The terms “sociopath” and “psychopath” have been combined under the term “Antisocial Personality Disorder” (ASPD). Some common traits of ASPD are: The person is usually charming, highly manipulative, using domination, charm, guilt, sympathy, pity, obligation, or intimidation to get their way. Has a disregard for rules and others. Shows behaviors based on either exploitation or cruelty, often leading to time in jail as an adult. Has a lack of remorse. Lack of empathy, although they can do an award-winning performance to make others believe that they are sorry and that this time will be different.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
A personality disorder usually includes impulsive and risky behavior, unstable and intense relationships, highly manipulative behavior, frequent outbursts of anger/poor emotional regulation, unstable or fragile self-image, fears of abandonment, and suicidal behavior or threats of self-harm. There can be a lot of overlap between the behaviors associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Codependency versus Over-giving
The term codependency originated in the context of Alcoholics Anonymous and was initially used to describe the excessive emotional reliance a spouse of an alcoholic has on their alcoholic partner. The alcoholic is excessively reliant on alcohol, and the spouse is overly dependent upon the alcoholic. These relationships are one-sided. The alcoholic spouse is continually having destructive behavior, and the codependent spouse is forever busy picking up the pieces, doing damage control, and trying to make things work.
The term Cognitive Dissonance means “mental distress.” In particular, it’s the mental distress a person experiences when they have two conflicting thoughts about the same topic simultaneously, as it pertains to an action that they are going to take. The reason this is so distressing is that we need our thoughts and actions to agree with each other. If our thoughts and actions don’t line up, we act in a way that doesn’t make sense to us, so we experience mental distress. To relieve mental distress, we either have to change our thoughts to match our actions or change our actions to match our thoughts. Most of the time, we tend to change our thoughts about what we are experiencing until our reality becomes painful enough to take different actions. When we change our thoughts, we do so by either denying them, trying to suppress them, or rationalizing them.
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in that the person experiences much of the same symptoms but for different reasons. PTSD tends to happen after a specific event or situation like war or a car accident. In contrast, C-PTSD is more complex because it’s often the result of ongoing traumatic events, many of which can be challenging to pinpoint. This is especially the case if a person grew up in a den of dysfunction, and the traumatizing behavior was considered normal.
Crazy-making behavior is abusive and manipulative behavior designed to confuse, irritate, exhaust, or provoke a target into some emotional reaction. The target feels either like the narcissist is trying to make them crazy or that the narcissist’s behavior is so infuriating that it’s making them crazy. This happens especially when the narcissist acts like nothing is wrong or that the target is making a big deal out of nothing, or worse, that the target is crazy, mentally ill, or losing their mind.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health (DSM) is a manual of mental disorders published and continually revised by the American Psychiatric Association. This manual is currently in its 5th edition and is referred to as the DSM-V. The DSM categorizes a wide range of mental health disorders, including mental illnesses, personality disorders, and developmental disorders that impair cognitive development.
Cognitive Dissonance or Abuse Amnesia
Dissociative Amnesia, or Abuse Amnesia, is when a person forgets specific incidents surrounding a traumatic event or events—in this case, abusive behavior. Abuse amnesia can range from forgetting whole episodes to certain things that are said, and the sufferer tends to remember the abusive person in a positive light. Abuse amnesia is not normal forgetfulness, as the person is only unable to recall events surrounding the specific traumatic event. Many people who continue to go back to an abusive partner report feeling frustrated and crazy because they forget about much of the abuse and hold onto the good times to be abused again. This level of forgetting can make a person question their sanity, as frequently they forget or not easily remember pretty essential things. Abuse amnesia is a critical concept of which to be aware. Prepare yourself for it, as it happens to many people who have been in an abusive relationship.
Domestic Violence and Narcissism
The United States Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person.” Domestic violence does not only include married couples. It can be any harm inflicted on a member of the household or family member by another member of the same household or family.
The term Flying Monkeys comes from the movie The Wizard of Oz, where the Wicked Witch of the West has flying monkeys under her spell to do her bidding, mainly to harass and torment Dorothy and her friends. In terms of a narcissistic relationship, “flying monkeys” are people who have been manipulated by the narcissist to carry out their bidding, usually to harass and torment the narcissist’s target or to push them back into the relationship. Anyone can be turned into a flying monkey—friends and family of the narcissist, friends and family of their target, therapists, members of their church, or neighbors, you name it. Because they are also being manipulated, flying monkeys are duped by the narcissist into doing the narcissist’s bidding. They believe the narcissist is the victim of the situation. They may also think the target is the one who is manipulative and abusive or that their relationship issues are somehow shared issues. The narcissist’s bidding generally includes spying and getting information from the target, pushing the target back into the relationship, stalking, harassing, or abusing the target.
Future faking is when a narcissist talks about, hints at, or promises their target an ideal future together. The narcissist may future fake by claiming that they want the same things from the relationship or promise to change their abusive behavior. Narcissists often go about future faking by gathering information about the target’s idea of a great future or perfect relationship from the early love bombing stage. Usually, this includes getting engaged or married, buying a home, settling down, starting a business, adopting pets or children, having a baby, or moving to a different area to get a fresh start. These false promises manipulate the target into a new relationship or into rekindling a broken relationship. At first, these actions may seem sincere. After all, who would talk about such deep commitments if they weren’t sincere? The narcissist may even turn their talk into actions and convince their target to buy a house, adopt a pet or a child, or move. Over time, the target may realize that they have become more trapped due to these actions. They now have a mortgage they can’t afford alone, have a child, quit their job, moved, or otherwise committed themselves to the promise of doing these things as a team. They then realize that the narcissist isn’t emotionally invested, so the target stays out of guilt, obligation, or the inability to undo these actions. What started as the promise of an ideal future quickly turns into a hellish nightmare.
The term gaslighting is taken from a 1944 movie called Gas Light, starring Ingrid Bergman. In the film, Bergman plays the part of Paula, a woman who is married to Gregory, a man who, unbeknownst to her, is a thief and the murderer of her rich aunt several decades earlier. She doesn't know that Gregory only married her so that he could have access to her aunt's house and can find her aunt's jewels, which he had been unable to find in his earlier robbery attempt. Whenever Gregory is hunting in the attic for the jewels, he has the gas lights on. Since the lights are on in the attic, it causes the rest of the house's lights to flicker. When Paula asks Gregory why the lights are flickering, he tells her that they aren't and that she is seeing things. Another sign that points to her being "crazy." As Paula begins to uncover things about Gregory that don't line up, he tries to prevent being found out by her or others. He slowly begins to erode Paula's perception of reality, and sanity, by moving objects around and telling her that she is not well whenever she questions what is happening. Today, gaslighting is a term that refers to a form of psychological abuse in which information is twisted, spun, or selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making the target doubt their memory, perception, and sanity. It is commonly used with narcissists and other types of emotional manipulators trying to avoid being accountable for their behavior or who are intentionally trying to erode their target's sanity. Gaslighting is incredibly damaging and crazy-making behavior, which often has long-lasting results and leaves a person questioning their sanity and perception of reality not only when they are around the abusive person but in general.
Grand Finale of Abuse
Grand Finale describes an over-the-top ending of a relationship with a narcissist, which is often characterized by an extreme amount of drama, chaos, lies, and overall outrageous, soap-opera type of behavior. Their behavior can be so intense that it can quickly become dangerous and even deadly. An abusive person's target needs to use extreme caution when leaving the relationship, even if the narcissist has never shown any signs of violent behavior before. Once the narcissist realizes they've lost power and control over their target, they begin to scramble and say or do anything they can to get that power back. Around this time, the narcissist's mask either slips or is taken off completely, and the target is shocked by what they see. They may be surprised by the level of contempt the narcissist has for them and realize that the narcissist does not love them or even like them. This can be hard to accept and leaves many targets feeling numb, devastated, and angry once they realize the narcissist is nothing more than an emotional con artist. Someone they don't even know, and feeling used, abused, and exploited.
Gray rock is a technique used to minimize contact and damage from a narcissist by becoming as emotionally unreactive and dull as a "gray rock." The goal of using the gray rock technique is to stay cool, calm, collected, uninterested, and uninteresting when around a narcissist so that they lose interest in abusing their target and stop. There is a saying out there that goes, "Violence is only enjoyable when there is suffering. Without suffering, it is a hollow act." The goal with gray rock is not to let the abusive person see you suffer. By denying them this, you are cutting off the "supply of pleasure" they are getting from your pain. This tactic flies in the face of most thinking behind conflict resolution, which is based around having open, honest, sincere, solutions-oriented communication. This type of communication doesn't work with a narcissist because they are not looking for a solution—they are looking to bully their target. Let me be very clear: to let an abusive person know how much they are hurting you will only make the abuse worse, as they now know they are getting to you—and worse, they specifically know what buttons to push. It's dangerous to treat an abusive relationship as though the issue has to do with communication issues between two people. It doesn't. The problems are about power and control, and the abusive person is intentionally grinding their target down. They know what they are doing, so don't get caught up thinking they don't or that if you could somehow explain to them how much they are hurting you, they would stop. Again, this will only make things worse.
Hoovering and Narcissism
Hoovering is a manipulative technique named after the Hoover vacuum. Hoovering occurs when a narcissist tries to reopen communication with their target with the intention of either thoroughly sucking them back into the relationship or sucking them back into their “supply pipeline.” By keeping contact open, the narcissist can re-enter their life down the road to abuse or exploit them. Hoovering consists of any attempt to reopen communication with the target, no matter how small and seemingly innocent. Hoovering is often done in the form of text messages, phone calls, liking comments or pictures on social media, emails, contact through mutual friends, family, children, neighbors, coworkers, or “accidentally” bumping into the target. Multiple forms of manipulative messages can be used. From seemingly kind, considerate, or harmless attempts at communication where they might claim to want to say, “Hi,” “Happy Birthday,” or “I love you” to more aggressive or provoking messages such as claiming that they have cancer. They may even make suicide threats to get the target to respond.
Love bombing is when a narcissist "bombs" their target with "love," or more specifically, attention, affection, communication, and compliments. Love bombing is a term that is usually associated with cults and how they go about recruiting members. However, the same concept is used by narcissists regardless of the role they play in a person's life, whether that is as a cult leader, an abusive partner or parent, an online-dating scammer, a scam artist in general, a coworker, or neighbor. Love bombing often leads to rushed intimacy, heavy amounts of mirroring, a whirlwind romance, a high degree of future faking, and a feeling of a soul-mate connection.
Low Contact with a Narcissist
Low contact is the alternative to “no contact” and is usually done if a person wants or needs to keep communication open with a narcissist. For instance, a person might want to stay in minimal contact with a family member who is a narcissist, or they may need to keep in minimal contact if a person has a child with a narcissist. Low contact is whatever amount of contact that you want it to be. You may decide that you can only handle seeing this person for three days over the holidays, or you may decide that you can’t do three days, but you could do one day. Maybe that one day is too much, but meeting for dinner is fair. If that’s too much, perhaps limiting contact to a phone call on holidays or a couple of times a year is your limit. A great way to tell how much contact to have with a person is to examine how you feel when you are around them and after you are around them. If you feel angry, resentful, hurt, annoyed, or that you need to decompress after being around them, then these are all signals that something needs to change. Some boundaries need to be set for how you expect to be treated, the length of time you are spending with them might need to decrease, or you might need to increase your self-care when you are around them or after you are around them, or some combination of all three.
Masks of a Narcissist
A narcissist's mask refers to the different faces or masks that a narcissist shows in public and to the target, especially at the beginning of a relationship. These different masks are often socially acceptable and ideal, making them seem charming, likable, and the furthest thing from an abusive person. When a narcissist switches masks or their mask slips, their true self is seen, which is often horrifying and different from the person the target knows. Over time, the narcissist's mask slips more often, and the target starts to view the narcissist as having a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" personality or having both tremendous and awful sides to themselves. Some of the masks they wear might be that of the great parent, the God-loving church-goer, the volunteer, the world's best spouse, or the charming and funny person. Those close to the narcissist know that their actions are very different from those of the people they pretend to be.
Narc Speak or Word Salad
Narc speak, short for narcissist speak, generally refers to a series of either misleading, loosely-related, or nonsensical words that a narcissist will string together to avoid accountability and groom their target into not questioning or challenging them in any way. Like the rest of a narcissist’s behavior, narc speak is about gaining and keeping control over the situation, target, and target’s perception of reality. You may also hear the term narc speak referred to as “word salad.” However, it can be helpful to understand that there are two types of word salad. On a medical level, the term word salad is generally used to describe the disorganized speech from cognitive impairment due to schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, a stroke, or other types of brain injury or mental illness. This is not the same type of word salad in which narcissists engage.
Narcissistic abuse is behavior through which a person targets and manipulates someone into giving up their wants, needs, feelings (and thus their identity) for their self-esteem needs to be met. The concept of narcissistic abuse was made popular by the work of psychologist Alice Miller. Her work primarily focused on exploring the family dynamics between a narcissistic parent (or parents) and their children. What Miller found in her work with emotionally abused and neglected children were that for them to "survive" their environment (meaning, for them to try to get their basic needs met—including food, clothing, shelter, love, and acceptance), they were forced to give up their wants, needs, and feelings—and thus their identity—to serve their parent's need for validation and esteem. The term "narcissistic abuse" has grown to include the dynamic between a narcissist ("friend," parent, child, neighbor, coworker, significant other, member of their church, etc.) and their "target" where the target is manipulated out of their wants and needs, and thus their sense of self, to please or satisfy the other.
Narcissistic Injury is a real or perceived threat to a narcissist’s ego, which usually results in them going into attack mode, known as “narcissistic rage.” This attack mode can happen subtly and behind the scenes, or it can happen with them exploding and going on a verbal or physical attack. A narcissistic injury could occur in any number of ways. Perhaps the most common are challenging the narcissist’s decisions or abilities, criticizing them, questioning them about their behavior, setting boundaries, or talking positively about good things or others. Everyone gets jealous or envious of others from time to time, and no one likes feeling challenged or questioned. This is all normal to an extent. What’s not normal is to fly off the handle or to have a meltdown when things don’t go our way. Narcissists have a paper-thin ego, and any criticism of them, or something good that is happening to someone else, is perceived as an attack. Because narcissists go into attack mode when their ego is threatened or start to lose power over their target, a target of abuse needs to be careful when they leave them, as this is when they are the most dangerous. It is always a good idea to anticipate how you think they might respond and then to err on the side of caution. Even if a narcissist has never been physically violent before, they can quickly become violent during this time.
Narcissists are people whose actions are entirely self-centered and self-serving, to the point that their behavior causes significant disruption in their lives and trauma to the lives of those closest to them - whether they realize it or not. They are often charismatic, convincing, and can be very charming when they want or need to be. They need admiration and are often very focused on impressing others and maintaining their public image. They tend to feel entitled to treat others however they wish, and because of this, they have a lack of empathy, regard, and remorse for the results of their actions. In short, the narcissist feels they should be able to do whatever they want, whenever and as much as they want, and with whomever they want, and anyone that disagrees with them is the problem and the enemy.
Covert or Vulnerable Narcissist
Covert narcissists, also called vulnerable narcissists, are also self-absorbed, self-centered, and lack empathy and remorse. They differ from a more textbook narcissist, often called a grandiose narcissist, because vulnerable narcissists tend to show more emotional depth when they are wounded and are very concerned with how others see them. They are thought to fear abandonment and perceive any mistake, criticism, rejection, or inferior treatment by others. They think of themselves as superior beings and often crumble when others don't believe the same. This crumbling reveals their vulnerability and often comes across as their appearing as a deeply-wounded child. Their inflated sense of self-worth and need to be acknowledged as superior is the most reasonable compensation for their low self-esteem. Their fear of abandonment is thought to be due to a lack of secure bonding with their parents when they were children. When a vulnerable narcissist's wounding is visible, it can pull at a person's heartstrings. The target may watch with amazement as the narcissist emotionally transforms into a small child. They may cry, stay in bed, fall into a depression, or need a seemingly large amount of reassurance that they are okay or did a good job. A vulnerable narcissist's target may have difficulty distancing themselves from a person like this because they know how hard they take rejection. They may also think that because narcissists can be emotionally wounded, they can also be empathetic and remorseful. After all, these narcissists feel emotional pain, so you'd think that they'd be able to relate to the pain in others sincerely. As soon as they've had enough time to lick their wounds, they are back to their old selfish, insensitive and hurtful, self-absorbed, and entitled ways. Because vulnerable narcissists tend to need reassurance and approval, they also have a hard time being alone. Their partner may have a hard time leaving a vulnerable narcissist because, even despite the abuse they've gone through, they know how fragile the vulnerable narcissist is and how hard they will take the breakup. They may go back if the narcissist threatens to commit suicide or contacts them with repeated pleas for help, or begs them not to go.
Overt or Grandiose Narcissist
An Overt Narcissist, also called a Grandiose Narcissist, is more obvious and tends to be a textbook example of what most people expect a narcissist to be. Overt narcissists are usually grandiose, arrogant, overly-confident and self-assured, obnoxious, and charismatic. They do not seek approval, fear rejection, or show emotion as vulnerable narcissists do. If they are rejected or insulted, they don’t crumble as a vulnerable narcissist does. Instead, they go on the attack, and they don’t stop until they’ve sufficiently ground down their opponent for not treating them with the admiration and respect they feel they so rightfully deserve. Grandiose narcissists don’t need the support and reassurance of others like vulnerable narcissists do. It’s thought that grandiose narcissists aren’t compensating for lack of self-esteem, but more so that their inflated sense of self. This comes from being spoiled or from their parents telling them how special, amazing, and talented they were, without balancing that with proper discipline and a more realistic view of themselves and their shortcomings.
An Altruistic Narcissist is a type of narcissist who gets their ego stroked from appearing kind, good and caring, but they only do so to get the praise and validation that comes from being seen as a good and caring person. Everything they do is for show. They often give money they don't have and gifts they can't afford. If their charitable acts are denied, they often become angry and enraged. Altruistic narcissists may volunteer a lot, be leaders of a spiritual group, or work in a position that is seen as caring, such as a teacher, nurse, doctor, counselor, social worker, director of a non-profit, etc. However, those who know them best realize that there are always strings attached to their acts of kindness, and they are better off not accepting any help from them. These acts of kindness are held over their head and expected to be repaid ten-fold, or they are used to lure people in so they can be exploited. An altruistic narcissist's behavior tends to come across as confusing because, on the one hand, the narcissist is so charitable and considerate and seems to care so deeply. Still, their emotions seem shallow and insincere, and their actions seem like they are for show.