by Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
In my article, The Five Best Friends of the Abusive Man, I detail the strategies used by narcissists and sociopaths to manipulate their partners. That article received more comments than anything else I had written. I was castigated by some for attributing the abuse to men and I was praised by others for clearly detailing the offensive and off-putting behavior they were never quite able to label before.
I think those men who have been subject to similarly abusive women got the fact that men too can be abused by women. I also think that those in same sex relationships also realized that they may have a similarly abusive partner. In other words, the article struck a nerve and was instructive to those who live in these destructive relationships.
Once you come to understand you have been manipulated into a relationship with a narcissist or sociopath, the question becomes, how you manage or get out, should you chose to do so.
Key to managing or getting out is coming to terms with the fact that you will never have closure with these individuals. You will never have the satisfaction of them “getting it” realizing it is their issues driving the conflict. The reason is because they are ego-syntonic, meaning they view their attitudes, beliefs and behavior as reasonable to the circumstances they find themselves in.
Bear in mind that as a narcissist or sociopath, they view the world as revolving around themselves. If the world revolves around themselves and they do things consistent with that, even if hurting you, then in their minds they are acting reasonably. So while the narcissist or sociopath is ego-syntonic, it doesn’t mean that they will not get angry or retaliatory when they feel that you have thwarted or interfered with their interests. Feeling good about oneself does not mean they feel good about you, particularly if they view you as acting against their self-serving interests. If they had a motto, it might be, “I am good with myself, it is you who has the issue.”
Leaving a person who believes the world revolves around them is like a red cape to a bull. When the world revolves around them, your leaving triggers the fact that they are not the center of your universe. Forget closure as they are only incensed. In undermining their center of the universe belief by leaving, then the narcissist seeks to restore order by assassinating your value. If you have no value, then the wound you inflict on them by leaving is less.
Managing or leaving will require your coming to terms with the fact you were likely seduced or charmed into the relationship in the first place. This can undermine your confidence in yourself and cause you to really question who you are and what you are worth. Truth is, narcissists and sociopaths are experts at seduction and charm. Your only contribution may at best have been being at the wrong place at the wrong time and at worst, perhaps have been emotionally needy yourself such that you were more easily manipulated. Either way, no one deserves the crazy making emotional and psychological abuse that is endemic in these relationships.
Once you see this person as truly personality disordered and that you are not deserving of their abuse, regardless of how you came to the relationship, then you are in a position to either manage and stay, or leave. Just understand though that the likelihood of changing your narcissistic or sociopath partner is slim to none.
Managing or leaving will require strategic thinking on your part. Strategic thinking will require you to find a way of not triggering your partner’s center of the universe mentality while still meeting your own needs. This will also require you to manage your emotions and behavior, so that neither is used by your partner to hold you hostage or as a weapon in a dispute over children or property.
The key is to remember your goal. Whether to manage or leave do not seek closure and do not think your partner will ever admit fault, except as a manipulation on their part to keep you hooked in. Managing or leaving as peacefully as possible will mean finding a way to help you maintain your partner’s ego as intact as possible. While this may sound distasteful and even contrary to how you feel about the situation, managing or leaving is not about how you feel, it is about finding a way to mitigate your abuse and achieving your goals in view of a narcissistic or sociopath partner.
Counseling in these circumstances requires a counselor with considerable expertise who can help you come to understand your situation and help you develop coping strategies appropriate to your circumstance. But most of all, while one does have to understand the narcissistic or sociopath personality, one must learn to manage oneself in the crazy making situation. That can be the greatest challenge and your counselor may help you most with that.
I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.