Communication clues the narcissist’s mask is slipping: When devaluation hits

6 minute read

This piece gives you the tools to identify the first signs you could be in harm’s way, by equipping you to recognise communication clues you’re with a pathological narcissist whose mask is slipping.

Starting to get a little suss that maybe your ‘soul mate’ ain’t so perfect? Do you feel like maybe something isn’t quite right but you can’t put your finger on it? Well…it could be that the bliss of idealisation is done, and you are being transitioned to devaluation, the second phase in the cycle of narcissistic abuse. Obviously, this would mean that your ‘soul mate’ is really something far more dangerous.

By paying attention to the language used by your ‘soul mate’, you can detect who and what you are dealing with, which 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 love bombing and idealisation convinces us we are indeed truly blessed in having found our ‘soul mate’. Who would want to walk away from that (for more on this read The narcissist’s ‘soul mate’ effect: How & why they do it)??

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 face attacks ranging from outright aggression and verbal abuse, to passive aggressive tactics such as silence.

Throughout all of the strategies below, you find the following communication behaviours 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 (for more on this read The narcissist’s word salad: Stop biting nowNarc Speak: Words as weapons & Invalidation and narcissism: Why they slowly erase you).

communication clues you're with a narcissist

Now, sure, some of these less than flattering attacks 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 intermittent incorporation of love-bombing strategies to maintain control over you, and keep you hooked.

‘It’s not me, it’s you’ they say

The narcissist is only capable of maintaining their idealised 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 reflects 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 so 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).

gaslighting head spin

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 manipulating information, 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 favourite 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.

If you need more reinforcement check out: Proof the narcissist abuses you intentionally and will never change Stop feeling sorry for the narcissist now.

The silent killer

Where 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 your feelings of dependence on the narcissist (Oliver, Perry, & Cade, 2008).

Furthermore, they are underscoring that your worth is so insignificant to them 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). The purpose of this, is to have you scrambling to regain their good graces, thereby handing over supply.

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 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 (…well they would do for an emotionally healthy person…).

narcissist stonewalling

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. Through devaluation they hit the mother load of life sustaining supply for the narc. Because 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 idealise, devalue and discard with the 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.

For more tools & knowledge building pieces on the issues in this article read:

As always, please share your thoughts, experiences, and insights on the issues in this article in the comments below. The more we share, the more we teach & help one another in reclaiming our freedom.

With gratitude,

Maggie x


Hungry for more info?

There are three books I highly recommend that are all very insightful in deconstructing psychopathy/sociopathy/malignant narcissism. These titles also address how we can protect ourselves by identifying them in our midst, and refuse to engage in the mind games. I highly recommend Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door, Jackson Mackenzie’s Psychopath Free, and David Gillespie’s Taming Toxic People: The Science of Identifying and Dealing with Psychopaths at Work & at Home.

(Note – if using link/s provided to purchase, you’ll receive free shipping and title heavily discounted. You’ll also be supporting my work in providing you free resources on this site, by earning a very small commission, at no extra cost to you – thank you 😊)


  • 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
  • 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)

11 thoughts

  1. Thank you Maggie for this blog. I am in the process of leaving my abuser and it is the most difficult time I’ve ever experienced in my 37 years. Overcoming an addiction to heroin and battling a meth addiction presented pain and obstacles, but this relationship had caused much greater suffering. My mind was constantly spinning with self-doubt and false accusations made by my abuser. His favorite accusation was that I was a whore, slut, made cheap internet porn videos, had sex with anyone for drugs or money. His accusations became public in my small city through posts he made to Facebook and Twitter. I had to seek legal counsel. In reality, I was not doing any of these things, but he certainly was. His favorite justification for his infidelity was to say “I’m going to do what you are doing.” I knew I wasn’t doing any cheating, but in HIS mind I was having an orgy with the grocery store clerk and his best friend; the sky was the limit on what he wanted to believe I was doing. Another go to was the always mature and logical “I didn’t do that, you did.” Yes, a grown adult would respond to a inappropriate text or email response to a Craigslist personal ad that was found. The remark was so mind-numbingly stupid I laughed the first time he said it. He didn’t. He was dead serious. My abuser was once the love of my life, and now he is the monster in my dreams.

    1. Alesha, here’s what I know (and I know you know) from reading your message: you are one incredibly strong and determined woman. You’ve overcome pretty significant challenges in life. I am so glad to hear you are applying your power to freeing yourself from your abuser. I hear you when you say the suffering you are experiencing is greater than the addictions you have conquered. Loving what/who seeks to tear you apart is for many a killer. I know you have this though. You know you have this too. Nobody – abuser, foe, friend, family, stranger or any other kind person, has the right to disparage you in the way described. Nobody, nobody, has the right to taunt you or to make you doubt your own mind. Certainly not one who claims to love you. High five to you for keeping safe and untouchable your own love for self. I hope to hear of your freedom you are busy claiming (if you feel like sharing). Be safe. Be proud. Both of these are your absolute right. Maggie x

  2. I married at 22. I was completely and overwhelmingly in love, and he seemed to be as well. Looking back, I see so many red flags. I thought we complimented each other very well, I am an introvert and he an extrovert. I think back and remember that he once told me he reminded me of his ex-gf. I thought it was no big deal because she lost out and I had my prince charming. Throughout our 25 year marriage, there were little things – I’m smothering him, etc. In conversation, if I was telling a story to someone, I would be corrected – it wasn’t Tuesday, it was Monday. It was just something he did that didn’t bother me, so I brushed it off as being one of his “quirks”. We raised two sons together. My younger son became very angry with me for one thing or another. He became verbally belligerent and abusive towards me, but never in front of his father, he stole money from my purse. His father always told the boys that if they disrespected me, they would have to deal with him. I told him about the behavior, but nothing was ever done because by the time he got home from work, our son would have already left the house. Finally, one day I told his father that either our son had to leave the house, or I would. I could not take the abuse any longer.

    I had been terminated from a job for not making “quota”. My self-esteem was tanked. I felt like a failure at life by this time.

    About that time, he connected with his former girlfriend (the one that “got away”). I thought nothing of it because I thought we were solid. We had many “couples” as friends, so I was fine with one more. We had been married 23 years by this time.

    Both of our sons enlisted in the military. I told my ex that our son could stay in the house until he left for basic training. Things were strained, but I knew that it was a temporary situation and pushed through.

    At this point I needed a hysterectomy and menopause came on like a ton of bricks. Empty nest, menopause, our youngest son in Afghanistan getting shot at, and family history of mental illness threw me into a deep depression.

    About this time I became concerned with the relationship between my ex and his “friend” (ex-girlfriend). They were texting all the time, calling each other while on their drive to and from work, and doing things together that my ex knew I did not enjoy (cross-country skiing) so they could be alone. This became a bigger issue every day. He told me that they were just friends and I was over-reacting. This “friendship” went on for almost two years. I was desperate to believe him. When I looked at our phone bill, in one month’s time they had texted each other nearly 3000 times and spent over 30 hours on the phone talking. He was always very prompt and on time. I always had dinner ready when he got home. It got to the point that dinner was cold by the time he walked through the door because he would stop along the road so he could continue his conversation with his “friend”. By this time I am on medication for depression, it wasn’t helping. Dr. said take more, so I took more. I became a ranting, raving, suicidal lunatic. I wasn’t fun to be around, I’ll admit that. He began telling everyone who would listen that I was crazy. He told them just enough to get their sympathies. I began to self harm.

    I finally gave in to my darker side, and got onto his computer. I found a message from his “friend”, who is married with four children, that said “ILY too”. I went stark raving mad. I confronted him when he came home from work. The denials began. He told me that we had no friends and it was all my fault. And finally, a confession, they had been kissing. I totally went off the deep end. I ended up in a mental institution for nine days. I will never forget the phone call I made to him begging him to come see me, his answer was a very cold “No, you need to stand on your own two feet.” I knew then there was nothing left worth fighting for. When I was released from the institution, I opened my own bank account and filed for divorce. I was in fight or flight mode, and since I was giving up the fight, I grabbed what I could and ran. Shortly after that he was mad at me and said “Well you pushed the divorce through.” I was the bad guy for giving him what he wanted. When the divorce was finalized, he refused any communication from me. If I thought of something that had been given to me as a gift and was still in the house, I would ask for it, he would refuse. Since then, he sold off everything that we had owned and bought himself a real nice house on a lake (now lives only 10 miles from his “friend” instead of 35).

    It has been a tough road and I still have ups and downs, but I am all the better for having gone through what I did. I learned a lot about mental illness and severe depression. But I have also learned a lot about myself. I may not have much in the way of possessions, but I am overflowing with the joy that comes from finding myself bit by bit. I have accomplished things that I never would have imagined I could because I was so beaten down.

    When I read articles such as these, I see all the red flags I never saw before – correcting me, showing his superior intelligence, lying, accusations, deflecting, denials, degradation, projection, constantly puffing his chest out over how much money he made or some other stupid reason he was proud of himself.

    My relationship with my son has improved and we get along pretty good these days. I’ve learned to pray for my ex to find happiness and to prosper. I’ve learned how to forgive him, and by doing that I have released the last of the chains holding me down. I don’t have to worry about trying to make him happy at my expense. Maybe someday I will meet someone and fall in love again, but for now at least, I’m content with my life.

    P.S. He may have gotten all the material stuff – I got all the friends!

    1. Dear Nancy. My big apologies for not catching this until now!
      Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is so incredibly uplifting. “I may not have much in the way of possessions, but I am overflowing with the joy that comes from finding myself bit by bit. I have accomplished things that I never would have imagined I could because I was so beaten down.” How inspiring. You have overcome so much. Not only surmounted mammoth challenges but it sounds like you have indeed found yourself and sit firmly, and proudly in your truth. Joy and freedom indeed.
      Dear Nancy, I am looking to start a new project on Narc Wise with community members willing to share their story to help encourage others and would very much like your input. If you are interested, please write to me at and I will fill you in. Sending you light and love, Maggie x

  3. Have been threw all described in your article. I can just add one more hook the narcisist put in you. Desire to please them, they make you do things for them so they keep you under spell. Coz doing something for another should be selfgratifying and they count on it. But there is no in return from them. They just use you and keep you unfocused on your needs and rights. Devide and win. Its tough geting away from them like addiction.

  4. This is so true. My neighbor and good friends husband is a narcissist . He devalued her and got others to go against her and kept her from seeing her family. She eventually killed herself. He is now trying to do the same thing to me. I’m not in a relationship with him. Nor am I his friend. But he’s been trying to degrade me and has been spreading lies about me to the neighbors and has called multiple authoritative figures lying about me but each investigation has turned up nothing. People like that are not healthy and are extremely dangerous.

    1. Dear Sarah Bourgeois. I am so sorry for your loss. How devastating. And to also be facing additional torment on top of your grief is just so very unfair. Please take good care of yourself Sarah. Sending you light, love & strength. Maggie x

  5. I was engaged to a narc who became physically abusive when it was clear that she was an expert actress, liar and manipulator. My friends and family all noticed how unhappy I was; not acting as myself. I look back at pictures during the time we were together and I almost do not recognize myself: I look like a robot! How fortunate that the ones who love me stepped in and intervened…along with the local police who arrested my narc for assault. She belongs in jail.

  6. Thank you so much, I read your articles every day to keep me focused on my goal – leaving my abuser. I am so scared, and the scariest thing is that I am still not sure if I am doing the right thing. I am broken both mentally and physically (chronic pain, paradontosis and other autoimmune stuff). I am so afraid he will suck me back in! I am so afraid he will be problematic about my children and my animals! Thank you for reminding me that I can and must leave.

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