Arming yourself with tools to suss out whether you have indeed found a healthy ‘soul mate’ or the devil wearing a mask, is a key focus of Narc Wise.
As introduced in Part 1 of the ‘Communication clues’ series, one approach is to pay attention to the language used which can tell you if something’s not quite right. Knowing who and what you are dealing with, is so important in understanding that stepping away from what will only ever be a toxic relationship, is necessary to protect yourself.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is intrinsically difficult to identify by virtue of its effect on victims. Why? At the beginning of the relationship the love bombing and idealization convinces us we are indeed truly blessed in having found our soul mate. Who would want to walk away from that?? Then we slip into the devaluing phase of the cycle of abuse. The mask starts to slip and true intentions surface. Endless manipulative games centred on domination and control start to take over.
The strategies used are extremely effective and cause untold harm, including doubting yourself and your perception of reality.
If you are caught in this trap, you are questioning yourself rather than the narcissist…but does any of the information below ring true? Do you find yourself at the receiving end of any of these mind addling ploys? If so, this is your confirmation: IT IS NOT YOU. There IS something wrong, it is the narcissist getting busy playing with your mind, heart and soul.
Communication recipe: 90% ugliness with 10% adulation to keep you hooked
The focus of devaluation is to communicate your lack of value and unimportance to the narcissist. You will face attacks ranging from outright aggression and verbal abuse, to passive aggressive tactics such as silence. Throughout all of the specific strategies outlined below, you will find the following communication behaviours in most of your interactions in one form or another: insults, expressions of entitlement, blaming/accusations, lying, tailoring injurious comments based on knowledge of your vulnerabilities, denial, justifying, refusal to own any responsibility for anything, avoidance, rage, deflection, pity party statements, and a win/lose attitude where everything is a competition.
Now, sure, some of these may be used every now and then by the best of us. But if you listen closely to the narcissist, once devaluation has kicked in these will be the norm rather than genuine moments of ‘weakness’ that a healthy person would fall prey to. A healthy person would also most likely follow their erring with an apology…this would not be the case from a narcissist.
Another tip that things are suss, is that interspersed amongst this abuse will be the intermittent incorporation of love-bombing strategies to maintain control over you, and keep you hooked.
It’s not me it’s you
The narcissist is only capable of maintaining their idealized view of themselves, as perfect, grandiose and omnipotent. This necessarily precludes the acceptance of any negative aspects of themselves.
Unable to cope with being less than entirely perfect, they aggressively project these aspects onto you. This is done both to devalue you, and to reduce anxiety felt by possible dependency on you which for the narcissist is intolerable (Vitek, 2000; Walker, 2005; Zosky, 2001).
This strategy is fairly easy to recognise. The narcissist will reflect back suspicions you have about their character make up. Think of those chats when they are sharing with you all your downfalls and ways you should consider improving yourself to be worthy of them…and yet it all sounds very much like the defining terms one might apply to them!
You might hear things like:
- “It’s all your fault, all you do is blame everyone around you for your issues”
- “You really are very self-involved, everything is always about you, you’re quite narcissistic…let’s focus on me for a while” (!!)
- “You’re just projecting, if only you could see what you are really like”
Setting aside the awfulness of it, projection could also be considered somewhat of a gift. The narcissist is handing you on a platter the very things you should be wary of in them. Heed their warnings!
Sneaky crazy making devil tricks
This one is a little harder to recognise. Gaslighting is the manipulation of information and/or the environment to confuse you into questioning your perception of reality and mental health. It is intentionally malevolent behaviour to make you feel crazy (O’Mairan, 2014; Wallerstein, 1973).
Why? Because disorienting you and keeping you off balance maintains your compliance. If you are constantly second guessing yourself, they are more likely to get away with whatever they want, in addition to reinforcing your reliance on them for ‘reality checking’.
Examples of manipulating the environment could include behaviours such as moving or hiding objects from you, just to mess with you, just for fun. When using the information approach, this is what it can sound like:
- “You’re crazy”
- “I’m worried about you, you seem to be really confused/forgetting a lot lately”
- “That never happened”
- “I never said that”
- “You’re completely overreacting, you need to learn to chill”
- “You’re not making any sense, are you ok”
Clearly, some of these are straight out tactics to make you doubt your mental health, whilst others are little more sneaky. Denial and invalidation coupled with false concern is a favorite to completely unbalance you – ‘he/she sounds concerned so maybe they are actually caring for me?’, you might think.
Conversely, they will also target your real compassion doing a switcheroo on situations seeking pity for themselves for being so poorly misunderstood/treated. “I was just trying to help you, I went out of my way to do so, it is a shame you can’t see me for who I am and the support I am trying to offer you”. Sound familiar? Narcissists love a good pity play.
You have no doubt been kind in making allowances for the narcissist and thinking they don’t really mean this or that, they’re a little lost but essentially good… take a look at this strategy. I hope it convinces you this isn’t the case. There is no excuse to be made for such deliberate and malicious intent. You are in danger.
The silent killer
Projection and gaslighting are strategies usually dense with words. Stonewalling is mostly about the absence of words. It’s about the withdrawal or withholding of information, emotions, or physical resources.
This strategy is applied to elicit feelings of rejection or abandonment to reinforce feelings of dependence on the narcissist (Oliver, Perry, & Cade, 2008). You are being told that your worth is so insignificant that response and engagement is not necessary from their perspective. They are invaliding you and expressing contempt (Walker, 2005; Keller, Blincoe, Gilbert, Dewall, Haak, & Widiger, 2014).
Whilst this strategy isn’t necessarily able to be described in terms of what it sounds like, it is identifiable through the lack of communication or significant reduction of it. Silent treatment is the classic obvious example. Less apparent instances of stonewalling are:
- Asking direct questions which are not responded to
- The narcissist simply walking away mid discussion without explanation
- Responses that use as few words as possible
Fence sitting statements can also indicate stonewalling, for example, ‘I don’t know’, ‘whatever’ on topics that should involve emotional investment (e.g.: if holding the person to account on an issue).
Projection, gaslighting and stonewalling are just a small sample of strategies used by the abusive narcissist in their very deliberate efforts to crush your spirit.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking they don’t mean it, they do…or that they will change, they won’t, and most importantly they do not want to. This is what they live for.
Devaluation is the intentional process of making you feel so very small, so that they can feel big. It is their drug. Your pain, is their joy. Horrifying, right? There is nothing that comes close to love about this.
Whether you are new to this phase in the relationship, or you have cycled through the endless phases of idealize, devalue and discard with your narcissist several times… now is the time. Get out now. You are nobody’s drug. It’s time to start feeding your own sweet self and to heal the wounds inflicted by the narcissist.
I’d love to hear any communication clue examples from anyone out there willing to share with others in the comments section below. The more we share, the more we teach one another and help those in need to take their step towards freedom. With gratitude,
Keller, P.S., Blincoe, S., Gilbert, L.R., Dewall, C.N., Haak, E.A., & Widiger, T. (2014). Narcissism in romantic relationships: A dyadic perspective. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 33(1), 25-50.
Oliver, M., Perry, S., & Cade, R. (2008). Couples therapy with borderline personality disordered individuals. The Family Journal, 16(1), 67-72.
O’Mairin, P. (2014, July 15). How ‘gaslighting’ inflicts deep but invisible wounds. Irish Times. Retrieved from https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/that-s-men-how-gaslighting-inflicts-deep-but-invisible-wounds-1.1865889
Vitek, J.A. (2000). Aggression and differentiation of self in narcissistic subtypes (Doctoral dissertation). The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations. (Order No. 9970787)
Walker, S. (2005). Jealousy and Gottman’s Four Horsemen: Addressing the missing link (Doctoral dissertation). The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations. (Order No. 3215605)
Wallerstein, R.S. (1973). Psychoanalytic perspectives on the problem of reality. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 21(1), 5-33.
Zosky, D. M. (2001). The role of projective identification with domestically violent males (Doctoral dissertation). Loyola University Chicago. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations. (Order No. 3001640)