What Saying 'I Do' To A Narcissist REALLY Means

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Love, Self

And all cult leaders are narcissists.

I recently ran across a “relationship contract” in a self-help book. Reading it, I suddenly realized that the terms of the contract sounded much like the unspoken wedding vows inherent and implied when you get married to a narcissist.

Here’s the kicker: the self-help book wasn’t about narcissism. (Further on in the article, I’ll reveal the source — no peeking ahead!) But first, here’s the contract slightly modified, or if you will, “narcissized”:

I, _____, hereby agree to join _____.

I understand that my life will change in the following ways. I know what I am getting into and agree to all the following conditions:

1. My good feelings about who I am will stem from being liked by the narcissist and from receiving approval from the narcissist.

2. My total mental attention will focus on solving the narcissist’s problems and making sure there are no conflicts.

3. My mental attention will be focused on pleasing and protecting the narcissist.

4. My self-esteem will be bolstered by solving the narcissist’s problems and relieving the narcissist’s pain.

5. My own hobbies and interests will gladly be put aside. My time will be spent however the narcissist decides.


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6. My clothing and personal appearance will be dictated by the desires of the narcissist.

7. I do not need to be sure of how I feel. I will only be focused on what the narcissist feels.

8. I will ignore my own needs and wants. The needs and wants of the narcissist are all that is important.

9. The dreams I have for the future will be linked to the narcissist.

10. My fear of rejection will determine what I say and do.


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11. My fear of the narcissist’s anger will determine what I say and do.

12. I will use giving as a way of feeling safe with the narcissist.

13. My social circle will diminish or disappear as I involve myself with the narcissist.

14. I will give up my family as I involve myself with the narcissist.

15. The narcissist’s values will become my values.


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16. I will cherish the narcissist’s opinions and ways of doing things more than my own.

17. The quality of my life will be in relation to the quality of the narcissist’s life.

18. Everything that is right and good is due to the narcissist.

19. Everything that is or goes wrong is due to me.

20. In addition, I waive the following rights:

  • to leave at any time
  • to maintain contact with the outside world
  • to have an education and career of my choice
  • to have reasonable health care
  • to have control over my body, including choices related to sex and procreation
  • to expect honesty in dealing with the narcissist
  • to have any complaints heard and dealt with fairly
  • to be supported and cared for in my old age in gratitude for my years of service


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Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Ready for the denouement? The book wasn’t about narcissism. It wasn’t about personality disorders. It wasn’t even about psychology per se. It was about cults.

I am eternally indebted to Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich for their beyond excellent book Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Other Abusive Relationships which contained the above contract. Tobias and Lalich wrote it to clearly delineate what you’re getting into when you join a cult. But isn’t it exactly what you also get into when you bond to a narcissist?

If you find yourself saying, “But I’m not in a cult! I’d never join a cult!” are you so sure? You see, a cult is not necessarily religious. A cult is not necessarily a commune. A cult is not necessarily a group of multiple people.

A cult is about specific dynamics. A cult is about a type of relationship. A cult is about money. A cult is about mind control. A cult is about isolation. A cult is about guilt and shame. A cult can be as small as two people bonded, as Tobias and Lalich put it, in “a deliberately manipulative and exploitative intimate relationship.” And a cult leader is always a narcissist or even a psychopath.

Personally, I’ve found books on narcissism to have limited benefit. They didn’t quite hit the nail on the head.

They didn’t address the complete loss of self-esteem, the sensation of leaving my self-worth behind when I went "No Contact" with my narcissistic family. They didn’t address the grief of losing my family, narcissism and all. They didn’t address the pain of loving my abusers. They didn’t address learning to live like a normal person in the real world. 

If the books about narcissism don’t quite meet your needs, I would highly suggest reading books about cults. It’s my conviction that a narcissistic relationship is, for all intents and purposes, membership in a cult. You’ll be amazed at the validation and freedom studying cult dynamics and the symptoms of leaving a cult will bring to your journey of healing.

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This article was originally published at Psych Central. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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