The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
So much of narcissistic relationships is fantasy, and not just on the part of the narcissist. People around the narcissist are often utilizing fantasy, too. Sometimes it coincides with the narcissist's fantasies and sometimes it doesn't, but either way, fantasy is usually a large part of the dynamic of these relationships.
The narcissist is using fantasy to pretend they or their lives are something other than what they are. Reality is simply too difficult for this type of person to deal with in any way, so they don't. They pretend things are different than they really are, and they are often very good at this, denying things even in the face of actual proof or tangible evidence. It's a matter of survival.
People around the narcissist are using fantasy for the same reason: survival in a situation where the reality is too difficult to deal with. Accepting the person or situation for what they truly are will likely result in having to confront feelings they don't want to have, illusions they don't want to let go of and actions they don't want to take. So they just don't. They rationalize, justify, excuse or ignore these things until it's just not possible to do this anymore - and that day will come. The day will come when it is not possible to deny the reality of what the narcissist or the situation really is any longer, so if that day has not come for you yet, prepare for it because it will, and it can be devastating.
Another name for fantasy in this case is denial. When someone is faced with evidence that something is true but they refuse to believe it or cannot see what it means, this is denial. Many people in narcissistic relationships are in deep denial about what is going on. There are definitely people who don't understand, but that is not what we're talking about, Denial is not simply not understanding. It is refusing to understand, even in the face of proof or evidence. Even if someone does not understand what a narcissist is, they still know that someone apologizing but never changing their behavior is not sorry, for example, or that someone who lies constantly is not honest and cannot be trusted.
It's important to understand that these fantasies contribute to cognitive dissonance, which is a huge factor in people feeling stuck in these relationships and unable to leave. The idea that things will someday change is extremely common in relationships with narcissists, as is the idea that somehow the people around the narcissist can manage or control the narcissist, and change or fix them. Both of these things are fantasies. It is not possible to fix or change others. They have to fix or change themselves if they have the capability to do so, and some people do not. People sometimes don't want to hear that or to believe it, but it's the reality.
The truth is, reality is not always gentle with us. As unpleasant as it can be, we usually do not have the luxury of avoiding or denying it for very long. Reality has a way of coming through whether we are ready for it or not, and learning to accept it as it is leads to less pain and stress in the end. When things are accepted as they are, it can hurt but the pain only has to be faced once. If we keep trying to deny or avoid the reality of a situation, we will be forced to face it over and over again every time denial breaks down and reality asserts itself. It's actually more painful in the end, not less.
There are many unpleasant truths that need to be faced about narcissistic relationships and the sooner they are accepted, the faster people can begin to heal. One of the biggest things that needs to be faced is that your love is not going to heal this person or change the situation. There is often a powerful and pervasive fantasy for many people that one day the narcissist will see how much has been given to them or sacrificed for them and this will emotionally move them so much that they will change their behavior forever after. This is a favorite plot for media and movies, and narcissists may even claim that it's the truth, but it is not reality. People who cannot recognize love generally don't just suddenly figure it out. People who can understand love and respect are generally not abusers in the first place.
Narcissists often claim that others are responsible for them and their behavior. "Your love can change/heal/fix me!" is just another example of this. The idea that special love, repeated sacrifice and self-betrayal is going to one day touch this person so much that a lifetime of behavior, conditioning, thought processes and mindsets will simply change is just not realistic. It's not because you're not enough, or because your love is not enough. It's because their problems have nothing to do with you. You're probably not the only person who has ever tried to do that for them. It hasn't worked and it won't work because it can't work. You're not the exception, no matter what anyone says. It is only our egos that make us think we can be, because it is one thing to want to help someone, but to believe that you are the solution to their problems is something else.
Another thing that really needs to be understood is that this is not going to change. Narcissistic relationships do not evolve or grow. They run through cycles and that's it. It can take a few years to be able to see the difference, and until someone can see the whole thing, they may believe that they are seeing legitimate change. However, if someone is pathologically narcissistic, this is unlikely. They may do OK for a while in some areas of their lives or with a relationship but then slide back into irresponsible, abusive or more low-functioning behavior, over and over again. This can go on for years - even decades - with no true evolution or maturity happening at all. It's just the cycle.
It can be very difficult for people to understand that there can be a situation where someone just does not grow, change or learn, but these situations definitely do exist and relationships that involve narcissists are often exactly these kinds of situations. As hard as it is to understand, there usually comes a point where it just cannot be denied. For example, when it's been 5 years or 10 years or 20 years and this person still has not matured very much, if at all. They've not grown. They've not changed. They're still doing the same things, saying the same things, giving the same excuses, making the same mistakes... over and over again. In order to deal with the reality of these relationships, this must be understood. They don't change.
Many times, people deal with this by believing it will be better in the future when some condition is met, or some hurdle is jumped. The truth is, this is how it is and this is likely how it will always be regardless of what happens because you're dealing with a personality that has been arrested at a certain level of maturity and function, and is now stuck in a loop. This is extremely hard to change, and may even be impossible. But this does not have to be your life. You're actually standing in the future that you were hoping for 3 months ago, or 5 years ago or 1 year ago. Does it look like you were hoping it would?
It needs to be understood that this person does not think like you or understand how you feel. And they don't care. This is not something you can explain to them or make them understand. If you are dealing with a pathologically narcissistic person, you are dealing with significant and severe dysfunction, and some have such significant, severe dysfunction that they qualify as clinically disordered. This is not something a person can just stop doing or stop having. It doesn't excuse their behavior or their choices in any way because they know right from wrong (even if they don't understand why something is considered wrong), but it does tell us that this is more than a case of someone choosing harmful, inconsiderate or inappropriate behaviors.
The people we are referring to when we use the word "narcissists" have a pathological personality, which means they have pathological thought processes, mindsets, behaviors and pathological emotional dysregulation. They generally lack empathy, lack impulse control, lack self-worth and the ability to create or regulate self-worth; they usually have difficulty with object permanency, object constancy, and whole object relations, there is usually severe identity disturbance... This is a multi-faceted problem that affects every part of their lives, whether you can see it or not. As hard as it is for you to try to understand what the mindset of a person like this might be like, that's the same difficulty they would have trying to understand where you are coming from, how you feel or what you're thinking - and that's if they bothered, which they probably wouldn't.
It's not about not caring, because it's beyond not caring. It's not even on their radar because nothing is on their radar but themselves. There is no room in their lives for anyone else but them. What you think, what you want, what you like, what you care about, who you are as a person... none of this information even occurs to them and if it is pointed out, none of it matters except for how it applies to or benefits the narcissist. They have no real understanding that this is different from how anyone else operates and don't care because it doesn't matter. This is how they operate and have likely never questioned or even considered it at all. Even if they did, it wouldn't change anything. You can't force someone to have feelings they don't have, or to stop seeing others as objects, This is just how it is. You could maybe force someone to act like they have feelings they don't have, but an act is all it will ever be.
It needs to be accepted that narcissists are dangerous, even if they do not have (or do not appear to have) consciously malicious motives. Dealing with narcissists is so damaging, even when people understand what is happening and are actively guarding against it. Even if there is no physical abuse or violence at all, even if there is no overt or purposeful mistreatment that you can recognize, dealing with someone who is relentlessly trying to force you to live in a reality that does not match your own is extremely harmful. Over time, it will affect you, sometimes very significantly. It will change your behavior, it will change your thoughts and thought processes. It will change your beliefs and mindsets. It will affect your faith in things. It will exhaust you. It will drag you down. It will cause health problems. People need to let go of the idea that they can become strong enough or educated enough or healthy enough to withstand or manage these relationships. Besides the reality that healthy people generally don't intentionally pursue relationships where they are continually neglected, mistreated, used or devalued, no matter how healthy and strong you become, the narcissist remains the same.
In addition to these things, it's important to understand that you're dealing with a person who cannot bond with other people, cannot trust others and is pathologically insecure. This is not the kind of insecurity people are talking about when they mean someone has low self-esteem, though that's definitely a problem with narcissists, too. This is insecurity on a fundamental level, where they don't feel safe. They cannot bond or connect to others, so they never get to know them and cannot trust them, no matter how long it's been. Those of you who've been in relationships with narcissists for years know this to be true. No matter what happens or what you do, they do not feel safe enough to trust you in even basic ways. It often comes out as anger, accusation, avoidance, distance or contempt and is framed in a way that makes it look like you are doing things that make you untrustworthy, but this is the reality behind it.
After all the years, after all the pain and abuse, after all the manipulation, after all the lies, after all of the horrible things... you will likely still have more basic trust in the narcissist as a human being than they have ever had in you. Ever. Even the basic trust required to physically exist in the world with other people, they don't have in anybody - including themselves. The world is a battleground, an inherently unsafe place where everyone is not just not an ally, but an enemy, a potential life-threatening attacker. You cannot ever love someone like this enough to prove that you are safe enough for them to trust. It can't happen, because they don't know what safety is. They live in a world where there is no such thing. Some narcissists may become super-aggressive, dominant and even violent in order to deal with that; others may become helpless, vulnerable and lost; and still others may become ultra-controlled, and flat emotionally with very little reaction to anything, but all of these are ways of dealing with the same fundamental problem: they believe the world is unsafe, which influences their orientation to it and their interactions with it enormously.
Whether it is a parent or an adult child or a friend or a partner... There is no future with these relationships. There is no trust or partnership with these relationships. There is no history, no equity built. There is no good faith with these relationships, no benefit of the doubt. There is no change, no evolution. You cannot communicate with this person. You will not be heard. You will not matter. You will not be able to fix it. The narcissist is not going to wake up one day and realize they've been wrong their whole lives. You are not going to be the exception that ends up happily ever after. The idea that the outcome will be different for us because we are different or our relationship is different is an ego story that really needs to be released because not only is it harmful, it's false. Sometimes we need to believe it so that we can survive, and so we can hold on to hope that we will still get what we want in the end. But it's not worth your health. The reality is, if any of this information resonates with you, then your relationship is obviously not different, and neither is the narcissist you're dealing with. Neither are you.
The most important thing to accept and understand is that, if you care about yourself, in all likelihood you are eventually going to have to walk away from this relationship. It's not possible to love yourself and continually choose to be in a situation where you are mistreated or devalued. Eventually, there will be a conflict that cannot be resolved in any other way. Eventually, the narcissist will do something that literally forces you to choose between your well-being and the relationship. It may not have happened yet, but it will. There comes a point where most people are simply too disgusted, too exhausted and too aware of the reality of what's happening to do it anymore. There will come a point where you simply cannot convince yourself that you or things or the relationship are OK anymore. That is when the wake up call becomes too loud to ignore. If you are hearing it now, remember that where you're going may be uncertain, but it's still better than where you've been.