Bill liked big breasts and had always imagined his future wife would have ample cleavage. When he mentioned to Connie that he would pay for her to get breast implants, he expected her to gratefully accept his offer.
He was shocked that she declined. As a narcissist, he could not imagine that Connie might disagree with his idea of perfection. His shock escalated to anger and offense. He started to work on Connie to get her to change her mind. He began nicely: “You are a beautiful woman. You and I both know that. But you could be even more beautiful with bigger breasts.”
When she still refused, he escalated and guilt-tripped her: “You say you love me. If you really loved me, you wouldn’t hesitate to do this small thing for me.”
This went on for months. Connie began to doubt herself and started asking other people whether they felt her breasts were too small. In the end, she began to wonder if she was being selfish by not going along with Bill’s offer to pay for implants. And eventually, she gave in, because Bill was so confident in his opinion that she thought he must be right.
Some narcissistic partners want to be the only one with power and influence over you. They will try to isolate you from other people whose opinions you respect, especially those who might disagree with their priorities.
If you allow it, they gradually start exerting control over large portions of your life, until you are afraid to make decisions without their permission. They enjoy the sense of power and control that they get from this.
Example: “Am I too attached to my family?”
Sara’s husband Charles was very possessive and wanted all of her attention focused on him. Charles was alienated from his own family and resented the time that Sara spent with hers. He also resented that they still had influence over her. He set out to convince Sara that there was something pathologically wrong with her attachment to them.
Charles: “You are co-dependent and needy. Stop being a child! You are way too close to your family. It isn’t natural for a woman your age. What is wrong with you?”
Sara started out confident that she was right, and that her love for her family was normal. In the beginning, when Charles would bring the issue up, Sara would defend herself and her family. One night, just as they were going to sleep, Charles would not let go of the topic. She begged him to let her go to sleep and discuss the issue in the morning, but he refused.
“We are settling this tonight,” he said. “We are not going to sleep until you hear what I have to say. I am tired of you ignoring me!”
Charles kept Sara up all night arguing and trying to get her to see that he was right and she was wrong. By morning, Sara was too exhausted to argue anymore, so she finally admitted he was right just to get some peace and rest.
After that, he increased his control over Sara and succeeded in isolating her from her family. Over time, an exhausted and isolated Sara began to question her own judgment and relied more and more on her partner’s version of the truth.
Living with someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a bit like living in an alternate reality where you are expected to accept whatever that individual says as true, even when it is obviously wrong.
If you object, you are made to feel as if you are at fault. Like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland who tells a skeptical Alice, “Why sometimes I have believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” such partners insist that you accept all their opinions as absolute truth.
Even if you are clear at the beginning about the difference between reality and what you are being asked to accept, after a while, most people begin to get too tired or afraid of their partner’s anger to keep correcting them.
It is a small step from there to actually beginning to doubt your own perceptions.
Note: This article contains material adapted from two of my Quora.com posts: “What are the questions to ask yourself to know if you are being gaslighted?” (8/12/17) and “Are narcissists aware of the emotional confusion (fog) they cause on their spouse or are they simply unaware they are doing it?” (8/17/17).