Quick update: I haven’t spoken to my ex or had any contact with him since September 5th. The last time he messed with my life and continued to try to control it was last weekend. If you ever for a second think you’re dealing with a normal person in all of this: you aren’t. Personally I can’t imagine being that obsessed with someone who’s been ignoring me for months (or years), but so is the life of a narcissist. Trying so hard to be relevant after being ignored for so long. Always chasing admiration. Always chasing attention. No matter how much their current partner gives them, it will never be enough.
One of the questions I was asked most frequently by friends and family after everything happened was this: what could I have done?
If you’ve been a victim yourself, chances are you know the answer to this question. While in certain stages of the cycle, I believe there’s close to nothing that will overshadow the “brainwashing” that the victim has been subjected to. Especially in the “good” times- how could this person who talks so highly of you, or buys such nice things for you, or spoils you, possibly be abusive? Your friends and family just don’t know them like you do. They don’t know what they’ve been through and how they may have problems, but they’re trying their hardest and never mean to hurt you. You’re helping them recover. You’re the one thing that finally made them happy.
So, back to the main question: what can you, as an outsider to the situation, do to help the victim?
1. Gently make them aware of inconsistencies.
I had a specific friend whose mother also has NPD. She would continuously point out the small inconsistencies in his stories (lies) and what he told me initially vs what he said he had told me later on down the line (gaslighting). It’s important to be unemotional and non confrontational when doing this as the victim is almost surely going to be defensive of the abuser- if you’re too pushy when it comes to this, it’s likely the victim with either choose not to continue to talk to you to avoid conflict, or be told not to talk to you further by the abuser. Be ready for this, but don’t let it deter you from attempting to point out the issues. As long as you approach the conflicting situations calmly and factually, the victim should at least take it into account. If they don’t act on it at the time, odds are they’ll keep it stored in their memory bank somewhere until enough situations pop up that they become suspicious themselves and can no longer make excuses for the abuser.
2. Be there for them during the multiple breakups and try your best to withhold judgement.
When in a relationship with a narc there are going to be multiple, messy, breakups before the final nail in the coffin. In my situation, these breakups consisted largely of abusive tirades. Some of them were to the extent I didn’t even tell my best friend that I told everything else to. I didn’t tell my family about any of it after the first breakup until after I filed for divorce. A lot of it was so bad I didn’t even want to tell them until I was home so I could talk about in person. Through all of this, he always had an explanation, an apology, a justification, an excuse, as to why it wasn’t as bad as I thought or not a big deal. Narcissist have multiple stories for everything- they’re just plausible enough to be believable, but never full truth. Gently point this out if possible: how yes, that could be true….but what was more likely? They’re reason, or *insert your opinion here*. Know that the victim will almost certainly go back to the abuser at least 2-3 times before breaking up for good.
3. Victims harbor a lot of guilt, so try to without the “I told you so’s”
As soon as I found out who he really was, one of my first coherent thoughts after the initial whirlwind was “they called it”. My family, my best friends, all of them saw it months before me. Yes, you called it and you were right. Believe me, the victim knows that without you having to them. There is a lot of self blaming that takes place after the discovery of the narcissist’s true self. Try to help the victim through this by being understanding that they were just trying to help, or thought they were doing the right thing, or whatever the case may be.
4. Make sure the victim knows you’re available to listen if needed.
I had so many friends reach out to me after my ex and I split. I just found more messages just last week that I didn’t even read yet. It’s very comforting, albeit it a bit much to process depending on the timing. After my initial post explaining what happened I had 20+ messages from friends all over the country. It was an amazing feeling to know I was so supported, but also a lot to take it while handling everything else. I encourage you to send messages of support, but try not to be put off or hurt if they don’t reply. Reaching out means a lot even if they aren’t in the emotional place to respond at the time.
On the other hand, there will be the times the victim needs to vent or process events. I was texting one of my friends almost 24/7 after everything happened and I still feel bad about it (even though she swears she didn’t mind…you know who you are 🙂 you’re the best). Be there for them if they need to talk. It’s also important to know your limits, however. Odds are they’ll have some pretty heavy events, words and situations weighing on them and if you aren’t comfortable hearing about it or if it’s putting you in a bad place you should tell them and encourage them to see a professional (once again, getting a therapist was the best thing I ever did and I highly recommend it to anyone suffering from this).
Those are just a few things you can do as an outsider in an abuse situation and I hope it helped a little! Unfortunately one of the hardest things to accept as someone on the outside is that until they want to leave and see the reason for it, they won’t. It isn’t because you didn’t try hard enough. It needs to be a conscious choice they make to leave. With your help, hopefully they can get to that point sooner than later.