One of the hardest things to look at once you find yourself on the other side of a narcissistic relationship is, “Why did I stay for so long?”
While I didn’t understand throughout the relationship that I was being abused, I did know that I was unhappy. I did feel deep shame for putting up with so much of my husband’s behaviour, so I justified it (often even just to myself) to make it less painful.
I’ve been incredibly hard on myself for staying with the narcissist for so long, even knowing that I didn’t love him any more.
It took me twenty years to finally leave, only then to find out who he truly was and that the whole relationship was built on lies and manipulations. I felt doubly sick for giving so much of myself to someone who had never truly deserved it.
Here I share my story about why I stayed with a narcissist as well as reasons why others may stay as well.
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Why Did I Stay With a Narcissist?
First and foremost, I was a stay-at-home Mum. I hadn’t worked since before having baby #1. I didn’t have a career to go back to and being present for my kids was my number one priority.
The thought of having to put the kids into childcare and rush around to work, plus come home to take care of the house, entirely stressed me out.
Ultimately, I knew that even if I was working, my husband would still expect me to be a full-time housewife as well. He had no intention of helping out with the kids, cleaning, cooking or contributing to the running of the household.
I knew I’d just be running harder on the treadmill with no extra help and that I’d be running myself into the ground.
So, how exactly would I be able to support myself and my kids after having been out of the workforce for so long if I left an unhappy relationship?
Funnily enough, my husband didn’t want me to work. Why? Because then he wouldn’t be able to hold it over me and use it as a manipulation tactic.
He’d regularly remind me that he was the one who went to work and earned the money.
“You get all week to do what you want, the weekend is my time.”
“I’m the one who earns the money, I deserve… [insert whatever it is he feels entitled to].”
“I’ve been at work all day and I can’t even come home and have a conversation with my wife without the bloody kids interrupting!”
“I worked my arse off for that.”
“I’ve been at work all day while you’ve been relaxing at home.”
“I’m the one who actually works.”
“I’m not saying you don’t do anything, but…”
“I’ve sacrificed time with my family so you can stay at home.”
“I just thought my wife would want to have sex with her husband after a hard day’s work.”
“Oh, you’re tired?! What about me? I’m the one who has to get up and go to work!”
“Why do the kids get dished up dinner first? I’m the one who pays for it.”
So many times over the years we’d be stressed or arguing over money and I’d say, “I’ll go get some work. Maybe I can get some hours at the local grocery store.”
His reply was always the same, “No, you don’t need to work. I love that you’re home with the kids. We’ll be fine.”
Yet the devaluing comments on how he worked and I didn’t would still continue to flow.
Every time I’d address his put-downs about me not working (because you know, raising kids and keeping the house wasn’t considered ‘work’ in his books), he’d flip the script. “I know how much you do at home. I love that you’re at home and I don’t have to do anything. I’m only joking when I say those things.”
As always with a narcissist, the words were empty, no matter how sincere they felt. He never made any effort to stop belittling me and continued to make me feel as though I was never enough.
The next reason that I stayed with a narcissist was because of the kids. Crazy, I know.
Logistically speaking, leaving him would have been so much easier if it was just myself. I could have crashed with a family member or friend for a while until I could get my own place. I wouldn’t have been a stay-at-home Mum either, so I would have had an income.
But more than that, you undoubtably feel much more bound to someone when you have kids with them. Maybe that’s one of the reasons narcissists have children in the first place. Along with the fact that it makes them feel more ‘successful’ and ‘accomplished’ because they’ve ticked off another social milestone.
I guess there was also a part of me that didn’t want to break up the family unit unless I had a very good reason to.
Sure, being mentally and emotionally abused is a fantastic reason to leave. The problem is, when you’re in a narcissistic relationship with a covert narc, you rarely recognise the abuse until you actually get out.
In the end, I had to leave because of the kids.
I didn’t want my daughter growing up thinking that that’s the way she deserved to be treated by a man. I didn’t want my son growing up thinking that that’s how you treat a woman.
And above all, I wanted to teach the kids that if you’re not happy, you don’t need to stay.
The biggest reason I stayed with a narcissist for so long (20 years) is due to low self-worth.
I genuinely thought, “well, I guess this is as good as it gets for me in this lifetime.” I look back now and can see how incredibly damaging that thread of thinking is for a person.
It’s the ultimate energy of ‘I give up’ and ‘this is all I deserve.’
Given that my mother is also a narcissist, I entered adulthood with such a low sense of self that I was always destined to end up in a narcissistic relationship. It was the only example of ‘love’ I’d ever received.
|READ: 50 Things Narc Mothers Say →
I’d already been primed throughout my childhood to accept gaslighting and pure selfishness from those who were supposed to love me.
My thought of, “oh well, I guess this is all there is for me,” really forced me into the mindset of making the best of what I had…
Until I eventually got to the point where I was working myself so hard, just trying to prove that I was enough (which I never was for the narcissist), that I was burning myself out fortnightly.
I couldn’t continue on that trajectory at just 42-years-of-age, or I’d never make it through.
Stuck in a Cycle
By this point I was completely stuck in a toxic cycle of being abused and manipulated and convincing myself that I had it good.
As much as I didn’t like the drama and chaos, I was used to the rollercoaster. It was familiar.
As an empath, I hated the low lows due to my husband’s moods and rages. I’d do anything to rebalance the energy, just to feel okay again.
So, when things were okay, I’d relax a little and feel like life was all good. It was only in those low moments where I’d question everything and look at my husband with pure resentment.
Nothing ever changed. I’d been asking him for the whole relationship to not speak to me like rubbish, but he continued to do so. I’d been putting up with his crazy anger outbursts for two decades and he didn’t see a problem with them. In fact, it was my fault for “Having a problem with people who get angry.”
Nothing was ever going to change unless someone broke the cycle, and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be him. He had it too good and thought he was perfect.
Being a lazy, covert narcissist, I’m not sure if he ever would have broken up with me. But, maybe if he stumbled across a new supply somewhere along the line, who wasn’t as old and exhausted as I was, he may have.
The Trauma Bond
Then there’s the trauma bond, which I had no awareness of until after I’d left, however, that didn’t make the effects of it any less damaging.
A trauma bond forms when an abuse victim gains an unhealthy attachment with their abuser. As they cycle through abuse, which is then followed by ‘remorse,’ the abuse victim ends up feeling a sense of empathy and compassion for the abuser.
A narcissist will provide their victim with intermittent rewards and punishments to enforce their desired behaviour. Over time, the victim becomes addicted to the relationship by always waiting and hoping for the reward.
The ‘reward’ in a narcissistic relationship is often simply a reprieve from the abuse (of rage, manipulation, gaslighting & chaos).
The only way I can describe my own feelings is by having an incredibly strong sense of loyalty to this person.
I felt like we knew each other so well, we’d been together for so long, how could I leave him?
I didn’t want to hurt him. How mental is that?! The abused person not wanting to hurt the feelings of their oppressor. That just goes to show you how deep the trauma bond really goes.
I was also regularly suffering abuse amnesia. In the moments when he was a nightmare, I’d really despise him. He was ugly, nasty and vindictive. I’d wonder, “Why the hell am I with him? How did I end up with someone like this?”
But then he’d manipulate his way out of every shitty little thing that he’d said or done – and he was bloody good at it, too. I genuinely believed his apologies, which I now know were all fake.
|READ: Examples of False Narc Apologies →
I just wanted things to be calm again in order to relieve my crippling anxiety, so I’d put the crappiness behind me and move on. It was the only way to deal with him and still be able to survive.
Getting into an argument with a narcissist will leave you feeling bamboozled and you will always come out worse off.
Then there’s the added layer of me defending or hiding his behaviour from others, because I was ashamed to have someone treat me that way. I’m not the type of person to complain about something unless I’m willing to do something about it.
Therefore I didn’t go and complain about him to my friends or family, because then I’d have to face the reality of “Should I stay, or should I go?” I just wasn’t ready for that yet.
|READ: Trauma Bonding Explained in Full →
Should You Stay, or Should You Go?
Every, single circumstance when dealing with narcissism is so different.
If you know that you’re dealing with a narcissist, you might be weighing up whether you should stay in the relationship, or if you cut your losses and go.
You will get no judgements from me either way. I know the conundrum all too well after staying with a narcissist approximately 19.5 years longer than he deserved! But, I had to go through the whole journey myself to find my strength within to actually leave.
Only then, on the other side of it, could I reclaim my self-worth and take my power back.
Reasons Why People Stay with Narcissists:
- Financial security
- Cultural expectations
- Family members
- Work commitments
- Feel like they have no other choice
OPTION 1 – No Contact
I always say, the first port of call is to get the narcissist out of your life, if you can. Although cutting them out will no doubt be extremely difficult, on the other side of it all, your life will be far better off.
No Contact means deleting and blocking them on social media, not responding to any calls and messages from them and not ever seeing them again.
Bear in the mind that the narc will not make it easy for you to go No Contact. You may come up against a lot of resistance, nastiness and smear campaigning on their end. But, if you stand firm and stay in your own power and integrity, it can be done.
OPTION 2 – Low Contact
If you can’t go No Contact, consider going Low Contact with the narcissist. This method is all about radically reducing the amount of contact you have with the narcissist to the bare minimum.
Low Contact is often necessary if you’re dealing with an ex who you have children with, a family member, or a co-worker.
With Low Contact, you remain pleasant, but don’t give them anything beyond what the connection requires. It helps to go Grey Rock on the narc at this point.
The Grey Rock method is where you are as boring, plain and uninteresting as you possibly can be. You give no information away, ask no questions and engage very little. Be as boring as you can and the narcissist themselves will get bored with you and move on.
Think of how bland and forgettable a grey rock is and channel that energy!
OPTION 3 – Learn Strategies
If all else fails and there’s no way to rid your life of the narcissist, arm yourself with some strategies for dealing with them.
- Set healthy boundaries
- Talk to others who ‘get it,’ so that you don’t lose your sense of reality
- ‘Grey Rock’ when you don’t want to engage
- Get used to speaking your truth without taking on their energy OR
- Get used to ignoring their views and opinions without feeling the need to argue a point with them
- Only have surface level conversations with them, so as to not go too deep
- Keep the interactions short and sweet
- Find support (friend, family member, therapy, survivor groups etc.)
At the end of the day, only you can decide on whether you should keep the narcissist in your life or not and it will largely depend on your situation.
Either way, find some support where you can safely unpack your thoughts, feelings and experiences.
There are lots of great Facebook groups where you can chat with others who’ve been through narcissistic abuse and are more than happy to listen and help.
Find a close friend or family member who you can trust and regularly debrief with. Or find a good therapist who is well-versed in narcissism and can give you strategies.
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