The Department of Homeland Security has a color-coded terrorism alert system. Red, the highest level, means a severe risk of terrorist attacks. The lowest level, green, means low risk of terrorist attacks. Between those are blue (guarded risk), yellow (significant) and then there is orange (high). There is a lesser known and very subtle early warning sign you may be dating a toxic person that you never hear about. It’s not quite the level of a red alert, but it is definitely in the orange to the red range and it should put you on high alert that you are in danger of being at the very least, emotionally abused, by a toxic person, narcissist or sociopath. It’s a tactic called Subtle Ignoring. It is generally a precursor to full-blown narcissistic abuse.
Subtle Ignoring usually starts in the very beginning of a relationship, even as early as on the first date. It is a form of boundary testing that is extremely easy to dismiss and often goes unnoticed. For example; you might be talking about your day at work, and the narcissist will begin to lose interest. You will notice that his/her facial expression starts to change. Or he/she may begin to suddenly seem distracted and start to look around the environment.
Or if at home, they may start to do a chore that drowns your voice underneath the noise of washing dishes or vacuuming. Or they may be more subtle in their approach, and start to straighten a picture hanging on the wall, turning their back to you. They may even check their Facebook or cell phone. Sometimes, they will blatantly interrupt you, and change the topic to something completely different.
When you notice this the first time, you may dismiss it. When it happens again, you may or may not confront them, or decide to pretend you didn’t notice it, and instinctively attempt to win back their attention.
Most likely, if you confront them, they will provide a plausible excuse for their behavior and respond with something like, “Oh, I couldn’t help but notice the painting on the wall.” Or, “Sorry, I just remembered I had to text my co-worker something important about a meeting tomorrow.”
There are people who suffer from ADHD or other impulse control disorders, that may have difficulties paying attention, are easily distracted, and compulsively interrupt. However, when confronted, they will admit fault and offer an apology, and will appear more embarrassed by their social faux pas.
Narcissists will make excuses, deny, minimize, dismiss or trivialize your concerns when you try to point out their selective attention.
Your intuition will tell you that something is off, but geez, no one is perfect…right? However, if this kind of behavior occurs more than a handful of times, you are definitely in a code orange situation, and you better be on high alert that you may be in the crosshairs of a narcissist.
You may find yourself confused by their behavior, because at times they will pretend to be the most attentive listeners, and will hang on to your every word. Narcissists are great at mimicking concern when it benefits them, or when they are trying to pick your brain and pinpoint your vulnerabilities.
Their selective attention, or subtle ignoring, is a very deliberate tactic to assess your vulnerabilities, beliefs, and values so they can transform into your ideal partner, while mentally noting any sensitive information you share with them, to be used to exploit and manipulate you in the future.
They will alternate their attentiveness with bouts of subtle ignoring to confuse you, cause you to doubt your instincts, and establish how effectively they will be able to control you.
However, if you pay close attention, you will notice that they never seem to have a problem staying focused during conversations, when they are the ones doing the talking, or when they are trying to make a good impression on someone.
This type of boundary testing is a clear cut sign that you are in the clutches of a character disordered abuser. The narcissist, like any predator, will take your willingness to put up with their blatant disrespect, as your implied consent to continue violating your boundaries, disrespect and abuse you.
Pay attention to your instincts. Don’t make excuses for poor manners, or try to justify bad behavior. You should never feel the need to explain the basic principles of common courtesy and respect to another adult. Period.
Bree Bonchay, LCSW, is a psychotherapist with over 18 years of experience working in the field of mental health and trauma recovery. She specializes in helping people recover from toxic relationships and shares her insights about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychopathy in her blog FreeFromToxic. Her articles have been featured in major online magazines and she has appeared on radio as a guest expert. She is also a dedicated advocate, educator, and facilitates survivor support groups and workshops.
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Begood4000. (2014, October, 5) How To Spot A Narcissist 101. Retrieved from http://www.menwhoareabused.com
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