Growing up, I was always “under my mother’s thumb,” as in, she was, as far as she was concerned, in control of every aspect of my life: my activities, thoughts, feelings, ideas – everything. And this didn’t end when I grew up and moved out. In fact, it continued until I was 35 years old.
I learned that her feelings, thoughts, and ideas were more important and more “real” than mine. She taught me that I needed to keep her happy and that I wasn’t ever good enough because I couldn’t be, say or do whatever it was she thought I should. It never seemed to matter how hard I tried, either. Even as a dang adult.
But that day, everything changed. See, I had recognized that she had betrayed me, in an unforgivable way that I could never have imagined. It woke me up and fast.
Something Broke Inside Me
The very moment I realized what she had done, I almost physically felt something break inside of me – that seemingly indestructible cord of obligation that had always been there and had always caused me to bend to her will – it broke.
In one single moment, I lost the ability to care how she felt. And more than that, I lost the fear of her. She had always intimated that if I stopped doing what she wanted, or refused her too many times, she would abandon me, and then I’d have no one. I lived in that fear for 35 years.
I could never have imagined (nor would I have believed) that she would stoop so low to hurt me. I cannot even come up with the right words to describe the way I felt – it was almost like the time I was running in the dark as a kid and tripped over a branch, knocking the wind out of myself. I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me.
Soul-Twisting, Ugly Rage
But then, I got mad. Well, not just mad. After years of being a people-pleasing, self-hating codependent, I was filled with blistering, blinding rage.
You know, the kind of soul-twisting, screaming, ugly rage that comes up from deep inside and nearly forces you to take swift action. The kind that causes you to get crystal-clear on what you want and what you deserve real quick. I was filled with what I now know is justified rage. I was indignant. And in that very instant, I was done. I went no contact and I have not looked back.
But it wasn’t so simple. My mother wasn’t done yet. She had been in control for 35 years and she wasn’t about to give it up without a fight. First, she got very angry. Then, she told a lot of lies about me and spread malicious gossip to everyone in the extended family, as well as to some of her friends.
And later, she’d end up publishing my name in her little work newsletter, asking people to pray for me and my “mental health issues.” After that, I heard through the grapevine that she was playing the victim, telling everyone how she had absolutely no idea why I wasn’t talking to her “after all she had done for me.”
“She’s always looking for attention!”
She minimized and invalidated me and justified her feelings by saying things like, “She’s always looking for attention.”
In fact, I was doing the opposite: I was looking for peace. I wanted nothing else from her. But a few months after I went full no contact, I heard that she planned to send my brother over to my house during the holidays to straighten me out. The plan, according to the grapevine, was that he would just show up without calling. I nipped that one in the bud.
But why did she play all these little mind games? I suspect it was for one simple reason: because she was no longer able to control me. See, narcissists don’t like to lose control over any source of narcissistic supply. And when they do, they have some fairly predictable ways of reacting. Nearly every manipulative thing a narcissist does can be broken down into a pattern if you look for it.
Do you feel like you’re never able to win over your narcissistic husband, wife, or partner? Or maybe it’s your narcissistic parent, friend, or neighbor? Do you find that they always seem to be a step ahead of you?
Somehow, narcissists have this intrinsic ability to “know” what buttons to push that will hurt you the most. This is because narcissists are expert mind game players.
The narcissist is a master of manipulation. They can get you to do things you don’t want to do and think thoughts you don’t want to think…all under the guise of “love.”
What are narcissist mind games?
There are so many kinds of narcissist mind games, but in this case, we’re talking about different types of emotional manipulation. The manipulation of emotions can be so subtle, smooth, and insidious that you hardly notice it happening.
These games are designed to make you feel insecure and relatively inferior to them, encouraging you to compete with them or put your energy into earning their approval.
The good news is that we can work through the games and learn to break free once we know the games.
Why do narcissists play mind games with you?
To be able to play mind games, the narcissist has to ignore the feelings of others completely. They have no empathy and can’t see their pain or feel it. They cannot connect with others on any other level than a superficial one. They have no interest in others as people other than how they can use them, and they lie for no reason other than to avoid being honest.
In other words, narcissists play head games to control others and be in power. The main goal is to confuse, deceive and manipulate. They enjoy the ‘chase’ and the ‘hunt’ more than the actual ‘kill,’ so they want you to stay hooked at all times so they can keep playing this game. Whether consciously or otherwise, the narcissist’s goal is to keep you confused about and focused on figuring out how to navigate their behavior.
That way, they’ll have more control over you because you’ll be so focused on trying to figure them out that you might not recognize what’s happening. Plus, in most cases, the mind games involve tearing you down and making you feel worthless – so you won’t believe you can do any better than them. It may be hard to believe that a person who loves you would knowingly try to hurt you, but if they are a narcissist, that’s exactly what they do. But you’ve got to understand that a narcissist cannot love you in the same way you could love them.
What are the most common mind games played by the narcissist?
There are many narcissist mind games but these are the most common. They’re used often to play with your emotions, your intelligence, your sanity and they’re used often to confuse you. They don’t mean anything; it’s nothing personal (usually) It’s just for one reason or another they use these mind games to make you feel like you aren’t good enough… like you need to change something about yourself…
The cold shoulder. Ostracization. Social exclusion. Being actively, directly rudely ignored! It’s exhausting, It’s upsetting. And quite honestly, it’s abusive. So, let me ask you something.
Have you been there? Does someone in your life cut off contact, directly or indirectly, anytime you upset or annoy them? If so, you might be falling victim to a well-known manipulation tactic – the old silent treatment.
What is silent treatment?
The silent treatment is amanipulation tactic where someone will stop talking to you. This painful, uncomfortable silence can go on for days, hours, weeks, or even months in order to punish you for some perceived slight. It can cause serious emotional and psychological damage if you don’t realize what is happening. While people who aren’t narcissists may also use this tactic, it is commonly used among narcissists.
Narcissists and the Silent Treatment
Are you dealing with getting the silent treatment from a narcissist? If you are, then you already how upsetting and confusing this can be. When a narcissist is involved, it’s possible that you’re being discarded, either permanently or temporarily. You might be getting the silent treatment due to a breakup or the end of your relationship, or it could be one in a long line of discards during an ongoing relationship. It’s all part of the narcissist’s cycle of abuse. But the narcissist’s motivations are what you’re really interested in, so let’s discuss what they’re thinking when they give you the silent treatment.
What are the narcissist’s motivations for using the silent treatment?
When you think about the silent treatment and how cruel it can be, not only does it affirm that the narcissist lacks compassionate and emotional empathy, but you find yourself wondering how they could be so cruel? What motivates a narcissist to stop communicating with you?
The relationship is ending.
When a narcissistic ex gives you the silent treatment after a breakup, it is not that they are suffering and processing how your relationship ended. That is what you would expect a neurotypical non-narcissistic ex to do. But the narcissist deals with it by searching for a new source of narcissistic supply. You have to remember that this “supply,” for the narcissist, can feel as important as air might feel you or any living being. In other words, despite their claims of wanting to “be alone” or needing to “figure things out on their own,” the narcissist will feel as though they cannot be without it. So, they might have gone silent as they are engaging with others and attempting to get the supply they so desperately need. They can’t stand to be alone with their thoughts.
The narcissist controls you through gaslighting and confusion
Narcissists are known manipulators, and one of their most notorious tactics is to gaslight you through confusion emotional manipulation, and abuse. The silent treatment is the perfect vehicle to accomplish this, and this is especially true of covert narcissists – although their more grandiose counterparts are also skilled at this particular tactic. You know that narcissists enjoy manipulating and gaslighting you. The narcissist loves the idea of you lying awake all night wondering why they are giving you the silent treatment. It actually offers them a certain amount of supply in itself.
The narcissist lives to keep you in limbo
With a sudden change in behavior, the narcissist can throw you into limbo, that feeling where you’re lost and not sure what to do or what’s next. For example, when they go from being overly demanding to not saying anything at all, you might be left spinning. They love the idea of you being distracted all day, unable to focus on anything except for what they could be possibly thinking.
The narcissist feels powerful through silent treatment.`
Narcissists thrive on power, as you know. They envision you waiting by your phone waiting for a text, or even for an email. The fact that they will not send you a message or speak to you makes them feel powerful as they control your emotions and productivity.
If your narcissistic ex is giving you the silent treatment, the best thing to do is not even to acknowledge it at all. Please realize that this is a manipulative tactic to play around with their mind and emotions.
If you’ve ever been in a toxic relationship with a narcissist, you might already know how adept they can be at making you feel completely worthless. If that rings true for you, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, one of the most underrated ways a narcissist can devastate you is by making you feel inferior, or like you’re just not good enough.
How does this kind of long-term narcissistic abuse affect you?
The impact of this kind of ongoing psychological abuse is so significant that most victims of long-term narcissistic abuse find themselves struggling with symptoms of C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder). We become so damaged that we end up becoming codependent. This ongoing invalidation of a person’s self leads to a lack of self-esteem and self worth, and it can lead us to becoming ideal prey for other narcissists.
Does psychological abuse at the hands of a narcissist change you permanently?
You lose yourself, in so many ways, when you become enmeshed with a narcissist in any kind of relationship, and the closer the relationship, the more damage it can cause for you, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. The good news is that it does not have to be that way, as victims of narcissistic abuse can recover through intentional healing and learning how to avoid getting entangled with other toxic people in future relationships. Making yourself aware of the red flags to look for in new potential relationships can help as well.
Why do narcissists make you feel like you’re not enough?
Narcissists Lack Self-Esteem, And It Makes Them Feel Better To Put You Down
It is a known fact that many narcissists, despite appearing to be the opposite, have a major lack of self-esteem. This leads them to bolster their fragile egos with a façade of false confidence, and at the same time, they do anything they can to make you feel terrible about yourself. Covert narcissists are less likely to pretend to be confident, so they’ll act more self-hating, but they will also do anything possible to make you feel inferior. So, when a covert a narcissist begins to show their true colors; you immediately think how out of character it is for them since they initially showed you a vulnerable side.
Worse, narcissists will put you down in unimaginable ways – they dig deep to hurt you. They put you down regarding your appearance, intelligence, habits, and anything else that comes to their minds.
Narcissists Use Gaslighting to Make You Doubt Yourself
Narcissists need to find ways to bolster their fragile egos, and if their abuse towards you is making you doubt yourself, they are getting exactly what they want. Gaslighting is the ideal manipulation tactic for this outcome, and narcissists use it to push you further into submission. They find your weak points and exploit them. For instance, they will make you believe that you are losing your memory by telling you things that you did that you never did or vise versa. When they see you doubt yourself further because of their manipulation and gaslighting tactics, they feel good about themselves.
Narcissists Get a Thrill From Invalidating You
Narcissists are known to invalidate your feelings by saying things such as “you’re way too sensitive” when you react to their abusive behaviors, for example. They invalidate your feelings to make you doubt yourself so they can get you in control. When you believe you’re worthless or not enough, the narcissist figures you’re not going to go find out you can do better than them. The way they see it, their feelings are very important – but their marked lack of emotional and compassionate empathy means they literally do not care how you feel at all. This is a dangerous combination for anyone involved with a malignant narcissist.
Narcissists Feel Entitled
Narcissists live in a constant fear of missing out (FOMO!). This is often developed early in childhood, at the same time as the development of their trademark entitlement complex. Their sense of entitlement also means they feel compelled to do anything they want, and they will do it at your expense without concern for the impact it has on you, your feelings, or your life. They lie and cheat on you, too, because they feel entitled to do so. They feel that they need to have access to other sources of narcissistic supply as “backup” because they cannot stand the idea of ending up alone.
Remember that healthy, secure people will never tear you down to hurt you on purpose. This is a toxic, malignant behavior and it’s one you don’t deserve. Need help recovering from narcissistic abuse?
Reactive abuse is when you, as someone who is being abused, lash out toward your abuser in response to the abuse to which you’re being subjected. However, the truth is that it is a manipulation tactic that allows the user to shift the blame on to you. s shift blame from themselves onto the victim. You’ll be told that you’re overreacting or being overly dramatic and you’ll be accused of being the abuser yourself.
In other words, reactive abuse refers to what happens when you react in a significant way to a toxic behavior that is repeatedly used to control and manipulate you. Often, it involves a situation in which your reaction confuses or concerns you, and it causes you to begin to wonder if you are in fact the abuser in your relationship. This happens because often, narcissists are so abusive and manipulative that they provoke you into reacting in a way that, out of context, might seem abusive.
That means that in toxic relationships, abusers will do whatever they can to avoid taking responsibility for their behaviors. This results in a number of different manipulative and controlling behaviors, one of the most frustrating of which is deflection and blame-shifting. That means if you are the victim and you are being abused, you might fling insults, scream, throw things at the abuser, or lash out at them.
That is essentially the definition of reactive abuse. Basically, reactive abuse is what is happening when your abuser has provoked you into reacting in an extreme way (that is generally outside of your character) to their abuse and manipulation. Then, they will retaliate by calling you the abuser because of how insulting them and rude or disrespectful you’re being.
But guess what? Abusers count on this tactic and they use it to their advantage at every possible opportunity. I know, you’re shocked.
Examples of Reactive Abuse
For example, if you punched your partner in the face, you would be physically abusing them, without question, right? But things get a little muddy if you punched them in the face because, after they knocked you down and beat you up, it was the only way you could escape.
Or, if you burst into a red-hot rage and call them every name in the book when they just say a single sentence to you, you would be abusing them. But if that sentence was, “I’m stealing everything you have, I’m cheating on you with your best friend, and you look fat in that dress,” who could blame you?
Or, you’re at a party and you witness your spouse flirting with everyone in the place. You stay calm and say nothing, but when you get n the car, you ask them about it. They might then say you’re crazy and that they were just being friendly – and that you are insanely jealous, and they find that very unattractive, and if you’re always going to accuse them of this stuff, they might as well do it. This, along with a string of personal and painful insults, might lead you to be cussing them out by the time you get home. The neighbors might overhear it and feel sorry for your spouse because they have no idea what happened at the party or in the car.
What Are the Consequences of Reactive Abuse?
Mental & Emotional Stress and Illness
While there are probably very few people who will actually blame you for reacting to such abusive behavior in an extreme way, you probably still feel bad about it, primarily because it is not something that is normal for you. You aren’t abusive and you don’t hurt people. But every now and then, your abuser pushes you to the point where, for a moment, you no longer care what they do to you because you are so mentally and emotionally drained and overwhelmed. This puts you into an unhealthy mental and emotional state and can lead to many other complications, including C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder).
Keeping You in an Abuser’s Control
When you have these extreme reactions, your abuser may exploit them to prove that you are the unstable one. For example, some abusers will pull out their phones and record your meltdown, but fail to acknowledge the amount of brow-beating and gaslighting they had to do to get you to that point. The abuser will then call you crazy, mentally ill, sick, stupid, and/or otherwise unsavory.
They will spread rumors and tell everyone how awful you are so that people will both feel sorry for them (offering additional narcissistic supply) and also be a little bit afraid of you (and/or feel sorry for or disgusted by you). Of course, this will also give them a permanent reason to continue to abuse you, because they will keep holding your reactions against you all of the time and forever. The abuser will always remind you about when you were abusive to them and of what a nutjob you really are.
And as I noted, they conveniently forget that they were the ones who instigated your reaction. Abusers will even use this kind of “evidence” against you in court or other legal situations. This just one of the many reasons I highly recommend dealing with these people with the gray rock method.
Abusers Manipulate Their Victims To Push Them to React
Abusers know that their victims will react to the abuse and manipulation to which they subject them, and push them to the point that the victim might sort of “abuse them back.” If you’re involved with a narcissist, you might have experienced this. Knowing they can get you to react and to even retaliate, they will sometimes take the opportunity to even potentially record what you’re doing or saying during this time. This, of course, will later be used against you in the various smear campaigns the narcissist runs against you.
Not only does this help them to “remind you how crazy you really are,” but the narcissist is even likely to attempt to use it against you during court and other legal proceedings.
But are there actually situations in which the victim may actually be abusive by nature as well? Yes, and this is called “mutual abuse.”
Is Reactive Abuse The Same As Mutual Abuse?
Mutual abuse is what some people call it when both members of a couple appear to be abusive to each other. This is more of a myth than truth. In other words, narcissists and other abusive people will tell their abuse victims that their responses to the abuse are also considered abuse. And those reactions can sometimes be considered “reactive abuse,” as we’ve discussed – but in reality, this is yet another manipulation tactic.
In fact, the claim of “mutual abuse” is often heard by domestic violence counselors, such as those at TheHotline.org.
“Many times, we speak with survivors of abuse who want to address concerns they have about their own behaviors. They will often express that their relationship is mutually abusive, a concept used when describing a relationship where both partners are abusive towards one another,” the organization reports. “But ‘mutual abuse’ doesn’t exist.”
The counselors at DomesticShelters.org agree, noting that, “perpetuating the myth of mutual abuse is at best irresponsible and at worst dangerous.”
“To say partners are mutually abusive or equal in abuse puts undue blame on the survivor,” says an article on their website. “When a survivor hears that he or she is mutually abusive, what’s heard is that he or she is to blame, and that reinforces what the batterer has been saying all along—that the abuse is the survivor’s fault. The myth of mutual abuse also reinforces the behavior of the batterer—that his or her actions were justified.”
All of that to gently remind you that if you’re being abused, your reaction to the abuse cannot be considered equal to the abuse.
How Can The Victim Stop Reacting To Abuse?
How can you prevent yourself from falling for the abuser’s manipulation tactic?
Remember that when you are being abused, it means that someone is holding power over you. If you are struggling to reclaim your power during narcissistic abuse, you will want to learn and employ the gray rock method, when possible.
What is the Gray Rock Method?
The grey rock method (also known as Gray Rock) was named and first published by a writer called Skylar, who advises that you act boring and don’t react to the narcissist’s attempts to engage you in drama. The tactic is highly effective but also infuriating for narcissists to experience. Be careful and use this method with caution if you are dealing with any physical abuse as the abuser may not react well. Learn more about the gray rock method here.
More Resources on Using the Gray Rock (Grey Rock) Method
You’ll want to be careful to avoid reacting and try to focus on staying calm and being almost boring. Try to avoid name-calling or physical violence, if you can.
If you are fortunate enough to have a friend to whom you can send a code that tells them that you need help, that is a great tactic. That also means you have to be honest about what you are facing if domestic violence is involved. You should never suffer in silence.
The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this to be the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. Offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups– We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery, as well as some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next stage of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your own narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist – If you’re looking for a therapist for narcissistic abuse recovery, either because you cannot afford coaching and want to use your health insurance or because you have additional issues you need to address that do not fall within the realm of coaching, you will want to find the right therapist for you – and as far as we’re concerned, that therapist must understand what you’ve been through. This page offers assistance to help you do exactly that.