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The 4 Critical Steps of a Narcissist's Invasion

Shifting from mutual attraction to emotional abuse.

Key points

  • Emotionally intelligent people are often magnets for narcissists.
  • Understanding this dynamic can help emotionally intelligent people spot narcissistic tendencies before investing in a relationship.
  • There are four phases of narcissistic manipulation: attraction, feeling small, sabotage, and countering manipulation with kindness.

Many emotionally intelligent people often feel as if they are a magnet for narcissists. The constant drama and pain narcissists cause is humiliating and demoralizing. A person may fear he or she embodies a fatal flaw that attracts narcissists. Yet, the flaw may actually be a gift. Understanding how this gift collides with a narcissist in different phases of the relationship may help.

Emotionally intelligent people are typically empathic, attuned to the feelings of others, and self-aware. Understanding the interplay between emotionally intelligent qualities and narcissistic tendencies at various stages in a relationship may help a person see the abusive dynamic more quickly. Stepping back from a narcissist before too much is invested is critical.

Phase 1: The attraction. A narcissist is often extremely attracted to a person who is emotionally intelligent. He or she strives to get close to a person who is warm and caring. Similarly, an emotionally intelligent person is flattered by the narcissist’s attention and charm. The narcissist showers the person with compliments and validation, which the emotionally intelligent person appreciates. In fact, the narcissist is so supportive that he or she appears emotionally intelligent. This honeymoon phase usually lasts until the partner is seriously invested in the relationship. Then, things change.

Phase 2: The narcissist feels small. He or she senses the emotionally intelligent mate has something powerful that he or she wants but does not know how to get. The power to connect with others on a deep level, an awareness and understanding of what others are feeling, and the capacity to sense and articulate one’s own emotions allows a person to help, heal, and maintain close and healthy relationships with others who also possess these capacities. Sensing the partner has abilities that he or she lacks creates resentment. The narcissist does not understand the power because he or she does not “speak the language” or “understand the currency,” but he or she wants it. Yet, in time, the narcissist realizes it is a commodity that cannot be extrapolated from the mate and possessed, so he or she resorts to something else.

The narcissist manipulates and abuses the emotionally intelligent person’s gift. He or she punishes the partner for embodying something he or she cannot extract and possess. Taking advantage of the partner's trust, time, generosity, loyalty, and empathy, he or she exploits what cannot be taken.

For example, the narcissist doesn’t have an authentically close relationship with his child and is jealous of his emotionally intelligent partner’s bond with the child. Behind her back, he says negative things about her to the child and continually exploits her by demanding she manage the difficult parenting. He takes over when there is fun to be had. Slowly and consistently the narcissist erodes the emotionally intelligent person’s relationship with her child without her knowledge.

Phase 3: The narcissist seeks to sabotage and destroy the person whom he or she is jealous of. The narcissist is internally enraged when he or she sees the emotionally intelligent partner utilizing his or her power; he or she tries to destroy it by framing it as a weakness. For example, the empathic partner may readily connect with her daughter’s disappointment when she is purposefully excluded from a friend group. She relates to what her daughter is feeling and communicates an understanding of the emotional pain her daughter is experiencing. Her daughter feels understood, less alone in her plight, and close to her mom who gets it. Because she feels better, she is empowered and calls several other friends to make plans. She successfully organizes an outing to the park with friends.

Yet the narcissistic parent scolds his partner and calls her “soft.” He gives her a pamphlet about empathy and its “link” to aggression. He then takes his daughter out for ice cream and tells her she shouldn’t listen to her mom because her mom never had friends. He refers to his wife as a “loser” and chuckles so he can qualify his sentiment as a joke if he is confronted. His daughter who is now second-guessing herself and her mom returns home and calls her friends to cancel. Confused and conflicted, she stays in her room for the remainder of the evening. Her mom, clueless about her husband’s antics, wonders if he is right. Did she provide bad advice? Is her daughter suffering because of her? The mom’s confidence in her parenting dwindles and the daughter loses trust in the emotionally intelligent parent.

Phase 4: The narcissist disguises his or her emotional abuse by being nice. This may be the narcissist's most effective tool when camouflaging emotional abuse. Suddenly he or she is kind and complimentary, acting as though the fit of rage he or she threw an hour ago never happened. The sudden change in temperament often causes confusion in an emotionally intelligent partner who naturally recognizes the good in people. He or she wonders if the toxic tendencies were exaggerated in his or her own mind. After all, a person is allowed to have a bad day. Now, the emotionally intelligent individual feels foolish for perceiving the narcissist as mean. Someone who does such nice things cannot be a problem. Unfortunately, the nice act is usually a manipulation. A helpful way to gain clarity in this situation is to ask oneself, “Would I ever do what he or she did?” If the answer is “no,” the person may be narcissistic.

It is nearly impossible to detect a narcissist at the beginning stages of a relationship and often the change in demeanor makes a person think he or she did something to lose affection. However, it may be deep-rooted jealousy that is causing disdain and indifference in a partner. If this is the case, it may be necessary to consider separating from the partner. Protect the gift of emotional intelligence. The world needs it.

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