I am so sorry, friend. It breaks my heart that you're here, reading this post, looking for a sign that you aren't crazy. I remember reading articles on narcissistic abuse and crying. I remember the relief of knowing I didn't create the crazymaking. In Al Anon they say "You didn't create it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it." So hear me, you are not crazy. You didn't create their sickness. You can't control their sickness. You can't cure their sickness. The only way to free yourself from narcissistic abuse is to go no contact, to completely cut them off, and to do the deep work of healing yourself so you don't end up in the same cycle with someone else.
I'm not a therapist and I only have what I've learned from my own experience with multiple narcissists, so this isn't an article that will give you psychological insight. But I wish someone had known how to help me identify what was happening and how to get out before I was so damaged. I wish I had read a list of these red flags decades ago. I wish I had started healing myself long before I accumulated so much damage from the relationships I had to work to remove myself from. The most important thing I want you to know is that you can't love someone out of narcissism. The cycle will continue, it always does. They aren't going to change and you aren't going to be the one to rescue them. You will continue to be the punching bag, to bear the full weight of their abuse and anger, to be manipulated and lied to. Narcissism runs deep and, from what I've read and heard, it isn't curable. If the experts are wrong and it somehow CAN be cured, it for sure can't be cured by you staying in the relationship. The only way to get out is to make sure you don't leave a single crack in the door. Even a negative interaction will give a narcissist a reason to keep trying to play you and, if you think you're "managing" them, you are without a doubt being played.
Being the audience of a narcissist is so confusing. Truthfully, I don't know anyone who is able to recognize the narcissist's behavior until they have removed themselves and are no longer the audience. Someone once said that it's just like how you can see that your friend's boyfriend is an asshole but she can't see it. It's because she's his audience and you aren't. Her boyfriend doesn't care what you think because you are completely irrelevant to him and when the lights come on for her it will be so disorienting. I remember an old friend once adamantly insisting that someone who had left a long line of bodies in their wake WASN'T a narcissist. It's hard to see clearly when you're being groomed and manipulated and there's no shame in that. There's just forward movement from the moment you choose to free yourself. How do we make sure we don't end up in the same cycle with another abuser? I'm giving you this list because I wish I had known how to identify what was really happening when I was being manipulated, lied to, abused, coerced, shamed, and used like a drug.
If you’ve been there you know that you truly believe everything they are telling you, despite some nagging gut feelings that something is off. But the moment you are no longer their audience they have to demonize you in order to make sure no one ever believes you. It’s sick. And it’s painful. And it leaves you feeling disembodied.
So, babes. Here are some red flags:
He tells you his ex is crazy.
Nope. Run from that. Run your motherfucking ass off. If his ex is “crazy” it won’t be long until YOU are “crazy”. Narcissists play long running mind games by gaslighting to keep their audience confused and attached. They know exactly what to say or do to cause a reaction from their victim that they can later use to justify their “crazy” label. If you’re hearing a narrative that focuses on the crazy ex, you’re being groomed. I once dated a narcissist who told me his ex was crazy, his friend was crazy (she turned out to actually be the other girlfriend), and then later I saw text messages where he said I was crazy. The stories he spun were masterful and believable, but now it's so easy to see the red flags.
He NEEDS you. No one else has ever made him feel this way. You are the best thing that has ever happened to him.
This is a tactic that hooks you hard and fast. Especially for people who have been wounded in previous relationships or who haven’t even started trying to heal yet. The appeal of being so wanted is a fairytale, one we want so desperately to believe in. Any codependent relationship is unsustainable and, as my friend JoJo reminds me often, an "us against the world" kind of attachment is doomed to fail.
The relationship moves quickly.
A healthy relationship takes time to grow. If he tells you he loves you a few weeks in, wants to move in with you right away, or wants to marry you immediately - GET. OUT. The narcissist is establishing a permanent situation where they can be in control and use you to feed their need to be worshipped.
This is a term that I've become all too familiar with. A narcissist will say or do something to cause a reaction from you and then question what you are reacting to. They'll say things like, "I'm just talking really calmly, I don't know why you're yelling", or "I can't believe you would accuse me of that", or "Why do we keep having to talk about this?". They create situations and then act like you are crazy for responding to the situation. It's a mindfuck and can be really hard to sift through.
They create a harem.
Some narcissists will have multiple relationships going that you know nothing about. Having people need them, want them, and love them makes them feel powerful. If you think your person is cheating on you, chances are you’re not wrong. In one relationship with a narcissist I actually couldn't tell if I was being cheated on or if he was using me to cheat. Once I found out about one other girlfriend, the revealed list of women just kept growing. And hear me, he's still doing it. I hear from women on a consistent basis - he's still preying on strong, vulnerable women and telling them the same story he spun with me.
She can spin a story so masterfully that it’s hard to catch the lies.
Narcissists need the world to see them in a particular way. This is why a lot of narcissists choose roles as religious leaders. They give the illusion of being almost worshipped while maintaining spiritual control over a lot of people. If you try to leave a narcissist or ask for help, it’s likely that people will think you are “crazy” (red flag number one), a bitch, controlling, ungodly - the list is endless. They are being fed a visual of what this narcissist wants them to see and you’re suggesting something completely outside of the public perception. Unfortunately, if you live with the narcissist, you’re the only one who is fully aware that they are not who they say they are.
In order to diminish you, to make you feel crazy, and to continue to manipulate you a narcissist will project their own behavior onto you. They might even call you a narcissist or accuse you of doing things that they have been doing to you. It’s part of the crazymaking and gaslighting. Deflecting can go hand in hand with projecting. Rather than answering a question outright, they'll gaslight you, push the conversation in another direction, or provoke you into anger or frustration so they can avoid having to be held accountable. If you aren't getting straight, clear answers, chances are this is a red flag you need to pay attention to.
A narcissist will make everything about them. Every conversation, situation, life crises, and interaction will ultimately be about them. They typically lack empathy, but their interest in your life might be confused for empathy. At the end of the day, it will have just served their need for inflating themselves.
It's incredibly hard to do, but the ONLY way to be free of narcissistic abuse is to go no contact. Do not respond to their attempts to talk to you. Block them. Refuse to be baited into a conversation. If they can get you defending yourself, they’ve pulled you back into their web. You owe them nothing. They will never show up to a clear or reasonable conversation. They aren’t even capable of it.
If you can’t go no contact because of uncontrollable circumstances, hold a hard line of limited contact and don’t be dragged into their crazymaking. Get a counselor who can help you identify the behavior and how to keep yourself away from it. It’s hard. They know you now and they know how to push your buttons, but they do not own you.
The sad thing is narcissism can’t be cured. So if you’re thinking you’ll wait it out and love them into wholeness, you're wasting your energy and good heart on a situation that statistically will NEVER get better.
Regardless of what the narcissist does with their life YOU do not have to continue to cycle. And if you’ve already gotten away from a narcissist it is such a good idea to work with someone who is qualified to help you unravel your own patterns. If you don’t heal yourself, you’ll end up in the same situation with someone else.
I know it feels overwhelming, heartbreaking, and like a complete destruction of your ability to trust again, but it will get better. Please please do your own heart work with a counselor or a life transition coach. Let someone come alongside you as you heal yourself.