What is Mental Abuse?

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Brenda knew something was wrong in her marriage to Bill, but she was unable to put her finger on what. She felt like she was abused but he never hit her, so she minimized and even dismissed any warning indicators that something else was off. She was intentionally exploited by her husband; endured regular insults and rejection, alternating with affirmation; and felt manipulated into doing or saying something out of character.

Abuse is not just physical. There are many other forms of abuse, such as sexual, financial, emotional, mental, and verbal. While some of the other forms of abuse are obvious, mental abuse can be difficult to spot and explain. Abuse can happen in a home between spouses, from a parent to a child, in social situations between friends, and even at work from a boss to an employee. The sex of the abuser or the victim is irrelevant. Abusers can be both male and female.

It starts simply with a casual comment about anything: color of the wall, dishes in the sink, or the car needing maintenance. The remark is taken out of context by the abuser. The abuser misperceives their spouse’s remark as disapproval of them in some way. No matter how hard the spouse tries to explain that wasn’t their intention, it doesn’t work. The abuser calls them a liar and is off on a tirade, which ends in the spouse feeling like they are losing their mind.

Here are eight typical mental abuse tactics using Brenda’s experiences with Bill as an example.

  1. Rage – One minute everything is fine and then out of nowhere, Bill would unleash in a rage. In a fit of intense, furious anger he startled and shocked Brenda into compliance or silence. Brenda would do whatever he demanded just to reduce the intensity of his rage or make it stop. Over time, she would learn his triggers to avoid his rages. He would not take responsibility for his reactions, instead, he blamed her for losing it.
  2. Gaslighting – Bill would lie about what Brenda did in the past, making her doubt her memory, perception, and even sanity. He claimed and gave evidence of her past wrong behavior further causing doubt. As this continued, she began to question what she said a minute ago. She even thought she was losing her mind. Bill used this to further take advantage of her.
  3. The Stare – This is an intense stare lasting 1-2 minutes to longer durations with no feeling behind it. At times, it would feel creepy. Bill did this to scare Brenda into submission and frequently mixed it with the silent treatment. Bill would even do this at social gatherings giving her “the look” which meant he was upset about something she said, who she was talking to, how long she was talking, or even her not giving him enough attention.
  4. Silent Treatment – Bill would punish by ignoring Brenda. Then he let her “off the hook” by demanding an apology even though she wasn’t to blame for whatever upset him. This was done to modify her behavior. Bill also had a history of cutting others out of his life permanently over small things. Brenda learned to fear the silent treatment as a worse experience than a rage.
  5. Projection – Bill dumped his issues onto Brenda as if she were the one doing it. For instance, he would accuse her of lying when he lied. Or he made her feel guilty for doing something wrong when he did the act. This created confusion for Brenda. She started to feel as though she was the unhealthy extension of everything he didn’t like about himself. She struggled to see where he ended and she began.
  6. Twisting – When Bill was confronted by Brenda or another person, he would twist it around to blame Brenda for his actions. He would not accept responsibility for his behavior and instead insisted that Brenda apologizes to him. He was relentless in his demands that it was Brenda’s fault. When she resisted or fought back, he would add other abusive behavior such as verbal assaults or threats until she was no longer able to take it and succumbed to his demands.
  7. Manipulation – A favorite manipulation tactic for Bill was to make Brenda fear the worst, such as abandonment, infidelity, or rejection. Knowing of Brenda’s abandonment as a child, he played on that fear to manipulate her into doing what he wanted. Even in instances where she would normally reply “No,” he used her fears as a control tactic to get her to agree to do something she wouldn’t. It didn’t take long before Brenda could not recognize herself as she allowed him to manipulate her into doing things she never wanted to experience.
  8. Victim Card – When all else failed, Bill resorted to playing the victim card. He would claim that his feelings were being hurt and it was Brenda’s job to make him feel better. Sometimes, he would bring up things from his past and accuse Brenda of triggering uncomfortable feelings and then demand that she take responsibility. This was designed to gain sympathy and further control her behavior.

Once mental abuse is realized, a decision needs to be made. Are you going to continue in the relationship or leave? Whatever you choose, do it with an awareness of what is happening, the trauma this invokes, and methods to counteract the mental abuse tactics.

7 Reasons Girls Stay In Toxic Relationships When They Should Get The Hell Out

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1. He apologized. He said he was sorry. He promised he was never going to make the same mistake again. Even though it’s not the first time he screwed up, he seemed genuinely upset about hurting you this time. His apology seemed authentic this time. You love him, so you want to see the best in him. You want to believe him. You want to give him a second chance.

2. You have a long, complicated history. You’ve invested hours, months, years into this relationship. You fought to get this far, so you don’t want to give up on him now. You don’t want all of your hard work to be for nothing. Besides, you are a ride or die. You won’t walk away when there is something, anything, you can do to try to make the relationship work. You are willing to sacrifice for him. You are willing to put your happiness and mental health aside because you stubbornly want this relationship to work out, even if you’re the only one putting in effort.

3. You don’t want to admit he’s changed. You don’t like the way he’s been treating you lately — but it doesn’t matter. You still see him as the good guy you first met. You know he has a soft heart. You know he has a kind soul. You aren’t sure why he’s been treating you so terribly lately, but you are holding onto the hope he will change back into the guy you first fell in love with a long time ago. You know he’s in there somewhere.

4. You blame alcohol for his actions. He’s not himself when he’s drinking or smoking or shooting up. He’s fine when he’s sober. He’s nice when he’s sober. You love him when he’s sober. You don’t want to blame him for things he doesn’t even remember doing. You don’t want to leave him when he never actually meant to hurt you.

5. You think the single life would be too hard to adjust to. You don’t want to find a new place to live. You don’t want to split your belongings. You don’t want to change your entire lifestyle. You’re used to him, used to the arguments, used to the pain. You can handle it for a little longer.

6. You blame yourself for his actions. When he gets angry with you, you see his point. You know how frustrating you can be. You can’t blame him for screaming at you, cursing at you, hitting you. You consider yourself unlovable, so you are happy he sticks around at all. You are happy you’ve found someone who can deal with you. That’s what you keep telling yourself.

7. You are lying to yourself. You are making excuses. You are covering for him. You are telling yourself what you want to hear.

But you need to leave. It doesn’t matter if he apologized. It doesn’t matter if you have a history. It doesn’t matter if he used to treat you well. It doesn’t matter if he’s different when he drinks. It doesn’t matter if you get under his skin. It doesn’t matter if it will be difficult to live without him. You need to leave.

What’s Behind the Narcissist’s Mask?

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A new study reinforces what many of us who deal with narcissists already know:

1) Narcissists tend to be less trustworthy, less loyal, less accountable and less remorseful than others

2) Narcissists tend to be more deceptive, more manipulative, more antagonistic and more vindictive than others

In some cases the gap is huge.

Drawn from a study of 14,000 people, an analysis of 403 participants with distinct traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder found that narcissists are six times more likely to be deceptive, four times more likely to lie, and three times more likely to be antagonistic and vindictive than non-narcissistic people.

The study is a portrait of the many ways narcissists tend to posture and shape themselves — while at the same time using others — to shore up a fragile sense of self.

For example, the study found the percentages of narcissists who engage in the following behaviors, compared to non-narcissists:

Narcissists Non-narcissists
Point out others’ mistakes, no matter how minor 73% 7%
Strongly believe they are superior to most people 84% 3%
Prefer to associate with people who are successful or popular 84% 7%
Cast aside anyone who doesn’t live up to what they want 69% 5%
Change their appearance, personality, and opinions to be accepted 62% 18%
Seek to be the center of attention 80% 10%
Endlessly seek reassurance they are liked 60% 16%
Become defensive when given negative feedback 61% 32%
Refuse to acknowledge or admit when they are wrong 67% 16%

“Being a narcissist is likely to be a tiring and draining endeavor, emotionally and psychologically. It’s like wearing a mask all the time,” said the study’s author, Ilona Jerabek.

Here are three ways to cope with the manipulation and pretenses used by narcissists:

1)  Don’t expect them to change. They may change behavior from time to time, but those with narcissistic personality disorder are unlikely to change their personality. What you see is what you get.

2) Don’t take their blaming and lack of accountability personally. Their actions are designed to gratify themselves and keep others from seeing their flaws. It’s all about them, not you, so how can it be personal?

3) Do ask yourself: “At what cost?” There is nearly always some cost when dealing with narcissists. Only you can decide whether the cost in any given situation is worth it.

10 Tips for Dealing with a Narcissistic Personality

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We tend to use the word narcissist to describe a person who’s self-centered and short on empathy. But it’s important to remember that narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a legitimate mental health condition that requires diagnosis by a mental health professional.

Still, people can exhibit some narcissistic characteristics without having NPD. These might include:

  • having an inflated sense of self
  • needing constant praise
  • taking advantage of others
  • not recognizing or caring about the needs of others

To make things more complicated, people with NPD or narcissistic tendencies are often very sensitive to criticism, despite their high self-esteem.

Here’s a look at some practical ways to deal with someone who has NPD or narcissistic tendencies — plus some tips for recognizing when it’s time to move on.

1. See them for who they really are

When they want to, those with narcissistic personalities are pretty good at turning on the charm. You might find yourself drawn to their grand ideas and promises. This can also make them particularly popular in work settings.

But before you get drawn in, watch how they treat people when they’re not “on stage.” If you catch them lying, manipulating, or blatantly disrespecting others, there’s no reason to believe they won’t do the same to you.

Despite what someone with a narcissistic personality may say, your wants and needs are likely unimportant to them. And if you try to bring up this issue, you may be met with resistance.

The first step in dealing with someone who has a narcissistic personality is simply accepting that this is who they are — there’s not much you can do to change that.

2. Break the spell and stop focusing on them

When there’s a narcissistic personality in your orbit, attention seems to gravitate their way. That’s by design — whether it’s negative or positive attention, those with narcissistic personalities work hard to keep themselves in the spotlight.

You might soon find yourself buying into this tactic, pushing aside your own needs to keep them satisfied.

If you’re waiting for a break in their attention-seeking behavior, it may never come. No matter how much you adjust your life to suit to their needs, it’s never going to be enough.

If you must deal with a narcissistic personality, don’t allow them to infiltrate your sense of self or define your world. You matter, too. Regularly remind yourself of your strengths, desires, and goals.

Take charge and carve out some “me time.” Take care of yourself first and remember that it’s not your job to fix them.

3. Speak up for yourself

There are times when ignoring something or simply walking away is an appropriate response — pick your battles, right?

But a lot depends on the relationship. For example, dealing with a boss, parent, or spouse may call for different strategies than dealing with a co-worker, sibling, or child.

Some people with narcissistic personalities enjoy making others squirm. If that’s the case, try not to get visibly flustered or show annoyance, as that will only urge them to continue.

If it’s someone you’d like to keep close in your life, then you owe it to yourself to speak up. Try to do this in a calm, gentle manner.

You must tell them how their words and conduct impact your life. Be specific and consistent about what’s not acceptable and how you expect to be treated. But prepare yourself for the fact that they may simply not understand — or care.

4. Set clear boundaries

A person with a narcissistic personality is often quite self-absorbed.

They might think they’re entitled to go where they want, snoop through your personal things, or tell you how you should feel. Maybe they give you unsolicited advice and take credit for things you’ve done. Or pressure you to talk about private things in a public setting.

They may also have little sense of personal space, so they tend to cross a lot of boundaries. More often than not, they don’t even see them. That’s why you have to be abundantly clear about boundaries that are important to you.

Why would the consequences matter to them? Because someone with a narcissistic personality typically starts to pay attention when things start affecting them personally.

Just make sure it’s not an idle threat. Talk about consequences only if you’re ready to carry them out as stated. Otherwise, they won’t believe you the next time.

FOR EXAMPLE

Say you have a co-worker who loves to park their big truck in a way that makes it hard for you to back out. Start by firmly asking them to make sure they leave you enough space. Then, state the consequences for not respecting your wishes.

For example, if you can’t safely back out, you’ll have their car towed. The key is to follow through and call the towing company the next time it happens.

5. Expect them to push back

If you stand up to someone with a narcissistic personality, you can expect them to respond.

Once you speak up and set boundaries, they may come back with some demands of their own. They may also try to manipulate you into feeling guilty or believing that you’re the one being unreasonable and controlling. They might make a play for sympathy.

Be prepared to stand your ground. If you take a step backward, they won’t take you seriously next time.

6. Remember that you’re not at fault

A person with narcissistic personality disorder isn’t likely to admit a mistake or take responsibility for hurting you. Instead, they tend to project their own negative behaviors onto you or someone else.

You might be tempted to keep the peace by accepting blame, but you don’t have to belittle yourself to salvage their ego.

You know the truth. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

7. Find a support system

If you can’t avoid the person, try to build up your healthy relationships and support network of people. Spending too much time in a dysfunctional relationship with someone who has a narcissistic personality can leave you emotionally drained.

Rekindle old friendships and try to nurture new ones. Get together with family more often. If your social circle is smaller than you’d prefer, try taking a class to explore a new hobby. Get active in your community or volunteer for a local charity. Do something that allows you to meet more people you feel comfortable with.

WHAT IS A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP?

Spending a lot of time with someone who has a narcissistic personality can make it hard to remember what a healthy relationship even feels like.

Here’s a few signs to look for:

  • both people listen and make an effort to understand each other
  • both people acknowledge their mistakes and take responsibility for them
  • both people feel like they can relax and be their true selves in front of the other
8. Insist on immediate action, not promises

People with narcissistic personalities are good at making promises. They promise to do what you want and not to do that thing you hate. They promise to generally do better.

And they might even be sincere about these promises. But make no mistake about it: The promise is a means to an end for someone with a narcissistic personality.

Once they get what they want, the motivation is gone. You can’t count on their actions matching their words.

Ask for what you want and stand your ground. Insist that you’ll only fulfill their requests after they’ve fulfilled yours.

Don’t give in on this point. Consistency will help drive it home.

9. Understand that a narcissistic person may need professional help

People with NPD often don’t see a problem — at least not with themselves. As a result, it’s unlikely they’ll ever seek professional counseling.

But people with NPD frequently have other disorders, such as substance abuse, or other mental health or personality disorders. Having another disorder may be what prompts someone to seek help.

You can suggest that they reach out for professional help, but you can’t make them do it. It’s absolutely their responsibility, not yours.

And remember, while NPD is a mental health condition, it doesn’t excuse bad or abusive behavior.

10. Recognize when you need help

Regularly dealing with someone who has a narcissistic personality can take a toll on your own mental and physical health.

If you have symptoms of anxietydepression, or unexplained physical ailments, see your primary care doctor first. Once you have a checkup, you can ask for referrals to other services, such as therapists and support groups.

Reach out to family and friends and call your support system into service. There’s no need to go it alone.

When to move on

Some people with a narcissistic personality can also be verbally or emotionally abusive.

Here are some signs of an abusive relationship:

  • name-calling, insults
  • patronizing, public humiliation
  • yelling, threatening
  • jealousy, accusations

Other warning signs to watch for in the other person include:

  • blaming you for everything that goes wrong
  • monitoring your movements or attempting to isolate you
  • telling you how you really feel or should feel
  • routinely projecting their shortcomings onto you
  • denying things that are obvious to you or attempting to gaslight you
  • trivializing your opinions and needs

But at what point is it time to throw in the towel? Every relationship has its ups and downs, right?

While this is true, it’s generally best to leave the relationship if:

  • you’re being verbally or emotionally abused
  • you feel manipulated and controlled
  • you’ve been physically abused or feel threatened
  • you feel isolated
  • the person with NPD or a narcissistic personality shows signs of mental illness or substance abuse, but won’t get help
  • your mental or physical health has been affected

Can Malignant Narcissists and Psychopaths Change? Why You Shouldn’t Count On It

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Malignant narcissism has been described as an “intermediate” between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder, two disorders which, despite some differences like the level of grandiosity and tendency for criminal behavior involved, have many overlapping symptoms as well (Kernberg, 1989; Gunderson & Ronningstam, 2001). Malignant narcissists are higher on the spectrum of narcissism and possess these antisocial traits, paranoia, and sadism in addition to their narcissism. They may not all be physically violent, but many of them are psychologically violent and aggressive towards those they target.

I find that there are a few myths that hold us back from holding abusive malignant narcissists as well as more colloquially termed “psychopaths” accountable for their actions. I list them below, along with some much-needed reality checks.

MYTH #1: Anyone is capable of change.

REALITY CHECK: People are capable of change when they are willing to do what it takes to change – malignant narcissists often aren’t, due to the nature of their disorder.

What people forget is that certain disorders have hardwired behavioral patterns which originated in childhood, or in some cases, were preexisting even at birth. When readers ask me, “Can narcissists ever change?” they’re often not asking about narcissists on the lower end of the spectrum. These survivors have experienced horrific and heinous acts of emotional, verbal, sometimes even sexual or physical abuse by partners, co-workers, friends, parents, or other family members on the high end of the narcissistic spectrum. Just take a look at some of the terrifying ordeals they shared with me here. 

As therapist Andrea Schneider, LCSW writes, “For individuals who are further on the spectrum of narcissism, change is very limited and so is insight. A malignant narcissist or psychopath will not change; they are sadly welded to their ways and hardwired to be who they are.”

Abusive people are rewarded by their behavior and malignant narcissists do not believe anything is wrong with them. Their inherent sense of superiority and callous lack of empathy and remorse, propensity towards exploiting others, as well as a lack of willingness to change their behavior, are intrinsic to their disorder.

These types do not go to therapy voluntarily unless they have an agenda in mind – usually, one of manipulating the therapist, or attending couples therapy to paint their victims as the abusers. That is why The National Domestic Violence Hotline does not recommend getting couples therapy with your abuser. Abuse is not a communication problem – it is a problem stemming from the dysfunction of the abuser. In many cases, couples therapy can cause the abuser to retaliate against the victim and further gaslight them in the therapy space. These types can be highly charming and charismatic, fooling even the most skilled of mental health professionals.

Most malignant narcissists and psychopaths go to therapy because they are court-ordered, not because they are motivated to change in any authentic way.

MYTH # 2: Their trauma made them do it, so we have to be sympathetic to them.

REALITY CHECK: There is still no final clinical verdict on what causes these disorders, although there are theories. The myth that all abusers have a traumatic upbringing is just that – a myth. Some abusers come from traumatic backgrounds, while others do not. There are also millions of survivors of malignant narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths who have suffered horrific traumas in childhood and they choose not to abuse. Abuse is, and will always be a choice.

As with any disorder, it is usually a mixture of nature and nurture at the root. Environment and upbringing usually interact with a biological predisposition to produce these disorders, so trauma can certainly be one possible cause. Clinicians are still not certain of what causes NPD, but they do have theories. Research also suggests that those with narcissistic traits grow up in households where they are overvalued, spoiled, and raised with an excessive sense of entitlement (Brummelman, et al., 2015). These narcissistic traits in childhood can later become full-fledged Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) in adulthood.

While overvaluing a child can be a form of mistreatment as well, it’s important to realize that not every narcissist grows up in a household with the type of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse we would assume they do. This is important to note, as many survivors are often reminded by society to view their abusers in a sympathetic light – sometimes for traumas they didn’t even suffer!

The need to rationalize abusive behavior based on a presumption of past trauma can cause survivors to continually minimize their own pain and excuse their abuser’s actions while remaining within the abuse cycle. In addition, because malignant narcissists and psychopaths have a limited emotional range and experience shallow emotions, they do not feel that much distress as one would assume they do in adulthood – if anything, they suffer from perpetual boredom and high levels of rage (Hare, 2011).

Many of the victims of malignant narcissists, however, do suffer, and did suffer in childhood too. In fact, I have spoken with hundreds of survivors who have been raised by narcissistic parents and were later abused by malignant narcissists in relationships. Some were abused by malignant narcissists who came from loving families. We have to remember that those who are full-fledged psychopaths may have been born that way, and if so, it may not be due to childhood trauma at all.

If anything, we need to remember to have empathy for the traumas that survivors, not their perpetrators, have endured. These same survivors chose not to abuse others, and instead, their traumas caused them to be very careful about the way they treat others. The effects of this type of abuse on the victims can result in PTSD or Complex PTSD, depression, anxiety, self-isolation, self-harm, and even suicidal ideation.

MYTH # 3: They are mentally ill, so obviously they can’t control it!

REALITY CHECK: Many of us have empathy for those who suffer from a wide variety of mental illnesses. Malignant narcissism and psychopathy are very different from other mental illnesses. As Dr. George Simon notes, these disorders are “character disorders.” These individuals are not in a state of psychosis nor do they experience the same type of despair that other mentally ill people struggle with (at least, certainly not despair at causing others pain). While most mentally ill people struggle with their sense of self-worth and have empathy for others, malignant narcissists deem themselves to be superior and regularly violate the rights of others to meet their own needs. They know exactly what they’re doing, and many of them enjoy doing it.

Research tells us that malignant narcissists have cognitive empathy and the intellectual ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and even show a sadistic pleasure at seeing sad faces; they know how to discern the fact that their victims are experiencing pain, but unlike empathic human beings, their motivation is not to alleviate that pain, but to provoke it even more (Wai and Tiliopoulos, 2012).

We also know that malignant narcissists don disguises and are adept at impression management. They can be wolves in sheep’s clothing in order to meet their agendas – whether it is to ensnare a victim into a fake relationship, create a harem of adoring fans, present themselves as a charitable public figure in the community, or climb the corporate ladder.

This type of mask-wearing takes energy and skill. They can put on the mask and change their behavior temporarily to get what they want – which means they are fully in control of their actions. They could choose to use that same energy and skill to modify their behavior accordingly to inflict less harm – but given the nature of their disordered ways of thinking and behaving, they simply do not wish to.

Many manipulative abusers will temporarily morph into the “nice” people they presented themselves to be at the beginning of relationships to get you ensnared back into the toxic cycle just to abuse you again. Don’t fall for it. They always revert back to their true, abusive selves.

THE BIG PICTURE

These myths contribute to enabling the abuser at the expense of victims and give people false hope. This false hope feeds into the idea of being the exception, not the rule, which causes survivors of malignant narcissists to remain entrenched in the abuse cycle for decades in the hopes that they will change. Recovery from this form of manipulation and violence can take a lifetime to unravel and heal, which is why it is so important that victims of abuse get out sooner rather than later.

I’ve corresponded with thousands of survivors over the course of this work and not once have I heard of a success story of their partner changing long-term, even when given hundreds of chances. Nor have I heard any success stories from the fellow therapists, life coaches, and advocates who write about and specialize in this form of abuse. What I have heard are horror stories of the abuse which escalates once the victims let the abuser into their lives again.

If an abuser wants to change (and usually they profess this as another manipulation tactic to get you to stay), they’ll have to do that on their own. Don’t put yourself in the middle of their chaos and destruction. It’s not your responsibility to change an abuser, regardless of their background or their disorder.

Do not buy into the myths that people who have not experienced this type of abuse tend to spread, even if they seem to have credentials when doing so. I’ve heard from countless survivors who have experienced secondary gaslighting from mental health professionals or academics who do not understand this form of covert violence.

Listen to the experts who have been there and those who have clients who have been terrorized by these predatory types.  They are the ones who truly know what it is like. They understand that empathy for predators, when used to justify or excuse abusive behavior, is ultimately damaging not only to victims of abuse but society as a whole.

Remember, just because someone is a mental health professional or has a doctoral degree does not automatically mean they understand the depth of these specific personality disorders and the impact they can have in relationships. Make sure the person you are consulting is trauma-informed, validating, and has a solid understanding of how destructive disordered ways of thinking and behaving are. There are some great professionals and advocates out there, but there are also ones who do not get it. That’s why we need to continue to spread awareness and compassion for the victims, not their perpetrators.

When it comes to cutting ties when toxic people, it doesn’t matter if their malignant narcissism came out of trauma or if they were born that way. There are no excuses for abuse, and understanding the origins of their disorder does not change its impact on your wellbeing, nor should you use it as a reason to engage with these individuals out of obligation or guilt. As I’ve reiterated many times throughout this article, there are many trauma survivors who have gone through unfathomable horrors at the hands of narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths – and they choose not to abuse.

Trauma or no trauma, do not rationalize or minimize the harm they do to you personally just because you’ve learned how their pathological behavior was birthed. It doesn’t change the fact that these are hardwired behaviors that are unlikely to change in the long-term. You can practice any compassion and empathy you have for them at a distance. Your self-care and safety always come first.

REFERENCES

Brummelman, E., Thomaes, S., Nelemans, S. A., Castro, B. O., Overbeek, G., & Bushman, B. J. (2015). Origins of narcissism in children. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,201420870. doi:10.1073/pnas.1420870112

Gunderson, J. G., & Ronningstam, E. (2001). Differentiating Narcissistic and Antisocial Personality Disorders. Journal of Personality Disorders,15(2), 103-109. doi:10.1521/pedi.15.2.103.19213

Kernberg, O. F. (1989). The Narcissistic Personality Disorder and The Differential Diagnosis of Antisocial Behavior. Psychiatric Clinics of North America,12(3), 553-570. doi:10.1016/s0193-953x(18)30414-3

Schneider, A. (2018, December 12). Don’t Get Scrooged!: 10 Tips to Deal (or Not!) with Family Drama During the Holidays. Retrieved February 19, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/savvy-shrink/2018/12/dont-get-scrooged-10-tips-to-deal-or-not-with-family-drama-during-the-holidays/

Simon, G. K. (2016). In sheep’s clothing: Understanding and dealing with manipulative people. Marion, MI: Parkhurst Brothers.

These 7 Traits Make You Vulnerable to Narcissistic Manipulation

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Some people find themselves in a relationship with a narcissist, claw their way out, and do their best to write-off or avoid other narcissists for the rest of their lives.

Others are simply magnets for narcissists.

They ditch one romantic relationship with a narcissist – only to find themselves in a new abusive situation just months later. Or perhaps they continue to put up with narcissistic abuse from coworkers or family members.

If the latter hits close to home, you aren’t alone.

You’ve probably asked yourself, “is there something wrong with me that makes me vulnerable to narcissistic abuse and exploitation?”

The answer is both “Yes” and “No”.

There is nothing wrong with you – far from it – but there’s a chance you have certain qualities that make you very attractive to narcissists, like moths to a flame or leeches to a host.

In fact, these are probably some of your best qualities. Abusers know this and that’s why they use narcissistic manipulation tactics to exploit you and use your good nature for their own gain.

Narcissists and Empathy

It’s a common misconception that narcissists lack empathy.

Empathy simply means having the ability to understand another person’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Empathy can absolutely exist without other characteristics like compassion – this is called cognitive empathy.

Torturers use cognitive empathy to get inside their victims’ heads and cause unspeakable pain.

Narcissists don’t lack empathy – they lack compassion, remorse, and humanity.

Using cognitive empathy, the abuser is able to seek out and target individuals with highly compassionate, loving, and caring empathetic traits. This is why the narcissist finds it so easy to exploit and manipulate your empathetic traits, found below.

7 Empathic Traits That Make You Vulnerable to Narcissistic Manipulation

Narcissists are attracted to people with specific qualities. These qualities give the abuser a foot in the door to carry out their narcissistic manipulation tactics and suck the life force from their victims.

Other people might not put up with narcissistic abuse past a very early point. But people with empathic traits are different: they have a desire to help, heal, and fix people.

They believe people deserve unconditional love – even narcissists.

With these traits, you might as well be wearing a red bullseye for narcissists! But, you don’t have to put up with it, and you CAN change how you react to narcissistic abuse. Identifying what draws narcissists to your personality is the first step.

1.     You’re Trusting and Have Integrity

Some people believe that trust must be earned upon meeting someone. After all, how can you trust someone you’ve just met?

For you, trust doesn’t have to be earned from the get-go: you naturally trust people to treat you with respect and do the right thing.

Why? Because you have integrity yourself and you’re a trustworthy person. You expect that people are worthy of your trust until they’ve broken it.

Narcissists know that you’re naturally trusting, and they use this to their advantage to carry out their narcissistic manipulation tactics against you. They know they can get away with lies on top of lies because they know you really want to trust them.

2.     You Value Equality and Treat Others with Respect

You believe that relationships are a 50/50 experience and you treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

When you first met the narcissist, they probably obliged your need for basic equality and dignity. But brick by brick, their charade started to crumble. Until one day, you find yourself apologizing because you had the nerve to let the narcissist know they hurt your feelings.

The narcissist used their cognitive empathy to get into your head and exploit your compassionate empathy.

3.     You Refuse to Give Up

To narcissists, people with compassionate empathy are like a drug. Every time they beat you down and carry out their narcissistic manipulation tactics to exploit you, they get their fragile ego fix – and no one abusing drugs wants their supply to run out.

The narcissist knows you’ll never give up (or so they think) because it’s in your nature to see things through until the end. That’s why they cling to you and won’t let go. That’s why they seemingly “love you” and abuse you at the same time.

4.     You Love Unconditionally

This is perhaps one of the most bittersweet traits that makes you a magnet for narcissists. They know that when you love someone, you love them unconditionally.

This can apply to all types of relationships including romantic partners, friends, and family members. You believe that everyone is deserving of unconditional love.

The narcissist understands this about you and fully exploits it. In between fights and abusive slurs, you may find the narcissist will briefly apologize, shower you with praise, and promise to change. This is all a façade to make you believe that they too love you unconditionally – and they use it to keep you hooked until the next outburst.

5.     You’re Honest and Compassionate

To the narcissist, honesty and compassion aren’t traits one should brag about. These traits are weaknesses that should be hidden.

Why? Because someone could exploit these vulnerable traits – and that’s exactly what narcissists do.

In the beginning, the narcissist will pretend to appreciate your honesty and compassion. However, slowly but surely, they will use these traits against you.

Did you tell the narcissist your worst fears? Things that make you sad or mad? Trauma from your past?

The narcissist will freely dig all of that up every time they need to carry out narcissistic manipulation tactics and exploit your genuine (and very valid) emotions. Narcissists don’t hate your honesty – they love to exploit it every chance they get.

6.     Your Desire to Heal Others and Fix People

You believe that if everyone had a loving environment in which to thrive, and the right opportunities, they could turn themselves around.

The narcissist knows that you have a burning desire to truly heal them, so they cling to you for dear life. They know that you’ll never turn down their fights and you’ll always react emotionally to their abuse. This is how the narcissist manipulates you for their own gain.

It’s hard, if not impossible, to fix anyone who doesn’t want to be fixed – let alone a narcissist.

No matter how many times they tell you they want and intend to change their ways, this is just a lie to give you hope that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

7.     You Have Trouble Setting Boundaries

As someone who loves unconditionally, is automatically trusting, and has a strong desire to fix people, it only makes sense that you have trouble setting boundaries.

This is perhaps one of the first traits narcissists identify when they search for a new victim because it’s one of the easiest to spot. People who are good at setting boundaries are very vocal about their boundaries upon meeting someone and narcissists can easily sniff this out.

Narcissists are drawn to empathic people who have trouble setting boundaries because they know you’ll put up with their narcissistic manipulation and abuse as long as they can dish it out.

And by the time you decide to draw any kind of boundary – it’s far too late. The narcissist will simply laugh in your face, gaslight you, and tear it down.

Narcissistic Manipulation Tactics – 5 Red Flags to Watch Out For

If you think you’re being manipulated by a narcissist, look out for these key narcissistic manipulation tactics; they’re dead giveaways:

  • Gaslighting -The narcissist rewrites your experience and says you’re remembering their behavior wrong.
  • Perpetual Victim – The narcissist is always the victim, even when you bring up an instance when they’ve harmed you.
  • Degrading Your Worth -The narcissist will never support anything you do unless it benefits them. They’ll remind you that you’re worthless and will fail at everything
  • Controlling -The narcissist will get upset if you go anywhere or do anything, even going to the grocery store, without running it by them first.
  • Deflecting – The narcissist can never do anything wrong. They will always deflect blame back to you or someone in their immediate vicinity.

What Should You Do If You’re Being Manipulated by a Narcissist?

If the points above ring true, you’re likely in a relationship with a narcissist. This abuser could come in the form of a romantic partner, mother, father, friend, or coworker.

If you’re being manipulated by a narcissist, the only way to end the abuse is to go No Contact. If you don’t cut the narcissist out for good, they will continue with their narcissistic manipulation tactics to bleed your empathy dry until you’re nothing but a shell of the person you once were.

Narcissism is a personality disorder and it’s important to understand that you cannot fix or change anyone. You can only control and change your own actions – and ultimately your own life.

11 Creepy Habits Untrustworthy People Have In Common

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While it’s not always easy to tell if someone is untrustworthy, paying attention to their body language — as well as their overall vibe — can be a great place to start. This goes for strangers on the street, neighbors, and even the people you date. If something seems “off” about them, you should trust your gut, and reconsider interacting with them.

This is especially true if the person is being manipulative, or if they strike you as dangerous in any way. In those cases, it’s always a good idea to reach out for help, and to try to remove yourself from the situation as quickly and safely as possible. It’s not always possible to do so, but being aware of the signs is key.

“If you have the sense that you need to get away from someone or end a relationship, try not to backpedal on it,” licensed psychologist Nicole Issa, PsyD, tells Bustle. Follow your instincts, and reach out to a friend or authority figure for help.

Unfortunately, there are all sorts of manipulative people in the world, and not everyone has other’s best interests at heart. Of course, you don’t need to feel paranoid, but “it’s important to keep your guard up and stay present and observant in situations with new people,” Amica Graber, a relationship expert for the background checking site TruthFinder, tells Bustle.

Even though it’s not always easy to spot a manipulator, paying attention to the signs someone is untrustworthy, such as the ones listed below, can help keep you safe.

They Ignore Your Boundaries

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If someone is ignoring your boundaries, consider it a big red flag. “Some examples include standing too close to you (and following if you step further away), refusing to take no for an answer, or even ‘innocent’ activities like tickling you when you’ve asked [them] to stop,” Graber says.

While some folks just don’t know how to take a hint, dangerous people might do these things as a way of testing you, Graber says. So if you tell them to stop and they don’t, that may be your cue to leave if you are able to.

They Don’t Break Eye Contact

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When it comes to manipulative people — see: sociopaths, narcissists, etc. — many have a habit of staring intensely at others, and making creepy amounts of eye contact.

“They look at their target with [a] focused, intense gaze,” body language expert Patti Wood, MA, tells Bustle, usually as a way to test boundaries. “They may do or say something uncomfortable right before or after the hypnotic gaze to test how the target responds.”

To figure out if the situation really is unsafe, Wood says you should break eye contact or move away, and see how they react. If they get upset, or you feel a huge amount of relief, your intuition was likely correct.

They Dominate The Conversation

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While some people just like to tell stories, manipulators will try to dominate entire conversations. “This ‘over talking’ involves auditory space invasion and other paralanguage factors that show they are in control,” Wood says. “They are often quite charming and good storytellers, so it may be hypnotic to listen to them.” But if you don’t feel included, or can’t get a word in, they are likely someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

Their Mood Changes Quickly

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Since narcissists tend to get really upset when things don’t go their way, keep your eye out forshocking mood swings when interacting with others. As Wood says, “They can shift all their nonverbal behaviors in the blink of an eye and transform themselves.”

This might include switching from really sweet, to super irritated a second later. Or they might morph into an entirely different “character” in order to get their way, Wood says. It can be so manipulative, you might not even realize it’s happening until the person’s already sucked you in.

But the moment you do, don’t be afraid to reach out for help, or to leave the situation as soon as you can.

They Seem Disconnected

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While intense eye contact can be a red flag, the same is true for eye contact that seems oddly disconnected. And this is doubly true if you’d describe them as being “dead behind the eyes,” Wood says, as this is a trait common among narcissists and sociopaths.

They Open Up Too Quickly

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If you only just met someone and they’re already revealing all the skeletons in their closet, there’s a chance they’re not trustworthy or stable, psychotherapist Laura Dabney, MD, tells Bustle. This shows a total lack of boundaries, and can easily get out of control.

They Make Rude Remarks

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“Potentially dangerous people will often turn to belittling others in order to manipulate them,” licensed psychotherapist and relationship coach Adamaris Mendoza, LPC, MA, tells Bustle. So if this person is making you, or those around you, feel uncomfortable, take note.

“How they do it can take different forms but their intention is to make the other person (their intended victim) feel unworthy,” Mendoza says. “They can turn to ridiculing how you look, your body, your goals, your friends, your work, and/or your dreams.”

Since it’s so manipulative, it can be difficult to spot. But by keeping an eye out for the signs, and knowing some of the tricks untrustworthy people pull, you can be safer.

They Lack Empathy

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If you get the feeling this person doesn’t have any empathy, think twice before interacting with them. “Sociopaths and psychopaths are defined by their lack of empathy,” Graber says. “Does someone laugh at other’s misfortune or seem oblivious to the suffering of others? They may not be a fully fledged psychopath, but a lack of empathy is a huge red flag.”

They Move Really Fast

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If you only just met someone, and yet the relationship seems to be developing at warp speed, Dr. Issa says it could be a sign this person is manipulative.

“Often times, people who are likely to harm others will sweep in quickly and forcefully and try to foster a sense of false trust,” Dr. Issa says. If it all seems too fast, or too good to be true, you may want to take a step back.

10 They Know Too Much

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Let’s say you show up on a date, and the other person already knows where you work, where you went to school, etc. “Many people will frequently [research] a new love interest,” Dr. Issa says. “But if someone starts telling you about information that likely showed up on, say, page five of your [search] results, this could be a sign that the [it] went beyond the norm and crossed over into stalking.”

If what they’re saying is making you uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to reach out to authorities. You can also go up to a bartender or server, if you’re out to dinner, and ask them for help.

11 They Tell You How To Feel

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Whether they’re telling you to calm down, claiming a situation isn’t scary, or insisting everything’s OK — even when it doesn’t feel OK — listen to your gut.

“If someone is telling you that they know that ‘deep down’ they know you really want X, Y, or Z, or that they can tell you really need someone to help you relax or let go of control, this is basically a burning red flag, especially if they say this as a way to disregard a boundary or limit you previously set with them,” Dr. Issa says.

It can be super difficult to spot a manipulative and untrustworthy person, since they know exactly what to say and do in order to reel you in. But if you’re in a situation that feels unsafe — or if they’re exhibiting any of these characteristics — trust your gut, reach out for help, and try to get away as soon as you can.

Toxic relationships come with the emotional damage you don’t even realize while you’re in them. Sometimes a victim of a toxic relationship will continue the cycle of pining after other toxic people as if winning over their love and affection will heal the emotional damage others might have caused in their past. So when this […]

via Toxic Relationship vs. Health Relationship. — Perfectly Imperfect Blog

38 Daily Affirmations For Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

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38 Daily Affirmations For Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): Happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs as they raise you.

Growing up with your parents under-responding to your feelings throughout your childhood sets you up to under-respond to your own feelings through your adulthood. Essentially, you are trained to ignore, minimize, and perhaps even be ashamed of, your own feelings.

But the good news is that Childhood Emotional Neglect is not a lifelong sentence. You can heal it. And it’s not as difficult or complicated as you might think.

By beginning to pay attention to yourself and your own feelings, you can begin to honor your deepest self; the self that was so ignored as a child. The more you focus on yourself, your own feelings and needs and wants, the better you can take step after step through the CEN healing process.

Why You Need Affirmations

As a psychologist who specializes in treating Childhood Emotional Neglect, I have walked hundreds of people through the 5 stages of CEN recovery. And I have watched motivated people slip off-track, distracted by the demands of their everyday life or discouraged about their inability to make it happen fast enough.

One thing I know from going through this with so many CEN folks is that the ones who succeed, who really change their lives, are the ones who never give up.

The best thing you can do to heal yourself is to keep your goals in your mind as you go through your day. And to help you do that, I am sharing with you daily affirmations in every area of your recovery: healing yourself, healing your marriage, parenting your children, and coping with your emotionally neglectful parents.

Once you get started, you may want to use some from all 4 areas, because once you start to see yourself through the lens of CEN, you may reflect differently on every important person in your life.

How to Use The Affirmations

I recommend you read through all of the affirmations below. As you do so, you may notice that certain ones jump out at you. These are the ones that you likely need the most right now.

You can use these affirmations in two different ways. You can say them to yourself when you need them, to keep you on track, remind you of what’s important, and strengthen you. And you can also use them as starting points to help you think about, or meditate on, what’s important in your healing. I hope you will use them, and use them well.

Special Note: To learn how to repair Emotional Neglect in your most important relationships see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children. Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

38 Daily Affirmations/Meditations For Healing Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

FOR HEALING YOURSELF

My wants and needs are just as important as anyone else’s.

My feelings are important messages from my body.

My feelings matter.

I am a valid human being with feelings and needs.

I am worth getting to know.

I am a likable and lovable person.

I am the only person responsible for getting my own needs met.

It is not selfish, but responsible, to put my own needs first.

Asking for help is a sign of strength.

Feelings are never right or wrong. They just are.

I am proud to be a deeply feeling person.

All human beings make mistakes. What matters is that I learn from mine.

I deserve to be cared for.

My feelings are walled off, but they are still there, and they are important.

Every feeling can be managed.

FOR PARENTING YOUR CHILDREN

My children’s feelings drive their behavior. Feelings first.

I can’t give my children what I do not have myself.

My child is important, but so am I.

The better I care for myself, the better I can care for my child.

I don’t need to be a perfect parent. I just need to pay enough attention to their feelings.

I will give my child what I never got from my parents.

The best way to do better for my children is to do better for myself.

FOR HEALING YOUR MARRIAGE

I matter, and so does my husband/wife.

My partner cannot read my mind.

It’s my responsibility to tell my partner what I want, feel and need.

My partner and I each have hundreds of feelings each and every day.

It’s okay if my partner’s feelings are not the same as mine.

The facts are less important than my partner’s feelings.

When it comes to my marriage, sharing is key.

My partner needs me to talk more and ask more questions.

FOR COPING WITH YOUR PARENTS

I did not choose to grow up emotionally neglected.

My parents could not give me what they did not have.

My parents are not capable of seeing or knowing the real me.

I am angry at my parents for a reason. They failed me in a very important way.

I can spend time with my emotionally neglectful parents. My boundaries will protect me.

I don’t have to be validated by my parents. I validate myself.

If my parents are not able to see me, I will see myself.

It’s my responsibility to give myself what my parents couldn’t give me. And I will.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and unmemorable so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out Take The Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free.

To learn much more about how Emotional Neglect happens and how to heal it, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Narcissistic Ignorance and A More Productive You

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You might have observed a common feature of the new age activist to be a potent lack of charisma. Ready-made phrases half-remembered, delivered with the aimless gusto of a squirrel with vertigo. Passionate speeches presented clumsily. The best of them are sloppy regurgitations and the worst of them are unintelligible.

Lately, it seems we’re encouraged to supplant acknowledgment of our shortcomings with distractions and oversimplifications. Freedom of expression has been redefined as a celebration of ignorance – one that is governed by an enmity toward expertise. Working in tandem with this is the societal effect of the degradation of language Orwell warned us about more than 70 years ago.


A vulgar misunderstanding of terms like “democracy” has curbed forward thought and dispelled the notion of appraising opinions. The youthful impulse to hold mavens to the fire isn’t itself a problem. A problem only arises when the impulse ceases to be attended by research and self-awareness. Being informed is a long painful, humbling process.

Authority is not a virtue earned lightly.

“Unskilled and unaware”

I recently wrote about the pluralistic ignorance of imposter syndrome-the idea that everyone feels alone in their self-doubt. This collective lack of confidence is certainly a hindrance to a productive labor system but the other end of the cognitive spectrum is just as detrimental. This other end was officially classified in response to the comical misfortune of a man named Mcarthur Wheeler.

In 1995, Wheeler robbed two banks in Pittsburgh- in broad daylight. As he exited the banks (both of them) he made a point to smile at surveillance cameras-without a mask. He did, however, have a coat of lemon juice on his face. When authorities caught him they showed him the security footage. Wheeler’s reaction was one of utter bemusement.

Given that lemon juice is sometimes used as an ingredient when creating invisible ink it stands to “reason” that bathing one’s face in the stuff would effectively conceal it from cameras. Wheeler wasn’t under the influence of any substances nor was he clinically insane.

This profound error of judgment alerted the interest of psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. The two soon after conducted studies to explore the Illusion of superiority instanced by Wheeler- inspiring the label: The Dunning Kruger effect.

The Dunning Kruger effect refers to the unearned sense of mastery expressed by those of low ability; a misunderstanding of aptitude energized by a lack of base level knowledge.

Dunning and Kruger began inspecting the condition with a pool of undergraduate students. After presenting them with a series of cognitive tasks they would ask the students how well they thought they did. Those that scored the lowest consistently overestimated how well they did by a significant margin.

The effect doesn’t just apply to academia. Similar experiments conducted at a gun range birthed the same results. Another study asked software engineers at two companies to evaluate their performance. 32% of the employees at one company and 42% of employees at the other company rated themselves in the top 5%.

It’s not merely a matter of overconfidence. It’s a blind defiance of logic. The more incompetent you are, the more vulnerable you are to mistakes of self-perception.

“A Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.”

Tom Nichols detailed a potential cause pretty powerfully in his book back in 2017. The Death Of Expertise describes the mass rejection of science and rationality. Nichols correctly suggests that the right we all have to speech has blunted our ability to properly assess its value. In some instances, some people’s import is worth more than others. That’s an important and obvious distinction to make.

“Doctors, whatever their errors, seem to do better with most illnesses than faith healers or your Aunt Ginny and her special chicken gut poultice. To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is silly.” Charitable.

Our rabid antipathy toward experts partly owes itself to our collective masochism-particularly when it comes to progress.  We have a long way to go in the fields of science and epistemology. I understand the tendency to focus on the “lack ofs” that is bred out of frustration, but we’ve made some considerable strides. That’s undeniable. It is objectively lucky to born in the year 2019.

Every plane that doesn’t crash, every person that doesn’t die from this or from that is a testament to our trajectory and a plea to adhere to the counsel of those that have put in the work and time in their respective fields.

A hesitance to request honest feedback, and a commitment to the idea that pundits don’t exist, is heartening drab dialogue. On a selfish level, narcissistic ignorance has made many of us incredibly boring and unproductive. You can’t concurrently harbor a fear of failure and a passion for enlightenment. Just like you can’t have a proper shave without a mirror.

Metacognition

In closing, I’d like to share some thoughts on thoughts; i.e. the only thing keeping me from being a horrible writer is the awareness that I’m, at best, a pretty bad one.

The process of evaluating the extent of what you do and do not know falls under the umbrella of a term coined by a developmental psychologist named John Flavell, in 1976: metacognition, “thinking about thinking.”

It’s the cycle of scrutiny and surveillance that equips us with instruments of self-improvement. The idea that because information is so readily available expertise is just a free afternoon away is both quixotic and cynical. Reading a Wikipedia article about existentialism with the expectation of becoming erudite is like eating an apple without a stomach and expecting the nutrients.

Like Nichols states, intuitive knowledge is more complicated than memory retention. Lived experiences matter.

Skepticism isn’t itself the issue. In fact, true progress requires a healthy dose of it. Not on its own though. Pyrrhonism is a highly reactive property. Coupling it with deliberation, and a clear understanding of individual strengths and weaknesses, promotes it considerably.

We have much more to learn from the failure of experts than we do from the critique of fools.