In order to understand narcissistic abuse and how dating a narcissist changes you, it might be helpful to first understand narcissism. A person who meets criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, according to the DSM 5, exhibits a pattern on grandiosity that fosters a need for admiration.
Individuals with the disorder often lack empathy, have a sense of self importance, are preoccupied with success, power, or beauty, believes they are special, requires excessive admiration, and has a sense of entitlement, are exploitative in interpersonal relationships, are envious, and are arrogant or haughty.
However, it is not necessary for someone to possess all or even most of these traits to exhibit narcissistic traits in their personal interactions.
What is Narcissistic Abuse & Spotting Red Flags
According to research, narcissistic abuse is a form of emotional abuse connected to intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse, and coercive control. However, unlike these forms of abuse, narcissistic abuse uses deception both overtly and covertly to gain control of victims. The abuse often uses tactics including gaslighting to make the victim question their own reality.
The abuser often lies incessantly and when caught will blame their partner and leave you feeling as if everything is your fault. They will often break down their partner’s self-worth, so they feel unworthy of love or believe they could never find a better partner. A narcissistic relationship may include financial abuse as a way to gain and maintain control. They may also perpetrate sexual or physical violence against partners in extreme cases.
Someone who is experiencing narcissistic abuse may feel as if they are constantly walking on eggshells. The narcissistic abuser creates their own self-worth surrounding the admiration and love from others. As such they may be well liked at their workplace or even by their victim’s friends and family members.
The abuser can easily shift into someone who is likeable and kind around others. However, this is another tactic to distort the victim’s reality and bolster their own social standing. This discrepancy in presentations can cause the victim to have hope that the abuser can change or “has a good side.” This can explain why many people have stayed in a relationship where narcissistic abuse was present.
However, it is important to remember that the abuser’s superficial kindness and empathy feels good in the moment, but the intent is often to gain the admiration of others which the abuser needs to feed their narcissism. A narcissistic abuser uses the power and control they gain from harming others to mask a deep seeded self-hate and fragile sense of self.
How Dating a Narcissist Changes You
Narcissistic abuse can change a person’s entire outlook on relationships. Being in an abusive relationship with a narcissist can cause a person to have long term trouble trusting themselves and others, low self-worth, body image concerns, mental health struggles, difficulty with intimacy, and so much more. Individuals who have suffered narcissistic abuse can have difficulty discerning between genuine interest, red flags, or love bombing in pursuit of healthy relationships. Trauma as a result of narcissistic abuse can change a person’s perspective on trust, power, and control.
Narcissistic abuse often makes a person feel powerless. Someone who once believed they were in control of their life and were competent enough to make choices regarding themselves and their destiny, may become unsure and lack confidence in their decision-making abilities.
They may allow others to make important choices for them as the abuser has made them feel incompetent. Survivors of abuse may have difficulty setting boundaries at work or in interpersonal or romantic relationships. They may find it difficult to be intimate and form close connections with others due understandable trust issues. The vulnerability that comes with intimacy may feel unsafe or scary for a survivor of narcissistic abuse.
How to Heal From a Narcissistic Partner
After leaving an abusive relationship with a narcissist, it is important to notice what triggers you may be experiencing. Triggers are feelings or situations that remind you of a previous negative experience and cause a lot of emotional discomfort. Triggers can cause intense emotional distress if not managed properly. Someone who has just left an abusive relationship may feel triggered frequently and acclimating to a new life free of a narcissistic abuser can be challenging.
Build Trust Slowly
Remember that there is nothing wrong with taking it slow. When meeting new potential partners or friends after narcissistic abuse, it is important to build trust at your own pace. Make sure you feel in control of how much or little you are invested in the relationship. Let people know if you would like to take things slow. Giving yourself a little extra time to get to know someone just might save you from entering a relationship with another narcissistic abuser in the long run.
Reconnect with Friends and Family
Narcissistic abusers often isolate their partners from their friends and family for fears that they will find out about the abuse and encourage their loved one to end the relationship. Reconnecting with friends and family can be healing. Lean on the people you trust most. Seek support from those who have always been there for you.
Give Therapy a Try
Know when it is time to seek professional help. If you are constantly feeling triggered, depressed, or anxious it may be time to seek the help of a professional therapist. Going to therapy can help you process and heal from the narcissistic abuse in a safe, nonjudgmental space. Group therapy may also be a good option if you might benefit from the support of a therapist and other individuals experiencing the same concerns.
You deserve to be happy, safe, and secure in all relationships. Narcissistic abuse, like all forms of abuse, is traumatic and can be life changing. However, there is always space for healing and growth post trauma.