Whether you realize it or not, it is quite likely that someone in your life has a narcissistic personality disorder. They may be your friend, your lover, your boss, your teacher, or your relative. This means that it is almost inevitable that at some point you are going to find yourself on the receiving end of narcissistic abuse. The main reason for this is that one of the ways that Narcissists manage their shaky self-esteem is by devaluing other people.
This means that no matter how well-intended you are, the narcissist in your life is likely to become offended by something that you say or do and will want to punish you. If you are reading this post, it is quite likely that you have already been on the receiving end of some form of narcissistic abuse that left you shocked and hurt.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that narcissistic abuse is often very predictable. Some of it may be avoidable by knowing the three main things that usually trigger it—and if you cannot avoid it, at least you will be better prepared to understand what is happening and protect yourself.
What is likely to trigger narcissistic abuse?
- Any comment or action by you that is perceived as a confrontation or criticism.
- When your behavior does not conform to what the narcissist wants, they may feel the need to dominate you and control your behavior.
- When a narcissist stops idealizing you and starts to see your flaws.
Note: I will be using the terms “narcissist” and “narcissistic” in this post as a shorthand way of referring to individuals who adapted to their childhood situation by developing the modes of thinking and coping that today are commonly referred to as narcissistic personality disorder. No disrespect is intended.
The Three Main Triggers of Narcissistic Abuse
1. If you confront or criticize them.
You may not intend what you say as criticism. You might, for example, be simply stating a preference that is different than the one they expressed. People with narcissistic adaptations suffer from “one-mindedness.” This is the belief that there can only be one valid and correct view in any situation. Therefore, once they state their view, if you state a different one, they are likely to feel criticized and retaliate by devaluing you.
Example: Bob and Jim go to dinner
Bob:You absolutely must order the steak here. It is amazing!
Jim: Sounds great, but I think I will have the fish.
Bob: Why do you always have to be so difficult?
2. When they feel the need to establish dominance over you.
Example: Bob and his wife Jill
Bob and Jill go out for dinner with another couple Bill and Craig. Jill, Bill, and Craig start talking about a topic that Bob is not very interested in or knowledgeable about. Later that evening:
Bob: You ruined the whole evening for me!
Jill: What are you talking about?
Bob: That is exactly what I mean! You can’t be that stupid! You know what you did and that I was unhappy and you did it anyway!
Jill: I still have no idea what you mean. I had a good time and had no idea you were not enjoying the evening as well.
Bob: Well, you should have known. Couldn’t you see how quiet I was? I felt entirely left out of the conversation. The next time you do that, I will just get up and leave you there!
3. When their initial idealization of you as perfect wears off and they start to see your flaws.
In the beginning of a new relationship, when your narcissistic partner thinks you are perfect and idealizes you, they are likely to be extremely nice to you. As they get to know you and they start to see your normal human flaws, narcissists de-idealize you. When this happens, they feel disappointed and cheated. You rapidly drop from being seen as special to being seen as low-status garbage. They then feel free to abuse you.
Example: Bob and Jill
When Bob first met Jill, he found her highly desirable. She was both beautiful and from a more cultured background than his. He pursued Jill relentlessly and truly believed that he had found the perfect woman. He showered her with gifts and compliments and quickly proposed marriage.
Jill was swept off her feet and happily said “yes.”
Unfortunately for Jill, once they were married, Bob’s attitude towards her slowly shifted. Subconsciously, Bob believed that he was worthless. Therefore, anyone who truly valued him must be even more worthless than him. Bob started looking for flaws in Jill and because she was a real human being, he found many imperfections.
Now the ratio of praise to blame shifted until all Jill heard was a litany of abusive complaints about her.
Bob: Do you have to wear so much perfume?
Jill: I put it on especially for you. You bought it for my last birthday and said it was your favorite.
Bob: Well, you must have put too much on. Maybe you need a shower. As long as you are at it, please change that dress as well. You look fat. I’m embarrassed to be seen with you.
Punchline: Most narcissistic abuse is not only predictable but also inevitable. It may come when you least expect it, but when you stop to analyze it, you are likely to find that it falls into one of the above three categories.
Adapted from a Quora.com post, “Are the cycles of narcissistic abuse predictable?” (8/21/18).