I never thought I’d be writing about how to survive a narcissistic relationship. I never thought I’d be in the position to meet a narcissist, let alone fall in love with one or let one into my life. But it happened, and it happened at both the best and worst time possible – during lockdown.
At the start of lockdown, I was all alone. I had no flatmates and decided to stay alone. My optimism told me it would be a few weeks max, and I made it fun. I never cooked, so I started cooking for myself, I’d work out from home, and started getting into a routine of working from home. I’d never spent so much time by myself, let alone at home. I spend a lot of time out and about, traveling, and in the office. So getting used to being alone and being at home was quite an adjustment.
Two months later I realized isolation was difficult for my mental health. I know most of us felt like that, too. But I didn’t know why I was feeling so low, why my self-esteem was on the floor, and I thought it was due to lockdown. I was wrong.
The classic narcissist
I’d been seeing this guy for a while. And everything started off great, he was a picture of everything I wanted. Polite, charismatic, ambitious. That was the guy I liked and wanted to be around, and that’s why I developed deep feelings for him. But that wasn’t his real face, that was the face he put on. He wasn’t a good guy, he was just acting like one.
Narcissistic personality disorder involves a pattern of self-centered, arrogant thinking and behavior, a lack of empathy and consideration for other people, and an excessive need for admiration. Others often describe people with NPD as cocky, manipulative, selfish, patronizing, and demanding. This is exactly what I experienced with the guy I was dating, but I didn’t yet know how to recognize it.
The first signs
Of course, there were signs before lockdown. Signs I ignored and squirreled away. Patronizing comments, not caring about my job, gaslighting me constantly. But lockdown really made me realize what I was going through – and helped me survive and thrive.
Being in lockdown, you’re not together so you start to find other ways to communicate. Phone calls and video chats left me feeling emotionally drained, and I didn’t know why. I thought I had a communication problem; I started to blame myself. For example, every time we talked almost everything I said, he would take issue with it. In the small stolen moments we’d have together I found all of my energy being used up defending myself. Constantly defending myself and my decisions. He seemed to think his opinions were superior to mine, and somehow, because we’d been together for a little while, and because I couldn’t believe the nice guy I’d fallen for had changed, I excused him out of the bad behavior.
He would use things I’d told him in confidence against me if I told him I had a fear, he would tell me it was true and the reason why was because I was an awful, selfish person. I didn’t see it clearly because it was small instances of bad moments while I was alone, but he was pushing me into the ground further and further making me smaller and smaller and taking on the role of the negative voice in my life telling me everything I did was stupid and wrong.
Not only was I alone, and learning how to work from home and be alone, but the person I reached out for constantly made me feel like sh*t. It got to a point in April where I lost myself, lost my self-esteem and I was barely eating. I knew something was wrong.
I started to read some books to see why I was feeling like this. It sounds naive, but I didn’t believe someone who supposedly loved me would want to push me into the ground and make me feel low. I thought for sure that it was an error of communication or differing needs. I read The Power of Now and Good Vibes, Good Life, and I started to consider that embracing my emotions wasn’t a bad thing, that honest communication shouldn’t lead to an emotionally draining argument. That I deserve better.
After one particularly bad row, I turned on the camera to see him, thinking that maybe face-to-face would make it easier. I was shaking on the couch, feeling miserable after the argument, and he was sitting there looking as if he almost enjoyed the row we were having. It was like the mask came off, then. I realized these rows weren’t affecting him half as much as they were affecting me. The key to learning how to survive a narcissistic relationship is in addressing it and learning that it’s happening.
It was like a light bulb went off, I realized that nobody can make me happy besides me. I can’t find happiness or love or acceptance in anyone else, I have to find it within myself. My wish was to find someone and settle down with them, and maybe I was blind to the red flags because I was so hopeful of coupling up and developing a beautiful relationship. I researched to see if his way of communicating was normal and I immediately stumbled upon post upon post about narcissism. Narcissistic exes, narcissistic parents. Every single red flag was waving in my face, then.
Coming out the other side
I re-examined every single interaction we’d had and I realized he was a toxic person the whole time. And I’m so thankful it happened during lockdown, when I was miles away from him. I could really take some time to think, I might not have had that if he was with me.
I feel like it’s important to share this story because in my environment I see a lot of women my age in similar relationships. We, women, believe in fairytales, we’ve grown up with the story of Prince Charming and we don’t realize that we’re in destructive relationships chasing a version of happily ever after. I want other women in similar situations (or worse situations) to know that you can move on. Dangerous relationships can happen to anyone and that you have to love yourself first, so you don’t accept this kind of behavior from anyone. If you’re wondering how to survive a narcissistic relationship, you totally can.
Learning the lesson and moving on
It’s okay to have walls up sometimes. I’ve been hurt by this and it’s going to take me some time to heal, breaking up is already hard but when you realize that not only did you have a vision of someone that didn’t exist, but this person never had your best interests at heart, it’s even harder. Time is definitely the best healer, and I know that I will be more astute when looking for red flags now. Anyone who patronizes me is rude and confrontational and doesn’t value me is gone.
Lockdown was a lesson I am so glad I learned, because of it I noticed a negative relationship in my life so much easier and faster. I had the time to work on and develop myself. I signed up to BetterHelp, which is basically therapy on demand, where I can call with my therapist or message them at any time because you definitely need to talk to someone to work through it with. It’s not easy to walk away from someone or to let them go, so therapy has been so helpful.
A quote stuck with me recently that I think I need to share for anyone else dealing with this: Nothing is more satisfying than reaching the level of self-love that when someone walks out of your life, you let them.