I’ve been really fortunate that I have mostly supportive people in my life right now. Given how very little knowledge there is about narcissistic abuse out there, how difficult it is to understand, and how much victim-blaming there is about abuse in general, I consider myself to have been extremely lucky to have had the kind of support I’ve had about making this situation public.
It says a lot about the people I know that they have been so supportive and I feel so grateful.
I have run into a couple of people who make uninformed statements about it, and I heard some of it at the wrong time and had to be careful for awhile. It was bad enough my ex-boyfriend had scooped out a large part of my own identity and replaced it with his own ways of seeing things. I was already trying to purge everything he had poured into me over the years: doubts, blame, fear, lack of trust in my own judgment.
There has been a silver lining in the victim-blaming I’ve heard. It’s helped shed even more light for me on why explaining narcissistic abuse is so hard by providing me with an outsider perspective.
What I’ve noticed from these conversations is that there are some interesting double standards that exist about narcissistic abuse. Even when they are not actually used to blame the victims, they can be used to let narcissists off the hook and let them slide under the radar.
Unpacking these double standards, however, actually helps to illuminate narcissistic abuse for what it really is and how it works. Let’s see how that works.
How to Name the Abuse Through the Double Standards
Figure: Double Standard Attitudes Toward Narcissistic Abuse
Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you try to explain to other people how you were abused, they either minimize what happened or they don’t believe you?
It all comes down to a lack of understanding of a narcissist’s motivations and what they are “in it” for.
The typical understanding of a narcissist is someone who stares in a mirror all day, and the typical understanding of a sociopath is a crazed killer with a butcher knife. People fail to understand that there are those who lack the brain structure for remorse or empathy who go to work every day, get married, raise children, go on dating sites, and get into relationships– all areas that require some form of social cooperation.
Yet by actively and knowingly failing to participate in the social contract for such things and instead pretending that they desire to be a part of it in the exact same ways as everyone else, they wreak havoc in all of those domains.
Narcissists and sociopaths don’t all get on the Internet and try to con people out of money or stalk and kidnap people and keep them in the basement, nor do they need to in order to destroy lives.
So, in reading the chart above, depending on if we focus on the impact on the victim or the abuser’s actions or both, the double standards can come together like this:
- “Is what happened so petty that it’s not even abuse, or is it so crazy and ‘out-there’ that it seems as if I’m making it up?”
- “Are you doubting me that it was bad because I didn’t leave sooner or saying the whole thing is too outrageous to be believed?”
- “Is all that happened that I got played (which, hey, happens all the time, right?) or is it all so crazy that you can’t even fathom why someone would do the things I’m talking about?”
- “Was I just naïve or do you also assume and live your life as if we all have a ‘right and wrong’ motivated by emotions such as guilt and shame?”
Because… in each of these questions, it can’t be both, right?
This is precisely how and why narcissists can get away with abuse and why it is so effective. It’s one reason why it takes us so long to leave. We don’t see or understand the dynamic that is happening within the relationship and because of that, they have all the power to define it.
Even after we leave the relationship, we have difficulty understanding why they did what they did and what has happened to us.
The double standards illuminate the fact that the narcissist has operated covertly to abuse us, and how they have done so: by taking advantage of the generally accepted values, beliefs, and ideas that are already present about love and relationships which they do not share.
If it were easy to accept that there were people who had a different value system than everyone else who were willing to engage in these behaviors, then their behaviors would not be so unbelievable, and they would not be given the benefit of the doubt when their behaviors were brought to light.
The behavior would be seen for what it was.
If the Behavior Was Seen for What it Was, This is What We Would See…
- Narcissists and other toxic people cannot enter relationships through regular means and do not even desire to. They are not seeking healthy relationships.
- They must enter through counterfeit means.
- We do not recognize this is what they are doing; they operate under the radar.
- They operate under this radar because (a) we project our assumptions that we all want the same things out of relationships onto them, and (b) they are acting in ways that indicate that that is what they want.
- When the relationship ends, we don’t have explanations for what we experienced because no one, including the narcissist, suddenly comes clean and explains what the narcissists was actually up to, so we continue to project.
- No one outside the relationship understands or sees it either because they also project and assume everyone has the same value system.
- Therefore, all of these gaps in understanding remain in the explanation for what happened in the relationship.
- The blame is heaped on us or the events are invalidated– our naivete, our inability to leave sooner, our “exaggeration” of the situation, this isn’t as bad as we’re saying it is, this is no worse than a normal relationship, etc.
- The general framework for understanding what happened is that both the narcissist and the partner were entering the relationship with the same motivations and desires, even if one of them was an abuser. A lack of application of the narcissistic view of the world means that a true understanding of what really happened in the relationship is missing.