“They kind of almost trick you into idealizing them because they play the perfect match. They guage you, they feel you out, and they know what you want to hear and they repeat that back to you. So if you’re not careful you’re gonna be like ‘oh my god, this (person) is perfect, she’s everything I ever wanted, she loves cars too, she wants to go and shoot guns with me, she’s amazing….But what you don’t realize is that 6 months or a year later….that was all for show, that was all a facade or a face to put on”
Toxic relationship survivor – see here (47 min).
A lot has been written on how psychopaths and narcissists think and what they do, but how do they actually make others feel? What it is like being involved with a psychopath or narcissist? What gambit of emotions will you run through over the course of a relationship with them?
The question needs splitting into two parts, since psychopaths and narcissists can make you feel both on top of the world and worse than you have ever felt before. Part of the dynamic of a relationship with a psychopath/narcissist is that they initially generate a false feeling of perfection, bliss and genuine connection in the target, before “flipping” and turning on the emotional abuse to devalue and undermine you, creating feelings of anxiety, anger, and hurt. They then cap this off by finally discarding the victims and moving on to someone else.
Many disordered people deliberately try to make the discrepancy between the “high” and the “low” as big as possible to cause the maximum possible damage to their victim, as hard as this sounds to anyone with normal emotional safeguards like guilt, conscience, remorse and empathy. Cluster B disordered people generally want to bring you up as high as possible so they can bring you down even harder in the premeditated game they are playing with you.
So this is the paradox of getting caught up with a psychopath/narc – they can make you feel amazing at first but they can also make you feel the worst you’ve ever felt. Knowing the patterns and red flags can save you the pain of going through this.
The bottom line though is that getting involved with someone with a personality disorder, will sooner or later cause you to feel a great deal of subjective internal distress, as they start to dig into your boundaries and ramp up the psychological abuse. The aftermath of a psychopathic/narcissistic relationship can take months or years to recover from, which is why they need to be avoided at all cost.
Let’s look at the highs and the lows of emotions when dealing with these people in more detail.
Psychopaths & Narcissists Can Make You Feel Great Initially
Part of the lure and charm of a psychopath/narcissist is that they know how to make you feel ten feet tall when you first meet them. They are chameleonic master manipulators and can very quickly hone in on a person’s likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, ego investments, vanities and fears within minutes of meeting them.
They can hone in on you and give you exactly what you want at first, to get you thinking this person is the perfect match for you. You feel like you have just met a “soulmate”. Psychopaths/narcs are masters at this. Here are some of the feelings they can arouse within you when they first meet you:
- Psychopaths/narcissists will often barrage their target with warmth and charm when they first meet them. You may feel energized and lifted right at the start at least, when the disordered person is trying to lure you in. This changes sooner or later.
- A sense of bliss and perfection in the relationship – nothing else can match it.
- A sense of connection as the psychopath mirrors your every word and move, finishes your sentences and reads your mind. They are creating a manufactured soulmate, as Jackson Mackenzie puts it in his great books on the topic.
- A sense of the fun times never ending, as the psychopath/NPD draws you into their world which is purely hedonistic – seek pleasure and avoid pain. It feels “fun” and “cool” being with them at first.
- In intimate relationships, the sex life with them will also often be great at first – this is also the case with borderline personalities as well. It’s another way of luring you into this sense of perfection and “nothing beating” this relationship.
- A sense of finally having someone who “gets you”, understands you, is in tune with you. Psychopaths/narcs are great at creating this fake connection. They pretend to like the things you like, be interested in the things you’re interested in, show an interest in your hobbies, joke the way you joke etc. It’s like you’re walking and talking in rhythm.
- In more general terms, you’ll often be gripped with an intense feeling of excitement, as you feel you’ve found the “perfect partner/buddy” who you’re perfectly aligned to. Manipulative disordered people know very well how to create this feeling is new people they meet.
- An important point to add here though is the victim themself often contributes towards this dynamic by buying into this fake idea of perfection and flawlessness in a person or relationship. They are taken in by the glib charm and charisma, but realistically, no one is perfect and everyone has flaws, and we should be immediately wary of someone trying to deny this reality.
“They’re able to become who you want them to become. In other words, if I’m into motorcycles, martial arts and cross fit…all of a sudden, it’s ‘wow, I’ve never tried cross fit, let me go to the gym….oh, it’s amazing. Oh, can I get a ride on the back of your motorcycle, I love motorcycles. Can you teach me some self defense moves, because that would be great to protect myself’. And ‘wow, you’re such an interesting and deep and amazing person’.
And to you, it seems like ‘oh, wow, I’ve met someone that likes who I am, that likes the things that I do. Her hobbies are kind of my hobbies, she doesn’t have a lot of drilled in must-do hobbies of her own’
(That’s) because they have no interests of their own. They just grift and change depending on who they latch onto”
Better Bachelor – see here.
The general dynamic that occurs is pretty much perfectly summed up by the quote at the top, which is why we used it. See the 49 minute mark of this video for the source. The person is actually describing his relationship with a borderline personality, but the pattern nails exactly what psychopaths, narcissists and other cluster B personalities will do as well.
“When you first meet a psychopath, things move extremely fast. They tell you how much they have in common with you—how perfect you are for them. Like a chameleon, they mirror your hopes, dreams, and insecurities to form an immediate bond of trust and excitement. They constantly initiate communication and seem to be fascinated with you on every level. If you have a Facebook page, they might plaster it with songs, compliments, poems, and inside jokes.”
Jackson Mackenzie – see here
When The Mask Drops and The Psychopath/Narcissist Flips
This initial barrage of charm is part of the surface act or facade of a psychopath/narc, designed to reel unsuspecting people in. It is part of what psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley called The Mask of Sanity, the act that disordered people must present to the world to try and convince others that they are normal and just like them, when they are anything but.
The more convincing psychopaths/narcissists though are trying not just to convince you not just that they are ordinary, but extraordinary, better than anyone else. This is the goal behind this initial surface act – to get you thinking your relationship with them is special and gives you something you can’t get from others.
However, sooner or later this mask will drop and the toxic person’s real character will start to leak out. Inconsistencies will start to emerge, they will say or do things which are at odds with their act, they will start to violate your boundaries. You will start to think and feel that something isn’t right.
You will start to see a greater and greater divergence between the act they presented to you at first, and the actual way they are treating you and others in daily life. The psychopath starts to devalue and undermine you, and you start to question your own judgment and sanity.
A disordered person will always try to project and shift the blame onto you, and many people go along with this act, thinking it really must be them who is mistaken. We often make excuses for their behavior as it starts to escalate out of control. But there is always a feeling somewhere that something isn’t right.
The mistake most people make though is pushing this nagging feeling to the back of your mind and carrying on as normal. It is your intuition talking to you, telling you something is wrong, but so many of us are kind natured and don’t want to believe others are out to get us, especially if we have invested time and trust in them. We want to believe that all people are basically good, and we’re reluctant to believe that some people could just be bad.
Sadly, a relationship with a psychopath or narcissist is a brutal awakening in this regard. Let’s look in more detail at how a psychopath will make you feel once the mask slips and their behavior starts to turn really toxic.
How Psychopathic/Narcissistic Abuse Will Make You Feel
Of course all relationships, even toxic ones, do play out slightly differently, but here are some of the more common feelings a psychopath will create in you on the toxic downside of a relationship, after the honeymoon period is over and the mask has started to slip:
- A horrible, choked off, stressed out feeling. Your entire body will feel agitated and irritated by their constant chipping away at your boundaries.
- A relentless, underlying background anxiety which erupts into your surface consciousness each time they transgress your boundaries again with ever more outrageous behaviors.
- A sense that you are “losing it” as the psychopath/narc gaslights you into thinking things weren’t said or didn’t happen when they did, or vice versa. You begin to doubt and mistrust your own perception of reality.
- A sense of irritability and anger as you sense something isn’t right. This will often carry over into the way you treat others and therefore undermine these relationships as well, isolating you further. The toxic person’s negativity literally ripples through your life like a virus.
- A growing sense of shame and inadequacy as the psychopath/narc starts to devalue, mock, humiliate and undermine you as their mask fully slips. A sense of defectiveness, of not being good enough, of being isolated and having no one on your side.
- A sense of hopelessness and defeat as they seem to be able to push the worst buttons in you that tap into your deepest fears and insecurities. When you look back you will see they sought your trust precisely to extract these weaknesses out of you so they could use them against you later.
- A sense of exasperation as you struggle to figure out what is wrong with this person, and often frantically try and plead with them to see the error of their ways and change, only to see the behavior get worse, not better. This is driven by their lack of empathy and conscience.
- A loss of interest in the things you used to be interested in, like hobbies, socializing etc. Now your life seems to be consumed by the constant drama and anxiety the psychopath/narcissist creates. You become preoccupied with when the next situation is going to blow up. A flatness and a depression can take over as the toxicity of the relationship deepens.
- A common scenario here is when you catch yourself frantically searching through files, texts or other personal possessions to try and confirm that you aren’t losing it as the psychopath/narc again has created another chaos scenario or gas-lighted you into thinking you are at fault for something being lost or not being done in a work scenario for example. Again there will be a frantic, un-composed anxiousness that you will notice has only started since you became entangled with this person. See the next point.
- Another common thought – “I can’t believe I have been reduced to this” or something similar, as you compare where you are now to even 6 months or a year previous before you met the psychopath and see how things have deteriorated for you. Before, you were reasonably calm and composed; now you are all over the place, anxious, frantic, panicking, on edge, double and triple checking things. “What has happened to me?” you may think.
- After the relationship has ended, a deeply rooted and profound mistrust of other people. You may isolate yourself from others far more than you did before you met the psychopath.
- A psychological numbness can also take over during and after the relationship – where you just feel constantly flat and deadened inside, unable to get pleasure or enjoyment out of anything. We have a separate article on dealing with this since it is such a common factor.
- Victims can also be left with a feeling of emptiness after the relationships has ended; a sense that the psychopath/narc has taken a large part of your identity along with them when they left. Often a function of how enmeshed you were with them; how much your identities were tied together. See our post which covers this in detail.
Tips For Avoiding These Feelings
Hopefully this article has provided some useful advice for spotting and getting away from this dynamic more quickly. Understanding how a psychopath or narcissist works and the general pattern of a relationship with them is the first crucial step to seeing what is going on. Here are some other general pointers:
- Listen to your gut and intuition which will so often tell us something is wrong, even in the early stages. If we learn to pay closer attention to this inner voice, then we can save ourselves a lot of hurt and suffering.
- Watch for discrepancies between what a person says and what they do. The strongest demonstrator of values and beliefs is action and behavior, not words.
- Slow down and wait before giving a person your full trust and confidence, watching their behavior and character over time to see how they treat others.
- Be wary of someone bombarding you with charm as soon as they meet you, pretending they’ve been your best friend or soulmate for years when you’ve only known each other for ten minutes or a few days. Healthy relationships rarely form this way.
- Be especially wary of especially glib, charismatic and charming people, since this is a common feature among psychopaths and sometimes narcissists as well. Good people can be charismatic as well, but it is best to slow down and not be drawn in right away by a glib sense of charm and charisma.
- Pay attention to your body as well, since it will also give very clear cues when something is wrong. That horrible, choked off, stressed out feeling, often residing in the stomach, is your body telling you that something is seriously wrong. It will only increase as the psychopath/narcissist’s behavior worsens. Don’t ignore this as just “passing stress” or something else – start to look for the things in your life that are causing it. The body never lies.
- Learn to take a step back and look at yourself and situations from a bird’s eye view. For example – look at where you are now, versus before you met someone. Look at your behavior, composure, quality of life and mental health objectively. If you can see an obvious decline since a certain person entered your life, that is a sign something is off.
- Do not stay stuck miserable in these relationships, hoping somehow that this is just a passing phases and things will improve eventually. A psychopath will never change, and nor will a narcissist. – their behavior will only get worse, not better if you continue to tolerate it. Get away as soon as possible.
- See our article on spotting psychopaths, plus our traits checklist for more things to look out for. For narcissists, see our article on supply for understanding how their identity works.