Narcissistic Relationships: "I Can Fix This" & Other Stories We Tell Ourselves
Let's discuss something that is very important to the recovery from narcissistic relationships and that is unraveling and challenging the stories you tell yourself about the narcissist and the relationship.
It's no secret that narcissists are always creating narratives. They are always coming at you with an angle, they are always re-framing things to fit their narrative of how things are. They do this in order to survive day-to-day. What many people don't realize is that victims do this too. The mind is a monkey, and it can be trained. It becomes conditioned by the environment it's in and part of this conditioning are the stories that we tell ourselves in order to survive. This is not just something narcissistic people do. Everybody does it because that's how the brain works. The biggest difference between people who are pathologically narcissistic and those who are not is probably that narcissistic people are forever in survival mode. They are forever in hyper ego protection mode and mega self-preservation mode. This causes their perception to be very flawed and they believe they are in situations where they must defend themselves even when they are not.
Victims of narcissistic abuse actually are in defensive situations. Someone actually is attacking them. In order to survive this situation, the mind tells itself stories and creates narratives to deal with the situation because leaving is either not possible or not considered a desirable choice. Future faking is an example of this. As we discussed in the episode of the show called "Narcissists & Future Faking", narcissists routinely engage in future faking but victims often "future fake" themselves as well. They tell themselves it will be better when this happens or once that can be done. They create a narrative for the future to help them get through today. Since the narcissist is also doing the same thing, it creates a situation where everyone is engaging in the same coping mechanism together and are reinforcing each other's cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance plays a huge part in narcissistic relationships. As we discussed in the episode of the show about cognitive dissonance, the mind cannot hold two pieces of conflicting information without creating a high level of stress. In order to do this, it has to create stories that mitigate one of these pieces of information. It has to cancel one of them out or make it less meaningful. So for example, if one piece of information is "they love me" but the other is "they abuse me," these cannot coexist. If someone loves you, they do not abuse you. If someone abuses you, they do not love you. Therefore, the piece of information which threatens the overall narrative is going to be mitigated as much as possible. The piece of information that creates the whole narrative is, "They love me." So the story becomes "He loves me but he has a drinking problem," or "She loves me but she can't control her anger." Maybe it's, "They love me but they need medication." In this way, the mind makes the threatening information acceptable so that it can be lived with without upsetting the overall narrative. This prevents the person from having to face the idea that the overall narrative might not be true, as that is seen as most threatening of all.
For narcissists, cognitive dissonance looks much the same, although it mostly revolves around things not being their fault. For example, in the narcissist the pieces of conflicting information may be, "I'm a good person" versus "I did a bad thing." For pathologically narcissistic people, these two things cannot coexist. Good people do not do bad things - ever. Believing that they are good people is something that is absolutely critical to the survival of pathologically narcissistic people. So the stories they tell themselves may look like outright denial of the bad thing ("I did not do that"), mitigation of the bad thing, which is sometimes called denial of impact ("It was not really bad because..."), or denial of responsibility ("I did that because so-and-so made me do it"). Again, this defensive strategy prevents the mind from having to face that the overall narrative might not be true.
The combination of these things creates a folie a deux in which both people are operating under the same madness in their desire to believe that the narcissistic relationship is not what it appears to be. There are many other stories people tell themselves as well.
"I can fix this relationship or this person." This is a story where the person has convinced themselves that they can be the savior in the situation and get what they want out of the relationship. They can help or heal or fix the narcissist and then the relationship will be good all the time. They may attempt to change their own behavior to appease the narcissist or attempt to "teach" the narcissist how to behave in the misguided belief that they can somehow control the narcissist, their behavior or their choices. This narrative acknowledges the abuse but ignores the fact that it is a conscious choice the narcissist is making, choosing instead to believe that they themselves are causing it or that the narcissist can be "educated" out of behaving abusively, recklessly or irresponsibly. They eventually find that this is not true, and that the narcissist is either unwilling or incapable of doing better - regardless of what anybody else does or does not do.
"It will be worth it in the end." This is a story where someone convinces themselves that if they sacrifice enough, if they put up with enough, if they suffer enough, the narcissist will eventually acknowledge this and appreciate it, resulting in a revelation for the narcissist and a change in their behavior. It is a payoff scenario, where the person believes their sacrifice and suffering will be worth it because there will be some kind of wonderful reward at the end. This narrative acknowledges the abuse but ignores the fact that the narcissist denies their suffering and contributions completely. People who are telling themselves this story often hang on for years and years, but they eventually find that there is no reward. Because when is "the end?" There is no end. The narcissist never acknowledges anything and the situation never gets any better. It just goes on and on and on until someone puts a stop to it.
"It will be better when..." This is a story where someone convinces themselves that outside circumstances are responsible for the problems in the relationship and that things will be better when those outside circumstances change. For example, "when we move," "when he stops drinking" or "when she gets a better job." This narrative acknowledges the abuse but has removed the responsibility for it from the narcissist or other abuser and justifies it. The focus is often on making the environment or living situation perfect so that the abuser has no reason to behave abusively. People operating under this narrative soon realize that it doesn't matter what the circumstances are, because the narcissist still chooses to be abusive.
"I can take it." This is a story where someone convinces themselves that they are strong and can take the abuse, in contrast to some other undesirable outcome, such as divorce. This story sometimes occurs with another one, "This is all I know." People may have convinced themselves that they can take the abuse but their children will be affected badly by a divorce, for example, so they will stick it out for a few more years. Or they may believe that they can take the abuse but the narcissist will not survive a separation so they stay. This narrative acknowledges the abuse but denies the equal importance of the victim and places the responsibility for the narcissist's well-being on the other person. In the case of divorce involving children, it ignores completely the fact that the children may be affected badly by a divorce, but they are also being affected badly by the marriage. People who are telling themselves this story are often actually afraid to leave for whatever reason, so they justify staying when they know they shouldn't. They are eventually treated so badly that they realize just because you can take something doesn't mean you should.
"They are just wounded, or mentally ill, or sick, or tired, or..." This is a story where someone convinces themselves that there is no actual abuse going on, just bad-but-understandable behavior from someone with problems. It often involves another story people tell themselves, which is, "They didn't mean it." People may have convinced themselves that the narcissist is unable to help or control their behavior, and that it is understandable considering what they've been through. They may have resigned themselves to putting up with it in the misguided belief that this is what's required when you love someone. This narrative simultaneously denies and justifies the abuse. It ignores the fact that narcissists know right from wrong and that behaving abusively is a conscious choice they are making over and over again. It ignores the fact that they do not behave that way in front of others or in situations where they know they cannot get away with it. Most of all, it ignores the fact that the victim deserves better. People who are telling themselves this story eventually wake up to the fact that they are being abused. To be honest, most knew it all along but didn't want to admit it. They eventually see that wounded or not, mentally ill or not, this person is behaving this way because they are choosing to and, most importantly, they refuse to make a different choice.
All of these narratives are supported - and validated at times - by the narcissist or other abuser in the situation. They will grab any excuse you hand them, they will agree with every lie you tell yourself about them and they will perform exactly according to your narrative (and theirs) when they need to. However, understanding the narcissist's role in this is only half of the problem. It's tough but we need to examine where we might have played a role in the overall situation as well. There always comes a point where people see the truth, and it's usually long before they exit the relationship. One of the ways you can help yourself do that is to examine the stories you are telling yourself. Do they really match up with reality? Do they match up with the truth?
Because the real truth is:
There is never any justification for abuse. Never. The abuser is making a conscious choice to behave that way.
If the stories you are telling yourself deny, justify, defend, explain or normalize abuse, if they justify, defend or normalize staying in an abusive relationship, then it's time to look at those stories. It's time to challenge them. It's time to examine why we are really here and what we can do to get out of this place physically, mentally and spiritually. Part of doing that is understanding the situation for what it really is, and taking accountability for your role but only for your role.
You are not to blame. Circumstances are not to blame. Nothing is to blame for an abuser's behavior except the abuser. Period. You are responsible and accountable for the decisions and choices you've made in the situation but you are not to blame for the narcissist's behavior or choices and you did not cause any of it. They are behaving that way and making those choices because they are choosing to react that way to how they feel and the stories they are telling themselves. Period. There absolutely is no other reason. It doesn't matter what they or anybody else says. That is the reality of the situation.
When we can examine the stories we are telling ourselves, we can find out what role we are playing in our own conditioning and learn to break it so that we can heal our vulnerabilities to these toxic and damaging relationships. We need to examine why we needed to believe these stories and what they meant to us about ourselves. That is the key to unlocking the entire thing.
Many times when people are looking for information about narcissists, it's because they want to know if a loved one is a narcissist. They feel that if they can decipher that, they can decide whether the relationship is fixable. The hard truth is though, if someone is using you, if they are abusing you, if someone does not respect you, consider you or care about your feelings, there is no relationship to fix. The standard should not be that you will accept abuse and mistreatment from somebody unless they have an incurable personality disorder. The standard needs to be that you don't accept it from anybody for any reason for any amount of time.