Warning: this post contains possible triggers for survivors of emotional & psychological abuse.
For my entire life, I have had my feelings questioned, mocked, and dictated to me by the ones who were supposed to love me the most. The message I’ve received is that my feelings are wrong, invalid, merely a tool of manipulation, and/or I am not entitled to them at all. Furthermore, others are more entitled to their opinions about my feelings and why I am experiencing them. I now know that is not true, and I am working to repair the damage it has caused, as it has affected every aspect of my life.
Narcissists love to share their expertise on everything, especially when it comes to other people’s emotions. After all, they are experts on…well, just about everything if you ask them, but particularly feelings. (Obviously.) They won’t hesitate to let anyone know what they think of their emotions (and opinions for that matter), which is that they are unforgivably wrong if they are not in total alignment with that of the narcissist. Why? In my view, there are a few reasons.
1. The Narcissist is Always Right
Because the narcissist is always right in their mind, if someone has a negative reaction to their behavior, that person must be wrong. For example, my first memory is being berated by my father from the driver’s seat of the car as I sat defenselessly in the backseat. He was screaming at me about how stupid I was. I have no idea what I could have possibly done to deserve that degree of a verbal tirade at such a young age, as I couldn’t have been much older than about three years. (But then again, I rarely knew what I was getting in trouble for with him. He was very volatile and anything could set him off.)
I remember saying, “I’m not stupid,” over and over again as I sobbed. I remember watching my mom through tear soaked eyes as she sat in the passenger seat doing nothing to stop it, wondering why she wouldn’t defend me (she must have agreed with him), which turned out to be a theme throughout my life. Then I got in even more trouble for “arguing” with him and he threatened to “give me something to cry about” (that was a favorite of his) because, in his mind, his abuse of me was completely warranted due to whatever minor infraction I had just committed. I remember him twisting the situation and actually managing to become the victim of a toddler by accusing me of trying to manipulate him by crying (another of his greatest hits).
A couple of days ago, my soon-to-be ex did the same thing to me. Here’s the extremely abridged story. We started arguing. The topic and reason don’t matter because the outcome was the same as it always is. There was no resolution because he cannot communicate constructively, and resorts to abuse to “win” any argument. When I reacted to his belittling of my emotions, he became exceptionally condescending, said some more incredibly hurtful things dressed up as his opinions to which he is entitled (of course), and then told me my feelings about it were ridiculous. I told him I felt like I was about to cry in a foolish attempt to communicate my pain to him, and his response was, “of course you are! That’s your go-to!” (Smacks of accusing me of trying to manipulate him with my tears, doesn’t it? I was trying to get him to understand that he was hurting me and to stop being abusive toward me, so we could talk rationally. If that’s manipulation, so be it.) When I tried explaining that I was legitimately hurt by what he said, he went into stonewall mode and told me to leave him alone; thereby, successfully (in his mind) becoming my victim because he didn’t want to talk about it anymore, and I was trying to make him do something against his will. He knew he couldn’t “win” the argument, so he shut me down with insults and wouldn’t let me speak, because he thinks whomever has the last word automatically wins. The whole thing is fairly despicable and 100% pathetic when you stop to think about it.
Playing the victim is an excellent way to shift blame and continue being right. Moreover, it is key to maintaining the narcissist’s facade. When the target reacts to the abuse naturally, they will minimize their own actions and dismiss the other person’s feelings, because if they acknowledge their behavior as the cause, they can no longer be right. Additionally, this requires them to turn the situation around and paint the target as the aggressor or abuser. To that end, the narcissist will use any of the other abusive tactics they have in their arsenal to manipulate their target, control other people’s perception of that person, and portray themselves as the victim.
2. You Are Their Projector Screen
Compounded by their inability to see people for who they genuinely are, and their unbelievable lack of empathy for others, narcissists are masters of projection. They project their own traits, behaviors, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings onto their targets, while mimicking that person’s positive characteristics. They essentially have two selves: a false self and a true self. The false self is a facade they project outwardly for others to see and to protect their true selves. It is mainly comprised of an idealized, grandiose version of themselves, combined with some of their target’s most admirable attributes, and it masks their true self, which has been critically damaged. Since their primary goal is preserving their false self, they use projection as a way to free themselves of their undesirable personality traits and transfer them to the target by accusing them of doing the very things the narcissist is guilty of doing. Oh, the hypocrisy!
For the narcissist, projection has the happy side effect of gaslighting. Projecting inaccurate character flaws onto the target, or telling them how they feel, for instance, is effectively gaslighting them. Take this example from my childhood. Not surprisingly, my father was not the most patient person. Some of my earliest memories are of being screamed at to hurry when getting ready to leave the house to go somewhere before I was even school aged. Then my father would become enraged and accuse me of purposefully going slower just because he wanted me to go faster. He would proclaim that it proved how stupid I must be, because I was obviously trying to make him angry. Please believe me, I promise I was not doing it on purpose because, contrary to his projection, I was not stupid. If I was, indeed, going slower, it was probably because there was a maniac standing over me screaming the whole time I tried to get ready, and I was a terrified little kid. I’ve also never gotten my jollies by intentionally fucking with another human being, so that had to be some kind of projection, too. I did everything within my teeny-tiny power to avoid his wrath at all times.
To give a more recent example from a different type of relationship, during our latest argument, my soon-to-be ex was literally jumping up and down like a toddler in front of me while calling me immature. As a matter of fact, projecting his immaturity on to me is a common defense mechanism. On many occasions in the past, he has used gaslighting, condescension, infantilizing, lying, and denial against me during arguments, and then when I inevitably became upset, he would suddenly be done with it, and I was the immature one for wanting to talk about my feelings. So, in other words, he thinks it’s acceptable to insult someone, but if they want to talk about how it made them feel, they are unreasonable and immature. Sorry, pal, but that’s not going to work anymore.
3. Gaslighting is Fun, Mental, and Fundamental
Dictating the emotions of others allows the narcissistic abuser to utilize their go-to abuse tactic: Gaslighting. For a narcissist, nothing is more enjoyable than talking in circles around their target, spinning their head by twisting their words, then interrupting them so they can’t explain themselves, and telling them what they actually meant, what they really think, and how they feel. They will even say things like, “I know you better than you know yourself,” in an attempt to convince their targets that their perception of themselves is incorrect. As a result, the target becomes too dizzy with confusion to defend themselves anymore.
However, it’s not all fun and games. A crucial function is also served. Constantly telling someone what they think, how they feel, what they’re feeling is wrong, or that they’re overreacting, erodes their perception, self-confidence, and sense of self. Over time, this causes the target to question everything, including their own sanity, not only giving the narcissist instant gratification, but priming the target to become an ongoing source of narcissistic supply as well. Simply put, narcissists (and other abusers) have to break their targets down because healthy people don’t allow themselves to be abused.
Aside from making the target feel crazy because their emotions are always being challenged and invalidated, it can also make them appear that way to others, which offers the narcissist a certain amount of protection in the form of credibility. Other people in their lives will begin to side with the abuser, as they witness the decline in the target’s mental state. Consequently, the lies the narcissist tells about the target will ring true. This aids them in isolating the target from anyone who might help or be of support to them. Now when they say, “you need help,” there will be a chorus of flying monkeys to back them up. As a parent, it’s even easier for the narcissistic abuser to manipulate other family members, friends, teachers, counselors, etc. into believing the child is the problem, and they are a loving parent trying to do what is best for them. In a romantic relationship, the narcissist might start by dropping hints to mutual friends about their partner’s “strange” behavior, irritability, or overreactions; probably playing it off as concern, so those people will be less likely to believe the target if they try to ask for help.
Putting It All Together
Once I awakened to the reality that I was the victim of narcissistic abuse, I began the long and enduring process of putting together the pieces of my life puzzle. Suddenly, so much of it made sense and I started remembering things I had forgotten long ago, which surprised me because I remembered more of my childhood than most people seem to already. I actually have kind of a scary memory, so when other incidents came flooding back, it was considerably traumatic for me. I wasn’t prepared for the memories to get worse, and sometimes I thought I couldn’t handle it.
It is very nearly impossible for those who have not gone through it to understand narcissistic abuse and the severity of its effects on survivors. And other family members are almost certainly too entrenched in their own role in the narcissistic family dynamic to see it for what it is. If you suddenly find yourself realizing you have been the victim of this kind of abuse, please know that you are not alone, and it is/was not your fault. You were never the problem; your abuser is and was. You are worthy of love, and you are way more than enough. Educate and empower yourself. With knowledge comes understanding; with understanding comes hope.
Personal note: It’s been a little while! I had an awesome visit with my sister and family in New York! My nephew is doing better than expected, so I won’t give up hope that he’ll beat the odds! I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know my nephew and nieces as young adults! They are exceptionally cool humans. I can’t wait to go back this Summer! I’m back home now, though. So much has happened in the last few weeks, and I’ve been doing a lot of writing, but nothing else I can share as of yet. Sometimes it takes a bit for it to coalesce into something coherent and cohesive.
Believe it or not, I’m still working on my comprehensive article on 20+ abuse tactics employed by narcissists and others with Cluster B personality disorders. It’s been more difficult than I initially imagined it would be, and I keep having to put it on the back burner in favor of paying gigs. However, I am confident it will be a helpful resource to other survivors when complete. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments, concerns, or if you just need someone to talk to. 🙂