In our past article, How to Support Someone in a Narcissistic Relationship, I zeroed in on the importance of one educating themselves on narcissism, before they attempt to support someone in a narcissistic relationship. I laid out five signs that someone has suffered narcissistic abuse, touched on the dos and don’ts of supporting those who’ve suffered narcissistic abuse, which naturally led the article to touch on what narcissist enablers are.
There’s a fine line between a narcissist enabler and a victim’s supporter that frequently and unknowingly gets crossed. Because of how detrimental narcissist enablers can be, this article is going to serve as a complete guide but also coincide with How to Support Someone in a Narcissistic Relationship, to ensure readers don’t accidently become enablers themselves.
Four Types of Relationships Enablers Have With Narcissists
A narcissist enabler is someone with a significant lack of knowledge about narcissism. Their lack of knowledge causes them to remain silent in the face of narcissistic abuse, and because narcissists are constantly seeking validation from others, their silence encourages the narcissist to continue their behavior.
Fear-based enabling is self-explanatory. It occurs when someone is afraid of what might happen if they confront a narcissist about their abusive behavior.
Fear-Based Enabling Skit #1
Jonathan has been working at ABC company for 10 years now. He’s had many different supervisors but the most recent supervisor, Ryan, is very inappropriate and abusive. Fortunately, Jonathan learned early on that if he kept to himself, he could avoid his narcissistic supervisor’s rage.
Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky, in fact Sarah, who’s been at the company for six months now, continuously tries to impress her abusive supervisor. Ryan takes advantage of her by making extremely inappropriate comments, making her work late without compensation, and humiliating her in front of the office.
It’s sad for Jonathan to witness the abuse because Sarah clearly has no knowledge of narcissistic behavior, so she is constantly trying to change her approach in order to impress Ryan. The abuse she endures is horrifying but Jonathan doesn’t say anything because he’s afraid Ryan will turn his rage towards him.
Fear-Based Enabling Skit #2
Ricky just turned 12 years old but didn’t have a birthday party because his father told him that parties are too expensive. He doesn’t mind because his mom bought him a cupcake, some of his favorite candy, and a soda. They quietly had their own party while his father was watching TV.
While they were at the party, Ricky asked his mother why his father doesn’t love them. In a confused panic, his mother told him that he loves them very much, but his favorite show just came on, so he didn’t want to miss it. Ricky shook his head and told his mother that he could hear him yelling and hitting her at night. He told her that people who love each other don’t do that.
In a terrified disbelief, his mother told him that his father loves them very much but sometimes he yells and pushes her because of how stressed he is. But it’s normal because every relationship has rough patches.
What Should You Take Away from This Skit?
In our article, How to Destroy a Trauma Bond With a Narcissist, we spoke about the devastating impact growing up in an abusive environment can have on a child’s cognitive development. Children who have an abusive upbringing are prone to accidently confusing love with abuse, which causes them to gravitate towards abusive relationships in the future, simply because it’s familiar. It’s incredibly sad because this type of environment often causes children to carry the belief that they aren’t worthy of being loved. Even though they don’t have a healthy perception of love, any sort of empathy is almost foreign and uncomfortable to them.
In the second example, Ricky’s mother was the enabler because she justified, and rationalized the father’s abuse. Even though Ricky was portrayed as the truth teller, a child who is able to see past a narcissist’s manipulative nature from a very young age, hearing his mother claim that his father does love them, and does treat them well, will be very hard for a child to process. Parents who are enablers are very dangerous for their child’s physical and emotional safety.
Guilt & Victim-Based Enabling
Self-victimization and guilt is fundamental in narcissistic relationships. In the previous article, How Are Narcissists Made?, we gave a very descriptive outline about the sad truth of a narcissist’s childhood, but while there is some truth behind a narcissist’s sob story, it will never excuse their behavior.
A majority of people who have experienced the same childhood trauma that narcissists have experienced, don’t go on to be narcissists, or even abusers themselves. Enablers on the outside of a narcissistic relationship who allow a narcissist to use self-victimization and guilt to excuse their behavior, are completely disregarding their responsibilities as a human-being.
Guilt & Victim-Based Enabling Skit #1
Amy is having a very difficult time during her freshman year of college. She feels like she’s not intelligent enough to be there, struggling with depression and a crippling maladaptive coping mechanism that manifests in the consumption of alcohol.
The things that she struggles with, comes from a lifetime of being her narcissistic mother’s scapegoat. The only happiness she’s been able to find is within her best friend Jasmine.
Jasmine has worked incredibly hard to be where she is today, despite the fact of having to grow up without a mother, who passed away when she was six, so it’s been quite hard for her entire life.
One day Amy decides to confide in Jasmine about how abusive and manipulative her mother is, but her reality is shut down immediately by Jasmine when she tells her that she should be grateful for having a mother and shouldn’t speak about family that way.
Guilt & Victim-Based Enabling Skit #2
Rachel and Jack have been dating for three years now. Jack has had quite a difficult childhood. His mom passed away when he was 12, leaving him all alone with his narcissistic father. He grew up in a very abusive environment and unfortunately, he followed in his father‘s footsteps.
The beginning of the relationship between Jack and Rachel was fantastic… A lot of intimacy, gifts, vacations, and connections… Rachel felt that she was living out her childhood dream of running away with Prince Charming.
In fact, the beginning was so wonderful that when Jack began to be abusive, Rachel justified the abuse by blaming Jack’s rough upbringing. She felt really guilty whenever she would confront Jack about the abuse because he would always find a way to minimize the situation.
What Should You Take Away from This Skit?
Under no circumstance is the victim to blame for narcissistic abuse. With that being said, the fine line between a supporter and an enabler gets crossed all the time, including by those who are suffering narcissistic abuse themselves. In the second skit, Rachel becomes an enabler when she justifies Jack’s abuse by blaming his rough upbringing.
The dynamic of victims of narcissistic abuse accidently becoming enablers themselves is very common in all adult narcissistic relationships and is nothing to be ashamed of because the complexity of narcissism is incredible. It takes a lot of reflection after escaping a narcissistic relationship for a survivor of narcissistic abuse to get a comprehensive grasp of exactly what they escaped.
Hope-based enabling has a direct correlation with manipulative tactics designed to drag the victim back into the narcissistic relationship, like breadcrumbing and hoovering.
Narcissists strategically use empathy to trick their victim, and those around the relationship, into believing that the narcissist may change their behavior.
The complexity of narcissism makes becoming a hope-based enabler incredibly easy because narcissists despise intimacy, which causes narcissistic relationships to be consumed with intimacy anorexia. This level of neglect makes even the smallest amount of empathy seem like a proposal right under the Eiffel Tower with a diamond ring the size of an apple.
Hope-Based Enabling Skit #1
Ethan has been dating Cassandra for just over two years now. The beginning of the relationship was very intense and promising, but Cassandra became very abusive, very quickly.
Ethan has tried to leave before but he loves her and is so confused so, falling for breadcrumbing and hoovering comes naturally. After three months of setting boundaries and using the gray rock method, Ethan finally feels like he’s in a place where he can safely leave Cassandra. He has his exit plan ready; he’s reached out to supportive friends who understand narcissism for help, and he plans on leaving Cassandra this coming weekend.
Being the intelligent narcissist Cassandra is, she has sensed the shift in control, and begins to be very empathic towards Ethan. For the following week she makes the relationship feel like it was in the beginning. Which is a feeling that Ethan has longed for years. It’s so addictive that Ethan cancels his escape plan because he thinks Cassandra has changed for good this time.
The weekend comes and goes as does the superficial environment of surreal intimacy Cassandra created to confuse Ethan, and he’s right back into the abusive relationship he worked so hard to escape.
Hope-Based Enabling Skit#2
Robert and Jamie have been married for 5 years and are expecting their first child. Jamie is well aware of how abusive Robert is but is overly empathic. She believes that a child will encourage Robert to change his behavior.
A year after their daughter Emily was born, Jamie hasn’t seen any significant change in Robert’s behavior, so she seeks out therapy.
She hates how helpless she feels in the relationship because no matter what she does, Robert’s behavior remains incredibly abusive, but she’s not ready to acknowledge that he likely won’t change. Her therapist tells her that Robert sounds like a grandiose narcissist, so she is constantly researching about how she should co-parent with a grandiose narcissist.
She believes that maybe if Robert is more involved in Emily’s life, then he will change his behavior. So, she tasks Robert with a very important doctor’s appointment for Emily. All he has to do is show up. But when the day comes Robert is nowhere to be found because he left early in the morning to go on a fishing trip with his friends.
Jamie is furious and heartbroken; she has no choice but to accept that her husband isn’t going to change. She is ready to acknowledge that what she is experiencing is abuse and leave the relationship. She asks her parents, who’ve only seen the charming version of Robert, to help her and Emily leave safely, and she’s met with disapproval.
Her mother told her that it would be very selfish of her to leave Robert because he’s probably just going through a hard time. Her old-fashioned mother then proceeds to tell her that wives are supposed to stick by their husband’s side through thick and thin. And ends it by telling Jamie that shell talk to Robert for her and sort everything out. Being the overly empathic person she is, this level of doubt and disapproval from her mother is all she needed to be convinced to stay in the relationship, and she does.
What Should You Take Away from This Skit?
Hope is a POWERFUL bond in narcissistic relationships and the first example displays that perfectly. I am well aware that it isn’t fair to write people off, but narcissists aren’t going to change their behavior without a lifetime of therapeutic work. The best advice one can receive in a narcissistic relationship is to let go of the wish for things to be different.
As far as the second example, it is very, important that when a victim of abuse opens up about what they are experiencing and how they feel, all we do as supporters is listen. I have met many victims of narcissistic abuse who have said that 90 percent of the time that they reached out to others for help, they were only looking for reassurance that what they were experiencing was abuse because they weren’t sure themselves.
Be a safe place for them to express how they feel, regardless of your personal opinion. As we saw in the second skit, it doesn’t take much to push someone who is already filled with self-doubt, shame, and guilt, back into the arms of their abuser.
Final Statement on Narcissist Enablers
Not only narcissistic abuse, but all forms of abuse, are very confusing for the victims. Oftentimes, all they need is one supporter to acknowledge, sympathize and listen to their reality.
With that being said, it’s also very important that as a supporter you remember your only job is to be present with them. Don’t try to fix it yourself, that is entirely up to them because in order to escape the relationship they must acknowledge what they are experiencing is abuse.
The importance of being able to acknowledge the abuse as abuse instead of having a supporter do it for them is immeasurable.
Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!
Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!
All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.