The Seventh Indicator of Narcissistic Abuse – They use your righteous anger against you.

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While I was growing up, I was terrified of my own anger.

Like so many others who grew up as very late-stage Baby Boomers, I was caught between the good girl, ‘children are to be seen and not heard’ era of post-World War II, and what some have called the ‘dawning of the Age of Aquarius’, a period in which freedom and peace were the call of the heart while the mind wandered about, like a boat without a rudder, looking for an anchor. We had conscientious objectors to the war in Vietnam, Hippy buses painted with bright flowers and peace signs, free love and Woodstock. We had ‘Jesus’ buses and Hari Krishnas with jingling bells on their sandals, but we also had patriarchal power structures in every facet of life. At the same time, we were in the grips of second wave feminism.

This transition period was confusing. Some of us were forced into one camp or the other without our consent.

I desperately wanted to be able to express my authentic self but my parents remained somewhat stuck in the era of the Domestic Goddess, which neatly slotted all women into a limited role with stringent guidelines for feminine behaviour and absolute limits with regard to career choice. Freedom of speech was reserved for men. For women, laughing too loudly was deemed ‘ugly’; any expression of anger roundly condemned and punished, no matter how justified; any attempts to shut ourselves off from the world thwarted by demands to interact with family; closed bedroom doors were forcibly opened and contact with peers disallowed.

Sound familiar?

You may not have grown up in my era but, if you’re in a relationship with a controlling, abusive person, you’ll know all about being punished for daring to be angry, even when your anger is self protective and justifiable.

It took me far too long to learn that ‘righteous’ anger is not only acceptable, but often, essential. Anger in and of itself is nothing more than a feeling…a very important feeling that alerts us to the fact that our boundaries are being violated. And when our boundaries are being violated, physically, emotionally or psychologically, we need to say ‘No’! Forcefully, if necessary. And in a rational manner if we’re able to.

But we’re not always able to portray our message calmly and rationally. If we’ve been kept under strict control by those who have no compunction about using verbal and emotional aggression against us; silenced by their attacks, be those attacks overt or covert; punished relentlessly for every perceived slight, no matter how irrational; it just might be beyond our capabilities to stand our ground logically and without undue emotion. I would say it’s nigh impossible. We are the deer caught in the headlights…startled, panicked and at the mercy of our innate responses – fight or flight.

But at times, I managed it…to launch a logical debate without undue emotion…to present facts in a calm (and often soothing) voice. It took a huge effort of will from this exhausted human being, drained like so many of you, by emotional vampires baying for our blood. And yet, even when I managed it, did it make any difference to the outcome foisted upon me by my narcissistic abuser? No! It did not.

We must always remember that we’re dealing with people who aren’t in a rational frame of mind. They’re not rational by nature. Any attempt to use logic will fall on deaf ears. They simply cannot and will not, enter into a civil and fair conversation. To face facts and logic would tear down their fragile shell. It would destroy the twisted framework on which they have built their lives.

Don’t expect this to change. The odds are virtually non-existent.

Knowing this…believing this…will hopefully bring you a ‘light bulb’ moment.

You have a right to be angry when you are mistreated; lied to; manipulated; denigrated; invalidated; demeaned; isolated from friends and family; your most vulnerable emotional wounds ripped open; your truth denied; your efforts to build relationship derided; your thoughts and words mocked; your feelings disregarded; your hopes discarded.

Be angry.

Expect the inevitable. You’ll be torn apart and treated to another round of abuse and manipulation. You know this. You’ve been here before.

Now you know it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the narcissistic, entitled ‘jailer’ in your life.

They will use your righteous anger against you.

They inflame that righteous anger by their unjust treatment of you. They set you up…they bait you. And then, when you take the bait, they will blame you. They will use your justified anger against you.

Every…single…time.

The Sixth Indicator of Narcissistic Abuse – The Recurring Honeymoon Phase

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Like all moon phases, the ‘honeymoon’ phase that victims of narcissistic abuse experience at the hands of their tormentors, is predictable, cyclic, and inevitable. Like a waning gibbous moon, an abuser’s supply of adulation, dependence and fear, which they so desperately need from their victims, also dwindles according to an ancient rhythm. Their need to reassert control, continue to destroy the psyche of their victims, replenish their dopamine supply and ascend, like the planets (or the gods), to their most superior position, becomes their driving force.

Your feeling of safety, security, contentment and rising self esteem is an existential threat to the narcissist in your life. The last days of the honeymoon phase are fraught with danger; sadly, a danger that you can’t sidestep, no matter what you do.

So what, then, is this honeymoon phase? It’s certainly not what we normally perceive as a honeymoon – a time of intense bonding, the making of precious memories that sustain a partnership through hard times, a tender period in which we lay our vulnerable selves before our lovers, hopeful for a fulfilling future. Instead, it’s a period during which tensions escalate…the period following a particularly devastating experience of abuse, during which your tormentor is deeply, intensely sorry.

They will love bomb you…just as they did at the beginning of your relationship. They’re relying on that powerful initial ‘hook’ to draw you back in; make you remember the good times; give you hope; shower you with tenderness that soothes your hurting heart and soul. They conditioned you for this. They set you up for it.

The bastards. Yes, they will do this to you.

Beware the end of the honeymoon phase. And also be aware that there are indicators of the trouble ahead. Tensions will be escalating.

You’ll be aware of a sharp word here and there but be expected to just brush it off. After all, things have been so perfect between you lately, it must be your imagination. You’re too sensitive, of course. You’ve been told that so many times before, haven’t you? You also can’t trust your own perceptions or memories. You doubt yourself.

Understand that the reason you doubt yourself is because of the relentless gaslighting of the narcissist in your life.

Centre yourself. Remember when you felt like ‘you’. Remember the days when you trusted your own experience implicitly. Remember when you were sure of your truth. Remember when you stood strongly upon your convictions and knew who you really were.

You are still that person.

What happened after the last episode of violence? Please know that violence is just as real and damaging whether it is physical, verbal, psychological, emotional or sexual. Usually, it’s a messy combination. The last time you felt utterly destroyed by your abuser is the last episode of violence. As often as not, you bear no physical scars.

So what happened, then? Let me predict.

Your abuser was ashamed of himself. He’s so sorry he ever treated you that way? Did she blush all shades of red with her lashes lowered and her head bent?

Does she tell you she’s never acted like this before and doesn’t understand why she’s doing it now? But she’s never going to do it again.

He’ll change. You can count on that. Things will be different from now on.

They love you so very, very much, don’t they?

And that’s exactly what your wounded and starving heart wants and needs to hear.

And they know it. They invest only in themselves, and they know that to keep you in this relationship they need to give you what you most need. But they can’t give it to you. They don’t have those deep reserves of love within themselves.

And so, they pretend.

They’re good at it. They probably have most of the people in your joint lives convinced of their sincerity. If you doubt them, then it’s your own mental and emotional state that must be compromised. That’s what you’ve been conditioned to believe. That’s also what those in your tormentor’s circle of influence have been conditioned to believe.

Doubt them anyway.

Watch for the pattern and in time, you’ll see it form clearly in your mind’s eye. This is one of the biggest signs that you are in a psychologically and emotionally dangerous relationship with someone who is narcissistic, entitled and incapable of real love. I’d like to be able to say that these people can change but anecdotal evidence doesn’t support it. Scholarly research articles are few but those they exist remain far from optimistic about positive outcomes. It may depend on the degree of psychopathology. It definitely depends on the willingness of your abuser to admit and confront his deepest fears and be willing to challenge his strongest convictions (that of his own perfection and your inferiority).

Like most of us who have been in this position as the underdog, you’ll be holding out hope; wanting to believe that your partner is different; that she or he will be the one who turns their lives around, and hence your happy ending is just a matter of time. I can only say for certain, that if there’s to be the slightest chance of that momentous change taking place, you will need to leave first and completely withdraw all contact. No compromises. None.

Let go. As trite as that sounds, it’s not trite. Make a clean break. Get on with your purpose-filled, meaningful, valuable life. Love yourself the way your partner could not.

Above all, remember that every time you went through the honeymoon phase, you ended up more devastated than before. People like you and me have ended up dead by refusing to acknowledge the truth. Some suicide. Many more develop serious physical illness as a result of the relentless draining of our adrenals; the strain on our hearts; and the rapid depletion of our immune systems.

You are worth far more than that.

Let go.

The Fifth Indicator of Narcissistic Abuse

From time to time, I answer questions on a website called Quora. Recently, a member of Quora asked a poignant question regarding narcissists and their behaviour, and I answered it in as plain a manner as possible.

The Question was: Do narcissists create problems on purpose and start fights for the sake of arguing with you?

My answer is one I’m sure will resonate with those of you who have been involved in a toxic relationship with a narcissistic abuser. It also outlines and explains a very important indicator of narcissistic abuse for those who are still struggling to recognize that what they’re going through is toxic and destructive in the extreme. I present it here as a stand-alone indicator that you are in an abusive relationship with a narcissist – as the Fifth Indicator of Narcissistic Abuse.

So here it is – the Fifth Indicator of Narcissistic Abuse:

A resounding yes! Creating problems and blaming you for them is what narcissists do as naturally as breathing. It’s one of the most powerful tools in their arsenal of controlling behaviours and they seem to get quite uncomfortable if there’s been a period of relative calm in your relationship.

They can’t have you feeling happy or content lest you get grand ideas about being equal or even valuable. They need you to be the underdog so they can verbally, psychologically, emotionally, and sometimes even physically kick you back into your ‘place’ of submission. That’s their comfort zone – one of superiority, authority and control. You’re their punching bag and each time they ‘score’ over you, they receive a huge dopamine hit to the brain. Dopamine is a chemical called a neurotransmitter and is known as the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. Causing you pain literally makes these people feel good.

If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist you’ll already be hyper-vigilant to any words or behaviours of your own that have triggered outbursts from the narcissist in the past. You’ll be working hard to avoid upsetting them in order to stave off another abusive attack. If you’re too successful and don’t inadvertently say or do something that can be twisted into a reason for your narcissist’s outburst for a few days, then he/she will just have to invent something. It’s all part of the cycle of abuse.

This is crazy-making behaviour and very, very insidious. Most, if not all victims of narcissistic abuse believe they’re losing their minds at some point during the relationship. They fear for their own mental faculties. Narcissists are heavily invested in you feeling unhinged, especially if they can convince you they’re the well-calibrated one and you ‘need’ them to keep you safe from yourself. They like to persuade you that you can’t handle life without them, despite life ‘with’ them being utterly miserable.

I have personally been to hell an back with this particular phenomenon. I’ve woken up in the morning to be told that the night before I’d insulted his mother. He was red and raging with fury and I was sick with fear. As far as I remembered, we hadn’t discussed his mother at all and I certainly hadn’t said anything negative. She’d passed away years before we were married and I only remember her fondly from my childhood. (Longish story.)

He just kept screaming at me – how dare I? What a psycho I am! Etc, etc, etc. As we were staying with my own mother at the time and had spent the entire evening talking to her, I checked in with her later, when we were alone. She was astounded and assured me I’d said nothing of the sort and that no conversation about his mother had taken place. That was a turning point for me – proof and validation that I was being lied to and baited.

The term ‘gaslighting’, which is now bandied about frequently when discussing narcissistic abuse is derived from the old movie ‘Gaslight’, in which a husband slowly but surely convinces his wife she’s crazy by deliberately dimming the gaslights briefly. When his wife comments on the lights going dim, he tells her no such thing happened. This scenario, along with other equally deceptive scenarios, are enacted over a period of time until she’s quite convinced she’s insane. (Despite being set in the 1940’s, the movie is actually still chilling today and worth watching for the insights it brings.)

Narcissists are very creative when it comes to inventing problems and casting a hundred percent of the blame on you, while being perfectly aware of their own duplicity. Again, it gives them quite a dopamine hit to have ‘put one over’ you. They’re very pleased with themselves for duping you and I expect that all narcissists engage in a psychological phenomenon called ‘duping delight’, which is a self-explanatory term. If ever you think you see a gleeful glint in their eye or a fleeting glimpse of a smile at your confusion and discomfort, then rest assured you’re witnessing someone in the throes of ‘duping delight’.

Not a pretty picture, is it? And yet that picture is an accurate representation of the narcissistic landscape. If you suspect this is happening to you, please get help. Educate yourself with the wealth of excellent reading material available over the internet and in books, and enlist a therapist if you can. Then…run!

Fourth Indicator Of Narcissistic Abuse: The Flying Monkey Troupe

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Who else thinks ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is one of the greatest screen classics of all time? Don’t you just love all those larger than life characters? Dorothy, Toto and that ragtag band of lovable misfits? Of course, the Wicked Witch of the West is beyond the pale when it comes to wickedness, and we didn’t really care, did we, when she started to melt? But is there anything truly more loathsome than her wretched flying monkeys?

Illustration by me

They mindlessly, seemingly without the power of thought (even the level of thought attributed to the lowliest of the higher primates), did the witch’s bidding. And they did it gleefully, brutally and without a shred of mercy or remorse. Nothing beats the malice of a flying monkey.

Undoubtedly, they were weak-willed and lacking in character and moral judgement. And, so it is with the troupes of ‘flying monkeys’ that encircle, and do the bidding of your run-of-the-mill, narcissistic, emotional and psychological abuser.

Fuelled by the (dubious and insincere) esteem of their master or mistress, they leap into the fray in ignorant defence of someone who very likely views them as inferior, expedient and easily manipulated. We can forgive them for being ignorant (I suppose) but not for being malicious. They have something to gain from their willingness to attack the real victims of abuse, as flimsy as those gains are in a rational and moral light. They gain strokes to their fragile egos; pats on their backs; ingratiating thanks and sickly compliments about how wonderful and faithful they are. They have already set your abuser up as a demi-god who can do no wrong and it’s far easier for them to believe it. There’s no need to think for themselves if they can simply place their trust in someone else – someone who has the confidence to present themselves as incredibly special and knowledgeable.

Truly, they walk among us, these flying monkeys, and they look just like you or me. Sometimes – more often than I care to remember – they are our friends and family. That’s why their attacks hurt so much. It’s also one reason they are ‘chosen’ by our abuser.

So, what is their role, these misguided and weak-willed beings, so lacking in insight?

As with every other strategy used by a controlling narcissist, their purpose is to undermine you; destroy your belief in yourself and your own reality; convince you that you are not the victim of abuse but the perpetrator; confuse you about what happened and what didn’t’; remove your sources of support by spreading the word of your ‘craziness’ amongst your social and family groups; and hit you relentlessly with cruel accusations. It’s one thing to take a ‘barb’ from one source. En masse it is soul destroying and very much a part of the ‘crazy-making’ agenda.

By this stage you’ve probably already been isolated from your entire support system. The narcissist and their flying monkeys may well be all you know. You’re alone and under attack.

I found myself in that position a decade ago. It destroyed my mental and emotional health and added a whole new dimension to my ever-present debilitating physical condition. I wish I could outline the details here, as real-life examples are so instructive, but I believe it would set me up for defamation charges, so I must hold off. Abusive people are perpetually indignant and ready to bring in the law when exposed for what they are. Truth is no defence.

The flying monkeys you encounter may not always be overtly abusive but beware of their covert attacks. They have an endless repertoire of reproachful looks, dramatic facial expressions of hurt, disbelief and disapproval, barely concealed whispers ‘behind your back’ (yet designed for you to be aware of), and are often gifted with spiteful innuendo. They’ll emulate their master’s/mistress’s penchant for protracted periods of the silent treatment. A concerted attack by a whole group will bring you to your knees. And they’ll kick you while you’re down.

Because they do such a large portion of the abuser’s dirty work (while the abuser slips under the public radar), they help to fuel the illusion that the abuser is actually squeaky clean. Innocent. It’s a neat trick. Deflection. Diffusion of responsibility.

It’s particularly insidious when an abusive individual enlists children to the role. Perhaps they are your stepchildren or even your own children who are being poisoned by an estranged spouse. These kids don’t yet have fully formed personalities, characters, morals or world views. They’re a piece of cake to manipulate, making them an attractive choice for your unscrupulous tormentor. They’re innocent pawns in a sick game.

Adults, however, are a different prospect. They are chosen for their inherent weaknesses. They need to be easily swayed, which means they’re intellectually lazy. They also need to obtain a measure of reward from hurting the victim (just as the perpetrator does). They undoubtedly love the drama of heightened emotions and the esteem derived from a pat on the back for a job well done by their puppet master. They lack moral fibre.

So, don’t listen to them. Don’t let them take up space in your head. On some deep level, possibly long buried, you still know who you are, what you believe in and what you stand for. Hold fast to that, and believe that one day, you’ll reclaim your authentic self.

Flying monkeys are cowards at heart. Stand strong but don’t try to fight them with rational words. They’re no more rational than instigator of the abuse. Turn your back. Laugh at them. Tell them they’re talking rubbish…and mostly, give them no sign that you are affected by their words and actions, even if you are affected at this moment. Fake it till you make it. It will reduce their power over you.

I’d like to say that they’ll eventually disappear from your life and leave your primary abuser to ‘gaslight’ you all by himself, but that’s unlikely to happen. I’ll tackle gaslighting in my next post. It’s the most devious, dangerous and cruel strategy of all. You need to be armed against it.

The Third Indicator of Narcissistic Abuse

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Narcissists know everything. They know something about everything and everything about something. And there’s simply nothing they know nothing about. They are never wrong and you’d better not forget it.

Once again, the unbridled ego of the true narcissist shines through in all its questionable glory. Most of us are truly baffled when we first encounter this persistent narcissistic trait. The statements that issue from the mouths (and pens) of narcissists are uttered with such complete confidence that we automatically question our own knowledge-base and experience. We doubt our own intellect. The average person is usually willing to consider new points of view and to modify their own attitudes in the face of new information.  So, we give people the benefit of the doubt and wait patiently for an intelligent discussion about the topic at hand.

When a narcissist presents this new ‘information’, however, they present it without a shred of evidence, but rather, with sweeping statements about their own expertise in the area. They just ‘know’. Yes, they’re quite ‘certain about it’. No, we needn’t worry about this possibility or that nuance because the narcissist has got it covered. He’s thought it all through already and we needn’t worry our pretty little heads about such things. He worked in the industry for years and is quite simply, an expert. We don’t know his background, of course. We’re simply expected to take his word, just as we were expected to take his word on other topics, like environmental concerns, tree-felling, child-rearing, Asian culture, Buddhism, photography, running of corporations, how to fix just about everything, engineering, medical procedures, the cosmos, origins of the universe, true spirituality and the God particle.

My art, my face when listening to a narcissistic know it all

My face in the company of a narcissistic know-it-all. Original artwork by me.

‘I’ve built roads before. I know all about their construction and the materials used. So, let me take charge of the project and elect me as chairman of the committee and I’ll get things done!’

And that’s the crux of it. They want you to hand over your power and self-efficacy – to them. They feed off it. And so, they manipulate your trust, goad you with smiles and promises, and dazzle you with their (generally fictitious and at least, highly exaggerated) ‘expert’ backgrounds.

(At this point the flying monkeys will be nodding their heads seriously and expressing their extreme gratitude for the aptitude and competence of the speaker, relieved to leave everything in his or her hands. It’s truly a wonder to behold – and we’ll take an in-depth look at the ‘Flying Monkey Phenomenon’ in my next post.)

Confidence is an attractive trait and it’s not surprising people are drawn to more confident people. As with all traits, a narcissist takes this one too far, however. It’s not a characteristic they truly embody but is part of their mask, their persona. They put it on like a superhero’s cape and when they flourish it, some of us tend to swoon. We’re caught in the web of deceit by a mere confidence trick.

It’s important to keep a rational head in the face of this particular dilemma. It’s tempting just to go along with the schemes presented and take the speaker at his word. It saves us doing some thinking and investigating for ourselves and it also saves us from the uncomfortable proposition of having to confront the speaker with his or her ‘error’. Hell hath no fury like a narcissist outed!

It’s not easy – and I would argue, often impossible – to hold on to your intellectual rigour when you’re closely involved with a covert narcissist, one who specializes in psychological and emotional abuse. You will already be suffering the psychological and emotional consequences of their relentless gaslighting. If you’re deep in a relationship with such a person and are currently reading these words, I don’t advise you to start confronting them with the truth – that they are wrong; they are mistaken; they are misinformed; and will cause problems if allowed to hold sway and forge ahead with their plans.

I suggest it would be safer for you to note my words and begin to regain control of your own inner truth. It will give you strength and allow you to begin believing in yourself and your own reality once more. Now is not the time to make quick decisions but perhaps to begin formulating the best way forward for yourself. Control of your own mind is one of the most important steps you can take at this time.

Don’t be persuaded by superficial or emotional argument. If he says the road-base supplied by the contractor contains deadly silica dust and can cause silicosis (which is a modern version of asbestosis), look it up! Is he correct? In the instance I’m recalling, he most definitely was not. Despite that, he managed to insult the contractor, abuse (using filthy language) the good-hearted person who’d hired the contractor, cause chaos and hysteria among the people who believed in his expertise and whom he’d worked up to a frenzy – and then, he sat back to thoroughly enjoy the circus. He actually laughed at others’ distress in the face of his abuse and manipulation.

In this example, I was not close to the perpetrator. It was relatively easy for me to take an objective stance, check the facts and call him out on it. I still suffered the inevitable consequences of social rejection and ostracization by himself and his flying monkeys, and the character assassination that ensued behind my back, but his opinion of me was of no consequence. In times past, I’ve not had that privilege.

I’ve been married to a similar personality. I was never allowed to challenge his ‘expertise’, his ‘superior’ opinions and his self-proclaimed competence in virtually every area of life. What I did note, however, was his jealousy – his covetousness. He couldn’t bear for me to know things he didn’t know or for me to handle certain situations better than he did. He took my strengths and undermined them so that he could convince me they were weaknesses and prove to himself, and others, how much better than me he was. That is not the action of one who loves. It is the action of one who seeks to destroy. It is hateful and poisonous. One of the most effective methods he used was to boldly claim his superiority, his rightness…about everything…and to do so publicly and loudly. It was humiliating. It was meant to be humiliating.

It is in some ways very difficult to break the indicators of narcissistic abuse into neat categories because they are all intricately linked. It’s not possible to grasp the full psychological and emotional impact of each indicator without considering the impact of all the others. They work together to undermine the psyche, to destroy self-esteem, self-worth, self-belief and cruelly, to destroy your very sanity.

Yet, there is still something to be gained from spelling out each diabolical trait. If there is someone close to you who is always right and will not brook argument; who always knows what needs to be done and will not be thwarted without retaliating with severe verbal, emotional and psychological abuse; who consistently places himself in the position of ‘expert’; who sweeps aside your questions and concerns; who will not listen to your alternative views…beware! This is an extremely serious indicator that you may be in the clutches of a narcissistic abuser.

If his ‘flying monkeys’ join the fray and attack you en masse with their vicious backlash, it’s time to exit with dignity.

My next post will address those foolish, blinded, flying monkeys. They’re chosen for a reason and are always to be found in the entourage of narcissistic abusers.

The Second Indicator of Narcissistic Abuse

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Arrogant businessman

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/holohololand

They are the best, most popular, most interesting ‘everything’ and they have the best, most popular, most interesting ‘everything’. Everyone and everything else is inferior.

I confess this aspect of narcissists is particularly galling in that they actually have the gall to believe what they’re telling us, and they display a total lack of humility in the telling. I emotionally and physically recoil from the bold, unfounded claims of such unbridled egos. They raise my hackles. Perhaps someone in your life raises your hackles for similar reasons. We all like to feel good about ourselves but there’s a line most of us won’t cross; a line of decency and rational thinking. We are all flawed beings…unless we are narcissists.

I’ve heard such astounding claims as:

‘We were the most popular family in the whole school. We were always treated as though we’re special. People gave us things no-one else got.’ The earnest facial expression that accompanied this statement almost elicited an eyeroll from me, which would, of course had resulted in days of retribution from father (who aided and abetted the outrageous claims) and son alike, had I not checked myself.

‘I have the best music. The best!’ How I hated listening to that guy’s unique blend of Thai country music and heavy metal and, of course, he played it loud enough for the whole neighbourhood to hear, convinced we enjoyed it as much as he did. This fellow was also always ‘right’ about everything and he knew everything about something and something about everything. We’ll tackle that in my next post (Indicator number 3), as it’s a universal trait of narcissists.

‘I own expensive antiques.’ They were in such a state of filthy disrepair, they were, in fact, worth nothing.

‘I’m the well-calibrated one.’ (Naturally, I was the crazy one. There’s no way a narcissist will share his pedestal.)

‘I know I’m pretty.’ (Actually, that claim was debatable and was a surprise coming from a teenage girl, a group who are almost universally afflicted with a terrible self-consciousness and lack of faith in their own attributes.)

‘My children never lie.’ Translated to, ‘My children are perfect.’ They were also never rude, or unreasonable, or too loud or too sulky, or anything other than absolutely perfect. He wore their ‘perfection’ as a badge of his own superiority. (Poor kids, what chance did they have?)

ordinary house graphic‘My house is worth a million dollars.’ It wasn’t, and ended up selling for a lot less.

‘I did nothing wrong in my first marriage.’ Again, I’m perfect! The first wife, who suicided, might beg to differ, were she still around to tell her story.

‘I’m the teacher’s favourite.’ Cue in another almost-eyeroll. In case I sound as though I have no understanding or compassion for children, this young fellow was simply following in his father’s well-warn narcissistic footsteps and I was powerless to stop it. I waited for his words to be tempered by some wisdom from his father. It never came…because his father agreed with him, his son being perfect, after all. This is one way in which future narcissists are formed. (Are they born or are they bred? That’s a topic for a whole new post.)

‘I’m the best artist and I should have got the academic award for art, not him!’ This claim was fully supported by the speaker’s father who might have taken the opportunity to give a lesson in humility, or perhaps fairness and work ethic. Truth was, she was definitely a talented artist but she didn’t put in the work, and was simply trumped by someone who did.

‘Look around you, darling. We’re millionaires.’ A self-satisfied, smug, arrogant expression settled on his face when he made this claim, which was often over the years. You’ll probably notice a pattern developing by now and guess that we weren’t millionaires at all. You’d be right. Almost everything we owned was caught up in property; plus, neither of us was working (me, due to ill health, him, because he didn’t want to), so our funds were dwindling rapidly while he held onto his fantasy.

‘I haven’t lost my boyish good looks.’ I know people say such things in humour but this statement was made in complete seriousness. Another debatable claim.

‘I wasn’t appreciated at work. I worked harder than anyone else and I was good at it.’

‘Look at her. (His daughters, his nieces, his sisters). She’s so beautiful. She’s gorgeous! Perfect in every way. Look at her dress! Stunning!’ He would say this over and over and over, especially after a few too many drinks. There was something emotionally incestuous about it that made my skin crawl. Looking back, it was most likely due to his overwhelming need to ‘own’ perfect things; the best things, even if those ‘things’ were people.

Mercifully, my experiences have become a distant memory and now raise only a rye smile and a shake of my head. If you’re caught up with a narcissist, however, you’ll have your own unique story of your narcissist’s ‘perfection’ to tell. If you’ve ever deigned to disagree with their bold claims of superiority, you’ll remember their retaliation acutely. So acutely, I’m willing to guess, that you’ve dared not disagree again. Trying to hold a rational conversation with your tormentor about the reality of their situation, and of their dysfunctional ‘self-concept’ is always going to end in battle. And you will lose.

An out-sized ego will interpret any attempt to encourage self-reflection as a direct assault. They will feel attacked, and when they feel attacked, you already know how that ends for you.

We all have our blind spots and our little vanities but, if you’re living with someone who repeatedly claims the limelight and has no trouble articulating how magnificent they are, in every aspect of life, often enough to make you feel uncomfortable…trust those uncomfortable feelings.

Spend some time thinking about the ways in which your abuser claims bragging rights. Is it normal or over the top?

Are they the best at practically everything? Is their family perfect, even in the face of direct evidence to the contrary? Are they inordinately proud of their income, their home, their achievements, their children, their amazing contribution to every aspect of life? I would love to hear some of your stories.

Stay posted for Indicator Number 3: Narcissists know everything. They know something about everything and everything about something.

 

 

The First Indicator of Narcissistic Abuse

mahir-uysal-asHiWQGUPhU-unsplashI’d intended to write a succinct post about the ‘ten indicators you’re in a relationship with a narcissistic abuser’. After some reflection, however, I’ve decided that’s far too trite a way to treat the subject and that each indicator, whether it be number ten, twelve or forty-three, needs to be broken down and discussed in detail. There are enough short, snappy ‘bites’ out there on the internet to whet anyone’s appetite on the subject. When you’re deep in the labyrinth of narcissistic, psychological and emotional abuse, however… you need so much more.

Abuse is not trite. It is not a flippant or easily understood phenomenon. If you’re in its grips, you need detail, time to absorb that detail, and some guideposts out of the darkness. You need to feel ‘heard’ and ‘understood’. You need to know you’re not alone. You need…more than a list.

So, let’s begin slowly and I’ll do my best to walk you through the details and help you find a way forward.

Does someone in your life fly off the handle at the slightest criticism? And is it invariably your fault?

caricaature of angry man

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.com/

 

This is a big warning sign you may be in the clutches of an abusive, controlling personality, one that may have, at its core, a huge sense of entitlement. A balanced personality understands we’re not perfect, we all make mistakes and sometimes it’s appropriate for others to point out these faults and request change. We may not like it and sometimes we might bristle and feel hurt, but we won’t lash out with a tirade of abuse or with days of passive aggressive silent treatment, at least not often.

An abusive person with an overabundance of narcissism however, will lash out regularly and brutally, so much so you’ll find yourself constantly walking on eggshells, waiting with a sick, sinking feeling in your gut for the next cruel verbal, or even physical outburst. You are, in fact, hypervigilant. This may be so much a part of your life you believe it’s normal. It’s not. It’s a highly dysfunctional, unhealthy way to live and the stress will likely lead to both physical and psychological/emotional illness, if it hasn’t already. Don’t let this continue to be your normal, as hard as it must be to wrap your head around how things could ever be different. Perhaps it’s been this way for so long, you don’t know any other way to live. I feel your pain acutely. This was once my normal, too.

One of the most baffling aspects of that time in my life is that the majority of the ‘criticism’ for which my abuser rounded on me, were imagined slights. I never knew when a word, a joke, a question or observation, or a mere ‘look on my face’ would trigger an attack out of nowhere. The harder I tried to monitor my every word and movement, the more sudden and frequent the attacks became. He was simply screwing the vice tighter and tighter, not wanting me to wriggle free of its grip. It was as if he truly hated me instead of loving me as much as he avowed he did. It didn’t feel like love. I knew that but assumed it was my fault. If he was so certain everything was my fault, and confidently, loudly told me so time and again, then surely it must be my fault.

Sound familiar? Are you nodding your head and silently saying, ‘Yeah, me too’?

There were many times I literally couldn’t figure out the reason for his sudden rages. He would be happy and joking one minute, wild-eyed and furious the next. What had I done? I’d spend hours, sometimes days wracking my brains to unearth a sane explanation for his latest ambush. The shock tactics were all part of the strategy. If the ‘enemy’ attacks you from behind, you expect it. You don’t expect it from someone you believe loves you. And so it goes, round and round, for months and years and sometimes decades.

If this is happening to you, please stop trying to unravel a rational explanation for your abuser’s actions. The truth is, controlling and abusive people don’t think rationally the way stable people do. Their mindset and world-view are simply not rational. Trying to see the logic in their thinking is a ticket straight to a psych ward where your stay may be protracted. It will literally drive you mad because that’s exactly what it’s intended to do. Your abuser wants you to look like the crazy one because that affirms his/her place as the well-calibrated, long-suffering martyr. It helps preserve their thin veneer of superiority.

I’ll leave you to digest my words for today and tackle the next ‘red flag’ over the coming days. If you are struggling with this issue and would like further information and support, please contact me via the contact form on this website.

The Warrior Muse is Back

It’s been a while…far too long…since I’ve posted anything significant in ‘Killing Me Softly.’ At some point, I’ve gradually entered a comfort zone. A safe zone. At which point, my soul and spirit have felt free and unfettered. And then…another turning point…which didn’t take place in an instant, but over months. Months of reflection and confusion. Life has changed, as it is bound to do, for better or for worse. Mine changed for the better in recent years, as I have cast off the shackles of narcissistic abuse and control…and I basque in this peace, consolation and freedom. Who’d have thought, way back then? Who’d have thought that I might have freed myself from a narcissistic and abusive relationship…only to find that beyond that milestone, lay others, equally complex, yet I confess, far less painful?

I have reached a point where I can unequivocally say…all changes are beneficial, if we delve deep enough to find the nuggets of truth. In the words of Viktor Frankl, philosopher, psychiatrist and World War II concentration camp survivor, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.‘ Even if the only choice left to us is how we choose to die. Do we do so with grace and dignity? Or not?

As I recall, from my reading of Viktor Frankl’s publication, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, he encountered people at all points on the spectrum during the time he spent shuffled between four different concentration camps in Nazi Germany. He encountered those who fought over, and killed for, the last scrap of food, and those who gave their last scrap of food away, only to die of starvation. In the end, it is always a choice.

And so it is for narcissists. They are no more exempt from conscious choice than the rest of us. They would just have us believe it is so…that they are victims of circumstances so ‘special’, and of intelligence and value so unique, that they are exempt from moral responsibility. Don’t buy the lie. These are lazy, self-centered, cruel and vicious human beings (if they are indeed, fully human), utterly devoid of empathy and social responsibility. Their world exists only to serve them. They make gods of themselves, and sadly we find them at the helm of far too many religious organizations; far too many families and far too many political parties. Narcissism has risen tenfold in as many years.

They are yesterday’s despots, yesterday’s tyrants. They are today’s mainstream leaders in all walks of life. Don’t buy the lie.

The Hoover Manoeuvre – Getting Sucked Back In

sharks hoovering

So you’ve tried to leave your abusive ex, have finally made your narrow escape and regained some threads of your sanity. Whew!

Until…

You find yourself inundated with emails and text messages telling you how much they miss you and will always love you. And then they’ll begin to reminisce about the good times and about all the wonderful things you’ve achieved together. They paint such a nostalgic picture of the perfect family unit, the beautiful home, your amazing children, the plans you talked about for your shared future and everything you both stand to lose if you stay separated.

Ouch! The pangs of nostalgia can be excruciating…and inviting. Your tormentor wasn’t abusive in the beginning, after all. It may have been many years before her true colours began to show…perhaps under the usual stresses and strains of marriage and childbirth; perhaps when the financial pressures began to mount up. But don’t forget that the monster inside her did finally emerge and once she was ensconced, she (or he, of course) is there for the term of your natural life. Mr Hyde, once released from inside Dr Jekyll, was forever fused with whatever good had previously existed inside him. Hyde soon overpowered Jekyll until the good doctor no longer existed. That’s the way it works.

Hopefully, you manage to withstand the lure of such sweet descriptions of the idyllic aspects of your shared past. And believe me, it is a lure, bright and shining, dangling enticingly before your eyes. Once you allow yourself to be drawn in closer though, the bait will be ready and waiting for you.

She knows you’re hungry…emotionally…because by this stage she’s skillfully isolated you from so many things in life that are essential to your well-being. She has spent years stripping you bare of everything, other than herself (and her sphere of influence), that sustains you. She controls your friends, your extended family and most of all, your children; perhaps even your grandchildren. She still has a tight rein on your finances and assets. Controlling people are sure to set things up in such a way as to make it near impossible for you to leave. Well…you may be able to leave…but when you do, you may not be able to survive. That’s all part of their master-plan.

bait-catch-coho-salmon-1058295She knows that, at some point, if she’s persistent enough (and controlling people are persistent to the point of madness), you’ll find yourself so frenzied that you’ll gulp that bait right down. Once that hook is embedded in your soul, you’ll be reeled in, hook, line and sinker. The more you thrash, the more it hurts; and the only option is for you to return to her loving embrace so she can remove that hook and ease your pain.

Clever, isn’t it? In a sick, carnal, primitive and conniving way, that is.

What you don’t know, at this point, is that the ocean in which you’d begun to swim freely, as scary as it was (your first taste of freedom always is) is nowhere near as terrifying as the shark tank into which she’s about to toss you.

You’ll find yourself once again belting at the four walls that metaphorically enclose you. No one but she can hear you. It’s just you in that tank…you and the sharks. And now…they are hungry for you. Recognize those sharks? You should. They are her ‘flying monkeys’…trained to do her bidding. Read more about flying monkeys here.

baby monkey on mothers back

Is it possible to resist the bait, no matter how hungry you think you are? First, you have to recognize what that bait is and understand that it’s pure poison. That’s the hard part. Why? Because the bait will look good and smell good. It will be incredibly tempting…a little like your favourite drink laced with arsenic.

You need to know your own triggers…your weak points…your vulnerabilities. We all have them and they’re not, in and of themselves, a negative thing. Unless we allow them to be used against us.

What might those vulnerabilities be? Your responsibilities to your children? Your parents approval? Your co-workers esteem or your fears for your financial future? Perhaps they’re less tangible…your need for affection, recognition, or kudos for doing the ‘right’ thing? Your need to see your marriage as a success and not a failure? The need to make your father proud? The possibilities are as numerous as the personalities of abuse victims themselves. You can guarantee though, that guilt trips will be used left, right and crooked, until you feel like you’re the abuser when the truth is the polar opposite.

When your self-esteem is so low that you believe everything she says about you, internalizing it until you feel utterly worthless without her approval, you’re in deep trouble…and she knows it. She knows it’s not going to be too difficult to hook you back into her web of control.

Even if you don’t recognize your vulnerabilities yourself, you can be certain your abuser does. And she uses those vulnerabilities as bait, disguising her weapon, that agonizing hook, with whatever is bound to tempt you most. Once you take the bait, you’re in for another tortuous round. The abuse cycle begins again. Come in Spinner.

You’ve been sucked back in to the vortex. In the words of popular treatises on abuse, you’ve been ‘hoovered.’ A la the emotional vacuum cleaner.

Some of the sharks who will be circling you in that claustrophobic tank I referred to, waiting for the kill, will be the very people your abuser has deliberately enlisted to her cause and has turned against you. They will be people you care about very much – your children, your family of origin, your friends and co-workers. The temptation to let them do her bidding will be overwhelming, given the fragility of your identity and self-esteem, which she has skillfully and relentlessly eroded over time.

I hope and pray the time will come when you can say ‘enough is enough’. A time when you can recognize that you are worthy of so much more. A time when you also realize that the people who have been poisoned against you, need you to help them back to emotional health.

You can best achieve this by employing the tough love principle and not allowing yourself to be bullied, brow-beaten and emotionally blackmailed into submission. Show the world, especially your loved ones, who you really are. Put up the boundaries that will ensure you are respected, not used. Claim your destiny, which is never meant to include subjugation and control, and watch your loved ones…eventually…over time…claim theirs. If you can’t think of yourself at this time…please understand there are others who need you to show your strength – for the benefit of their soul’s growth.

This post is intensely personal, as I’m standing by helplessly, watching someone I love very much, being sucked back into a horrendously abusive situation. I see all the traps, all the manipulation, all the guilt trips and cruelty…and I stand by, and can do nothing. I can only hope and pray that he will soon understand his true worth; that he deserves the highest kind of love, not the abased version he currently submits to.

Never forget what your abuser does to you. Forgive…by all means. But never forget. Watch for my next post…’The Art of Not Forgetting.’

Love and light.

 

 

 

 

 

Using Religion to Justify Domestic Abuse

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I’ve had the privilege of being a personal assistant to a gifted psychologist who is also a dedicated and genuine Christian. During that time I was privy to hundreds of patient files containing their narratives, their issues, their hopes, their dreams and mostly, their pain. Due to confidentiality requirements, I’m not going to share any of their stories here.

I can, however, share the insights I gained, not only from access to personal information but also from my own conversations with clients I formed relationships with as they sat in my small office, which doubled as a waiting room. Hardly able to contain their emotions while waiting to be called into my boss’s office, many opened up and spilled aspects of their stories while I did my best to make them feel welcome and safe. I’ll ever be grateful for their trust and for what they’ve taught me about life, love and learning.

In itself, faith in God is not to blame.  Narcissists however, use their religious beliefs to manipulate, control and dominate you through fear. To them, religion is a golden tower behind which they hide their dark, shadowy side; standing firmly behind that golden tower while they whip you with out of context scriptures and archane, patriarchal (usually but not always) tactics designed to keep you downtrodden. They tend to have impossible standards of spiritual and moral perfection you have no hope of attaining, leaving you feeling insecure and inadequate. As soon as they perceive that vulnerability, which they’ve carefully cultivated in you, they’ll hone in on it and use it against you at every turn.

Let’s look at that much-quoted and misrepresented biblical admonition for wives to ‘submit’ to their husbands. This is, of course, a misogynistic favourite. It’s all too easy to wield it over the heads of women who desire, with all their hearts, to live according to God’s word. ‘Submit!’ shouts the priest from the pulpit, shaking his fist at a sea of bowed feminine heads. ‘Submit!’ bellows the controlling husband, waving the holy book in front of his wife’s tearful face. ‘Submit!’ order the religious texts written by those ignorant of the nuances of language and translation.

Submit. This one six-letter word has been used to strike fear into the hearts of millions of women for thousands of years…but what does it really mean?

Its original meaning is simple and beautiful. To ‘submit’ means to ‘lift up’. We are to lift up our menfolk to encourage them, and to give them comfort and support. We are, of course, to lift them up in prayer. But there’s another aspect to consider, one that is rarely spoken about. It’s this. We are to lift up our husbands by helping them to stay on that narrow path God calls us to follow; and that means we are to correct them, albeit respectfully, when they stray from that path, and help guide them back to the light, if you will. That means saying ‘no’ sometimes; disagreeing; insisting on respectful and loving treatment and objecting when they become too steeped in worldly things. Ah yes, that’s something narcissists don’t want to hear.

And let’s not forget it works both ways. That is, we are to submit one to another. Yes, husbands must uplift their wives also. It’s worth noting too, that the instruction to submit is specifically meant for husbands and wives. It does not imply that all women are meant to submit to all men; or vice versa.

Sadly, I have witnessed many pious women, their shoulders hunched and eyes cast down, enter through the therapist’s door. After years of ‘submitting’ (in the wrong sense of the word) to controlling husbands, waiting for God to intervene and mend their marriages and their hearts, they come to a Christian counsellor for instruction. Those who walked through my employer’s door were lucky indeed. They’d found a psychologist with an educated understanding of scripture and a rich, deep faith. Without a doubt, she is also one of the strongest, most assertive women I’ve ever met. Those downtrodden women invariably left her office with their heads held a little higher. It was a pleasure to watch them blossom as she taught them how to become the women God intended them to be. Sometimes, that meant the end of their marriages, a possibility they believed God would never condone.

But trust me, God does not condone abuse.

But the bible says God hates divorce, doesn’t it? Well, yes, it does…sort of.

In fact, the word divorce turns up in the scriptures a number of times, in both the old and new testaments and in different contexts. These contexts are important, as are the nuances of language and the difficulties of translation. Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic (the language Yeshua spoke) cannot easily be directly translated into English. Translating first into Greek, as most of the scriptures were, adds another layer of complexity. There can be several degrees of separation between the original meanings and contexts of words and phrases, and their current meanings and contexts.

The word divorce is a perfect example. In Matthew 19, for instance, it is made clear that a man is not to ‘put away’ one wife and marry another. In modern texts, this ‘putting away’ is translated as ‘divorce’. Seems clear enough at first reading, doesn’t it? But let’s look further.

What does to ‘put away’ really mean? Wisdom dictates that it means much more than to separate physically from a woman, or to instigate legal proceedings for divorce. A man can put a woman away from him by a thousand emotional and psychological cuts. (Please note that in the author’s opinion, a woman can do exactly the same thing but they are not as easily excused in religious circles.) Words have the power of life and death over the human spirit; they can be wielded like a sword. In a spiritual sense, words can be used to murder. If a man and a woman become one – a unity in spirit – and yet one of them severs that unity with a spiritual weapon, is this not putting that person away from them in the most brutal manner?

This then, is what God truly hates. In His eyes, divorce has already taken place at the severing of the spiritual and emotional bond between a man and a woman; a bond that is meant to be both tender and strong; a bond that is meant to fulfill a higher purpose.

Abuse (not only physical and sexual abuse but psychological/emotional abuse, too) severs that bond. From a spiritual perspective, there is no difference. Yet the Church frequently teaches us the contrary. And so domestic violence in all its forms is aided and abetted by religion, despite God Himself prohibiting it in no uncertain terms.
Read more at Narcissistic Religious Abuse Tactics.

I’ve not attempted to delve into institutional abuse in this post. That hotly debated topic could take years to unravel and is, I believe, not within my area of expertise. If you have been abused at the hands of anyone within a religious setting, the damage will go deep. You need love, acceptance and understanding. I urge you to seek outside help…and to keep searching until you find a caring, supportive therapist you feel comfortable with. It will undoubtedly be extremely difficult for you to trust someone in authority, and with good reason. Don’t give up. You were meant to fulfil a unique purpose in your life, not to suffer endlessly because of the heinous actions of other human beings.

One of the most disturbing phenomena occurring within church circles, and which receives no press, is the tendency to alienate women who’ve made the decision to leave abusive husbands, after years of cruelty.  Far too often, I’ve witnessed these women being ousted from their spiritual families. Cut off! Deprived of spiritual and emotional support. Quite literally, they’ve been told they’re no longer welcome in the church ‘family’. Their spouses, however…men…remain safely cloistered within patriarchal circles. Their spiritual lives don’t miss a beat. Their friends and mentors don’t drop away. For women…hurting, abused and used women…the story is so different. They find themselves alone and friendless, carrying all the guilt and shame the church ‘fathers’ have foisted upon them.

It’s time to shine light upon the darkness.

I have no doubt that abuse is actively or passively promoted by certain factions within virtually every religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Hindu, Scientology or Callithumpian! I’ve spoken exclusively from my own experience within the Christian community from both sides of the therapist’s door.

Love and light.