According to many therapists and psychologists, a healthy, functional long-term relationship just isn’t possible when one partner suffers from a “Cluster-B” personality disorder.
In other words, you cannot have a healthy, functional relationship with someone who is incapable of having a healthy, functional relationship. If you’re the partner of a disordered person, it’s not even up to you!
It’s not within your power to change another adult’s personality.
Narcissistic abuse is a freqent outcome of trying to have a healthy, functional relationship with a personality-disordered person over a long time. It’s a disordered person’s reaction to having a close relationship.
One of the first steps in recovery is “radical acceptance” of the reality of the situation.
Unfortunately, “radical acceptance” is often misunderstood—and, therefore, misapplied. This confusion can hinder recovery and unnecessarily prolong or even worsen the abuse.
Before someone else’s apparent inner condition can be “radically accepted,” though, the nature of that condition has to be understood to some degree. While a professional diagnosis is probably the most reliable and accurate way to identify a personality disorder, studies show that the vast majority of disordered people are never diagnosed.
In the absence of a diagnosis, then, a relationship partner is frequently left to his or her own judgment. Here are a few signs that I’ve identified as indicators that a relationship partner might have a personality disorder.
1. You find yourself explaining their own behavior to them. You might say, “Why in the world would you think that’s okay?” They seem not to understand why what they’re doing doesn’t work, why it’s hurtful, or why grown-ups don’t act that way. You feel like a parent with an overgrown, disobedient, rageful child who never seems to learn how to “act right”—or even why it matters.
2. You find yourself explaining logical reasoning to them. You might say, “No, this isn’t true. If this isn’t true, then that can’t be true, either!” They accuse you of wrongdoing, based on how they feel or because of some unrelated event. They ask questions out of the blue about your whereabouts or activities, which seem to have no bearing on your actual life. Then they might condemn your truthful explanation as suspicious. In an argument, they form illogical or emotion-based conclusions that end the conversation—defying rational debate, leaving you frustrated and speechless.
3. You find yourself arguing with them about what really happened. You might say, “No, that’s not at all how it went. I was there!” Even if you were present to see some event, their recollection of it is wildly different from yours. When challenged on their memory of it, they may react defensively and accuse you of lying about it. They might even accuse you of making them doubt their own memory, as if you were deliberately trying to brainwash them. (This is projection, since it’s what they actually do to you on a daily basis.)
4. You find yourself defending your own character or intentions. You might say, “How do you not know me better than that?” You find yourself being questioned when you do something completely innocent, or with the best intentions. You might even be accused of some sinister ulterior motive for, let’s say, moving the salt shaker to the other side of the table. It’s as if you were being observed constantly under a microscope with a cracked lens. It feels like continually being painted in the worst light possible, suspected for anything and everything, for reasons you don’t understand.
5. You find yourself re-hashing the same argument…again. You might say, “Why are we still talking about this? Didn’t we resolve it months ago?” Disordered people never seem to forget, move on, let go, or forgive (someone else’s) past mistakes. It’s as if wrongs (or perceived wrongs) that were (supposedly) done to them are done not just once. They’re done continually—on and on, over and over again, forever…in their minds. Their “suffering” never ends. There is no moving on. The past never recedes for long. It continually becomes the present, and it gets resurrected repeatedly during arguments. On the other hand…
6. They immediately forget wrongs that THEY have done. They might say (about something that happened literally yesterday), “Why are you bringing that up? That’s the past! I thought we were moving forward!” Then you’re made out as if you hold every little mistake over his or her head. Double standards rule with disordered people. What applies to others and what applies to them are two different realms…and they’re the ones who decide.
7. They do even ONE horrible thing that “normal” people just don’t do. These actions are deal-breakers. They are definite signs that someone is just not worth being close to, and may be dangerous:
Killing your pet. Calling your workplace to sabotage your job. Calling the police on you for no reason. Accusing you publicly of something criminal, wrong, or embarrassing that you didn’t do. Lying about you in court. Telling your family that you abuse your (or your partner’s) children. Destroying, damaging, or dismantling your vehicle. Threatening to do any of these.
If this list sounds familiar, it may be time for some radical acceptance. This doesn’t mean “radically accepting” that you will forever be someone else’s emotional punching bag or toxic waste dump. It doesn’t mean “radically accepting” that you need to get better at walking on eggshells.
It means “radically accepting” that the person you’re close to IS the way that he or she is; that he or she may have a practically incurable personality disorder; that he or she likely will never change; that the relationship probably will never improve (and may get worse over time); and that it’s up to YOU to decide what YOU will do in (or out of) the relationship.
“Radically accepting” the reality of your situation may be the first step in ending and recovering from Narcissistic abuse. What you choose to do afterward is YOUR choice—and knowing this may be the most important healing step of all.