The Drama of the Narcissistic and Abusive Relationship

17 Jul 2018

When everything has to be a drama

Life with my emotionally abusive wasband, and with my parents before that, was full of drama.  I can’t say that I ever liked drama.  It was just the way things were. Drama was one of those things that pointed to their superiority.  As the wasband once said, “At least, our relationship is never boring.”  Drama kept things interesting – for them. It also safeguarded their power.

Drama is generally a key component of the narcissistic and abusive relationship. It works wonders to keep  you, the victim, off balance.

In the early days, you  don’t understand the underlying relationship dynamic.  Rather, you take it on yourself to protect your partner from the drama.

You assume – and your partner encourages you to believe – that the drama comes from dark forces outside your relationship.  These might include their difficult past, stresses at work, old wounds, a previous toxic partner, enemies and rivals  – or anything at all that they can use to shoehorn you into becoming their protector, cheer-leader, psychotherapist and momma-in-chief.

Sadly, this is one of those places where the agenda of the abuser or narcissist fits with yours. They like having a general staff, while you imagine that by being all things to this person you will “earn” the love and consideration you desire.

Abusive and narcissistic partners create the drama of a hostile world

So you attempt to provide your partner with a safe haven from a hostile world. It takes a long time to realise that a narcissistic and abusive partner can – and quite deliberately does – create that hostile world. Because they love to have a veritable tornado of drama around even the tiniest thing.

One of my wasband’s earliest  – but thoroughly impressive – efforts was caused by  a failure of mine to provide paired, balled socks in his drawer.

I spent the next two days enduring his stony silence and trying to work out what could possibly have happened. I was still sane enough not to connect the total breakdown of our relationship to a slight sock malfunction.

Despite all the years of living with my (equally but differently) dramatic parents, part of me still expected there to be a logical correlation between cause and effect. It did not make sense for my new husband to declare the marriage effectively dead because he could not instantly put his hand on two matching socks. (With the benefit of hindsight, what a pity I didn’t just listen!!!)

Actually, the Sock Drama made perfect sense – it just took me a couple of decades to see that sense.

The wasband and I were very newly married. (Just 2 weeks.)  I was revelling in Married Love’s Young Dream. He, on the other hand, had a different agenda.  He had wooed and won the girl – which had required of him almost superhuman efforts to project himself as a devoted, New Man.  Now,  he really needed to redress the status quo.

Fortunately, he knew exactly how to do it.  He had, after all, also grown up in a household where abuse and high drama were the order of the day.  The Great Sock Debacle provided him with a perfect trigger.

Perfect triggers

However, like most emotional abusers, he could also improvise brilliantly.  He could just as easily have created a drama about,

  • Dinner being late on the table.
  • A random aspect of his creature comforts being wrong.
  • Something that had, or had not, been done.
  • The look on my face.
  • A perceived shortcoming of a family member, friend, or work-colleague.
  • Anything on my part that could be construed as a sign of neediness and/or psychopathology.

Drama serves the Narcissist and emotional abuser well.  It puts them in the limelight where they LOVE to be.  It offers them the opportunity to admire their own performance. It gives them permission to behave as badly as they like.  You know that hoary old “justification, “If you hadn’t done X, I wouldn’t have gone for Y (the nuclear option).”

How they explain themselves

This little diagram may make it a tad clearer.

“If you hadn’t…”

“I wouldn’t have…”

Done X. Yelled the house down.
Had that look on your face. Physically intimidated you.
Failed to do Y to my exacting standards. Called you filthy names.
Refused to speak to you for days.
Accused you of anything I liked.

You will never understand a narcissistic and abusive relationship, however long you have been in one, until you understand the root cause of all the drama.  That root cause has nothing to do with you but everything to do with what the drama queen in question wants to achieve.

Ideally, the accomplished drama queen will reduce you to living in terror of their disapproval while endlessly striving for the perfection that will shield you from their wrath.

How were you to know that, for them, wrath represents a huge source of gratification?  They would as soon forego that gratification as they would volunteer to have the reproductive organs amputated.

An exception that proves the rule

And as I write this, I am aware that this is one of those scenarios that has an apparent exception.  Let me explain.

A friend of mine is currently going through a very messy breakdown from her monstrously narcissistic partner. He has never acted out much of the drama queen stuff. Not because he is better than that. (He really, really is not!)  The point is that he has not needed to.

My friend is such a wonderfully empathetic creature that she has always been ahead of the game – his game, that is. She has always felt his pain, lifted the burden of his stresses, and pre-emptively shouldered his anxieties.

That left him free to go through a lot of years feeling like the psychologically well-balanced guy, saddled with a needy, neurotic  wife.  Mostly, he has not needed to act out to remind her of her place at the very bottom of the pecking order. Mostly, he could score the limelight by contrasting his apparent serenity with her anxiety. From his beloved Olympian heights, he could reprimand her for being “unnecessarily dramatic”. (And then dump more of his unvoiced anxieties and insecurities on her.)

That changed when she finally offered him a Grow Up or Get Lost choice.  At that point, he displayed a previously unsuspected dramatic talent.  He began clutching his chest, tearing at his hair and weeping as inconsolably as the most seasoned drama queen.  (But, in case you’re wondering, he was not prepared to commit to the Grow Up option. Nor was one precious hair of his slightly thinning mane damaged in the staging of the scene.)

Now, my friend is left facing another drama, the How-Could-I-Be-So-Blind-and-Stupid? drama. The answer, in short, is that empathetic people make it a point of honor to do for their loved ones everything that could possibly be expected of them.  Sadly, that means that they can be easily and mercilessly hoodwinked and exploited.

Getting an intellectual handle on the notion of a loved one shamelessly manipulating and exploiting you is not too hard. However, owning that truth at heart level – and feeling the release from pain, shame, and self-blame – is a much harder thing to do for yourself.

The work I have been doing with my dear friend means that she may not – yet – be happy but she has covered huge amounts of emotional ground in the space of a month. She can see the light rather than just the tunnel. It’s a tough journey to undertake alone. If you need help healing from the drama of your narcissistic and abusive relationship, get in touch.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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