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.
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 you determine that you have been in a one-sided, crazy-making relationship with a narcissist, then chances are you will also learn that you been the victim of a smear campaign. After narcs are secure in knowing that you are emotionally involved with them, you get transferred to the devalue stage and the emotional abuse starts. Their sadistic nature rises to the surface and they cannot help themselves any longer. They have hid this side of themselves for too long and its oozing from their mouth, body language and by their sudden lack of communication with you. Noticeably, they start to withdraw affection and concern. You start to feel distant from the narc, but you don’t know why.
Part of the devaluation stage is where narcissists ruin your reputation by stabbing you in the back and telling lies to mutual friends and relatives, anyone that knows you. The narc knows that they are going to discard you soon because they are either bored with you, you have called them out on some weird behavior or hurtful thing they have done, or a new supply (target) is ready to move up from the perimeter supply. Calling the narc out has somehow bruised their ego and ruined their image of themselves and you made them feel shame or less than perfect. But, since they cannot dump you instantly because the have no socially legitimate reason to do so, they start smearing you to your mutual friends so that when you are finally discarded, the narc will appear to be the victim whilst referring to you as “crazy”. They will tell others that they cannot be your friend any longer because you are so “jealous”. They will overtly dramatize these conversations so that they can have sympathy and pity from the listener. Always second guess any “pity party”.
How do I know this to be true? Because it happened to me, that’s why! After almost one year of socially isolating myself after leaving the narcissist, I ran into a mutual friend and I asked what the narc said as to why we are no longer hanging out. “What did she tell people regarding the whereabouts of me and my family over the last year?” I asked this because our families were intertwined for almost nine years. Surely someone had to wonder what happened to me, us….. “Oh, she said that you went crazy”, was the response of the mutual friend. I was not surprised at this answer because most, if not all internet articles on narcissist’s smear campaigns inform us victims that we will be called “crazy” and “jealous” by our abusive partner or friend. Somehow the narcs omit the part about what they manufactured to create the jealousy or the craziness. People just don’t wake up crazy. Why would anyone believe this to be true?
Keep in mind that a relationship with a narcissistic mother is drastically different than what is described above. Daughters of narcissistic mothers don’t experience the idealization, devalue and discard stages like someone would in the typical relationship with a narcissist. Sadly, narcissist’s daughters never experience unconditional love let alone any short term idealization. Remember, idealization is a “mental defense mechanism in which the narc attributes exaggeratedly positive qualities to self or others” (Wikipedia). Idealization is also defined as “a mental mechanism, operating consciously or unconsciously, in which one person overestimates an admired attribute of another” (dictionary.com). Instead of idealization, narcissistic mothers use their daughters as mirrors. The role given to us is to only reflect perfection at all times. Our hair and clothes are of upmost importance. Anything less than perfection will undoubtedly tarnish the mother’s flawless image and we will be punished. As children, we were to be “seen and not heard” when around other adults. Why? Because we might tell someone about the lives we lead behind closed doors; behind the spotless image of the family. This is impression management at its finest, all controlled by the narc. Controlled by them through fear, obligation and guilt.
As a daughter of a narcissistic mother, I felt my whole life was in the devalue stage. Dictionary.com defines devalue as “to deprive of value; reduce the value of”. I was put down, rejected and smeared most of my life. I was taken out of the will depending on who I was dating. My picture was removed from the stairway wall. Years of intermittent silent treatments could be considered to be my never-ending discard phase. But, like clockwork, a holiday, funeral or out-of-town visitor would cause us to get back together again. There was never any conversation or apology from her for any wrong doing or for the smearing of my name to other family members. She lovingly just asked me to “agree to disagree” on any abusive interactions on her part, or she would say, “now, I don’t want to re-hash what happened, let’s just move forward”. This was in no way her acknowledgement of any type of abuse, nor was it a sign of her remorsefulness. What it was though, was her way of avoiding being held accountable for her unacceptable behaviors, lies and smear campaigns, and it assured her that the family would still appear intact and totally functional for all to envy.
Before going no contact with my mother I wrote her a letter. I hadn’t spoken to her for eight months prior to the letter. In the letter, I asked her why she was still smearing and belittling me to our family and her friends after not talking to her for so long. What did she actually have to complain about? I explained to her that it was not my fault that she couldn’t see any value in me or my worth as a person, let alone her adopted daughter. I asked her why she abandoned me by moving twice with no forwarding address or phone number. I explained to her that this letter is my last attempt to salvage our relationship. Deep down, I was hoping for an apology, or at the very least, a heartfelt conversation. I didn’t get either of them.
Months later after no contact, I received a call from a family friend. She told me that my mother did get my letter and that she described it as extremely rude and that I “told her off”. In true narcissistic fashion, my mother continued her legacy by referring to me as “ungrateful” and said that I “didn’t appreciate anything she had ever done for me”. Let’s not forget her most famous quote, “doesn’t she know what she put me through as a child”. I’ve had the lifelong debt of repaying her for changing my diaper, feeding me, and keeping me out of harm’s way, my entire life. I owe her for driving me to school, buying me clothes, and having to sit in a lawn chair to watch me play softball. I owe her for adopting me. I owe her for not being like her. I was always told that, “I was special”. Well, if I was so special then why was I beaten so badly that I had belt buckle welts on my legs and hand prints on my face from being slapped? God, it didn’t feel good to be special….
It has been over two years since I have seen my mother. Mutuals are informing me that she is telling everyone that my brother and I have abandoned her. She literally has nobody, but this is by her own doing. She said she is afraid of dying alone because if left for dead too long before being found, she will not look good. That’s her biggest fear, how she looks when she is found dead? Her relationships, her accomplishments, her legacy, are not a concern to her at all. Sadly, she has spent a lifetime of smearing me and I have spent a lifetime of making excuses for her and defending myself.