Let’s focus on a common approach used by narcissists to keep you on the end of their psychological hooks.  First, remember they need you to supply their ego needs, also known as narcissistic supply.  Second, recognize how this prompts them to make many attempts to control how you think and respond.  Then third, if they can trick you into believing you will benefit by them being in control, they are pleased.

A favorite approach used by narcissists (especially of the covert type) is the passive-aggressive “friendly but” mindset.  The goal is to drain you of your distinctives while pushing you into conformity to their agenda.  Here’s how this can unfold:

  1. They will let you think you are an insider.  They can become friendly, tell personal stories, and encourage you to talk about your thoughts and plans.  Often this will include comments implying that they have shared beliefs and interests.
  1. Slowly, their sinister side is revealed.  Narcissists cannot stop themselves from being critical, and over time that tendency will appear.  Of course, their complaints will initially be leveled against others, but eventually you will learn that you are a target too.
  1. They will reveal a stubborn streak, and likewise they will prove to be defensive.  As you feel familiar with the narcissist, you might begin expressing thoughts and feelings of a differing nature, only to be met with resistance.  It may be innocuous at first, but the tension will increase over time.
  1. Eventually the criticism will focus on you.  Narcissists commonly ask questions like: “What’s wrong with you?” or “Where did you come up with an idea like that?”  Their approach toward people includes lots of judgment, and inevitably you will hear it.
  1. They will gaslight you by casting doubt on your intentions, calling your friends and allies into question, and persuading you to distance yourself from them.  They have a goal of diminishing your confidence in your own perceptions and interpretations.
  1. Agitation and impatience become increasingly prominent.  This may come in the form of direct affronts or in deliberate non-cooperation.  They have an ongoing simmering anger that they cannot contain.
  1. The harshness once reserved for others is turned directly onto you.  You will be scorned and blamed for the deficiencies that arise inside the relationship, and it will become apparent that the initial friendliness was not trustworthy.

As the narcissist reveals this unsettling pattern, you can be left wondering: “How did I get mixed up in this? I thought we had a decent relationship.” 

Then as you ponder how the relationship has deteriorated, you are positioned to see in retrospect that a narcissist’s pleasantness was not what you originally assumed.  Red flags were increasingly revealed. 

These would include:

  • Being dismissive even when the friendliness was in full force.
  • Assuming the victim’s position as they complained about others.
  • Revealing over time that they really were not that interested in your back story.
  • Becoming physically evasive at times, not wanting to be accountable.
  • Claiming high ethical standards, yet cutting corners or being inconsistent along the way.
  • Insisting upon your loyalty, even as it is not reciprocated.
  • Revealing that their favors had conditions attached.

True to the nature of narcissism, the passive aggressive narcissist must be in control, and they have learned that stealth control is often the most effective. But over time, as you are shamed and second-guessed by them, it becomes increasingly apparent that from the beginning, the narcissist was playing you.  You moved from being an insider to becoming a target.

Once you see how narcissists can seem friendly, but are really out to find supply, it’s time to change course. 

You will learn by experience that your efforts to reason with them are futile, and worse, you will be labeled as the dysfunctional one.  That understood, change course anyway.  

Once you pull back from the passive aggressive narcissist’s “friendly but” tactics, do you know what will happen next?  They will belittle you as they move onto the next target.  It’s what they do, it’s who they are.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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