Dealing with toxic people in general is hard enough, but being in a relationship with them is probably one of the worst experiences one can have in life. Unfortunately, many of these people — narcissists, sociopaths or, even worse, narcissistic sociopaths — are masters of manipulation and can be extremely clever when it comes to luring their victims. In the beginning of the relationship, you might think they are the most charming people you’ve ever met, and understandably, fall deeply in love with them.
Some of the warning signs below may become obvious before you jump into a committed relationship with a toxic person, while others will unveil themselves later as your relationship progresses and deteriorates. We hope it’s obvious that it isn’t a condition for all red flags to be present. It is also important to note that narcissists, psychopaths, pathological liars, sociopaths, narcissistic sociopaths and other people who display unhealthy behavior in relationships may have some commonalities and differences. Not all of these terms have clear definitions that everyone agrees on, so we will be using these terms losely.
1. Love bombing
Love bombing is a technique used by narcissists, narcissistic sociopaths and some other manipulative types in the beginning of a relationship in or order to attract their victims. Love bombing can manifest in two ways:
- Constant attention and compliments or, in other words, idealization.
- Presenting themselves as ideal mates who can satisfy your deepest desires.
Some people will become addicted to this constant attention and will fall in love with the narcissist.
Manipulators are particularly good at figuring out people’s needs and insecurities, but in the beginning they are likely to go for something that is more common, such as the need of attention and feeling important. As they interact with you more, they will be able to notice other less obvious needs. Perhaps, you desperately want to be loved and don’t know how to stay single. Or maybe you aren’t sure about your own identity — a common trait of young victims — and the manipulator will want to “clarify” that for you. You could be lonely. You could be naive. Maybe you are a single mother looking for a father for your children. Not all victims of abuse are necessarily weak people, but having weaknesses, insecurities and needs makes the manipulator’s job much easier. Sometimes, narcissists pick a stronger victim just for the challenge — they want to prove themselves they can have whoever they want. In this case they may pick a person who is already in a committed relationship or a person who is not at all interested in them initially. Conquering and breaking such people gives narcissists even more pleasure.
2. Disappearing Act
In some cases, the manipulator may decide to run a little test: Once you begin to show interest in the narcissist, he or she may disappear for a while just to see your reaction. This serves an important purpose:
- First, it allows the narcissist to see if you are sufficiently interested before moving onto next stage.
- Second, if the plan worked, it will force you to crave for the narcissist, perhaps even actively look for him or her so it will later seem like the relationship was your idea.
- Third, if you haven’t realized you are in love with the narcissist yet, you will “realize” that now.
3. Rapid Commitment
Manipulative people will often profess their love for you in a matter of weeks, perhaps days. They might claim it was love at first sight and pressure you for rapid commitment. It might be difficult to differentiate a person who is genuinely excited about being with you from a manipulator, but quickly falling into a relationship where your partner demands a lot of your time and demands a detailed explanation of what you do when you are apart is very unusual and is more of a telling sign.
4.Hot and Cold, Mean and Sweet
Later in the relationship, the narcissistic sociopath may act hot and cold. One minute they love you and then hate you the next. They could be talking about marriage today and want to break up tomorrow. This mean and sweet cycle also has several purposes:
- It satisfies the narcissist’s constant need for attention.
- It gives them the sense of power and control over you.
- It may force the victim to lose sense of self-worth.
- Unfortunately, hot and cold strategy makes some people fall in love even deeper.
5. Gaslighting and Crazy-Making
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that targets to destabilize victims and make them question their own sanity or perception by constant lying, denial and contradiction. For example, the sociopath may make a disturbing statement then claim you misunderstood what they said. Their ultimate goal is to make you second guess yourself or, in other words, lose your mental independence. Once you become more dependant on the abuser, they will keep acting hot and cold to satisfy their sick desires. If you don’t stand up for yourself, this game of attending and ignoring will lower your standards of what you consider acceptable in a relationship and will likely lower your self-esteem.
Once your relationship progressed and you two are an “item”, you will be expected to behave in a certain way and there will be a lot of rules! They might want to tell you how to dress, how to talk, how to walk, what to eat and how to breath. You will likely need to censor your mind and think well before you ever open your mouth. If you make a mistake, a punishment is likely to follow. It could be withdrawal of their “love” and attention. It could be yelling and breaking things. It could be a physical punishment. One narcissistic sociopath had a very original way to punish his girlfriend: He would imitate self-harm by banging his head against a wall or by burning his own arms with cigarettes. He did that because it scared her. Also being very young, she still had her family support and physically harming her would be dangerous.
As you become closer and while your narcissistic sociopath is still being sweet, you might willingly begin to isolate yourself and spend more and more time with them, and less time with your own support network, such as family and old friends. Later, the narcissistic sociopath will begin to apply more pressure on you by first asking, then demanding to spend more time with them. You might be allowed to go to work or school but not much more. Some manipulators will intentionally encourage you to work and study, which may appear as a good thing but in reality, they do so only because they have set their views on your current or future income.
Gradually you will find that maintaining this relationship involves a lot of sacrifices.
- You might feel forced to give up your hobbies.
- You might be put in a situation where you share a disproportionate part of your income.
- You might not be able to plan anything without the narcissistic sociopath being present or without his or her permission.
- You might find yourself waiting by the phone to see if they “need” you today.
Little by little sarcasm becomes the narcissist’s primary mode of communication. They will talk down to you as if you are mentally deficient, constantly questioning your intelligence and abilities. They will joke in such a mean and condescending way that it’s not even funny. They might flirt with other people in front of you then accuse you of being jealous. They might disappear for days then accuse you of being needy. To them, you cannot do one single thing properly — you can’t cook, you can’t clean, you can’t groom yourself, you have no taste, you are fat and have no talent whatsoever. They will constantly tease you and smirk when you try to express your feelings.
Overall, the relationship feels incredibly complex. Complex in a way that cannot be easily explained. You feel deeply unhappy, yet you fear losing this relationship so you continue walking on eggshells trying to please the monster. Your friends and family may begin to realize that something is wrong, yet you dismiss their suggestions and lie to protect the sociopath’s image. You desperately want the feeling the narcissistic sociopath gave you when you first met — love, attention, compliments, gifts, grand gestures. At this point you definitely know the relationship is bad but you might not realize you are being intentionally abused until much later when the relationship is finally over.
If you need help recovering from narcissistic abuse, we recommend professional online counseling here. It is more affordable than face-to-face counseling and has a lot of other advantages.
UPDATE: There is also Part 2 of this article.
And if you are interested in this subject, you might want to have a look at the following posts:
- Infographic: Psychological Manipulation
- Mind Control Techniques to Be Aware Of
- Crazy in Love: 4 Love Disorders
- Psychopath vs. Sociopath
- Sociopath Symptoms You Never Heard Of
- The Truth About Compulsive and Pathological Liars
- Malignant Narcissism vs. Narcissism vs. NPD
- Narcissistic Personality Test
- Understanding Narcissistic Rage
- Raised by a Narcissistic Mother
Image source: @welcomia via Freepik