If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, or someone who you suspect might be a sociopath, it can be difficult to explain what’s happening. For example, day-to-day in the relationship you may feel alone but not quite understand why. You may feel like you’re always saying the wrong thing and making your partner angry, but you have no idea what set them off.
Without the right words, everything can seem confusing, especially if you haven’t read about personality disorders before.
Psychologists and the online community of survivors of narcissistic relationships use several terms to help make sense of what happened to them, such as why they fell for a narcissists charm, why they were targetted, or what made someone they loved treat them this way.
Because once you start to be able to talk about it, you can start to realise the way you were treated wasn’t ok.
Donna Andersen is a journalist who founded the website LoveFraud.com after she came out of an abusive marriage with a sociopath. The website is now a popular go-to place for people who have been through abuse, to help teach them to recognise and avoid sociopaths.
Andersen wrote a blog post last month about some of the phrases and words you should know if you think you’re going through an abusive relationship with a narcissist or sociopath, and this is a few of the ones you should be aware of.
Sociopath and narcissist are used interchangeably in this article. This is because for the most part, if someone is dealing with any of these situations, anyone with narcissistic tendencies, including sociopaths, could be to blame.
When you first met the narcissist, they may have showered you with affection. They probably told you how different you were to anyone else they have dated, how you were 'the one,' and you two were 'meant to be.' They might have complimented you all the time, given you expensive gifts, even taken you on holiday.
In reality, they probably weren't Prince/Princess Charming at all, they were just reeling you in, psychologists say. They spotted you, and they wanted to use you as their source of supply, and so turned on the charm using a technique called love bombing. It's when someone makes you feel like you're the most important person in the world, and they must be the one for you because they seem so perfect.
However, none of it is real, and this isn't how a normal relationship is supposed to progress, Dr Steven Stosny writes in a blog post for Psychology Today.
If you feel a relationship is progressing too fast, then it probably is, says Stosny. If someone has declared their undying love for you a few weeks after meeting them, and telling you you're their soul-mate, and they're making you uncomfortable, then the affection probably isn't coming from a good place.
Before they hooked you, the narcissist may have already been looking around for a new target. It's not unlike a predator searching for its prey, because they knew they had to find someone weak who they could easily exploit.
Narcissists search carefully for the next person they can charm, seduce and trap, and they're very good at it. It has to be someone who they know they can get a lot from, but also with vulnerabilities, according to a blog by therapist Silvia Horvath on Psych Central, which is why they often target people with low confidence and an underlying self-esteem problem.
However, the mark is also usually a very caring person who is willing to do things for other people, says Horvath, and often they also show passion for their family, friends and career. Having these qualities means you're more likely to see the good in the narcissist, before they turn on you.
Sometimes, the narcissist may even have known about you before they started speaking to you. They may have stalked you on social media or seen you around before they asked you out, because they were sussing out whether you'd be a good target.
In her book 'The Sociopath Next Door,' Dr Martha Stout says the most reliable sign of a sociopath when you first meet them is nothing to do with fear. Instead, it is when they appeal to your sympathy.
If 'you find yourself often pitying someone who consistently hurts you or other people, and who actively campaigns for your sympathy, the chances are close to 100% that you are dealing with a sociopath,' she writes in the book.
When they're trying to reel you in, a narcissistic person is likely to mention how badly they have been treated in the past. They may refer to past abuse in their life, or bad previous relationships. This isn't to say what they're saying isn't true, but it's wise to be wary.
The narcissist knows you are empathetic, and they know revealing personal information to you will probably make you feel like you're bonding with them. In reality, they're usually just trying to create the illusion of closeness, and they will ultimately use it against you.
After all, 'I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him,' Stout writes.
According to a blog post by psychologist Dr Stephanie Sarkis on Psychology Today, gaslighting is a tactic manipulative people use to gain power over someone else. It basically makes you, the victim, question reality because they're acting like a puppet master.
Sarkis says there are several stages to gaslighting. It happens gradually over time, so it can be difficult for the victim to identify before it's too late. It can start with a lie here and there, a snide comment every so often, until it ramps up more and more. It's like the 'frog in the saucepan' analogy: heat is turned up very slowly, so the frog never realises it's starting to boil to death.
Narcissists may tell outright lies which you know aren't true, but they're so adamant that you question the truth anyway. They also deny doing or saying things which you know they in fact did say or do. Sarkis says the more they do this, the more you question your reality and start accepting theirs.
Every now and then, the abuser may throw in a compliment or praise to make you feel good, and question whether they really are a bad person or not. This all just adds to the confusion and makes you think you're losing your mind, Sarkis says.
It's also common for them to use your family or friends against you by telling them you're going crazy, while simultaneously telling you not to see them anymore, creating more distance between you and those you trust.
Can't understand why your partner is being complimentary and kind to you one minute, and then accusatory and mean the next? This Jekyll and Hyde behaviour is common among narcissistic abusers, and they use it as a way to keep you in line.
According to a blog post by therapist John G. Taylor MA on Psychology Today, abusive people can be charming and loving when being watched by an outside audience, such as their family or friends, but they can become a monster when you're both in the privacy of your own home.
Over time, the narcissist may begin to devalue you more and more often, according to therapist Andrea Schneider in a blog post on Good Therapy. The Hyde side of them will come out more often via put-downs, insults, gaslighting, lacking emotional or physical intimacy, withdrawing affection, disappearing, or blaming their target for their own behaviour, also known as projection.
As a target, you may blame yourself for their behaviour because they're so well practiced at shifting the focus onto you. However, it's important to remember the kind, caring, romantic mask of Dr Jekyll you fell for probably didn't actually exist in the first place.
Once you may have felt like the most important person in the world to the narcissist, but when they're finished with you, they cast you aside. They may have taken all your love, money and respect, and have no trouble with discarding you and looking for their next source of supply.
Now that you're totally depleted you are of no use to a narcissist, and so there's no reason to keep you around.
Depending on whether they're looking to get further supply from your friends and family, Anderson warns in her blog post that they may turn to them for support. You may even find none of them believe your side of the story, because they're just as enchanted by the narcissist as you were. This is called a 'smear campaign.'
Sociopaths don't necessarily work alone either. If they're really intent on destroying you, they may rely on a gang of 'flying monkeys' to make your life miserable. It's a reference to The Wizard of Oz, where the flying monkeys do all the Wicked Witch of the West's dirty work.
Some of them go along happily with the schemes because they are sociopaths themselves. Others have no idea what they're a part of because they're under the narcissistic spell.
Whether you've been discarded or you managed to escape from the narcissist, they will probably return. So you need to be vigilant -- block them from social media, block their number, and block anyone you're both still in contact with. This is what's known as 'no contact.'
Sarkis explains in another blog post on Psychology Today that narcissists fear perceived abandonment. This is because image is so important to them. They thrive off attention, good or bad, and when you give them the silent treatment they start realising they are no longer in control.
So often they return and try to reel you back in, sometimes known as 'hoovering.' They may tell you they realise they made a mistake, they're sorry for how they treated you and they will never do it again.
Andersen says don't fall for it, as any happy reunion will eventually be replaced by an even worse ending than before.
'It's just the same scam, the sequel,' she says.
If you think you may be involved in an abusive relationship, or would just like to talk to someone, call Lifeline on 1800 706 734. Emotional, psychological, and mental abuse can be extremely difficult to recognise and hard to report; these support networks exist to help.
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