Why some people repeatedly being trapped in relationships with narcissists?
It is quite common for us to see some people repeatedly dating similar abusive partners with narcissistic traits. One of my clients was trapped in a romantic relationship with a man with such traits. In the surface, her boyfriend took care of her in every details of her life. For instance, he accompanied her to and from work every day. He also paid all the bills and supported my clients’ monthly expenses. He helped my client to choose clothes or glasses during shopping. Whenever my client had her own opinion on making some decisions, the boyfriend would influence her to choose his choice and criticise her decision if she did not choose according to his advice. Frequently, her boyfriend criticized and belittled her in every aspects of life, such as appearance, work capability and intelligence. For example, if my client was cheated by a sales, he would say “You are so stupid. How come you cannot figure out the sales tactic and make such a bad decision?” Gradually, my client felt inadequate and inferior. She was afraid to make any decisions in her life. Even when her friends suggested her to think about separating with him, she felt so dependent on him and thought her friends were suggesting something bad for her. Throughout psychotherapy, it was found that she repeatedly dated men with similar traits in the past. She even did not realise this pattern herself without my confrontation. Why do people repeatedly date someone who may be abusive to them?
One of the possible reasons for people to choose partners with narcissistic traits repeatedly is that they may have been abused by one or two of their narcissistic parents and tend to choose partners with similar traits in order to find a resolution of their trauma. Due to their childhood trauma, they may have diminished self-esteem and a need for validation by people with similar traits. Subconsciously, they may think if they have the validation from these partners, they can master their trauma in their childhood and achieve a resolution. For instance, the client above tried very hard to maintain ideal body weight and flawless skin in order to seek the approval from her narcissistic boyfriend even though he kept criticizing her appearance. In fact, she may think that if one day she can obtain the validation from her boyfriend, she would be good enough.
It is paradoxical that some people with childhood trauma stayed in the relationship with their narcissistic partners even after being repeatedly verbally or even physically abused. These people may frequently feel paralysed and helpless when facing the abusive acts their partners had done on them. As a child, these people cannot leave their abusive parents even they had done something brutally on them. Because of their survival needs as a child, they instead need to do their best to avoid being abandoned. In some cases, a child may dissociate from reality of the abuse in order to survive. The child needs to mentally tune out from the abusive acts their parents had on them. As a result, when people with childhood trauma were involved with romantic adult relationship with a narcissistic partner, they also come up with dissociative defenses. They may deny, minimise, or dissociate into a fantasy of the ideal relationship. This explains why some people cannot feel their partners are abusive to them in their romantic relationships.
If you or your friends seemed to be trapped in an abusive relationship with a narcissistic partner, it is important to reflect on ones’ relationship pattern and take necessary actions to avoid being trapped again and again. If one is not sure whether the current relationship is abusive or not, it is beneficial to talk to one’s friends or psychotherapists to reflect on a possible pattern and learn a way out.