Two things about narcissism can be said with great certainty. First, narcissists have anger issues. Their life script is defined by selfishness and entitlement, so when events don’t unfold as they wish, irritability is a sure thing. Second, they refuse to take responsibility for their anger. That requires a humility that is outside their skill set.
Prone toward manipulations, narcissists will draw you into dysfunctional patterns with the goal of taking the focus off their negative traits. Desperately dishonest, they lay psychological traps hoping you will become erratic, which then allows them to point the finger of accusation saying: “You’re the cause of my problems.” It’s part of their conniving nature, and they are good at what they do.
Knowing that narcissists want to keep you psychologically off balance, your task is to become aware of their exploitive aims, then devote yourself to the better alternatives. With that in mind, let’s look at four traps they will lay:
- The trap of counter control.
Think carefully. When you conflict with a narcissist, is that person pushy? Insistent? Stubborn? Overbearing? Prone toward a fixed agenda? A poor listener? Inclined to tell you what to think, feel, or do? Of course, this is like asking if fish get wet. You are likely to answer yes to each of these possibilities.
Taking it a bit further, how do you react? Do you respond to their controlling behaviors with your own counter control tendencies? Do you become argumentative? Animated? Or perhaps stubbornly silent? Do you attempt to convince? Plead your case? Raise your tone of voice?
Narcissists are strongly controlling because it is central to their character. But when you respond with similar traits, they derisively project: “You are so impossible.” Of course, your efforts to make them see their hypocrisy will go nowhere, and in the end, you succumbed to their manipulation.
- The trap of unnecessary defense.
Being competitive, narcissists will take the offensive approach during conflicts. Predictably, you are accused of poor judgment. They speak ill about your decisions, preferences, and opinions. They remind you of past miscalculations, or perhaps they will offer inaccurate interpretations of your behaviors. Narcissists will say and do anything to remind you that no explanation could ever justify your thoughts and behaviors.
Inwardly, you may think: “But this is so untrue. I’m not who this person depicts.” At that point, you can go overboard explaining the errors of the narcissist’s words. You might rebut and rationalize. You may attempt to provide context related to the topic in question. You might express exasperation and dismay. But in the process, it will dawn on you: “This person isn’t buying one single word I’m saying.”
No matter how logically you defend your position, narcissists will not retract their thoughts and feelings. Neither will they apologize or admit wrong. They are too invested in propping up a carefully crafted False Self. And worse, they won’t cease being offensive. And why would they? As long as you remain defensive, they have you inside their clutches, so they press on with the goal of invalidating you as long as you are willing to engage.
- The trap of shame and judgment.
Narcissists have a deep history of trying to avoid judgments. They fear unflattering comments, so they compensate by becoming the ones who pronounce judgment upon others…specifically upon you. Playing dirty, they take aim on your character. In their minds, you are not just wrong, you are defective. To them, you should feel shame for no other reason than being different. Though illogical, they have concluded that their well-being rises as your deficiencies are highlighted.
When you are repeatedly exposed to their messages of judgment and shame, it can have a corrosive effect. You can wonder: “Am I the problem?” Or you may remind yourself how you dislike the person you have become. Being starkly honest, you might admit that you are not at your best with this person, then you can build on that idea by accepting guilt or degradation that is not yours to carry.
Narcissists are deflectors. They believe that the best way to build their self-esteem is to destroy yours. Whenever you show disdain toward yourself, they are satisfied because you’re are inside their trap.
- The trap of codependency.
Narcissists carry much emotional chaos inwardly. They are not secure, nor do they have the psychological competence to move forward with internal peace. But instead of tending to their inner needs, they become reactors. Being immature and in need of admiration, they seek your conformity and deference. They won’t admit it, but they look to you to give them narcissistic supply. That is, depend upon you to prop up their very fragile ego.
If you are a person who yearns for emotional connections, you can be susceptible to the trap of codependency. (“Co” is a prefix meaning “with”)
Instead of being guided by inner competence, you too can become a reactor. If they are angry, you become angry. If they accuse, you accuse. If they hold grudges, you can hold grudges in reverse. In the end, your psychological stability diminishes since you have allowed that person to establish your emotional pace.
It is essential for you to recognize these four traps narcissists pull you into since an informed mind is the beginning point for wisdom. Narcissists are emotional weaklings who are sorely lacking in coping skills, and who have decided that the best strategy for personal success is to make you look like a failure.
Your awareness of their psychological manipulations can prompt you to think: “I’m onto your traps. I’m sorry you carry so much pain and chaos inwardly, but it is not my responsibility to eliminate that tension.”
Dignity, respect, and civility can be your alternative and as you commit to such traits, you can become wise enough to see a narcissist’s snares and stay disentangled.
~Les Carter, Ph.D.
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