An Expert Reveals the Micro-Betrayals Narcissistic Partners Subject You To

Micro-betrayals are the seemingly “smaller” transgressions that act as the ominous harbingers of the greater betrayals to come. They can build up over time to become major red flags. As a researcher specializing in narcissism and psychopathy, I have heard from thousands of survivors who have experienced narcissistic partners on what makes these exploitative relationships so traumatic. Here are some of the most common micro-betrayals narcissistic partners can subject their victims to.

The “minor” gaslight with plausible deniability. While there’s nothing minor about gaslighting, the first time it happens may evade your notice. The narcissist or psychopath might pretend they didn’t say something they actually did or make a comment that “teasingly” insults you or accuses you of something you didn’t do. When you call it out, they may hide their true motives by pretending they didn’t mean anything by it. You may feel momentarily disoriented and confused yet willing to believe them because they provide a rationale for their behavior. Yet this micro-betrayal is just one of many to come. By testing you with these “minor” cruel comments disguised as jokes or denials about reality, they are figuring out how far they can go to pull the wool over your eyes. That way, you’ll be “properly” desensitized to cruelty by the time they engage in more impactful gaslighting.

The micro-abandonment. The narcissist usually throws out another kind of test in the beginning stages of the relationship. They’ll stage a “micro-abandonment.” This is when they may disappear during a time they’re usually available. They might even do this during an important period of time – like when you’re sick or when you’ve expressed you need to hear from them. You are shocked because you have not yet been devalued by the narcissist yet and are accustomed to their consistency. Whether it’s leaving you on read or failing to be there for you, they’ll return with  an excuse that you’ll be tempted to believe – if only because this is their “first” of the many more disappearances to come.

Presenting us with glimmers of a false mask that we get excited about – only to reveal these positive qualities never existed. Narcissists pretend to be our ideal partners in the beginning of the relationship, only to later reveal bit by bit how they were the complete opposite of who they pretended to be. If they engaged in moral grandstanding about how they would never lie to you, you find them lying about irrelevant matters. If they feigned sharing the same interests and hobbies as you only to express disdain and disinterest, you’re disappointed to find out it was all just a ploy to get you invested in them. If they promised to always care about what made you feel most comfortable in the relationship, they suddenly begin disregarding your emotions. One by one, these micro-betrayals add up until they become the major betrayal that this person is simply nothing like the person you thought they were.

Not being happy for us when we share positive news. Capitalization is the mutual appreciation of good news that strengthens the well-being of a relationship according to research. Narcissists do anything but capitalize when it comes to positive events – they minimize and detract from our happiness. While they could have ardently celebrated your accomplishments in the beginning, they soon start to issue covert put-downs designed to destabilize you and your self-esteem. They could do this with insidious comments that deflate your joy, project their own insecurities, rage in envy, compare you to others, fear-monger, or find supposed shortcomings. They steadily become more antagonistic and distant or fail to acknowledge your achievements altogether in response. While these types of reactions may start out slowly in toxic relationships, these increasingly critical comments grow over time until it becomes apparent that the narcissist does not support you no matter what you achieve. In fact, research finds that they can be exhibit malicious envy which leads them to sabotage others.

Punishment for holding them accountable. A narcissist despises being held accountable and will punish you for calling them out even if they were the ones guilty of unscrupulous behavior. As a result, they might punish you with an unwarranted silent treatment, take away one of your perceived “rewards” (such as their usual displays of affection and tenderness), or flaunt giving the attention they usually give to you to another person. This first punishment is a micro-betrayal that teaches victims of their abuse that they are not to speak up about the matters that are important to them, lest they be met with consequences.

The first time they try to provoke jealousy. Research indicates that narcissists and psychopaths try to provoke jealousy in their partners to gain a sense of power and control. The first time they attempt to provoke jealousy can be a micro-betrayal in itself. The narcissist might suggestively turn their head to “check out” another romantic prospect while also peering at you afterward to ensure you notice them doing so. They could bring up a co-worker they had lunch with or an ex that is texting them, putting on a demeanor of faux innocence or concern as they gauge your reaction. This is to assess how much control they can have over your emotions and test the relationship to see how willing you are to “compete” for them.

Intruding on your privacy when they first meet you while misrepresenting their own lives. Narcissists and psychopaths poke, prod, and pry to find out all about your insecurities and traumas in the beginning. However, they misrepresent their own lives. That’s because they know they’ll use the information they gather about your life against you, and don’t want you to have any ammunition against them. You may feel betrayed when you realize you disclosed something to them that you would rarely share, only for them to lie about themselves or use it for their own gain.

Lying to us about matters that are both irrelevant and relevant. Big lies, white lies, beige lies, blue – it doesn’t matter what brand of lie a narcissist engages in so long as they’re fibbing to you. The micro-betrayal of the white lie is that it makes us wonder what else the narcissist has lied about or the crucial information they might be omitting. If they’re willing to lie about things that don’t matter, how do they handle the matters that do?

Withdrawing acknowledgment and withholding of compliments. Survivors of narcissists have all been there before. There’s been a consistent shower of love bombing thrown your way and then – silence. Crickets. The day you stop receiving the healthy praise the narcissist has conditioned you to expect to receive is the first micro-betrayal that starts the long chain of devastating pattern of withholding throughout the relationship. This causes you to work even harder trying to regain their approval.

Leaving “crumbs” of betrayal on social media and treating you and your relationship disrespectfully. Social media isn’t just social media. It’s a highly public platform that can amplify your joy or escalate attempts at public humiliation. Narcissists and psychopaths weaponize it for sinister purposes. They enjoy publishing suggestive posts, stories, memes, or subtweets negatively directed at you and your relationship or following shady social media accounts in an attempt to make you jealous. These covert jabs become more and more aggressive over time until you’re exhausted from confronting them and them gaslighting you in turn.

Slowly but surely backtracking on promises of the future while dangling the carrot of false hope. In the beginning of your relationship with the narcissist, you were likely subjected to immense love-bombing and future-faking. They dropped hints of marriage, children, vacations, and a long-lasting love. Yet slowly but surely they begin to backtrack on these promises and begin to manufacture problems instead. Rather than owning up to the fact that their fast-forwarding was part of their manipulation, they justify their behavior by claiming the very barriers that would not stop them before are insurmountable now. For example, they may have declared that no distance could keep you apart from them but now complain of driving your way. Or they might have told you that you could work through anything but are now emphasizing key differences. The issue is they had all the same information they had before when they were painting a future with you – they just knew they never intended to carry it out. This is an extremely manipulative betrayal as it orchestrates false hope, dangling a carrot just to meet whatever agenda they have. If you have been in a relationship with a narcissist or psychopath, it’s important to seek professional support. You deserve to heal.

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.