It’s no secret. The narcissist needs to feel like he (or she) is in control of every situation.
One of the tactics that many victims of this kind of abuse report, but that few people talk about, is what I call the narcissist’s limbo.
What is narcissistic limbo, exactly?
Whether they do it subconsciously or otherwise, narcissists have a way of refusing to commit to literally anything, and this is especially the case when someone needs to know their answer in order to plan their day/week/month/life.
It’s almost like the more desperately you feel you need the answer, the less concerned the narcissist seems to be with giving you one.
This causes the victim to feel on-edge and “up-in-the-air” – eventually to the point where it causes a great deal of stress that may lead to a change in her behavior. She may stop making plans at all for fear that the narcissist will ruin them.
It’s all part of the narcissist’s sick mind game, of course.
How is narcissistic limbo a form of manipulation?
When the narcissist refuses to commit to some event or outing, for example, he leaves his victim in limbo.
Should she plan to go? Will he join her? What about others who might be involved?
It’s exhausting after awhile. The victim becomes afraid to accept invitations or to even attempt to make plans. She learns that he needs to be in control or he will ruin any attempt she makes to plan.
And, of course, he never stands up and admits he’s the problem. He just leaves her hanging out to dry – typical of a narcissist.
She may have found herself feeling humiliated one too many times after the narcissist ruined her plans. She may have grown tired of trying to smooth things over with other people who are involved.
Eventually, she gives up and stops trying. She may even reduce or eliminate contact with the people she loves in order to reduce the stress and friction she gets every time she makes an effort to connect with them.
How can you deal with narcissistic limbo more effectively?
The first step, assuming you’re not being physically abused, is to make a choice. (If physical abuse is involved – stop reading now because all bets are off. Get out ASAP. See this page for emergency resources.)
Ask yourself what happens if you go ahead and make plans and go, regardless of the narcissist’s opinion and/or ability to attend.
Does he go crazy and burn the house down? Or does he throw a fit? Whatever happens – is it something you can handle? Can you just go, or will he make it so miserable for you that it’s not even worth the attempt?
If you’re going to stick with the narcissist, you do need to be aware of his limitations – and keeping you in limbo is one way he controls you. So what you might consider doing is telling him that YOU are planning to attend the event and that he is welcome to join you. But if he chooses not to do so, you have to make sure you do anyway – this will be the first step in cementing your social independence.
Or, and I know this isn’t what you want to hear, you have to suck it up and allow yourself to be controlled.
That answer sucks. But it’s the truth – you’ve only got three choices – and those are the ones.
So to clarify, here’s a quick recap on your options for dealing with a narcissist who keeps you in limbo to control you.
1. Leave and go no contact or low contact (in cases when no-contact is not an option due to situations such as co-parenting).
2. Stand up for yourself and stick it out – that is, stay in the relationship, but enforce and maintain your personal boundaries and freedoms. This takes an incredibly strong person and a mildly affected narcissist. Try the gray rock method, or one of these ideas – and if you were recently gaslighted or otherwise emotionally abused, pick up this free Post-Gaslighting Emergency Recovery Kit.
3. Shut up and take it. Because if you’re not willing to make any changes and you’re willing to allow a narcissist to continue his psychological terrorism against you – then you just need to accept that you are making a choice to live in this situation.
Ultimately, you’ve got to decide whether the narcissist’s happiness is truly more important than your own.
So how will you respond? How DID you respond to these kinds of manipulation tactics if they were used on you in the past? Share your insight and experiences with me – and your fellow survivors – in the comments. You never know who you might be able to help by sharing!
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.