An expert reveals the red flags to watch out for if you think you’re experiencing “crazymaking” by a narcissist.
Being deliberately vague in their responses to your direct questions to avoid accountability.
This is a tactic narcissists use when they want to avoid being held responsible for their actions or want to engage in gaslighting. For example, you may notice your purse going missing frequently and ask the narcissist, “Did you move my purse?” and they will answer as if they did not even hear the original question. They may say something like, “Purses are easy to lose, aren’t they? Things are always moved around here,” taking themselves out of the equation completely. They won’t address if they specifically moved the purse, or where your purse may be, preferring instead to make vague, unsatisfying statements in response to your inquiries. You may question why they came home so late last night, and they could respond with, “I am always out and about. Time gets away!” or, “It is not that late.” If you persist in questioning them, they may start to gaslight you by saying you’re interrogating them, call you insecure, or continue insisting on issuing these vague statements to escape accountability.
Deliberately misrepresenting your perspective to the point of absurdity.
If you come to the narcissist with a valid concern or express your emotions to them, they may reply by distorting your perspective so that it no longer even represents your authentic viewpoint. The conversation then moves in circles and never culminates in a resolution. For example, if you tell them, “I think the way you’ve been speaking to me lately has been cruel,” they could respond, “Oh so now I am evil?” putting words in your mouth you never said. Or you may tell them, “I am not comfortable with you going on vacation with your ex,” and they might lash out, saying, “So now I can’t even have friends?” This allows them to circumvent the conversation you’re trying to have with them and stonewall you so you’re unable to get your needs met in the relationship.
Telling an outright lie to paint you as the perpetrator.
This type of crazymaking is common in smear campaigns against the victim. The perpetrator will play the victim while telling lies about how the victim was the one abusing them, all while projecting their own actions and misdeeds. They might tell friends and family members that you were the one cheating on them, when in reality, they were the one betraying you. Or they may accuse you of a preposterous action you’ve never engaged in to paint you as the villain, especially if they are envious of you, just to instigate a crazymaking argument (i.e. they come home one day and accuse you of flirting with their brother).
These types of baseless accusations are also common on social media. For example, a jealous narcissistic woman might lash out in envy at an attractive, successful woman posting her day-to-day life by commenting with a false accusation. They might try to falsely claim that woman has a sugar daddy (in an attempt to minimize her authentic achievements), or lie and say that this woman had surgery to get her features enhanced (especially if they are jealous of her natural beauty). They may go as far as to stalk and harass this woman or place her in harm’s way by pretending she did or said something abhorrent that she didn’t. These are all envious, crazymaking attempts to degrade someone the narcissist is jealous of and gain public support in doing so. It has the effect of deflating the victim in times of celebration or joy.
Issuing ultimatums, veiled threats, and potential punishment at any perceived slight or reacting to any constructive criticism as an attack.
Ultimatums and veiled threats tend to be remarkably effective forms of crazymaking because the narcissist is able to coerce the victim into doing what they want, urging submission without necessarily being seen as a tyrant. In reality, the narcissist doesn’t actually want to break up with you or for you to break up with them when issuing these ultimatums – they just want to orchestrate a break-up to tap into your fear of abandonment. For example, if you let a narcissist know that you do not accept infidelity in a relationship especially if the two of you decided to enter a committed relationship, the narcissist may respond with, “It seems we’ve met an impasse here. I need my partner to be accepting of my sexual desires. Are you okay with me seeing other people? If not, we probably shouldn’t be in a relationship.”
This is a bizarre form of gaslighting and crazymaking because not only did the narcissist enthusiastically ask to enter a committed relationship with you, likely love bombing you into believing they would give you the world, they now expect you to either accept their absurd terms or exit the relationship. While the latter choice is obviously the best option in this specific scenario, the fact that they’ve given such an ultimatum and veiled threat at all instead of taking time to address your concerns or validate how they’re falling short of the expectations they themselves established early on is utterly confusing and disorienting for the victim, and often works to make the victim work harder for their approval.
Complying with your requests, while also taking something away from you to ensure you don’t “win.”
If the narcissist is still invested in the relationship but doesn’t want you to leave or wants to punish you for daring to defy them at all, they’ll employ other subtle torture tactics to keep you trauma bonded to them. For example, they may seem to cater to you at first by being more attentive to you emotionally as you requested. But you’ll notice them withdrawing in other aspects – perhaps they suddenly seem sexually dismissive, or neglect to call you when they usually would. That’s because even when a narcissist is seemingly trying to make you happy, they still feel the need to rebel to show who’s really in control. That is why they will often try to take something away from you so you are still punished for daring to ask anything of them. This eventually trains you to not expect or ask anything of them at all.
If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, it’s important to seek professional support. You deserve more than a toxic relationship that harms you.