How I (Barely) Survived a Narcissistic, Borderline Personality, Emotionally Abusive, Toxic Relationship – (The 4 Phases of a Narcissistic Relationship)

Post Purpose: 

  • To better educate people of the dangers of falling into a narcissistic/Borderline Personality/Cluster B relationship and hopefully avoid it.
  • To provide those who have suffered from such a toxic relationship something to which they can intimately relate.
  • To help those in this abusive dynamic get out. 
  • To spread the word of this tragic phenomenon that is all too common. 

Disclaimer: I could write this entire narrative from my perspective with me as the wrongdoer to her, and another from her perspective with me as the cause of all our issues, and both versions would have elements of truth. The account below, however, is the overriding closest to objective truth between the three by a long shot. That is not to say I was without fault, because I wasn’t. I made several mistakes, have plenty of regrets, and am no saint myself, but all of my misdirected actions don’t add up to even being close to the same stratosphere of what she put me through. And yes, much to my chagrin, I tolerated it, until I didn’t anymore. Also forgive me as I usually try to make my posts more lighthearted and humorous but I couldn’t manage to contort my brain and writing into that frame this go-around. 

Stage 0: Prelude – Ready to Rumble

I’ve dealt with narcissists my whole life, from roommates to bosses, to friends and acquaintances, and everything in between. I’ve spent a good amount of time reading up on the “Dark Triad” personality traits (narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy). I’ve had numerous conversations with close friends about their blood-curdling experiences with narcissists. Suffice to say, I thought I was a subject matter expert by now, and perfectly impervious and insusceptible to their attacks. In reality, I was overconfident and undiscerning. 

I was also in a place, especially with the Covid pandemic, where I had the time and energy to devote to someone and give it my heart and all. Recipe for exploitative disaster.

Stage 1: Idealization – Line ‘Em Up

It literally started with her first message to me (we met on Bumble dating app): “You’re quite handsome.” Go on, I’m listening. 

The next thing I know, we’re hanging out and having amazing conversations and she’s able to relate to anything I say. I told her I quit my corporate job so I could sleep, and she said, “same!” making me feel as if she completely gets me and is so “in tune” with me. I can’t miss a single shot with this girl; no matter what I throw her way, she finds a way to agree, validate, and expand upon my points. And it just kept getting better and more synergistic the more she revealed. At one point I told her, “You’re so understanding,” which later became a meme within our relationships for how hysterically inaccurate that it ultimately was. 

Next, I find out we’re amazingly physically compatible and she’s the perfect dose of intimacy exactly how I like it. Better yet, she can help me with my dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur. She starts taking unsolicited INITIATIVE to help me with MY business, which at the time was my number one goal in life. Within weeks, she figured out everything I like and she knew how to deliver, in every sense of the word. What’s not to love? A girl I have chemistry with who’s helping accomplish my dreams. 

We’re not done yet, friend. It was intoxicating to be around her magnetic conquer-the-world unshakeable confidence and spirit. What I really fell for, even more than the physical intimacy, was something I admire in her that I wanted more for myself: resolute confidence so high literally no obstacle or challenge would even be perceived by her let alone stressed about. She built a successful business with her tenacity, and she was constantly coming up with other business ideas and opportunities and trying to rope me into them. “It would be SO easy,” she’d say. That’s interesting, I always thought to myself, since building a company is one of the hardest things you can do on this planet. But hey, you seem confident. 

Smart. Sexy. Savvy. Successful. Seductive. Superbly charismatic and confident. For a second I had to take back what I’ve always said about dating apps being the absolute biggest waste of time, as I really found the one, thanks Bumble. 

Stage 2: Devaluation: Knock ‘Em Down – Psychological Torture Chamber

I don’t know exactly when it started (and they don’t want you to know, either). I started brushing little, odd comments from her under the rug, but when I shared them with the right friends they were deeply alarmed. All of a sudden, minor offenses (perceived or real) spawned intense bouts of anger and explosions of yelling. When I would later foolishly try to explain to her the punishment didn’t fit the crime, it would fall of deaf ears. I even tried boiling it down to idiot-proof analogies such as, “People don’t receive the death penalty for jaywalking,” all to no avail. The more I tried reasoning, compromising, and getting her to see my side, the less it worked. I tried almost anything you can think of, including taking radical ownership and responsibility for my part, hoping to suspend her ego defenses enough for her to do the same. Nothing ever worked, all the while I continued to get criticized and cut down. If I did ever manage to get an apology, which was damn near impossible, it never was heartfelt or genuine. My favorite was when I asked her to politely apologize for saying something violently harsh about my friend, after the fact, and she finds a way to turn it on me for even asking, saying I’m taking “her side.”

It wasn’t just the yelling, irrationally aggressive tone, and unwarranted rage explosions that made her insufferable. The content of her messages was also horrid. She screamed at me that I’d be a horrible dad. She texted me while I was on a vacation with some friends that I’m like a “sad, pathetic little dog.” She threw at me, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you more successful” (Actual answer: because I’m giving an insatiable beast all my lifeforce energy who warmly repays me in reliable self-esteem blows). Clearly nothing was too far below the belt, and it’s sad in hindsight I endured as much as I did. After about six months of this emotional abuse, I finally, through the pleading encouragement of a close friend who saw me drowning, managed to get some distance and regroup myself for a few months. 

I’m a person who takes a lot of ownership and believes if I set my mind to something, I can achieve or improve whatever is desired. This mentality, while effective in almost every life situation, led me down a long, dark path of wasted time and painful emotions trying to wrangle her into treating me with some acceptable level of human decency. After a few months of reprieve, I started playing out all the “woulda, coulda, shouldas” in my mind. Her version of reality was and always will be that I am the sole reason and cause for all the issues we had, and she believed this in her bones (narcissists are convincing because they actually believe their own warped bullshit). I couldn’t help but wonder, if I did better, whatever better meant to her moving target concept of an ideal boyfriend (less selfish, less regimented diet and health-oriented discipline, “insist” more, more present in shopping mall parking garages, less singing or dancing, etc.), would it have made any difference to our relationship. I knew intellectually that of course not, and naturally if you go back you will get the same result since people don’t change and she is no exception. Of course it wasn’t all my fault that resulted in the fights we had. But I had to test it out myself. One thing I wish I knew before I went back in, was that no matter how low you feel, it can always feel even lower if you let it get to that. And that’s exactly what happened to me

I came back into her life with the best of intentions to give her a 2.0 version of myself with an even bigger and more open heart, thinking maybe, just maybe, she will appreciate and approve of me then. Instead, I walked into a 2.0 battlefield where she now is comparing me to other guys she has or was dating and expanding upon past resentments of me. I sacrificed every value I have (productive routines, health, sleep, peace, etc.) to give her what she said she wanted. The result: neither of us was happy and we only fought more. The part that was most frustrating is I could never get through to her to take any level of ownership or accountability. It’s a complete waste of time to try to explain to a narcissist they are one. It’s like trying to explain to fish they’re in water. They’re so surrounded by it that it’s impossible to see (Derek Sivers hat tip). They lack the awareness and requisite humility to ever get help, so they run around unchecked, only amplified by a Look-At-Me Social media culture. Her ability to project, deflect, and distort was considerable. 

Both times I came into the relationship, I was relatively happy and confident and by the end, couldn’t have been further from either. I didn’t even have a concept of “self-esteem issues” in the way I did toward the end. Narcissists and BPD individuals will erode your sense of self as they desperately try to uphold their own. Dating a narcissist or Cluster B partner is a Faustian bargain. But hey, who knew a petite girl all of five feet and no change tall could pack such a punch. 

At this point, you might be asking yourself why did I stick around for such emotional abuse. One of the things that kept me around is that occasionally, she would feign a revelation of her past offenses like, “I realize I need to show you more common courtesy.” These moments are a huge component of the “drug” of being in these toxic cycles because I SO desperately wanted her to see my side and take accountability that anytime she gave me even a bread crumb of it, it gave me a disproportionate amount of hope that maybe she finally will turn things around. I also, admittedly ego-driven by me, didn’t want her to be with another guy who would get the best version of her: the charm, the sexual spice, the sweetness, the help, the fun. I had this irrational fear that she would give someone else the good she had, and not give them the bad, because after all according to her, the bad was uniquely my fault. I also felt bad for her. She was a victim of her narcissist mom devaluing and criticizing her as a child, and my heart bled for her on that front. I deeply wanted to believe that she MUST want to act differently than the way her mom treated her, but tragically I only see the torch getting passed forward. And yes, we had the classic high chemistry, low compatibility going on, although I feel that overly simplifies the stronger and deeper psychological rip currents at hand. I was never bored with her, I’ll give her that much.  

The other thing that I used to justify to myself was the fact that she wasn’t calculating, conniving, and strategically manipulative, which is how I reasoned narcissists always act and what to look out for. Instead, she was even more than that. Her ability to manipulate was so ingrained and second nature to her that she didn’t have to bother calculating. She was an intuitive powerhouse that channeled darkness, effortlessly. 

Stage 3: Discard – Use ‘Em and Lose ‘Em

After a narcissist has squeezed you dry, they will drop you and move on before you can even register what’s happening. I was on a guys trip and after yet another barrage of texts back and forth of her finding a way to put me down and her getting fed up with me standing up for myself, she said, “I think you should see other people.” It wasn’t even clear to me that we had fully broken up, especially since via text is a horseshit way to break up with someone you’ve been with for over a year. She told me after the fact that literally two days after she said that, she started dating someone else. 

I was devastated that she could move on so quickly, as that’s quite the ego hit. How can you say you love someone one week then a few weeks later move on seemingly instantaneously? I couldn’t even get to feeling hurt initially, since I was in utter shock trying to process how logistically that’s even possible. At this point, my biggest mistake was not walking out the door as soon as she told me about this other guy. But I loved her. And I was addicted to her. And it was hard for me to run counter to what felt like the strongest gravitational pull of my life. And I forgive myself for that and for opening my heart and giving it away to someone who wouldn’t cherish it.

With a new guy secured in hand, who she told me in so many ways gave her ALL the things I didn’t give her (took care of her, generosity, planning more dates, more of a “man who’s a man,” a work ethic she respects, better in bed, you name it, she let me know where I was inadequate in comparison), it was only a matter of time before she threw me to the wayside. Sure enough, I received a text from her while on a family vacation saying that she has the “utmost conviction” that we’re not good for each other and that she wants to move on.   

Stage 4: Hoover – Let the Games Rebegin

What happens at this point is a dizzying array of her cutting me out, her blocking me, then texting me weeks later to rope me back in. And it worked, several times over. I didn’t want to face truly losing her, or more specifically, I didn’t want to face the feelings associated and the intensely depressing grieving process that ensued once I did.

I would tell myself now that she’s had some time away maybe now she’s had the desired perspective shifts and finally appreciates me. Then sure enough I realize nothing changed, old habits return, we fight, and go our separate ways, albeit temporarily. She always knew what I wanted or where my headspace was, so she’d use her charm and I’d show up at her doorstep, time and time again. One time and unfollowed her on Instagram and she told me she immediately could “feel” that I did so.

The more I tried and the more chances I gave her, the more my self-esteem deteriorated. She had an uncanny ability to say things that would become malware in my mind hours or days later and I just couldn’t handle it anymore. She would say things that flew under my radar in the moment but permeated my subconscious nonetheless and served as a “you deserve to feel like shit because you are shit” hypnosis. Anytime I thought I hit the lowest point, I found there was always a level below. 

The toxic cycle was such that every so often she gave me an iota of what I was seeking: to be seen and appreciated. She’d send me a nice message about how I have a “heart of gold” but then the day after send me a litany of charges against me explaining why I was a horrible boyfriend. Receiving yet more criticism from her at that moment became the straw that broke the camel’s back. I finally did the one thing I hadn’t yet done: block her from contacting me entirely. I held off on this in hopes that she’d one day come around and validate everything I saw and experienced with her, but that’s a fool’s errand.

Aftermath: Heal, Process, Recover

Upon a more diagnostic investigation, I later realized she had a strong clustering of B personality disorders not only with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), but also Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) between the wanton unrestraint, impulsive behavior, being easily influenced, highly volatile relationships, and unparalleled bouts of anger and mood swings going from 0 to 60 putting the Tesla Insane Mode to shame. 

Educating myself about narcissistic relationships was beyond helpful and enlightening as it allowed me to see clearly the pattern at play and realize it wasn’t a function of how well I performed as a human or boyfriend. I could stop blaming myself or wondering if anything I could’ve done would have made any difference. 

Being involved with her and her associated Cluster B personality disorders was one of the most challenging endeavors I’ve ever attempted. To come in as a confident guy and walk out disoriented, low sense of self-worth, value-lost, and deeply discontent, doesn’t just happen overnight. It comes at the suffocating hands of dating and being intimately involved with someone who has the capacity to squeeze me. 

It’s time to close that chapter for good and start rebuilding my sense of self. 

Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts or related experiences; everyone I’ve been talking to has gone through some version of this toxic relationship as NPD is on the rise.

Special thanks to all those who were there for me to surpass this difficult period. You know who you are.