Relationships can be difficult, but a relationship with someone who has high-spectrum, narcissistic tendencies or narcissistic personality disorder, can not only be difficult, but also emotionally and mentally destructive. As if the blame-shifting, denial of wrong doing, covert put downs, and pathological lying are not enough, narcs are experts at making us doubt our reality. Reality is defined as “the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined” (Wikipedia). As long as narcs are able to make us doubt our reality (our perception), then they greatly reduce their risk of being exposed as the social predators that they are. When in a relationship with someone you suspect is a narcissist, and even after you have been discarded by a narcissist, staying in your reality can feel like a full-time job.
Changing one’s realty can be done several different ways. One word that is all over the internet is “gaslighting”. One way to describe gaslighting is to “manipulate (someone) by psychological (of the mind) means into questioning their own sanity”. Narcs will try to get you to believe that they didn’t say something, even though you heard them saying it. They will deny doing something even though you have proof of their action. The bickering back and forth causes anxiety in the victim and that anxiety can change the way your mind processes information. As long as narcs can get you to believe them and doubt yourself, they will have more control over you. If you suspect your friend, partner, or parent is a narcissist, start writing things they say and do in a journal so that they cannot brainwash you into thinking otherwise.
Another way narcs change your reality is via a smear campaign. As long as a narc can align the troops (mutual friends and family) into seeing their skewed version of events, we will be the odd man out. When the majority sees something one way, it can cause us to think that our thoughts, ideas and perceptions are flawed. It can be easy to break down and give in to the narc’s and her follower’s views. When we do give in, our self-esteem suffers and when our self-esteem suffers or gets lowered, we tend to be afraid to stand up for ourselves. Victims of smear campaigns are generally advised not to defend themselves to the narcs followers, even if those followers were once your friends. Instead, get back to the hobbies the narc’s neediness pulled you away from. Find others with similar interests in Meetup.com. Volunteer for church and community events. Join a gym. All of these suggestions (acts of self-care) will start to build your self-esteem back up. The farther you are from narc world, the more you will see how crazy making it was.
Staying in your reality can be very difficult, especially when it seems everyone is against you and obviously avoiding you. Don’t bother to try and talk to people in your social circle about your experience with the narc either. I tried, and it back fired. I ended up defending myself during the entire conversation and left feeling worse that when I arrived. If others you know have not experienced emotional abuse by a narc, they will not understand it, and you will look like the crazy person the narc said your were. Your friends and family are unable to empathize with you because they have not seen the side of the narc that you have been exposed to. They only see the charismatic, charming, PTO bake sale volunteer; community philanthropist, and altruistic, devoted baseball mom. What they don’t see is the person behind the mask, the liar, cheater, manipulator, child abuser; habitual spender. Someone who has an excessive sense of entitlement and who criticizes and condemns others, but cannot take any criticism herself. Your social circle is oblivious to the narcs savvy and calculated management of impression, her skillful acting, and her mimicking of emotion. Your social circle has not been part of your reality.
Gaslighting, smear campaigns, denial, and blame-shifting are all done pathologically (repetitively) by narcs so that they can maintain their fabricated image. Once you figure this out, staying in your reality gets easier. Its a great feeling when you can look back into narc world and see where you came from. Unfortunately, everyone in narc world is left behind, even people you once loved.
It is common knowledge that narcissists love to play games; they love to play Twister with your mind and Ping-Pong with your heart. They Gamble with relationships and people’s lives. They are always Simon in “Simon Says” and they are master manipulators in their version of “Chess”. Additionally, various internet sources refer to narcissists playing “emotional hot potato” (Streep, 2016). Emotional hot potato is said to be when a narcissist doesn’t like the way he is feeling he projects the feeling on to you (target/victim) and now you look to him like the bad guy, a loser, or even an abuser. This projection allows for any detachment or abuse that comes your way via the narc to be not only justified, but also a consequence of your perceived inadequacy. While there are many more games played by Narcissists, the game I found them playing the most is “Hide and Seek”. Of course, the rules and object of the game are much different than the one we played as children.
The object of the Narcissist’s version of Hide and Seek doesn’t include the first person found automatically becoming the next “seeker”. The object is also not for the last person to be found to be deemed the winner. That’s because there is no other winner but the Narc, ever! I don’t even imagine there being a “safe” place to go once you are found by the Narc. There might be a Narcissist’s “glue” though! The people that go there will find it hard to leave the game. Some people will find out that they can never win when playing with the Narc. Some are not even in the game to win, they just want to build a friendship. Others will continue to participate in the game just to be associated with the Narc. Whatever the capacity of the player, they will all eventually lose.
The most noticeable change in the game rules is that the Narc is always the seeker. The Narc is constantly seeking. He seeks players and pawns for many different reasons. He has players that adore him from a distance (think social media) and he seeks players to physically surround him (think pawns, the ones he strategically controls). Everybody wants to play with him because he is so fun, attractive, has an expensive car, has a very large home and throws fantastic parties. He drops names of well-known locals and goes to charity fundraisers in designer clothes with the ability to make large monetary donations. The narc goes from work to home, and everywhere in between, seeking out players for his game. He will seek players for his game his entire life.
The second change in the game is that the Narc hides too. The Narc hides that fact that he is a bully because if he didn’t, nobody would play with him or be his friend. Deep down the Narc knows that something is wrong with him. For example, he wonders why he doesn’t feel sad when one of the players falls and skins their knee while trying to get to “safe” when being chased by the Narc. In fact, the Narc finds himself holding back laughter. Since he knows that laughing is not what should come as a natural response, he has to fake concern. He has had to learn how to fake (wear different masks) for the following reason; what comes natural to him is not natural for the majority. His responses seem superficial, rehearsed, almost too perfect. Specifically, he has learned that by faking emotions, people will not see his true lack of real emotion. But the Narc cannot hide always and forever. The masks of concern and sympathy fall off. The fake tears dry up too quickly. Their mask of supposed sense of humor falls off when they laugh at the wrong time for the wrong reason. Their mask of integrity slips when their actions don’t match their words. Once the Narc feels the threat of exposure with this group of players, he will move on and seek new players, players that have not seen the mask slip, players that are unfamiliar with his tactics. He will create a whole new persona. He has made some mistakes here and has learned from them; his skill set even more perfected, more believable for the next victims. Sadly, the more skilled the Narc becomes, the larger the trail of relational destruction.
Eventually, the games will come to an end. Narcs cannot play Hide and Seek forever, Players don’t want to play a game when there is no chance of winning; heck, we don’t even get a participation trophy! Nobody wants to play with someone who makes their own rules or changes the goal posts. The masks of their formal speech pattern, righteousness (acting like they are doing no harm to anyone, anywhere), perfection, and baggage-free personality will fall off. Impression management becomes too difficult and time consuming as they get older. They go from covert to overt abuse and their cruelty is no longer deniable. Pretty soon the victims will begin to talk. In the end, people will get tired of playing the Narc’s games and he will end up alone.
Streep, P. (2016) 4 Behaviors That Unmask Narcissists. Psychology Today.
A revolving door is designed for a specific purpose, to increase and ease the flow of people. The term “revolving door” also refers to a type of situation in which the same events or problems recur in a continuous cycle. Additionally, a “revolving door” can also mean a place or organization that people tend to enter and leave very quickly. Lastly, Wikipedia states that this type of door allows people to pass both in and out at the same time with no possibility of bumping into one another. I think that a revolving door is an excellent depiction of a narcissistically disordered person’s life. Even more elaborate than one revolving door, is the reality that narcissists have many revolving doors in which people come and go, at the same time, without ever knowing about or seeing the others. I did have my own revolving door with a narcissist, so I have at least an idea how it might work.
The Narcissist’s revolving door is slightly different than the type described above because the narcissist’s revolving doors are only reserved for him/her to use. The Narc is the only one that comes and goes quickly without being seen by the others. Her family, intimate partners, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances, all have their own door. What goes on behind each revolving door is only known by the Narcissist. She needs to slither in and out with ease and leaves no finger prints on the glass. She just keeps walking in and out of all the doors to get narcissistic supply. In one door she gets a compliment for what she is wearing. The second door are a bunch of girlfriends waiting to go to dinner to a fancy restaurant so she can parade her designer clothes and expensive purse. The third door is her occasional birthday lunch partner who also happens to be the PTO President and an ex-beauty queen. The fourth door is her husband, he provides her with a large home, nice car and a lavish lifestyle. The fifth door is the current target who is still in the love-bombing stage. Behind this door is where the Narcissist gives a compliment to the future side-kick. The sixth door are her children. They sit in a room filled with FOG (fear, obligation and guilt). The seventh door are her dogs who give her unconditional love. The eighth door is her exercise partner. The ninth door is her current victim. When the Narc comes through this door, she tells the victim that her hair is not combed properly and that her shoes don’t go with her outfit. In the tenth door are a group of the current victim’s and the Narc’s mutual friends. Behind this door a smear campaign is taking place. All of these doors are spinning constantly, as she feeds herself with narcissistic treats.
All of the people behind the various doors get a different version of the Narcissist though. The ones that compliment her on her clothing, see a fashionista. Someone hip on the latest designer trends. The people in the fancy restaurant see a confident, possibly striking individual who must be somebody well-known in the community. The PTO mom, ex-beauty queen sees her as wonderful mother and sacrificial volunteer. Her husband sees a woman who is talented in some areas, appears to care for her children, and has no idea what is said behind his back. The current target in door number five can’t wait to see the narcissist. They hug hello, go over the days events, make plans for future vacations, outings, and talk about how the previous friend is crazy and jealous. They even Face-time later because they just have so much to talk about. They tag each other on Facebook, like each others posts and have a non-stop, uninterrupted Snap Chat streak. In the sixth door , her children are waiting to be taken somewhere, but are sitting there feeling guilty that their mom has to take time out of her busy day to tend to their needs. Her dogs greet her at door #7, barking and wagging their tails. The narc hugs, kisses and feeds her dogs. Her exercise partner sees her as someone who watches what she eats, loves to workout and sweat, and has specific fitness goals. Door #9 is where the current victim sits still in the devaluation stage of the relationship. The target loves the narcissist and has loved her for many years. The target is curled up on the chair feeling anxious about the Narcissist’s return. The target makes sure that her hair is combed and sprayed. The target is unsure about the outfit she is wearing after ruminating for an hour on what to wear, so that the narc will not be displeased or embarrassed. The target must reflect back to the Narc and image of perfection. Keep in mind, that once the target gets discarded or leaves the narcissist, someone else will quickly get assigned to that door. The Narcissist will be manipulating and tending to these people every single day, his or her entire life.
Now we all know that revolving doors are transparent and that is so people can see each other, right? Well, none of the Narcissist’s revolving doors are transparent. Any transparency has been obstructed by both smoke and mirrors constructed by the Narc. For example, the exercise partner hears nothing of her lunch or dinners at fancy restaurants or that she smokes when with the quarterly dinner crowd. Her current victim, who she has been “best friends” with for years, has never even heard the name of the current target, and later finds out that they have been hanging out on a regular basis, for over a year, which totally explains her devaluation and eventual discard as soon as new supply was in place. The people going to the fancy restaurant have no idea that the “friend for years” (victim) is all curled up in a chair from emotional abuse by the Narc. Behind each of these doors, the Narc wears a different mask and facilitates a new persona. The people behind the doors can never be all together because the Narc can only wear one mask at a time. The people behind the doors must not compare notes.
From personal experience, I have witnessed the phenomenon of a new mask and persona. The Narc I knew for almost nine years became un-recognizable. I had to do a double take when I saw her and did think I was going crazy. “Was I this messed up that I am now imagining things?” Absolutely not! The Narc I knew changed her hair and style of clothing. I did a double take when I saw her walking just like her new “best friend” (at one point, I saw them together frequently). I kept shaking my head in disbelief. My assessment was validated when shockingly, my daughter noticed it too. The Narc’s daughter herself later confirmed it in a casual conversation (our daughters are best friends). What happened to my friend? The person I knew no longer existed.
So, in order to prevent being behind a revolving door, demand transparency in all intimate relationships. If there is no transparency between friends, partners, and/or co-workers, then someone is hiding something. Synonyms for transparent are obvious, evident, undisguised, clear, unambiguous, and apparent. Transparency leads to trust, which is the foundation of any relationship.
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Narcissists love to throw themselves pity parties, but please don’t accept the invitation! Did you know that “an appeal to pity attempts to persuade using emotion—specifically, sympathy—rather than evidence?” An argument involving pity is fallacious (based on mistaken belief) because our emotional responses are not always a good guide to truth; emotions can cloud, rather than clarify, issues. We should base our beliefs upon reason, rather than on emotion, if we want our beliefs to be true” (http:/www.logicalfallacies.info/relevance/appeals/appeal-to-pity/). In other words, feelings are not facts! Narcissists use pity (mistaken belief) for two reasons. The first is to manipulate someone (deceit) and the second is to mask what they are doing (deceit) by taking the attention off of their bad behavior and then transferring the listener’s attention into giving sympathy to the narcissist for a whole other matter. A good example of how this type of dialogue looks is below. This is also a way that the narcissist brings attention back to him or herself. Notice how the narcissists keeps trying to get pity and cause the target to forget about what she was complaining about in the first place. The target is being manipulated to console the narcissist as if the narc is in more pain than the target.
Target: “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to dinner with so-and-so last night”
Narcissist: ” Oh target! I felt so bad the entire time I was there” or “I felt so sick to my stomach I couldn’t even finish my meal ”
Target: Well, why didn’t you tell me.
Narcissist: “I knew you would be hurt because you were not invited”.
Target: “Well, if you knew that I would be hurt, then why did you still go?”
Narcissist: ” I just couldn’t turn down the invite. I felt obligated to go! Can’t you see I was under pressure”
Now, if you are an empath or highly-sensitive person, I can almost bet you started to feel sorry for the Narcissist, didn’t you? Do you see how they work? Narcissists have to solicit for pity because they don’t have logical explanations for what they do. Well, to clarify, anything that serves them, in their mind, is logical! In order to solve problems in a relationship there needs to be logical reasoning, which in turn solves a particular problem. Productive arguments contain two logical virtues and simply put, they are (1) True Reasons (having no objections) and (2) Reasons that are properly related to the conclusions.
In going back to the above dialogue, the target asked why the narc didn’t tell her that he was going to dinner. A true reason (1) would be that “it was a last minute invite”. If this were true, then the expectation of a phone call or text, in this day and age, would not be unreasonable in a normal, healthy relationship. But notice, there isn’t a “true reason” in his initial response. In fact, there isn’t any reason at all! What there is though, is a pity ploy (manipulation). So, the target asks again and the narc says that he knew the target would be hurt if she found out. The Narcissist’s second answer appears is if he didn’t tell the target out of concern, right? Wrong! If the narc was so concerned about the target being hurt, then why did he go in the first place? That has yet to be answered here and never will be. This conversation will go round and round, will always be about the narc. What will happen is that narc will feel trapped then will start with the put downs, name calling and raising his voice to intimidate. The target will end up crying and will start to learn to never question the Narc again so that these types of confrontations won’t happen in the future. This is what emotional abuse looks like!
Remember, in logic, the reasons have to relate to the conclusion. We all can assume that the reason why the narc didn’t tell the target is because he doesn’t truly and sincerely care about the target and only wanted to be seen with the who’s-who in a fancy restaurant, a self-serving ego (narcissistic supply) builder. But, the narc cannot admit to this and covertly disguises his error of omission (not telling target) as feigned sympathy. Does this all make sense?
As part of your healing and recovery from a relationship with a narcissist, protect yourself against weak arguments. Become familiar in ways in which people use faulty reasoning to wiggle their way out of accountability. Remember, faulty reasoning lacks both a true reason (without objection) and a conclusion that is properly related to the true reason. More logical fallacies can be found here, http://www.logicalfallacies.info/relevance/appeals/appeal-to-pity/. Oh, and don’t forget that there will never be a sincere apology! They may say that “they are sorry you feel that way” but that is not an apology! The narc is blaming you for how you feel and is covertly escaping from any personal accountability. Furthermore, that fake apology does not include remorse or how they plan to not continue the behavior that hurt you in the first place. There is a myriad of information on what a sincere apology looks and feels like. I encourage you to research the topic if for no other reason than to
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When someone hears the word “target” they could think “department store” (shopping), “deer hunting” (sporting), or “archery” (competition), all relatively harmless activities. When victims of narcissists hear the word “target” their stomachs flip; their breath is taken away; and their heart skips a beat, but not in a good way! Similar to shopping, hunting and archery, narcissists have targets too, and it is frightening to find out that you were chosen to be one. Narcissists are very selective in who their targets are and they go through quite the process to finding and grooming one. I know this because I was the target, victim and survivor of a narcissistic relationship.
If you ask me how I became friends with one I really do not have an exact answer. What I do know is that our kids are the same ages and go to the same schools. We were both room moms, PTO moms, baseball moms, and dance moms. But truthfully, I was just going about my business raising my family, working and going to school at night. Before I knew it, I had a “best friend”. I became so close to this friend that it was hard to believe that I finally found someone who loved me unconditionally, who I had loved unconditionally, and that had so many interests similar to mine. I often asked her how we even became friends and her answer was “well, I picked you out of the school directory”. BULLSEYE! Punctured by a poison arrow! Who picks friends out of a school directory? Don’t friendships happen naturally and gradually? Now, when I tell this story to others, their eyes open wide, their jaws drop and their voices raise about three octaves. Most say that picking someone out of a school directory is strange enough to be a RED FLAG for them, but it wasn’t for me. Personally, I thought it was just irony. How cool and coincidental that someone picked me and that we just happened to be two peas on a pod! I thought we were meant to be friends forever. Why did I think this you ask? Well, RED FLAG #2 was the future faking. I was told that we would be friends when we were old and gray, which allowed me let her get close to me. The “growing old” theme was carried out in birthday cards to each other and in random conversations. I mean if someone has the intentions of being my friend for the next 25 years or so, I certainly want to treat her with love and respect, right?
It is well known within the mental health community that Narcissists, Psychopaths and Sociopaths all lack empathy. Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions”. I think that while individuals with Cluster B personality traits do lack empathy, parts of me also believe that they do “understand” and “share” another person’s experiences and emotions, otherwise they would not do what they do. They totally understand that they need to hurt and betray specific individuals so they can feel good. They totally understand how to do it and the pain (emotion) their betrayal causes. They “share” their pain with us, for sure! I noticed that while the friend that I now believe is somewhere on the narcissism spectrum, had lots of “friends”, many of them lived in big homes, had nice cars, owned businesses, were in local politics, would be considered attractive by most people’s standards, and were treated by her with calculated care and respect. For some reason thought, she didn’t treat any of them like she treated me. I was the emotional punching bag she needed to feel good. There was something about me that she was attracted to. While I am not privy to any toxic traits of the others in her social circle, I am also not aware of nor have I ever been told that I am a toxic friend either. First, I don’t even know how to manipulate someone and I wake up in the same mood everyday. Secondly, I don’t lie and actually value honesty. Third, I certainly don’t change my looks or personality to suit whatever crowd I am hanging in. Fourth, I don’t put people down, in fact I usually make fun of myself first. Fifth, I have a great sense of humor and a sincere laugh. Lastly, I am capable of open and honest communication. But, since narcissists correlate money with power, she saw me as powerless and defenseless. I had weak personal boundaries and was raised by a narcissistic mother. I was out in the open with no protection whatsoever!
There is another term that I think is more applicable than the “experience” part of empathy and that is the term “relate”. Webster’s dictionary defines “relate” as “to show or make a connection between (two or more things)”. While I think that narcissists can experience and understand (know the meaning of) emotions they just can’t “relate” to them, or connect to them. Of course they understand emotions because they can mimic them. They have studied them. Narcissists by nature are not introspective and cannot look at themselves as the source of anything. They are unable to relate as to what is the real source of their pain, but they understand that they are in pain, which is why they do what they do. They are unable to relate to the tears that drip down their target or loved one’s face. That they caused the tears. We are not over-sensitive! We are not jealous! They cannot relate to the actions and investment of love. They don’t relate to compromise and sacrifice. The don’t relate to unconditional love. What they do understand though, is that they are in pain and that they want their pain to go away.