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.
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.
Don’t most, if not all victims of Narcissistic Abuse feel like Humpty Dumpty? In the beginning of any relationship with a narcissistically disordered person, the target is idealized by the Narcissist. So much so, that it seems as if the Narc is actually infatuated with the target. Infatuation is a great description because it means “to make somebody behave irrationally as a result of a great, often temporary, passion” (Encarta Dictionary). Similarly, “idealization” is what narcissists are known to do. Idealization is to, “represent somebody or something as being perfect, ignoring any imperfections that exist or may exist in reality”. When the narcissist perceives through idealization, that the target is perfect, the narc becomes infatuated. Terms to focus on within idealization and infatuation are, “temporary” and “reality”. Narcissists do not live in reality and all of their relationships are temporary.
As time goes on, the target becomes more attached to the narcissist and the target assumes that the narcissist is becoming more attached to it. One would assume that each is the priority of the other as the relational bond grows and deepens. Eventually, as the narc spends more time with the target, the narc starts to get bored. The target is eventually covertly removed from the pedestal. Removal from the pedestal also happens because the target’s humanity starts to emerge (it was always there but idealization by narc blinded the narc to it). The narc claims that the “target has changed” and starts to lash out at the target in order to protect the narc-self. It must feel to the narc like the target is abusing or betraying the narcissist because the target no longer fits snugly into the narcissist’s mold; it is like the target becomes almost defiant in the narcissist’s eyes when all the target did was be him or herself and did absolutely nothing wrong.
Now that the target has been shoved off of the pedestal, it attempts to climb back up. The target, having not changed at all, gives more of itself because it is all it can do in order to feel loved again. The target loves the narcissist. Since the target hasn’t done anything wrong, but just follow the course of its normal relational patterns, it digs deeper to give more of itself in order to please the narcissist. But nothing seems to please the narc anymore. Every time the target starts to crawl up the pedestal (adore the narc) to get back on top, the narcissist steps on its fingers, or moves the relational goal posts, and the target loses its grip and falls back down. The narcissist looks down on the target, disappointed, as if to say “keep trying”; and that the target does.
The target is unsuccessful in its many attempts to return the relationship to the infatuation/idealization stage (the target is not aware of any stages but is sure he/or she can get the narc to treat it better) and is convinced that there must have been something it did to cause the narcissist to shun it like she did. The target seeks advice and support from long-time mutual friends within the narc and target’s social circle. The target also tries to talk to family members, but any support is denied. Nobody seems eager or willing to listen to the target and when they do listen, they are not “seeking to understand”, so the target, already exhausted, is forced to defend itself. Nobody can believe that the narcissist keeps stepping on the target’s fingers. Some even laugh in disbelief at the target’s tall tale. Everyone sees the Narcissist as being friendly and caring toward others. The target wonders why everyone is so blind. Doesn’t anyone see the target climbing out of the hole, physically and emotionally exhausted, trying to get back in the relationship (on the pedestal)? It seems that everyone is actually blaming the target for falling off the pedestal (treating the narc poorly, jealous).
The target finally gets out and looks for the narcissist and the pedestal, but both have disappeared. The narcissist is now infatuated with someone else and the new target is now on the pedestal. Everyone is happy for the narcissist and has left and/or rejected the former friend/target. Since the target/victim has no one to turn to for help, it has no other alternative but to seek out a professional, someone who is not familiar with the narcissist; someone unknown, someone the target has never met; to now observe and listen to the target turned victim. The victim spends months, maybe years in therapy. The victim must say good-bye to its previous life. The target turned victim now a survivor, realizes that it will never be the same (scars and a broken heart) and is now forced to live the rest of its life from a whole other perspective.
Just like Humpty Dumpty, friends and therapists cannot put the target, turned victim, back together again. The therapist shows the victim where the pieces are and it is now up to the victim to put itself back together again. The victim becomes a newer, stronger, and emotionally smarter version of its prior self before being removed from the narcissist’s pedestal. The victim turned survivor, having experienced the abuse from a narcissist, becomes a healer and educator to others. It is in the validation of outsiders (strangers), that the survivor can heal finally itself.
Once victims of abuse start searching the world wide web for answers as to why their partner, spouse, friend or lover never apologize, continually lie, talk behind their back, casually reject them, and expose them to days, sometimes weeks of the silent treatment, they stumble upon the personality disorder of “narcissism.” Victims learn that they have been exposed to the stages of “idealization,” “devalue” and “discard” when involved with a disordered person and instantly see a vignette of their current, or even past, relationship.
The idealization stage or “love-bombing” stage is when you are bombarded with a narcissist’s version of love. You get their undivided attention and endless conversation. If they have something to say and news/gossip to share, they will hunt you down, calling every phone number you have and they don’t stop until they connect with you. A noteworthy subject would be about how they were slighted by someone or how somebody didn’t acknowledge them the minute they entered a room. When not on the phone, the two of you are side-by-side at every party, family affair and social gathering. Everybody around you admires your friendship/relationship, refers to it as “special” and tells you how lucky you are to have found the relationship of a lifetime. You “check in” on Facebook, tag each other every chance you get, comment on each other’s photos and inside jokes. You take vacations together, spend holidays together; discuss your illnesses and marital problems; become almost like extended family. Life cannot be any better.
Further down the line, you notice that you don’t feel right. You have this little ping of anxiety but don’t know why. The feeling is a familiar one; it feels like the first time, like it did with your parent, when you were young. But as usual, you shove this feeling down and ignore it. As time goes on, the feeling keeps returning, only more frequently. “Surely, it must be me. There must be something wrong with me. It has always been me. I must be insecure. But, I don’t feel or act insecure. I have hobbies, lots of friends, a life-long career and an intact, healthy family. Maybe I’m jealous. But I am not jealous. In fact, I pity the narcissist’s lifestyle. How could anyone be jealous of someone whose tells me her life is so horrible? Her abusive husband and in-laws? Jobless? I have heard countless hours of the “woe is me” stories. I feel so sorry for my partner/friend. Surely, I cannot be jealous. Nobody could.” But, what is it then? Why do I have this weird feeling?
Like clockwork, you always get the morning phone call. How lucky you are to be able to receive the morning unloading of their emotional baggage. After the phone call, you hang up feeling weighted down from their verbal diary and they go about their day, smiling, shopping, lunching, and checking in with all of their minions. This can be assimilated to being “compartmentalized.” Narcissists do this within their social circle and they do it well. Everyone has a little room or compartment and the compartments never merge. More is not always merrier with a narcissist when it comes to social gatherings! Everyone is kept separate, that way the target/scapegoat/emotional punching bag cannot see how the others are treated. You now find yourself asking to spend time with the narc, “can we at least do lunch or shop once in a while?” Eventually you are “uninvited” everywhere. What do they have to hide. you ask? The abuse, that’s what! They don’t know what mask to wear when in a crowd where the target/victim is. The target notices that the narc is never abusive to it in front of everyone else. In fact, the narc is extraordinarily nice and the narc’s personal problems are rarely discussed or not even known by any of the others. The target wonders how the narc can have so many friends when the narc is so negative, belittling, abusive and with so many problems! The target wants to privately discuss her feelings of rejection with the narc and wants to ask the narc why she can do things with other people but not the target. The truth is, the narc is always cultivating and securing new supply. Eventually, new names are dropped in conversation, but you really have no idea that another intimate relationship is simultaneously paralleling yours. Your need to meet the narc is granted, but not for open and honest communication, no sir! The narc shows up haughty and defensive. Somehow, you end up apologizing for accusing the narc of anything other than perfection. The narc feels smothered by having to respect the feelings of others. You leave the conversation feeling worse than when you arrived. Your self esteem reduced to worthlessness. Your feelings suppressed, again….
Once the narcissist latches on to a new target (fresh supply), you are unceremoniously dumped. Its been a year since narc and I have done anything together but talk on the phone. The target is afraid to even ask to get together, she is always too busy. Again, you question the narc one last time about her elimination of wanting to get together. The narc then accuses the target of changing (spoke my mind, started to self-preserve) and informs the target that the target is no longer privy to the sharing of information by the narc. That is projection at its finest because the target didn’t change at all, the narc did! Without the sharing of information, there is no friendship or any type of a relationship for that matter! The narc just wants you to serve her, shoulder her pain and to be her emotional punching bag. At this point, you realize that you can no longer be a puppet and you decide to finally distance yourself emotionally. You leave communication open (low contact), but you feel you are in a “no win” situation and start to walk away. Now, when you do get together, which isn’t often anymore, you are asked to “untag” them in any photos. Nothing is shared and being with you is now a secret. This is because they have undoubtedly smeared you to your social circle and close, mutual friends and family, so now they can’t let anyone know they are still in contact with you. But, they haven’t fully dumped you because the next supply isn’t totally lined up and considered reliable. The new target is still being groomed. You are now a secret until you get so hurt that you walk away (no contact) in order to protect yourself, and you never look back. You never, ever find out just how long the smearing had been going on though. But, you can assume it was for as long as it took the new target to become primary or secondary supply.
All of this feels like the first time, the time when you were being raised by your narcissistic parent/parents. Any love you gave, not enough and any love you thought you experienced (manipulation), ripped away. Your needs rarely considered or barely met. Your “YOU” never even acknowledged. The treatment you have endured is covert abuse at its finest. How dare anyone make the narc accountable! How dare you make them see that they aren’t as perfect as they portray themselves to be! You are unable to stand up for yourself by questioning the narc on her behavior because you will be punished, just like the first time, with your disordered parent.