***THIS POST CONTAINS DESCRIPTIONS OF ABUSE THAT MAY BE TRIGGERING***
In many conversations about abuse, so many of us feel like we have been stupid somehow, falling for such obvious tactics as those employed by a narcissist.
Though we feel like this, at the same time we also know that really we had very little choice. Explaining this to others is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do. So I’ve written this post which hopefully describes how covert and cruel abuse of any kind is and how it sneaks into our relationships without us really noticing and how it escalates like standing on a sandbank when the tide comes in behind you. Before you know it, you’re swimming home and you’ve forgotten how to swim.
Please feel free to comment and share your own experiences.
One of the first things a narcissist will scream to the rooftops once they are called out is, “BUT I AM THE VICTIM!”.
They will immediately, actively begin seeking sympathy and understanding from anyone who will listen. Telling woeful tales of what drove them to such abhorrent behaviour. It will begin with tales of how the circumstances were just too much to deal with. How petty irritations just got to them. How the stress of work or money or family pressures just tipped them over the edge. It’ll all be smattered with false guilt and doe eyed promises that it isn’t really who they are, they just made a mistake. How somehow, if you really listen, and if you discount the screaming, spitting, pushing, punching behaviour of theirs… it was all the other person’s fault. Do you see?
Then it’ll escalate. The more sympathy that they gain, the more momentum the lies gather. It becomes more direct, incidents exaggerated beyond recognition, things said that weren’t said. Lies upon lies. Especially when no contact has been enforced. The ex becomes the nightmare ex. And the nightmare exes… all of them. The tales of emotional abuse and terrible lack of care that they allegedly suffered spew out of their mouths like vomit and, for all of the truth these statements hold, it might as well be.
The narcissist doesn’t know when to stop. It got them into this mess and they will use it to try and get out of it too.
They are the archetypal One Trick Pony.
If you are the new partner, they hope that you can overlook the abuse that they inflicted on others. One other or, more usually, many others. The physical. The psychological. The sexual. They hope that with enough persuasion will understand their terrible plight.
Only YOU can see the real them.
Only you and them have that special connection that bonds you spiritually together.
If only they had met you before all of the others.
But it is, of course, a lie, like everything else they say.
“But I am a victim!” isn’t a statement of truth, it’s a battlecry.
It is now, if you are the new partner of an abusive narcissist, that the game of Boundary Roulette begins.
Firstly, the narcissist needs you to feel sorry for them. They need you to think that they are vulnerable so that your defences drop. Once you start to drop your defences the narcissist will claim a love like never before!
Beautiful, huh? Except no, it’s definitely not.
This is designed to make you feel somehow obligated to them and to draw you in fast, they may tell you personal things in confidence and make you promise never to reveal them. They will talk endlessly of trust, more specifically, whether they trust you. They will assume that you trust them regardless, as they will be playing the role of meek and damaged victim. They may make up ways for you to earn their trust, like a point scoring system, and bestow each level of their ever deepening trust upon you like shiny medals. All of this will be because you are so special. So very special.
You will be love bombed. They will do anything and everything to make you feel like the most important person in the world. No issue is too much trouble for them. After all they love you like they’ve never loved anyone before and you’ve earned that ever elusive trust that so many before you have trampled all over.
Occasionally the mask will drop, a snidey, shitty, self centred them will make a brief reappearance but it will be quickly covered up and excused depending on your reaction to it. These are little tests, designed to assess your boundaries and where they can be stepped on. Too much of a reaction and the narcissist will back down for a while, because you’ll catch on far too quickly to the ensuing boundary trampling that they are planning for you. The idea here is to make YOU apologise to them for whatever minor indiscretion they have chosen to focus on. They need to act upset enough to elicit a reaction in you that feels like “oh my goodness I’m so sorry. I had no IDEA that would upset you so much”. They will then quickly turn up the sympathy card and bingo!
You’ve just lost game number one in boundary roulette!
You won’t know this though. You’ll feel relieved you were able to rectify the accidental pain you’ve apparently just caused.
These little tests will slowly increase, in between the all consuming love and adoration they bestow upon you. It’ll slowly encroach on your life. They will tell you “you know WHY I have issues with THAT.” and, although it’s probably just a normal behaviour or action for anyone, you’ll curb it here and there to reduce the distress you think you’re causing the narcissist.
A little thing here, a little thing there, your boundaries wilting away inch by inch.
Because each issue is so tiny, it’s almost as if you, yourself are willingly eroding your own boundaries. Slowly, insidiously, under the cover of darkness, control gains a foothold.
Here, you reach a sticky point. It may be that all these little demands begin to feel wrong somehow. That you are now watching your behaviour a little too much for your own liking. But you’re a bit stuck now. To go back on any of them will make you a liar to the narcissist. That golden trust that was bestowed upon you is now at risk and any small deviation will be twisted as a mistruth and make you a bad person. To call them out isn’t an option, there will be a myriad ways that things can get explained away. Of course, you’re not a bad person, and you sure as hell don’t want to be seen as a bad person. So you shrug and carry on and explain it away to yourself as not too bad anyway and they are so good to you, it’s the least you can do, right? It’s no real trouble.
It doesn’t stop though. The narcissist keeps encroaching on those boundaries. Ten little things, twenty little things, one hundred little things and suddenly, without you realising it, you’ve got several very big things that you have no idea how to deal with.
On top of this the mask drops more often, partly because there are now many issues in your life that the narcissist has a problem with and partly because you are now moving into a new phase. In this phase the narcissist gradually swaps from mostly loving and can’t do enough with occasional outbursts to mostly outbursts and criticism with occasional loving moments.
And yet, still, you don’t feel you’re in an abusive relationship. There is an excuse for everything. Yes, some sound a little far fetched, but mostly you can see, however vaguely, that it could be a reason. You trust them. You live for the good times. You structure life around the narcissist’s wants to keep them happy, ignoring your own needs or, even, aligning your needs with theirs for a more harmonious life. Because you’re human, you make mistakes, and when you do the narcissist is enraged. “How COULD you!” and “You don’t care about anyone but yourself!” become the most common phrases you hear.
The mistakes you make are compounded further by the ones you don’t. The narcissist can find a million ways to make the perfect day somehow imperfect, and it’ll be your fault.
I mean yes, you looked after the children, you cleaned and worked 9 hours and bought the narcissist some new clothing BUT…
“Why didn’t YOU walk the dog? Why do you ALWAYS leave things to me?!”
An argument ensues, as you try to explain that you didn’t have the time. You offer to go now but you’re told “No! I’ll do it… you clearly don’t want to!” Hurtful things are said, things that leave you reeling in shock, things that have nothing to do with walking the dog, things that you never ever though they would use to hurt you, never mind over something so petty. So the dog is reluctantly walked, and you’re left at home feeling guilty about the dog and a few other things that were also dragged up in the argument. As the narcissist comes back home, resentment written all over their face, you apologise for being so thoughtless, you promise it won’t happen again. You resolve, to yourself, to make sure the dog is walked every day before they get home from work. It is now your responsibility.
And time goes on. So, you looked after the children, you cleaned and worked 9 hours, bought the narcissist some new clothing and walked the dog… BUT…
“What time do you call this?! Where is dinner?! I’m starving and I’ve been at work all day and you’re flouncing about the park with the dog and the kids! Do you expect me to do EVERYTHING?!”
You apologise profusely. You haven’t had time yet, it’s planned it’ll be ready in 20 minutes and… crash!… the crockery is swiped off the kitchen side violently. You’re shocked and terrified and tired and you have NO IDEA what to do. The narcissist is shouting about selfishness and laziness, getting close to your face and holding your arm until it hurts. They are saying more hurtful things about you as a person, things you’ve confided in them about and things that you have told then are painful for you. They shout and shout for hours, while you’re scurrying about the kitchen desperately making dinner as fast as humanly possible. You’re told you are useless, pathetic, and that no one would ever put up with this. You’re nothing short of lucky that they do, even though it’s so awful for them.
You cook dinner. They aren’t hungry any more. Dinner goes in the bin. They go to bed. You’re left feeling afraid and confused and yet you still clear up the mess they created before heading to bed yourself, exhausted. In the morning life continues as normal. You get a cursory apology and some vague explanation about having a bad day at work and how they aren’t as good at cooking as you are. They suggest “How about you make us something special for dinner tonight? I’ll get us a bottle of wine.” You agree.
You also decide to always make sure dinner is cooked. This is now your sole responsibility.
More time passes. You’ve looked after the children, you’ve cleaned and worked 9 hours, bought the narcissist some new clothing, walked the dog and cooked dinner… BUT…
“Why are you so tired?! Why aren’t YOU initiating sex with me?! You’re SO DAMN SELFISH!”
And you feel bad. Because you’ve lost all sense of normal. You lost all sense of your boundaries and you can’t even quite remember when or how that happened. They told you how they feel about always having to initiate sex. They told you it makes them feel insecure, unloved and unwanted. They told you how the others never did and it hurt them so very badly. And now YOU are doing this to them?! You said you were different. Better. Special. Kinder. More loving.
They rant and shout and hold your arm until it hurts and you swear, just for a second they were going to hit you, maybe you were wrong, you’re tired, you’re over emotional, you’re confused.
So you sigh. You apologise and you take your tired, achey body to bed and initiate sex. You feel empty. You feel violated. But you’re too tired to argue. Afterwards the narcissist tells you that you’re amazing, special and the only person they have ever really loved. They say that they’re sorry that they got upset, they just adore being close to you. You smile a weak smile and finally get some sleep.
More time goes by. You’ve looked after the children, you’ve cleaned and worked 9 hours, bought the narcissist some new clothing, walked the dog, cooked dinner AND initiated sex most nights of this week. Tonight it’s Friday night and you’ve been invited out with your friends. It’s been planned for a while and you are really looking forward to a bit of you time. The narcissist comes home and is visibly annoyed. You ask what’s up. They tell you it’s nothing, but you carry on, go out with your friends, don’t mind them, they will be fine without you.
You’re a bit miffed. You also have a gnawing feeling at the pit of your stomach that you just can’t place. You feel a bit shakey. You shrug it off and tell them ok, and that you won’t be long anyway and you can talk when you get home. You go out with your friends.
Within half an hour your phone goes. The narcissist is asking where the dog food is, you know they know the answer, but you tell them anyway. They ask if you’re having fun. You reply that you are and they reply with “well that’s all that matters.”
That gnawing feeling returns. Your friends pull you away and take selfies of you all with a couple of random others of the opposite sex at the bar.
A few drinks and a dance later and you are heading home. You realise you haven’t checked your phone for a couple of hours and as you get in the cab you see 14 missed calls and 8 messages asking “where are you!?” And “call me NOW!” You immediately think there has been an emergency and panic. You call home.
When they answer it all seems calm, almost too calm. You ask what’s wrong and they say “Oh nothing you need to worry about, you’re clearly having too much fun.” You tell them not to be daft and tell you what happened?! And they tell you to wait until you get home. You are now full of anxiety. The cab ride home feels like an eternity which is a blessing and a curse as you equally want to get home and find out what’s happening and don’t want to go home at all.
You get home and you are greeted with a stony faced narcissist. You’re questioned; “Where were you? Who were you with?” You answer. You’re told “Don’t lie to me!” Even though you aren’t. You don’t know what answer they are looking for but you’re now afraid because they are getting more angry than you have ever seen before. They are shouting at you for an answer you cannot give. They are screaming about a selfie that your friend posted on social media. Now asking who the other people were. You don’t know. You try to say that you don’t know. Things are thrown. You are pushed.
That’s crossed a line. You tell yourself.
You’ve really had enough now. You try to go to bed, but they block the door and won’t let you leave the room. They take your phone and demand to read your messages. You refuse. You’re angry and you’ve had a drink, so you feel a bit more like fighting back, you’re not drunk, just feeling braver, so you decide to shout back at them. You tell them they are unreasonable and you’re sick and tired of always answering to them and you’ve done nothing wrong and… bam! Suddenly you’re on the floor, the side of your face screaming in pain. Your head, having been knocked to the side, your eyes, struggling to focus, rest upon the 8 empty cans of beer on the floor and you realise they’re drunk. From the initial haze, your body quickly goes into shock, and panic rises from the base of your spine up your back until a full blown panic attack screeches uncontrollably through your brain. The world starts moving around you. You’re not sure if its panic or concussion or if you’re dying of bleeding to the brain. The panic takes over.
The next thing you know, they are holding you gently, telling you to breathe, stroking your hair, kissing the top of your head. You hold on tight because it’s all you have, your reality has been violently stolen from you. Eventually your breathing slows and you are guided to bed, gently undressed and held onto tightly, lovingly. You’re told you’re so silly, all you had to do was tell the truth, they are sorry that they hurt you, but you have to understand that you hurt them too. But they still love you. More than anyone in the world. More than the others. You’re special, you see? But you need help. Their help. And they will stay with you and help you because they love you like no one else can.
You don’t know where else to turn, you don’t know what is real and what isn’t any more. So you hold on tight and you promise yourself that you will be better, less selfish, less thoughtless, less lazy. For you and for them.
Game. Set. Match.
These examples of abuse are fictional accounts, based in fact, taken from many different people’s actual experiences. Some or all will likely be triggering and recognisable by people who have survived or are in abusive relationships.
The point here is that abuse isn’t easy to spot, it isn’t as simple as being a certain type of person or being stupid enough to fall for it. It is cleverly designed to put you off track in a deeply psychological way. This process could take months, it could take years, but what we know to be fact is that abuse only ever escalates over time and abusive people, or previously abusive people, can only reform if they receive extremely intensive psychological help from professionals over a number of years. This is often why narcissists don’t reform, because they really don’t want to, and most don’t.
I use boundary roulette because of the unpredictable nature of how the narcissist finds and tramples on our boundaries, it is very much a game of trial and error, always having to cover up their tracks each time a boundary is pressed. We tell them personal information and they pick which one they feel could be the one that triggers the first boundary break. And they keep picking until they succeed.
It is used in conjuction with gaslighting to make a victim question their entire reality so that the narcissist can replace it with their fabricated reality, piece by piece.
This way, like the tide coming in behind you, all seems well and when you finally realise the danger, it’s all too late.
Thanks for reading.
Domestic abuse happens in all kinds of relationships and perpetrators are men and women from all backgrounds and walks of life.
We are looking for your stories of abuse to feature. Many small voices make one LOUD voice. We’d like to hear stories from men and women from heterosexual or gay relationships, transexual relationships and non monogamous relationships. We feel strongly that abuse is abuse regardless of the sex of person inflicting it or the model of relationship.
Domestic abuse damages in whatever form and here at Many Small Voices we hope to gather the stories of those who have survived abuse into one resource to help and support those who are still victims. We also hope to support survivors through recovery once the abuse has stopped because the scars are still there and will remain forever. Support after abuse is just as important.
We are not experts, just people who are passionate that domestic abuse, in whatever form it takes, must be stopped.
If you think you or someone you know needs help please take a look in our links page to find a list of organisations that strive to help support victims of abuse.