If you’ve dated more than one Narcissist in your life, like I have, you are probably wondering if you are doing something to attract them. You aren’t alone in thinking this. I wondered the same thing for quite awhile–and back then, just the thought that I was giving off some sort of vibe that attracted Narcissists would often send me into panic attack. Ugh. Fast forward to today, and I no longer believe that I attract Narcissists. There’s three reasons why I no longer hold this belief:
1. There is no power in thinking that we somehow attract them. This is the biggest, and I believe most important, reason that I don’t believe victims attract their abusers. If I did believe I mysteriously attracted them due to some sort of dysfunction in my childhood, or because of some unresolved codependency, then I guess I’m screwed, and might as well lock myself in my house. I know that I don’t want to lock myself in my house. I also know that I do have issues with codependency, and that I need to set better boundaries with people. Stronger boundaries is something I am working on all the time–but I don’t think the Narcissists in my life were attracted to my poor boundaries or my codependency issues, if anything, my poor boundaries, high tolerance for BS (low standards really) and codependency are what kept me attracted to them! The reality is that there were warning signs with each of them that I chose to gloss over. The last two were incredibly charming, and didn’t come across as typical abusive men. They did, however, want to rush things, and were full of stories that didn’t make 100% sense. If I’m going to hold myself accountable for anything, it’s going to be that I allowed the relationships to go faster than I was comfortable with, and that I glossed over red flags, instead of slowing down and/or ending things right there.
2. They aren’t superhuman. For many decades I was terrified to even say or think about a Narcissist that I dated in high school. It always seemed like when even I was talking about him he’d show up. Even friends of his thought he had “powers” that the rest of us didn’t. But the truth is that Narcissists aren’t like the vampires in the movie “Twilight.” We don’t secrete some sort of intoxicating smell that draws them in. I know that it might feel at times that they are somehow able to harness the powers of darkness and overcome the basic laws of science that the rest of us are subjected to, but really, they are just highly manipulative people. They might seem like “The Great and Powerful Oz,” but once you pull back that curtain, they are human, just like the rest of us.
3. Abusers aren’t attracted to people, they are attracted to vulnerabilities. First off, abuse is never the fault of a victim. Never. To say that a victim attracted their abuser is like saying a rape victim attracted their rapist. We all now know that rape doesn’t work that way. Rape (like any other form of abuse) is a crime that has to do with the rapist’s drive to satisfy their need of power and control–it isn’t about sex, and it isn’t because the victim wore a short skirt or was talking to the guy. She didn’t attract her abuser, however, he was attracted to her vulnerabilities and the vulnerabilities of the situation.
It is the same with Narcissists. They victimize people to satisfy their need for power and control, as doing so feeds their insatiable ego. Narcissists are not somehow attracted or drawn to their victims, they are attracted to the victim’s vulnerabilities–and since we all have vulnerabilities, any one of us is a potential target.
Like I mentioned before, I was really paranoid about attracting Narcissists–especially after having two serious relationships with two different Narcissists in a five year span! Now that enough time has passed, I can look back at my situations, and because hindsight is always 20/20, I can see what my vulnerabilities (divorce, low self-esteem, etc.) were at the time–and how those Narcissists managed to worm their way into my life. But since I am human, I will always have vulnerabilities, and focusing all of my attention on trying to reduce those vulnerabilities won’t prevent another Narcissist from entering my life.
So what can I do to protect myself?
My take on things is that Narcissists are a lot like online scammers: they try their con on hundreds of people with the goal of luring one. If you don’t fall for it, they move on. In other words, it’s a numbers game. Maybe the person who falls for their scam is codependent, maybe they aren’t. Maybe they were abused as a child, maybe they weren’t. Maybe they have low self-esteem, and maybe they don’t. But my guess is that the common thread between all victims of Narcissists and online scammers is the following six elements.
1. Realize that Narcissists exist, and that they are everywhere. The current estimates are that anywhere from 3-6% of the population is a Narcopath. This is anywhere from 1 in 14, to 1 in 28 people! Most people have no idea that they are coming into contact everyday with people who have no empathy or remorse, and who would love nothing more than to create chaos, drama and pain, simply because they enjoy it.
2. Assess yourself for vulnerabilities. Narcissists are contantly assessing potential victims and situations for “weak spots” (vulnerabilities). In the case of rape it might be the victim is drunk, or alone, or his/her drink is left unattended, etc.). For a Narcissist, it might be someone fresh out of a divorce, lonely, low self-esteem, history of prior abuse or otherwise emotionally vulnerable. You don’t have to “fix” all these vulnerabilities before you leave the house again, just be aware of them. (Of course, good therapy and self help books always do wonders for accelerating this process!) If you start seeing the red flags while you are dating someone, take a time out and question how you are feeling about the situation. If they are too good to be true, or moving too fast, then something is wrong. Healthy adults with healthy intentions don’t date like that.
3. Be aware of the exploitation of your vulnerabilities. The goal of the Narcissist is to exploit the vulnerabilities of the victim for their own personal gain. This is what they do. And they will do it over and over and over again to everyone in their life to some capacity. Vulnerabilities are the reasons victim’s have poor boundaries and low standards–and is why they stay in these relationships. Perhaps you don’t want to be divorced and a single parent, or they’ve destroyed whatever little self-esteem you had to begin with, you are codependent, a people pleaser, are Christian/religious and don’t believe in divorce, hang onto false hope that their change, pity them, don’t want to be alone, you don’t have any money in savings, or you grew up with an abusive parent and this dynamic is “normal” for you.
4. Have a healthy dose of skepticism. Most good, decent people tend to have the world view that most other people are like us–that they have similar values and morals and tend to want the same things out of life. And, by and large, this is true–but there are exceptions. Narcissists are not wired like other people. They have no empathy or remorse and enjoy causing pain and suffering. What makes them especially dangerous is that they don’t come across like a typical abuser or bad guy. If anything, they come across the exact opposite–they are often come across as really friendly people with great character. Which is why element #5 is so critical.
5. Know the red flags. Because Narcissists present so well, knowing what to watch out for is key. After all, if you don’t know what to watch out for, it’s hard to watch out for it! The” good” thing about Narcissists is that they all run about the same emotional con. I’ve heard hundreds of stories, and sad to say, they are all just different versions of the same story–some much more intense than others, but it’s still the same basic story. Knowing what to watch out for can really help prevent them from entering your life. Also, please pass these red flags on to everyone you know, as most people are never taught them–it can save them a lot of heartache and hurt down the road.
6. Tighten up your boundaries/standards. Because most good, decent people tend to treat others like they would themselves, they allow small boundaries to be pushed without thinking too hard about it, and this causes the victim to unknowingly lower their standards. This behavior is called “managing down expectations” and is how abusers groom their victims. The vast majority of abusers don’t start off by yelling, belittling, or punching their victims. They start off with erratically pushing smaller boundaries until new and slightly lower standards are created. Meaning, they rarely push the same boundaries over and over. Instead, they are pushing a little in every direction to allow for all boundaries to be continually pushed. They also manipulate on a regular basis to keep the victim sucked in.
There are no guarantees these six elements will keep a Narcissist completely out of your life, as these people are master manipulators, but it will help to give you more of a fighting chance to get away from them sooner than later.
So hang in there, and raise your standards for your life, and the people in it, starting now.
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My goal is to educate, empower, and inspire other abuse victims in understanding more about what happened to them (and how to prevent it from happening again), as well as how to go on and rebuild an amazing life.
Even though I have had a lot of "in the trenches" experience with highly manipulative people of all kinds, I consider myself to be a student of Narcissism, mindset, motivation, healing, and life in general, and am by no means an expert on any of these topics.
It's for these reasons, that when you are reading my information that I encourage you to hold to what helps, and let the rest go.
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- Episode 98: Book Club on Boundaries After a Pathological Relationship by Adelyn Birch - December 4, 2017