Leaving a relationship is always difficult and painful, and leaving one with a narcissist can be even harder because you’ve invested so much time and effort into trying to make it work. Even when you do find yourself starting over, many of us end up in a similar relationship with someone else and are left wondering how we got there and how we can break the cycle. Changing your relationship patterns comes down to recognising that there are two people in any relationship and the only one you can change is you.
No one would choose to be in a relationship with a narcissist. What usually happens is that we make the choice subconsciously. We are all attracted to someone who reminds us on some level of one of our parents so that we can recreate the dynamic that existed when we were children and heal the wounds from that time. If your mother was very controlling, for example, and didn’t listen to you, will you tend to be attracted to controlling people as an adult because you still want to try to get that love and attention and care you longed for as a child. That is why we are attracted to narcissists or to people who do not seem to care about our needs. Their behaviour seems ‘normal’ to us because it’s just like our parent’s behaviour, so it doesn’t raise any red flags. Anything that is familiar, whether good or bad, feels comfortable. While we may not be happy with their behaviour, it is hard to leave because we feel driven to try to get this person to give us the love we need. The problem is that the narcissist is incapable of giving you what you need, just as your parent was.
Highly sensitive people are natural carers and nurturers and sensitive to other people’s feelings and needs and narcissists can sense this a mile away. So just as we’re attracted to them because they seem familiar to us, they are attracted to us because they know they will get what they need from us. And that’s what usually happens in the relationship – the narcissist gets what he or she needs and the HSP keeps trying to be loved.
So how do you stop being attracted to people who you are subconsciously attracted to? How do you break the pattern of relationships with people who treat you badly? If you have tried to remind yourself to avoid such people in future you know it doesn’t work. Change is not flipping a switch, it’s a process.
Many of us struggle to make a relationship work and make our partners happy by working harder at the relationship. We tell our partner what they should do differently or we try to do what they want. But despite our deep-rooted sense that this relationship feels familiar, we begin to feel increasingly unhappy because we are still not getting our needs met. The struggle to get this person to love and accept you is not working, just as it didn’t work as a child. And just like a child, we employ all kinds of tactics to try harder, many of which may have worked as a child, but do not work now, such as avoidance, temper tantrums, passive-aggression, crying, pleading, and defensiveness.
But while we keep trying to hang on to the relationship, we know deep down that whatever we’re getting isn’t enough and that’s why we feel unhappy. It’s the struggle for love and the subsequent unfulfilment that makes us unhappy.