“Control is the ultimate villain in destroying intimacy. We cannot share freely unless we are equal.” John Bradshaw
Self-recovery seems impossible to anyone who has ever had the misfortune to be involved in a friendship, relationship, family or working environment with a colleague or boss who behaves in such a destructive, manner they end up suffering psychological injury (or “death). Violated and threatened, feeling isolated, rejected, abandoned, guilt-ridden and deeply ashamed at having been objectified, you realize the relationship was built on nothing more than an illusion. Body and mind poisoned with toxins, a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath has betrayed, invaded, contaminated and taken over your private world; sometimes a world you generously provided access by association, always alongside championing their cause. False self free from remorse or responsibility, the narcissist sets you up. In such manner you are the one blamed for any errors, addictions, anger or affairs. Fearful at risk of exposure, appetite unregulated, you are devoured and demonized, ejected and discarded. Once idealized. Now you are devalued, deindividuated, disrespected and dehumanised. Serving as a need-fulfilling function, your beautiful nature, ensnared and plundered, finds itself dismissed. Who would believe such hypnotic charm can pathologically cause so much harm?
“Narcissist” was born out of the Greek myth of Narcissus, a character in love with himself, whilst endlessly entranced and fixated on his own reflection mirrored in a lake, fell in and drowned. This resulted in the incapacity to develop his real self. Not just the happy, pleasure and reward-seeking self: the self that contains unpleasant emotions such as anger and greed, jealousy and envy. This “unacceptable” side is projected onto others. The myth highlights the dead end of the narcissist pattern. Falling pray to one’s own illusions of self is falling full stop, i.e., missing the point of existence, of being a truly multifaceted complex human being, possessing both “good” and “bad” traits. Narcissus is captivated by his false ideal of himself mistaking fake for reality, equates his own being with a mask, and thus disappears into the darkness behind the mask. Spiritual immaturity, although linked with addiction, does not mean that all addicts are narcissists or all narcissists are addicts. Labelled with Narcissistic, Histrionic, Antisocial or a variety of other disorders under the Personality Disorder umbrella, narcissists are found amongst the cocaine and car dealers, CEOs and lawyers, salespeople and celebrities. Full-blown sociopaths (thought to make up 4% of the population) will use grooming methods whilst pretending to help the most vulnerable amongst us. Such “superior” beings believe they deserve respect. Everyone is viewed as potential food or an enemy. Kill or be killed. Armed with an attitude of detachment, heavily camouflaged as care, their psychopathic, silent, hidden and lethal agenda is to defraud charities, infiltrate minority groups, abuse children in their care, befriend and con lonely and/or elderly people.
Expert storytellers and rapport builders, sociopaths make friends easily. Trust is gained quickly. Natural cult-leaders, they can often can build up a cult-like following. To the outside world, they appear funny, honest and open. Radiating inner confidence, seductively sexual, rooms are lit with tales tweaked and twisted to match the needs of the listener. Paved with partial truths, much sparkle, wit and humour illuminates the devilish and destructive path they have taken, leading them from zero to hero. Sharpest of instincts they can accurately pinpoint your passions for a particular topic or interest. If you don’t drink, they don’t drink. If you don’t like scary movies, they don’t like scary movies. Your favourite restaurants coincidentally are theirs. Typically a narcissist encounter scenario plays out as follows. The first stage is stalking and hunting. Targeting rich divorcees, the bereaved, the vulnerable… Every move is monitored so they can “sell” to you by learning how to “be” you. In such manner they know the image you wish to have of yourself: well-educated, a good writer, role model, funny, caring, good-looking, sexy or slim, good friend, “rescuer” or mentor.
During the next stage of “sucking”, sweet, sugar-coated sentiment is both the narcissist’s leverage and key to unlocking hearts and minds. Soon you realise there is a constant mismatch between words and actions. They ensure life revolves around them. This angry, opinionated, bulldozing, spoilt, demanding, impatient and intolerant individual justifies distorting every comment into a personal attack to be defended. Until the next victim, the narcissist vampirises your sense of self where you suffer psychological, spiritual, financial or even physical death. Remaining firmly attached, hidden beneath the smokescreen, is at least one kind ex-spouse, partner or lover, whose finances or goodwill they continue to plunder, and whose light they use to shine under. Or their mother acts in protective denial as their comfort-blanket cover. With a comforting, listening ear, you provide empathy and understanding. Believing you are their only true friend and ally. Confirming that everything bad in their lives is the fault of someone else. Until that someone is you.
Narcissists are vengeful, predatory, prevalent and prolific. Sarcastic, guilt-inducing, ambiguous and manipulative.Wearing masks made of gold to hide agendas made of stone. Quickness of temper is concealed under quickness of wit. They lack self-regulation, self-reflection, self-awareness so their actions seem senseless. They hold a fake belief that everyone they’ve ever worked with or been in any kind of relationship with looks up to them and buys into the hype they hand out. In such manner the narcissist is over-sensitivite to criticism, leading them to the incorrect conclusion that anyone who doesn’t like them must be jealous so they don’t feel rejection. Such conclusion justifies their often sadistic and secret punishment of those who express any unfavourable opinion. Or anyone who challenges the appropriateness of tales of torment they use to play victim in order to conceal the truth, the torture they aim to inflict on others.
The narcissist comes in many shapes and forms: the best friend who excludes you from the party or the one who copies your style, the one who excludes you from the “facebook friend chain” or who refuses to like your posts, the lover who steals your money or the new best mate you lent it all to, the one in designer clothes or whose kids are dressed in Beckham, the sister-in-law who seats you away from your family or the parents who expect you to bankroll them, the sibling who sets you up to look bad or the one who talks behind your back, the mother who reads your diary or the father who shouts at the kids’ football match, the student who tries to usurp the teacher or the one who writes a complaint, the colleague or boss who takes credit for your work or the manager who sleeps with his staff, the director who employs his partner’s family, the boyfriend in trouble who you bail out, the friend taking you over and then cutting you out, the one who spreads recriminating rumours, flirts with or steals your lover, the one who doesn’t really want you, but makes sure no-one else can have you, the writer who steals your ideas or the partner who doesn’t acknowledge your input, the husband who criticises your cleaning or the wife who criticises your earning, the boyfriend who hooks you on heroin or the one who takes the children away, the husband who turns the children against you or the wife who does the same, the boyfriend who chooses your outfits or the one who breaks into your phone, the one who tries to control your eating or the one who comments on your weight, the speaker whose opinion counts or the one who talks over your attempts, the one who tries to prove you wrong and humiliate you in front of your friends, the lover who uses your secrets against you or the one who threatens to “report” you, the facebooker who stalks your posts or the one who contaminates forums, the one who convinces others to block you, insanely jealous you have so many friends. The priest, the preacher and the choirmaster. The face at the front of a charity. The racist, the pedophile, the stalker and especially the rapist.
Stalked, hunted down, and shot through with poisoned love arrows in the form of constant, relentless and highly addictive “special attention”, is the strategy of the narcissist. “Exclusivity” is continually laced through a narcissist’s dialogue. Convinced that you alone were their best friend and closest ally, pulled and pushed into submission you find yourself addicted to their toxic style of love. Incapable of enjoying relationships based on equality and mutual respect, the narcissist moves on, rather than sorting out typical relationship-forming issues. Sometimes you are aware, but oftentimes you are not. To face new emotional challenges involves a high degree of what they lack – emotional maturity. Time you never had endlessly sacrificed to the narcissist will never be enough. Or worse having taken as much advantage of you that they can, without blowing their cover, they coerce you into leaving them, appearing faultless as you find a new partner. Slowly, it dawns on you the cruel truth is that another lover has stolen their attention. Drugs, gambling, alcohol, porn, gaming or another person. Heartbroken, humiliated and helpless at having been replaced you feel so sad, betrayed and depressed it physically hurts you inside. The light burns bright fuelled by the cruelest clarity. Jealousy, rage, resentment, hatred, loathing and revulsion, underpins their dissatisfaction and disappointment with you. Having been manipulated and therefore lulled into a false sense of security, draining your “narcissistic supply”, shot down with a multitude of their mental weaponry you are discarded and left for dead.
Or, if you dare to escape by yourself, for yourself, as you have found self-worth, there will be no-one else except themselves to blame. Although you will still have trance memories of intense happiness, feeling glued for life, attached and bonded, sometimes your psyche decides to save its sanity. Terror at being “found out” that there is a hole in the soul they sold out, the narcissist either pays lip-service at best, or are overtly resistant at worst, to the type of therapy that will help them the most. After all, according to them, you are the one who needs it the most. Making you feel the shame so they can avoid any pain.
The problems really start when you are isolated. Once involved with a narcissist or sociopath, friends and family may have deserted, as you have either been set up to look so crazy that no-one wants to come near you or, alternatively, having had your mental, physical, emotional and financial health stolen, there is nothing left for anyone else. Rumours spread, alongside often very public humiliation, character almost entirely assassinated, you are left feeling broken. Increasingly you may find yourself relying on this abuser for support, or those associated with them, more so when they threaten to remove the love they pretend to have for you. There is nothing you will not do to keep or regain their attention and affection. Mostly you will simply feel confused. This confusion is best illustrated by “gaslighting” [brainwashing]. Gaslighting is “telling” you or others how to view yours or their discourse. Or stuff that happened was all in your head. Gaslighting justifies how deserving you are of punishment. For example, if you catch them trashing you with words that are angry, accusatory, patronising controlling or coercive they will “tell” you to view this discourse as “polite” and/or “reasonable”. Sometimes you are indirectly invited to side against a colleague, another family member, or not even just an ex, a current partner set up to appear as the devil incarnate. A person who they say is in your way. A person who you know you must be sure to slay. Oh how little do you realize that you are next.
A narcissist lies to cover up their mistakes. When it comes to their relationship with you, what you don’t realise is that they deliberately lie to make you look “bad”. In such manner, your roles shift. They become the hero to you as the zero. You move away or feel like running away as you want to hide away with your shame. Walking on eggshells to avoid being shouted at, criticized, humiliated and shamed has left you physically and mentally exhausted. Often left suffering a range of psycho-complex disorders, which may manifest into physical illnesses such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder (“GAD”), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) or, if you weren’t previously challenged with, albeit more manageably, any type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (“OCD”). Short-term memory loss, nervous twitches, acute anxiety manifesting in stomach and digestive related ailments, drinking too much, sudden anger, a constant desire to apologise, tearfulness, depression, anxiety, paranoia and a need to control your own environment are just a few of the symptoms from which you may suffer.
Conscience-free skilled con-artists, fraudsters and thieves a narcissist or sociopath expects to be able to take advantage of you in all manner of ways. You can be set up to do anything from “cooking the books” to colluding with any sexual, financial or emotional exploitation. Of particular interest and attraction to the narcissist are individuals with skillsets or traits they lack or desire to have more of: wealth, warmth, kindness, fair-mindedness, connections, good looks, intelligence and/or strength. Devoid of feelings, they have the ability to turn on and mimic empathy as a weapon of charm. Alongside your thunder some narcissists will steal your words and your phrases, your style and your swagger. They want your identity and finally your integrity. So expert are they in the art of seduction, you may find yourself betraying your best friend, sibling or colleague to gain their attention. Quicksilver quickly turns to quicksand. During the highest of tides, turning Jekyll into Hyde, you are tossed and turned in the waves of worry until your life-raft breaks and you hit the water. Threats and intimidation, and/or verbal and/or physical abuse and/or a constant barrage of criticism of your perceived faults have left you emotionally bruised existing in a permanent state of shock, grief and anxiety. Or they may find someone else to do it, such experts are they at triangulation. At a moment in time, unable to define, you may simply became an “obstacle” to be removed instead of a useful “tool” or “toy” in their game of power. Fearful of exposure and filled with self-pity, desperate to lay the blame at you, the twisted mind of a narcissist concludes you either need to be “killed off” completely. Or, at the very least, destroyed in the minds of others. This doesn’t mean that they will not continue to stalk you in overt or covert ways. They may even keep ringing you. Not once, not twice, but at least three times a day. Often they will sadistically invite your ex out to play…
A sense of entitlement, contempt and mockery for the rules of society means that as “superior beings above the law”, they believe they have the right to control you. Consciously” abusive. Consciously “unwilling”, not “unable” to give up the power they have over you. No logical reason is apparent when you are left fearing the next punishment. Just like an addict needing a fix, you crave and hang onto a distant memory of reward, the reward that remained in constant supply during the first weeks when they smothered you with love. In the drama game they forced you into playing, the goalposts keep constantly shifting. Their addiction to causing you pain becomes insatiable, the ground gives way and the world starts spinning on its axis. And spinning it is. Literally. As you are spun tale after tale, covering up lie after lie, excuse after excuse, you question your sanity.
In relationships, deeply jealous, the narcissist accuses, berates and rages at you for even looking at another whilst they are engaged in secret affairs or arrangements with friends or family, a new or former lover. You may discover the relentless flirting in front of you was not the harmless fun that they had you somehow convinced. In the murky depths of the hole in their soul, a game of opposites ensues. Having denied all contact, the ex who is the “psycho bitch from hell” or the ex who is the “bully”, or the friend of the opposite sex who is just a “mate” is in their world. They profess their undying love whilst pretending you are just some nutcase who happened to turn up in their life. Or that they have always had a problem stopping you giving them attention, finding it difficult to fend off your obvious affection. They never disclose the truth of their relentless pursuit. Denial of their secret world shifts blame onto you: “I never said that”, “its all in your head”, “you’re just jealous”, “it’s normal to do that”, alongside refusal to take responsibility: “Everyone drinks that much“, “I bought/stole it because of you“, “you push my buttons“, “you make me angry“, “I can’t help it if they fancy me” or “I can’t help it if they contact me”. Or the most grandiose and twisted of their constant illogical reasoning and tactical questioning: “Some of us, those who are attractive like me, have moments where we cannot resist being tempted by love thrown at us. I mean who would be able to resist and hurt that person? Are you telling me you expected me to hurt them?” Sometimes your replacement will have been drafted in way before your relationship has officially ended. The betrayal will feel feel as painful as if you have been cut to the bone with the sharpest knife blade, whilst failing to to sever the rope with which you are tied. At this point the despair you may feel can lead you to a state of futility where a future happy life without them seems unimaginable. Your fantasy involves an apology, after which you take them back, as you long for their contact.
Remorseless, blameless, shameless and guilt-free, their silver tongue continues to spin its sophisticated web of lies and deceit as they continue to draw in and use family, friends, colleagues and children to gang up against you. Their own family will act as an army against which you must continuously defend. You will be disrespected in all manner of unthinkably cruel ways, whilst respect from you at all times is expected, demanded and commanded. Revenge is the driver, and hate is the key. If the narcissist hasn’t bankrupted your business by now and holds the purse strings, they will court you with money and gifts to make you feel grateful and obligated and, if you try to leave, draw you back in. Subsequently, when they have all the control, attempts will be made to deny you access to funds. Once the narcissist is sure they have brainwashed and poisoned your relatives and friends, they will tactically mock and mimic and correct you in public. Your own mask will be wearing thin and you may no longer be able to conceal the narcissist’s humiliating, shameful and embarrassing cruelty. You have been transformed from the “good”, sane and decent person that you are, championing and supporting their needs whilst covering up and making excuses for their professional, social, financial and familial mistakes into a “bad”, unstable, unpredictable and downright wicked person. Its as if a circus has sprung up from nowhere with Jekyll & Hyde playing both ringleader and star performer. A circus containing a variety of animals captivating the audience who are at the same time also part of the performance. At some point during this process you may be provoked, pushed over and pulverised by their one tantrum too many. You may break your own moral code finding yourself getting “down and dirty”. An affair, or lack self-care, or you swear or break stuff in despair. The result leaves you feeling guilty, ashamed, angry and humiliated. On the one hand you will act responsibly and make every attempt to repair and right wrongs. On the other hand the narcissist takes no responsibility for their actions, instead using any incident, any secret, as another opportunity to provide “evidence” of [their projection of] your unstable, incompetent, evil and immature character. Smokescreens and mirrors. Partial truths. Denial. The full-on version of the “gaslight” effect. Suicidal ideation from you can follow.
The problem is that similar to most fair-minded human beings with a clear sense of justice, you have no idea that reasoning with and inviting a narcissist or sociopath to apologise when “found out” puts you in such grave danger it can result in attempts to end your life, sometimes physically, certainly socially and so often professionally. If its your parent(s), you will find yourself being cut off, feeling at pain close to death. If at work, pointing out that a narcissistic company has acted unfairly, irresponsibly or illegally places you at risk or losing your job. Fearful of the narcissist’s false cowardly self being unmasked, the bipolar opposite of the fantasy hero image they portray, a narcissist is driven to threaten or carry out damage to your very existence. Just like Narcissus, they are incapable of loving more than their reflection. By this time you may withdraw totally or be making mistakes at work, shouting at friends, children or other loved ones and drinking to numb the psychological pain. Grandiose, yet chameleon-like, the narcissist can appear humble, masking their all-consuming goal of taking power any which way they can. Their propensity towards, and capacity for lying, is on an unimaginable scale. As such, any testimony you have against them, by default, will now be discounted. “Acting out” that which has stolen their soul, especially if drugs or alcohol is involved, the narcissist or sociopath’s capacity for “wickedness” is often beyond our comprehension.
Self-absorbed, sadistic and selfish, narcissists have been wounded and frozen in time due to a trauma or series of traumas. Such trauma is sometimes severe such as sexual abuse where they are made to feel responsible and guilty for allowing it to happen. Or just plain humiliation by an adult in front of others. To feel empathy towards those who suffer from this affliction you can think how tough it must be to never be truly free, incapable of deep and fulfilling relationships, driven by another agenda asides from true love. Help for themselves is rarely sought unless forced to do so by a Court or authority, they are about to die or your own threats to leave them are finally realised. They may have run out of favours from friends, the ones they once swatted away like flies or the girlfriend they “loved” simply lays down and dies. Agenda-driven, tactical and strategic planners, they may decide it is more useful for their false self “to be seen” to be receiving some kind of psychological intervention. Even if a narcissist or sociopath does begin the journey of self-discovery, the risk is that self-awareness may become another lethal weapon in their well-stocked arsenal. They may use knowledge of listening skills, development of conditions of worth and empathy as a “how to” guide in order to damage others even more deeply. Although if Anne Frank is correct, and “in spite of everything, people are really good at heart,” therapy can indeed be the first step to healing. 12 step recovery programs with their focus on faith, inclusion, humility and responsibility, are ideal. Re-parented, with new growth, instead of being caught up in the cycle of emotional abuse, domestic violence, addiction and anger, happy, healthy, fulfilling future emotional relationships can be enjoyed.
So who is most susceptible to becoming the victim of a narcissist or full-blown sociopath? From reading the above, most likely several times as you will have lost the ability to concentrate and focus, at some you will realize it is not your fault. However, there is evidence to suggest susceptibility is linked back to parents whose needs you may consciously or unconsciously have been bullied into meeting, as they were themselves not yet mature. Or whether through physical or emotional absence, perhaps your parents were not able to parent you in a way that left you feeling completely secure. Perhaps your mother/and or father betrayed you, criticised you, neglected you, berated you and disempowered you as she found all kinds of sadistic ways to torture you into a fearful guilty and ashamed worldview. The attachment set up in emotionally abusive relationships where partners become primary attachment figures [see any work by Bowlby or Ainsworth] is why you may find it so hard to leave. Or you were sexually abused by a favourite relative. If you have been bereaved, you may have been disabled from grief. Familiar situations involving fear, threats and intimidation invoke the attachment system strengthening, building and bonding you tightly to the narcissist. You may stay with this abuser if, based on previous experience, your expectation in relationships is to be badly treated. Most likely you have been set up and brainwashed into believing you are the one who is responsible for the abuse coming your way. Perhaps as indicated above one or both of your own parents may have had traits of narcissism and been self-absorbed using you for their own advantage rather than caring about your development. Or you may have something markedly different about you in terms of, say, disability, sexuality, minority religion or culture. Perhaps you just have never felt like you quite fitted, or suffered bullying from your peers during your early years, or, endearingly innocent, you have been brought up to believe the whole world is beautiful…
So how do you move forward and heal? Learning assertiveness skills, entering into therapy in order to have your experience witnessed, validated and affirmed, acceptance and approval of yourself in order to build your inner strength will not only protect you from further psychic attack, it is the key to healing. Releasing the past and forgiving everyone, including yourself, is vital for recovery. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse the narcissist or sociopath’s behaviour. Forgiveness stops them from destroying your heart or worse – turning you into them. For now it is enough to understand they always were jealous of you. They have extracted and devoured your very essence and projected onto you the parts of themselves they do not like or want. By now you may be suffering from intense self-loathing as you reflect and replay the horror film where, the narcissist unable to accept their own perceived flaws and weaknesses, invoked and provoked you into a state of submission, trepidation and co-dependency. Feeling as if you have lost your footing, the world may appear frighteningly distorted, off-kilter and unreal. Keep remembering it is not your fault. It will seem like a cruel twist of fate, having been the one to pull the narcissist out that so sneakily they push you into the water under the glass. Just like Narcissus, you are the one now drowning and suffocating in the murky, dark pool of confusion, mistrust, non-love and helplessness, gasping for air, dazed and confused, still desperately reaching for their hand to pull you back up. If you are reading this you survived. You made it. You are here and you have a life. You are on the journey out of hell and back to earth. Clarity is coming. You are the true hero and they the true zero. Forgive them. Not because they deserve it, but because you deserve peace.
Bibliography and Recommended Reading
Bancroft, L. (2002), “Why does he do that? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men”, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York
Bradshaw, J. (199) “Healing the Shame that Binds You”, Health Communications
Cruse, S. W. (1990) “The Miracle of Recovery: Healing for Addicts, Adult Children and Co-Dependents”, Health Communications
Engel, B. (2002), The Emotionally Abusive Relationship,” John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey
Field, T. (1996), “Bully in Sight: How to predict, resist, challenge and combat workplace bullying”, Success Unlimited, Oxfordshire
Frankl, V. (2008), “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Rider, London
Nhat Hanh, T. (2010), “Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child”, Parallax Press, Berkeley
Salzberger-Wittnberg, I. (2004), “Psycho-Analytic Insights and Relationships: A Kleinian Approach”, Brunner-Routledge, East Sussex
Steiner, C. (1974) “Scripts People Live” [Transactional Analysis Life Scripts] Grove Press, New York
Stern, R. (2007), “The Gaslight Effect”, Random House, New York
Twerksi, A. J, (1990) “Addictive Thinking: Understanding Self-Deception: How the Lies We Tell Ourselves and Others Perpetuate Our Addictions”, Hazledon