Are you in a relationship with a narcissist? Do you want your life to be yours again?
Whether you’re in a relationship with a potential narcissist or have already ended a relationship with one, Power by Shahida Arabi offers advice on how to take back control of your life. Her biggest recommendation is to end the relationship and all contact with the narcissist, but not before gathering plenty of evidence of the abuse.
Keep reading for suggestions on dealing with narcissistic abuse in relationships.
Advice for Those in Relationships With Narcissists
We’ll cover Arabi’s advice for ending, coping with, and healing after narcissistic abuse in relationships. She also recommends that throughout these healing strategies, you strive to have compassion for yourself by understanding that abuse is never your fault, and surround yourself with people who genuinely love you and will support you throughout your journey.
(Shortform note: If you tend to be hard on yourself, speak to and treat yourself like you would a close friend. For example, if your friend took the blame for being mistreated by someone, you’d likely comfort them and affirm that it’s not their fault rather than criticize them. To establish a strong support system, try casting a wide net by identifying friends and professionals who can help you with different areas of life. For example, there might be someone you turn to about work problems, someone you can talk with to process your traumatic experiences, and someone who supports you with childcare and parenting issues.)
Ending a Relationship With a Narcissist
According to Arabi, the only way to resolve narcissistic abuse is to leave the relationship and either end all contact with them (often referred to as “No Contact”) or do so as much as possible (“Low Contact”) if you have children together or need to communicate for some other reason. However, Arabi acknowledges that this can be extremely difficult in practice, for a variety of reasons, so a victim of narcissistic abuse should never feel ashamed for being afraid to leave or for taking “too long” to leave by other people’s standards.
(Shortform note: Relationship experts say that non-abusive relationships can also be difficult to move on from because it’s tempting to reach out again and feel validated by an ex-partner after breaking up. They say that even occasional contact through texts or meet-ups only prolongs the grief over the lost relationship. Therefore, some people assert that going no-contact is the best way to maintain healthy boundaries and move on from a relationship that didn’t work. No-contact should last for as long as either person needs it, so it could be temporary until both people have healed and moved on, or it could be for good. Since narcissists generally don’t respect boundaries, experts recommend going no-contact indefinitely for those situations.)
Some of the many reasons it can be difficult to end a relationship with an abusive narcissist include: the neurochemical addiction to the abuser due to the tactic of using intermittent rewards discussed earlier in the guide, “trauma bonding” (in which the victim forms a strong emotional connection with the abuser to cope with the abuse), fear of retaliation for leaving, a lack of financial independence or housing security, damage to the victim’s executive decision-making centers in the brain (caused by the abuse), and manipulation tactics tailored to win the victim over.
(Shortform note: On the flip side of this, one team of researchers analyzed the stories of abuse survivors to determine what spurs people to leave their abuser despite these challenges. They identified four factors that often contribute to this decision: accepting the reality of the situation (often by learning the terminology for what’s happening), being able to reconnect with loved ones and accept support, wanting to protect their children, and feeling exhausted by the fear and anxiety. Nonetheless, as Arabi suggests, both leaving and staying in the relationship can feel dangerous to an abuse victim, and one survey suggests that survivors return to their abuser 6.3 times on average before ending the relationship permanently.)
Coping in a Relationship With a Narcissist
Given the challenges inherent in ending a relationship with a narcissist, Arabi also provides some strategies to reinforce your sense of self and increase your ability to hold your partner accountable if you’re still in a relationship with a narcissist.
Document Abuse and Confide in a Trusted Person
Manipulation tactics can cause self-doubt about who’s to blame for the abuse and whether your perception of it is accurate. Therefore, Arabi says it’s important to always document abuse by writing it down, recording audio, or telling a close friend or family member who can help affirm your experience and testify to it later if necessary. This will help you gain clarity on what happened and may provide evidence if you need to take legal action later.
(Shortform note: Some additional tips for documenting abuse include taking photos of any physical damage to yourself or your belongings, seeking medical care, and printing out messages and call logs. Experts also recommend storing these kinds of documentation somewhere the abuser is unlikely to access, like a backup hard drive or a password-protected online journal.)
Refuse to Engage
Arabi asserts that trying to reason with a narcissist is wasted effort because they don’t want to resolve conflict, they can’t empathize with you, and they won’t take responsibility for their faults. Therefore, the best way to cope when they launch a psychological attack is to refuse to engage by setting firm boundaries and sticking to simple, factual statements like, “What you said isn’t true, and I’m not continuing this conversation if you’re going to be disrespectful.”
(Shortform note: People also struggle to set and respect boundaries outside of abusive relationships, though to a lesser degree. In Essentialism, Greg McKeown provides some advice on how to push back against people who tend to ignore your boundaries by making unreasonable demands on your time and energy. He recommends refusing to constantly accept responsibility for other people’s problems (particularly in work settings), making a list of the types of requests you can accommodate, making a plan in advance for deflecting unreasonable requests, and creating a written agreement that outlines clear expectations.)
Arabi says that even after ending a relationship with a narcissist, the abuse may have long-lasting effects, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Complex PTSD (CPTSD), low self-worth, erosion of your fundamental identity, cognitive dissonance (in which you try to reconcile differing perceptions of the abuser and the abuse), depression, and self-isolation. Because of these wide-ranging effects, healing can be a years-long process.
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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Shahida Arabi's "Power" at Shortform.
Here's what you'll find in our full Power summary:
- A look at the severe condition called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
- How to avoid or end relationships with narcissists
- Advice for healing after narcissistic abuse