The Art Of The Narcissist’s Subtle Sabotage: How Predators Set Up, Disarm And Destroy Their Victims

Alex Stoddard

Toxic people like narcissists and sociopaths destroy everything and anything in their path. On a larger scale, they ruin entire lives. Everything ranging from taking off with their victim’s hard-earned funds, carrying on double lives that deplete their families, posing irreparable, psychological harm to any children they raise – to driving their victims to suicide.

Perhaps, on a smaller but still significant scale, they ruin something their victims are looking forward to. The narcissistic father stumbles drunk into another one of his kid’s birthday parties. The abusive mother prevents her daughter from going to prom after weeks of preparing her beautiful dress. The sadistic boyfriend sabotages his girlfriend’s graduation by breaking up with her the day before, effectively tarnishing a celebration of her accomplishments that she’s been looking forward to for months.

Or, even more deviously, they may set up an elaborate scenario that prepares their victims for failure. They might invite their victims on a romantic getaway, only to spend the time flirting with others on the trip.  They might prepare a birthday celebration for their victims, only to stir up arguments the entire time. They could offer to treat you to a date, just to abandon you on the day of. Usually during an abuse cycle, there are multiple incidents of these covert sabotage attempts.

How does it happen? Why does it happen? And what does it mean for the victims of crimes where the murderers often get away with clean hands?

The art of the subtle sabotage, much like the art of the pity ploy, is used to stage an environment of psychological warfare. It’s a set of manipulations within the abuse cycle that leads to an elaborate game of chess – if chess were an epic, elaborate game of mindfuckery that is. Every step the victim takes, he or she is blocked from getting to the destination. Each move is carefully “watched” and evaluated so the other player can learn to provide a buffer between the victim’s movement and their intended goal.

Subtle sabotage (or any form of sabotage, really) is used for the following:

To stroke the narcissist’s or psychopathic individual’s ego.

If the narcissist or their even more conscienceless cousin, the sociopath or psychopath, feels that they are the puppeteer pulling all the strings, they gain confidence from this. If they can dupe their empathic, eager-to-please victims, they get off on the idea that they are the superior ones. This is also known as “duping delight.”

To grant narcissists a grandiose sense of power.

To the malignant narcissist, it feels good to play God. In fact, a sense of grandiosity is part of their diagnostic criteria. They watch with glee as their victims stumble upon the roadblocks they’ve set up for them or attempt with frustration to keep up with the ever-changing moving goal posts.

To devalue, diminish and provoke their victims into looking like the crazy ones.

How do you make a victim look like the “crazy” one after you abuse them? Well, you make sure to provoke them into reacting, especially in public. Acts of subtle sabotage ensure that victims who speak out will baffle outsiders who are not aware of the covert dynamics taking place within the abusive relationship. Even the strongest of individuals eventually “snap” when subjected to long periods of terrorizing behavior. Psychopathic individuals count on society to make the final judgment on the victim’s credibility based on these reactions to the abuse.

A crestfallen, traumatized victim is unlikely to present a calm, emotionless defense when attempting to explain the abusive behavior – whereas those on the high end of psychopathy lack the normal fear and anxiety responses associated with deception and high-risk activities. Who do you think comes off as the “sane” one in the courtroom, among friends and family, the workplace, or any other context where narcissistic abuse takes place?

In committing subtle sabotage, emotional predators make sure that their victims feel further alienated and isolated due to the covert nature of the abuse. The victims sense they won’t be heard or validated, so they stop speaking out – or never speak at all.

To derive a sense of sadistic pleasure.  

Research has indicated that those on the more malignant end of narcissism tend to derive joy from seeing sad faces. This is not news to anyone who has been a survivor of a narcissist, a sociopath or a psychopath. They enjoy inflicting pain – to be the cause of it is even more thrilling for them. Sabotage enables them to see their sick and twisted mind games unraveling in real time on the stage of the victim’s life come undone.

What To Do When You’ve Been Sabotaged

If you’ve been sabotaged – whether subtly or overtly by a malignant narcissist, know that it is not your fault. You were chosen because you had beautiful and brilliant qualities that were used against you.

These predators don’t have as much fun breaking down an already weak target – they choose healthy, strong, vibrant individuals who emit the light that they are drawn to. They love seeing that light enshrouded in their darkness. Remember that many of these individuals are pathologically envious and despise seeing you shine.

You cannot win by playing them at their own game. To play on their level would require a severe deficiency of empathy or remorse that will only turn you into the very monsters you seek to slay. Instead, you must use your experiences to build your inner wisdom, knowledge, resources and self-validation. You must “play” at a whole different level by not playing against them at all, but rather using everything you have to survive and thrive instead. Stand in the truth of who you really are and what happened to you. Use everything they did to you as motivation and fuel to flourish.

You must build organic support systems and networks outside of them – networks they cannot touch. You must continue to showcase the talents and gifts in ways they could not stifle, even if they tried. You must use these experiences not to stoop to their level, but to catapult yourself into greater heights.

You must use what you’ve learned for your highest good and the greater good. Your experiences, your stories – can collectively lead to change, to revolution, to increased awareness. Exposing how these manipulation tactics work to destabilize victims can potentially change lives and expose predators working underhandedly in our midst.

So, as counterintuitive as it may sound, the solution lies in not in “hiding” so you no longer become a target. It’s in shining a light on their darkness, while continuing to shine brightly. To let these toxic individuals take away what you love most would be to give them the very essence of yourself.

When I suggest that survivors become the narcissist’s nightmare, what I mean is that they learn how to become what monsters most fear – an individual so grounded in their integrity, strength and power that nothing – not even a conniving, selfish, plotting narcissist – can stop them.

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About the author

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.

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