Covert narcissistic abuse is perhaps the most dangerous form of abuse as it is so hidden from public view and creeps in so subtly that even the victim does not realise that what he or she is experiencing is in fact abuse. Instead, the victim begins to question his or her sanity and perception of reality. This is the result of insidious forms of manipulation used by people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and includes gaslighting (Chapter 41), triangulation, projection (Chapter 51), lies, playing victim, and wearing a completely different mask in public and appearing to be the pillar of the community. This leaves the victim in a state of confusion and cognitive dissonance. Below are definitions of terminology used when describing narcissistic abuse.
- Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic that causes the victim to doubt and question his or her sense of perception, identity and reality.
- Cognitive Dissonance in the context of narcissism is psychological discomfort as a result of gaslighting. It is when one’s thoughts and beliefs contradict and run inconsistent to the information that is presented to them by the narcissist.
- Triangulation is a manipulative tactic used by bringing another person or group of people into the dynamic of the relationship. This can be used to create jealousy or self-doubt in the victim.
- Projection in narcissism is when an individual projects their own actions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs onto someone else. It was impossible to argue with Kevin as every single thing he did was always projected back onto me. Whenever I asked him exactly what responsibilities of mine I blamed others for, he could never specify anything.
A big issue in society in this day and age is that there is a lack of awareness on what abuse actually is. The generally misconception is that physical abuse is hitting and psychological abuse is name calling. However, abuse is much deeper. If it were that simple, it would be easy to leave an abusive relationship. In reality, all abuse begins psychologically. Physical abuse stems out of psychological abuse but by the time the abuse has become physical, an extensive amount of psychological damage has already been done. Psychological abuse can involve name calling, but it is also a lot deeper. Narcissists are simultaneously extremely intelligent and extremely dumb. They are extremely intelligent when it comes to manipulating people, but also extremely dumb when it comes to managing their own lives. In narcissistic abuse, narcissists know exactly where their limits are to protect their false self-image. They may not necessarily call you names as he or she may be aware that the abuse would be too obvious. That is why they are so dangerous – they covertly play with your limits. They do this by projecting their behaviour onto us then playing the victim. Even when they are raging, they will continue playing the victim and either say that they are raging because they love us so much and/or because we upset them. They will justify their actions on their terms. They will accuse you of not taking responsibility for your actions when they are in fact accusing you of not taking responsibility for THEIR actions, but they won’t ever admit to that. They also hide behind other people. Nobody from the public ever sees his or her abuse. In fact, the narcissist puts on yet another mask for the public. Everybody sees him or her as a wonderful person, always so helpful and going out of his or her way to do things for others. He or she is the pillar of the community. Narcissist will use gaslighting to covertly abuse you and make you question yourself, your memory, and your perception of reality and social norms. They will use triangulation as part of their gaslighting to make their manipulations appear believable. They will tell you that someone agrees with what the narcissist says to support his or her claims; or that someone has been complaining about your behaviour; or that someone else exhibits the same behaviour as the narcissist so that their behaviour is therefore “acceptable”. But you will also notice that you never hear these statements from anyone else but the narcissist. Narcissists are empty people with nothing to live for in their lives and get extremely jealous and envious when they see how much better you are than them.
Narcissists are always ten steps ahead of you. During the relationship, the narcissist will have most likely started the smear campaign against you to take the negative attention off him or her and put him or her in the victim spotlight instead. The victim, on the other hand, may not realise this but may sense some changes in the behaviour of the people he or she interacts with. This is another way the narcissist has control and is able to isolate his or her victim. The smear campaign continues after the relationship is over.
Other traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder include the incapacity to feel empathy and love; the ability to change emotions in a split second which can make you look like the crazy person when the narcissist has got you all worked up as a result of his or her own behaviour; having many secrets; interrupting; not listening; believing he or she is entitled; not respecting boundaries but hates having his or her boundaries crossed; double standards; words having little meaning; showing no gratitude for anything; always taking but never giving unless it is for their own benefit such as boosting their false self-image; always being miserable and sucking the energy and life out of you leaving you feeling drained and exhausted.
In the early stages of a relationship with a narcissist, the narcissist will come across as very charming, perhaps overly. He or she will bombard you with attention and excessive communication. This is known as the love bombing stage. To the victim, this is very flattering. However, this is nothing more than a mask that the narcissist wears. It is the narcissist’s “false self”. Some of the early warning signs of a narcissist in the love bombing stage include showing signs of jealousy and insecurity, and moving too quickly in the relationship by talking about marriage and children very soon, wanting to move in together very soon, and saying “I love you” very quickly. Unfortunately, for those who are not educated on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (and that is a lot of people who enter relationships with narcissists), we don’t realise that what he or she is doing is really trying to get us under their control as quickly as possible. We perceive this excess attention and communication as him or her showing us great interest and that he or she genuinely likes us and is serious about this relationship. As soon as the narcissist believes that he or she has us under their control, that is when the mask comes of and the abuse begins. In my case, the love bombing stage was short lived and the abuse began as soon as I had said the words, “I love you” back to him. That was when he believed that I was under his control. For many of us, we learn this lesson the hard way.
Narcissists are extremely insecure people and that is why they need to isolate and control you. If you are not under their control, they will rage whereby putting you in fear until you give in and obey them for the sake of keeping the peace. They are failures but will instead blame others for their failures. They experience pathological jealousy and pathological envy. Below are definitions of jealousy and envy vs. pathological jealousy and pathological envy, taken from The Narcissistic Life website (The Narcissist Life, 2013)⁴.
Jealousy refers to a fear of losing something we have to another person.
Envy refers to wishing we had something that another person has.
When these emotional states become pathological, then delusion and irrational behaviour sets in, and the results can be devastating.
Pathological jealousy indicates that the individual believes that he or she has exclusive ownership over another and that this ownership is necessary for him or her to maintain the relationship. Pathological jealousy shatters an otherwise loving relationship piece by piece. Trust, intimacy and connection are destroyed. Pathological jealousy can be extremely dangerous, leading to significant abuse and often violence. It’s the most treacherous aspect of abusive relationships, frequently leading to the devastation of the victim mentally, emotionally, physically, and frequently financially. Pathological jealousy is truly narcissistic. The most frightening and frustrating part of pathological jealousy is that the narcissist cannot be appeased or reassured. Pathologically jealous individuals are hyper-vigilant, always on the lookout for reasons to be jealous.
Signs of Pathological Jealousy
- Accusations of looking at other men.
- Eye contact with a man is considered flirtation.
- Accusations of giving attention to other men.
- Accusations of being uncaring or “appearing single” if not granting enough body contact or attention in public.
- Interrogation of behaviour.
- Interrogation of phone calls and all other forms of communication.
- Reading diary, going through belongings.
- Incessant questioning: where you were, who you were with, etc.
- Demanding reports of any males in your company.
- Isolating, not allowing you to socialise on your own.
- Threatening ‘tit for tat’ retaliations if you pursue own interests.
- Taking your car keys and money.
- Hiding makeup, damaging clothes.
- Interrogating and accusing if home late.
- Laying stipulations and conditions in regards to contact with males.
- Checking up on you.
- Accusations of affairs when pulling away or attempting escape from the abuse.
- Accusations of affairs when libido suffers as a result of the abuse.
- Not being able to be reassured.
- Not trusting you.
- Verbal and physical violence triggered by jealousy, blaming other men for jealous behaviour.
- Blaming you for jealous behaviour.
- Always an excuse for jealous behaviour.
- Denying jealous behaviour.
- Gaslighting techniques trying to confuse your trust in self; gaslighting techniques trying to prove that there is reason to be jealous.
Pathological envy is extremely painful for the narcissist and devastating for the love recipient. It isn’t as obvious as pathological jealousy, and can be insidious and more difficult to define in a relationship. Dr. Sam Vaknin, an expert on narcissism describes pathological envy as “…a compounded emotion. It is brought on by the realisation of some lack, deficiency, or inadequacy in oneself. It is the result of unfavourably comparing oneself to others – to their success, their reputation, their possessions, their luck, and their qualities. It is misery and humiliation and impotent rage and a torturous, slippery path to nowhere. The effort to break the padded walls of this self-visited purgatory often leads to attacks on the perceived source of frustration.”
Signs of Pathological Envy
- Being uncomfortable/moody when you’re given praise or attention.
- If not the centre of attention he/she discredits the experience or leaves the scene.
- Discredits your ideas, interests, and friendships.
- Depression if you’re happy and energised.
- Depression if you’re successful.
- Creating arguments if you’re successful.
- Prescribing what is or isn’t right for your life.
- Intense anger when not consulted.
- Intense anger when not utilised for projects yet depression / moodiness when inputting energy that may assist your project.
- Undermining your reputation.
- Undermining your interests.
- Undermining your work.
- Undermining your friendships.
- Using gaslighting or abuse to undermine your self-esteem.
- Projecting: declaring you’re the person doing the undermining or discrediting to yourself and them.
I know for sure that Kevin ticks almost every single one of those characteristics of pathological jealousy and pathological envy. Anyone who has been in an abusive relationship will know how difficult it is to leave an abusive partner. This type of abuse is unimaginable and only those who have unfortunately experienced narcissistic abuse can understand it.
Getting out of an abusive relationship is extremely difficult for many reasons. First, by this time, the victim is already very much disoriented, has lost self-confidence and lost his or her perception of reality. The victim is also questioning a lot of things, trying to find answers, and may not even realise that what he or she is going through it abuse. In my case, every time my narcissist raged at me, I kept telling myself that this was so obviously abuse. Yet when he was playing the victim and sobbing about how the universe had done him wrong, I would tell myself that he couldn’t be abusive, and that he was just in this unfortunate situation, and that things would get better once his situation improved. I kept finding excuses for him. The victim also still believes that deep down inside, the person that they first met is real and that they are trying to find that person again. But really, the person they met in the love bombing stage never existed and that can be something victims find very difficult to understand and accept. The narcissist also makes the victim feel guilty for leaving and will cry like a baby and even threaten suicide so that the victim can come back. There may even be a repeat of the love bombing stage. This is known as hoovering. Narcissists cannot accept the end of a relationship unless it is on their terms. And because the victim has been isolated for so long, often when leaving an abusive relationship, the victim can feel extremely lonely and lack the self-confidence to move forward, and end up coming back because they find that they are still attached to the narcissist’s good periods and believe that he or she can change. Hope is always the last to die. This is known as traumatic bonding.
It is impossible to rationalise with a narcissist. Anything you say can and will be used against you. Narcissists cannot and do not change as they will never take responsibility for their actions. The only way to deal with narcissists is to cut them out of your life and live your life to its happiest and fullest extent. The good news is that the “survivors of narcissistic abuse” community is getting stronger and stronger and narcissists are outnumbering themselves with their own targets. One day, they won’t be able to hide anymore.
⁴ The Narcissist Life. (2013). The Narcissist and Jealousy. [Online] Available at: http://thenarcissisticlife.com/the-narcissist-and-jealousy [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].