Let me tell you something. This may or may not surprise you, but I absolutely LOVE it when people underestimate me. I know it seems counterintuitive – and I didn’t always feel this way. For a lot of my life, I felt offended and upset by people who chronically underestimated me. But one day, I recognized a powerful fact: if someone underestimates you, it actually offers you a rather significant advantage. If they think you’re not capable of something and you do it anyway, there is far less resistance involved, if that makes sense. And, if you’re anything like me, you might even take a bit of pleasure (not to mention some much-needed motivation) in proving them wrong.
With that being said, you and I both know that probably the most likely person in your life to underestimate you is the narcissist in your life. In fact, if you ask me, their consistent need to underestimate us is one of their biggest weaknesses. Not only does underestimating us leave them vulnerable in certain ways, but it also gives them a certain amount of overconfidence in themselves.
For example, the narcissist might assume you’re less intelligent than they are, and this assumption might lead to them making obvious attempts to deceive you. If you’re smart, you’ll play along and see the truth without their knowledge. Is this wrong?
Could it be unethical to allow them to underestimate you and not tell them you see right through them? While some people will disagree with me, I’d say absolutely not – and here’s why.
Why Narcissists Underestimate You
Narcissists underestimate you for many reasons – the most frustrating being that they don’t truly see you for who and what you are. Seriously. So let’s talk about that.
The one thing to always remember when it comes to a narcissist is that they are only looking out for one thing from you – what you can do for them, or the narcissistic supply that you can offer.
When you’re in a relationship of any type with a narcissist, you become a source of narcissistic supply. Whether they are a partner or spouse, a family member, friend, or coworker, narcissists aren’t capable of really, genuinely caring about you and who you are. They are not able to form healthy bonds with you, in part because they completely lack true empathy. This leads them to see you as a target or an object instead of a whole person. At best, they’ll see you as an extension of themselves.
As such, they see you as “less of a person” than they see themselves and they believe that they can treat any way that they want. That means they can cheat on you, lie to you, gaslight you, manipulate and abuse you in any way or form – without remorse. They don’t feel bad about it and they never admit to what they’re doing unless it somehow benefits them to do so. And, if you’re ever lucky enough to get an apology from a narcissist, you’ve got to know that they have some ulterior motive. They want something from you or they’re doing it to get a certain result – not because they’re actually sorry.
So, in other words, narcissists are likely to underestimate you because they, themselves are limited people. It’s almost ironic when you think about how narcissists project their own limitations on to you. They are notoriously over-confident (on the outside, anyway) and are known to overestimate their own intelligence and abilities in general. However, deep down, some part of them secretly doubts who they claim to be – and often, this is an accurate doubt as that same deep down part of them knows they’re putting on a show. They will assume the same about you and everyone else. And let’s not forget the whole “black and white thinking” thing that narcissists have going on. Since there are no “gray areas” for a narcissist, they assume that your reaction (or lack thereof) to their little games, not to mention their blatant gaslighting and other forms of manipulation, must mean you have your own limitations. And of course, you do – we all have limitations. But they underestimate you by overestimating your limitations. This is exacerbated because the narcissist sees you as less than them and see themselves as better than you.
How Narcissists Underestimate You
Narcissists Underestimate Your Intelligence
This is probably the most common way narcissists underestimate you. They think they can pull the wool over your eyes and that you’ll believe whatever they say or pretend because you’re not smart enough to see through it. Contrary to popular belief, though, narcissists aren’t actually likely to end up with someone who is anything less than intelligent. They are so focused on how other people see them that they’re highly likely to choose someone who is intelligent, attractive, and who makes them look good. But after the idealization or love bombing phase ends, the narcissist sort of “forgets” this part. Rather than focusing on the good qualities you have, as they did during idealization, when they get to the devalue phase, they’ll be focused only on what they deem your bad qualities – or what they see as being “wrong with you.”
Narcissists Underestimate Your Strength
Narcissists need to see you as weak, at least once they get past that idealization phase of the relationship. They need to think of you as dependent and incapable of surviving without them in some way. This is, in part, a form of psychological projection, because despite the fact that they may be supporting you in some way (financially, for example), the narcissist needs your supply to feel normal. And if you were to suddenly display your true strength and stop feeding the endless hole that is their ego, the narcissist would kind of lose it! They would, in most cases, quickly scramble for alternate sources of narcissistic supply (if they haven’t already got them in place). Without it the narcissist is weak and feels lost. Here’s the thing, though. You and I both know that being in a relationship of any kind with a narcissist takes more strength than most people know. Don’t let them fool you into thinking you’re anything but powerful.
Narcissists Underestimate Your Ability to See Right Through Them
When you catch a narcissist in a lie, they will automatically assume they can keep up the charade. This is true even when you can provide them with clear-cut evidence of the lie. Even then, the narcissist will dismiss you and the evidence that you provide.
Examples of Narcissists Underestimating People
A good example of this comes from that Shaggy song called “It Wasn’t Me.”
The song tells the story of a guy who goes knocking on his friend’s door looking for advice. The apparent issue he’s struggling with is that his girlfriend caught him in the act with another woman. His so-called friend advises him to deny what happened and say it wasn’t him. When he explains to the friend that she physically saw him in the act, the friend tells him to keep denying the facts. At the end of the song, the guy decides to admit the truth and apologize – which proves that he’s not a narcissist.
But his friend might be one. Because, in my opinion, the advice he’s offering is literally telling him to gaslight the woman – literally to deny that she saw what she saw. This is of course blatant gaslighting.
Another way to look at it? The kid who sneaks into the cookie jar and consumes an unauthorized cookie or two. When they’re confronted by their mother, they deny having eaten the cookies, despite the fact that the evidence is all over their face – literally. Obviously, mom knows what happened, despite their insistence that they didn’t do it.
The same goes for a narcissist who is lying to you. They can get a little sloppy because they are underestimating you. They aren’t thinking about the fact that you know them, and that, if we’re being honest, their mannerisms, body language, lack of eye contact, and so on totally gives them away. Even when they’ve relied on your intuition in the past, they will forget that part, or continue to underestimate you because they’re overestimating themselves.
Your Empathy is Your Super-Power
Whether we like to admit it or not, before we’re fully awake to what the narcissist is, they can be really skilled at manipulating you. This along with your natural human fear of abandonment, combined with the inevitable trauma bond you’ll experience in any toxic or abusive relationship, leads the narcissist to think they can control you and continue to consume the supply you provide them indefinitely.
But the one thing that they fail to get is that because you have a superpower that they didn’t count on: empathy, emotional and compassionate empathy. While narcissists are capable of cognitive empathy (as in, they can understand on an intellectual level how someone might feel in any given situation), they do not have emotional or compassionate empathy. So while for you, it is automatic to sort of “get” how someone feels, for the narcissist, it is not. They have to stop and think about it – and often, especially when they’re trying to actively lie to you or pull the wool over your eyes in any way, they’re not thinking about how you might feel.
And because they underestimate you, they don’t understand that your ability to read people, your knowledge of them personally, all combined with your own intelligence and natural intuition will tell you that they are lying.
Why You Should Keep Letting the Narcissist Underestimate You
My advice on this situation will be unpopular, but I say do not bother trying to prove yourself to a toxic narcissist. In fact, if I were you, I’d LEAN INTO IT! That’s right. Go ahead and let the narcissist continue to underestimate you. Let them think they have control. This will give you an advantage if and when you are forced to deal with them, in every situation. As they say, being underestimated is one of the biggest competitive advantages you can have. And it truly is.
Remember too that the narcissist will also underestimate that your ability and power to heal. They will underestimate that you have the power to learn about and understand what is happening between the two of you, as well as the fact that you can look at yourself honestly and figure out what causes you to end up in relationships with people like them. This is way outside of the narcissist’s own ability, as they cannot acknowledge or admit that they might lack in any particular area.
Here is the thing. The narcissist’s lack of self-awareness, along with their grandiose delusions, lead to their ridiculously fragmented sense of who they are – and this false self that needs to believe it is superior to everyone else, including but not limited to you, is actually the narcissist’s greatest weakness.
For you, this means the narcissist will never see it coming when you decide to take your life back. They won’t know what to do if you leave, and they’ll never expect you to follow through and go no contact or low contact.
Keep Shining, Just Like You Always Do
You know what I want for you, right? I want you to keep on shining as you do. Imagine looking up into the sky and catching a glimpse of the sun through the clouds when you least expect it. You’re blinded for a moment, and you can’t see much outside of light (and maybe a few spots) for a few seconds, right?
Well, I want you to consider yourself the sun here – and the clouds, the narcissist’s delusion. Once the clouds clear, you’ll be seen in all your full glory. But even though the clouds might obstruct your light temporarily, your light can still shine brightly from behind them. And when those clouds do clear, you’ll gain clarity – and you’ll know for sure that you are in fact the light. You with me?
Question of the day: Have you ever been underestimated by a narcissist, and if so, what happened and how did you deal with it? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it!
Need help with recovering from narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship? You might like to check out our new narcissistic abuse recovery small group coaching program – you’ll get personalized coaching at a significantly reduced rate, plus have the option to connect in a private with a small group of like-minded survivors for added support. Learn more or sign up here.
Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor 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 personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, 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.
She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.