The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
I take clients from all over the world, and one of the questions I hear all the time is, "I feel like I failed the narcissist in my life. Did I?" This is something many people seem to struggle with.
When we are dealing with someone like a narcissist, someone who truly believes they are not responsible for their own behavior, someone who truly believes they are being controlled by the actions and opinions of others, it's easy to start believing that you have more power or responsibility in the relationship that you actually do. If you've also had childhood conditioning in this area, you may have already believed that to begin with and the relationship with a narcissist just reinforced what you were already taught.
People who were raised by narcissists, parents who were absent emotionally, parents who were battling addiction, parents who were themselves taught that someone else is responsible for everything in their lives, people who were parentified, people who were made to be their parent's emotional support... people raised in these kinds of environments are given the message that they are responsible for holding relationships together, that other people's emotions and problems are not just their responsibility but also, more important than their own.
As an adult, when someone raised with these messages runs into a toxic, unhealthy person - as we all do - they don't have the tools to walk away from the relationship. They may not even realize they should, at least at first. That's how conditioning works: it normalizes things. People will realize that a relationship is unhealthy if it gets to the point where it's too toxic or dysfunctional to be normalized, but if they were socialized differently by their families and caretakers, they would likely recognize it sooner.
However, even when someone does recognize that a relationship is unhealthy or toxic, this conditioning may make it very hard to end the relationship. They may not even realize they can, because they've been taught that no matter what, you stay in the relationship and you deal with it. This is a wonderful attitude to have regarding relationships, but it's important to understand that it does not apply to relationships where you are being continuously betrayed, devalued and abused.
People sometimes cite spiritual or religious conflicts in this area as well, but it's important for our religious and spiritual friends to remember that not only scripture but literally every other spiritual philosophy that exists tell us that if someone is being abused, they are not bound to the relationship any longer. Yes, wedding vows usually say, "in sickness and in health." They also say, "love, honor and cherish," so if that is not being done, the covenant is already broken. Legally as well as spiritually, you are bound to no agreement that requires you to allow harm to yourself in order to honor it.
Scripture also tells us that if someone refuses to listen or help themselves, it's OK to walk away from them, by the way. Jesus Himself did just that multiple times. The Son of God understood that convincing someone to do something they clearly don't want to do or are not ready to do is not His responsibility. So if you have spiritual conflicts over this situation, just remember that. If it isn't His responsibility, it definitely isn't yours.
Narcissists and other toxic people cannot take the responsibility for their behavior, emotions, choices or anything else. They cannot take responsibility for the ways their lives end up or how things go for them. Many don't even seem able to see or understand the connection between their choices and the outcomes or consequences, and they are certainly not willing to learn. They need other people to blame all of this on so they can avoid the crushing shame of not being perfect.
This may or may not be a conscious thing; many narcissists are so disconnected from their emotions that they may not even realize why they are blaming others. They are just doing what they feel they need to in order to get by. And while that may be understandable to some people, it's a shabby excuse, because narcissists know this behavior is not OK. Like a young child stealing cookies out of the cookie jar, they may not truly get why it's wrong, but they know it is. They just don't care because they believe it's necessary. If they have to throw an innocent person under the bus in order not to get hit by it, that's perfectly fine in the name of survival. Better you than them.
It is every man for himself in the world of a narcissist and if you think about their behavior, you will see that this is so. They are an army on one fighting an invisible enemy only they can see - and losing, because they are fighting themselves but don't realize it. You cannot help them in this battle with themselves, and you cannot fight it for them. The only thing you can do is become collateral damage. As stated in Games Narcissists Play, you are not the opponent in this tennis match from hell. You are the ball. It is not possible to fail someone if you could not have helped them in the first place. And you could not have helped them.
You cannot love the pathology out of someone - even if they want you to. You cannot convince someone that they are wrong if they don't believe they are. You cannot convince them they need help or should stop doing something if they don't see the problem. You cannot make someone respect you if they don't. It doesn't matter why. It doesn't matter if they are mean, or evil, or disordered, or anything else. The only thing you can do is choose whether you will tolerate their behavior or not.
It's easy to believe that the success of a relationship is solely on you, particularly when that's what you've been told. But it's important to remember that the other person has choices and 100% of their own power, just like you do. They are 100% responsible for their own actions and choices, just like everyone else. It doesn't matter whether they agree with this or believe it or not. It doesn't even matter whether you do. Facts are facts, regardless of whether people agree with them or not. Someone can refuse to believe the sun is shining. That doesn't mean it isn't.
Sometimes people will say, "But if narcissists do have a disorder, if they are mentally ill, if there is a psychological dysfunction, if they were abused, etc. are they really responsible for their actions? Are they really responsible for their choices?" The answer is yes, they are. There are some people who are not responsible for their actions. People who are psychotic are not responsible for their actions because within that framework, it's not possible for them to make clear and reasonable choices. If they are hallucinating and believe that they've seen their neighbor trying to break in with a knife to kill them 50 times so they go shoot him, that's one thing. But someone who justifies behavior they know is wrong because it's easier for them to deal with does not fall in the category of people not responsible for their actions, and it doesn't matter why they are doing it.
Whether someone is responsible for their actions is predicated on whether or not they are capable of understanding that their actions are wrong, and most narcissists are. They know it's wrong, they have a choice and they choose behavior they know is not OK because they can justify it. This doesn't make them not disordered, but a person can be disordered or mentally ill and still be responsible for their actions and choices. This is very important to understand. Mental illness or disorder is not an automatic disqualification from being responsible for your behavior.
It is for this reason that you did not fail the narcissist. They had choices, They had power. They chose to do things - or not do things - that resulted in contributing to creating a toxic environment. You didn't fail because you refused to tolerate that, and it really doesn't matter whether anyone agrees with that or not. It doesn't matter what kind of relationship it was, either: family, spouse, partner, co-worker. It isn't possible to fail because you were trying to do something you never could have succeeded at in the first place: create a healthy, stable relationship with an unhealthy, unstable person in an unhealthy, unstable environment.
Narcissists love to tell others they've failed them, because this means anything bad that happened was all the other person's responsibility. The person who failed the narcissist was the narcissist. They failed themselves and will continue to do so until they either realize they have responsibility for their own lives and take it, or until they die. Whichever comes first.