This article is written to share from my experience and reflections of working in narcissist-victim environments.
For several years of my life, I worked intensively, almost 7 days a week within a series of environments that grew and changed me. On looking back, I realised these included significant elements of narcissist-victim relationships.
This article attempts to explore this topic and I hope it can also help those in similar relationships or situations to breakthrough. Before we continue, the use of “he” and “himself” is simply for convenience and not implying any gender biases.
A Created Power Difference
A narcissist-victim relationship often displays a distinct power difference. The narcissist character often has a need to exert power, influence and validate himself to feel “superior” or even “heroic”. The victim character often feels “lesser” and “not good or smart or capable enough” and has a need to be validated that he is indeed inferior. When put together, the narcissistic character and victim character validate each other to be superior and inferior respectively.
I was in both situations. How it started is that I had an inner victim which it grew stronger whilst going through deep inner work experiences in a narcissist-led environment.
Being a Victim
Victim: Feeling Insufficient
I often felt that I was not good enough and not able to make things work on my own. In return, the narcissist characters in my life were validating this lack of self-confidence through insults, scolding, silencing, ignoring, putting down, shaming and showing disappointment.
Victim: Wanting to be Saved
This was further enhanced by timely saving by the heroic and empathetic acts from the narcissist character(s), which further validated my victim mentality that “I am a victim and need someone to save me”.
Mutual Validation of the “Victim”
The more this happened, the more we validated my perceived “uselessness”, the more my self confidence dwindled. I became increasingly dependent upon the directions and teaching of the narcissistic character(s).
Manifesting the “Victim”
As a victim character in the business and work relationships, I felt “lesser” and willingly accepted the guilt tripping and shaming that put me down and in turn created a need to work even harder and sacrifice my own rest, needs and values to make up for this “lack of integrity” to promises I had made.
I worked multiple late nights, ate any food that came along and disregarded my health, family and friendships. “Making things work” and “being of integrity” to my promises to deliver on increasingly demanding group work and self development work became a main focus of my life.
The result: I became increasingly tired, exhausted and snappy. Towards the end, I often came home and fell asleep on the living room floor before I could make it to the bed. Grabbing a bite (bread or bun) as my dinner and eating it while furiously typing away on my phone or laptop doing work became a norm. 24-hour Starbucks became a second home for late night meetings and early morning work. Skipping family and friend gatherings, or half-attending these events while working also became a norm.
While working for the greater good (and often without monetary reimbursements), I felt important, like I was doing something for this world. This eased the guilt imposed by my victim side that felt ‘useless’ and ‘not contributing’. Meanwhile, my victim side also made me a willing worker and almost ‘slave’ to the narcissist characters.
Splitting of Narcissist-Victim Personalities
When the psyche is being pulled strongly in a victim direction, it could create a split further, with the other side as the narcissistic side. One can be both a victim and narcissist at the same time. It is like the flip sides of the same coin.
Being a Narcissist
Narcissist: Feeling superior
I was also training up and practicing as a coach, leader and healer. In the process, I had accepted wholeheartedly without questioning, naively to say the least, the perspectives that what we were doing was superior to all else. This “superior” mindset applied to the organisation, the sessions and subgroups that we ran, the kind of work and impact that we brought through the sessions and fundamentally in who we are. It was a deep sense of “I am better than the average mediocre man on the street”.
This felt good, of course. After years of being in a victim mindset and feeling lesser, it felt good to the ego to be better than others.
Narcissist: Dismissing Others
I started to see myself as superior and inadvertently started dismissing the validity of other’s views. I justified opposing and differing views as being “mediocre” and “they don’t know what they are talking about”. I dismissed others’ life experiences as “ya ya they have been through a lot but they’re still full of shit” and “they haven’t done the work of deep insight and are ignorant idiots”. I was reflecting very much the narcissist views that I had been learning.
Manifesting the “Narcissist”
As the narcissist character, I downplayed the efforts, emotions and views of those that were deemed “lesser” and “less experienced” in the inner work. This included the general public, my juniors and even my own friends and family. I saw myself as a superior leader to bring greater change into their lives.
Duality of Narcissist-Victim Qualities
Ironically, at the same time, I was very much being a victim towards the narcissistic characters in my life, letting my boundaries of personal space and mutual respect get eaten into, taking on almost all blame for anything that went wrong and doing everything I could to be a “better” person.
Walking around and living in a sense of deep grandiosity and inferiority at the same time felt like a roller coaster. I swivelled up and down like a yo-yo. My moods were sometimes unpredictable and I was alternating between being empathetic, selfless, kind and loving versus being cold, selfish, manipulative and unreasonable.
My family and friends reflected to me that I had changed. I wasn’t kind and loving anymore. I started attracting more and more self victimising and world blaming people into my life. Going deeper into living and being the narcissist-victim personality, I started to feel more and more estranged from the people I knew and loved, and from the economic and social systems that I lived in.
Time to time, I would walk on the streets wondering what am I doing with my life. Something felt really amiss. I share the three major wake up calls.
1. Realising that the Narcissist-Victim Relationships were not normal
I was involved in some business and social network groups. The more I interacted with people outside of the narcississt-victim work patterns that I had been deeply ingrained into, the more I started realising that our working relationship was not normal.
It was possible for businesses to run well while treating their cofounders, coworkers, partners, colleagues and staff with compassion, fairness and respect. It didn’t need to follow a model of “move your schedules and sacrifice your time, priorities, family and energy” for a greater cause. Accounts need to be done on time, not avoided. Management does need to account for resource allocation, manpower and rest time.
It could be a win-win arrangement and it didn’t need to be a win-lose arrangement!
2. Realising the implications of continued self-victimising
The real wake up call came along when I realised that if things were to continue the way they were going, if I were to continue being the willing victim, working 24/7 and accepting the destructive self-criticism, guilt tripping and shaming from my narcissist cofounder, I might be in a coffin from exhaustion within 4 years.
And my split between the victim and narcissist in me, along with increasing mood and energetic swings might become deeper and possibly irreparable.
3. Incongruencies in image portrayed vs actions
A series of wake up calls came when I put together the promises and actual actions that had taken place in the narcissist-victim relationships. The inconsistencies became obvious. In order to maintain a grandiose front, the narcissist character often needs to tell half truths and lies. In order to continue to ‘play the victim’, the victim character often accepts these sayings and promises as a full truth and justify any misdoings as the way it should be.
The mission that I was working on with my narcissist cofounder was to help people and create a platform for people to find themselves and heal. While we delivered this through our activities, the principal underlying values seemed to be the opposite.
While we seemed kind and compassionate to our clients, the management dynamics behind the scenes were highly destructive. The power difference in the narcissist-victim work relationship widened further with each month that passed. I found myself giving up more and more personal power, choice and energy. I was starting to accept guilt tripping, shaming, inclusion and exclusion (hot and cold treatments), raging to induce fear, confusion from inconsistent policies as an almost daily affair, as if it was normal. This incongruency was a sign that something needed to be done.
4. Making a change
After multiple rounds of ‘waking up’ from the haze of the narcissist-victim relationships, I decided that I can no longer keep hiding behind the victim role, hoping that it will somehow get better. While fervently hoping and believing in the promises of a better future, in real fact, I was putting up with more and more unreasonable terms in these narcissist-victim relationships.
It was time to change this. I needed to stop hiding and take responsibility for my own decisions.
The real healing for a victim begins when the victim recognises his self victimising qualities and how it impacts his relationship dynamics, decisions and progress.
The key lesson learnt here is to take my life into my hands. Stop being a helpless victim and putting the responsibility of my life into another’s hands.
A major part of this healing journey involved stepping out of the victim and narcissist mindsets and to come from a more genuine space.
Step by step, taking back my personal choice, power and ownership, and by being more open to feedback to different people, I began to rebuild my life in each aspect: self, family, friendships, finances, fulfillment, health and meaningful work.