Narcissistic Coping Mechanisms

Monique MasonNarcissism, Personality Disorders

Okay…I know this post is way late, but if you follow Pathways on Facebook, you probably already know why…that’s right!  I’ve teamed up with the amazing Jenna Noble!  We now co-own the business, and have been working feverishly to develop amazing programs and resources for parents who are facing the rejection of a child…either partially or full-on for years.

Last June, I decided to take a deep dive into NPD, or narcissistic personality disorder.  In fact, I decided to dive so deep that I started creating a 3 part blog series!  Well, I’ve already updated the first part, and now parts 2 and 3 are even better that two heads are involved!  So…here we are together picking up from where I left off…

Part 1:  The 10 Types of Narcissists, Causes & Warning Signs
Part 2:  Narcissistic Coping Mechanisms
Part 3:  The 4 Phases of a Narcissistic Relationship

NPD is one of four cluster B personality disorders, as outlined in the DSM, and many parents responsible for manipulating their children into rejecting the other parent present with at least some of the symptoms of this disorder.

In Part 1 of this series, we reviewed the 9 different types of narcissists, the causes of NPD and warning signs that you may be dealing with a narcissist.  Today, we’ll be delving into the many coping mechanisms that narcissists utilize to protect their fragile egos.

Coping Mechanisms

Toxic people, such as narcissists, use a variety of dysfunctional coping mechanisms to feed their insatiable hunger for the emotional destruction of another.  You’ll want to watch out for the following common tactics they use so you can more quickly identify when you might be “under the spell” of a narcissist:

  • love-bombing
  • projection
  • deflection
  • distortion
  • gaslighting
  • triangulation
  • splitting

Love Bombing

Before a narcissist can use the more manipulative “tools” from their belt, they must first earn your trust and admiration.  They do this by love-bombing their prey.

What is love-bombing anyway?  I mean, really…it sounds like a positive thing, doesn’t it?  Well, according to Psychology Today, love-bombing is the practice of “overwhelming someone with signs of adoration and attraction…designed to manipulate them into spending more time with the bomber.” 

Let’s just slow it down for a second and highlight the really important part of that definition that differentiates love-bombing from genuine affection…that is the intent to manipulate.  Ultimately, love-bombing is not authentic…it is a rouse to earn your trust.  And once they’ve gained your trust, they are in control!

What makes this technique so scary is that it occurs right at the beginning of your relationship with the narcissist, and it can be incredibly hard to tell if the person is bombing you or if they are being genuine.  Add this uncertainty to the rush you get from receiving the affections, and love-bombing can become virtually undetectable.

So…how do you really know if you’re being love-bombed?  To better understand, let’s first take a quick look from the perspective of the bomber.  During this phase of your relationship, the bomber becomes laser-focused on you.  They study what you like and mirror your deepest needs and desires.  You become the center of their world, they perch you atop a pedestal, and go above and beyond to make you feel truly special.  In reality, they are really grooming you to become addicted to their attention so you deepen your investment in them.

Let’s now switch the focus and talk about some of the signs you should be looking out for when on the receiving end of this behavior…

  • The relationship moves at warp speeds and the bomber may tell you they love you really early on…even within days of meeting you. Healthy and mature partners understand that love takes time to develop, and they will wait until they know they mean it before throwing around the L-word…even if they are strongly attracted to you.
  • Bombers tend to express their love in extremes, and may come across as a little over-the-top when expressing it to you.
  • They always tell you exactly what you want to hear, not because they genuinely care, but rather because they are playing off of your insecurities and can use all the sweet-talk to manipulate you later.
  • If they do say something that elicits a negative reaction from you, they may tend to back-pedal from what they say. This is because narcissists are more concerned with how they appear than being genuine.
  • They may constantly shower you with compliments; however, the compliments may feel shallow or ingenuine.
  • They may give you an excessive number of gifts. In fact, what they are doing is just trying to buy your love AND make you feel like you “owe them”.
  • Although they treat you like gold (at least for the time being), they treat others like crap. This is probably the easiest sign to spot, but one that a lot of people ignore…speaking from experience here, when someone is making you feel really good about yourself, it’s really easy to sweep some of their negative behaviors towards others under the rug.  Don’t do this!  Do not make excuses for the way they treat others simply because they treat you well…because in all likelihood, that will be coming to a close soon enough.
  • Even though you may feel incredible around the love-bomber, you may feel like something is a little “off”. If your gut is telling you that it is too good to be true, it probably is.
  • They want to move way too fast. Are they wanting to meet your family, move in together, or worse…get engaged in record time?  This is a huge red flag.  What they are really doing is trying to “lock down” the relationship.
  • When you find yourself in a bad situation, their eyes will light up and they will play the hero. Not only will they swoop in to “save the day”, they will also make a big deal out of it.
  • They may keep asking about the crappy things in your life. Narcissists do this because they:
    • really do like being the hero and want to provide solutions to your problems
    • want to reduce your sense of self-worth
    • and the worst yet…they want ammunition for the abuse that will come later on in the relationship

At the end of the day, if you are being love-bombed, it is not going to last forever.  Once the narcissist gets what they need, namely your trust, they will pull the rug right out from under you and move on to other manipulative tactics to use you to satisfy their own lack of self-worth.

Projection

Do you remember when they used to use those old movie projectors in the movie theaters?  Projection is the same kind of thing with the narcissist being the movie projector and you being the screen.  The narcissist will do ANYTHING to avoid taking ownership of their own negative behaviors and traits, and will displace them onto someone else.  They will literally do something and say that someone else did it…a tactic you’re probably all too familiar with if you’re reading this post.

I actually had a psychologist tell me (during an evaluation) that my ex was saying that I was doing to him everything I was saying he was doing to me.  So, I asked her how she knew who was telling the truth and her answer terrified me…she replied with, “you both are.”  Incidentally, she was the one who got it right, but that’s a story for another day.

The scary thing is that not only will the narcissist fail to acknowledge their own flaws, they will typically project their own inadequacies onto you in a painful and cruel way.

Deflection

Have you ever heard of word salad?  Word salad is kinda like watching a dog chase its tail, with the narcissist being the dog and their words being the tail.  They continually talk in circles and the conversation quickly becomes a nonsensical conversation from hell.  You may ask a question, and the response is about something completely different in an effort to deflect the conversation, change the subject, and cause you to forget about what you were originally talking about.

Narcissists love to use this tactic in an effort to confuse, frustrate, and distract from the original question or problem.  Spending just 15 minutes arguing with a narcissist may just leave you feeling like you’ve lost your mind and wondering how the conversation even started.  The goal…to keep changing the subject to evade having to accept accountability.

Distortion

Ever watch the Twilight Zone?  Remember the rings of circles that make your eyes go all wonky?  Apply that to your words, thought and actions so they favor my perspective, and I’ve just turned into a narcissist.  Okay, not really, but you get the point.  A narcissist will weave damaging and elaborate webs based on partial truths, all with utter and complete confidence, convincing others that they are spouting facts.

There are actually many ways that they will distort reality to suit their needs:

  • mental filtering – they will amplify the negative and filter out the positive…in other words, they won’t tell the whole story
  • over-generalization – they will form (and have no problem sharing with others) a conclusion they have made based on a single incident
  • jump to conclusions – they will make assumptions about how someone else feels and thinks, and what motivates them ; or will make predictions based on little or no evidence…they are a bonafide mind reader and fortune teller (yes, that was sarcasm!)
  • catastrophizing – also known as magnifying or minimizing, they exaggerate the importance of insignificant events, or conversely, shrink the magnitude of important events  (uh-ehm…if this doesn’t cause courtroom flashbacks, I don’t know what will)
  • “should” statements – they will impose unrealistic expectations on others…what you “should” do, “ought” to do, or “must” do
  • personalize – they take things personally when they have nothing to do with them and like to play the “victim”
  • blaming – enough said
  • emotional reasoning – their emotions override their rational thoughts and they believe what they are feeling is the truth…also why they are always so convincing
  • fallacy of change – they expect others to change to meet their needs
  • fallacy of control – they believe that they are in complete control of themselves, others and their surroundings
  • global labelling – an extreme form of over-generalization, in which they make a negative judgement of another based on only a few qualities or limited experiences with them
  • always being right – they are always trying to validate their opinions by putting others on trial

Gaslighting

“I seriously wonder how many highly intuitive, intelligent and totally sane women and men have been labelled as crazy because they got too close to figuring out someone else’s bullshit.” 

-Alex Myles

The term “gaslighting” was originally coined from the 1944 film, Gaslight, where the protagonist’s husband slowly manipulated her into believing that she was going crazy.  In the play, the husband uses the gas lights in an upstairs apartment to dim the lights in his own suite.  The wife notices the dimming lights, and when she mentions it as a concern, the husband denies that it is happening and convinces her that she is imagining it.

Gaslighting is insidiously manipulative and ultimately leaves the victim confused and doubting their own sanity.  A person who has been gaslit for a prolonged period of time often feels that their grip on reality is precarious, and they have lost the ability to trust themselves.  Trust me…I know this!  I have experienced it first-hand, and it takes a long time to start trusting yourself and your own perceptions again.

There are several different tactics that a toxic person (a.k.a. a narcissist) may use to gaslight you:

  • Countering – telling you that you are wrong or remember something incorrectly
  • Trivializing – making you feel like your thoughts and feelings are insignificant and don’t matter
  • Withholding – not sharing information, or pretending they don’t understand what you are saying
  • Stonewalling – refusing to listen, respond, or engage with you in conversation …you know, the not-so-good old-fashioned silent treatment
  • Blocking – questioning the validity of your thoughts
  • Forgetting – pretending to forget things that never happened
  • Denying – playing the “innocent card” and telling you something never happened
  • Faking compassion – telling you they are doing something harmful for your own good

In fact, gaslighting is so commonly used and insidious, we feel it necessary to share the following video about it:

Triangulation

Let’s step back into high school for a moment.  Remember when Chad cheated on Sally?  And what did Sally do?  …she went on a rampage to all of her friends telling them all these horrible things about Chad.  All her girlfriends bought into her exaggerations and pretty soon Chad was sitting by himself in the cafeteria at lunch. 

THAT is triangulation…when someone seeks to convince or impose their opinion or perspective on another person in order to gain their support and harm a third person.  Narcissists are emotionally immature, so yes…it can kinda feel like you’re right back in high school when around them.

The really sad part is that a lot of grown adults will not think critically and accept their lies as truth because they really are that convincing.  It is common for an alienating parent to share their opinions and made-up plights with friends, family, teachers, coaches, professionals and other community members in an effort to turn them against their co-parent  (that would likely be you if you’re reading this…and I totally feel your pain!)  Unfortunately, this leaves you being judged and isolated with no opportunity to even defend yourself.  And worse yet…the people being triangulated end up validating the narcissist’s abuse, while simultaneously invalidating the target’s reactions.

Splitting

Splitting can be simply defined as “all-or-nothing” thinking.  A person who splits views the world in extremes and from two perspectives…”all good” or “all bad”.  Everything is perceived as “black” or “white” with no room for shades of grey.  They also tend to judge people as being their “savior” or their “enemy”.

How to Deal

So, how exactly does one navigate a relationship with a narcissist? Our immediate answer would be…don’t if you can avoid it. Seriously…RUN! RUN FOR THE HILLS!

Being in a relationship with a narcissist adds a whole new meaning to Pat Benatar’s song “Love is a Battlefield”.  Narcissists are a human version of a chameleon with the ability to quickly assess a room and tailor their behavior to best suit their needs. They can be extremely charming, personable, and easily win others’ affections; however, they show a completely different side to themselves only to certain people.

Their end game is always to control others and about what’s in it for them.  They will be exceedingly sweet and cooperative when they want something, only to pull the rug right out from under you once they’ve accomplished what they set out to do.

BUT…what if you have no choice? What if the Narcissist is your parent, sibling, or worse…your co-parent? How exactly can you navigate a co-parenting relationship with a narcissist?  The truth of the matter is that you can’t co-parent with a narcissist, plain and simple.  The only option you have is to parallel parent, in which you parent your children separate and apart from your co-parent, AND teach your children the critical thinking skills they need to be able to resist the emotional poison from their other parent.

General guidelines to follow when parallel parenting with a narcissist include:

  1. Develop an extremely detailed parenting plan that includes real and enforceable consequences for not following the terms of the agreement.  If possible, include a police enforcement clause for parenting time, and ensure that the agreement is approved and registered with the courts.  Narcissists feel entitled and will always cross boundaries and not follow orders if there are no stipulated consequences.

For the most comprehensive co-parenting plan on the market, check out the Pathways Ultimate Co-Parenting Plan. It’s jam-packed with 40 pages of easy-to-read language and designed to protect parent-child bonds and avoid contentious issues before they arise.

  1. Minimize contact with your co-parent.  Arrange for parenting time exchanges to occur at a public location, or, better yet, directly before or after school or your children’s extracurriculars.
  2. Always make contact in written form when you do need to communicate with your co-parent.  It is important to keep a paper trail of communication when you are dealing with a narcissist.  Only communicate via email, text message or an online communication app for families, such as “Our Family Wizard”.
  3. Keep communication short and to the point.  Always stick to the facts and ignore aggressive and demeaning comments.  Narcissists like to serve up word salad (their crazy-making talk).  Do not allow them to draw you into a debate you cannot win.  There is no need to explain or defend your actions and decisions. You really don’t want to stray too far from a “yes”, “no” or specific dates.
  4. Do not get sucked into their drama or sob stories.  Narcissists are master manipulators who like to twist and distort the facts to suit their needs, so do yourself a favour and take their stories with a grain of salt.  A simple, “I’m sorry to hear that,” is okay, but then move on.  Do not take on their problems as your own.
  5. Do not share your feelings or intimate details of your life with them.  They really don’t care about your feelings and sharing information only gives them ammunition to harm you with later.
  6. Do not take anything the narcissist says personally.  Narcissists like to exploit others’ weaknesses and use guilt to shame others into doing what they want.  Always remember that this is really about them, not you.
  7. Treat your relationship in a business-like manner by setting clear and VERY strong boundaries.  As mentioned above, narcissists feel entitled and will always keep taking until you lay down the law.  Give them an inch, and they will help themselves to a mile.

Final Note

Narcissists are chronic liars…AND they wholeheartedly believe that their delusions are grounded in reality. This is why they are so confident, why they are so incredibly convincing…AND why they are so dangerous!

This being said, it is also important to maintain a certain level of careful compassion for those who have been diagnosed with this personality disorder, or display some of the traits.  As stated in our previous blog post, people develop these traits as a defense against trauma they have experienced in their lives.

Resources

Lachian Brown, Love bombing: 10 ways narcissists use it to control you, Hack Spirit, November 2, 2018

Shahida Arabi, 20 Diversion Tactics Highly Manipulative Narcissists, Sociopaths And Psychopaths Use To Silence You, Thought Catalog, April 4, 2019

Learning Mind, 20 Most Common Manipulation Techniques Used by Predators

Everyday Health, Psychological Projection: Dealing With Undesirable Emotions, November 15, 2017

Courtney Ackerman, Cognitive Distortions: When Your Brain Lies to You, PostivePsychology.com, September 29, 2017

John M. Grohol, Psy.D., 15 Common Cognitive Distortions, PsychCentral, June 24, 2019

Share this Post 1