The father of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud, introduced the narcissist to the world in his essay On Narcissism, published in 1914. The term narcissism, derived from Greek mythology, is defined as the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s idealized self-image and attributes. The danger of the narcissist is that the people who suffer from delusions of grandeur can be quite attractive, and their false sense of superiority can be easily misinterpreted as confidence and self-assurance. The attractive qualities of the narcissist begin to dissipate when you realize you are dealing with someone who believes that every person on the planet, including you, are eclipsed by their perception of supremacy. Unfortunately, the light that illuminates this truth about the narcissist can appear well after the manipulation and toxicity have permeated the relationship and your own psyche.
Narcissists have the unique ability to covertly operate in their disorder without your knowledge. Since narcissists believe they have been cursed to occupy the planet with inferior beings, they employ certain tactics to groom their romantic partners in an attempt to limit their exposure to mediocrity. The narcissist has to break you down to build you up to their standard, and here are five tactics they use to make you a more suitable mate and admirer.
1. They temporarily make you the most important person in the world
Imagine being a giant among men. Imagine that your colossal footprint dwarfs anyone who dares walk near you. How can you find a suitable mate if you find it difficult to identify anyone who matches your greatness? It can be quite frustrating!
The narcissist cannot step down from the pedestal of their creation, so they have to bring you up to their level, even though they don’t believe you deserve it. Your temporary ascendancy is sanctioned because the narcissist has chosen you and preordained you as a suitable companion. Shortly after introductions are made, the narcissist will shower you with unearned admiration and laud you with praise that exceeds your comfort level. The narcissist’s choice of adjectives when speaking of you are always the most extreme superlatives. You are the most beautiful person in the world or the most intelligent person they’ve ever met. Although you may never use self-deprecating language when describing yourself, the narcissist’s insistence of your eminence will make you feel a bit uncomfortable, especially since time has not provided you an opportunity to prove you are worthy of such hyperbolic praise.
Understand that this isn’t about you. You may not be mediocre, but to the narcissist, you are average at best. The flattery you are receiving is designed to make you more palatable, not to affirm you. The narcissist struggles with your inferiority and has to convince themselves that you are deserving of their affection. Soon the veneration will cease and the celebration will be replaced with harsh and unfair critique. Your level of importance will significantly diminish and your words and actions will be lambasted with unprecedented vitriol. The narcissist will grow weary from attempting to inflate your status to meet their enormous ego.
2. They manufacture vulnerability by sharing a past tragic moment to gain sympathy
It is a universally accepted concept that trust is earned over time. The same holds true for the courage to display vulnerability. Not so with the narcissist. The narcissist uses vulnerability as a tool to garner sympathy and affirmation. The first or second date is usually a perfect setting for the narcissist to reveal a tragic story from their past to draw you nearer to them. They understand your nature to nurture and will exploit your instincts to disarm you and lower your defenses. The narcissist knows that the quicker they can force you into a supportive role, the more persistent you will be with your encouragement.
Armed with a single moment from their past, based in truth but amplified for effect, the narcissist will coax you into feeding their starving ego with an unlimited supply of support and reassurance. The narcissist is banking on your admiration of their ability to overcome their past obstacles to blind you from their current shortcomings and misgivings. They are hoping that their willingness to share this embarrassing moment with you will forever blunt your ability to critique their blatantly inconsistent behavior. Despite evidence to the contrary, the narcissist wants you to hold on to the idea that they are a “good person” and any undesirable behavior you currently observe are situational anomalies. Evidence of their successful campaign is that you will find yourself accepting implausible excuses for their unacceptable behavior. You are unable to recognize them for who they are because they’ve seduced you with their triumphs over their troubled past.
3. They invest in you financially to prove that their presence is an upgrade in your life
The narcissist is well aware of the disparity between who they believe they are and the person they actually are. Despite their self-obsession, they are aware of their flaws. They have no desire to publicly recognize or own their mistakes; they want you to ignore or be oblivious to them. It is far too dangerous for the narcissist to acknowledge their imperfections, so they use their resources and influence to mask them. They need you to view them as an upgrade that exceeds all other competition for your heart. They shower you with gifts and flaunt their financial status as a rare quality that renders competitors impotent and ineffective. The narcissist may seem generous to the untrained eye, but in reality, their generosity is a tool they use as a distraction. They will boast, not just of their significant resources but their willingness to share those resources. They will constantly remind you that you are fortunate to be with someone who gives so freely. Their money is a competitive edge they use to obtain your loyalty and praise. For the narcissist, this is a worthwhile investment because the dividend is a constantly stroked ego. The goal is for you to see them as an asset in your life that you are not willing to live without.
The challenge the narcissist faces is that most people don’t view wealth as a necessary component of love. Although the trappings of wealth can facilitate an attraction, money is never a good reason to remain in an undesirable relationship. This fact is problematic for the narcissist. They need their wealth to be a major influencer of your desire for them. They need to use their generosity to counter your claim that they are selfish and self-serving. The narcissist requires your dependency to elicit your praise. The further they can draw you away from financial independence, the more successful they will be at increasing their perceived value in your life. The narcissist does not long for you to want them; they demand that you need them. They realize that desire is fluid but reliance is enduring.
4. They manufacture conflict to manipulate an apology from you
Peace and tranquility may seem desirable to most people, but for the narcissist, peace is a threat to their superiority. An equitable relationship establishes an even playing field that causes extreme discomfort for the narcissist. The narcissist cannot risk the perception of equality because it robs them of power and influence. The narcissist believes that there can only be one winner, and that winner must be them! As you celebrate harmonious moments of pleasure, the narcissist is crafting a plan to create discord so that they can regain dominance. The narcissist will manufacture conflict to create an environment for your subjugation.
They will use manipulation, confusion, and deception to convince you that you are the cause of the discord between the two of you. The narcissist doesn’t want an amicable resolution, and your attempts to reach a compromise will be met with an escalation in their tone and demeanor. They will berate you until you finally surrender and accept responsibility for an argument they instigated. Your apology and concession, motivated by a desire to regain peace, is leveraged by the narcissist to regain and sustain their primacy. Soon, you will recognize that you are constantly apologizing and the narcissist is feigning humility while you capitulate. Once the power structure is reestablished, the narcissist will back down temporarily until harmony once again causes their discomfort.
5. They separate you from your support system to create dependency
Your family and friends are worthy adversaries to the narcissist. Their proximity and knowledge of you pose perpetual threats to the narcissist’s ability to manipulate you. At any moment, wise counsel can usurp the narcissist’s superiority they believe they have meticulously created in your eyes. The narcissist cannot afford to allow your social circle to damage your perception of them. It would be catastrophic if a trusted advisor was to suggest to you that the narcissist is not all that they appear to be. The narcissist has invested time, resources, and energy into you to convince you that they are a gift that demands your eternal gratitude. They can’t risk that someone close to you reveals that you bring just as much, if not more, to the table as the narcissist. The narcissist would then have to accept that they are average or, worse, below average.
Anticipating the threat of family and friends, the narcissist will begin methodically separating you from your support system by planting seeds of paranoia and dissension. The narcissist will paint a vivid and realistic picture that suggests that they are your only true ally and every other person in your life is a diabolical nemesis, jealous of your relationship. No matter how implausible their claims may seem, the narcissist will push their agenda and eventually, you will isolate yourself and convince yourself that the narcissist is the only loyal person in your corner.
Once the narcissist has successfully dissected you from your support system, they can operate unchecked and ungoverned as they methodically break you down. Their voice is the only voice you hear and the only voice you trust. Dissenting voices are muted, and you now suffer from a dangerous case of Stockholm Syndrome that leaves you helpless and lonely. If you happen to question your isolation, the narcissist will expertly turn the conversation around and force you to question your own logic and reasoning. Soon, your voice is gone and the narcissist now speaks for you. They control your thoughts and feelings. They prompt you to question your needs and desires. The narcissist has won. You have been reduced to an apologist that never questions the behavior or words that will eventually lead to your emotional demise.
Be careful of the narcissist. Protect yourself from people who can only see themselves in a crowded room. Be careful of those who elevate themselves without justification and tears down others without cause. The narcissist is only capable of self-admiration and is unburdened by empirical evidence or facts that prove their lack of supremacy. The narcissist doesn’t engage in battle; they spend more time and expend more effort convincing anyone who will listen that their challengers are beneath them. The damage they inflict is difficult to repair, especially since the narcissist is so proficient at averting blame and fault to inferior beings.