Sometimes, when a woman has been betrayed and abused by a narcissist, she chooses to stay in the relationship.
Her reasons to stay are hers alone, and she should not be judged for choosing to stay.
With these women in mind, Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery met with Dr. Ramani Durvasula on the free BTR podcast. Together, they take a deep dive into helping victims learn how to survive a relationship with a narcissist when they choose to stay. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR podcast for more.
5 Tips For Surviving A Narcissist When You Choose To Stay
Often, victims feel stuck, knowing that their choice to stay is causing them harm and that the narcissist isn’t going to change – what can they do to survive and thrive when married to a narcissist?
Dr. Durvasula shares these five tips:
- Know how the narcissist operates.
- Manage your expectations.
- Know who you are.
- Set clear boundaries.
- Don’t lose your compassion.
4 Techniques A Narcissist Uses To Control
One of the most telling signs of a narcissist is that they are controlling.
As victims set and maintain clear and effective boundaries, they can become empowered to protect themselves from abusive behaviors, including control.
What techniques do narcissists use to control you?
- Deflection: blaming their partner or others for their actions, changing the subject during a conversation
- Projection: gaslighting, accusing the victim of doing something that he is actually doing, such as having an affair
- Isolation: cutting the victim off from family and friends through guilting her, shaming her, blaming her, and projecting onto her
- Generosity: appearing to be a “good guy” to others which enables him to continue his abuse
Understanding these four techniques and how the narcissist in the relationship uses them can help a woman stay grounded in reality.
Setting Clear Boundaries Will Help You Survive Staying With A Narcissist
It’s good to have boundaries, but when it comes to living with a narcissist, it’s important for a woman to know exactly what her boundaries are.
Dr. Durvasula recommends three boundaries all women should have when dealing with a narcissist.
3 Boundaries To Have For Dealing With A Narcissist
- Don’t engage.
- Don’t try to have deep conversations.
- Don’t try to defend yourself.
You’ve got to learn to totally dial it down to make sure that you’re keeping it literally to all the things you talk about is the weather, the first day of school is next Wednesday, did you see that the guy across the street got a new tractor to mow his lawn, like that’s it.
Dr. Ramani Durvasula, narcissism expert
Knowing Who You Are Will Help You Survive Living With A Narcissist
A narcissist will try to engage and get his healthy wife to cross her own boundaries. He’ll also try to convince her that she’s the abusive one or that she’s the one that is unhealthy.
If a woman knows who she is and what she is about, she is less likely to fall for these tactics.
Finding a strong support group, becoming empowered through learning about abuse and trauma, and practicing self-care can help women discover who they truly are and stay grounded in reality.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group Supports Victims of Narcissistic Abuse
At BTR, we understand the depth of grief and pain that narcissistic abuse victims endure.
Women who choose to stay are not weak, stupid, or naive. They deserve to be respect and supported.
The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is a safe place for all victims, whether they stay in or leave an abusive relationship. The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone and offers victims a community of validation, support, and compassion.
Join today and begin your journey to healing.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I will be continuing the conversation I had last week with Dr. Ramani Durvasula. If you have not heard the beginning of this conversation, please go to last week’s episode, get caught up, then join us here today.
Before we continue that conversation, if you are struggling with a relationship where a man is exhibiting abusive behaviors like lying, gaslighting, manipulation, or you’re not sure if he is and you’re not sure if you’re crazy, Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is the perfect place for you to talk about your situation.
We have multiple sessions a day in multiple time zones. It is the only place on the earth where you don’t have to explain what’s going on. You don’t have to get somebody to understand. They understand it immediately and so they can immediately help you in a really safe space.
What Tools Can A Woman Use To Survive A Narcissist?
Often a narcissistic man will attempt to deflect his own behavior patterns to the healthy partner, to his wife or girlfriend, causing the healthy woman to question whether it could be true, whether she, herself, is the unhealthy person, or if she’s abusive. Do you recommend any self-assessment tools to provide a reality check for a healthy woman?
Dr. Durvasula: Yes, this pattern of deflecting their behavior to the healthy partner reflects two things. In part, it’s something we call projection. When something is uncomfortable in us, we don’t like it, so unconsciously we’ll project it on to other people.
For example, somebody might have a forbidden sentiment, like they have a racial prejudice or something, they’ll accuse someone else of being racist when that is not at all true. We tend to project those uncomfortable, forbidden parts of ourselves on to other people. Projection is one of the key defenses of the narcissists.
Secondly, deflection is also gaslighting, so it confuses the other person. Anything that confuses someone else and denies, twists, and contorts the other person’s reality is gaslighting, which is emotional abuse. When all of that is happening, some people say, “It’s almost like my reality changed. I was getting sucked into this alternate universe.”
If you are in a truly, truly abusive relationship, we know that one of the main tools of the abuser and the controlling partner is to cut that person off from other people like from friends and family. Because one of the most important self-assessment tools for a reality check are the other relationships you have.
The people that far predated this partner, the people who know you and love you and get you and unconditionally are behind you. That you can go and check this out and say, “You know, it’s interesting, my partner accused me of (whatever it is and it’s not something you believe about yourself).”
A good honest friend will say, “Yeah, sometimes you can be like that,” or they might say, “Goodness, in no universe we occupy are you that thing. That’s so strange that this person would say that.” We all need those safe reality check spaces to go to.
Like I said, in a lot of these narcissistic relationships, many times the narcissist detects that there are other people around their new partner that are going to be healthy and, slowly but surely, they distance themselves from them. They say negative things about those friends like, “Oh, your friend, she doesn’t have your best interests at heart,” or, “Your sister was flirting with me,” or whatever it may be, to create mistrust in those relationships to take away that support network. But we need those faces.
Another place a person can get that is in therapy. If you have a good therapist, that good therapist will give you the reality check. If you’re go into therapy and say, “This is what happened, and it confused me.” A good therapist will walk you through and say, “That’s not been my experience of you.”
It’s having these kinds of unconditional accepting spaces, where your reality is not being twisted. That can be very useful. Ultimately, though, what I want for everybody is that they have within themselves a space where they know who they are.
A Woman Who Knows Who She Is Can Survive A Narcissist
The challenge with narcissistic relationships is that narcissists prey upon vulnerable people. People who aren’t cynical. People who actually have been hurt in the past, so they believe the party line that was given to them in childhood. People with histories of trauma.
All of these groups are more vulnerable to narcissists because they, themselves, are still doing their own work on themselves. That’s not at all meant to be blaming the victim, it’s just it’s a vulnerability. It’s just like people whose parents are addicts are more likely to be addicts. It’s genetic.
This isn’t genetic as much as what we learn. They know, because as soon as they see that somebody is not falling for their game, they’re going to get out pretty quick. Narcissists are uncanny at figuring out who a good target is and running with it.
I think that that’s another thing that’s so important, especially for young women, to do the work of knowing who they are and what they are about. The problem is, many people start dating and getting into relationships long before they do that kind of inner psychological work, so they’re building the airplane in the sky. You’re learning about yourself while you’re in this relationship and this relationship is actually twisting your reality.
Narcissists Will Buy Their “Good Guy” Image
Anne: What would you say to women who are worried about their abusive husband spending time with unhealthy people around him? So, they’re like, “Ugh, I don’t like it when he spends time with his family or these friends because they just support this entitled mentality that he has.” What would you say to women like that, who are actually attempting maybe to isolate their abuser from the system that enabled him to be an abuser?
Dr. Durvasula: It’s an interesting idea because, obviously, these enabling systems around this person are adding fuel to this person’s fire, right? There is no dissenting voice. They are empowering him, they are enabling him, and he gets away with it, and this can happen.
Anne: I’m just going to interrupt you, in some circles they’re called “flying monkeys,” right?
Dr. Durvasula: Yeah, but flying monkeys, to me, are also people that the person enlists at the time the relationship ends. The flying monkey model, to me, is like—let’s say a marriage is falling apart or someone is breaking up. The narcissist will then go and poach everyone. Even the people close to their partner, their friends, other family, and say, “Hey, did you know that she cheated on me?” “Hey, did you know that she was doing this?”
They bring everyone over to their side, and then they’re all doing the bidding. Like, “What are you doing? Why are you breaking up with him, he’s such a great guy?” “Well, why did you do that to him? Of course, he’s hurt.” That kind of thing. They enlist people.
I think that the people around them before that kind of rupture happens are just merely their enablers. One of the classical models of the narcissistic person is they are often very generous because they use money or invite people on trips, or they buy the round of drinks at the bar. That’s their way of keeping people close. It’s a lot less effort than having to actually listen to people and people never want to kill the golden goose, right.
They’re like, “He’s a good guy. He buys the drinks.” That doesn’t make him a good guy, that makes him somebody with a lot of wasted money in a bar, but they then fall for that thinking, “Oh, well he’s a nice guy because he buys the drinks.” Then, they can find a lot of people who enable them. It could be their boss, it could be somebody who is very powerful in a small town, it could be any number of reasons.
Women Should Know That A Narcissist Doesn’t Change By Changing His Friends
The fantasy, though, becomes, “If I could just get this abusive, controlling, hostile, difficult, unempathetic guy away from his enablers, he’s going to turn into a nice guy.” That’s a fantasy. That’s absolutely a fantasy.
Because, even a person in the midst of any group of people, if they’re good and solid, that goodness and that solidness will shine through. Maybe not as brightly as it would if they were around good people, but a person who is just not a nice person is going to be not a nice person. These people make his voice louder but getting him away is not going to silence that voice.
Anne: Yeah, it also made me think, as I went through that, that this is—because after his arrest he was “free” to hang out with whoever he wanted, because he had a no-contact order and he couldn’t talk to me and I couldn’t influence him at all.
Then, from a safe distance, I was able to observe who he chose to hang out with. He was just choosing to hang out with people who I thought were super unhealthy and abusive and just people I would never want to be around. That’s who he was choosing to be with when he had all these options.
That helped me realize, “Wait a minute, why am I trying to get someone who is acting this way away from other people who act this way, when that’s really who he wants to be with? I just need to let him be free, fly.” I even told him that at the very end. I said, “Fly, go, go do what you want,” and he refused to leave. He wouldn’t leave the home, so that was fun.
Choosing To Stay With A Narcissist
You acknowledge that some women may not be able to walk away and, for them, managing expectations can protect them from individuals and the effects of ongoing abuse. Can you expound on managing expectations and how it can protect a victim from ongoing abuse?
Dr. Durvasula: There are so many reasons why people can’t leave narcissistic relationships. Financial reasons, cultural reasons, they have children, religion, fear, anxiety, and that they still actually love the elements of this person, they want to be married. Even on some of the good days are enough, they want that person around.
All of these are valid reasons and I, nor anyone else, can stand in judgment of that. In this group, though, I’m not counting people who are victims of severe psychological, emotional, or physical abuse. Obviously, that’s an entirely different game where safety becomes everything, but in your garden variety narcissistic relationship there are a lot of reasons why people stay in these invalidating spaces, all of them valid.
If you’re going to stay, though, then you’ve got to maintain realistic expectations. By that, I mean you’ve got to recognize that this is not going to change. This pattern is how it is. Do not expect that, all of a sudden, if you lose 25 pounds, they’re going to be happy. When your kids are grown and out of the house everything is going to be happy. If you kept the house a little cleaner, it would be happy, he gets a promotion, he’s going to be happy.
Nothing is going to change. This is who this person is. This is who they were when you met them, and this is who they are now.
A lot of narcissistic relationships get worse after you have kids. Some people will say, “We were kind of going along and then we had kids. Then it got really dark.” You’ve got to remember, for a narcissist, a kid coming along, kids are inconvenient, they’re noisy, they’re messy, they’re demanding, they are magnificent, but the fact is they’re demanding. For a narcissist that feels not only like a competition, they’re not always the greatest source of narcissistic supply and they pull the partner away.
That’s often why a lot of narcissistic relationships start changing, and not to mention a woman who has a child, her body changes. There is a period of time where it’s not what she wanted it to be and, unless she has lots of resources, she’s not going right back to her pre-baby body, ever, quite frankly. All of those things can make it complicated.
In terms of managing those expectations, this isn’t going to change. This is it. You are going to live a life devoid of empathy. You are going to live with someone who is arrogant. You are going to live with someone who is rageful. You are going to live with somebody who’s constantly needing validation.
What that means, then, is that you know that they are going to insult you. You know that they’re going to invalidate good news. When you get a promotion, they should not be the first person you tell. You call your people. You call the people you trust and love and who will be thrilled for you.
Call a few of them first, and then, and only then, you can tell your partner, “Oh, by the way, I got a promotion.” They’ll insult you, “Oh, that’s just a new title with no more money,” or “Who cares?” or “That’s not even that important of a job.” But, by then, you’ve already heard good things from the people who matter.
You’ve got to learn not to engage. You’ve got to learn to totally dial it down to make sure that you’re keeping it literally to all the things you talk about is the weather, the first day of school is next Wednesday, did you see that the guy across the street got a new tractor to mow his lawn, like that’s it.
The conversation can’t go any deeper than that. If you want deeper conversation you need to do it with other friends. People close to you. People you can trust. You have to engage in radical acceptance that this is how it’s ALWAYS going to be, much like the managing expectations.
You have to get out of patterns like defending yourself. Many times, people in relationships with narcissists are always explaining themselves. “No, no, no but actually remember. Remember when?” No! There is no defending. There is no explaining.
You’re never going to win at that game because narcissists argue like lawyers. You can’t win, so don’t bother. There is no defense. They like the argument for the sake of argument so don’t argue with them.
Set clear boundaries. Have the topics that you won’t talk about. If you do have to spend a lot of time with your narcissist, create a little bit of a detox period for yourself. Do something that’s pleasant for you whether it’s a meditation, a book you like, exercise, something. But understand that, sadly, once upon a time you made a choice, or a choice was made for you, that wasn’t good for you and, for reasons that are important to you, you’re choosing to stay in it.
But to choose to stay in it with realistic expectations is very different than maintaining unrealistic hope that one day this is going to get better. This is like being in Chicago in the dead of February and walking outside in a bathing suit. You’re going to freeze to death. You know that. You live in Chicago, it’s February. You always wear a heavy coat.
This is the equivalent of pulling on your coat when you know that the weather is going to be cold. You know it, so you prepare for it. You don’t walk outside in a bathing suit. It’s the same thing with a narcissist.
Anne: That makes total sense. I so appreciate you taking the time to come on the podcast today, and also, I want to thank all of our listeners who come and listen and who are so supportive of what we do here.
Words Of Wisdom For Staying With A Narcissist
Is there anything else you want to leave our listeners with since all of the listeners at Betrayal Trauma Recovery are in a relationship with a man who may not necessarily be narcissistic but with problematic behaviors and they’re going through really difficult things? Is there anything that you’d like to leave them with?
Dr. Durvasula: I would tell them that, “You know what, no matter if you’re stuck in this relationship or you can walk out, please don’t lose your compassion in this.” It can be so easy to become so hardened by this and so hurt by this that you don’t allow other loving spaces to occur in your life.
I don’t mean finding a new partner or finding a lover, I mean friends and family and people close to you. These relationships, people put so much of themselves in it that they get tunnel vision.
Sadly, we tend to give 90% of ourselves to the most toxic people in our world and then give the 10% to all the good ones. We need to flip that math. Give 90% to the good people and give whatever is left over to these really difficult toxic people.
I think a lot of people blame themselves for these situations. The fact of the matter is, we do not do good jobs, not as educators, not as a society, not as parents to teach our daughters to choose healthy partners.
People tend to replicate their early cycles over and over again. People with authoritarian, cold, distant, abusive, admiration, validation-seeking, unsatisfied parents tend to choose that in their partners. So many people didn’t get that lesson so, yeah, they threw themselves into these relationships.
It’s often a heavy legacy to carry, but you don’t have to lose the best of yourself because you’re in this. I think that we all have broader shoulders than we think, and you can carry this burden and see it for what it is. Find meaning in that suffering and cultivate the other meaningful parts of your life.
Anne: Thank you so much, Dr. Ramani. I appreciate your time. Again, I will leave all these links to the things that we talked about in the article available on our website.
Dr. Durvasula: Wonderful, thank you so much.
Anne: We always love to hear your questions and your comments so please leave a comment below.
Until next week, stay safe out there.