When they're full of themselves, there's no room for you.
In popular culture, the term “narcissism” is thrown about quite loosely, usually referring to vanity and self-absorption. This reduces narcissism to a common quality that everyone possesses and downplays the symptoms demonstrated by people with the actual disorder.
While narcissism DOES exist on a spectrum, narcissism as a full-fledged personality disorder is quite different.
People who meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder or those who have traits of Antisocial Personality Disorder can operate in extremely manipulative ways within the context of intimate relationships due to their deceitfulness, lack of empathy, and their tendency to be interpersonally exploitative.
It’s important in any kind of relationship that we learn to identify the red flags when interacting with people who display malignant narcissism and/or antisocial traits, so we can better protect ourselves from exploitation and abuse, set boundaries, and make informed decisions about who we keep in our lives.
Watch out for the following covert manipulation tactics when you’re dating someone or in a relationship:
1. They'll be on their worst behavior (without you even knowing it).
Narcissists and those with antisocial traits tend to subject romantic partners through three phases within a relationship: Idealization-Devaluation-Discard.
The IDEALIZATION phase (which often happens most strongly during the early stages of dating or a relationship) consists of putting you on a pedestal, making you the center of his/her world, being in contact with you frequently, and showering you with flattery and praise.
This is a technique known as "lovebombing" and it is how most victims get sucked in: they are tired of the “games” people play with each other in communication and are flattered by the constant attention they get from the narcissist.
You may be fooled into thinking that this means a narcissist is truly interested in you, when in fact, he or she is interested in making you dependent on their constant praise and attention.
The DEVALUATION phase is next, and this is when you’re left wondering why you were so abruptly thrust off the pedestal. The narcissist will suddenly start to blow hot and cold, criticizing you, covertly and overtly putting you down, comparing you to others, emotionally withdrawing from you, and giving you the silent treatment when you’ve failed to meet their “standards.”
Since the “hot” aspect of this phase relies on intermittent reinforcement in which the narcissist gives you inconsistent spurts of the idealization phase throughout, you become convinced that perhaps you are at fault and you can “control” the narcissist’s reactions.
You have to understand that the man or woman in the beginning of the relationship never truly existed.
The true colors are only now beginning to show, so it will be a struggle as you attempt to reconcile the image that the narcissist presented to you with his or her current behavior.
During the DISCARD phase, the narcissist abandons his or her victim in the most horrific, demeaning way possible to convince the victim that he or she is worthless. This could range from leaving the victim for another lover, humiliating the victim in public, being physically aggressive and a whole range of other demeaning behaviors to communicate to the victim that he or she is no longer important.
2. They'll make you think the problem is YOU.
Most abusive relationships contain a certain amount of "gaslighting", a technique narcissists use to convince you that your perception of the abuse is inaccurate. During the devaluation and discard phases, the narcissist will often remark upon your emotional instability — your “issues” — and displace blame of his/her abuse as your fault.
Frequent use of phrases such as “You provoked me,” “You’re too sensitive,” “I never said that,” or “You’re taking things too seriously” after the narcissists’ abusive outbursts are common and are used to gaslight you into thinking that the abuse is indeed your fault or that it never even took place.
This self-doubt enables you to stay within abusive relationships even when it's clear that the relationship is a toxic one, because you're led to mistrust your own instincts and interpretations of events.
3. They'll turn everyone against you.
Narcissists keep harems because they love to have their egos stroked and they need constant validation from the outside world to feed their need for excessive admiration and confirm their grandiose sense of self-importance. They are clever chameleons who are also people-pleasers, morphing into whatever personality suits them in situations with different types of people.
It is no surprise, then, that the narcissist begins a smear campaign against you not too long after the discard phase in order to paint you as the unstable one.
This is usually successful with the narcissist’s support network, which also tends to consist of other narcissists, people-pleasers, empaths, as well as people who are easily charmed.
This smear campaign accomplishes three things:
- It depicts you as the abuser or unstable person and deflects your accusations of abuse.
- It provokes you, thus proving your instability to others when trying to argue his or her depiction of you.
- Serves as a hovering technique in which the narcissist seeks to pull you back into the trauma of the relationship as you struggle to reconcile the rumors about you with who you actually are by speaking out against the accusations.
The only way to not get pulled into this tactic is by going full no contact with both the narcissist and his or her harem.
4. They'll try to make you jealous.
Healthy relationships thrive on security; unhealthy ones are filled with provocation, uncertainty and infidelity. Narcissists like to manufacture love triangles and bring in the opinions of others to validate their point of view. They do this to an excessive extent in order to play puppeteer to your emotions.
In the bestselling book Psychopath Free by Jackson MacKenzie, the method of triangulation is discussed as a popular way the narcissist maintains control over your emotions. Triangulation consists of bringing the presence of another person into the dynamic of the relationship, whether it be an ex-lover, a current mistress, a relative, or a complete stranger.
This triangulation can take place over social media, in person, or even through the narcissist’s own verbal accounts of the other woman or man.
The narcissist relies on jealousy as a powerful emotion that can cause you to compete for his or her affections, so provocative statements like “I wish you’d be more like her,” or “He wants me back into his life, I don’t know what to do” are designed to trigger the abuse victim into competing and feeling insecure about his or her position in the narcissist’s life.
Unlike healthy relationships where jealousy is communicated and dealt with in a productive manner, the narcissist will belittle your feelings and continue inappropriate flirtations and affairs without a second thought. Triangulation is the way the narcissist maintains control and keeps you in check — you’re so busy competing for his or her attention that you’re less likely to be focusing on the red flags within the relationship or looking for ways to get out of the relationship.
5. They won't ever show you their TRUE self.
The narcissist hides behind the mask of a “false self,” a construct of qualities and traits that he or she usually presents to the outside world. This can make it difficult to pinpoint who the narcissistic abuser truly is — the sweet, charming and seemingly remorseful person that appears shortly after the abuse, or the abusive partner who ridicules, invalidates, and belittles you on a daily basis?
You might think this is only a momentary lapse into inhumanity, but actually, it is as close you will ever get to seeing the narcissist’s true self. It's time to pick up the pieces, go "no contact", heal, and move forward. You were not only a victim of narcissistic abuse, but a survivor.
Interested in learning more about narcissistic abuse? Pre-order my new book on narcissistic abuse, Becoming the Narcissist's Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself. Be sure to also check out my blog, Self-Care Haven.
This article was originally published at Self-Care Haven. Reprinted with permission from the author.