I’d like to thank Shahida Arabi, the author of some incredible work on Narcissism for much of the content to this article. I’ve adapted it, edited and cut parts to suit the particular circumstances relevant to this situation.
Having seen some of the arguments and frustration that people have experienced, I wondered if some context might help.
I’ve cut off all contact with this particular narcissist, and this is why. You may recognise some behaviours you have experienced yourself with this particular individual.
In popular culture, the term “narcissistic” is thrown about quite loosely, usually referring to vanity and self-absorption. 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 due to their deceitfulness, lack of empathy and their tendency to be interpersonally exploitative.
You may have seen the following covert manipulation tactics when you first had contact with this person.
- The Idealization-Devaluation-Discard Phase
Narcissists and those with antisocial traits tend to subject new relationships through three phases. The idealization phase consists of ‘putting you on a pedestal’, making you the centre of their world, being in contact with you frequently, and showering you with flattery and praise. You are convinced that the narcissist can’t operate without you. Think: constant texting, flattery and wanting to be in regular and frequent contact. Familiar?
This is a technique known as “lovebombing” and it is how most victims get sucked in: They might be tired of the “games” other people play with each other in communication and are flattered by the constant attention they get from this person – the narcissist. You may be fooled into thinking that this means a narcissist is truly interested in you, when in fact, he is actually interested in making you dependent on his constant praise and attention.
The devaluation phase is subsequent to this idealization phase, 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.” You are mislead into thinking that if you just learn not to be so “needy,” “clingy,” or “jealous,” the narcissist will reward you with the friendly behaviour he demonstrated in the beginning. The narcissist may use these and other similar words to gaslight victims when they react normally to being provoked. It’s a way to maintain control over your legitimate emotional reactions to their stonewalling, emotional withdrawal and inconsistency.
Narcissists love conflict. They thrive on it. They create it, perpetuate it and repeat it. It seems to others to be a very odd way to behave, and it is. But not to them.
Unfortunately, it is during the devaluation phase that a narcissist’s true self shows itself. The true colours 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 new behaviours.
A technique narcissists use to convince you that your perception of their unpleasant behaviour is inaccurate.
During the devaluation and discard phases, the narcissist will often remark upon 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 their behaviour is your fault or that it never even took place.
Narcissists are masters of making you doubt yourself and the abuse. This is how they fool people, take them in, make them feel part of their ‘group’.
- Smear campaigns.
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, and that this is usually successful within 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: 1) it depicts you as the problem or as an unstable person and deflects your accusations of bad behaviour, 2) it provokes you, thus ‘proving’ your instability to others when trying to argue his depiction of you, and 3) serves as a hoovering technique in which the narcissist seeks to pull you back into the trauma of the argument (remember that they love conflict) as you struggle to reconcile the stories or accusations made about you.
The only way to not get pulled into this tactic is by going full No Contact with both the narcissist and his harem.
Don’t argue with them. They cannot be wrong, they will never be persuaded. And remember – the love conflict, they enjoy it, thrive on it. It is their life-blood.
Healthy relationships thrive on security; unhealthy ones are filled with provocation, uncertainty and infidelity. Narcissists like to manufacture 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. 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. Unlike ‘normal’ people, the narcissist will belittle your feelings and continue inappropriate flirtations and behaviours without a second thought.
- The false self and the true self.
The narcissist hides behind the shield of a “false self,” a construct of qualities and traits that he or she usually presents to the outside world. Due to this shield, you are unlikely to comprehend the full extent of a narcissist’s inhumanity and lack of empathy until you are in the discard phase. 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 poor behaviour is exposed, or the abusive individual who ridicules, invalidates and belittles you? People connected to narcissists can suffer a great deal of cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile the illusion the narcissist first presented to them with the tormenting behaviours he subjects them to later. During the discard phase, the narcissist reveals the true self – the genuinely abusive and abrasive personality beneath the shallow veneer rears its ugly head and you get a glimpse of the cruelty that was lurking within all along. You bear witness to his cold, callous indifference as you are discarded. 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.
The manipulative, conniving charm that existed in the beginning is no more – instead, it is replaced by the genuine contempt that the narcissist felt for you all along. See, narcissists don’t truly feel empathy for others – so during the discard phase, they feel absolutely nothing for you except the excitement of having exhausted another source of supply. You were just another source of supply, so do not fool yourself into thinking that the connection that existed in the beginning was in any way real. It was an illusion, much like the identity of the narcissist was fake and created, to attract, and to fill their needs.
If you’re interested in learning more about narcissistic behaviour and how to deal with it, maybe check out Shahida’s work.