Narcissists are pessimists by nature, and as a result, they do not trust people.  Likewise, the False Self is fully in charge as they perpetually seek to build up oneself at the expense of others.  Consequently, they have failed to incorporate qualities like love, peace, and contentment.

As part of their tight defensive structure, their strategy for self-preservation is to demean you. (It is truly illogical, but narcissists are not known for fairness and reason.)  Specifically, they focus on you as the problem while anointing themselves as the one who sets the standards.  In the midst of it all, they push the notion that you are defective and they need to fill your mind with their many self-serving notions.

Narcissists get into your head through the use of two primary tactics:  projection and gaslighting.  They will see in you the dysfunctions they cannot resolve within themselves, then they will seek to create confusion within you so you will presumably have no option other than letting them have their way with you.  Obviously, that is not healthy for anyone inside that equation.

Narcissists are the ultimate players of mind games, so it becomes your task to know what they wish to accomplish.  Being aware of their schemes, you can inwardly challenge their demeaning messages, formulating your own well-conceived ideas about who you wish to be.

To get an idea about how they work, let’s identify several of their tactics:

  • They repeatedly attempt to force The Agenda upon you.  Repeatedly, they remind you of the many should’s and have to’s that you are obliged to maintain.  Clearly, they have already determined what is right and wrong and you’re supposed to bend toward their proclamations.
  • They chronically invalidate your emotions, needs, perceptions, and opinions.  As part of their gaslighting ploy, they want you to doubt the legitimacy of your ways of coping and responding.  
  • Your value as a person is on a sliding scale.  With lots of criticism and judgment, narcissists will remind you that you are useful and worthy only as long as you perform to their standards.  They want you to look to them to determine if indeed you have any redeeming assets.
  • Love (such as it is) and acceptance comes and goes.  You might be given messages of appreciation, yet they will be fleeting at best.  Narcissists do not love, but they seek admiration and conformity.  If you follow their lead, acceptance might be offered…until you show yourself to be too independent.
  • Anger is just one false move away.  Being chronically disgruntled, narcissists are not bashful about letting you know how agitated they can be when you stray from The Agenda.  That agitation takes on the many forms of punitive anger… open aggression, passive aggression, contempt, the smear campaign, and harsh rejection.
  • They will not reason with you because that would imply you are one who has something reasonable to offer.  Before you even speak up, narcissists determine that you make no sense.  Your perspectives are disruptive, which means they have no need to show empathy or to seek your input.
  • They maintain many double standards.  As part of the effort to diminish you, they give themselves much leeway about how they get to manage the relationship, yet they do not allow you the privilege to participate as an equal partner.  You are not fit, in their opinion.

When you have repeated exposure to these patterns, it can bring out the worst in you, which of course, pleases the narcissist.  Then your confidence can wane as the narcissist’s negativity haunts you, even when the narcissist is elsewhere. 

Over time, themes can emerge within your mind implying the narcissist has gained a foothold.  For instance:

  • You become overly concerned about how you are being perceived, not just by the narcissist, but by others as well.
  • You defend too easily, even as evidence indicates it is a complete waste of energy.
  • Your anger builds in response to the narcissist’s anger, which leads to non-productive combative exchanges.
  • You can fall into a pattern of self-criticism, as a type of preemptive strike.  (If you criticize yourself first, the other person’s criticism does not sting as much.)
  • You can fall into appeasement and people pleasing reactions.
  • You suppress your emotions, making you susceptible to becoming a major keeper of secrets.
  • Rebellion can become prominent…to your own detriment.
  • Freedom feels like something you have to steal.

All the while, the narcissist remains inside his/her malfunctioning patterns and you become a shell of who you wish to be.

If any change is going to happen, it has to begin inside yourself.  Drop any illusion that you can or should change the narcissist and focus instead on who you want to be despite the narcissist’s protests to the contrary.  Focus daily, episode by episode, on the traits that will define you even as you make room for the narcissist’s griping and criticism.  

The narcissist wants to take up residence inside your mind, but that requires your cooperation, which means you can decide: “You may persist in your projections and gaslighting, but I’ll not allow you to possess my interior.  That’s my responsibility.”

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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