Narcissists Need An Accomplice
You may have heard it said that narcissism cannot exist in a vacuum. This means it cannot exist in isolation, or without help, and that is the truth. Pathologically narcissistic people need accomplices in their fantasies, their denial and their reality. Otherwise, these things cant exist. Without other people to enable the narcissist's behavior, they can't get away with the things they get away with. Sometimes these people are enablers who are conscious of what they are doing but not always. There's a reason narcissists only behave abusively or outrageously in certain situations and around certain people.
It's not because anyone deserves it and it's not because the narcissist suddenly can't control themselves around certain people. It's because people around narcissists have been conditioned into being unwitting accomplices to the narcissist's bad behavior. They've been conditioned to accept it or to believe that they deserve it. Or maybe they are so beaten down and exhausted emotionally that they just don't care to try anymore. They may believe they can't win against the narcissist, or that nothing will change no matter what they do and so they do nothing.
This conditioning can happen through a few different ways, but the most common is by terrorizing the household with hysteria or rage. People may feel that it's easier and less trouble to simply give in, to give the narcissist what they want. Pathologically narcissistic people may keep their behavior up for hours or even days, until people can't take it anymore and they crack. They may threaten violence, or self-harm, or any manner of horrible thing designed to frighten or manipulate people into giving them what they want.
Another example would be silent treatment that goes on for days or even longer, coupled with passive-aggressive attacks designed to make people feel tense, anxious and extremely ill at ease. Because the tension eases, tantrums stop and things go back to what passes for normal or even pleasant in this type of relationship, people may give in simply to keep the peace.
This is understandable but it's a mistake. Giving into this behavior only reinforces it and increases the likelihood that it will continue. The first time it happens and a person does not stand their ground or leave the situation, a pattern is created. This pattern often begins to feel impossible to get out of, because the tantrums or silent treatments will increase in intensity any time there is any pushback. The longer the narcissist does not get what they want, the worse the behavior often gets.
This happens because this is what they know. The narcissist has been conditioned, too, don't forget. They've been conditioned -- possibly since childhood -- to believe that if they they continue to behave the way they are behaving, they will eventually get what they want. This means that if it stops working, they will more than likely continue on with the behavior in the belief that eventually, it will work. This is part of why people find holding onto boundaries so difficult with narcissistic people. It's hard to create and enforce boundaries in the face of a continuous assault like that. It's hard to stand your ground when someone is doing every single thing they possibly can to get you to back off and give in. However, it's necessary in order to stop being an unwitting, unwilling accomplice in the narcissist's behavior. This is one of the reasons boundaries are so important. They assert that you have the power over what happens in your life, nobody else.
Pathologically narcissistic people need other people to buy into their fantasies, their denials, they version of reality. If other people don't do this, there is a serious problem for the narcissist. The audience for the narcissist's act is not other people, remember. It's themselves. Other people are simply the props they use to make the play they are putting on more believable. Because of this, they need to arrange the situation in a certain way and they need people to behave a certain way or do certain things for them. When it doesn't happen, when the script is not followed so to speak, it punctures a hole in their fantasy and triggers all the self-hatred and shame in them for who they believe they really are. Often, the only way they know to rectify that is to bring it back on script. That's where the tantrums, manipulation and silent treatments come in.
Sometimes people think they are helping. The narcissistic person is SO upset and they are SO out of control that not giving them what they want can seem like cruelty. In fact, this is often a narcissist's favorite accusation: "You won't give me what I need because you're cruel and want to see me suffer." Depending on how far the narcissist takes it, it could literally come down to a life or death situation -- either for you or for them. Many people cannot stand firm in the face of that. But the truth is, it isn't helping. Narcissists don't want help. Not real help. What they want is to be enabled, and that is all the "help" you will ever be allowed to give. Anything else is unacceptable to a pathologically narcissistic person. They have a problem, they need something and you are expected to take care of that problem or give them that something. Now.
It's extremely difficult to hold onto your boundaries in these situations. But your home is not a psych ward. It's not a prison. You should not have to put people on suicide watch or walk on tiptoe in fear or sleep with one eye open. You should not have to deal with being terrorized or manipulated or bullied or attacked because a grown adult person wants something they can't have, doesn't think they need to control their behavior or can't express their emotions appropriately. That's ridiculous. It's not normal and it is not OK. Ever. This kind of thing is literally never OK.
It's up to the people around the narcissist to treat these things like they are never OK. If someone makes excuses for them or allows it, they are sending the message that sometimes it is OK. If the narcissist is not forced to face consequences for abusive behavior because they had a bad day at work, then the message is that abusing people is OK when they had a bad day. And what often happens is that the narcissist will then use that excuse repeatedly. Why? Because it worked. If the narcissist is forgiven for abuse because they said they didn't really mean it, then what will you hear every time?
"You know I didn't really mean it."
The truth is, it doesn't matter what the reason is. This behavior is never OK. They will always have a reason, because the only way they know how to deal with anything is to shift blame and point fingers and insist that other people or stressful circumstances are responsible for them, their feelings and their behavior. Many people are looking to find some way at all to explain the behavior and they often accept the narcissistic person's excuses with relief. The reality is that they act that way because in the moment, they want to act that way. There's never any other reason. No excuse, no reason and no circumstance changes that.
Many people think enabling means approving of someone's behavior. This is not the case. Some enablers do approve of the narcissist's every move and think they can do no wrong, but that is not all enabling is. Enabling in this case means providing an environment where an abusive or toxic person can be abusive and toxic. It doesn't mean thinking the abusive, toxic behavior is OK. Every time someone rescues a narcissist, or justifies their behavior or makes excuse for them or prevents them from facing consequences, they're acting as an accomplice to the narcissist's behavior. That includes the people who don't condone the narcissist's behavior. This is very important, because it's not just about condemning the behavior. Condemning the behavior doesn't matter if no one actually does anything about it. If Mary thinks it's wrong that Josh cheats on her and she tells him she thinks it's wrong, but every time he does it, she takes him back... What is that really going to do? Is she somehow NOT enabling this behavior because even though she allows it in her life, she doesn't like it? If Mike sees that Freeda has launched a smear campaign against someone at work and tells his family how wrong it is yet says nothing at his job, is he NOT an accomplice in this behavior just because he thinks it's wrong? Just something to think about.
In the end, boundaries are essential, not just in this situation but especially in this situation because you are dealing with someone who is either unwilling or unable to show any consideration for you. That means if you don't look out for yourself, no one is going to look out for you at all. You will be dragged behind this person like a kid drags a ragdoll, through the mud and over the rocks. You have to have the self-respect to stand up and say that you are not allowing these things to happen in your life anymore. Narcissists need an accomplice, yes. But it doesn't have to be you.