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Trying to UNDERSTAND and LEARN from relationship with a narcissist (and not/ no longer spew vitriol about them)

Just because someone can construct a persona to get something from someone else? Doesn’t mean that they’re a criminal or abusive.
True enough. But I think it's useful to actually know whether a person is constructing a persona to get something or being their own true self. At least I find it useful if you have to deal with them. For example, a politician who really wants approval might do what their constituents want, regardless of their own ideas. That's ok, in a democracy (as far as I'm concerned anyway) because in a democracy you hire them to do the will of the people. (In theory.) On the other hand, a person who is only acting a certain way to get something can't really be trusted to be consistent to that idea when what they want changes. Because, in the end, it's all about what they want. It works fine to deal with them as long as you both want the same thing. Once that changes, how things work changes.

@Friday said something back a ways about narcissists being honest. I'm still trying to see how you might look at it that way. I guess it's been my experience that they might not even understand the difference between "truth" and "lie". At least I'm sure they don't see it like I do. My ex-husband probably didn't meet the criteria for NPD, but he had a number of the traits. The trait that caused the MOST problems, for me anyway, was that he'd say anything he felt like saying at the time, because he felt like saying it and got something out of saying it, whether it had anything to do with reality or not. He wasn't lying to get, or stay, out of trouble like a lot of people do. He was lying because he enjoyed the responses he got from telling stories. Kind of like living in a novel that was being written as you lived it. Regardless of his motives, you couldn't believe anything he said without independent confirmation of the facts. Since I value honesty, that was a problem. Totally couldn't trust him.

The mistake I made at the beginning of my relationship with him was not paying enough attention to how he treated ALL the other people in his life. He spoke well of his ex-wife. I took that to be a good sign. It was actually a sign that he wanted to be seen as a person who spoke well of his ex-wife. He was pretty snappish with his kids and his siblings. And, eventually, with me. The difference being, I think, once we were married he figured the door on the cage had snapped shut and it didn't matter any more how he treated me. The way he treated people totally depended on the image he wanted to create and had nothing to do with how he felt about them. For the most part, I'm not sure "how he felt about someone" had anything to do with anything beyond what role he wanted them to fulfill at the time.

I grew up thinking I don't have any intrinsic value, my only value is what I can do, what needs I can fulfill for someone, etc. Turns out it might be possible for someone to just value you for being you. I think the thing to consider in a relationship is where does the other person's desire for the relationship come from? Do they want you around because they want YOU around or do they want you around because of what you can do for them?

I'm not saying I've got this figured out. I don't. And I don't think, @Ecdysis , that there's an easy answer to your question, but it's worth looking into, I'm sure of that.
Thank you all, for your thoughts and contributions to this... It's a very complicated issue, especially depending on who has experienced which bit of it.

You know that parable about blind people touching an elephant and the person touching the leg says it's a tree trunk, the person touching the tail says it's a piece of rope, etc etc... This is what that reminds me of... I see everyone in this thread having experienced a certain part of narcissim - which is real - and it being contrasted to another part someone else has experienced, which is also real - and these two things can seem so at odds they sound almost contradictory.

If you suspect you are being led into a transactional relationship you can test them yourself! If you can change plans at the last minute, cancel, make mistakes, change your mind in general, without the other person sulking, blowing up, having a meltdown… then you have good information that they are probably behaving more relationally than transactionally.

This is an excellent thermometer. ^^^^ All of this.

The thing is, I don't believe this is true at all! Yes, in the LATER stages of a narcissistic relationship, this is an excellent litmus test. And also, for other abusive people, it's also an excellent litmus test. BUT - for the intial stages of a narcissistic relationship, where there is either literal love-boming (in a romantic relationship) or the equivalent of love-bombing in a friendship, employment situation, or whatever - this is exactly what DOESN'T work, because the narcissist is passing these test with FLYING COLORS because they're actively sucking you in. You could theoretically behave at your absolute worst - late for everything, petulant, moody, whimsical - and they'd be in the "idealisation" phase where they're telling you you're "cute" for having flaws...

And this is part of what makes these relationships so addictive and dangerous... That this initial honeymoon phase is continued until they see you "fall for it". Once they can tell you've (finally) bought it, then you've been baited and now you're their plaything. It's a perp thing, to draw you in.

In addition to agreeing that, yes, infants/ toddlers can be very narcissistic, anyone who has outdoor cats must also have observed how perp-y and cruel cats can be with their prey. The way a cat stalks a mouse and waits and waits and waits until just the "perfect" moment and then basically tortures the mouse/ other prey and plays with it - allowing it to "almost" run away and then pouncing on it again... Honestly, anyone who's got an outdoor cat and has observed it's behaviour and who knows about PTSD, perps, abuse, torture etc... must be able to see the really disturbing parallels...

I'm grateful for some of the points you make too @Friday - I agree that manipulation/ being able to read people can be used for different ends. For example, a therapist has to be able to read micro-cues and is trying to "manipulate" clients towards healing, self-esteem, growth, etc. I wouldn't class that as "narcissism" tho, unless it is done with abusive, selfish intentions.

One of the things that has really confused me with my narcissistic ex is how WELL he was able to "empathise" in the love-bombing phase - he was able to read each and every single mircro-cue of mine and respond to it with exactly what I "wanted" to hear. So I think it's wrong for some people to say a narcissist "lacks" those abilites - tho I can very much understand the comment when viewed through the lens of how the narcissist ENDS UP treating people in the later phase which does make them seem like they're devoid of ANY empathy at all.

I think narcissist have a "special" kind of empathy - it's literally an ability to "micro-read cues" and to intuit what the other person wants - but I think it's not connected to a deeper core sense of feeling that it's "important" what another person wants in the same way it's important what you yourself want. There's no deep sense of "we all have human needs and that's okay, it's part of what makes us all alike".

To make matters more complicated, my narcissistic ex is also a survivor or major childhood trauma. I can "see" where the brokeness comes from. It's a different kind of breaking of the soul than what happens with people with PTSD. Until I experienced him close up in all his facets, I didn't truly realise that people could break "that way". I sort of was aware of it from cultural descriptions of narcissists and perps... but I never understood it fully until I experienced it first-hand.

The "why" aspect does bother me and if some people view it as an unhelpful question for them, that's fine. For me it truly is an important one, just because of how my mind works. I know my mind won't rest until I've understood the "why" aspect to some degree.

One thing I can be grateful for is that my ex was not a deeply malignant narcissist. If he'd wanted/ intended to truly F*CK me up, he could have inflicted much, much, much more harm. Thankfully, he's not someone that actually thrives on seeing someone else suffer - he's not a sadist. If I'd gotten entangled with someone like that... who knows what might have happened.

I think he's much more a... "confused" narcissist... The whole love-bombing phase and then later the controlling/ devaluing phase gave him some kind of ego-boost, which he was desperately in need of. He definitely fits the category "covert" narcissts - he was never physically abusive - he was more the type who would guilt-trip me that I had "looked at him wrong" and "made him feel awful" by saying a wrong word. It was pure and utter mindf*ck and done to manipulate and control, but it wasn't the pure hell of a sadistic type using physical violence or bent on making me suffer.

Also, another part of the dynamic was this: I told my ex, before we got together, that I had PTSD. I figured it was fair to be upfront about that, as we were getting closer. He didn't mind it at all - which I recall being surprised about - but also thinking "Hey, how nice that someone's not freaked out by it". Only much, much, much later did I realise that PTSD actually fit part of his "type" of who he was attracted to. He wanted to be with a woman who was "weaker" than him, someone that he could be the "strong hero" for.

The thing is that he literally misunderstood what my "having PTSD" meant. He assumed it meant I was weak and vulnerable and needy. He did not realise that it meant that I was "avoidant attachment" and used to fighting for survival, looking after myself, being hypervigilant about signs of abuse. So once the abusive phase started, I actually got out quick smart. I didn't stay "in" the abusive phase of the relationship. I did leave. (But the damage was still done... The devaluation and abuse happened in the breakup phase and the aftermath phase, but it still happened.)

During the breakup and the aftermath phase, I actually screamed and screamed and screamed at him - yelling out every single ounce of my frustration and hurt and indignation at being treated like a piece of dirt, so the whole "ego boost" that he'd acquired in the inital phases of the relationship - it was all undone by the disgusting, prolonged, blamey, shitty breakup phase. So he didn't "win" anything from this whole stupid process at all. He tried it - and had he chosen his victim better - it would've worked. But this way, even though I've been left with a huge amount of psychological damage by being put through the process of being someone else's prey and being used for utterly selfish reasons - he's not gotten what he wanted out of it.

I also feel like he's stuck in a compulsion... I think when we've been the victims of a narcissist, we tend to "give" them too much power. It's not "powerful" to be a maglinant perp or sadist. Yes, it can seem that way, if you're the mouse and the perp is a cat... But really, people who are that kind of malignant antisocial type - they're incredibly broken and incredibly sad specimens - they will never be whole, they will never experience true human contact, they will never understand what life is actually about. While they can cause a shitload of harm - like a toddler with a loaded gun - it's not actually from a deep, true sense of personal strength and ability. It's simply the "power" of someone who is broken to use that brokeness to break other people too and to pull them down into the brokeness so that they are less alone there. That old "misery loves company" adage.
@Ecdysis sounds like you have learned a lot from your relationship!
Yeah, but my subconscious is still stuck in those patterns. It's annoying and frustrating and it kind of scares me how strong that subconscious pull is. It's also done so much damage internally that I still feel like I have years of healing to do, to even get back to where I was before this abusive relationship.

Edit to add: For anyone who's not experienced the love-bombing thing first hand, I'd describe it as the adult version of what "grooming" is in CSA.
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@Ecdysis I couldn't read all of everything, so I apologize.

I think, regardless of how or what other people do, you have (hopefully) self-choice and the ability to have boundaries. It takes about 2 years to even get to see much between people as far as relationships go, and they are a unique and complex dynamic. Adding in we can't often understand ourselves let alone another, we (as humans) are often interacting with 'someone else' (eg parent etc) in our interactions, at least initially, and the fact people have different goals and often expect the other person to exist to meet them, it is a lot to take in. Our gut and experience can be useful. Our ability to equally face our fears can be helpful. But authentic, caring relationships take time, forgiveness and work, and even then some fit, some don't.

A useful thing I heard that cut to the chase to identify potential narcissism is to say 'no' to someone's request or demand. The average person may be sad, disappointed, afraid; but less likely to go ballistic. It's a short cut.

I do know I've watched that woman before, in trying to untangle a relative's behaviour. Ultimately (JMHO) I felt it a bit simplified, and demonized. Not to say it isn't accurate. But it left me feeling creeped out, and I realize, just for myself, if I am seeking that info out it is a bad sign. It leaves me feeling negative, and ultimately it may or may not apply. I think it comes from trying to control it or know how to react to it, and I'm not sure for me it's helpful. The helpful thing is to identify what doesn't work, take loving distance from harm, be grateful even if I am a bit scared of those who seem the opposite, trust if applicable they are the opposite, and fill my life with what soothes my heart, or comes from a place of goodness or gentleness, versus fear or upset.

Best wishes to you. And hugs. 🫂
How come?

Love bombing is spoiling an adult who has their faculties fully developed. Sure, the adult may have some level of vulnerability but ultimately has a choice in how they respond to the over affection. They have a choice to step back and really analyze it.

A kid doesn’t. A kid needs survival and is operating from that very basic place. Grooming can be as basic as you are apart of this family and this is how the family operates. There is no choice to be made. If it’s a stranger who is giving the child attention, the kid is still operating from an underdeveloped brain. There is still virtually zero choice, because the power dynamic is that much larger. If you’re given the choice of you could tell your parent what the neighbor is doing but you’re told they would kill your parents- then there’s really no choice is there?
I disagree. Abuse is abuse and whether you're a victim of it as a kid or an adult, there's often not much you can do about it when you're trapped in the dynamic.

Sure, an adult has different resources than a child.

But if you think love-bombing is "spoiling" an adult, then you don't understand the role it plays in abusive adult relationships.
I disagree. Abuse is abuse and whether you're a victim of it as a kid or an adult, there's often not much you can do about it when you're trapped in the dynamic.

Sure, an adult has different resources than a child.

But if you think love-bombing is "spoiling" an adult, then you don't understand the role it plays in abusive adult relationships.

And you don’t understand being molested as a child. We’ll leave it at that.