Notes From Kristen

Why It’s So Hard to Explain Your Relationship with a Narcissist

I’ve been really fortunate that I have mostly supportive people in my life right now. Given how very little knowledge there is about narcissistic abuse out there, how difficult it is to understand, and how much victim-blaming there is about abuse in general, I consider myself to have been extremely lucky to have had the kind of support I’ve had about making this situation public.

It says a lot about the people I know that they have been so supportive and I feel so grateful.

I have run into a couple of people who make uninformed statements about it, and I heard some of it at the wrong time and had to be careful for awhile. It was bad enough my ex-boyfriend had scooped out a large part of my own identity and replaced it with his own ways of seeing things. I was already trying to purge everything he had poured into me over the years: doubts, blame, fear, lack of trust in my own judgment.

There has been a silver lining in the victim-blaming I’ve heard. It’s helped shed even more light for me on why explaining narcissistic abuse is so hard by providing me with an outsider perspective.

What I’ve noticed from these conversations is that there are some interesting double standards that exist about narcissistic abuse. Even when they are not actually used to blame the victims, they can be used to let narcissists off the hook and let them slide under the radar.

Unpacking these double standards, however, actually helps to illuminate narcissistic abuse for what it really is and how it works. Let’s see how that works.

How to Name the Abuse Through the Double Standards

Figure: Double Standard Attitudes Toward Narcissistic Abuse


Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you try to explain to other people how you were abused, they either minimize what happened or they don’t believe you?

It all comes down to a lack of understanding of a narcissist’s motivations and what they are “in it” for.

The typical understanding of a narcissist is someone who stares in a mirror all day, and the typical understanding of a sociopath is a crazed killer with a butcher knife. People fail to understand that there are those who lack the brain structure for remorse or empathy who go to work every day, get married, raise children, go on dating sites, and get into relationships– all areas that require some form of social cooperation.

Yet by actively and knowingly failing to participate in the social contract for such things and instead pretending that they desire to be a part of it in the exact same ways as everyone else, they wreak havoc in all of those domains.

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Narcissists and sociopaths don’t all get on the Internet and try to con people out of money or stalk and kidnap people and keep them in the basement, nor do they need to in order to destroy lives.

So, in reading the chart above, depending on if we focus on the impact on the victim or the abuser’s actions or both, the double standards can come together like this:

  • “Is what happened so petty that it’s not even abuse, or is it so crazy and ‘out-there’ that it seems as if I’m making it up?”
  • “Are you doubting me that it was bad because I didn’t leave sooner or saying the whole thing is too outrageous to be believed?”
  • “Is all that happened that I got played (which, hey, happens all the time, right?) or is it all so crazy that you can’t even fathom why someone would do the things I’m talking about?”
  • “Was I just naïve or do you also assume and live your life as if we all have a ‘right and wrong’ motivated by emotions such as guilt and shame?”

Because… in each of these questions, it can’t be both, right?

This is precisely how and why narcissists can get away with abuse and why it is so effective. It’s one reason why it takes us so long to leave. We don’t see or understand the dynamic that is happening within the relationship and because of that, they have all the power to define it.

Even after we leave the relationship, we have difficulty understanding why they did what they did and what has happened to us.

The double standards illuminate the fact that the narcissist has operated covertly to abuse us, and how they have done so: by taking advantage of the generally accepted values, beliefs, and ideas that are already present about love and relationships which they do not share.

If it were easy to accept that there were people who had a different value system than everyone else who were willing to engage in these behaviors, then their behaviors would not be so unbelievable, and they would not be given the benefit of the doubt when their behaviors were brought to light.

The behavior would be seen for what it was.

If the Behavior Was Seen for What it Was, This is What We Would See…

  1. Narcissists and other toxic people cannot enter relationships through regular means and do not even desire to. They are not seeking healthy relationships.
  2. They must enter through counterfeit means.
  3. We do not recognize this is what they are doing; they operate under the radar.
  4. They operate under this radar because (a) we project our assumptions that we all want the same things out of relationships onto them, and (b) they are acting in ways that indicate that that is what they want.
  5. When the relationship ends, we don’t have explanations for what we experienced because no one, including the narcissist, suddenly comes clean and explains what the narcissists was actually up to, so we continue to project.
  6. No one outside the relationship understands or sees it either because they also project and assume everyone has the same value system.
  7. Therefore, all of these gaps in understanding remain in the explanation for what happened in the relationship.
  8. The blame is heaped on us or the events are invalidated– our naivete, our inability to leave sooner, our “exaggeration” of the situation, this isn’t as bad as we’re saying it is, this is no worse than a normal relationship, etc.
  9. The general framework for understanding what happened is that both the narcissist and the partner were entering the relationship with the same motivations and desires, even if one of them was an abuser. A lack of application of the narcissistic view of the world means that a true understanding of what really happened in the relationship is missing.

This is narcissistic abuse. This is how they abuse. This is how they get away with it.

Kristen Milstead

Instagram: fairytaleshadows

14 thoughts on “Why It’s So Hard to Explain Your Relationship with a Narcissist

  1. This is spot on. I explained what occurred in my relationship that was ended with a sleazy discard right in front of my narcs flying monkeys- yet they say to me “ I wish she would stop portray her as evil” – so – now I regret even trying to tell them to some extent. I put the truth out there and maybe in the future they will question it but they are secondary or tertiary sources of supply to the narcissist and she has them fully under control. They’re like she’s discreet about things. I’m like what does discretion have to do with friendship and honesty ? Her “discretion” is how she controls information -it’s called lying by omission . I’ve learned that people that say they are private people often are so because they’re hiding something for a reason.
    Arggh – Lakelly I have a few friends who know the truth that people like this exist and they have experienced the odd behavior enough to tie it together and believe what I experience… Plus I’m the second ex who is saying the same stuff .

    1. It’s not discretion, it’s deceit. It just disguises itself as discretion because of our own biases about who they are and what they want out of relationships, and they are quite happy to play along with it. Some people don’t want to believe the truth even when it’s right in front of them. It took us a long time to see it ourselves. They fool everyone the same way but use different tactics depending on the type of relationship. Thank you for reading, Kathleen.

  2. Same here – he put it as… I couldn’t deal with her constant lies but it was him who kept making a false reality for me. He married someone else and continued to call me. I was so heartbroken when it happened (in a matter of 10 days of breaking up) that I took that call and I listen to the “ I made a mistake”

    Fast forward 12 months of this- she divorced him. He blamed her as usual.

    Called me to cry again only to get me to meet him cos he was fake dying. I didn’t want to go since I am in a new relationship but the empathetic person I am went.

    After all the fake apologies of how it eats him every day what he did to me and he wants me back but I must leave my current relationship blah blah.
    He loves me so much.

    Two weeks pass- he calls me to say I’m a cheater and this is why he left me in the first place that I went to meet him. Like some sick test. I tell him to fcuk off. Block him.

    I get a call a week later- his in a new relationship. Telling her how much I want him and I went to meet him and I’m a slut and he just met the wrong woman ( now divorced twice) plus my failed relationship.

    But he isn’t a bad guy cos look- I went to meet him right ? And he wants to be “honest with her” and tell her the truth when he saw me and when I called. (Fake triangulation again)

    I called and confronted him about his lies- that I don’t want him and his mentally sick.

    He told me I am not even worth talking about and we are done. Now the newbee is all in love cos his so perfect – dream guy- as we all thought in the start.

    I haven’t heard from him for a month.

    What I want to know is why don’t people believe us about what happened and why do these ass holes still have so much mind space ?

    Isn’t talking about it not letting it go? Or letting us move on. I just cannot seem to get over it.
    These blogs have become obsessive and I can’t tak to my bf about this as it’s comes across like still hung up or have issues.

  3. Ouch!!

    Your ‘process’ has tremendous value to me. Been full on moveing into acceptance guess I should go back and review what else you have summed up and swim in it too.

    But why I am commenting at all (As some one: 27 yrs traumabonded to my ‘shy’ wounded human)

    Is honey…. speed-up and find out what the life purpose of that intellect of your is! Life Goes fast then it is all most all hindsight. Not a pretty additional grieve on top of facing the alone you speak about so elegantly.

    Spocks Daughter

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my post! I’m glad you’re here. Moving into acceptance myself!

  4. Great article, and yeah from the inside it is very difficult to explain to people on the outside. I use the boiling frog analogy. At first the frog enjoys the warm water, but then things get very gradually worse until it’s too late for the frog. Luckily we’re smarter than frogs, or at least we like to think so.

  5. I love my man and I hope and pray that he will change for me because he loves me more than any of the others. Yes he cheated with me on his ex wife but he promises hes turned over a new leaf and it will never happen again. The women he seen in the past still want him but he promises he hasn’t had anything to do with them. I really want to believe him but what if it’s all a lie just like the lies he told the ex wife? We have moved in together in I’ve put my house up for sale so I’m hoping this is perminent but yet I’m scared to death it could all fall apart at any minute.

    1. Hi Faith. I assume that since you’re online reading articles about narcissism that you have seen some red flags or have a feeling in your gut something isn’t right? I don’t know your situation so I don’t know anything other than what you’ve told me. But what I can say is that if your boyfriend is truly a narcissist, they cannot just suddenly decide to change, as narcissism is a defense mechanism developed when someone is young over a period of years and it would take a long time and professional help to dismantle it and put healthy behaviors in its place– if at all. It’s linked to differences in the pre-frontal cortex and amygdala in the brain that partially explain the lack of empathy and remorse, so just deciding to act differently one day would be nearly impossible. I don’t say all of this to be discouraging or make you feel bad, but because I would feel as I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t point it out. Maybe he is not a narcissist, and he has seen where he went wrong in the past and is really changing. You’ll have to decide this for yourself. When you think through all of the signs and symptoms of someone being a narcissist, when you think through the narcissstic relationship cycle, do you see this keep repeating for him (and is it happening for you)? Please be careful and thank you for taking the time to tell your story. -Kristen

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