My Narcissistic Friendships Were Ruining My Life — How I Drastically Changed Them

What it was like learning to thrive when my narcissistic patterns hit in the most painful possible place.

girl feeling left out by friend group Michael Vano / Shutterstock

When you’ve worked the narcissistic abuse niche as long as I have, you see it all. Specifically, you see everyone complaining about their romantic relationships.

I was charmed by a narcissist. He hoovered me and love-bombed me.

For those who don’t know any better, narcissistic abuse seems like something relegated to families and romantic relationships. But it’s not…it takes place in friendships too.


That’s where my narcissistic abuse conditioning really came out. 

Raised by a narcissistic mother, I went out into the world cognitively stunted and ready to do tons of emotional labor for anyone but myself.

It was what my mother had trained me to do. I was a pincushion and a nursemaid for all of her emotional states, and I showed up the same way as a friend.


Many people raised in environments like mine carry those similar patterns of behavior and treatment into their intimate relationships. Not me. I carried them into my friendships. 

Instead of choosing narcissistic men to align me with, the greatest portion of my suffering came from the narcissistic women I aligned myself with — women who took from me emotionally far more than they ever gave.

RELATED: How To Spot A Narcissist With These 9 Behaviors

Looking past the romance

It took me almost 30 years to realize my patterns and what I was doing.

Not because I am an unintelligent person, but because I thought the pervading feeling of emptiness my relationships always provided was "normal." It was my baseline and all I had ever known.


Looking back now, these toxic and one-sided friendships did far more damage to me than any romantic relationship I ever entered (or exited).

This is a reality we don’t discuss enough in the narcissistic abuse space.

Rather than looking close to home, at the people in our backyards, we’re more prone to focus all of our attention on the bedroom.

One enemy is far less dangerous than a thousand, however, which is exactly what happens when someone sets themselves up in patterns of narcissistic friendship.

In general, these friendships are emotionally exhausting and drama filled, with off-kilter power dynamics that make it hard for the "weaker" person in the friendship to predict what’s going to happen next.


There’s a level of fear there too. Narcissistic friends know where all the bodies are buried and they know how to trigger the deepest of insecurities.

A big part of doing the work to heal from narcissistic abuse requires doing that work throughout our lives…even when that work is incredibly hard and isolating.

If you were someone raised in a hornet’s nest of narcissists, then chances are you’ve built another hornet's nest for yourself.

Getting free may require a total overhaul and reset.

What does a narcissistic friendship look like?

Each one of my narcissistic friendships played out differently, but they shared some similar elements.

That’s how it goes with narcissists. While each one has slightly different motivating factors, the overall results are the same.


The people around them, especially their friends, feel unappreciated and unloved. I know I did when I saw the...

  • One-sided support systems
  • Constant emotional labor
  • Repeated savior behavior
  • Give, give, and give some more
  • Minimization of the entire self

Everything is one-sided with the narcissistic friend.

They demand that their friends bend over backward — even moving them across the country if necessary — but don’t exert the same efforts in return.

They don’t hold themselves to the same standards they hold for their friends and family.

That makes them black holes of emotional labor.

Take my mother for example. If she had a bad day at work, my job became sitting on the phone with her for hours, listening to her complain about everyone and anyone (even when I was in the hospital myself).


I was the garbage dump for all of her negative emotions, and I did the same for my friends.

Being this source of constant emotional support can poise victims to become reluctant saviors to narcissistic friends who keep themselves in crisis after crisis.

They give, give, give to this friend and minimize their own needs, desires, and space in the process.

The result? Someone who feels used and abused in their own friendship.

RELATED: 4 Signs You're Stuck In A Toxic Friendship (& How To Deal With It)

Here are the 3 stages of narcissistic friendship (and how they affect you):

In general, a narcissistic friendship goes through 3 stages.

It all begins with idealization when things are fresh, new, and still being framed. Everything ends in disaster, however, when the victimized friend wakes up and realizes they’re no longer willing to minimize themselves and their needs.


1. Idealization

Idealization is the first step in building a relationship with a narcissistic person. It happens so fast that most don’t realize it until it’s too late.

By mirroring charming characteristics, similar beliefs, and even relatable past times, the narcissistic friend posits themselves (in the blink of an eye) as the most incredible person you’ve ever met. They treat you the same in return.

Example: "You are the coolest person I’ve ever met…We should move in together…We are exactly alike…I feel like I’ve known you my whole life…You’re perfect!"

This is the most enjoyable and appealing part of the narcissistic friendship because the narcissist will never be more friendly or charming than in this stage of the connection.


Here, they are willing to please. It’s all a part of creating the mask.

By mirroring what their friend wants to see and positioning themselves in a place of kindness, they lull new friends into a false sense of comfort they later regret.

2. Diminishment

The second stage in narcissistic friendship usually centers around diminishment.

Here, the narcissistic friend really sinks their claws in and assumes power over the person or the group.

They center themselves (an inherently insecure person) by destroying the self-esteem of others. Keep their friends mentally and emotionally low and the narcissist stays atop the heap.

Example: "You always do stuff like this…You’re so dumb…You’re trashy…You’re never going to get X, Y, Z…You’re ugly, worthless, etc…"


Diminishment is a slow drip with lots of "absolute" language.

Little by little, the narcissist degrades the skills, abilities, appearance, and even successes of the people around them.

When their victim does well, they criticize them to shoot them down. They attack everything good in that person’s life to keep them in a weakened emotional "funk."

3. Destruction

The final stage in the narcissistic friendship cycle is the "destruction" phase. Like the others, this phase of the friendship does what it says on the tin.

Realizing that they no longer have power over their friend (or aren’t getting the benefit they desired) the narcissist sets out to destroy that person mentally, emotionally, and even materially or spiritually. It’s a razed earth game.


Example: "You’re crazy…that never happened…You’re nothing without me…I’ll tell everyone how terrible you are…Don’t listen to them, they are insane…I’ll get you fired…I’ll take the kids…I’ll destroy you in court…etc."

There is one ultimate goal here, and that is to destroy the victim, not only in their own eyes but in the eyes of others too.

Revenge is not the primary motivator, though it may appear so. What really pushes the narcissist to destroy someone they once "loved"? Fear of exposure.

Terrified that their friend will run to the world and expose their secrets, they engage in a campaign of gaslighting that destroys the victim’s internal sense of self and their reputation (and therefore their validity) with the world.


What are the best ways to defeat your narcissistic friendship patterns?

We learn to accept these toxic friendships, and we can unlearn the pattern too. You don’t have to keep surrounding yourself with friends who only have their goals and benefits in mind.

Once I came to that crossroads, I had to make some hard decisions. That meant (for me) cutting ties and existing in periods of loneliness as I reset my friendships and prioritized my peace.

Caring, compassionate friendships were out there, and I found them. Before getting there, however, I had to become a person with a strong sense of self, iron-clad boundaries and high self-standards.

RELATED: 7 Signs A Woman You Know Is A Total Narcissist


Here are the 3 best ways to defeat your narcissistic friendship patterns:

1. Stabilize your sense of self

Narcissists have an unstable self-image which aids them in targeting those who do. To keep you weak, they target your confidence and your sense of self.

Defeating them requires re-establishing this authentic sense of self and greater self-esteem.

2. Create stronger boundaries

There’s no avoiding boundaries in dealing with a narcissistic friend.


For some, that boundary is going no-contact. They cut all ties and walk away, but others don’t want to make that commitment.

What matters is protecting your core needs and drawing hard lines the narcissist isn’t allowed to cross.

3. Set high self-standards

Narcissistic friends don’t scoop us out of the air. Most of us fall into their laps willingly, having been conditioned to see it as normal.

For us to break the cycle, we have to confront ourselves (not just the narcissist). That requires setting higher standards for ourselves across the board.

Never let a narcissist attack who you are and what you want.

Increase your ability to defend yourself against them by building an undeniable sense of who you are and who you want to be. Create strong boundaries that refuse to let narcissistic people come between you and the future you’re envisioning for yourself.


The people in our lives shouldn’t tear us down or make us feel weak.

Set higher standards for who you’re surrounding yourself with if you’re actually serious about creating a life that is free of narcissistic friends and genuinely filled with peaceful relationships and meaning.

Narcissistic friendships can be just as damaging as any other toxic relationship in our lives.

Romance and familial love are not the only corners of human-to-human interaction that get altered by narcissistic manipulation and abuse.

Be honest with yourself. Are your friendships one-sided? Are you giving way more support than you get in return from your friends?

You alone know the answer and you alone can take action to find more fulfilling relationships.


Is that a choice you’re willing to make? Or are you going to suffer in the name of someone else’s misery? Do you want to spend your life anxious? Feeling cut down? Wondering when they’re going to stab you in the back?

If the answer is no, take action now.

RELATED: 50 Quotes About Bad Friends (That You Need To Get Out Of Your Life ASAP)

E.B. Johnson is a writer, NLP coach, and podcaster who helps people cognitively reframe their experiences for greater life satisfaction.