How do you know what was true and what wasn’t in a narcissistic relationship?

13 Oct 2022

How do you know what was true and what wasn’t in a narcissistic relationship?

“What, if anything, was true about my narcissistic relationship?” is a question I hear, all the time, from survivors. Naturally enough, they look back, remember the good times that they shared with their partner and get bogged down in confusion. Did they get it all wrong? Surely, the good times were the way they remember them? What are they to make of the whole relationship? Could the relationship be worth saving? And are they the party at fault?

Since these questions can be a major stumbling block for so many survivors of narcissistic abuse, today I want to address them.

The problematic relationship rewrite

Nobody wants to have to go back and rewrite a whole relationship. Yet, at the end of a narcissistic relationship, every survivor is forced to review and rewrite their narcissistic relationship.

Reviewing the end is easy – relatively speaking. By then, the Narcissist was communicating, “robustly”, with a fair bit of unmistakable hostility and disdain.

But what happens when you go further back in time?

Chances are, the further back you go, the more inclined you are to see a relationship that was good enough – or good enough, in part. (Obviously, that begs the question of what good enough means for the individual survivor at the time of voicing that opinion.)   

Maybe, you tell yourself, if you could just have been more understanding and managed your feelings and their behavior better, that relationship could have reached the potential that you decided it had.

Needless to say, the bad parts of the relationship tend to get downplayed in this revisiting. Survivors have to be adept at minimizing what they have been through, in order to survive it in the first place.

 How minimization can work

Perhaps, you might argue, it was only, say, 20% of the time that they were abusive. Percentage-wise that would leave 80% that was good enough – which could probably still count as a 5 star rating.

Even then, was it really the case that they were abusive? Or was it just circumstances and/or work weighing heavy on them? Or alcohol and/or substance abuse turning them into a different person?

So, maybe none of the bad stuff was really real.

However, the good times were real, for sure, and you just needed to fight harder for the relationship…

The gaslighting doesn’t stop when the relationship ends

Even when the relationship is over, the gaslighting doesn’t just end. The Narcissist may well still keep coming back to haunt you with their – gaslighting – how the relationship “really” went.  But whether or not they are physically present, they are still mentally emotionally present in your life inasmuch as   you continue to buy into the Narcissist’s gaslighting.  That does not bode well for your healing and life after.

Who told you that you were the root cause of all the problems in the relationship? None other than the Narcissist, or course.

Are they really that conscious and calculating?

“But could the Narcissist really be that bad and that calculating?  Can they really, consciously be behaving that way?”  you likely ask yourself – and others – over and over again.

The preferred answer, at this point, is

“No! of course they weren’t bad or calculating. They knew not what they did. They were just lost, wounded souls who needed a never-ending, intravenous supply of love concentrate. They only lashed out because they were hurting so much. And….”

Well, you know the rest of that story as well as I do.

Whenever people start down that road, they sidestep the nub of the matter: this is a toxic relationship in which one partner repeatedly behaves in an unacceptable manner, employing all the characteristic techniques of verbal violence.  That may well spill into a degree of physical violence, also.

Trust nobody who tries to convince you that there are legitimate causes/excuses for abuse. There are not. The abuser is wholly responsible for their abuse.

No, you were not tangoing

My Narcissistic ex loved telling me that it took two to tango (despite not even being a dancer!!)  He would always resort to that hoary old chestnut after he had progressed through the Silent Treatment and Narcissistic rage, via a little – lite – hoovering, into minimizing and denial.

Yes, he had lost his cool BUT only because the real villain of the piece (moi!) had ….done something or other. Or not done something other. Obviously, that thing done – or not done, said – or not said – was so heinous as to blow a fine partner off track and yada, yada, yada.

The fact is that, in a narcissistic relationship, he (or she) who shouts longest and loudest, with the most vitriol and conviction is the person who will win/persuade the other. That is not tangoing. That is abusing another person.

And the winner is is…

There is always going to be a winner in a narcissistic relationship. However, for as long as you remain in that relationship, that person is never going to be you.

The person who wins is the one who is NOT emotionally invested in the relationship.

Ultimately, the relationships dynamic works like this:

  • The person who is NOT emotionally invested in the relationship will say and do whatever it takes to win the never-ending battles they engineer in the relationship.
  • The person who is emotionally invested in the relationship is forced to swallow their partner’s “truth” – even when that requires them to perform crazy, emotional backflips.

So, how can you not end up disbelieving yourself and embracing your Narcissist’s narrative, no matter how crazy it is?

That is why survivors have to revisit and rewrite their entire, narcissistic relationship to work out what was real and what was not.

None of it was true

When survivors do start to revisit their relationship clear-sightedly, they soon realize that most everything the Narcissist ever told them was a cover story, designed to disguise the Narcissist’s true agenda. What really went on in the relationship bears little to no resemblance to what the Narcissist had led them to believe.

The partner (or child) of a Narcissist was, quite simply, caught up in the web of the Narcissist’s coercive lies. In order to stay in the relationship, they had to buy into the Narcissist’s narrative. So, their endorsement of the Narcissist’s carefully curated public persona served to confer a credibility it might otherwise not have had.

They were never who you thought they were.

The relationship was never a real relationship.

The love that you thought you shared never existed.

None of that was real.

But you were.

Your feelings were real.

Your feelings were real

Sure, you were a pale shadow of yourself because the Narcissist was intent on fading you out of existence, however:

  • the love that you lavished on that partner was real.
  • the commitment that you poured into the relationship was real.
  • the superhuman effort that you made to keep the relationship alive was real.
  • the loyalty that you showed to a partner (who was deeply unworthy of you – not that you knew that at the time) was real.
  • The values that you lived by even through some very dark times were real.

In other words, the relationship was completely fake on the Narcissist’s side but as authentic as you could possibly make it, on yours.

What does that say about you?

So, what does that say about you?

At this point, most survivors jump at the first stick they can find to beat themselves with and reply: “Stupid.”

I don’t believe that you were any such thing. I believe that you were so traumatized that you were not entirely in your right mind. In my book, that doesn’t mean that you were crazy, at all. What it means is that your brain was functioning as efficiently as it could, given the amount of overload you had to deal with.

The amount of trauma that the Narcissist put you through led you to focus almost exclusively on functioning in their parallel universe where black is white (or red or green) UP is whichever side the Narcissist says it is and your partner’s love is the holy grail you must spend your entire life pursuing.

Crazy as your situation was, to the best of your ability, you managed to stay real in that parallel universe.

What was true and what wasn’t in your narcissistic relationship

Ultimately, the answer to what was real and what was not in that nightmarish, narcissistic is both simple and almost unfathomable: everything you brought to the relationship was real. Nothing that they brought – aside from their narcissistic abuse – was real.

What do you do with that knowledge?

The Narcissist would want you to punish and undermine yourself forever after for having been in the scenario that they intimidated you into inhabiting. But why would you do anything that they want you to do?

Why not do something different? Something that fits with the values that you espouse with other people – and could and should espouse as regards yourself, also? Why not give yourself credit where credit is due?

Why not acknowledge that you did your very best in impossible times, and stayed as true to yourself and your values as you possibly could?

You showed up in that relationship in the most authentic way that you could. The Narcissist showed up in all their different incarnations: Lovebomber, Victim, Gaslighter, Bully, Hanging Judge, Vindictive Toddler, Wonderful Person Outside the Home, Hypocrtical Liar, etc etc.  The experience of living with a narcissistic shape-shifter takes a lot of processing. If you are finding it hard to do that by yourself, check out my Break Free Membership. It has the tools, blueprints, insights and support to fast track your recovery.


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.

1 thought on “How do you know what was true and what wasn’t in a narcissistic relationship?”

  1. I can see myself so clearly and with huge obstacles to overcome but i’m a caretaker so even though we are divorced when he asks for help i always help and i tell myself it is because i want him to see all that he has done to me i am still a better person but i know he knows that and he uses me i am aware of that and still i come to his aid and help him. I use to think of all the good times we had but when i read the article i really thought back and i remembered all the bad stuff and it started early in the marriage and lasted 30 years of the same thing, I have a lot of work ahead or me.


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