If you’ve ever lived with, worked with, or loved a narcissist, you’ve probably experienced a form of manipulation that I like to call narcissistic distortion. As it turns out, my term isn’t so far off. In fact, recent research proves it.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Cognitive Distortions
You might already know that your average narcissist tends to have the utmost faith in their personal convictions, and they’re no less convinced of their own lies than “normal” people are of basic facts (the sky is blue, the grass is green). It might be called a sort of blind assumption of their own thoughts as truth. If you’ve dealt with a narcissist in a close personal relationship, chances are that you’ve experienced something like this. For example, the narcissist might decide that your friend is a bad person based on nothing other than their own assumptions, and they might either directly tell you to get rid of the friend, or they might manipulate and pressure you until you do.
For some especially charismatic narcissists, that blind self-faith becomes pretty contagious. That’s because we’re programmed to only detect lies that are blatant – and since most narcissists actually BELIEVE their own lies, they can be very convincing. To them, their twisted perceptions have become real – so real, that they seem to be the actual truth.
Very telling, no? It is the very reason that narcissists seem so convinced of things that you know for sure aren’t true. It is on so many levels the very reason that gaslighting can be so shockingly effective.
According to my research, there’s such a thing as “cognitive distortions” which are often associated with narcissists, people with NPD (narcissistic personality disorder), psychopaths, sociopaths, and anyone else who finds themselves in psychopathological states.
What are cognitive distortions?
More specifically, cognitive distortions are defined as “exaggerated or irrational thought patterns that are believed to perpetuate the effects of psychopathological states, especially depression and anxiety.” In other words, cognitive distortions are a person’s perspectives that are naturally biased toward their own beliefs and perceptions of the world around them. Psychologists say they are generally rather irrational thoughts and beliefs that we as humans tend to reinforce over time without realizing it.
The first person to study these kinds of distortions was psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. Along with his student David D. Burns, Beck built up significant research on the topic. Burns’ 1989 book, The Feeling Good Handbook presented an overview of these twisted thought patterns along with his suggestions on how to eliminate them.
In general, cognitive distortions cause people to perceive reality differently than literally everyone around them. He’s less likely to perceive events and situations the way that most people do.
These twisted kinds of thinking patterns then reinforce your narcissist’s negative thoughts or emotions.
Simply put, cognitive distortion leads to an especially twisted perception of any situation for a narcissist. And that, my friend, is bad news for you.
Since a narcissist can’t stand losing, he’s got to twist the facts in order to suit him during an argument. This way he can maintain his “always right” status – that is, to avoid taking responsibility for his behavior.
Simple Examples of Narcissistic Cognitive Distortion
Like I said, narcissistic distortion is just one more way you can be manipulated by a narcissist. So, here’s kind of a funny example of how this works. I saw a meme the other day that had me rolling. It featured a truck that had been smashed into the tree. The caption read something about a narcissist blaming the tree for the accident.
So, if you’re in need of a bit of a twisted laugh, imagine if you saw your narc run his car into a tree and imagine whether he might try to twist it and say it was the tree’s fault. Or, more literally, if he said something very hurtful during an argument, he might deny that it ever happened when you ask him about it. Sometimes even if you repeat it back to him immediately.
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder exhibit distorted thinking when they go back and forth between over-idealizing themselves, and then completely devaluing themselves. In addition, they have a tendency to over-estimate the importance or significance of their abilities and talents. Persons with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder frequently have fantasies of having unlimited power, success, or special talents. These over-idealized beliefs about themselves can cause them to behave in ways that are arrogant, ruthless, and entitled. Such behavior frequently causes a lot of conflict with others. For example, a person with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder may ignore the social custom of waiting in a queue to purchase a ticket. Instead, they will march to the front of the queue, believing they are more important than the other people in line and are therefore entitled to special treatment. Of course, the people waiting politely in the queue do not respond well and conflict erupts. Eventually, the person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is likely to run into a situation in which they realize they have some normal, human limitations. When this occurs, they are likely to find it extraordinarily difficult to cope with this realization. Any inkling of failure is hard for them to tolerate. The sudden realization of ordinary human limitations typically leads them to completely debase themselves, shifting from the over-idealized fantasy of unlimited success and special powers, to a devastating and paralyzing sense of complete worthlessness, shame, and defeat.
Narcissistic Distortion: Another Way to Manipulate Their Victims
Clearly, this is just one more way that a narc will manipulate their victims to get what they want. It is often used as part of the whole gaslighting process.
“How often the angry man rages denial of what his inner self is telling him,” according to Frank Hubert, author of Dune. “The defenses of denial and getting angry when challenged about harmful behavior function to maintain a self-image of feeling good about themselves even though others can see through the facade.”
When challenged about harmful behavior, a narcissist struggles to maintain a very inflated self-image. Even though you can see right through them, they need to appear to feel good about themselves. It’s part of their game.
Most narcs aren’t even aware of their textbook behavior and if you have the nerve to point it out to them, they will launch into their next narcissistic rage (which inevitably leads to narcissistic injury, another lovely manipulation tactic).
Gaslighting, Distortion and Other Ugly Ways Narcissists Take Control
All of these tactics are generally used together in order to further assert the narcissist’s control over you and your life. As you grow further isolated from the people in your life outside of the narcissist, his spider web of control gets stickier and you become increasingly less functional.
And then there is the whole boundaries issue – most narcissists have none when it comes to other people. And if you have the nerve to set any, they’ll relish the opportunity to stop all over you.
“Most narcissists fail to understand their boundaries and recognize that other people are individuals rather than extensions of themselves,” says News Medical’s Dr. Ananya Mandal, MD. “Those who support the self-esteem of the narcissist are expected to always do so, with the narcissist failing to recognize the independence of the other person.”
How It Feels to the Narcissistic Supply (Victim)
Being in a relationship with a narcissist puts you on a sort of scary rollercoaster ride of emotions. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows might alternate so quickly that you start losing your grip on what you used to call reality. Your ability to reason is called into question so often that instinct kicks in and you go into survival mode.
Isolation and Control
You slowly stop reaching out to your support system because you’re tired of the whole “why don’t you just leave if it’s so bad?” thing.
You stop being able to do the things you used to do and you don’t care. Nothing feels important except how you’re going to deal with the next incident.
It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting and it causes you to develop symptoms like those of PTSD. Many health professionals say that long-term relationships with narcissists can actually cause a form of PTSD called C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder).
Eggshells, Numbness, and Narcissistic Supply
If you’re in an active relationship with a narcissist, chances are you’re at least part of his “narcissistic supply,” which means he almost literally requires your energy, attention and subservience.
You spend your life walking on eggshells in order to avoid the wrath of your narcissist. It becomes your primary function. And that’s exactly their plan – because now, your life is all about them.
You become unable to deal with anyone’s emotions or issues because you grow so numb when you deal with a narcissist. Their harshness becomes commonplace and often, their victims teach themselves to sort of “numb out” in order to protect themselves from further psychological damage.
The Discarded Narcissistic Supply
As you probably already know, if you dare to stand up to the narcissist on any subject, you might as well prepare for war. The narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury will rain down on you like a proverbial shower of fire and pain.
Make any valid point about the narcissist that’s anything less than “OMG, you are amazing,” and understand that they absolutely will find a reason to not only to negate it but also to twist it around and make it all about you and how you’re wrong somehow. (We call that the narcissistic flip around here.)
This, in many cases, leads to the discard phase. The discard is the part of the narcissistic abuse cycle during which, either literally or figuratively, the narcissist “throws you away,” or pushes you out of their life. This can happen as part of a rotating cycle of abuse, or it can be a final “break-up” or the end of a toxic relationship. In other words, whether the narcissist physically leaves you or just gives you the horribly uncomfortable silent treatment, they are, at least in the moment, beginning to mentally discard you and potentially already looking for your replacement.
And to you, it might just feel a little bit like the world is ending. But of course, that’s exactly what the narcissist is going for here. They are playing on your biggest human fear: the fear of abandonment. This causes you to do nearly anything they ask (even if they don’t actually ask) to keep them in your life – even when some part of you KNOWS you’d be better of without them. This is also exactly where trauma bonding begins to rear its ugly head.
For the record, trauma bonding is similar to Stockholm Syndrome. It’s a condition that causes abuse victims to develop a psychological dependence on their abusers as a survival strategy during abuse. Of course, it also makes recovering from a toxic relationship significantly more difficult.
The Predator Becomes the Victim: The Smear Campaign Begins
Here’s where you can expect the smear campaigns to launch. Smear campaigning is a manipulation tactic where the narcissist spreads rumors and lies about you in order to socially or otherwise isolate you, as well as to get additional narcissistic supply in the form of support or pity from those who are hearing their latest “sob story.”
So, once the narcissist has discarded you, whether actually or just mentally, chances are they are doing exactly that: spreading lies and their twisted perception around to the people you have in common.
This can lead to you appearing to be the problem (the predatory one who they just wish would love them the way they deserve to be loved, according to them). For you, it’s just another tiny betrayal in a long line of them.
And the “poor little narcissist,” well, they’ll play the poor unwitting victim. It’s exhaustive and stressful for you, but the narcissist will thrive through it and may even use their sob story to snare their next victim in their little narcissistic web. This is more common than you might expect.
“The type and amount of defenses that a person develops can add up, creating more problems for themselves and those around them,” says psychologist and narcissism expert Dr. Lynne Namka. “Denial is avoiding responsibility for one’s harmful actions to others and saying ‘Nuh-uh. Not me! I didn’t do it.'”
Namka continues: “The person learns to lie even to one’s self. They need to keep up the pretense of being a good guy and across time they come to believe their own lie. Denial is being irresponsible at an unconscious level because the person is embarrassed to know the truth about his misbehavior.”
Put it all together: Getting out of the F.O.G.
This pattern of constant narcissist mind games and manipulation leaves you feeling used up, empty, and lost. And often, you fall into the narcissistic FOG (fear, obligation, and guilt) pattern that many of us have been guilty of – and this leads to you eventually retreating and apologizing and begging for forgiveness yet again.
You’ve got to love emotional blackmail.
According to Susan Forward, Ph.D. in a Psychology Today article, this kind of emotional blackmail is a “powerful form of manipulation in which people close to us threaten, directly or indirectly, to punish us if we don’t do what they want.” The main tool of the trade, Forward says, is FOG: fear, obligation, and guilt.
The cycle of narcissistic abuse has been completed yet again.
Want to detoxify your life? Read Take Back Your Life: 103 Highly-Effective Strategies to Snuff Out a Narcissist’s Gaslighting and Enjoy the Happy Life You Really Deserve.
Have you been the victim of a narcissist? How are you handling it now? Share your thoughts – hit me up on Facebook.
These videos might also be of interest to you.
- Going No Contact with a Narcissist (What NO ONE Tells YOU)
- The Narcissist Has a Selective Memory (Narcissist Manipulation Tactics)
- Disarm Psychological Manipulation In Relationships – Narcissist Silent Treatment
- The Narcissist is Still OBSESSED With YOU (THIS is the #1 Reason WHY)
- The Narcissist Underestimates You
- Are you married to a narcissist? 12 easy ways to spot
- Toxic Relationships and Narcissism: Stages of Gaslighting
- Mommy’s little narcissist: Research says parents to blame for kids with NPD
- Surviving the Narcissistic Parent: ACoNs (Adult Children of Narcissists)
- Living With a Narcissistic Parent is Damaging to Kids
- How to tell if you’re married to a narcissist
- Confused into Silence: Gaslighting
- Narcissists Exploit Your Need for Connection
- The narcissist test: are you dealing with a narcissist?
- Living with a Resentful or Angry Partner
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 here at QueenBeeing.com and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.