Are You Being a Colluding Caretaker with a Manipulative Spouse?

The similarities between you and your manipulative, narcissistic spouses actually keep you

The similarities between you and your manipulative, narcissistic spouses actually keep you magnetically attracted to each other. These similarities play a significant part in keeping you enmeshed. Read on to find out and take corrective steps if you are being a colluding caretaker with a manipulative spouse. Understand if you are continuing to be in such a toxic relationship out of a sense of fear, responsibility, low self-esteem or even shame.

Narcissist/Caretaker similarities

1. Perfectionism

Perfectionism works differently in narcissists and caretakers. Narcissists believe they are perfect and everyone around them should be perfect, while you as a caretaker believe you should be perfect and it’s your job to make your spouse perfectly happy. As long as you believe it’s your responsibility to take care of your manipulative spouse’s feelings, needs and expectations, you’ll continue to be manipulated by the narcissist.

Narcissists believe they are perfect and everyone around them should be perfect

2. Lack of boundaries

You probably have normal boundaries in your other relationships. However, it’s very likely you fall prey to merging with your manipulative spouse. When you feel deep love and care for another person, your boundaries tend to disappear. You don’t think it’s unusual to feel so immersed in your loved one. You may believe it’s wrong to say “no” or be “selfish”, or to disappoint her or him in any way. Even when you want to set limits or disagree you may feel guilty for doing so.

3. High and low self-esteem

You and your spouse probably both identify your self-esteem as being pretty high.  Narcissists repress their low inner self-esteem so deeply that they don’t even know it exists. Under stress, narcissists become overwhelmed by their negative, hostile, even hateful internal feelings, and they use rage and manipulation to soothe their loss of self-confidence, pride, or self-regard.

Caretakers work hard to be giving and loving and usually have good self-esteem. However, when you get into a relationship with a narcissist, your positive sense of self quickly erodes as you try the impossible task of attempting to please a narcissistic spouse. As a caretaker, you feel you must stay and “prove” to the narcissist that you’re really well-intentioned, good-hearted, and trying your best.

Caretakers work hard to be giving and loving and usually have good self-esteem

4. Hidden shame

Narcissists and caretakers often have a lot of hidden shame. Trying to be perfect when you’re not feeling good enough creates great stress for both. Narcissists project their shame outwardly onto others with blame, insults, put-downs, and demeaning judgments. Caretakers tend to start negative self-judgment when their spouse is unhappy or displeased. If you were raised by a narcissistic or manipulative parent you’ll tend to feel this shame more strongly. And the longer you’re with a narcissist, the more shame you’ll tend to build up.

Alicia was raised by a narcissistic mother who continually criticized her and put her down. She didn’t feel good enough, no matter how many tasks she took on or how well she did them. So, when her husband shouts and gets angry that there isn’t money to do what he wants, she easily takes the blame. She tries to get him to listen and calm down, but she collapses when Matt blames and criticizes her.  

5. Fear of being alone/abandoned

Both narcissists and caretakers have a fear of ending a hostile, conflicted relationship. Being alone, means you’re not good enough nor perfect enough. To leave or allow the other person to leave indicates a deep, humiliating failure to both narcissists and caretakers.

David may be frustrated and resentful about how Serena seems to take advantage of him, but he’s not considering ending the relationship. Instead, he passive aggressively makes snide remarks about her housekeeping, complains about giving her more money, and keeps giving her recipes—all of which she ignores. But he’s determined to convince her to do her fair share. She ignores these things because she figured out long ago that he was never going to leave her. But she makes sure to do just enough to keep him from going over the edge because there is no way she wants to go back to her family in humiliation.

Being alone, means you’re not good enough nor perfect enough

Final take away

Narcissists and caretakers have a push/pull, love/hate, superior/inferior, win/lose kind of magnetic symbiosis. Your opposite traits reinforce each other, and your similarities keep you glued together. You’ve merged into a colluding, though often hostile, relationship focused entirely on the narcissist. You may complain about it, but you give in because you feel obligated, responsible, and usually too fearful not to go along.  

Margalis Fjelstad
Marriage & Family Therapist, LMFT, PhD
Margalis Fjelstad brings insight, compassion and good advice to people who have become caretakers to a borderline or narcissist.  She shares techniques to neutralize crazy-making rules, set limits and boundaries, and stop the pattern of victim, persecutor, and rescuer.

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