As hard as it may be for some people to understand, many people miss their abusive Narcissistic lovers once they are gone from their life. They remember how good it was in the beginning of the relationship when everything seemed perfect and they felt so loved and appreciated. They still wonder at times: “Was there anything that I could have done that would have saved that relationship?”
Many of my clients and my readers are being offered what seems like a second chance to find out. They have been contacted by their abusive and Narcissistic exes who are now claiming to have changed and want to begin the relationship again. I am being asked some version of the following question over and over: “Is it really possible that my Narcissistic ex has changed, or will they just abuse me again if I let them back into my life?”
Please Note: I am using the term “Narcissist” and “Narcissistic” in this article as shorthand to describe individuals who made a Narcissistic adaptation to their childhood situation and now as adults qualify for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
If your ex has been reaching out to you and you are wondering if you should let them back into your life, there are some things that you need to know before you make your decision.
The short answer to your question is: Whatever they did to you last time, they are likely to do to you again. This means that if they abused you before, they are highly likely to abuse you again. If you take them back to see if things could be different this time, you are likely to regret it.
Why will they still abuse you, even though they begged to come back, and said everything would be different this time?
If you take a moment and think about the situation logically, you will understand that unless they have had extensive and very effective psychotherapy while you were apart, they could not really have changed. All that has happened is that they want you back in their life again and are willing to say anything to achieve their goal. They may even have convinced themselves that because they want you again, they will behave better this time.
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are ill equipped for the give and take and mutual respect necessary to sustain satisfying intimate relationships. Everyday life can be very difficult with them, even when the two of you start off with the best of intentions.
Your Narcissistic mate may not intend to abuse you once they are back in your life again, but as they have not magically developed any new coping strategies or changed how they think, they are still:
- Extremely self-centered
- Unable see the validity of anyone else’s point of view
- Lacking emotional empathy
- Using grandiosity and devaluing as their major defenses
- Without a sense of proportion—everything they do not like becomes a huge deal
- Unable to admit that they are ever wrong
- Likely to blame you for everything that makes them uncomfortable
- Unlikely to ever give in gracefully about anything
- Unwilling to compromise
- Likely to suddenly get mad at you and behave badly
- Escalating small disagreements into major battles
This means that when things get difficult or you are not in perfect agreement with them, they will fall back to using their usual coping mechanisms—devaluing you and what you want, being uncooperative and mean, and turning small disagreements into big fights— because this is all they know how to do.
If they physically abused you as well, this is likely to happen again too. Similarly, if they repeatedly cheated on you, flirted with strangers in front of you, or drugged or drank too much when they felt bored or frustrated; they are highly likely to repeat this exact pattern again.
How does this play out in everyday life?
Let’s look at some typical examples from everyday life that usually go fairly smoothly with most people, but are likely to end in a bitter fight with a Narcissistic mate (NM for short). I will put in parentheses the typically Narcissistic behaviors that the NM is doing to create a fight.
Example—A visit to Maria’s parents for a holiday dinner
Fernando is a very controlling Exhibitionist Narcissist who always insists upon being the center of attention. He becomes enraged when he feels ignored. Maria took him back because he said that he had changed, realized that she was the love of his life, and would treat her like a precious jewel if she gave him another chance.
Maria: My parents invited us for dinner. I am really happy about going because my brother and his wife will be there with their new baby. I haven’t seen them since the baby was born.
Fernando: You know that I don’t like to visit your parents (Self-centered).
Maria: I wish you would try harder to like them. They are getting old and my family is important to me. You said when you asked to come back, that you regretted coming between me and my family. You agreed to go to more family affairs with me.
Fernando: Yes, but not if they treat me badly. You can’t expect me to go and get insulted. The last time we went, your father was rude to me and you didn’t support me (Lack of emotional empathy, blaming Maria).
Maria: What do you mean? I didn’t notice that.
Fernando: That’s exactly it! He ignored me the whole night and talked about how pleased he was that your brother’s wife was pregnant. He left me out of the conversation entirely and I sat through the whole dinner bored and fuming and you were your usual oblivious self (Self-centered, unwilling to let others be the center of attention, and devaluing Maria again).
Maria: I am sorry. Now that I know, I will make sure that you do not feel left out this time.
Fernando: It is too late for that! I am not going. And if you really loved me, you would not go either. You would be just as angry at your father as I am (Unwilling to compromise, no sense of proportion, same old reaction).
Maria: Please try and go for my sake. I love my family and we don’t get to see them very often. Besides, now that we are back together, I want them to see how happy we are.
Fernando: That is what I mean! You are always focused on them. You have to choose: it’s either them or me, because I refuse to go, and I don’t want you to go either (Controlling and escalating).
From here on, the above situation degenerates into a very nasty fight where Maria is blamed because Fernando was not the center of admiring attention at the last dinner. Fernando is still his incredibly selfish self. He still does not care how Maria feels and is unwilling to do something that is important to Maria, if it does not appeal to him. He would rather that she, whom he claims to love, miss a meaningful family event, than do something that he finds boring.
Example—Sherry at Jon’s company party
Sherry is Jon’s beautiful Narcissistic ex. She has recently come back into his life after leaving him for another man that she found more exciting than Jon. Sherry told Jon that she regretted her behavior last time, she knew that she had acted selfishly, and she wanted the chance to make it up to him.
Jon: Please do me a favor tonight. I am up for a promotion and have to be on my best behavior at the company party tonight. I love the way you dress, but my boss and his wife are very conservative. Just for tonight, would you wear something a bit more covered up?
Sherry: That is an insulting request! Just because they are old fogeys, you shouldn’t expect me to change for them (Self-centered and lacking emotional empathy).
Jon: You are right. You shouldn’t have to change, but I work for him and this promotion would help both of us. We might even be able to afford that beach vacation you have been wanting.
Sherry: Well… okay. I do want that vacation.
At the Party: Sherry is on her fourth glass of wine and flirting outrageously with two of his male co-workers. Jon can hear her flirtatious banter from across the room where he is standing talking to his boss. Jon excuses himself and walks over to Sherry and suggests that they go out on the terrace together for a quiet talk.
Jon: I am happy that you are having a good time at the party, but maybe that could be your last glass of wine.
Sherry: This is such a boring party that if I don’t drink, I will go out of my mind! Besides, I’m not drunk. Who are you to tell me what to do? (Self-centered, unwilling to give in gracefully or compromise, escalating the disagreement).
Jon: My boss’s wife would like to meet you. They are older and not really drinkers and I am trying to impress them with my maturity. I know it is a bit of a drag for you and I will make it up to you another time. Would you come over to them with me and make some polite conversation. All you have to do is ask them about their grandchildren and ooh and ah over some pictures. They are actually very nice people, even if they are a bit stuffy by our standards.
Sherry: That is so YOU!!! (Loudly) I am sick and tired of you telling me what to do. Why does it always have to be YOUR WAY? Why not MY WAY for once? This is exactly why I left you last time. You are so BORING that I can’t stand it!! (Selfish, unable to see Jon’s point of view, blaming, disproportionately angry, and behaving very badly).
Needless to say, Jon did not bring Sherry over to meet the boss’s wife and make pleasant conversation. Instead, he went back to his boss and apologized, and said that his wife wasn’t feeling well, and they would have to leave early (even though he was sure that Sherry had spoken loudly enough for everyone to hear their conversation).
Punchline: You can’t get blood from a stone. People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder lack normal interpersonal coping skills. When faced with a situation that they do not like, they fall back on their deeply ingrained Narcissistic strategies. This leads them to make even mild disagreements into rapidly escalating and abusive fights.
This article is based on a quora.com post “Do narcissists always escalate their abuse if you allow them access back into your life?” published 3/7/18.