In the last post on narcissism, I talked about the types if narcissist that exist, and here I am going to talk about why it can be difficult to identify a narcissist, why people have relationships with them and the type of person a narcissist will generally target.
So, why doesn’t a narcissist seem like a narcissist at first.
It can be a surprise to many, generally based on their own expectations of others and themselves, (I wouldn’t do that, so why would they?) that they can’t actually believe that someone is so incredibly self-centred and self-focused and so give them the benefit of the doubt, not just once, but on many occasions. These actions can seem so unreal that it doesn’t register that it is a problem.
A narcissist will fit into the space that they believe will meet their needs and so can be incredibly generous one moment and then exhibit self-centredness the next, returning to the generosity if needed to draw the person back in or gain something in return.
Thinking that the narcissist actually cares about them, because of the ‘good’ moments. These ‘good moments are however false and manipulative and the mask of these will drop more and more frequently. By the time someone is aware of what is really happening, they can already be drawn into the relationship.
Particularly at the beginning of a new relationship, there will be a lot of ‘love-bombing’ – paying you a lot of attention, giving you time, gifts, saying all the right things which inflates your sense of importance, to them and sense of wellbeing about you. Making you feel cared for and loved. All a ploy to get you to continue with the relationship and buy into them more.
Narcissists can have a fairy tale or romanticised ideal about love, a picture of the perfect relationship (to them of course) and aim to create this in every relationship. This is a very well-rehearsed space, showing you only the parts that make this a reality, their success, intelligence, accomplishments, generosity etc.
You may even question what is going on, knowing this is too good to be true, or notice slight incongruencies, it can be difficult to walk away from as the highs are so high.
It can be likened to being on an ‘emotional rollercoaster’, like it is with all toxic relationships. Eventually, this could lead to you ‘trauma bonding’.
A narcissist can also act out as a saviour and rescuer in order to control and dominate.
If you aren’t in a good place when they first meet you, they will pick up on this by asking questions and how you act and make you feel like they have your best interests at heart, only to drop you back down after they have raised you up.
They can seem to show genuine interest and care with the stories you tell about your difficult experiences, but are gleaning information to use against you in the future. Mentally memorising how they what they think will trigger you or draw you in.
Often when narcissists set their sights on someone, they stop at nothing to convince the person that they are selfless and loyal. When they step in to save the day, they always have an ulterior motive.
They seem confident and kind. The realisation that they are unscrupulous and controlling often arrives too late.
Initially, a truly kind and open-hearted person can be appealing to a narcissist as they think they can get them onside, to be able to use them for their own needs. As time moves on the narcissist realises, they are genuinely nicer and better than they are and this threatens their sense of self.
The subconscious need to bring them down is triggered and so they seek out the negatives, making them up as required in order to re-establish their own sense of superiority. Giving them a sense of control and entitlement over the other person. They will go to any lengths to make this happen, even if that means destroying someone.
Unlike a narcissist, an emotionally healthy person is aware of their insecurities and has no need to bully in order to feel better about who they are.
An emotionally healthy person is in fact a danger to them and so the balance must be addressed to be in their favour.
If you seem to have insight into your own emotions, self-awareness, remorse, accountability, empathy, conscientiousness etc… a narcissist often ruthlessly seeks to exploit these deeper capacities to their advantage.
Neuroscience has recently researched how our brains can be affected by those around us and more specifically how an abuser can exert mind control practices. Including two types of neurons – self neurons and other neurons.
In the research it showed how the brain of a subordinate mouse synchronised to a more dominant mouse. The more time they spent together the more dominant the mouse became as their brains continued to synch. The same can be seen within humans.
This can be seen as a healthy thing in balanced relationships, as synching with each other helps with bonding and connection.
In humans, typically, the people with the stronger personalities get their needs met more often than their partners do. The longevity and intensity of a relationship affect the degree to which those close to us have influence. In an unbalanced space, this can lead to major issues and toxic relationship spaces.
In some cases, it doesn’t matter how independent and in control you are of yourself, when you enter a relationship where one tries to dominate you, after a while you can lose that sense of self.
Brain synchronisation is one thing that makes it harder for the controlled person in the relationship to think and act autonomously and challenge the power imbalance.
These cases are higher in those that focus on others more than themselves. They monitor and adapt to other people’s needs, wants, and feelings. If you ask them what’s on their mind, it’s usually about someone else. One might suppose that their other neurons light up more consistently than self-neurons. In contrast, brains of a narcissist light up the self-neurons more frequently, if not entirely.
When it comes to praise, narcissists have found a way to weaponize it for their own benefit.
‘How can something so good, feel so bad’ is a line heard in many a love song.
But in this case, it is very true, praise is supposed to make us feel better, validate us, feel more positive about ourselves, if we are able to accept it of course.
In the wrong hands however, it has the power to cause harm.
Praise, like love, can be offered and withheld. It is not a sustainable way to feel good about ourselves and we can become over reliant on it to do so.
They can weaponize it by using it in place of love, as they themselves see praise as love.
This is why it is an important tool for a narcissist. They use it foster dependency and reliance by alternating between praise and abuse, called micro abandonments. They manipulate and disempower, to dominate and create a trauma bond with their victim. It is like idolising one moment and then devalue the next.
Love bombing you and put you on a pedestal and strip it all away, make you feel as though you are nothing to them, that all you do is wrong.
You then seek to re-establish the bond, fix what is now broken. Giving them all of the control.
What can then happen is that their partner focuses all of their energy on the narcissist, forgetting all about their own needs and interests, making sacrifices to be with them, to be recognised by them and regain what has been lost. Giving the narcissist control.
As time goes on, they lose their sense of self, feel inadequate and become dependent on the feedback they receive form the narcissist.
Even when a relationship with a narcissist is over, it may not mean an end to the problems.
If they haven’t moved on, or sometimes even when they have moved on, they will try and bait you to get some reengagement.
They taunt you and try and convince you that it was you that was the problem all along, another of their manipulation strategies. They’ll want to poke at you about something or someone you care about.
Keep an eye out for provoking or triggering behaviours to try and elicit any reaction from you. Remember they thrive on the attention and maintaining control.
They have likely tried to gaslight you in some way throughout the relationship and they aren’t likely to stop that even when it has ended. They need to keep that abuse going.
Some things to keep an eye out for are:
Insults: mocking, taunting, ridiculing or offensive jibing.
Guilt trips: blaming, being a victim, playing with your emotions.
Intimidation: threats, emotional blackmail.
Triangulation: talking badly about you to others, to convince them you were the issue.
All of these can be seen when the relationship is still happening and I will cover more of this in the next episode.
But at the end this is all ultimately to keep you on the end of the hook, so they know they still have you there when they need to get their fix, to feel like they are still winning.
If a narcissist isn’t ready to let you go yet, they may also try and get you to re-engage by using what is called hoovering. Hoovering is the dating trend of sucking someone back into an unhealthy relationship through manipulation.
They may say or do things like:
If you take me back, I promise I will change. We can get the house you wanted, I won’t do this or do that any longer.
Say they have grown as a person.
Go back to being the person they were at beginning of the relationship – buying gifts etc.
Saying all you want to hear in order to get you to give them another shot. If you don’t know by now, it is all manipulation and nothing will have changed.
If you have trauma bonded to them, this can seem like a very enticing proposition.
So, with all this in mind and the destructive and chaotic relationships it leads to, why would someone fall for a narcissist?
Well, firstly, there is nothing wrong with them.
But it is likely to fit some patterns within you that draws you towards them and makes you more susceptible to their behaviours.
For instance, you may be a people pleaser, you may be easily swayed to question yourself. Have low self-worth and buy into the behaviour and are in too deep to escape easily.
You could have learnt patterns of relating that mean you see some of this behaviour as normal.
You may enjoy the ‘verbal boxing’ at the beginning, a kind of exciting flirtation that challenges you. You like to play games yourself, but have entered a game you can’t win.
If you had a parent that you wanted to please, accepted a level of treatment that made you feel you didn’t deserve more, were made to feel that asking for more was wrong, were rejected, abandoned or even were led to believe that you should be submissive in relationships, you are more susceptible to the narcissist.
Narcissist look for certain traits in a person and if they can’t find them or they can’t manipulate them, they will move onto someone else.
They look for people who are:
Forgiving – so that they will always try and justify a narcissists behaviour and forgive their hurtful behaviour more easily.
People that struggle with unhealed traumas – pretending to care, to help you heal and then using it against you when they need to.
Someone who is highly empathetic – someone who will be willing to take on their issues, try and understand them and feed their need to be admired, praised and never made to feel bad or wrong. Showing kindness and compassion even whilst being abused.
Someone who is loyal – they require absolute loyalty and devotion, commitment to them and your relationship. They use this as a way to isolate you.
Have a low self-esteem, insecurities and fragile self-confidence. Knowing that making you feel you are not enough or good enough won’t take that much. You already self-criticise so you aren’t going to question it when they criticise you too.
Those that are overly accommodating – those that self-sacrifice and try and mould themselves to the expectations of others.
They take responsibility for everything – to meet the needs of others is key if a narcissist is going to draw you in and those who take responsibility for everything is a dream scenario for them.
A narcissistic abuse victim typically ignores their own needs while feeling utterly responsible for the narcissist’s.
If you believe that you have been in a toxic relationship and want to understand this more, know how you got there and how to avoid them in the future or work through what it has left you with, then coaching will benefit you, fill in the contact box and we can get on a call to discuss.
In the next post I will talk about how to spot a narcissist.
Be good to yourself.