An Antidote To Narcissistic Abuse
Knowing yourself, your feelings, your values and your boundaries is the key to preventing narcissistic abuse. Authenticity is the antidote to narcissistic abuse.
As the new calendar year begins, we are challenged to reflect on the past year of experiences and to create goals for the upcoming one. News stories since at least November 2016 have been dominated by the outrageous antics of a certain Cheeto in Chief. Such antics bring attention to a common cycle of behavior: that of narcissistic abuse. Though not every person that engages in this interpersonal pattern of behavior is a diagnosable narcissist, it is worthwhile to understand how ourselves or others may engage in this abusive pattern. Furthermore, identifying preventative coping strategies can protect us from inflicting or being the target of such abuse.
The cycle of narcissistic abuse can be distilled into 3 phases: idealize, devalue, dispose. The first phase is usually the public face one puts one in the beginning of a relationship or after the cycle has been completed and begins once more. The target of idealization is showered with praise, compliments, and other behavior that communicates that they are highly regarded. It is classic love-bombing. This also creates a neurological bond between the two parties and the release of feel-good neurochemicals such as oxytocin.
The second phase is devaluation. This is when the love-bombing ceases in ways both subtle and overt. Perhaps it starts with someone suddenly not returning texts right away. Or they ghost. Maybe interactions start to feel less affirming and there is an almost imperceptible undercurrent of criticism or negativity. This may create stress in the target because there is no concrete communication about why the interaction changed. On a neurochemical level, one may experience the symptoms of withdrawal and cravings.
The final phase is to dispose. This is when the cycle is finished and there is nothing left but the abuser’s indifference. This indifference is cold and unsettling – especially in contrast to the warmth that was initially expressed during idealization. Sometimes this leaves the target in a confused state of cognitive dissonance where they are trying to reconcile the contradictory nature of the abuser’s behavior. This is a state where the target may have to deal with the pain of the emotional roller coaster that they just got off.
They key to understanding this behavior is to know that narcissism requires emotional fuel from others in order to operate. It takes two to do the toxic tango. If both parties are not invested in this emotional cycle, then it is likely the abuser will find a more suitable partner.
Grandiose vs. Vulnerable Narcissism
Not all narcissistic behavior is flamboyant or egomaniacal. Sometimes it comes in subtle forms. The difference in these two styles can be described as an extroverted versus introverted approach. The grandiose approach is characterized by a sense of superiority, boldness, and insensitivity. The vulnerable approach is characterized by defensiveness, avoidance, and hypersensitivity. Nonetheless, both are very self-absorbed. Sometimes both styles are displayed simultaneously.
Their actions don’t match their words
Abusers behave inappropriately and use words to avoid accountability. They will say what is necessary to keep the target engaged in the cycle. Recognizing the differences in the narrative of someone’s actions and the narrative that they verbally present reveals where manipulation may occur. Gaslighting is also cornerstone of this behavior.
They covertly dictate the reality of what is happening
This is a behavior that tends to fly under the radar but it is perceivable because the abuser both overtly and covertly tells you how to interpret a situation. Sometimes it is by telling you the kind of person they want you to think they are (“I’m a nice guy!”) or how they think you should interpret a situation. Perhaps they vehemently disagree with your opinions. Or they use passive resistance and stonewalling to influence your behavior.
They are often at the top of a self-created hierarchy
This is the classic us versus them paradigm. Either you’re in or out with the abuser. They’re social world is exclusionary and decision-making power about who is included is reserved solely for them. The spotlight is warm when you’re in it but it’s ice cold when you’re not. They tend to find justifications to reject social norms or people because of their supposedly incredible standards and values. Social media can also be a medium in which to perpetuate such hierarchies.
You’re always on their bandwagon and they’re rarely on yours
You keep finding yourself helping them out with their life responsibilities or tagging along on their agenda. It’s like you’re perpetually the third wheel. Your activities are not collaborative and are subject to their approval. They find ways to dodge doing anything on your agenda because they would never tag along or be a third wheel themselves. Your shared activities tend to benefit them, their life, and their entertainment yet the benefits to you are difficult to identify.
They bail at crucial times
You need emotional support at a time that is not convenient to the abuser? Prepare to go it alone. Do they say call me “anytime” but they are not available at any time that you initiate contact? Do you need help moving and they’ve enthusiastically said they’ll help only to ghost? Do you invite them to special occasions (such as to celebrate your achievements) but, oh gee, they have this important thing and they can’t make it? If the relationship is not in the idealization stage, the abuser will probably not be very available.
You’re exhausted after spending time with them
Narcissism requires energetic fuel. They get it by using other people to build themselves up. Once they have enough fuel, they don’t need the source (you) anymore until it is time to refuel.
Knowing yourself, your feelings, your values and your boundaries is the key to preventing narcissistic abuse. Authenticity is the antidote to narcissism! To be yourself is the best thing you can do for yourself, period. Honor the love and compassion and intelligence of your being. Honor your interests, your family, your feelings, your thoughts, and your experience. Never forget that you are the most important person in your life and no one can replace that. Get to know YOU.
Know Your Values
Understand what you are morally okay with and not okay with. Cultures, societies, communities, families, and individuals are all guided by value systems. Remember that you are a crucial part of various interdependent communities. Be a good community member. Take the time to identify what qualities you care about and think will enable you to grow into your best self. Stick to those values no matter what.
Regularly Gut Check
Take the time to ask yourself what you are feeling and why. People’s day-to-day lives move so fast that we don’t pause to reflect on our present experience. Don’t overlook how you feel now because you are too caught up thinking about the future and what you gotta do. Your body will respond to how things feel. Listen. To. Your. Intuition!
Identify Your Boundaries
You know what is appropriate for you because you know yourself and your values. You know what is healthy for you. You know what serves your best interest. It is your job to keep yourself safe, healthy, and happy and nothing should get in the way of that. Sometimes we cross our own boundaries and it doesn’t feel good. Such situations are an opportunity to get to know ourselves better and make more appropriate decisions in the future.
Be your own hero
You don’t need an unstable person in your life if you are confident in who you are and in your life’s journey. Remember that you have a special purpose to discover in this life. You are on your own hero’s journey!
The ability to take a step back and reflect on recent events is valuable. This allows one to identify what feels healthy and safe. It also puts one in a state of self-sufficiency so that you know you can rely on yourself no matter what. Having a stable social world is crucial to our happiness as social creatures. That social world also includes your relationship to yourself.
Narcissistic abuse is not acceptable and is harmful to both individuals and communities. Though we can’t always physically remove ourselves from abusers or this cycle, developing our own stability and emotional resilience can help up cope with unbalanced social dynamics. Being able to identify how cycles of abuse work (not limited to narcissistic abuse) empowers us to be assertive in having healthy interpersonal relations. Lastly, this knowledge enables us to become more secure, confident, and loving beings.