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Some emotionally abusive people don’t change, no matter how much the victim of their hurtful behavior changes for them.

Is there ever a point where they will be the person you want them to be? Or does anything you do really matter at all? 

A reader recently left a review for my show with a question that caught my attention, and I’m glad it did. They were curious about why, in relationships with a narcissistic and emotionally abusive partner, the other person’s efforts to change themselves don’t seem to inspire the abusive partner to also make changes.

It’s an important question, one that I don’t usually see addressed. And I can relate to the struggle of trying everything, only to find that your partner remains emotionally uninvolved, blameshifting, and continues to sap your emotional energy.

It’s a dreadful predicament because you’re indeed providing something to them. We’ve all heard of the term ‘narcissistic supply.’ Narcissists and many emotionally abusive individuals crave a “source” that fuels their ego and their skewed idea of happiness and fulfillment, which, unfortunately, often involves leeching it from someone else.

As long as you’re present, you are their supply.

It’s a hard truth to swallow, but the reality is that to these individuals, the changes you make for them are irrelevant.

These people, particularly narcissists and even more so sociopaths and psychopaths, are indifferent to your changes. They are on a quest for their supply – for whatever makes them feel better about themselves, or at least not feel bad, due to their deflated egos or deep-seated insecurities.

Like the person who wrote that review mentioned, they showered them with endless grace, regardless of their partner’s bad behaviors. And that is exactly what many emotionally abusive people expect you to do. No matter how much you give, it’s never enough.

In my years of experience, I’ve learned that if they aren’t content with small gestures of kindness or respect, then grand gestures won’t cut it either.

When you make a small effort that goes unnoticed and unreciprocated, it’s a clear sign not to waste energy on grander efforts. This isn’t to say you should or shouldn’t do certain things, but rather, don’t hold out for gratitude or recognition when even the smallest of acts are overlooked.

If you’re seeking appreciation and the little things you do go unappreciated, then trying to change or do more to get that appreciation is a complete waste of time.

In a healthy romantic relationship, the little things are celebrated. For instance, if my partner cooked me breakfast, I’d be filled with gratitude and would want to reciprocate that kindness.

We cherish these small tokens of appreciation. But if your efforts to make someone happy aren’t recognized, don’t expect anything more substantial. In other words, if you find yourself constantly trying to prove your worthiness of love, respect, and attention, and it’s met with indifference, then they’re unlikely to ever see it. That might mean they’re either oblivious or just don’t care.

The truth is some people are inherently self-absorbed, and no matter how much you try, if they don’t acknowledge or appreciate your efforts, they’re showing you their true colors.

This doesn’t mean they can’t change, but as long as they face no consequences for their lack of appreciation – where there’s no questioning of why they don’t acknowledge the things you do for them – they have no incentive to change.

If you’re still in their life, they might think, “I can’t be that terrible, or else they would have left.”

This mindset perpetuates their behavior. You’re inadvertently supplying what they need to continue being themselves without needing to change. It’s a subtle form of enabling, although I hesitate to use that term because it can come across as blaming the victim, which is not my intention at all. But when you consistently provide someone with what they crave, they’ll naturally keep seeking it from you.

Ideally, when you do something nice for someone, they will reciprocate with gratitude, acknowledging the gesture with a heartfelt ‘thank you.’ It’s these little acts of kindness that often weave the fabric of a strong relationship.

You don’t have to announce every small deed; it’s the silent recognition that matters. A simple ‘thank you’ can be a testament to a healthy partnership. Even better, an act of reciprocation now or down the road.

To be clear, I’m not referring to those long-standing relationships where gratitude is a given. After decades together, saying ‘thank you’ for every little thing isn’t necessary. There’s an unspoken mutual appreciation because both partners are consistently contributing to the relationship.

What I’m talking about is when one person seems to perpetually take without a hint of gratitude, no matter how much effort you put in. They remain unresponsive to your attempts to make them happy, and they don’t seem to want to reciprocate or contribute to your happiness.

In an emotionally abusive relationship, the victim craves love, connection, honest communication, and the feeling of being in the relationship together, not as separate individuals who are apathetic to each other’s feelings. In any relationship—be it with a friend, family member, or romantic partner—you hope for a balance of give and take that doesn’t need to be negotiated; it just naturally occurs because you care about each other.

For example, I might wash the dishes because my partner appreciates a clean kitchen. It’s a simple act of caring, not done with any expectation of repayment. In turn, my partner might handle a phone call I’ve been dreading or manage tedious tasks like taxes.

This balance is what a relationship thrives on. But when it feels like one person is constantly bailing water out of a sinking ship while the other lies on the deck getting a suntan, that’s when you know something’s off.

A balanced relationship will grow stronger and feel solid. When both partners are invested in each other’s happiness, you’ve got something truly special. But if you’ve made changes and the other person remains unmoved, it’s usually because they feel no incentive to change. They stay complacent, shifting blame, making excuses, and doing what they want because they’re focused on themselves.

You might remember a time when they were kind, generous, and supportive, but people who are emotionally abusive or narcissistic often show their best side in the beginning to win you over. Once they feel you are committed to the relationship, their true colors come out.

I know it’s disheartening to realize that no matter how much you try, if there’s no acknowledgment or appreciation for the small things, the big gestures won’t make a difference either.

You shouldn’t have to change who you are or bend over backward to please someone.

If it feels like you’re in a one-sided effort to satisfy an insatiable partner, then it’s clear they’re in it for themselves. And if you keep satisfying their needs without your own being met, the unfortunate trust is that is their idea of a balanced relationship.

In the scenario I described above, the person continued by saying expressing their own emotions was off-limits because it would upset their partner.

This is a classic manipulation tactic. Someone who claims to be ‘triggered’ can be a way to avoid confrontation and take responsibility. It’s a convenient escape route for them.

They might say things like, “This is too painful,” or “You’re always angry. I can’t talk to you about this.” It’s a deflection: a way to shift focus from themselves to something else, anything to avoid addressing the issue at hand.

This tactic of claiming to be ‘triggered’ becomes their get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s their way of dodging accountability and responsibility. It’s a tough spot to be in, and honestly, there’s no silver lining for someone trapped in this cycle.

The only time a person like this might consider change is if they’re at risk of losing something they can’t bear to lose. But even then, change isn’t guaranteed. It might just push them to the point where they think, “Okay, I don’t want to lose you, so maybe I should look at myself and our issues.”

When a person finally decides to address the unresolved issues in a relationship, it can lead to a new beginning. However, it often takes reaching a breaking point, a “threshold” beyond which you can no longer tolerate the behavior.

I discuss this in the Healed Being Program, too. Most people join that program because they’ve been hurting someone they care about, but the person they’ve hurt has reached their limit.

That’s a pivotal moment that can lead to genuine change. It’s tragic, though, that it often has to get that far before change happens. And sometimes, it’s too late. Hearts can close permanently. And there might be no chance for reconciliation.

It’s a sad state when a relationship deteriorates to such an extent, especially since many good people can fall back on old, harmful coping mechanisms and bad behaviors prevent them from being supportive partners where they can lead a healthy life and face challenges with better responses.

If only those who are self-centered knew that they could have their needs met through kindness, support, and generosity without resorting to control and manipulation! Relationships are so much more balanced and fulfilling when that happens.

But some people haven’t reached that point of self-awareness yet. They need to reflect, show empathy, and understand that kindness encourages more kindness.

Thank you for reading today. Feel free to share this with others who might find it helpful.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Host of Love and Abuse and The Overwhelmed Brain

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