The Narcissist’s Covert Enablers: 6 Toxic Red Flags to Watch Out For

Enablers of the narcissist can exist on a spectrum. The sadistic and malicious enabler is someone who has a clear agenda of teaming up with the narcissist to try to abuse their victims in the hopes of being “chosen” or picked by the narcissist as their loyal follower. They can have some narcissistic, psychopathic, or histrionic traits themselves and display a lack of empathy for their victims. They knowingly support the abuser even when knowing the heinous crimes the abuser has committed against others and even while knowing they too could very well be a victim someday. The unwitting enabler is one who, unbeknownst to them, is used as a pawn in the narcissist’s game to pit victims against one another and further the narcissist’s agenda. Some of these enablers are trauma bonded to the narcissist and may be deliberately provoked or coerced into reacting or acting out of character as a result of their traumas. For example, the narcissist may feed a victim misinformation about another victim and that victim acts or reacts to that information maladaptively out of their trauma responses and fear. Or, the victim is interrogated to the point where they disclose information they did not want to disclose or are threatened into activities they did not want to engage in. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum is the enabler who may no longer have a tangible relationship with the narcissist nor has any clear agenda but still prioritizes their own needs and the narcissist’s reputation and perception of them above the victims’ traumas.  

The covert and toxic enabler takes it a step further: this is someone who pretends to be on your side, only to harm you. The signs you are dealing with a toxic, covert enabler can be subtle and you unfortunately may not find out until later who that person is until it’s too late. Here are some potential red flags to look out for if you suspect you’re dealing with a toxic, covert enabler rather than someone who has your best interest at heart.

They show signs of idealizing or viewing the abuser in inaccurate ways.

Most people who approach you about the narcissistic individual may have good intentions and are just seeking to warn you. However, there are some covert enablers will reach out to seemingly “warn you” about the narcissist, only to collect information on you or try to weed out the perceived “competition.” Enablers with narcissistic or histrionic tendencies may throw you under the bus, appearing to warn you only for their own sinister motives. If an enabler reaches out to “warn” you about the narcissist or you are warning them, you may notice them praising the narcissist even when talking about his or her heinous actions or even after hearing about the horrific traumas the abuser subjected you to. They may agree that the narcissist’s actions are abhorrent one minute, only to become googly-eyed and talk about how “brilliant” and “wonderful” the narcissist is or make remarks that hint that they’re still seeking the narcissist’s validation and approval. They may even partially defend or sympathize with the abuser’s actions. This is a particularly ominous sign if they’re the ones reaching out to you to supposedly “warn” you. They may want you out of their way because they perceive you as competition for the narcissist and may try to swoop in to join the narcissist in their games if they’re particularly sadistic or simply want the satisfaction of getting rid of you.

You can still heed their warning without trusting them – don’t reveal any personal information to such enablers and don’t maintain any contact with them, even if you choose to detach from the narcissist.

These types of covert enablers are likely to be on “standby” waiting for the news that you’ve cut ties so they can carry out their true agendas or at the very least celebrate your absence to feel better about themselves. You can trust that the narcissist is an abuser without necessarily trusting the person who shared that information with you and allowing them to collect information about you that could later be used against you. Remember that traumatized victims who are not malicious or deliberate enablers may still end up revealing something to an abuser down the road due to the abuser’s ability to manipulate, interrogate, bully and threaten their victims. Stay vigilant about what you share with others and who may be used as an enabler.

They victim-shame and blame you while downplaying the abuser’s actions.

Enablers who exhibit victim-shaming beliefs and attitudes when you’re not the “perfect” victim or behaving the way they want you to while rationalizing, downplaying, and softening the toxic characteristics of abusers are not safe people. These types judge abuse victims harshly while letting abusers off the hook or treating them with kid gloves, even if they claim to be victims themselves. Yet all their aggressiveness and assertiveness with victims of abuse goes out of the window when they’re considering the abuser’s actions, where there’s plenty of room for “compassion for the abuser,” understanding, and nuanced perspectives. You get the impression that they don’t understand why a victim would react and act a certain way – this is especially disorienting especially if they claimed to be victims themselves. They may say judgmental things like, “I was a victim too and I would never do that!” They may ask things like, “Why didn’t you just leave?” or “Why not call the police?” yet, in the beginning, they shared stories of engaging in similar behaviors, possibly even with the same narcissist (for example, they may have claimed they felt stuck with that person and they kept running back to them or acknowledged that this person as manipulative).

They judge your reactions and actions in the relationship more harshly as a victim than they do the abuser’s actual predatory actions and are quick to shame you for being an imperfect victim more than they are in judging the abuser.

These types may initially pretend to sympathize with you first when they think you’re going to leave the abuser and they have a personal agenda of their own. Yet if you’re finding it difficult to process all this information right away or ask more questions, they can get aggressive.  It is very easy to say “I would have never done this” when you were not in the same situation as they were with that same manipulator. Keep in mind that you can’t always predict how you’ll react in the same situation with that specific predator, especially if you don’t have the same trauma history as the victim. Some people never get close enough to the abuser to be chronically abused or harmed by them in the way certain victims are. Some suffer from complex trauma and find it more difficult to extricate themselves from an abuser. Not only do you not know that victim’s circumstances, but you also don’t know that victim and what they’ve been through.

They “trauma dump” in a sadistic way that is not reciprocal or empathic.

Enablers may share their traumas with the abuser right away with you in a very long-winded manner, unprovoked, and without any regard for your emotions or boundaries. To be clear, trauma survivors can share their experiences for many different and valid reasons – they may want to connect with other survivors, tell their story to raise awareness, process it in a safe space or they may be at a stage of their healing journey where they are prone to oversharing. However, toxic enablers use trauma dumping differently in a nonreciprocal way – they want you to absorb their stories but will fail to extend you the same empathy later on when you try to explain your own trauma reactions and behaviors.  These types of enablers can view you as free therapy and as a way to “trauma dump” but later seem callous toward your traumas with the abuser if the focus is on you. You notice the same traumas they appeared to empathize with in the beginning are the same traumas they shame you about if you’re not acting the way they want you to act. For example, if you’re not cutting ties with the narcissist quickly enough due to trauma bonding and the fear of retaliation, they may express frustration and aggression, revealing that they care less about your safety and more about their own personal agenda.

Or they might appear to take a special delight in flaunting certain incidents they know will turn you off to the narcissist (such as talking explicitly about sexual activities). You may share a fear about the abuser, and they make sure they tell you explicit, lengthy details about how that fear is true – almost as if they want to hurt you. Most people would tell the truth about the narcissist but be mindful about the details they would give unless you asked for it. You get the sense that their focus is on making sure you cut ties with the narcissist by giving you a great deal of traumatizing information at once and not just as a warning they hope you consider.

Their stories don’t seem to add up and they may still be feeding information to the narcissist.

You may encounter enablers who still remain in contact with the narcissist. This can be a red flag in itself. What enablers claim about the narcissist’s heinous behavior may very well be true but the justifications they give for spending time with the abuser they share may seem “off” – for example, an enabler may claim they were lonely and that’s why they kept pursuing the narcissist. Yet in the stories they tell you, it’s clear they have strong social networks. Or an enabler may claim that the narcissist was obsessed with them and kept reaching out but downplay how much he or she interacted with the narcissist and enjoyed their attention. You may even encounter an enabler who still actively follows the narcissist on all social media platforms even though they emphasized to you that they no longer give the narcissist access to their lives. This can be a subtle sign that they’re not telling the full truth about the true motives of why they’re reaching out, why they really remained invested in the abuser, and still are. It can also be a sign that they’re reaching out to you to engage in “abuse by proxy” – finding a way to collect information on you and do dirty work for the narcissist. Be careful.

They blame you for the actions of the narcissist and for their own actions.

Enablers love to feign playing a knight in shining armor, appearing like they’ve come to save you from the narcissist. However, they’re very focused on what the abuser thinks of them and don’t want to risk their own rapport with the abuser even though they’re invested in ensuring you cut ties with them and were the ones to reach out in the first place. They may blame and shame you if the abuser finds out on their own that they disclosed any information to you (for example, if you leave the abuser and the abuser starts to connect the dots of why you may have left) even if you never revealed what the enabler said or their identity. They blame the abuser’s reactions against them and what the abuser does on you instead of addressing the abuser or holding abusers accountable for their actions. This double standard and hypocrisy can be baffling.

They recruit others in their bullying and shaming.

When enablers feel like they haven’t achieved the goal of obtaining a false sense of superiority over their victims, they take the next step – they underhandedly recruit others in the bullying and shaming of the victim. They may ask other enablers to step in to contact you to continue to retraumatize and manipulate you or spread rumors and false gossip. They may be cruel and callous in revealing your personal information to others. The narcissist may or may not be involved behind the scenes – sometimes the enabler does this even without having any relationship with the narcissist in an effort to feel more significant than the narcissist’s other victims. Instead of exposing the true perpetrator – the narcissist – they place the spotlight on the victim and what the victim did wrong or who the victim is as a person. This is immoral and depraved behavior that ultimately only serves the narcissist, targeting the victims of their abuse while allowing their abusive behavior to continue without accountability.

Be careful of narcissists and their enablers. Many people have good intentions when they want to steer you away from a dangerous situation, so you should still take all warnings seriously. Some people become unwilling enablers due to trauma or fear. Others are more malicious in their motives. There are also covert and toxic enablers out there who will use your vulnerability as an opportunity to further gaslight and traumatize you to meet their own needs. Stay vigilant and avoid revealing personal information to anyone that may later be used against you.

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.