Narcissists are needy people, meaning they are constantly on the prowl for supply…your admiration, blind loyalty, being “serviced.” Of course, they would not characterize themselves that way, nonetheless, it is foundational to who they are.

This means there are times when narcissists will attempt to butter you up, showing a seeming interest in you, when in fact you are just being groomed. Over time, as your utility wanes, their indifference toward the real you emerges.

Consider some common scenarios illustrating this mindset of indifference, as described by real people:

  • A coworker was really friendly when we first met. We shared mutual interests, and we’d talk very freely during our times together. We often ate lunch together and learned about all sorts of personal experiences. But then she found a new buddy and boom, everything changed. I was dismissed and ignored as if all the other times didn’t even happen.
  • My brother is as mean as a snake until he wants something. Then here comes Prince Charming.
  • My partner couldn’t care less about my personal life and routinely minimized me…until it was time for a booty call.
  • My mother-in-law is hyper controlling, but part of her cover is giving me expensive gifts.

The core message in these types of exchanges is: “I’ll show interest in you as long as you remain useful, but otherwise…get out of here.” It’s the way of a narcissist.

It is important to recognize that narcissists are reading from a well-worn script that predisposes them to feign interest then dismiss. Their behaviors give you great insight into their psyche, and the more you understand their inner tensions, the more objective you can be in your responses.

Specifically, there are at least six patterns in play when you are treated in this fashion.

  1. The pattern of entitlement. Plain and simple, narcissists honestly believe they deserve special treatment, and the sooner you realize it, the better the relationship will be, at least for them. They are driven by the question, “What can you do for me in this moment?”
  2. The pattern of exploitation. Narcissists like to focus on your positive traits and use them solely for their personal advantage. They consistently seek ways to advance their cause by latching onto the best qualities you have to offer.
  3. The pattern of dehumanization. Even when narcissists initially or sporadically treat you with high regard, it is a ruse. In that person’s mind, you are merely someone who provides a service or advantage. Narcissists are not interested in you as a true person.
  4. The pattern of relationship incompetence. In short spurts, narcissists can seemingly relate well, offering friendliness or pleasantries. But over time, they prove incapable of sustaining meaningful exchanges. They do not have the skillset for sustained exchanges of dignity and respect.
  5. The pattern of cold-blooded attitudes. Even when the narcissist seems kind and engaging, the eventual displays of indifference toward you imply, “I got what I wanted, and now it’s time to look for new supply. You’re dismissed.”
  6. The pattern of contempt. A defining feature of the narcissistic pattern is the feeling of superiority over others. You may not see that trait immediately, but over time, the narcissist reveals a belief that you are just a nobody who is clearly of lesser value.

Once you see and experience these patterns, it is only natural to struggle with a wide array of internal responses.

You can certainly feel disillusionment. Sometimes you might carry false guilt or shame, as you wonder how you could have made the situation better. Other times, anger or bitterness can emerge, which is understandable given the narcissist’s wrong treatment of you. And in the end, you might feel jaded, wondering if it is ever a good idea to become vulnerable to a seemingly friendly person.

Sure enough, narcissists are users and you were used, but try to remember that not all individuals are wired like that. The narcissist treated you with a self-serving intent in the same way an alligator skulks around seeking someone to devour. It is their nature.

There actually are people, however, who can relate cleanly…keep an eye out for those who can engage well with you. Go slow in making connections, and keep your expectations realistic. And by all means, don’t fall for false flattery, but instead let long-term discernment be your guide.

Know that the pain you have experienced after being exploited can instill a profound resolve to be the better alternative. Someone in this world needs to stand for conscientiousness and goodness, and you can be that person. Despite the presence of exploitative people, you can determine, “I am resolved to live with consistent civility.”

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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