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!