I recently read an article on being a narcissist’s catnip (found here). The author spoke to ways to avoid letting a narcissist control you. It spoke to me on a profound level. You see… I’m known for my bad relationships. I’ve dated some real… winners, but there are so many signs young women are not taught to see. In fact, we’re often taught some of these signs are good things and so, even when we’re overwhelmed, we rationalize.
That being said, this post is about the destructive traits I’ve found, both through experience and through my study.
1) Getting angry when things don’t go their way.
You’re probably saying “well duh”. But it’s bigger than that. My ex used to brag about beating the shit out of someone for touching his POS truck one night. The way he told the story, this homeless guy was hanging out around his truck and my ex told him not to touch the truck. The man reached out and touched it… You know how people do? And so my ex clocked him. Then bragged about how the cop who answered the call was his buddy so he got off.
At this point you’re probably wondering why this didn’t scream red flag for me, right? Well, I grew up in Western North Carolina. The guys my age we’re always bragging about the scraps they got into. But that’s my point. This story was an inflated bit of dribble that stroked his ego. It was to pull the attention on to him and make him seem manlier than he was. In retrospect, all stories like this should be a red flag!
2) Showing too much affection/attention.
This sounds like a good one, doesn’t it? Someone gives you attention, that means they care? Generally, yes. But it gets concerning when that attention and/or affection is meant to control.
When I lived in California, I dated a man who seemed wonderful from the outside. It wasn’t until we’d been together for a little while that I realized he was mostly affectionate when other people were around. He was the doting boyfriend. But when we were alone, he was uninterested. He spent evenings more interested in his books than he was in me or anything happening in our home. It made me try harder. And the harder I tried, the more depressed, the more self-conscious I became. I was lucky to have a mom that noticed how bad things were and fought so hard for me because I was literally losing myself to the need for this man’s approval.
3) Using ‘I love you’ for control.
My son’s father, the same man who boasted about the truck, would randomly send me I love you texts throughout the day. It was sweet and it made me smile. But… after awhile, if I didn’t answer quickly enough (think immediately), the next text would say something like “don’t you love me back?”. We worked together. He knew when I was busy. He knew our cell phone policy, but he used those texts to shift my focus to him. He controlled me through them, which is something I never noticed. Yes, the follow up texts annoyed me, but he was loving me, right? I needed to make sure he knew I loved him back and I didn’t want to risk him thinking I was ignoring him.
I love you should never be used for control. If someone doesn’t answer immediately, it’s ok. But a narcissist isn’t using the phrase to convey emotion. They are using it (in this example) to control by manipulation. But at 20 years old, I didn’t know that.
These are only a few of the behaviors that narcissists use to control and manipulate those with whom they have relationships, but they’re important because these three examples are things young women don’t usually see as red flags. We want to be loved, we want someone to pay attention to us, and many of us have grown up with ‘manly’ stories of protecting property and self. These aren’t behaviors that are discussed as disturbing.
Writing this has taken me several days. It’s hard to rehash these experiences because I feel like an idiot. That’s the point. I was manipulated. I was controlled. I was made to feel like an idiot to act as these two men wanted me to act. It is my hope that, by sharing these experiences, I can help some other young woman realize she is strong enough to say “NO MORE!” and walk away.