I want to start the second part of this trilogy by offering you a compliment and that I am convinced because you are here and reading this article because you are wanting to learn. In other words, you are the kind of person that wants to receive input in a way that is going to lead you toward understanding and personal growth. We have a word for that it is called ‘insight’. You want to have insight into who you are and how you can make it work productively.
Having a healthy insight into who you are, is a beautiful skill to have, right? Now try to think about how many times you have engaged with a highly narcissistic individual. Somewhere along the road it just dawns on you that this person almost seems to have a complete unwillingness and inability to receive input of any kind and that they have a very, very poorly developed sense of insight. At first, you may think well he/she is just being stubborn and he/she just don’t want to take responsibility for him/herself. But after a while, the thought can dawn on you if it is not just more than that. It seems like the elevator does not go all the way to the top floor with these individuals.
Narcissists are constantly in a compensation mode
The defining features of narcissism are all non-insight encouraging ingredients for example they are very self-centered and have an attitude of entitlement. They are deeply insecure but try to cover their insecurity by being falsely superior. They have developed a strong controlling approach toward life. They can be highly manipulative. And, they are not very caring kind of person in the sense that they don’t care about your feelings because they lack any empathy. And so, we can say with a great deal of certainty that psychological insight is not just something that they choose not to employ, it simply does not exist.
Becoming aware of this trait becomes very disillusioning when you are the kind of person who likes to be insightful and wants to bring a specific skill set to the equation. As a person who is respecting others having their skill set, strengths, and weaknesses, your mindset is aimed at let’s pull it together and see if we can make this work in a mutually beneficial way.
Sometimes though, as you engage with these toxic people, you start to notice that their mask is becoming transparent and their narcissistic tendencies begin to rise to the surface. They become so demanding and so manipulative that you finally conclude this is not working for me. As much as you want to engage with these individuals, you can clearly see that they don’t know how to engage well with others. So, you make the decision to unhook yourself from their tentacles.
Sometimes that unhooking or disengagement, goes all the way to the far extreme where you have to get away from this relationship completely aka ‘no contact’. Other times there are mitigating circumstances that don’t make that, particularly a wise thing to do but you can still go in a more disengaged way emotionally aka the ‘gray rock’. Going gray rock means that you pull back emotionally and keep a bland approach toward the narcissist. You greatly lower your expectations and you don’t really engage on any kind of personal or vulnerable level with someone who does not know what to do with that.
What to expect when you unhook
Now there is one overarching truth that we can say about what is going to happen when you let it be known, through word or deed, that you are disengaging and that is: a narcissist is going to come after you with lots of accusations. They will let the world know that you are the problem, you are the one who is creating all this difficulty.
They will come at you with lots of venom, blame, and shame, and when you get hooked on your counter emotion and anger, you remain tethered. And as long as you are filtering much of your emotional well-being through that person’s emotional dysregulation you are still engaged but in a very unhealthy way.
So there is one thing that you are going to need to hold on to, and this is the key to you knowing how to disengage successfully from a narcissist, and that is it’s not about you. The narcissist is going to want to make the diminishing of the relationship all about you in a negative kind of way. They want to make sure that you know that you are a disgusting person, that you are an impossible person, and that you are the one who has made their life miserable. But it is so important for you to recognize that this is their game, it is not about you.
They are the chronic victim (but it is all your fault, anyway)
Narcissists first and foremost are injured, souls. They are emotionally damaged but are unable to carry this damage. And so, they want to make it all about you.
Behind the scenes, in their personality, they have a huge amount of unresolved strains, tensions, and conflicts. And rather than saying I have entered a personal conflict, they simply look away from any responsibility for who they are. They look at their interactions with other people as being a competition. And this is, whether you are not living with that person, if it is someone in your extended family, in a social setting, in an organization, or at work, why narcissists are constantly trying to figure out how to make you look like you are the problem. This way they can sidestep the responsibility of having to come to terms with their contributions to some of the difficulties in a relationship.
From the starting point, very early in their life, they concluded the world out there has given them a raw deal. And then along comes you. Maybe they can engage with you for a while in a positive way but eventually, because you don’t necessarily fit all of their grooves, you become part of that raw deal. In their mind, you are the problem for all the misery. It is important for you to know they are already predisposed to think that way. They have a generally pessimistic outlook on life that they carry around. And this you will find out about it in its fullness when you go into that disengagement mode.
The more you argue with them the more it proves in their mind that you are mentally unstable.
Here are some tactics that narcissists like to use to make you look as if you are being responsible for them. But in fact, they are sidestepping their responsibility for the difficulties they have.
One of the narcissists’ favorite tricks is to bait you into an argument. Suppose that you have something that brings out differences of opinions. Perhaps a conflict in terms of where you are going with a certain project. As you share your thoughts, feelings, needs, and/or preferences expect to receive criticism rather than the narcissist saying well let me think this thing through and let’s understand why you feel as you do. What they do is invalidate and they tell you that you don’t know what you are talking about and then start becoming argumentative. And then you bite. I mean, you start arguing right back and tell them how difficult they are being, how they don’t understand. And they are over there with this real satisfied feeling that says Got you going. Look how dysregulated you are right now. How in the world am I going to interact with somebody who’s as problematic as you.
A second trick that they use to make you look like a problem is that they insist that you really do have to justify your feelings, your actions, or your interpretations. Let’s say that you are talking about a project, an opinion, a preference, a feeling, or an impression that you have. Although it might look like an honest interest at first when the narcissists ask questions like Well why do you feel that way? Where did you come up with that? or, What are you hoping to accomplish? But then a question Who would think in such a way? pops up. And before you know it you are going into this high justification mode while they are thinking Keep explaining, keep telling me that because that’s not adequate enough.
While you are explaining yourself they are constantly trying to figure out how to poke holes in whatever it is you are saying. And the deeper you go into your justification and rationalization the narcissist goes like See, every time you say something it doesn’t make any sense.
A third tactic that they like to use is, that they will try to shame you for your independent thinking.
Wait, let’s just pause on that for a moment. Is it absolutely okay for you to have independent thoughts? Each one of us is distinct. But with the narcissist, this is a threat that leads to them not being in control. So, they might say something like you just has to do things your way, don’t you?! Or they say something like where did you learn to think like that? or well I guess you don’t have any use for anybody else’s thoughts now do you?
So, when you say ‘I have my own preference’ or ‘I have my own style and my way of doing things and ‘I like to be my own independent agent’, that is your way of saying it’s just me being me. The narcissist interprets that as you are leaving them behind and consider them to be insignificant. For that, you are going to be shamed and they hope that you will eventually stop this ridiculous behavior, go along with their program, and quit being the problem. That is the way they operate.
A fourth tactic that they like to use is, they try to make you feel responsible for their moods. For example, let’s suppose they are feeling agitated or irritable. Or they are feeling perplexed. They may say something like do you realize how much trouble you create around here? Or, I was having a perfectly good day until you showed up. They have their own moodiness and irregularities and then they will turn around and say …and it’s all your fault!
If you accept that you are, in their mind, apologizing for your poor behavior towards them and so, they have got you going again.
A fifth way that they can trick you into looking like the problem is, that they may actually offer lame excuses. For example, they have made a mistake or they realize that you know they were pretty moody or pretty erratic. They may say something like yeah I’ve been under a lot of stress lately or I didn’t have a good night of sleep. They make all kinds of lame excuses and then they blame you for whatever kind of reaction(s) you have. For instance, they may say you didn’t make matters any better you certainly weren’t available when I needed your help. Rather than just saying yes I now have a problem. Along with their excuse comes that one pivotal word I don’t have a problem YOU do!
A sixth trick they use is, that they will actually try to intimidate you when you try to have boundaries. Keep in mind…boundaries is your way of saying ‘This is who I am, this is where I plan to go and I am with my decisions.’
The intimidation you then receive is sounding something like this if you want to do something like that you’re going to ruin everything for everybody else. You’re such a selfish person! Or you’re definitely not a team player. They try to make you think that having boundaries is a bad thing when in fact it just means you have a definition of yourself.
A seventh trick is, that they will actually accuse you of being a narcissist. They will say well you know what? I’ve been reading up on this whole thing about narcissism and you’re a narcissist. You are the one who is selfish and executing domestic violence. To them ‘narcissism’ or being a narcissist is just a dirty name that you give to somebody. It is their classic projection that they are putting on to you.
These narcissistic individuals come up with these different tricks to try to make you look problematic and them the victim, with only one goal and that is they want to wear you down. So eventually you start thinking I don’t want to argue with you anymore. Why should I bother? It’s not worth the effort for me to try to take my own initiative. And they are thinking good that means I win and you lose. They truly see you taking a distance, setting your boundaries, and going grey rock, as a personal victory. They think that they have not lost control over you. If you accept this behaviour you wind up losing yourself and might become a person that you don’t particularly like. For example, you may have a lot of dysregulated emotions like anger and agitation. You suppress a lot of what you really feel and think to mean, and you can become susceptible to anxiety or depression. Maybe you just withdraw from other individuals or become generally negative, cynical, and numb.
To summarize the journey traveled in this article, while you are starting to unhook yourself from their toxicity, the narcissist completely ignores his/her contributions to the reason that you have to disengage in the first place. They cannot and they will not be vulnerable, they cannot and they will not be honest. And ultimately the narcissist remains trapped by their own anger and contempt that they hold. And yet in the midst of all of that they say it is all about you, it is all your fault.
It is so important for you to understand that is what is going on. It is so damn important for you to understand that it is not you who is the problem. You have to stop and ask yourself do I really have to justify myself that strongly, particularly when it is with somebody who is not paying any attention to what I am saying anyway?
In order for you to strengthen yourself in that regard, it is important for you to recognize that you are a person of inherent worth and your worth is separate and distinct from the narcissist whatever declarations they are making.
You deserve goodness! And so, go back to that key when it is time to disengage. It is absolutely okay for you to say “when the narcissist continues to treat me in a disdainful way I don’t want to be around that. And, if they want to turn around and say well that’s problematic let them think it. Goodness is something that I deserve.”
Keep reminding yourself that the narcissist want to smother you and they do not shy away to use heavy artillery like their smear campaigns and collecting new flying monkeys whereby gaslighting people will be their main game. (I will speak about this form of manipulating people in part III) The narcissist wants to keep you like that dog inside the fence so that you remain inside their tight parameters.
You are at your very best only when you are living inside a sense of freedom., when you are able to shift your thoughts and emotions in a free surrounding meaning being in the company of those who are recognizing you, your personality, and your skills. People who are building you up instead of breaking you down.
No, go and claim your freedom!