When a narcissist gets caught in a lie, or when they’ve done something they consider unacceptable in any way (or at least in a way that they can’t somehow blame someone else), something interesting happens: they begin to look for something to take the attention off their mistake and elevate themselves back to their “rightful place” – you know, right on top of your head. Above you and anyone else in their life, specifically.
Why do narcissists refuse to take responsibility for their bad behavior?
In part, it’s because narcissists can’t stand to imagine they might be at fault for anything that isn’t positive, especially when they can’t find a justification for it. And, there are all sorts of little issues that cause narcissists to behave the way they do. Perhaps the most obvious is the fact that, underneath all of that bravado and grandiosity, the narcissist has both a glaring lack of self-awareness combined with a distinct distaste for criticism, constructive or otherwise.
How do narcissists avoid responsibility for their behavior?
Narcissists are pros at manipulating the people around them into either taking responsibility for their behavior, or at finding ways to make people believe that it wasn’t their fault, at least. Most commonly, the deflection technique and the blame-shifting technique are used to duck responsibility for anything they deem unacceptable.
What is deflection?
In the context of narcissistic abuse, deflection is a common manipulation tactic used by a narcissist to take the attention away from something they did wrong or did to hurt you. Specifically, narcissists will use this tactic in conversation or an argument to deter you from your intended purpose.
So, for example, if you’re coming to the narcissist with a problem or issue that is bothering you – or more specifically, something the toxic person has done or said, they will absolutely refuse to address it. Rather than taking responsibility for this behavior, they deflect and immediately go into “attack” mode, where they throw the ball back in your court by bringing up something you may or may not have actually done – related or not.
It might be something you forgot to do last week, or something that happened two decades ago that they repeatedly bring up in times of conflict. This puts you on the defense, as you’re often being accused of some horrible deed or something is being blown out of proportion – or, in some cases, they may actually even project their OWN behavior onto you. I have dubbed this practice the “narcissistic flip,” and have found that it’s a regularly employed manipulation technique for many narcissists. The “flip” happens most often when you make a valid point about their behavior or have the nerve to question the narcissist about anything at all.
So, if you have the nerve to confront the narcissist or point out this so-called flip, you’ll end up being distracted from the original issue. Right around that time, of course, is when the narcissist tosses you a little “word salad” as the conversation becomes confusing and overwhelming as you try to find clarity and address all of these accusations. That’s about the time everything turns around and suddenly, you’re the one who’s sorry (mostly that you bothered engaging in yet another pointless argument).
And as if it could get any worse, you realize that you’re dealing with someone who has absolutely no interest in understanding you. Rather, their goal is to dominate you through extreme mischaracterization and blatantly cruel manipulation so they can win this now-pointless argument. You end up emotionally exhausted, numb and at the end of your rope, to put it very mildly.
What is blame-shifting?
Blame-shifting is a very common manipulation narcissists use to avoid taking responsibility for their mistakes, and it’s exactly what it sounds like – they literally just push blame toward anyone who isn’t them, or on to a scapegoat (a person who gets blamed for everything, typically). One example of this is when you’re being abused but your abuser tries to convince you that you’re the abusive one. Or maybe, if you’re female, they blame “your mistakes” on “that time of the month,” or accuse you of having horrible PMS that caused them to do whatever they did. Or they’ll say their affair wasn’t their fault because you aren’t good enough, interested enough, or whatever – and all of this despite the fact that you’re begging for their attention and bending over backward to please them. Or whatever.
Another way narcissists blame-shift is through gaslighting. When you confront them about their abuse, they may label you unreasonable, crazy, an over-reactor – even say you’re making it all up. They assign all blame (literally for every issue or concern) in the relationship to you, and they become offended and angry if they don’t think you seem like you want to accept it.
And, of course, if you dare to question them or god forbid, get upset and yell back at them, the narcissist will quickly turn the tables and accuse YOU of being the abuser. If that isn’t enough to shut you up, beware. The narcissist will up the ante and run a thorough smear campaign on you, telling everyone around you how crazy or difficult you are – and making you look and feel like someone you’re really just not.
Through all of this, you stay – or at least you stay in your role of the primary source of narcissistic supply as long as the narcissist will have you. Because once that idealization phase ends, you know what happens, right? The narcissist repeatedly discards you, over and over again, as part of their toxic relationship cycle.
What is the typical narcissistic abuse cycle?
The narcissistic abuse cycle usually begins with idealization (aka love bombing), followed by the devalue phase and then the discard phase, which is usually followed with hoovering to restart the cycle. This might happen again and again over the course of your relationship.
Maybe you stay because you’re in denial and haven’t admitted to yourself that this is your life. You might be pretending it isn’t happening so you can keep your image clean and avoid gossip in the community around you. Or maybe you know it’s happening, but you feel like you can’t leave because of financial concerns or because of childcare and child custody issues. Maybe you’re already planning your escape – or maybe you’re desperately trying to “fix” the narcissist – or turn yourself into a pretzel to become their twisted idea of perfect.
Or maybe, the narcissist has disappeared and you’ve heard nothing for days, weeks, months, or even years – and you’re ready to let go of them emotionally, but you can’t. And just maybe, you’ve found the strength to go no contact with the narcissist, but you can’t move on because you still feel obligated to them in some way.
In any case, you might be doing a lot of damage to yourself by sticking around and reliving that cycle over and over again. Living with narcissistic abuse means living on a rollercoaster of extreme emotional highs and devastating, debilitating lows. It means being isolated into submission and emotionally exploited and psychologically abused. It means being treated like you’re not important for so long that you start to agree and behave in kind. It means losing everything that you are or should have been in favor of keeping the peace.
This cruel, painful type of ongoing manipulation and abuse causes the development of long-term trauma and can lead to C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder), which can lead to lifelong emotional and physical effects.
Why is it so hard to leave the narcissist?
What keeps us stuck to the narcissist? Maybe a better way to put it is, “why do we stay with the narcissist when they’re abusing us?” Why do we keep putting up with it? There are, of course, the obvious reasons we tolerate it and keep sticking around, walking on eggshells. But there’s also another aspect here – one you might not have considered: the narcissist is both the drug, AND the addict.
This part is important. The biggest reason we put up with it because we are addicted to the narcissist and his abuse on some level. In other words, when it comes to being in a relationship with a narcissist, you’re both the drug AND the addict. That’s right.
See, you develop a trauma bond with your abuser, and they get their own drug of choice from you: narcissistic supply. This is why it is so common for narcissists and sensitive, broken people to get involved – most of us have experienced some kind of trauma that eventually makes us people pleasers. That’s because, a lot of times, we learned that putting our own needs aside in favor of keeping an abuser happy was the only way to stay safe.
What is trauma bonding?
To put it briefly, trauma bonding is a lot like Stockholm Syndrome. In the context of narcissistic abuse, it’s a condition that causes us to develop a psychological dependence on the narcissist as a survival strategy during abuse. And of course, the profound and all-encompassing way trauma bonding affects your brain and the way you function in your life makes recovering from a toxic relationship significantly more difficult.
How is trauma bonding like a drug?
It isn’t technically the trauma bonding you’re addicted to, but the way it makes you feel. See, the narcissist keeps you spinning – and these extreme highs and lows associated with narcissistic abuse can create (possibly unintentional) intermittent reinforcement.
The narcissist’s intermittent reinforcement style of manipulation keeps you scrambling for the little crumbs of affection, always hoping that you’ll get back to what you thought was normal, or the love-bombing phase. But these crumbs offer tiny glimpses into that person you first met, so you can’t stop trying to do more, to be better, to be enough.
Addictive? Absolutely. In fact, the narcissistic abuse cycle might go on for months, years, or even decades – but still, you stay.
What is narcissistic supply?
Basically, narcissistic supply is emotional energy from other people. It might include positive or negative attention, admiration, praise – and in a pinch, the joy a narcissist finds in making you angry or making you sad, or get any extreme emotional reaction at all from you. They might also get narcissistic supply from other people, including their children, spouses or partners, other family members, coworkers, neighbors, and others in their community – even strangers. But they will always have one or more “primary” sources of narcissistic supply, or a “narcissistic harem” made up of all of their different “sources.”
How is narcissistic supply like a drug?
Narcissistic supply gives narcissists a sense of validation. It makes them feel like they’re worth something and it often reinforces their very calculated false selves. They get a rush of feel-good neurotransmitters when they get narcissistic supply and they feel like they might literally die when they’re deprived of it. So, you’d think that they would also be people-pleasers, right? But remember, narcissists will take either positive or negative supply.
That’s got to make you wonder, a little, right?
Do narcissists like to hurt the people they claim to love?
And if they do, why would they get a thrill out of making you scream at them, or making you go “nuts” – or making you cry? To put it briefly, narcissists simply MUST hurt the people closest to them. Doesn’t that seem nearly impossible to you? I get it. But here’s the thing – it seems impossible only because you personally can’t imagine the idea of actually enjoying hurting another person, much less doing so on purpose. And because, as someone with integrity, it’s unfathomable to you that the narcissist isn’t capable of accepting responsibility for their actions.
We believe we can help them do better. We think if we just change everything we are and focus everything we have on the narcissist, maybe then they will love us. We hope we can find a subtle way to show them to be accountable for their behavior.
And you know us and our pie-in-the-sky ideas, right? Yep, we have this crazy idea that the narcissist should just act like a normal human who learns and evolves. But since the narcissist typically doesn’t have well-developed emotional and compassionate empathy, they are often pulled in by the thrill of drama, and they feel like getting this emotional reaction from you (positive or negative) is proof of their ability to control or “own” you. That, along with the chemical reactions in their brains when they get the little zing of successfully pushing you over the edge, is what makes YOU so addictive to the narcissist.
Trauma Bonding and Narcissistic Supply: Toxic Relationship Glue
As I’m pretty sure you’ve imagined by now, there’s a whole snowball effecting going on in most narcissistic abuse situations – trauma bonding leads you to stick around and raise your so-called threshold for abuse – the point at which you think you can’t handle it any longer is just about the time you’ll get hoovered by the narcissist, wanting t drain you of your energy again.
And, that will lead you to instinctively want to stay safe. Desperately seeking validation, so we keep trying to please and get validation from anyone and everyone around us. This leads us to develop a habit of avoiding conflict and doing anything we can to keep the people around us happy.
When we end up in a relationship with a high-conflict personality such as a narcissist, we will go to almost any length to please them – even when it hurts us to do so. But because of the ingrained need to please the people, we love, including and often especially the narcissist, we will give and give, even to our own detriment.
And by nature, the narcissist is happy to take advantage of you to get their needs met. Thanks to that lack of compassionate and emotional empathy, and the fact that the narcissist doesn’t quite see you as a “real person,” but as more of an extension of themselves who isn’t as important or worthy as they are, there is no level to which they will not stoop.
So, in other words, our trauma bonding leads us to seek approval and validation from the people closest to us, and the narcissist will absolutely exploit that to get their narcissistic supply needs met. Can you see where I’m going here?
Addiction and Narcissistic Abuse: Connections
Clearly, the addiction factor is real. But how does narcissistic abuse resemble addiction?
Look at it this way: When a drug addict is seeking their drug of choice, no one is safe – they will literally steal from their own mama to get what they need. Well, like a drug addict, when the narcissist needs their little unconditional validation fix – or a little hit of narcissistic supply (in which they are absolutely absolved of their responsibility for the situation in their life), no one and nothing can be as important as the fact that they need that fix. They will take anything and everything from you without reservation to get it – starting with your self-worth, your sense of security, well-being – you name it, they want to take it. And often, the narcissist needs to see you as that extension of self in order to feel good about themselves.
I know what you’re thinking right about now. Something along the lines of, “Wait, what? Are we really addicted to those jerks? And are they REALLY addicted to US? I mean, they don’t even seem to like us most of the time.” Or, at least your version of that, right?
Listen, I get it. But, sometimes the narcissist might actually seem to like you some of the time (remember those intermittent reinforcement crumbs?) and then have serious disdain and contempt for you other times. But the truth is that we are addicted in part because we believe we can help the narcissist change and grow – and we keep trying because, for the most part, you and me? We are the sort of people who do the right thing.
But what we all need to realize is that a narcissist isn’t capable of evolution – they don’t change. They can’t accept responsibility for even who they are, because they are seeing themselves in a proverbial distorted mirror. Narcissists see themselves as sort of untouchable – better than everyone else. In fact, they generally see most other people not as individuals in their own right but as simple extensions of themselves – and in order to maintain the facade of their false self, the narcissist needs to keep people around them who enhance that overblown version of themselves. But when his “extensions” turn out to be real people with real thoughts and feelings, the narcissist can’t or won’t accept or tolerate the idea because it threatens to knock them off their self-constructed pedestal. That, of course, leads to the narcissist poking and pulling at you and anyone else in their pat as they seek additional attention, drama, and eventually a new narcissistic supply source.
Bottom line: both a narcissist and a drug addict always put their own needs first, without fail, when seeking their drug of choice. And without realizing it, many victims of their abuse become addicted to it as well, making the narcissist and his supply both the victim and the drug.
Don’t Go Cold Turkey, Go Gray Rock (Or No Contact)
How can you deal with your addiction to the narcissist?
Ideally, you would move away from and go no contact with anyone who is actively abusing you. That means getting focused on planning your escape and working to execute the steps needed to get out – and then blocking them on all forms of social media, on your phone and anywhere else you can. Then, you don’t have to deal with them anymore, and you can begin to get to the business of healing yourself.
What do you do if you can’t leave and go no contact?
If you have kids or any type of ongoing legal or business issue with the narcissist, you might be able to go completely no contact just yet. So, rather than willingly handing over your emotional energy to this soul-sucking narcissist, you go gray rock – as in keeping your emotional energy to yourself and being “boring” to the narcissist. Gray rock will help the narcissist learn that they won’t get attention from you if they are abusive, so they’ll either ignore you or try to be nicer to you, or, more likely, they’ll move on and find a new source of narcissistic supply. And sometimes it works, especially if you can stand to bock them and be very firm in your boundaries. But often inevitably, the narcissist will do anything they can to pull you back into the relationship. can’t stand to see you at peace, and if you don’t have a spine of steel, you might fall for their manipulative tricks again.
What do you think? Can you see how the narcissist and his supply can both serve as drugs as well as addicts?
Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support & Resources
If you feel you need additional help and support in your narcissistic abuse recovery, look for a trauma-informed professional who is trained in helping people who are dealing with overcoming narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships. Depending on your particular situation, you might benefit from Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching, or you might do better with a therapist. You have to decide what to do from here – if you’re not sure, start with my free Narcissistic Abuse Recovery quiz. With your results will come recommended resources for your situation. It’s totally free.
More Free, Helpful Information & Resources to Help
- Start your narcissistic abuse recovery here for free.
- Are you in a toxic relationship with a narcissist? Take the test.
- Overcome Brain Fog and Cognitive Dissonance With This Free Cognitive Dissonance Toolkit
- Take the Codependency Quiz
- The Codependency Triangle
- Narcissistic Abuse Recovery FAQ Pages
- Free Support Groups
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