One of the most confusing phases of narcissistic relationships is before the victim has acknowledged that what they are enduring is abuse. Whatever the reason may be, love-bombing, idealization, low self-esteem, or family of origin, victims of narcissistic abuse have been known to spend an astonishing amount of time trying to please their unappeasable narcissistic partner.

From the outside looking in, it’s nearly incomprehensible but for many victims of narcissistic abuse, their love for their abuser is genuine and they’re constantly searching for ways they can make their narcissistic abuser happy. But the question is, why can’t can you make a narcissist happy?

Throughout our research and interviews with the 67 survivors of narcissistic abuse that we’ve had the privilege to work with, four people-pleasing behavioral patterns emerged while searching for the most common ways people try to make narcissists happy. This article is going to break down these behavioral patterns and illuminate why they most likely won’t work.

Sharing Your Success With the Narcissist

To the untrained eye, narcissists are often very admirable people. This could manifest in a very successful and famous individual, or someone who has manipulated their way into a narrative that portrays them as an unsung hero.

When this is combined with their tendency to minimize and devalue the importance of others, some people attempt to make narcissists happy by sharing their successes with them. Almost as if they’re subconsciously attempting to say, “Hey look! I’m worthy of your approval and praise.”

How One May Share Their Success With a Narcissist

  • Sarah gets a huge promotion at work and instead of being proud of herself, she calls her narcissistic husband to try to make him proud.
  • Aaron pushes a huge sale over the line and is so excited to tell his boss so she might be less abusive towards him. 
  • Ryan has graduated from an Ivy League School at the top of his class. After a lifetime of overachieving to win his narcissistic mother over, he naturally picks up the phone to tell her the good news since she didn’t even come to the graduation ceremony.
  • Justin got selected for the varsity basketball team and immediately tells his narcissistic father the good news. All he wants is for his dad to be proud of him. 
  • After creating a fantastic plan to help the homeless in his community, Jack gets interviewed by the local newspaper. When asked what inspired him, he told the interviewer that his husband inspired him, even though it wasn’t true he just wants to make his narcissistic partner happy by sharing the validation and admiration that comes with being on TV.

Why Won’t This Work?

Narcissists are some of the most self-loathing individuals on the planet, but are incapable of regulating their own emotions. This means that they can’t look within themselves and acknowledge their own shortcomings, so they project them onto others to create a superficial reality where they are perfect.

Their inability to process their own emotions distorts their perception of self-worth, causing them to focus on improving materialistic things instead of within, like their emotional stability. This makes their egos very fragile, so when someone tries to tell a narcissist about an achievement, the narcissist will most likely take it as an insult to their own ability. 

Aiding And Abetting Narcissistic Behavior

This is definitely one of the most sinister aspects of narcissism. One of the most important things to accomplish, from a narcissist’s perspective, is isolating their victim.

The most commonly recognized form of this behavior is through flying monkeys and enablers. Both of these types of people, flying monkeys and enablers, have a significant lack of knowledge when it comes to the narcissistic realm. 

Their lack of knowledge does one of two things. It enables the narcissist to manipulate them into turning against the victim, and it causes the individuals in question to approach narcissistic relationships as if they were healthy relationships. 

There’s a fine line between a flying monkey and an enabler, but what sets them apart, is their intent. Enablers are simply oblivious to narcissistic abuse and mean no harm towards the victim. Flying monkeys will actually go as far as to pretend to be the victim’s friend, so they can gather information that the narcissist can weaponize against the victim. 

How Do Victims of Narcissistic Abuse Aid And Abet Narcissistic Behavior?

This can happen in any type of narcissistic relationship, however it’s very common to see within narcissistic families. Some people who grew up with either a narcissistic parent or sibling, eventually make the difficult decision to cut ties with their family. 

To successfully cut ties with someone narcissistic, one may use the gray rock method. The gray rock method is when an individual maintains superficial conversations with their abuser, while keeping sensitive information to themselves. 

The gray rock method frustrates the narcissist because it takes away their narcissistic supply. In a family dynamic, it’s very common for family members to turn on each other, due to the abuse. 

This could manifest in one family member simply gathering all the information they can about the family member who has cut the narcissist out of their lives, and reporting it back to the narcissist. 

In this case, the flying monkey may be betraying other family members to protect themselves from the narcissist’s wrath. They may feel that being on the narcissist’s side gives them a sense of power and control over their own lives. And finally, after years of manipulation and abuse, they may truly believe that the estranged family member is in the wrong instead of the narcissist.

Why Won’t This Work?

At the time, victims of narcissistic abuse may feel like they’ve formed some type of alliance with the narcissist. By doing their dirty work, they’ve protected themselves from the wrath of their abuser. Unfortunately, this will never be the case as all narcissistic relationships are superficial and purely transactional. 

What’s much more likely to happen is that the narcissist will use what the victim has done against them in the future. 

Refusing to Set Boundaries With the Narcissist 

If victims of narcissistic abuse would like to preserve their mental health, they must learn how to set boundaries with their abuser. Setting boundaries could be as simple as walking away from toxic conversations, blocking narcissistic people on social media, or even spending the night with friends and family when the narcissist in their life makes them feel uncomfortable.  

Unfortunately, setting boundaries with a narcissist makes them furious because it challenges the superficial reality they’ve created to soothe their emotional instability. For an individual who believes that they can do no wrong, and are entitled to whatever they want, whenever they want, having boundaries is a foreign concept for them.

A common response from a narcissist when faced with a boundary is rage, shame, guilt, and/or passive aggressive behavior. Because of their hostile responses, overtime victims of narcissistic abuse often equate communication with fear.  

With that being said, the motives behind this particular people-pleasing behavior are quite different from the previous two. Refusing to set a boundary with a narcissist usually originates out of fear and/or guilt, while the previous two stem from hope.

How Do Victims of Narcissistic Abuse Avoid Setting Boundaries? 

  • Amy is really uncomfortable with her husband’s sexual fantasies but remains silent because she doesn’t want to make him angry.
  • Johnny doesn’t like how his wife uses his insecurities against him in arguments, but doesn’t want to say anything because she might leave him.
  • Richard dislikes when his father guilts him into doing things he doesn’t want to do, but doesn’t want to say anything that would make him angry because he is paying his college tuition. 
  • Sarah has three kids at home and doesn’t have time to continue to work overtime with no compensation, but she doesn’t want to say anything to her narcissistic boss that could get her fired.

Why Won’t This Work?

Narcissists work very hard to determine how much abuse their victim can endure before they have to show some level of empathy. For example, intermittent reinforcement, also known as breadcrumbing, plays a huge role in many narcissistic relationships. 

Therefore, not setting boundaries doesn’t protect victims of narcissistic abuse from further abuse, it encourages it.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

One of the biggest mistakes many victims of narcissistic abuse make is not letting go of the wish for things to be different. This is nothing to be ashamed of because it shows how genuine victims of narcissistic abuse are.

Unlike the narcissist, they’ve sacrificed their wellbeing in the pursuit of love. It is very honorable of them, however, we all should save our happiness, undivided attention, and unwavering loyalty to those who would do the same.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.” – Steve Jobs


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.

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