How did your narcissistic partner identify you as a suitable target from Day 1? What were their criteria — because people as calculating as Narcissists undoubtedly are surely had some criteria in mind?
How could they know, right from the get-go, that you were worth the trouble of pursuing — inasmuch as they ever did pursue you? What was it that attracted them to you? In this post, I want to look at the 7 hoops that Narcissists put out for a prospective partner to jump through.
We might like to think that our emotionally abusive partner was attracted by our sparkling personality, our sweet nature, our looks, and what an all-round lovely person we were. But the reality is different. That’s not how it works. There may be every reason to suppose that we were, and are, all of these things — after all, why the hell should we not be?
Still, an abuser sees something very different. They see vulnerability, a target, someone who might like to believe in him or herself but does not.
An emotional abuser flags up a lack of self-belief as a clear Pushover message. Even when an abuser is in Temporary-Prince(ss) Charming mode, their radar is tuned to vulnerability. They will be sure to register that signal and turn it to their advantage.
Narcissists cause such havoc in the lives of good, trusting people because good, trusting people are ill-prepared to recognise and rebuff them. When you can identify the early warning signs of a narcissistic abuser effectively, it becomes decidedly easier to protect yourself.
Not everyone believes in the power of love
Most of us like to think that the World works the way that we do. We believe in The Power of Love, and we expect our partners to do the same.
Unfortunately, partners from Planet Zog (my personal fantasy about where Narcissists come from) simply do NOT work the same way that we do. Nor will they go out of their way to tell you that they are aliens. It’s one of those caveat emptor situations: let the buyer (you) beware that the goods that they put on display are not necessarily of the quality that they would have you believe.
Anyone who has half a brain and is over the age of 17 probably would not buy a second hand car blind. By the same token, if you are over the age of, say, 19, chances are, you are “buying” a second hand man, who already has some relationship mileage on the clock. In both scenarios it is down to you to do your own due diligence before you buy.
Does that mean that you go about relationships in a calculating way?
Doing your due relationship diligence — that is, taking your time to ensure that everything stacks up — is a way of “protecting your own best interest”.
Sadly, that is not something that victims of narcissistic abuse only learn to do once they have got very badly burned.
Mr Second Hand Man, on the other hand, has carefully evaluated the messages you send out, right from the get go, so as to calculate exactly what you are worth to him. Let’s look at how he does it.
He starts the ball rolling, as it were, by setting out a number of small hoops for a prospective “partner” to jump through. The first sign she gives is when she — dutifully — prepares to start jumping — when a “Say WHAT!!!” would be a better response.
First the lovebombing
Mostly — but not always — narcissists start with some heavy-duty lovebombing. They let you know that you are “special”, “not like the others” a “soulmate” someone who finally “understands them quite unlike a previous partner who was awful.
This lovebombing — which is unsettling fast and intense — is both their best caveat emptor offer and the first hurdle that they put in front of you. Your acceptance of something which feels not quite right, at some deep level, is a clear green flag to them. It shows them that they have enough leverage to make proceeding with the relationship worthwhile. For them.
They then proceed to put you through a further selection of emotional “hoops”.
The “hoops” a Narcissist gets you to jump through
Hoop #1 The early small act of compliance.
The Narcissist pressures you into doing something you don’t really want to do, to please or appease him or her. That pressure may be subtle, but it is still pressure. They may persuade you to order something you don’t like in a restaurant, do something that doesn’t sit well with you, or else change a plan purely to suit them.
The actual incident may appear insignificant. But don’t be fooled. For an abuser it provides an important learning: they pushed you, and you caved in. That’s a big box ticked for them.
Hoop #2 Overstepping boundaries.
The Narcissist swiftly establishes him or herself as the Ultimate Authority in your world.
It took my future wasband precisely no time to start pontificating. He had barely told me his surname before he began pointing out what was wrong with various people and scenarios in my life. They did not measure up to the high standards that he had for them.
(Only much, much later would I realize that he held other people to standards of behaviour from which he exempted himself on the grounds of his “natural superiority”.)
My responsibility lay in my compliance. Despite disagreeing with a lot of what he said, I sat there, and listened — instead of saying: “Thank you for talking at me. But no thanks.”
From an emotional abuser’s point of view, no reply is a GOOD message. They can work with that.
Compliance is catnip for Narcissists.
Hoop #3 The Trial Intimidation Technique (T.I.T)
Most abusers run the T.I.T reasonably subtly (the first time around, at least). They may give you a small shopping list of Things That Meet With Their Displeasure. They may give you a little foretaste of an angry outburst and see what you do with it. They may run a practice sulk. They may take you through a threat, or jealousy, scenario.
The T.I.T is all about testing your reaction. Do you frighten and give ground easily enough to make you worth their time and trouble?
Hoop #4 Unsolicited (and inappropriate) intimacy.
They will come out with one of those conversational lines that should have you heading for the hills, like: “This is the music I want for the first dance, at my wedding.” (A dubious, and moronic, statement if ever there was one, on several counts.) As a general principle, the more men appear to offer on Day 1 or 2, the less they really intend to put on the table.
And how about this to a woman of middle years: “I’m not sure sex is important in a relationship as you get older. What do you think?”
Hoop #5 Intrusive questions
They ask intrusive questions that presume more confidentiality than your fledgling connection merits. They might ask in depth questions about your previous relationships, your family relationships or seek privileged information about your insecurities, or past mistakes.
The truth is this is probably the ONLY time in the relationship when they will bother to listen carefully to you because this is the Narcissist on a mission to gather compromising information. That information will be used against you — most likely, one day soon.
Beware the invitation to overshare.
Hoop #6 Their “War Wounds”.
They will lose little time in sharing their Hard Life Story to gauge your response. They have been hurt before — deeply hurt. They expect you to understand and feel sorry for them. Above all, they expect you to enter into a little pact — whether spoken or unspoken — whereby you would
- NEVER Do That To Them.
- Never be so selfish as to remind them that you have been hurt, too, and your feelings also matter.
If you need to prove what a nice, caring, empathetic person you are, you give them a clear indication of how needy of their good opinion you are — and how much power they can expect to have over you.
Hoop #7 Their Superhero Status
Narcissists all claim some kind of superhero status. They are all exceptional and outstanding in their own way, all heroes swimming upriver against a strong tide of mediocrity.
The narcissistic ex of one client of mine actually a superhero narrative about the — multiple — failures in his life being caused by the mediocre people who were jealous of his superior gifts. My narcissistic ex, who triggered deep resentment in every team that he ever worked with, explained it as their resentment towards his obvious superiority.
In reality, he was arrogant, divisive and downright rude. But when I met him I was insecure enough to think that his deep conviction of his own superiority was a sign of emotional health. My bad.
Is that the full catalog of the messages that work like catnip to attract emotionally abusive partners to you?
Not at all. But I hope it is enough to get you to review how your narcissistic ex selected you.
How to respond to the hoops
Narcissistic abuse doesn’t occur solely in the realm of intimate partner relationships. It can occur with friends, co-workers, and family. Any type of narcissistic relationship is likely to be damaging to you because Narcissists are very damaging people to be around.
You need to be able to recognise when someone is setting out hoops for you to jump through and end the relationship, then and there. You can never negotiate effectively with a Narcissist — because they don’t play by anyone’s rules but their own.
So, you need to put yourself out of harm’s reach by excluding Narcissists from your life. There are plenty of good, kind people out there. However, the more time you spend trying to live up to a Narcissist’s expectations of you, the less time and energy you will have to spend around people with whom you can have a healthy relationship.