Power and Control in Narcissistic Relationships

Darlene Lancer LMFT

acronym for POWERDarlene Lancer

The core problem in relationships with narcissists is that they prioritize power and sacrifice the relationship to get it, while their partners prioritize the relationship and sacrifice themselves to keep it.

Narcissists put themselves first, and so do their partners. Due to their insecurities, they constantly scan their environments and monitor their interactions to see who’s on top, and they use impression management, manipulation, and abuse to ensure they dominate. A study concluded this is their constant concern.

In order to get along with and improve a relationship with a narcissist, people must stand their ground and equalize the power dynamics in the relationship.

In order to improve a relationship with a narcissist, people must stand their ground and equalize the power dynamics.


Narcissists sacrifice peace for power, and most people sacrifice their power for peace. Whereas narcissists want to get ahead, other people want to get along. They want to avoid conflict, narcissistic rage, or abandonment. But continuing to accommodate and give in fuels a narcissist’s tantrums and demands, like indulging a spoiled toddler. Pleasers and accommodators believe that if they give narcissists what they want, eventually they, too, will get their needs met. But narcissists are selfish and think only about what is good for them and how to get it. Once you understand the equation, you can better get what you need and want.


In narcissistic relationships, partners go along to get along. They sacrifice themselves, and override their needs, wants, opinions, and feelings to have a better relationship. They end up harboring resentment and find that their sacrifice is for naught. Narcissists expect and feel nothing is owned in return…unless they have to pay a price! Meanwhile, those around the narcissist feel worse about themselves. Their self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth suffer, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and despair.

Waiving Your Rights

Typically, people don’t set boundaries with narcissists. They rather waive their rights than make waves. They’re afraid to do so or they try and complain it didn’t work. First, you must believe you have rights, and narcissists will shame and blame you and try to convince you otherwise. It takes courage to set boundaries with a narcissist and usually requires outside support. There must also be consequences to get their attention. See “10 Reasons Why Boundaries Don’t Work.

Excitement over Safety

Consistency and reliability are essential to a secure relationship. In abusive and narcissistic relationships, partners confuse excitement and anxiety. It’s a serious issue for people growing up with controlling, inconsistent, or abusive parenting because they’re not accustomed to feeling safe and secure. Often, they’re used to drama and consider it normal. Walking on eggshells and not feeling safe to speak up, share their feelings, ask for their needs feels normal, but it’s a symptom of insecurity. This can happen when there is a lot of marital conflict, addiction, mental illness, or other stressors in the home. Living with Jekyll and Hyde is unpredictable and can be terrifying and traumatic. It’s not exciting.

Relentless Efforting

In narcissistic relationships, codependents keep trying to please them and meet their needs, but narcissists are emotionally unavailable empty vessels. Their need for narcissistic supplies is bottomless and exhausting to those around them. Trying to give them the admiration and whatever they need enables their sense of entitlement and makes you subordinate to them, like a servant. Partners get hooked on crumbs, hoping for signs of attention, caring, or affection. Periodic reinforcements become rarer over time, but partners get addicted to the chance they’ll return.

However, there is hope. It requires a reversal of what loved ones do in narcissistic relationships. Then the relationship will in most cases change for the better, but more importantly, they will be transformed and empowered. They will be able to assess the relationship and decide whether to stay or will have gained the courage to leave and not repeat the same codependent behavior. Specific strategies are required for dealing with a narcissist, described in my book, Dating, Loving, and Leaving a Narcissist: Essential Tools for Improving or Leaving Narcissistic and Abusive Relationships and at www.whatiscodependency.com.

© 2022 Darlene Lancer

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Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert author on relationships, narcissism, and codependency. She’s counseled individuals and couples for over 30 years and coaches internationally. Her books include "Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You," "Dealing with a Narcissist," and "Codependency for Dummies," plus six ebooks, webinars, and other resource materials. Her books are available on Amazon, other online booksellers and her website, www.whatiscodependency.com, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.”

Los Angeles, CA

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