7 Signs That “Radical Acceptance” May Be the Next Step in Your Recovery from Narcissistic Abuse

by Ven Baxter

According to many therapists and psychologists, a healthy, functional long-term relationship just isn’t possible when one partner suffers from a “Cluster-B” personality disorder.

In other words, you cannot have a healthy, functional relationship with someone who is incapable of having a healthy, functional relationship. If you’re the partner of a disordered person, it’s not even up to you!

It’s not within your power to change another adult’s personality.

Narcissistic abuse is a freqent outcome of trying to have a healthy, functional relationship with a personality-disordered person over a long time. It’s a disordered person’s reaction to having a close relationship.

One of the first steps in recovery is “radical acceptance” of the reality of the situation.

Unfortunately, “radical acceptance” is often misunderstood—and, therefore, misapplied. This confusion can hinder recovery and unnecessarily prolong or even worsen the abuse.

Before someone else’s apparent inner condition can be “radically accepted,” though, the nature of that condition has to be understood to some degree. While a professional diagnosis is probably the most reliable and accurate way to identify a personality disorder, studies show that the vast majority of disordered people are never diagnosed.

In the absence of a diagnosis, then, a relationship partner is frequently left to his or her own judgment. Here are a few signs that I’ve identified as indicators that a relationship partner might have a personality disorder.

1. You find yourself explaining their own behavior to them. You might say, “Why in the world would you think that’s okay?” They seem not to understand why what they’re doing doesn’t work, why it’s hurtful, or why grown-ups don’t act that way. You feel like a parent with an overgrown, disobedient, rageful child who never seems to learn how to “act right”—or even why it matters.

2. You find yourself explaining logical reasoning to them. You might say, “No, this isn’t true. If this isn’t true, then that can’t be true, either!” They accuse you of wrongdoing, based on how they feel or because of some unrelated event. They ask questions out of the blue about your whereabouts or activities, which seem to have no bearing on your actual life. Then they might condemn your truthful explanation as suspicious. In an argument, they form illogical or emotion-based conclusions that end the conversation—defying rational debate, leaving you frustrated and speechless.

3. You find yourself arguing with them about what really happened. You might say, “No, that’s not at all how it went. I was there!” Even if you were present to see some event, their recollection of it is wildly different from yours. When challenged on their memory of it, they may react defensively and accuse you of lying about it. They might even accuse you of making them doubt their own memory, as if you were deliberately trying to brainwash them. (This is projection, since it’s what they actually do to you on a daily basis.)

4. You find yourself defending your own character or intentions.You might say, “How do you not know me better than that?” You find yourself being questioned when you do something completely innocent, or with the best intentions. You might even be accused of some sinister ulterior motive for, let’s say, moving the salt shaker to the other side of the table. It’s as if you were being observed constantly under a microscope with a cracked lens. It feels like continually being painted in the worst light possible, suspected for anything and everything, for reasons you don’t understand.

5. You find yourself re-hashing the same argument…again. You might say, “Why are we still talking about this? Didn’t we resolve it months ago?” Disordered people never seem to forget, move on, let go, or forgive (someone else’s) past mistakes. It’s as if wrongs (or perceivedwrongs) that were (supposedly) done to them are done not just once. They’re done continually—on and on, over and over again, forever…in their minds. Their “suffering” never ends. There is no moving on. The past never recedes for long. It continually becomes the present, and it gets resurrected repeatedly during arguments. On the other hand…

6. They immediately forget wrongs that THEY have done. They might say (about something that happened literally yesterday), “Why are you bringing that up? That’s the past! I thought we were moving forward!” Then, you’re made out as if you hold every little mistake over his or her head. Double standards rule with disordered people. What applies to others and what applies to them are two different realms…and they’re the ones who decide.

7. They do even ONE horrible thing that “normal” people just don’t do. These actions are deal-breakers. They are definite signs that someone is just not worth being close to, and may be dangerous:

Killing your pet. Calling your workplace to sabotage your job. Calling the police on you for no reason. Accusing you publicly of something criminal, wrong, or embarrassing that you didn’t do. Lying about you in court. Telling your family that you abuse your (or your partner’s) children. Destroying, damaging, or dismantling your vehicle. Threatening to do any of these.

If this list sounds familiar, it may be time for some radical acceptance. This doesn’t mean “radically accepting” that you will forever be someone else’s emotional punching bag or toxic waste dump. It doesn’t mean “radically accepting” that you need to get better at walking on eggshells.

It means “radically accepting” that the person you’re close to IS the way that he or she is; that he or she may have a practically incurable personality disorder; that he or she likely will never change; that the relationship probably will never improve (and may get worse over time); and that it’s up to YOU to decide what YOU will do in (or out of) the relationship.

“Radically accepting” the reality of your situation may be the first step in ending and recovering from Narcissistic abuse. What you choose to do afterward is YOUR choice—and knowing this may be the most important healing step of all.

Ven Baxter lives in Florida, where he works as a canoe outfitter, teaches, writes, and enjoys being father to his three children.  You can find this article on his blog, Ven Baxter – Go deep into the nooks and crannies of life and the human experience…

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  1. Ray

    Hi Susanne,

    I just found this article and thread yesterday. I feel much the same as you. For the last year I’ve been in disbelief at the ending of the relationship. I couldn’t make sense of it, or anything. As one person put it last summer… “You gave unconditional love and received conditional acceptance.”

    The first book I read immediately after the relationship ended was The Journey From Abandonment To Healing by Susan Anderson. She discusses how really trauma in our lives affects how we choose partners later in life. BOTH partners. The breakup left me empty. I decided I was going to dig as deep as I could into my own recovery…. MY recovery from early childhood trauma/abandonment. Intertwined was letting go of the relationship with my ex and… I later found out with my mother. The past year was brutal! Deep inner reflection, awareness, owning my stuff, coming to grips with a lack of self love and how/why I accepted to be treated the way I was (some call it codependency). Suffice it to say, I’m glad the opportunity presented itself to allow me to learn what I’ve learned about myself so far AND I’m delighted the past year is behind me.

    Many books later Tara Brachs book Radical Acceptance found itself in my hands. I’m currently reading it for a second time. It speaks to me, it makes sense, it fits with what I’ve learned with my therapist since the relationship ended. Think, Buddhism and Gestalt therapy. It’s working for me.

    Another book I read early on is Ross Rosenbergs The Human Magnet Syndrome. While I do not subscribe to everything he puts forth in his book I do believe it is a good framework in understanding how and why we are attracted to our love interests.

    I am only recently coming to understand and believe you are correct. It really has nothing to do with us.

    I feel deep sadness for her, and for me. I don’t like the thought that anyone, especially someone I became so close to is hurting so much inside. As my therapist reminds me “You can not save her Ray. Let it go.” This too is a struggle for me.

    The journey to self love continues.

    Hope you are well.

  2. I can’t even BEGIN to describe the parallels of this article to the real-life hell we’ve (my children and myself) been living. You go through a period of denial, but as resources and information (like this article) become more readily available, your therapist uses phrases like “Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome” and “Complex PTSD”, and you realize you’ve been experiencing dissociation (among MANY other things), it’s HARD TO ARGUE you are IN FACT dealing with a complete and utter sociopath. The hardest part for me (now that I have radically accepted this), is what is happening to my children. Not only do they make excuses for the narc “parent”, but they actually say things like “only good fathers hit kids”, “the nanny sleeps in daddy’s bed now”, and “it’s my fault because I was bad”. WHAT DO I DO TO PROVE TO OUR BACKWOODS COUNTY THEIR “FATHER” IS COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY UNSTABLE AND REQUIRES SUPERVISED VISITATION? I’ve SINCERELY tried everything possible and of course, I’m the hysterical woman who’s “just upset he cheated and stole money” or “not being abuse anymore so should get over it”. Please, any suggestions??? I am really considering sending info to the family law “judge”, who is a complete idiot. This has happened and CONTINUES to happen in Placer County, CA EVERYDAY. Sociopathic parent run the court rooms and judges side with them. HOW?!!!! If anyone has also experienced this in Placer County, CA, please let me know. We are forming a class action lawsuit.

  3. Susanne

    I haven’t read this description before, narcissistic abuse is the result of trying to have a functional relationship with a personality disordered person over a long period of time.. it’s a disordered persons response to having a close relationship. Twenty years and I’d never heard of cluster b disorders, knew nothing, until a particularly brutal discard sent me reeling and searching for answers. I immediately identified with what I found and I’ve spent the last year really hoping I was wrong. Radical acceptance takes some work! For me, finally KNOWING and then watching as it just kept presenting has fueled my understanding and acceptance. I still feel a deep sadness and struggle with the surreal reality of it all. As the survivors, once we have some time healing this abuse and our emotions level out a bit we see it’s true what those who have come before tell us (that hurts so much to hear in the beginning) – it really has nothing to do with us. It is simply the result of being in a close relationship with a personality disordered person. I was under the false belief that I was involved with a fully functional person, I didn’t even know – thank you both for all of the information you put out, you help us save our lives xo

  4. Anonymous

    Physical assault or your person could also be added to number seven.

  5. Ray


    I understand how you feel. I go back and forth wondering who is what (selfish , understanding). Is she really self centered or am I thinking this to lessen my own pain.

    Kim brings up an important point. How does the relationship make one feel? In my case I’ve questioned this from early on in the relationship. She is self centered, she is avaricious, she does tend to up blame, she has a limited capacity to be understanding, things are usually my or someone else’s fault. I’ve often felt, and said, I feel like I’m your helpful brother who lives with you. The sad truth is I’m having difficulty seeing her in the light of who she really is, reality. I beat myself to a pulp questioning my own self worth. When she says hurtful things, I start to question myself wondering if she is right.

    I’m learning this has more to do with me and my background. My shame, my fear, my trauma. It’s so confusing. Deep down I know she is sick and unhealthy. I know I’m unhealthy struggling with my own issues. I have this unbelievable urge to help her, if only to be beside her and support her through her struggles. Intellectually I see how impossible this thinking is. I want to feel it in my bones, in my heart. I trying to do that. Trying to love myself. Look deep within myself and accept my own issues. The past year has been the most brutal of my life.

    I’m grateful for the experience. I believe it is teaching me something that will serve me well for the rest of my life.

    All so confusing. Patience, I remind myself, patience. There’s allot to be grateful for.

  6. Sarah

    If you have to go on an antidepressant and anti-anxiety meds to deal with the stress of your relationship should probably be on the list as well.

  7. Anonymous

    Maybe one day I’ll come to that realization about my friend but we got the same illnesses except for narcissism. I’m an empath and I feel sorry for my friend and want to help her. Right now I don’t even seem like a priority. I’m just hurting so bad.

  8. Sami

    All of the above is true in my case. Well except the pet killing. But I do often feel like if this is only me trying to explain to myself that she was a narcissist. Sometimes I feel like I deliberately see narcissistic traits in her to feel better about myself. My common sense tells me that she is a narc but then there’s this other thing. Am I just trying to survive by explaining to myself that she’s a narc although she is not. Then again I am also a empath so I do feel bad that I’m sure she’s a narc. It’s all so confusing at the moment…

    1. Kim Saeed

      Sami, if you’ve done enough research trying to figure out why she acts the way she does, then the relationship must be painful for you. Whether she is a narcissist or not isn’t necessarily as important as how the relationship makes you feel. It sounds to me that you might have difficulty trusting your own judgement,which is often a sign of long-term psychological manipulation…

  9. Anonymous

    That’s right, my now ex-narc will never change, although he tried to act like he did. He really believed he never “hurt no one” in His life, an that he was a good person, but he wasn’t. He conned, scammed, ex drug dealer, lied, mooched of others whenever he could. Had bad credit an still refused to clean it up when he came into money. He had brief moments when he was sweet, funny an nice, but his man-child selfish temper tantrum behavior along with His paranoia, constant crazy assumptions, drunkenness, carelessness and downright meanness over ran the very few good things in him. He always thought money an gifts bought him love, he was so wrong. He was nothing but a ATM to his own kids an refused to admit it. After we split, he hovered an almost sucked me back in, which I hate to admit that I almost caved in. But thank God, I woke up into reality, said to myself what the hell was i doing? I NEVER want to go back to being miserable with that leech, poor excuse of a man. I pity the poor next victim he ends up with as the cycle continues. He never believed in therapy as he believes there’s nothing wrong with him -ha! He’s looking for someone to take care of him, poor baby. Sad part is, he always finds some pathetic insecure low self esteem woman eventually. He found me as I was once vulnerable, but never again will I fall for him or any man like him.

    1. venbaxter

      The best outcome of a toxic relationship may be realizing what we really had…and the determination not to have another one!

    1. Kim Saeed

      I think so, too, Lynette! I hope Ven sees your comment 🙂

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