Anyone can be a victim of a narcissist or psychopath. In fact, narcissists and psychopaths manipulate everyone in their social worlds to some degree. Narcissistic abuse recovery that truly gets at the heart of this fact is essential in getting over a narcissist and ultimately healing from narcissistic abuse.
Whether you are recovering from a relationship with a narcissist or trying to leave one, these may be five of the most important questions you may ever ask yourself. Together, they may help you to see how you were drawn into the narcissist’s web so that you can find your way out– or keep from being victimized again.
The Five Questions to Include in Your Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Plan
What do these five questions have in common? They get at different aspects of why and how the narcissist chose you and was able to manipulate you into this particular situation. Together they form a complex set of layers that together form a depth that allowed the narcissist in your life to know you. He or she was able to use the responses to each one as either a weapon to hurt or control you or as a shield to deflect your blame.
1. What Did I Provide or Have That the Narcissist Desired?
Narcissists want people in their lives not because of who they are, but for certain characteristics they have or physical items that they possess. They may feel that having a person in their lives with those qualities or things can elevate them or make them feel powerful. Examples can include status, sex, money, affection, support, a home, a cover of normalcy, adoration, or anything else, tangible or intangible.
It is worth considering if there were any signs from the narcissist about what it was that he or she wanted from you. Also, did they make odd comments about others in their lives that they claimed to care about that seemed insensitive or self-serving?
The narcissist either found out that we possess these qualities or other items which made us desirable targets. Understanding this helps us realize that it was not our fault: we were targeted from the beginning.
It also helps to make it clear that it was not personal. When we think about the people the narcissist keeps around them, it becomes easier to see that this is an unfortunate pattern that belongs to the narcissist in which we became unwittingly involved.
2. What Personality Characteristics Do I Have That the Narcissist Used Against Me?
Some personality characteristics are highly sought after because the qualities themselves are desirable to the narcissist. For example, if someone seems to enjoy taking care of people, a narcissist may realize that they are bound to get a lot of admiration and attention with little effort.
There is another more sinister reason why the narcissist seeks certain personality characteristics. Survivors of narcissistic abuse are often asked to consider what it is about themselves that would allow a person to treat them as the abuser has done. Often the implication is that these qualities are negative, however, this is untrue. The qualities may have been twisted into something beyond recognition by the narcissist who eroded our boundaries one tiny incident at a time.
Often, it was done initially in very small increments using nearly meaningless requests that were easily overlooked until it escalated into larger attacks on our values. When coupled with well-known brainwashing techniques such as love-bombing and isolation, it became an effective way to hijack the very qualities that had once been viewed as positive.
Qualities that narcissistic abusers can easily manipulate include:
- easily forgiving
- willing to give others the benefit of the doubt
Most people– people who are not disordered– give people the emotional space to be themselves. Through tactics such as gaslighting, projecting, and blameshifting, narcissists can turn these strengths into weaknesses a millimeter at a time. We are manipulated into exhibiting the shadow sides of those beautiful qualities that the narcissist wanted, making it appear as if our own character is to blame for our predicament.
After months or years of narcissistic abuse, instead of:
- easily forgiving, we are a “pushover”
- willing to give others the benefit of the doubt, we are “in denial”
- easygoing, we are willing to take the blame for what goes wrong in the relationship
- nurturing, we are enabling
- empathetic, we are weak
- compassionate, we are gullible
These personality characteristics at the outset are, without a doubt, positive ones, however, narcissists use them against us in order to get away with their bad deeds. The narcissist uses the same tactics on everyone, however, these qualities are especially helpful for a narcissist in establishing control.
3. What Beliefs Did I Have That Made Me Blind to What Was Happening in the Relationship?
In addition to personality characteristics, we also have views about the world, ourselves, relationships, and probably even psychopaths and narcissists assist narcissists in hurting us. These beliefs can keep us from recognizing the red flags, understanding that abuse is taking place, or disbelieving what narcissists say to maintain the facade once we come to understand that something is wrong.
These may be beliefs such as:
- I could never be in an abusive relationship; I know what abuse looks like.
- S/he really loves me and didn’t mean to hurt me.
- If you love someone, you should keep trying to work things out with them.
- S/he must really love me, or s/he wouldn’t still be here after everything s/he has done to me.
- I could never meet a psychopath; that would never happen to me.
- Everyone will do the right thing if given the chance.
- Everyone has some good in them.
- If I just keep telling him/her how much this hurts me, s/he will stop doing it.
As with personality traits, narcissists manipulate them to their advantage. They will find out what our core beliefs are and use words that trigger our most deeply-held ideals again and again. They may do this when they have done something wrong to keep us tied to the relationship when we feel like pulling away from them, as if they too believe the same things.
4. What Experiences Have I Had (Especially Recently) That Made Me Vulnerable?
There are two types of experiences that can make us vulnerable.
First, is childhood trauma, especially regarding parental figures. Second, are recent traumatic experiences that might have caused an identity disturbance, such as a divorce or recent isolating move away from loved ones.
The first type of trauma is often what people think of when they consider people in abusive relationships. There appears to be less focus on more recent experiences. Recent losses can make us vulnerable because we may be distracted by the act of processing what we have been through. We may also be confused about our values when something major has happened in our lives. Finally, we may not see new people in our lives as clearly as we might otherwise be able to view them.
Narcissists seek to find our wounds and “soothe” them, but unless dealt with in therapy, childhood trauma can program us for this type of abuse. In addition, recent trauma can make it easier to groom us for narcissistic abuse even if we have not been through childhood trauma (see next question).
5. What Were My Unmet Emotional Needs That the Narcissist Was Able to Fill?
Narcissists groom their victims by learning what it is that they are seeking and then becoming that very thing.
Sometimes, we don’t even realize we have these unmet needs; narcissists have a way of getting unbelievably close to us and learning enough about us to know exactly what it is we want.
Knowing what we want enables them to know where we are the most vulnerable emotionally. It allows them to control us. They can give whatever it is we need to us as if they are gods or goddesses who have seen and understood us like no one in the world ever has, and then take it away on a whim.
Once we have had a need filled– maybe for the first time– we would do anything to get it back.
A Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Plan with a Purpose
The answers to these five questions will paint a portrait. The portrait will be different for each of us.
Imagine a dial with five different spinnable rings. Each ring represents one question. There is an infinite number of possibilities represented on each: experiences, character traits, qualities/possessions, beliefs, emotional needs. When each ring on the dial is spun, there is an infinite number of possible combinations.
Some will be more desirable to a narcissist than others. Some people are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
For example. if you:
- are an attractive or high-status man or woman or have something obvious to offer
- show signs of being an easygoing and caring person
- have just been through a traumatizing experience
- believe the world is generally a good place where most people will do the right thing
- have an unmet need for attention or acceptance
Then you are a sitting duck for a psychopath. Especially, if you had childhood trauma as well. You are the perfect storm.
And yet maybe these don’t all line up perfectly.
But we all have things that narcissists might want or traits they can exploit. All of us occasionally go through traumatizing experiences. Everyone has some beliefs–about ourselves, love, friendship, people or the world–a narcissist can manipulate. And we all have some unmet needs–we might not even be aware of them.
There isn’t one type of person that can be a victim of narcissistic abuse.
But asking yourself these five questions can help you in as you figure out how to get over a narcissist. You may also become more aware of narcissists around you, and their thinly-veiled attempts to control you using these characteristics.