I have previously written about the red flags you might notice in the early stages of a relationship with a narcissist or a psychopath. Now I want to bring your attention to some of the most dangerous games they play. I am talking about the covert passively aggressive narcissists (or psychopaths) that deliberately push your buttons. They maintain a perfectly calm composed façade while having fun watching you react. The fact that you are the one who visibly reacts means that most of the people around you (except for those psychologically savvy will believe the narcissist, which is going to cause you further trauma and problems).
I have myself fallen into this trap way too many times and I want you to learn from my mistakes so that you don’t hurt yourself as much as I did.
In conflict: the mind-fuck and the gaslighting
Conflict is one of the situations where you can establish with a high level of certainty that someone is a narcissist (or in any other way fucked up). I will have a look at a couple of scenarios.
The first scenario is that the person is doing something that bugs you. You think they are doing it out of the lack of awareness and consideration. In short, you think they are doing it unintentionally. You want to discuss the issue with them, believing that once they understand how their behaviour affects you or causes problems, they will stop. You raise the issue with them. One of two things happens:
- The narcissist seemingly acknowledges what he or she is doing, apologises and says he would change the behaviour. However, soon you see he or she keeps doing the same thing.
- The person appears as if he or she is not getting what you are telling them.
Your reaction will very likely be trying to explain further what the problem is but the harder you try to explain the less you are getting anywhere. You feel like you are talking to a wall. The narcissist might come back with some gas-lighting and blame shifting – they would blame you for the situation. They could tell you that there is no problem that you are the problem. They would tell you that you see problems everywhere. They would tell you that something that you are doing is in fact the problem. They might tell you that you are too sensitive, unreasonable, demanding, high-strung, etc.
You might notice that they are accusing you of exactly the same things that they are doing. I remember the narcissist I got myself into trouble with telling me that I was defensive after every sentence. It felt odd because throughout the relationship I was generally accepting way too much blame for anything.
All these are techniques of emotional invalidation and psychological abuse. Because you are a sensitive person, you might start questioning yourself at this point. If you are someone with weak boundaries and low self respect, you may start accepting the narc’s version of reality and back out.
Chances are however, that you will keep trying to explain yourself harder. Get the message across harder. You will start getting frustrated. You would want the narcissist to see what they are doing and acknowledge it. You may want other people to see what the person is doing and help you against the narcissist.
The narc trap
This way, you are only going to get yourself into more trouble. The narcissist is a master manipulator and will make it look like you are the unreasonable one. The more frustrated and emotional you get about the whole situation, the more it will backfire against you. It’s not fair. I know. If you lose your temper, you will be branded the crazy and abusive person. If it’s a situation with someone at work, it may cost you your job. I am not kidding. Narcissist are super vindictive and have zero conscience.
This is why you need to learn how to recognise this behaviour at the first sign. You need to recognise it and stop yourself from engaging with it immediately. Chances are that you are heavily triggered and it feels like the matter of life and death for you to prove your point to the narc and the people around. You have to stop. You have to resolve that trigger no matter what (find a therapist or try some self-help approaches. Melanie Tonia Evans has some good techniques for that. Inner Bonding might work as well. These triggers come from your childhood and the narc is taking advantage of them).
You have to understand one thing. The narc is doing it all deliberately. And because narcs have no empathy and no conscience, they don’t care if you get hurt. They don’t want to resolve the conflict. They enjoy it.
- Another scenario is that the narc simply blames you for something that you have not done or tries to makes you feel inadequate kind of for nothing. You haven’t come to the narc to discuss anything. He comes to you. The narc has probably sensed that you are a good target to play with. Narcs can detect who is reactive and weak and they would go after such people and have fun pushing their buttons.
Frequently, the narc would accuse you of something that in fact he or she doing to you. My sister is a great example. She would frequently accuse me of being self-centred, selfish and treating the whole family poorly. In the past I would react in two ways. I would either feel bad thinking, oh, I am such a horrible person or I would get defensive. If I get defensive, the argument would escalate. Eventually, my sister would manage to say something to trigger me. I would react in anger and she would run tell the whole family what a horrible person I am.
Wanting to make the narc see what he or she is doing
Victims of narcissists, especially those in intimate relationships are frequently trying to find excuses for the narc’s behaviour (here is a good article on that.) They also frequently nurture hope that the narc can ‘get it.’ They don’t understand how deliberately these people operate. (I recommend George Simon’s book In Sheep’s Clothing to better wrap your head around this.)
You may have gotten as far that you see that the narcissist is lying and gaslighting and you want to confront him or her with that. You may have also established that the person is likely narcissistic and you want to confront them with that.
DON’T DO THAT
That would trigger the narcissist into the worst and most ruthless behaviour. They would see that you are starting to see through them but they can never admit to what they are doing. They’d rather kill you than get exposed.
The only way out is to totally completely disengage.
Even if you disengage from any interaction with the narc, the war may continue. You have triggered the narcissistic injury. Triggering narcissistic injury is very dangerous in covert narcissists and psychopaths that have a high level of control over their emotions. They won’t lose it publicly as the more overt less controlled narcs.
They will plot their steps to destroy you quietly covertly behind your back. One of their most powerful weapons is smear campaigning. They would tell anyone who would listen what a horrible deranged crazy person you are and what terrible things you have done to them. The problem is that most people would believe them (It’s crazy, I know, but that’s the reality. Narcissists, with their Mr Nice Guy facades can frequently fooled even some therapists.) The narc is vicious. He wouldn’t smear you just in front of his inner circle but in front of people that really matter – that includes your managers and authorities – people who have the power to truly punish you.
The more you try to fight against the smear campaign, the more emotional you get about it, the worse it gets for you.
The only way to fight a narc is to collect some sort of tangible evidence but if all you have is your words and insights, you are screwed.
So what do you do?
I would say the only thing you can do is to be your best self, solid in your integrity. You don’t fight the narc, you don’t identify with the victim role. You decide that you want to live in a narc-free world and if the environment you are currently in is supportive of the narc and his smear campaigns, then it is clearly not the environment for you. You can lose those friends. You can lose those family members. You go and find a support group of people who have been through this experience and you educate yourself. You also put the effort into resolving your inner triggers that got you hooked into the narc situation in the first place. You find a good therapist.
Covert aggression – an invisible problem
Victims of covert aggression don’t have it easy in this world. The actions of their perpetrators are invisible. The victim is the one displaying anger and heightened emotional states and is therefore seen as suspicious by the society while the narc (or psychopath) maintains his superficially calm facade.
I believe that the only way to beat these types is to learn to see their behaviour for what that is as early as possible and then work on our triggers that are hooking us into the conflicts with them. Really the only way to deal with a narcissist or a psychopath is to totally remove this person from your reality. Everything else is just damage control.