8 Ways Narcissists Can Alter Your Perception of Reality

Being in a close relationship with a narcissist can be more than just hurtful – it can be dangerous.

If you find yourself in constant doubt, self-blame, and confusion, you may just be the victim of errors in thinking – fueled by a malignant narcissist in your life.

Are You in an Abusive Relationship with a Narcissist?

If you think you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, watch to see if your partner exhibits certain traits. A  narcissist is someone who has an inflated sense of self, a deep desire for admiration, and a total lack of empathy for other people.

Narcissists have a strong desire to impress other people by making themselves look good on the outside, from the way they look, the kind of car they drive, and everything in between. Although they can be very charming, they expect preferential treatment and will often lose interest in people who don’t treat them with the reverence they feel they deserve. At worst, they’ll punish people for it.

These traits are more than just an annoyance or something to be dealt with. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, the narcissist’s need for adulation can corrode the relationship. An abusive narcissist can turn on you and use blame, insults, and gaslighting to destroy your self-esteem.

Constant Criticism Can Cause Errors in Thinking

When a narcissist becomes abusive, it’s likely you will start having errors in thinking because of the way you’re being treated.

You might never feel like you can get a word in and that you’re never really heard. Your comments are likely to be ignored or invalidated.

Narcissists truly believe that the rules don’t apply to them, including respecting your boundaries. They believe they are not at fault for anything and will often blame you, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.

You have likely been ridiculed, judged, and criticized by your partner. It’s also likely you’ve been used and manipulated in various ways so your partner can get what he or she wants. It’s difficult to be in a relationship with someone like this without suffering from cognitive distortions.

What Are Cognitive Distortions?

Cognitive distortions are distorted ways of seeing and thinking about reality. They’re always negative and happen automatically. Real life situations will be exaggerated and distorted as you create support for your negative outlook.

It’s not surprising that people involved with a narcissist would be dealing with these kinds of issues. If your partner is a narcissist, likely your needs are being ignored, you’re being criticized and invalidated, and your boundaries are constantly being pushed. You may have a hard time seeing the world as it is because you are constantly being told that you’re not important.

8 Common Examples of Cognitive Distortions 

Psychologists have identified as many as 50 types of common cognitive distortions. Some specific examples you might be coping with if you’re dealing with a narcissist are:

1 – Overgeneralizing.

You apply the outcome of one isolated event to all areas of your life. For example, if you burn dinner, and the narcissist tells you that you’re a horrible cook, you believe it is true: You must be a horrible cook because you burned dinner.

2 – Seeing things as “all or nothing.”

You see everything in black and white without any grey. For example, you might call and leave a friend a message. If she doesn’t get back to you right away, you’ll start to believe that she’s never there for you. Or maybe you’ve broken up with your narcissistic partner once or twice in the past, but rekindled the relationship. You might start to believe there’s no point in ending it because you always take your partner back.

3 – Having a negativity bias.

You always notice the negative things around you but are unable to appreciate any of the positives. While you’re always hard on yourself for your negatives, you never feel good about yourself for all the good things in your life. This is made worse by the fact that the narcissist is likely pointing out all the bad things.

4 – Catastrophizing.

You always anticipate the worst in every scenario and create consequences that are completely unreasonable. For example, if you get a phone call from a number you don’t recognize, you might assume it’s someone calling to tell you that there’s been a horrible accident, or that you’re losing your job.

5 – Having double standards for yourself.

Everything that you do has to be perfect, or it’s not good enough – but you would never judge other people so harshly for their imperfections. This is likely fueled by the criticism of the narcissist in your life.

6 – Jumping to conclusions.

Notice if you are assuming you know what other people are going to say, do, or think and that it will always be negative. This can be a very dangerous way of thinking because it can prevent you from doing the things you know are necessary to improve your situation.

For example, if you’re in an abusive relationship with a narcissist and need help, you might be afraid to ask for it, because you’ll assume no one will believe you and no one will be willing to help.

7 – Focusing on “should.”

You believe things should be a certain way and that people should behave as expected. You might keep trying to get through to your narcissistic partner in the hope that he or she should change. The problem is when you go into denial and cannot accept that it is unlikely that the narcissist will ever change.

Notions that people “should” or “ought” to behave a certain way are almost always due to a cognitive distortion. For example: “I should have given them another chance,” or, “I must figure out why they’re acting this way so I can change my behaviors.” These thoughts may provoke feelings of guilt or shame. “Should” statements are typically used in reference to how other people should act. These thoughts may go something like, “He should respond to me sooner when I text him,” or, “She ought to thank me for all the times I helped her out.”

Such thoughts can lead a person to feel disappointment and indignation when others fail to meet their specific expectations. No matter how much we’d like for it to be true, we cannot control the behavior of others, so thinking about what others should do serves no beneficial purpose.  We can only accept people the way they are and decide whether to keep them in our lives.

8. Taking everything personally.

When a narcissist is constantly critical, you might find it difficult not to take things personally. It is especially destructive when it comes to being in a relationship with a narcissist because you might start to believe all of the negative, hurtful things your partner is saying to you. You might even believe that you are somehow causing the narcissist to behave poorly towards you.

Self-Awareness Is Key

Not everyone who experiences cognitive distortions will exhibit the same signs. Some of the examples on this list might apply to you, some might not.

In order to start assessing the damage that a narcissistic partner has done to you, you must first be able to recognize these errors in thinking. Then, you can take the necessary steps to see things as they really are. Having a trusted therapist, coach, or friend to help you spot your errors in thinking can make a difference.

Kim Saeed and Let Me Reach – Copyright 2017

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  1. Some of this makes sense. My x partner is Narcissistic, also highly functioning autism. My psycholog iust says Narcissistic my doctor schitzo affective Bipolar. He never uses the silent treatment he uses excess verbosity!!! He is a Botanist Ecologist but very knowledgeable about Theatre, Literature, Music, History, Historical Geogr asphy, Philosophy, Physics, Latin, Speaks fluent German and can get by in French, Italian and even Rissian. I get probaly 50 abusive messages a day. I try and go no contact and block him on my phone but he manages to get past by google calling. My school Principal has called the police on him. He attacks anyone i speak to, and does it online quoting Voltaire about reason and logic. I knew he was brilliant and spent 20 years “managing” his behaviours especially his OCDs. But the past to see 5 years have been tortuous. We have two children who are used to me being the punching bag. They are both at University and I am supporting them. He has cut off money and bullies me finacially stating he is the best Ecologist in Australia, working mostly for the government and private contracts. Ofcourse he got there as I mnanaged the family and everything else. I taught him to drive but he did not get his license for over 10 years. And convienienty because I do everything if something is wrong it is conveniently MY FAULT.
    The eloquent abuse also becomes violent. I have lost my home. I am living in a small room above a horse stable with n ok kitchen or connected water.
    I have spoken with h ijs mum wh o se husband went the same, exacerbated when smoming gokd weed. She is head of Women and Gwnder studies at University and a highly publushed Feminist Author. I thought she would understand and care about her gr asndchildren. She said that Michae l was highly lucid and it was all my fault?
    The effect of never being heard has flowed int ok my work at school and throughout my life.
    The Empath and the Narcissist.
    Sorry about the Excess Verbisity!

  2. Leslie Lazar

    Another awesome article Kim! Again, thank u. U were the first person I found when I started my journey of healing. ❤️

    1. Kim Saeed

      So glad to know I helped in some small way, Leslie! XoXo

  3. Shirley Akpelu

    Yep, some of the above scenarios happened to me. I was guilty of believing his lies, criticism and negativity and these traits transferred to me a usually positive, loving person. I will survive and use this bad thing as an opportunity to grow and change for the better. Thank you Kim for all your timely help and support mechanisms in your curriculum. It has helped me tremendously. May all your plans succeed.

  4. Anonymous

    Hello Kim, you made me realize some of the cognitive distorted that I was doing when I was in a relationship with my ex narc and other relationship that I had with others. It just amazed me to read on some of the ways that I use to think, being in the present of these monsters. Narcissistic people are very dangerous and those that are in any type of relationship with these people (ex boyfriend especially) going no contact is the only way. There is no talking to them, reasoning with them or anything else with them. You will get over the hurt once you start working on yourself. Kim has opened my eyes and change my life for the better especially at one point in my life where I didn’t think I was going to make it but I did. ? No contact is the only way.

    1. Kim Saeed

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Anon. I am happy to know you are on the path to healing. Wishing you all the very best. XoXo

  5. An

    Hello Kim, thank you this helps again. So often that i think why does he do that, i don’t understand. He was my best friend and we went often for a walk or lunch. We had a close band. But since 5 months he says he can’t see me anymore, only text or videocall. He says he feels the same about me but he has a girlfriend since a year and he does not want that she sees male friends. he did not tell me from the beginning that he had a girlfriend. I felt something changed then and i asked him a year ago and he said no nothing changed. And 3 months later he came to me, sit down i have to tell you something. I met someone and she is pregnant. He told me because he was in trouble. Otherwise maybe he had not told me. he calls now almost everyday and talks with me about all his big problems, addiction, large depts and even criminal acticvities. And she knows nothing about these things. I understand that things change because he has a girlfriend but it feels that the whole friendship was under his conditions. He came at my house sometimes 3 times a week and we saw each other later once in 3 weeks and now not anymore. I tried to talk with him and was emtional because i missed him. And it was like he did not understand it. And he said things like i know you can not without me. And you have to respect me. Nothing changes in the friendship i ll be there when you need me just ask. i said but i need to see my friends sometimes. And he says no good friends don’t need that. Than i don’t thrust my own opinion anymore. i feel, how Can I thrust you, do you decide when i need you? Will you come when i ask? So i don’t ask. Last week he sent a message, im in your town thursday. Nothing more. I did not ask can we meet. I only asked him can you bring back my cleaner and put it in front of the door because i have to work. He said then, i will when its possible i wanted to visit you. I thought , now you know i have to work you say that. It hurts. In the beginning he asked always if we can meet and sent me Messages the whole day and when i did not react fast he did not like it. I have a husband and kids and made time for him. And it feels like he let me down and he knows that my biggest fear from the beginning is loosing people. know i he used me.?

    1. An

      Dear Kim, please advice, does it help for me to try to talk with him or does he not understand it? How Can I best deal with the situation?
      Thanks a lot for helping me, feeling so depressed and empty. It is everyday a struggle not to call him. I told him always everything but he lied often to me.

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