Narcissists are skillful manipulators. They swaddle us in an encouraging (yet false) intimacy to get what they want. When we don’t submit to their demands, we are met with threats, guilt-trips, and punishment. In order to avoid such uncomfortable interactions, we give in to them so we can relax into a temporary illusion of comfort and safety.
Later, we feel annoyed and insulted because we’ve given up our own desires to make them happy. As a result, we accumulate negative inner dialogue that’s always brewing just below the surface.
“I never stand up for myself”, “I always give them what they want, but they never compromise”, “I always let them have their way”, “When am I ever going to grow a spine and say what I mean?”, “I’m such a loser.”
You’ve Been Blackmailed
Narcissists use emotional blackmail to keep us under their control. They know we want the relationship to work and use our vulnerabilities against us. In order to gain their love and approval, we give them our compliance. For example, if you once disclosed that you felt unloved by your family, they will say they can see why. If you pride yourself on being generous, they will call you selfish and uncaring. Over time, this becomes the foundation of the relationship. They do this to create pressure so we will acquiesce.
Emotional blackmail can be hard to detect because often the Narcissist will come across as sweet and giving. Other times, they are openly aggressive. Resultantly, you always carry a vague feeling of confusion and resentment. If you’ve experienced any of the following examples of emotional blackmail, you’ve become a target of this covert power struggle:
- You are “rewarded” for giving in to their demands. This may seem like compromise in the beginning. For example, if you agree to take care of their sick parent on their behalf, they might reward you with an engagement ring. If you tell them you aren’t able to do it, they will say you aren’t “family” material.
- They make it clear in no uncertain terms that they will make your life difficult if their demands are not met. Let’s say your partner is extremely jealous and wants you to dress like a schoolmarm. If you don’t follow their criteria, you will be called a prostitute every day before leaving the house.
- They give you the impression that their demands are reasonable and constantly threaten to end the relationship if you don’t submit. For instance, if you aren’t able to keep up with being their 24/7 caretaker, they will say you haven’t done anything commendable and that there is a line of women just waiting to take your place.
- If you apply for credit for their use, they will finally take you to meet the family.
Personal experience: When my Ex and I were newlyweds, he wanted me to accompany him to his job and sit in the car for eight hours, waiting for his shift to end. When this first started, his excuse was that because of the early hours, he wasn’t able to make the one-hour drive without falling asleep. So, when I had the day off, I agreed to drive him to work and would keep myself busy for eight hours by reading and writing in his vehicle. When his schedule changed to the night shift, he would sneak me in and I’d sleep in one of the empty patient rooms. At this point, his line was that he couldn’t bear to be away from me.
I later realized he was extremely jealous and didn’t want me to be around anyone else, including my own friends and family. He was afraid they would sway me in a way that would have a negative impact on our relationship. When I stopped accompanying him to his job, I was suddenly a selfish, cheating whore who didn’t care about him or the relationship. For a while, his bullying worked. I resumed putting all of my other priorities on the back-burner for the purpose of letting him have his way so I could get the “good” side of him.
Make the Distinction
But what about making compromises? I don’t want to come across as being selfish.
There’s a difference between being selfish versus not establishing healthy boundaries. If your partner insists on getting their way with all the important things and always wants more no matter what, you are being emotionally blackmailed. Compromise implies that both parties will come away feeling satisfied, not just one. If you don’t make this clear, they will regularly assume you will give in to them.
Don’t be fooled by your blackmailer masking the truth in a way that makes you question your perception about what’s happening.
Acknowledge Your Part in It
Blackmail takes two. One person does the blackmailing, while the other person receives it. If it weren’t for our giving in to the Narcissist’s demands, they wouldn’t be able to repeatedly pull it off. There comes a time when you must stop allowing them to use your insecurities and passions against you in order to get their way. This will take a great amount of courage, especially if it’s become a normal part of the relationship dynamic.
When you cease caving in to their demands, you stop rewarding them for their actions, and effectively stop giving them permission to keep doing it.
When we repetitively make someone else more important, we begin to loathe ourselves and lose confidence. We no longer have integrity because we’ve let them take advantage of us time and again, showing them that they are more important than we are. In turn, we take out our frustrations on either ourselves or other people we care about.
It’s one of the many reasons we have a hard time leaving the Narcissist when 1) they discard us, or 2) we’ve made the decision to end the relationship. We’ve lost our sense of identity and don’t know who we’d be without them because everything has always revolved around them for so long. We’ve allowed them to alienate us from friends and family. We feel ashamed and believe the Narcissist is the only person who will accept us.
Resolve to Change
Every time you give up your interests, your friends, and your desires in order to make the Narcissist (or anyone else) happy, you give up the core of yourself and diminish your wholeness. This can lead to a decline in mental health, manifestation of physical symptoms, less efficiency at the workplace, and the betrayal of others to placate the Narcissist.
Is one person really worth all of that? Especially when you’ve gotten nothing in return?
“How would your life be different if…You stopped allowing other people to dilute or poison your day with their words or opinions? Let today be the day…You stand strong in the truth of your beauty and journey through your day without attachment to the validation of others” ~ Steve Maraboli