Does your relationship leave you feeling hurt and confused? Do you savor memories of the good times in order to block out the bad? If these patterns feel familiar, you may be with a narcissistic abuser. In order to leave a narcissist, you first need to understand the tactics they use to win you back.
The Narcissistic Abuser’s Top Tactics
Narcissists operate from an idealization/devaluation cycle. In the idealization phase, they seek out partners who reflect well on them and feed their ego. Once they realize the person they put on a pedestal is only mortal, the devaluation phase begins: criticizing, shaming, controlling.
When the narcissist realizes you want to leave, they’ll be nice again — but only as nice as they have to be. As soon as you come back, they revert to abusive behavior. If you learn to recognize love-bombing and gaslighting for what they are — tactics of manipulation –, you can begin to free yourself from the narcissist.
- Love-bombing. Narcissists dazzle their prey with theatrical displays of adoration. In a recent Elle Magazine interview detailing her abusive relationship with actor Shia LaBoeuf, singer FKA Twigs reported that he told her he loved her shortly after their first meeting and jumped the fence of her London home to leave her notes and flowers. This classic love-bombing move disarms victims by making them feel special. Relationships with love-bombers often feel addictive because of the intermittent dopamine rewards: once devalued, the abused partner will go running back in search of another hit of dopamine, the feel-good brain chemical. FKA Twigs described how LaBoeuf lured her back after a break-up:
“He would send me between 10 and 20 bunches of flowers a day for 10 days. Every time I would sit down to work or watch something, the doorbell would ring, and it would be another three bunches of flowers. On the tag, each time, it would say, ‘More love,’ ‘More love,’ ‘More love.’ ” In hindsight, she says, “It was a bit too much. It felt uncomfortable. I look back now, and it feels like really aggressive love.”
The best way to protect yourself from love-bombing is to see it for what it is: the opposite of love. It is simply a technique to bait you. Once you’re back in the narcissist’s clutches, you will most likely be devalued. Instead of falling for smooth talk and flashy gestures, watch for your partner’s sustained commitment to changing problem behavior.
- Gaslighting. This term is taken from the classic film “Gaslight,” about a nefarious husband who convinces his wife she’s going insane in order to steal her fortune. Narcissists gaslight victims by denying their reality. They convince you that you are the one to blame for their bad behavior. Model Sarah McNeilly took to Instagram to describe the abuse she endured from her ex, singer Marilyn Manson:
“I was thrown up against a wall and he threatened to bash my face in with the baseball bat he was holding, for trying to get him to pick out a pair of pants prior to a music video. I witnessed him staging problems or hiding missing objects in order to justify his violent outbursts.” McNeilly went on to explain that she was afraid to leave because she had witnessed him blackmailing and slandering others.
Gaslighting victims lose their critical thinking ability, because they become brainwashed by the narcissist. To counter brainwashing, document the narcissist’s behavior. Then run it by a trusted friend or therapist. Narcissists like to isolate their victims from others so they can have complete control; by talking to others, you will hear different opinions, especially from those who truly care about you.
How To Break Free
Take back your power by educating yourself, connecting with others, and planning a safe exit.
- Understand trauma-bonding. Having an intense attachment to someone who hurts you isn’t love, it’s trauma-bonding. Often, people who were abused by caregivers grow up to attract partners who also abuse them. The “love” you feel probably isn’t love, but merely a nervous system activated by the repetition of early childhood trauma.
- Talk to others. Stop letting the narcissist take up all the real estate in your head! Let trusted people know what’s going on. Getting objective feedback will help you challenge gaslighting and love-bombing and recognize the narcissist’s behavior for the manipulative abuse that it is.
- Make a safety plan. Narcissists often ratchet up the abuse when a partner tries to leave, so contact a domestic violence support resource to help you plan your exit as safely as possible.
Ready to speak with an attorney? Please contact us today to schedule an initial attorney consultation. Our experienced family law specialists understand the turmoil narcissists unleash and will help you develop a laser-focused strategy for safeguarding your future. To schedule an appointment, call us at 888-888-0919, or please click the green button below.