

  2. Hilary says:

    Hi Betsy, Lori and Lin .. hi so glad you’re re-promoting your Guide – I tagged along reading your words those months ago .. and boy did they make sense & I can quite see why people get drawn in. I married one – but was strong enough to get away .. and I have one in my family, though he wouldn’t know it & they don’t acknowledge it … nothing dreadful … but for someone who could do with some support right now – it’s frustrating .. mainly because it’s family and my mother is still alive.

    I’ve heard and read horrific stories … people are bullies … and sadly as a human race we’re not taught to look at ourselves and question whether what we’re doing is helpful, kind, considerate or thoughtful .. we really need to start looking at ourselves – remind ourselves to look in that mirror – would we engage with the person we saw?

    I know I’m touching on the outside .. and I so admire Alicia for escaping and I do hope Alicia .. you have found happiness and peace now …

    My thoughts go out to all peoples who are ‘pushed down’ in those particularly cruel ways ..

    I hope you can have Happy 4th July days .. cheers Hilary
    Hilary recently posted..Artists who loved the countryside … where history entwines them with fingerprints, self-publication and Higgs BosonMy Profile

    • Lin says:

      Hi Hilary, thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you were able to recognize the signs and find a way to get away from the narcissism. I tend to refer to narcissist people as “toxic”, which they are very good at, but it seems there are different terms used to describe the same type person. Many years ago I researched “pathological narcissism” and what I found out made everything crystal clear, no more fog clouding the eyes and ears of how harmful these people can and are towards others. I keep them far far away from me. Happy 4th to you!

    • Hi Hilary – Thanks for coming over and leaving your comment. It is so important to support those who’ve conquered this terrible thing and escaped it. It’s much easier said than done, and many people fail to understand how powerful the relationship can become, to the point of feeling so dependent and vulnerable. You’re right, we need to remember these harmful effects and confront the perpetrators.
      Betsy Wuebker recently posted..A New Chick in the NeighborhoodMy Profile

  3. Hilary says:

    Hi Lin and Betsy .. thankfully Lin, I’m fairly strong minded – and didn’t know .. but knew things weren’t right and weren’t ever going to be .. and as far as my family is concerned -I’m stuck .. he’s loved by his wife .. and it’s just words, selfishness, and insecurity in its adult definition within a secure lifestyle. Thankfully neither toxic – just interesting to read the signs Betsy and Lori wrote in their Guide. I’m a wiser person now .. age, going through what I’m experiencing with my mother – meeting people from that, who teach me … and blogging – where our eyes can really be opened.

    I’m lucky in many ways .. but can certainly understand and really feel for others who’ve been through the mill – life is for living and love .. and as humans we shouldn’t have to endure these sorts of things .. thankfully there are refuges now for people to escape to ..

    Unfortunately here we have so much back-watching that social services often don’t pick up things before it’s too late .. extremely sad .. people are extremely manipulative ..

    I sent the link to another blogger in Australia .. but she’s travelling back & is off line – so probably won’t comment for a few weeks .. I hope she gets over here ..

    thanks for the replies .. Hilary
    Hilary recently posted..Artists who loved the countryside … where history entwines them with fingerprints, self-publication and Higgs BosonMy Profile

  4. wow. A GREAT read. I will post and share on my facebook page… This is another one of them things people dont want to read or admit having anything to do with, just like (the root of) domestic violence, abuse within partners and within families.

    thank you
    Suzanne Perry, optimist who fell in love (??) with a beast like this who sucked the good energy out of me on a daily basis, raising his own virtual power. Thank goodness I lived to tell. Took me over 2 decades to stay wise. Rock on!

  5. Luke says:

    It took me 2 long years to realize i wasn’t going into good direction.

    First it was nice. She was very kind, open person. Then i fall in love, and i think she noticed that, and i was basically teased for 1 year and a half.

    Occasional contact, even a kiss, and then nothing for days , not even “Hi”

    And i was inventing all excuses to forgive her for that.

    One day i just could not take it anymore and i left.

    Never looked back.

    • Jacqui says:

      Wow that sounds like the same exact scenario with me. I’m just very sad that I had a baby with this person. I mean the timeline is the same as well as the actions. He’ll visit. give me a kiss before he leaves and then no communication until the next time he decides to pop-up unannounced at my home. This week I had an epiphany and now I’m working on being done as well.

  6. Last one Left says:

    I was raised by “Street Angel” – “House Devil” mother. I moved away at 18 only to marry one 2 yrs later. When I finally left him, all family seemed weird towards me. All the lies he told and was believed by all. I went to a therapist and was told things would be best if I moved, there was nothing wrong with me. I was coerced into coming back with lies only to find out all family and friends were manipulated, maybe in order to finally totally destroy me. It almost felt like Stepford Wives. I left again leaving everything behind, discovering peace.

  7. Hello Previous Commenters – The common element in all of your successful outcomes was leaving the narcissist. I have yet to discover anyone who creates a successful relationship with one of these individuals where there is mutual respect and true partnership. The danger in remaining in a relationship with a narcissist is that your concept of “normal” becomes skewed, in relatively short order. Discovering that you don’t have to live this way, and in fact can have a peaceful life with happiness and dignity, is a breakthrough. Following through with minimizing or eliminating this person from your life is one of the most difficult things you may do, but ultimately opens the door to a more fulfilled and rewarding life. Thank you for your comments.
    Betsy Wuebker recently posted..An Update with a Couple of FirstsMy Profile

  8. Natalie says:

    I am dating a friend’s brother, and we’re about to get engaged. Lately this friend has been saying terrible things about me and trying to force me away from her brother. She suggested to me that I might be bipolar because I’m very sensitive to her family’s ignorance about certain things, and i have a strong will so I typically call them out on things that affect myself and my soon to be fiance. I did some reading and all signs point to her being bipolar, not me. I don’t invite myself into other people’s problems, I stick to my own. The last time she said something nasty I called her out on it and she manipulated the situation… which I recognized because my sister is a manipulator. I don’t know if it’s a deal breaker in my relationship, but I don’t know how I can be her sister!

  9. mary says:

    I have toxic relationships with a narcissistic sister. I don’t know how to stop the pain! It’s hard for me to keep my boundaires intact without completely stopping contact. We had a tough time growing up and all her issues stem from how she hates my mother. I’ve listened to the same stories about what my mom did to her that makes her so mad and it’s basically a broken record at this point, we are both in our 40’s. As soon as I pick up the phone when she calls, I know its going to be drama and I’ll probably disagree with everything she says. As soon as I disagree with her she starts to insult me. By then end of the conversation I’m exhausted, mad, upset etc.. Since she’s my family, how do I deal with this?

    • Hi Mary –

      Sorry, I just received notification of your comment.

      It is exhausting to deal with a problem individual in a consistent and healthy manner, but it is possible. There are many different resources you can consult about how to set and maintain boundaries. If boundary-setting is something new you’re doing with your sister, you’ll want to be prepared for an unhappy reaction. You may find it helpful to write a “script” or several sentences that will help you stay on message, as well as communicate the ground rules – no insults, verbal abuse, etc – and the consequences (you will hang up, etc) if the ground rules are violated. Some professionals advocate that you write a letter with this information. It’s an attractive option from the standpoint that you have a paper trail. Only you can decide what is right for you, but there are definitely options and various recommendations that you can employ. Good luck!

  10. Dixie C says:

    Hello. I have recently been doing research to try and understand my father and his behavior. My mother died when I was 18 and my father and I never had a strong relationship ever. He got 100,000 when my mom died from her life insurance policy. I never saw a penny and when I asked him about it he said “it’s my money, it was left to me.” Whenever I try and have a conversation to settle our differences it always turns out bad. The last time I tried ended with him completely turning the tables and saying that if I lost weight my boyfriend would probably love me more and want to be with me more? we went even talking about my relationship with him. He is always degrading and I can’t comprehend how selfish he is. I ended up in the hospital over Christmas cause he shoved me down into a shoe rack after I tried to leave and split my head open. I have always tried to keep some sort of relationship with him because he is my dad and because I did owe him for the little he would loan me. But now I don’t owe him anymore money and I want to end the relationship and just move on. My aunt says I should forgive him “cause that is how he has always been” but he continues to drag me down and it is starting to effect my other relationships and my own mental health and self esteem. I don’t know what to do I’m tired of trying at this point to work things out.

    • Hi Dixie – It is always possible to forgive someone, but it doesn’t mean that you need to continue to fraternize with them if there is a threat to your emotional or physical well-being. It is exhausting to try and deal with a personality of this nature on any kind of “normal” terms. It sounds as though a professional who has experience with narcissistic personalities may be of help to you in getting things sorted out. Wishing you good luck and continued strength!