What happens when the narcissist knows you’ve figured them out

9 minute read

Are you at the beginning of your recovery journey from narcissistic abuse? Are you learning all about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and coming to grips with the abuse you’ve suffered? If so, chances are you’re waking up to the ugly truth of it: what the pathological narcissist is, and what they are capable of. And the question ‘what happens when the narcissist knows you’ve figured them out’ is front of mind.

Understandably (and very necessarily…), with these realisations, the urge to free yourself is rising within you. Equally reasonably because of the nature of the disorder, you may be stressed, anxious and possibly also fearful about what will happen when they know you’re onto them.

Pathological narcissism exists on a spectrum, with a variety of differing profiles covering the continuum including overt, covert, malignant, and sociopathic narcissists.

Specifically, how each one reacts when they know you’ve figured them out therefore varies. There are however commonalities.

In preparing to set yourself free, this article sets out for you likely responses from the narc.

The mind of the bully

Understanding what fuels the pathological narcissist is the closest a non-disordered individual can get to following the irrational thought processes that drive their behaviour.

Let’s set the scene and attempt to sketch this out with respect to what happens when they are sprung.

Where your relationships are based on connection and genuine care for those you choose to surround yourself with, this is not so for the Narcissistic Personality Disordered (NPD) person.

People to the narc, are tools that serve a distinct purpose. Specifically, to feed their beliefs about the fantasy land they have created where they rein as supreme, omnipotent, special, and perfect beings.

in the narcissist's mind they are perfect

This need is such that they are effectively addicted to securing corroboration that supports these beliefs, hence the term ‘supply’.

The narc’s addiction is the dependence on this external reinforcement that their false self-beliefs are based in fact, in order to keep knowledge of their true selves, at bay.

As with any addiction, withdrawal has significant repercussions for the afflicted. It is centred on the belief that without satisfying ‘supply’ needs, survival is jeopardised.

It’s therefore no surprise that faced with being unable to score their hit, your supply, the very darkest aspects of the narc take over.

The narc’s tipping point

Most of the time, their denial is (almost) bullet proof and successfully shields them from their awful truth. It is (almost) inconceivable to them that they could be flawed. This is evidenced in all the blaming you cop for their actions & behaviours, the projection, the denying irrefutable facts etc.

The construct of the disorder is such that conscious awareness of feeling threatened is infrequent. The tipping point of vulnerability for the narc, is generally a culmination of circumstances occurring when:

  1. You are still useful to them as supply, and they therefore haven’t as yet, planned to discard you. In other words, feeding their addiction is at risk.
  2. They are unaware that despite their relentless efforts to gaslight you into full submission, you have retained some of your autonomy, clarity of thought, self-belief, ability to question the reality they create for you, and will to be happy. This fracturing of their control over you, deeply challenges their self-concept.
  3. AND, you have done something that penetrates their shield sufficiently to threaten their false perceptions of grandiosity, superiority, entitlement, and/or power (a.k.a. a narcissistic injury). This would be anything that communicates to them that they are not in control, for example, discovering you have raised your concerns about them with someone else; not complying with their directives and doing your own thing; calling them out on their disordered behaviour in an exposing way, etc.

So, what happens when the narc knows you’ve figured them out?

Power and control

The only way the pathological narcissist knows how to regain their inner equilibrium and get back to feeling safe in their make-believe world, is to re-establish control and power over you.

what happens when the narcissist knows you've figured them out? re-establish control

And this they will do in a frenzied, manic, their ‘life depends on it kinda way’.

Control and power for the narcissist invariably involves proving you wrong. To their way of thinking, if they establish this for themselves, they also nullify the threat you pose to their false selves. (For more on the importance of invalidating you read Invalidation and Narcissism: Why they slowly erase you).

Remember that for the narc, flaws/mistakes/being wrong cannot be integrated into their view of one being due to splitting (see the Narc Wise Glossary for any term refreshers). You can be either all good, or all bad. All right, or all wrong.

To confirm your ‘wrongness’ in any department, is sufficient to cover all bases, including your suspicions about them.

And by invalidating you, and your views, they reinstate their control over you.  And ultimately, control over themselves. The threat you presented, has been eradicated.

Amplification of their ‘go to’ methods

As stated, flavours of narcissism vary. As do preferred modus operandi.

Some are fans of aggressive physical/verbal violence & bullying, some the ‘poor victim’ approach; some are gaslighters extraordinaire stealthily and steadily breaking the trust you have in yourself; some the illusion that they are, above all else, the world’s greatest giver and lover.

Whatever their primary go-to is, expect this to be amplified. They will use whatever their ‘forte’ is, full throttle.

Predictable narc mechanisms when they feel threatened

1.       Narcissistic rage

This is fury and vitriol like you’ve never witnessed before. It is the external manifestation of the narcissist’s internal short-circuiting. Their complete inability to cope with the truth of who they are.

It is the rage sparked by being unmasked as weak, out of control, and false. Their glimpse of what lies beneath their denial and their momentary understanding of being flawed to the point of being disordered. It is a snapshot of comprehension of what they spend a lifetime obsessively hiding from.

In the moment of narcissistic rage, they are completely out of control. This is does not mean ‘out of control’ with respect to intentionality, awareness of actions & behaviours, nor consequently of responsibility. It means ‘out of control’ in terms of consequences be damned.

The expression of their rage will vary, however the greater the narcissistic injury, the greater the reaction, which may be verbal through to physical aggression.

2.       Cruelty

Following narcissistic rage, is the shift back to calculated manipulation and abuse. It is the return from being out of control, to fully in control and mindful of all actions and behaviours.

The malignancy the pathological narcissist is capable of, and that you experience in some forms regularly throughout devaluation, is at this point fully unleashed.

Not only to teach you a lesson about who has power and control over you, but to punish. To cause harm. Because in their minds a) they are entitled to do so, and b) you deserve it.

what happens when the narcissist knows you've figured them out? cruelty

So, what does this cruelty look like? Again, this will depend on the flavour & ‘go to’s’ of the narcissist. Common strategies that leverage the knowledge they have of you based on vulnerabilities you have shared with them are:

  • Baiting – deliberately provoking and antagonising you to react negatively by jabbing at your deepest wounds.
  • Gaslighting – ramping up efforts to have you question your sense of reality and mental health (for more on this strategy read 5 ways to counteract the narcissist’s gaslighting).
  • Withholding/Stonewalling – removing your access to information, emotional or physical resources you either depend on or value the most. Denying access to children for no valid reason, isolating you from emotional/social support, and financial abuse, are all examples.
  • Smear campaigns – spreading false information and gossip, to discredit, undermine, control and isolate you further (for more on smear campaigns & how to tackle them, read Narcissists and smear campaigns: Why they do it and What can be done to stop the narcissist’s smear campaign).

3.       Hoovering

If the narcissist believes that there is still a possibility of brainwashing you back into their make-believe world, and you retain some usefulness as supply, hoovering will hit hard. These are all the strategies used to suck you back in.

Once more employing all the knowledge they have of you, and activating the triggers they have programmed in you through their abuse, you can expect:

  • Love-bombing – bombarding you with professions of love, promises of the future emotionally healthy relationship that lies before you and their forthcoming changes.
  • The fauxpology – often accompanying the love-bombing, if the narcissist deems it necessary for the purpose of the hoover, is the ‘sorry not sorry’. An apology devoid of sincerity, accountability or empathy, yet rolled out much like love bombing messages to give you what you want to hear (for more on the fauxpology read The narcissist’s apology: Sorry, not sorry ).
  • Using fear, guilt and obligation – tailoring pleas and demands to stimluate your deepest wounds, and elicit pre-determined reactions to pull you back in. These ones may sound like ‘how could you do this to me, after all I’ve done for you’, or ‘no one will ever love you like I do’ etc.

DO NOT BE FOOLED GORGEOUS ONE.

These ones are arguably the most difficult to withstand because they target what you want most and fear most. This is precisely why they are used on you.

don't let the narc be your puppet master

You are not a puppet. Cut those strings now.

4.       Discard

On the other hand, if the narc figures their game is up and you no longer represent usefulness as supply, the final phase of the cycle of narcissistic abuse will be instigated: discard.

This is the follow through of all threats implicit throughout devaluation coming to fruition. It is your callous rejection and abandonment, devoid of any closure.

In most instances, the narcissist will already have alternative supplies lined up. These will often be intensified prior to your discard to ensure your awareness of replaceability as added punishment.

For more on the phases of the cycle of narcissistic abuse, read From ‘soul mate’ to worthless: What’s behind the narcissist’s 180?

What to do about what happens when the narc knows you’ve figured them out

Many of the abusive tactics cited, as you know, are present throughout a relationship with an abusive narcissist.

When applied once the narc knows you’ve figured them out however, the difference is they no longer have anything to lose. Specifically, your supply. Which brings on the ‘no holds barred’, Satan rises, kinda situation.

This may strike the fear of God into you. Clearly this isn’t without basis.

Gorgeous one, please don’t take the possibilities of what may occur and likely fear, as rationale to stay in the situation you are in.

Remember that the fear, and myriad other negative outcomes on your wellbeing and whole-of-life outcomes, that you sustain from the abuse of the narcissist, ARE the reasons you must break free.

You are not alone. There is help.

If you need support in preparing to leave your abusive situation, reach out to your local domestic violence service providers or call your national domestic violence hotline for referrals and to develop a safety plan.

For support with self-harm or suicidality, please contact your local suicide prevention service. For services near you please refer to the resources provided by the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

If at any point you fear that you or anyone else is in imminent danger, contact emergency services immediately.

Gorgeous one, you’ve got this. A thousand times over. You’ve got this.

Wake up from this nightmare. Prepare. Plan. And set yourself free.

For more practical tips on disentangling from the narc 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

bir4d

Bibliography

  • Brennan, M. P. (1986). In consideration of C.G. Jung’s individuation process for healing narcissistic woundedness: The pathologies of addiction and multiple addiction (Doctoral dissertation). The Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations. (Order No. 8917300)
  • Fenichel, H., & Rappaport, D. (Eds.).(1953). The Collected Papers of Otto Fenichel, Volume 1. US: W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Levy, N. (2014). Addiction as a disorder of belief. Biology & Philosophy, 29(3), 337-355.

15 thoughts

  1. Dear Maggie,

    I wrote a comment to you a few weeks ago about my situation with my narcissistic ex (and father to my daughter) I just wanted to tell you that your articles and your replies here helped me so so so much! I called my areas women help line and have a meeting with a psychiatrist specialized in women who suffer or have suffered from abuaive relationships. I also talked to a lawyer who advised me to sort a contract and pay-off plan for the money I owe my ex, that way he could never demand all the money back at once as long as I pay what we agreed on. With a little confidence (that I haven’t felt in a decade) and some (narc)wise words from you, I got that contract sorted. The narc can no longer cause any damage to me materially or financially but I’m still scared for my baby girl…he’s feeding her with idiocy as that she can’t call me when she’s with him or that his apartment is her primary home and mine is just temporary extra even tho she’s with me more than him. How he’s going to react is freaking me out but I’m currently planning to go no contact.

    There’s a chance I can get a contact person to do the communication between us regarding our daughter. After talking to my psychiatrist (in 2 days) I will tell him to get out of my life and not talk to me at all, whatever he needs to say he can tell my dad and if necessary my dad will forward it to me. If he can’t accept that, I will ask for a restraining order that includes calling/texting/emailing me. If he won’t respect that I will report the physical abuse he caused me 2 years ago along with claiming everything I didn’t take when I divorced him (including child support) and he wouldn’t want that, he may even face a custody loss (which I hope for ofc cause I don’t trust him with my daughter) but I don’t want to be the one starting that war, 1) to save her from the pain it means if it’s not necessary and 2) cause I don’t want to come across as the vengeful ex wife. But if he’s starting it, my strongest winning card is that I didn’t take ANYTHING with me as I left and the only thing I wanted was my freedom…now it’s gone so far that he’s gonna try and take the only thing that matters to me (my baby girl) simply because it’s the only thing left for him to take. All I wanted was my freedom, turning my back on thousands of dollars and personal belongings just to break free, and he can’t give me that, he would even hurt his own daughter to hurt me…and hopefully that’s how I’ll win.

    Thank you for the strength and courage you’ve given to me, I will treasure it forever!

    1. Dear Zarah, how very wonderful to hear from you. I am beyond thrilled for you. You have come such a HUGE way in a very short time. Your mindset has completely turned around. You are now in charge. Fully in the drivers seat of your life. Look how your mindset has set in motion an avalanche of positive action to support you getting to where you want to be (a place of freedom & peace)! Allow me to say (in a 100% genuine and hopefully non-patronising way!), I am so very proud of you. I hope you are so very proud of you. You should be. The strength you have found within yourself is awe inspiring. Take a moment to acknowledge this. You have shifted from ‘it is completely impossible’ to ‘anything is possible’. I have no doubt that this is a significant turning point in your life. Not only in freeing yourself of what could have been a life sentence. But I imagine that from this point onwards, very little will hold you back. Making it through hell has a way of making this happen. Congratulations dear lady. I pray many read your messages and are inspired by your story of victory. In fact, if you at some point feel you could share your story and publish it on Narc Wise under the new section ‘Your Wisdom’, this would be an honour. Email me if this is something that you would like to do maggie@narcwise.com. Sending you a huge congratulatory high five. Light & love to you Zarah, Maggie x

  2. This is a great read. Thank you so much for sharing insight while I stave off two intense narcissists invading my life for revenge. I too blog on this, please check me out when you can at haloshereadstaort.com

    1. Dear Adrian, so sorry to hear you are battling a narc invasion. And for revenge! With NPD at the helm, this undoubtedly quite the war being waged. You will conquer though. For sure. Wielding a fiery sword of revenge has a funny way of revealing one’s true colours. In the end. Of course, you won’t see this come to fruition, cause you are/will be, too busy leading your best life. No time for smallness, in the pursuit of a big life. Still for right now, at this moment, the furious injustice of needing to stave off such hatred is beyond yuck. I feel for you. Stay true to you. Light & love to you Adrian. Look forward to checking out your blog. Maggie x

  3. I am very much a victim of a narcissistic being. I do not doubt this whatsoever. He hasnt always been this way though and i know a lot of people will say that he has been but has hid it. I would believe that too if we haven’t been together for 7 years . He didn’t begin to let this trait shine through until about a year ago. At this time i also discovered that he started a new fling with crystal meth. It has turned him into text book example of a narcissist. Anyone else experience anything of this nature when it comes to this disorder? If so is there hope for them to go back to who they once were?

    1. Dear Meganv.
      If I’m understanding right, you don’t believe this person had displayed any narcissistic tendencies until they became addicted to crystal meth. Is this correct? If your answer is yes… 1) The nature of addiction is that it will turn the most docile, the kindest person, into an unrecognisable person compared to who they were before the addiction. 2) As you research, do the behaviours of this person align with those of someone with NPD? 3). As you research, the harm described to victims, does it resonate with what you feel? 4) Gorgeous, most precious person that you are. Whether the answer is this person is addicted to crystal meth, or diagnosable as having NPD – do EITHER of these situations make the harm to you ok with you? Do either of the make the hram diminish?
      I get it. You want to know the probability of things turning around re NPD vs. crytsal meth addiction.
      Hon, the thing is, either way, it’s the same gamble. Both are addicted. The issue isn’t who is more or less addicted. I know you know this. The issue is what is the impact to YOU of this addiction which you have no control over.
      Dearest Meganv – you deserve every happiness. Believe this. Please believe this. And let this be your guide. Light and love to you gorgeous one. Meganv, you’ve got this. Maggie x
      Dear other gorgeous ones in the Narc Wise community – please weigh in on this if you have experience with Meganv’s situation. Share your insights x

      1. Dear Meganiv, I can relate somewhat to your story. My ex didn’t show his narc personality until I started to defy him. Why would he? I was exactly what he needed, I loved and worshipped him. As soon as I started doing things for myself he started to boss around and create arguments to stop me from doing it.

        The thing is, when I started to educate myself in this disorder just a bit over a month ago, I realized that he’s always had these treats. When we first met he put me on a pedestal and more or less stalked me. He called me 10-20 times a day, write me love letters, sent me song lyrics and poems. I cooled it off because it felt awkward to be chased like that by someone you’re just starting to know. He upgraded his game and asked me to move in, two months after we met…and unfortunately I did (I was kinda desperate to start a family and saw my chance) after three months he asked me to marry him and a year after we met we were husband and wife.

        This phase is called love bombing and it’s amazing. You haven’t felt this loved before and it’s like you’re floating on pink clouds. You’re so up in it you won’t even notice when the devaluation starts. You will excuse it as a bad day, stress at work and especially after having kids.

        My ex was extremely controlling and jealous and at first it was kinda cute. But then I wasn’t allowed to meet up with my female friends either and that’s when it started to get uncomfortable for real. Six years into the relationship is where I started to be uncomfortable with him, I started to question if this was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. And six months later I told him I wanted a divorce. He went back to love bombing for a while just to make me stay but I already knew it wouldn’t last. During this time I met my new husband, I won’t tell that entire story…but he showed me what real love and compassion means. This gave me the push to dare leave my toxic relationship and I did, not a day too early. This was when the physical abuse started. I knew for sure we would never ever get back together after that and I haven’t given that choice a second thought since and it’s 3.5 years ago I moved out.

        Due to shares custody we had to stay in touch but he has been stalking me since. Ringing my door unannounced, calling me at least once a day. He still thinks he has the right to butt in my business and he’s still jealous. He is still trying to pick fights but I’m not up for that. Learning about NPD is one thing, that’s when you realize what you’re dealing with. Then realizing your own part in this as the empath, you will go through most of the grief stages here as you realize you’ve been changed without even knowing it. Now this is when you start to heal, read about it, gather knowledge of the disorder and yourself as the empath. Grieve and be upset but then, it’s time to heal.

        Whether it’s because of drugs or because of a disorder, you my gorgeous lady deserve way better! Set yourself free! We are many that will back you up!!

  4. I am in the most confusing, tangled mess and I’m trying to figure out if I’m dealing with a true npd or an addict or both. Would you be willing to listen to my story and give insight?

    1. Dear Mindy, I’m sorry you are in tangled mess! It is so very yuck. My opinion is that those with NPD are addicts in terms of addiction to supply. I.e.: to the need to secure external reinforcement that the belief systems they have created of their ‘false selves’ are in fact their real selves. I don’t know whether this simplifies things for you at all? I do offer coaching in supporting individuals to realise their goals by cutting through the fog caused from narcissistic abuse. If you are interested in this, email me at maggie@narcwise.com. My first questions to you gorgeous one, would be why do you need to figure out whether what you are suffering is due to NPD or addiction? Is it because for the latter you believe you can hold onto hope that things will improve? Dear Mindy, if so, I would ask you another question – in either scenario, does the impact on you and what you are suffering diminish at all? Think hard on this gorgeous one. Light & love to you Mindy. Maggie x

  5. maggie,

    i wrote to you about my situation with my kids. i’m doing grey rock because of the kids otherwise it would have been sayonara.

    her jabs are now very mean and loud and direct. – does this indicate she knows i’m on to her as her mask seems to have dropped?

    as i’ve read Emotionally unhook yourself and starve the narc of supply, i realize that reading it once or even a few times is not enough. There is much practice that needs to be done. Just like trying to be good in any sport, this needs to be practiced.

    I am so ready to tell her that i know who and what she is and that what she has done in the past 20+ years will no longer continue – flat and direct to her face. I wonder if that would be the right thing to do?

    thanks

    danny

    1. Dear Danny. I completely agree. It is entirely about practice. When in an abusive relationship with a narcissist, one is trained, programmed to respond in a certain way, i.e.: to feed them supply. To do this, they target vulnerabilities and the things of greatest importance to the individual, because doing this is guaranteed to evoke supply until that person learns to detach and no longer react.

      Clearly, getting to the point where we no longer react to what hurts us most takes monumental focus, strength and dogged determination to break the cycle. And getting to that point is not linear, there are steps forwards, and sideways, and backwards – but ALL of this is progress when coupled with diligent practice. Just as you say – much like it is with any sport.
      Finding the touchstones that take you back to the position of focus, strength and determination will be invaluable in supporting you on making this happen for you.
      So you know all this, I can read it in your words – this is fabulous. Kudos.
      With respect to your questions. Escalating her behaviour is very much about recognising that what previously worked, is now not delivering the same results, hence heightening attempts looking for those hits of supply. She may not consciously know why you are doing it (i.e.: that you are ‘onto her’), but she clearly has some level of awareness that you are not giving her what she needs causing her to try and manipulate/control you into doing so.
      In terms of telling her ‘that i know who and what she is and that what she has done in the past 20+ years will no longer continue’ I fully appreciate the desire to do this. Of course you want to do this. And you say you wonder whether this is the right thing to do. My questions to you are – are you considering this from the point of view of being the right thing for you in terms of providing yourself with release, or from the point of view of seeking her cessation from the escalations? If the former, what do you think may ensue post that moment of release in terms of her behaviour? If the latter, do you think that this would cease her behaviours?
      Separate to reflecting on these questions, let me say, boundaries, boundaries, boundaries dear Danny. This is very much about stating what is and isn’t OK which does relate to firmly & clearly communicating AND following through with, what will no longer continue for you.
      Sending you light and love Danny. Maggie x

  6. maggie,

    thanks for the quick response and insight. yes, i’d like to let her know the truth for the release and to stop the escalations, but i know it WONT change her as she’s never wrong and has absolutely NO SHAME. looking back all those years, every argument she could slither away like a snake and have the snake snap in my direction.

    you are absolutely right about boundaries and CLEARLY implementing them and not backing down is something i MUST work on diligently. for a fact, i have already conditioned myself to NOT expect absolutely anything from her so this makes it a bit easier.

    it will be a process and practice.
    thank you again.

    danny

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