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What I Gained by Being in a Relationship with a Narcissist

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Being in a relationship with a narcissist exposed me to massive amounts of pain that were difficult to explain. There was sadness, grief, loneliness, confusion, fear, anger, humiliation, shame. This emotional roller coaster is one you should never experience in a healthy relationship with someone who claims to love you.  

While in the middle of it and even after I went no contact, it often felt like I had lost so much–parts of myself, friends, time, my ability to focus on anything good in my life, the illusion that he was looking out for me and that he was the partner he’d pretended to be. 

Yet while I was still in the relationship and passing through all of the stages of trying to get out, there would be flashes of clarity that would let me know that even though I was hurting, I had learned so much. I knew I had learned a lot about myself, relationships, and the world, even if I couldn’t benefit from that knowledge yet.  Someday, if I could untangle all the knots and start moving forward again, this wisdom would benefit me.

Now time is passing and I have an even clearer vantage point. Here are some of the things that I know I gained from being in a relationship with a narcissist.


1. I discovered I have the ability to love and trust someone that much.

Before being in a relationship with a narcissist, I had been rather guarded. The intensity with which I fell in love with him happened because of a perfect storm of me having reached a point emotionally where I could share myself more openly with someone and of the someone who came along knowing exactly how to elicit those things from me in a manipulative way. 

I had never really fallen in love before this, and now I know what the experience feels like and it was such a wonderful feeling.  I know now that I have the capacity to love someone this much–someone who deserves it, and I can’t wait to share it someday with the right person when I’m ready.

2. I was able to explore my own vulnerability with another person on a physical and emotional level, which helped me “level up.”

Because I was ready to open up to someone and allowed myself to do so, I not only learned that I have the capacity to give that much love, I also discovered things about myself.  During the time when I still viewed him as someone “safe,” I was able to let my interactions with another person help me explore more about how I feel and what I want, and now, today, I have a deeper understanding of who I am.

3. I learned what my strengths and weaknesses are.

Because he was able to exploit what are probably some of my best qualities as well as some of my existing flaws, I now have a greater sense of what both of those are

For instance, he exploited my deep need to feel accepted wholly and completely by another person by pretending to do so. Then, once he had my trust, he either blatantly or covertly betrayed me by doing things such as mocking what he thought I might be insecure about or gossiping, exaggerating, or lying about me to other people in his life, including other women in his “harem” to get them to feel sorry for him or make them feel closer to him.  He did the same thing to me about them.  That’s just what he does– that’s what they all do, right? 

Now that I know what he was able to use against me, I have moved forward during my recovery in understanding that I don’t need anyone else’s acceptance as long as I have my own. 

Yet he also took advantage of my willingness to forgive and give people the benefit of the doubt, my ability to empathize with the suffering of others, and the enjoyment I get from taking care of other people’s needs.  I’m also celebrating and appreciating those positive things about myself as I heal from this experience.  


4. I decided it’s okay to have boundaries and look out for myself first.

It’s okay to be wrong sometimes about whether people were overstepping my boundaries and then apologize for that. That’s the price of making mistakes. Most of the time, I’m going to be right if I listen to my gut.

In addition, if people don’t respect my boundaries, they don’t care about my well-being. And they don’t deserve to be in my life. 


5. I learned that not everyone deserves my attention or generosity equally.

I realize now, sadly, that not everyone has the same heart that I do.  It was a shock when I had to truly face the fact that some people not only are not looking out for your best interests, they may also actively be doing the opposite. Purposely, intentionally, blatantly. 

It’s hard to understand or even accept when you’re not that way. I am now in a better position to protect myself in the future, however, by giving the benefit of the doubt only to people who demonstrate they are worthy of it. Passing it out indiscriminately is setting myself up to be hurt by people who wait for opportunities to take advantage of others.

6. I learned that being treated nicely should not be a negotiable “checkbox” item in a relationship–it should just be standard.

Understanding this led me on a path to exploring why I didn’t already have that mentality in the first place. I was so willing to accept pain if it also came attached to love. Or at least, what felt like love. I am exploring the idea of why I was willing to rationalize bad behavior when it came packaged with the “nice” bow on top. They should not go together. I should not be willing to only see the best side of someone when their worst side is inexcusable.


7.  I am even more aware of the silent ways people can suffer and why people do what they do.

I didn’t really consider myself a very judgmental person in the first place. Now, however, I feel even more in tune with others than I was before. This experience of being in a relationship with a narcissist has sharpened my world. It has given me a deeper appreciation for the pain that people experience. I also understand why and how they can end up in situations they didn’t expect to find themselves in.  

Gaining Wisdom from Being in a Relationship with a Narcissist Doesn’t Mean Excusing the Abuse

Acknowledging these insights helped me grow beyond the narrow view of myself that my ex-boyfriend wanted me to have. Somehow, the same woman who got into the relationship was able to leave it and is writing this today. To understand what that means, I had to understand honestly the strengths I developed while in the relationship.
I don’t mean to suggest any dismissive nonsense about how “it happened for a reason.” It happened because a narcissist took advantage of me.  

I don’t mean to suggest that any of these realizations are an excuse for what he did either.

What it means is that I choose how to define it going forward. I am not just his ex-girlfriend. I am not a victim.

Ultimately, I’ve gained wisdom that makes my life even more worth living. Although what I went through was extremely traumatic, I am now a better, stronger, and more loving person, and I’ll take that. 

It took a long time for the emotional roller coaster to stop. I was angry at the injustice over what I had had to endure. The loss of the love I thought I shared with him had been devastating and I mourned it for months. I also grieved over giving my all to someone and having him brutally violate it without guilt or regret. 

Only time has taken away those emotions. They are not the remainder, however. My strength is the remainder.

I am the remainder. 

We, the survivors of horrendous acts of cruelty, are the rocks that stand here still in time to beat back the storms that did not wear us down.


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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. I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve been able to put into words! I’ve been in a Narcissist relationship for 6 years and left almost 3 months ago. It’s like these guys were raised in a huge isolated building and trained as they do the same things verbatim! It’s mind boggling! I’ve read at least 5 Fairy Tale Shadows a day, usually more. I don’t know how many there are, but that puts me at about 460 because I am determined to heal. So glad to read the one about becoming obsessed with reading being a part of the healing. And yet I still teeter to my amazement. But I getting closer. And the responses I can identify with to the point of being shocked that we are feeling and have been treated the very same way. Again. Mind boggling. So grateful to you for being able to put this into words. I had such difficulty trying to convey the things I have been through. Thank you so much for all of your support, time, and help in my recovery process!!

  2. Kristen Milstead

    Hi Ricia: It’s great to hear from you again. I hope you are doing well. I am glad to hear that this article spoke to you and I hope to create more like this one about self-reflection as I continue on my own path to healing. I’m glad you came back. Thank you for leaving a message. I wish you well in your continued recovery this year! -Kristen

  3. Bravo! So powerful and eloquently put. Be blessed. Thank you. Cara

    1. Kristen Milstead

      Thank you, Cara. You are so welcome. -Kristen

  4. Excellent article again Kristen. You have a real gift for explaining exactly what happens, how devastating it is, and how to become a survivor and thrive! May the Lord continue to bless you with wisdom and understanding.

  5. Ricia/ Spocks Daughter

    Glad to slow up and stop in…

    Because YOUR toon I see, has seemed to change


    went through the library too
    My God!

    I think I was ‘Here’ early
    Must have been because I did notice your one yr celeb

    I quit coming….needed to hold up

    I appreciate the Forward!

    I hoped you would get there?

    What grief we need to spill

    More looking at any Value please

    Spocks Daughter

    My path was:
    Richie, Sam, and Eleanor
    Quora* is my source

    I will stop in more often
    But I couldn’t take more grief on top of my own
    Oxox age 66

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