If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, you will have been through a roller-coaster of ups and downs.
At the beginning, everything would have been wonderful. You might have even thought you’d found your soul mate. But after a while, things started to go sour.
This is because after a few weeks, months, or even years, the narcissist will no longer see any value in you. As soon as they realise you are a real human being, and thus flawed, they struggle to see the use of you any more. They’ll start blaming you for things, shouting at you, or even break up with you, leaving you to try and work out what went wrong.
But for many reasons, it is hard to answer the question: “Do narcissists mean to hurt people?”
Narcissists get offended very easily
Elinor Greenberg, a therapist and author of the book “Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration and Safety,” told Business Insider that narcissists are ultra-sensitive by definition.
“Narcissists are self-protective, and they have their antenna out for disrespect, or for someone taking something from them, and underneath they’re very insecure,” she said. “You have a whole range of people who are hyper-sensitive, lack empathy, for one reason or another, they don’t feel bad when you feel bad, so they can hurt you without realising it.”
Despite this, a narcissist’s own feelings can be hurt very easily. Because of their high sensitivity, any small thing their partner does can be seen as an attack, and any situation where they are not their partner’s focus is very difficult for them.
“For whatever reason, you’re seeing a person who is wildly insecure, and has no real inner confidence that they can depend on,” Greenberg said. “They depend on external validation.”
Without this constant validation by their partner, the narcissist isn’t getting what they want, and they end up seeking it elsewhere. This is why many narcissists often end up cheating.
In the heat of a moment, narcissists can come across incredibly cruel. They say things that many people would really struggle to say to someone they supposedly love. Greenberg said this is because of something called “object constancy.”
“Object constancy refers to the ability, if someone does something that disappoints you, to put that in the context of the whole relationship,” Greenberg said. “I may feel hurt and disappointed but I don’t hate you. You’re still the person who’s my dear friend, and it’s in context. If you don’t have object constancy, there is no context.”
In other words, the when the narcissist is shouting at you for whatever they think you did, there are no memories of the good times in their head. They are totally living in the single moment of being furious with you. In that moment, they truly hate you.
“There’s nothing holding it in context that limits it,” Greenberg explained. “So it goes from you were all good and a good person, to I hate you, you want to hurt me. You have hurt me, I must hurt you back.”
Even the smallest rows spiral out of control
Relationships are hard, even if you are with a non-narcissist. All couples have rows and have to navigate the various difficulties of living with another person. But those everyday spats become all the more serious and devastating to a relationship when the person you have them with always sees themselves as the victim. This makes even the tiniest disagreements escalate into full-blown rows, which can be incredibly exhausting for the narcissist’s partner.
“I see women, a number in my practice, who became extremely anxious and depressed, and their capacity to function diminished,” Greenberg said. “They had mental breakdowns, and one was delusional and paranoid, because the person just kept at them and at them, and they didn’t have the defences.”
Sometimes, the narcissist doesn’t mean to hurt you. Being sensitive to everything is just how their brains work. And if they are — by their own logic — being attacked, they will bite back even harder.
However, by their nature, they may also want to hurt you too, because it makes them feel superior.
Whether the relationship is worth it is up to you
In some ways, it isn’t worth working out what their intentions are because the results are the same. People in relationships with narcissists find themselves wrapped up in the same arguments time and time again. This is often followed by the punishment which could be an explosive confrontation, or cold silent treatment, depending on the type of narcissist they are with.
Greenberg has written an article that lays out the best way to approach a narcissist if you are in an argument with them. They think a completely different way, and so arguments have to be de-escalated differently too.
“Don’t expect an apology directly,” she explained. “Use ‘we’ language, and don’t ever ask them to process what happened — they can’t do that.”
Ultimately, it is draining to be in a relationship with a narcissist, and you have to accept the fact they will never empathise with your feelings, no matter how long you are together. Some may learn to be self-aware in time, and learn to notice when they are hurting you. But this still doesn’t guarantee they will care.
“Narcissists are primed to be abusive because they’re so hypersensitive, and they don’t have empathy, and they don’t have object constancy,” Greenberg said. “So they are primed to take offence and be abusive and not really understand… It’s a lot of work for the non-narcissistic mate.”