Have you had a parent or partner in your life whose approval you wanted so badly yet always seemed out of reach?
Did life feel more exciting or even more worth living when you were in the company of this person and much less so when away from him or her?
Has the quest to be important to the narcissist felt consuming yet impossible to achieve?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then you may have experienced narcissistic abuse in a particular form that preyed upon your hope for authentic connection to others. In today’s post I want to explain how the quest to be important to the narcissist can become an all-consuming quest. The reason is that your pursuit of connection and hope to be important to him or her is used by them to inflate their own self-worth rather than connect to you. And this is done by being able to see you as wanting to be with them more than they want to be with you. And watch until the end, because I will offer an exercise to help you identify if you’re in – or have been – in a relationship like this or not.
Well, my name is Jay Reid and I specialize in helping individuals recover from narcissistic abuse in individual therapy and through my online course & community. We take a 3-pronged approach to recover of 1) Making sense of what happened, 2) Gaining distance from the narcissistic abuser, and 3) living in defiance of the narcissist’s rules. Today’s blog post falls under the category of ‘Gaining distance from the narcissistic abuser’.
If you were a scapegoat survivor of a narcissistic parent or partner then I encourage you to check out my free e-book on this topic. It’s called Surviving Narcissistic Abuse as the Scapegoat and goes into other important aspects of what it’s like to be in the shoes of the scapegoat child or partner of the narcissistic abuser. From self-limiting beliefs about yourself that you must adopt to survive to why the narcissistic personality is so geared to put those closest to them down. This e-book can help you realize how none of this abuse was your fault but the product of the narcissist’s psychological and emotional problems. You can find the link to the book here. And if you visit the site, it can take a few seconds for the registration box where you enter your email address to appear. Just as a heads-up, so you don’t get the impression that there’s no where to sign up for it if you’re on the site.
How does it the quest to be important to the narcissist begin?
There are at least two ways that a survivor can feel wrapped up in getting a narcissist to see them as important. The first way is via admiration. If the narcissistic parent, partner or friend seems is someone whom you find yourself admiring for seeming to possess a certain quality then the reflex of looking up to this person can kick in. If this person absorbs your admiration without offering much to you in return then you may feel like you’re not worth being admired by them or – if it continues long enough – by your self. That feels bad, obviously. It’s that conspicuous feeling of worthlessness that is often the telltale sign you are in a relationship to a narcissistic abuser. When the person you admire is withholding with offering you anything in return and you grow to feel worthless in relation to them then a vicious cycle can get set up.
Beware of the love bomb
The second route to the quest to be important to the narcissist is when they initially act in an ‘over-the-top’ way to entice you into their orbit. This may involve complimenting you in ways that feel incredible because they seem to be noticing and appreciating aspects of you that may often feel unnoticed in your life. A lot of affection may accompany this effort, too. I think the term ‘love-bombing’ is often used to describe this process. Once the recipient of this gets enveloped by how good it feels when the narcissistic person is showering them with such gratitude and appreciation, a fly in the ointment starts to appear.
There becomes something wrong with the recipient that the narcissist suddenly notices and gives him or her pause. This can feel devastating to the recipient because it’s a sudden and unpredicted break in the bliss that had been felt up to that point. It can then create an overriding urge to recover that bliss with this person. You might feel like you went from being worthy of being the most important person to this individual and now due to this ‘flaw’ in you, you’re at risk of them wanting nothing to do with you.
It can stir terrible and panicky feelings of abandonment that are in some sense very real in this dynamic. In order to stave off the dread of abandonment by the narcissistic person, you can devote more and more energies to proving to him or her that you should be important to them. The motivation is intense because it can feel to you like the only way to relieve yourself of these awful feelings of worthlessness at no longer being as important to the narcissist is to get the narcissist to change their mind about you. And then you are in their grip because their opinion about you has to matter more than your own.
How can you surrender the quest to be important to the narcissist?
I think the way out of this torturous yet enticing arrangement (not relationship) to the narcissist is to work your way back to the place that felt imperative to leave: your own experience. As I said earlier, the fuel for this cycle is when you start to feel a sense of worthlessness in relation to the narcissist and that worthlessness can only be resolved by winning their acceptance. Or becoming important to them. So, the cycle gets to be broken when we return to the place we felt we had to leave. It can be useful to do this with the understanding that you see and experience yourself to be unworthy of your own attention because you’ve been influenced to think about yourself in this way as a product of being close to a narcissistic abuser.
In other words, you don’t “really” think you’re not important to pay attention to as you are – but you’ve been treated in ways to deliberately make you think this is true. Nonetheless the feelings that emerge when you give up the quest to be important to the narcissist can be difficult to endure. You may feel an initial sense of hopelessness, confusion, or even disorientation. The pursuit of being important to the narcissistic person may have served an organizing function for you so giving up this pursuit may feel a little disorganizing at first. But, this can be like clearing the decks so that something much sturdier and lasting can develop from within.
As you notice, accept, and begin to champion what’s inside, you’ll seek relationships that complement this. This is different from seeking relationships that let you forget yourself and the bad feelings that can accompany being aware of yourself.
I don’t want to be important to someone who works to make me doubt my importance to her as a condition of our relationship. And further, turns it back on me when I protest how she treats me and claims I’m too needy or sensitive.
How can you know if you’re caught trying to be important to a narcissist?
An exercise to help: A series of questions to ask yourself about someone you suspect may be playing this role in your life:
- I feel more like myself when I’m with this person (Most of the time, Sometimes, Never)
- This person works to understand me where I’m at
- This person values my friendship/relationship and shows me that
- This person values what I offer them as a friend, partner, or child
- This person shows interest and support in what’s important to me – even when they have no personal interest in the matter
- This person knows me
- This person sees me as an intact person
- I am important to this person
- If I need help, I feel good about asking this person for it
If you selected Sometimes or Never on any of these items then it may be worth examining this relationship and considering some of what was discussed in today’s post. Ultimately the goal is enter and maintain relationships that allow you to feel most like yourself and move away from relationships where that’s not offered.
There’s a also section in my online course on Recovery from Narcissistic Abuse that offers even more in-depth understanding of why it is important to gain distance from the narcissistic abuser and offers a blueprint for how to do this. Most importantly, the accompanying private facebook group puts you in connection with other survivors of this kind of abuse and can offer a needed safe and supportive environment to counter the feelings of insignificance and defectiveness that so often strike for survivors of narcissistic abuse. You can find the link to the course here.
Jay Reid is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). If you are considering therapy for overcoming a childhood with one or more narcissistic parents please contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation.