Living Through and Recovering From a Relationship with a Narcissist

Main Menu
3 Home » What is Narcissistic Abuse? » How to Explain Narcissistic Abuse: What Do Narcissists Get Out of It?

How to Explain Narcissistic Abuse: What Do Narcissists Get Out of It?

When some people hear the term “narcissist,” they envision someone who talks about themselves too much or takes a lot of selfies.  These traits may be present, but are essentially harmless and may even be amusing when portrayed in pop culture.

Pathological narcissists, however, lie excessively, wear different masks around different people, have secret lives, and fake positive emotions, resulting in false realities being constructed for victims.  This is all done to manipulate them into willingly making themselves vulnerable enough to be exploited and results in an extraordinary amount of psychological damage.

It all sounds very Shakespearean.

And yet, narcissistic abuse remains very difficult to explain to someone who has never been in a relationship with a narcissist.

We can turn to dozens, if not hundreds, of Hollywood films for understanding some of what narcissistic sociopaths do.  For example, two graphic films, Natural Born Killers and The Wolf of Wall Street, were both so successful at portraying narcissistic sociopaths who respectively killed and conned money out of innocent people, that the movies were accused of glorifying the behavior.

But where in pop culture do we turn to understand how and why narcissists prey upon people’s minds and emotions?

It’s not just about being a player.

It’s not just about breaking someone’s heart.

It’s not even just about someone who has a temper problem and lashes out abusively.

“Somebody being an asshole is not a personality disorder.  If somebody is being an asshole consistently every moment of the day through multiple contexts and multiple scenarios even when you’re saying, ‘Please stop being an asshole, it hurts and you’re ruining my life,’ that’s a personality disorder.” – Richard Grannon

I mean, what is it that narcissists, as psychological abusers, even do?  And, more importantly, why do it at all?  What do they get out of it?

Swindlers, we understand, con people out of their money.  We can also understand intellectually that those who have the desire to kill and hurt others are mentally ill.  Normal people don’t empathize with either of them, but we have a mental construct that provides socially-accepted reasons for why they do what they do.

The things we as victims endure in narcissistic relationships, however–double lives, lovebombing, brainwashing, smear campaigns, hoovering, silent treatments, trauma bonding, and so many other abuses– comprise a mystifying and horrifying-sounding jargon that, from an outsider’s perspective, likely seems dramatic and outrageous.  The details that undergird these terms, however, are ubiquitous in story after story across millions of survivors around the world.

Yet we have no socially-recognized go-to schema for understanding the reasons narcissists abuse people in relationships.

One of the keys to shining a light on narcissistic abuse and the harm it causes is to explain what it is that narcissists are trying to accomplish when they manipulate people in social situations.

Is it just that they get pleasure out of watching chaos around them ensue when they set people against each other and cause people pain?

Again, this sounds like something straight out of a movie, as if there are monsters walking around in human skin who orchestrate social mayhem for no other reason than to do it, because it makes them feel powerful murdering souls instead of bodies.

Despite the dramatic overtones, it is true that the “high” alone caused by the psychological manipulation can explain some of what some narcissists do.  The answer, however, is much more complicated than that.

I’d like to give simplifying the explanation shot.  I want to see if it’s possible to pare down what happens in adult-to-adult narcissistic relationships into just a few sentences that absorbs all of the behaviors and motives.  Let me try with a few propositions:

  • Everyone has social needs, such as love, respect, support, appreciation, a feeling of connection, trust, and companionship.  Healthy relationships are mutually beneficial, in that people give and receive these things from one another.
  • Narcissists need these things in even greater quantites than most people, because they are extremely vulnerable to feelings of insecurity and emptiness unless they are constantly adored by others. 
  • Narcissists are also incapable of giving these things back to others.  This is because they are always driven to be concerned with getting their own needs met above all else.  
  • They will also be incapable of giving these things back to others because to get their needs met, their actions end up compromising the very definitions of these things (e.g., respect, support, appreciation, etc.).  
  • This happens because healthy relationships do not meet their needs, and they must rely on deceptive and manipulative methods in order to receive what they need from other people.  
  • In addition, they are wired with low or no empathy, which enables them to accomplish this.
  • The tactics they use cause immense psychological damage and wreak havoc on people’s lives because the people with whom they enter the relationships are conned into believing the relationships are mutually beneficial ones and then manipulated in a variety of ways once in them.

Almost everything you will ever read about narcissism and narcissistic abuse, on this blog and elsewhere takes one aspect from this broad explanation above of what happens in narcissistic relationships and attempts to expand on it.  For example, an article may attempt to explain why narcissists lack empathy or put their needs above all else, or to discuss how they feel and think, or to describe one or more of the tactics they use to get their needs met, or to explain the effect of a behavior on the victim.

Even though this is an extremely basic way of explaining the purpose of narcissistic manipulation from the narcissist’s point of view and why it matters, I believe an explanation of this type is necessary for helping raise awareness that this type of abuse and manipulation exists and it is a threat.

Kristen Milstead

Kristen Milstead is a narcissistic abuse survivor who has become a strong advocate for finding your unique voice and using it to help others find theirs.


  1. Hi Kristen. Many thanks for your blog. This explains a lot. Can u maybe give me some answers into what you think about this scenario.

    In March 2015, I got divorced, the relationship was over etc and I needed a lawyer as I have a daughter and we had some issues etc.

    End of March 2015, I walk into Mr Narc’s office seeking a lawyer at a kind of a low point in my life.
    I’m not phased by him, his not my type at all.

    Another associate helps me and on my way out Mr Narc introduces himself to me. I politely greet without thinking anything of it and go on.

    About a week or two later the associate calls me and says Mr Narc needs help with something (within my profession ) and I agree to help.

    I help him and from talking about work that one time, he starts texting me daily.
    Simple things like if I need divorce advice or anything I can talk to him blah blah.

    I find out his married for 9 years, his not happy in his marriage, so he says.
    I leave it as that.
    Fast forward weeks of texting daily. I go to his office for a consult one day. He himself helps me after hours (I only finish my work at 5pm)

    After the consult he flirts with me etc and the next occasion I go there, he kisses me and yes I kissed him back.

    Fast forward few months of talking on the phone daily and texting and him saying he likes me and is falling for me. My answer always is- you’re married.

    During the course of this period , my ex husband wants to reconsider the divorce but I am so entrapped into this guy that it seems so easy and uncomplicated that I end up saying no.
    He buys me expensive gifts, flowers at work.
    I meet him a few times and we have coffee and make out (I am not innocent and I am ashamed I was secretly seeing someone else’s husband )

    I was the best thing since sliced bread. His soul mate. We were meant to meet. I was meant to walk into that office that day and meet him.

    It almost felt like a dream to good to be real. Little did I know.

    Anyways DEC 2015, he says to me that he wants to be with me and his in love with me and his going to tell his wife. He actually does tell her.

    Buys me a fancy car for my birthday and he sells mine so now I don’t need to pay a car since he bought the new one. I say no but the deal is done and he meets my father, saying he wants to marry me but needs to sort a few things out in his life first.

    Can I keep my car in the meantime? (My whole family is against this car)

    It’s a big mess as she doesn’t want to end her marriage.
    During this he is back and forth with me and I am constantly anxious.

    Eventually secretly meeting me during this period he gets divorced in March 2016.

    Now we can be together in reality.

    Once he gets divorced (he gave her mostly everything she was due and I said he should including their apartment etc)

    Things are great between us for a while. I go overseas to visit family. Suddenly he starts bringing up everything personal I told him about my divorced and picking on my flaws and what a bad person I am.
    I felt I was always trying to cover for myself. My vacation was terrible.

    He would make up these things his ex wife is doing for attention and saying I’m using him and that would make me paranoid.

    Everything started being an argument at that point. I get back after two weeks. We are ok now.

    We go away together, it’s dreamy again.
    The next weekend he starts accusing me of talking to other guys, suddenly my best friend was an issue and I was sleeping with him or something.

    Sends me these long texts how he gave up his life for me and I’m fcuking around and all this.

    Again, even being innocent and doing nothing with any guy- I feel like shit. He puts me down and I find myself begging him to be the guy I met again.

    He ignores me for few weeks. Then sends me msgs on how much he misses me but he can’t be with me cos I’ll destroy him and hurt him.

    I end up begging and pleading and telling him over and over how much I love him. I used to drive far when he was working late to take him food and be there at any hour he needed me.

    For months this dragged on like this. We are together but we also not together since he can’t do this. He doesn’t trust me. He has trust issues.

    There is a lot of gas lighting and silent treatments and shit in between.
    He controlled me 100%
    I gave up social media, My friends, changed my dressing to how he liked it.

    In August, things are finally back to what they were. Madly in love. His attentive , sweet. I meet his parents and friends and go to events with him and things are finally on track.

    And it’s now a year and half since I met him but he never made an effort to meet my daughter, barely asked about her. The weekends I had her- he wouldn’t see me since he wasn’t ready to meet her.

    In Nov 2016 I go on vacation with a friend of mine. We spend the whole week seeing each other before I leave. He tells me how much he loves me over and over. And how when I get back he wants to ask my dads hand in marriage.
    He wants to meet my daughter. His ready. He proposes to me a week before I leave and once there texts me all the time whilst there for the first 5 days. He loves and misses me.
    Day 6- makes a huge argument because my friend posts a picture of me with her on vacation.

    He blows up saying how I am a slut who couldn’t keep myself from being out there. And I use other people’s things to speak to men and he can’t deal with me and it’s over.

    I beg and plead with him.

    I arrive back home. It’s a day before my birthday. He fetches me at the airport where he tells me he will give me a lift but we are done and he wants nothing to do with me.

    The entire way home I’m crying and trying to talk to him. He keeps saying his sorry and I’m not worth it.
    He drops me home (even though he was supposed to stay with me as per the initial plan as it’s my birthday) and leaves.

    Calls me at midnight, says happy birthday, I love u. I’ll talk to u later.
    On my bday, he doesn’t show up for bday lunch- sends me a text saying- I’m done with this. I don’t want to have anything to do with you. Don’t contact me ever again. We are done. Have a nice life.

    I cried the entire day.
    And the next day.

    Two days later I try contacting him again- he tells me to leave him alone and I’m annoying him and I must move on with my life. At this point he is everything to me. My whole world, my best friend. Everything.

    I never called him for 6 days.
    I went to a mall. I see him holding some other girl and kissing her. I throw an ice cream at him. He swears me and tells me I’m making a scene.

    He married her 7 days later.

    It was like I never existed. I found out he met her 15 days before the marriage and he liked her and they decided to get married.

    I am utterly devastated. Broken. Shattered. Heart broken. You name it, I felt it.
    I couldn’t breathe.
    How could someone who proposed to me a month before- marry someone else?

    Takes her overseas on a fancy honeymoon.

    Anyways- New Years was empty. I cried a lot.
    End of January I get to finally talk to him via a friend. He tells me he made a mistake and his so sorry but now his married and he now has feelings for her and must make it work. But he loves me sooo sooo much.

    He stayed married but she never lived with him at all. They started having issues as soon as the honeymoon was over (btw the same place we first met)

    The entire 2017, was him calling and texting me while being married saying his stuck but now he loves us both and his confused and she treats him so badly and constant bullshit.

    I meet someone nice around August 2017, his sweet amd Kind and sincere and I know he loves me. He meet s my family and my daughter.

    Mr narc finds out about this because I tell him. He flips out. Shouts me and now making me feel guilty.

    Anyways he always threatens me about taking the car back and how can other men sit in the car he pays for ? I tell him This isn’t the case and his married anyway.

    Months go by wih the constant calls and msgs and in dec 2017 he gets divorced exactly one year later.

    Now I’m in a relationship but I still have feelings for me narc who always twists reality and lies to me about how he feels for me and in Jan 2018 he asks me to meet him.

    I say no- I cannot do this to someone else. I love my boyfriend. He is good to me. He know she about all my shit and my car but loves me anyway.

    Mr narc tells me he found out his dying and he needs to see me. I’m his best friend and he just needs me. I say no.

    Guilt eats me all week. Since I still have feelings for him. I end up seeing him a week later. He tells me how’s sorry he is for everything and we can only be together now if I break up with my boyfriend and how we were so good together.

    Then I’m confused and ask him what he wants. He Says husband damaged (from his second marriage) and he has nothing to offer me right now.

    The next week. Starts treating me like shit again. Ghosts me. We argue.
    I block him.
    He calls me Friday saying – I want to see u. We need to talk.
    I mentally prep myself and find myself going again.

    Same lies about how he loves me and kisses my face and holds me and doesn’t want me to go.

    The next day. Again an ass hole. Telling me I’m cheap since I cheated on my bf by even coming to see him but he put me in that position and normally I would never do it.

    I must fuck off and we done.

    I found out two days ago his in a new relationship. Same story. He went to meet her parents already in two weeks and is smitten.

    Telling her he saw me and I’m running after him still.

    I call him and swear him and tell him to stop lying. He says to me- aren’t u in a relationship? Did u expect me to sit and wait around for u?
    Go to your bf. Go. We are done.

    I was done a long time again but he kept working on my emotions and now I just feel foolish for always giving him a chance over everything and anyone. And for 5 seconds I was considering leaving my kind sweet boy who loves me and my child.

    Is something wrong with me?

    1. Hi Sarah – Sarah here. ???? There is nothing “wrong” with you. You are being emotionally manipulated and it’s a very difficult chain to break. I am in the process of the same myself, so I know it is so much easier said than done. The best thing you could do is find a way to cut this man completely out of your life. Again, a million times easier said than done. I see your comment was posted over tel months ago, I hope you are doing ok. Update if you can.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.