Are you familiar with the parable of the boiling frog? The premise asserts that a frog submerged in boiling water will instinctively leap out, but if placed in tepid water that is gradually heated, the frog will be unable to discern the danger, resulting in it being cooked to death.
Metaphorically speaking, this story is cited to remind individuals that they need to be cognizant of gradual change, as well as sudden change. Being unaware of, or brushing off small changes in personalities or relationships that occur over time, hinders instinctual wisdom. If one isn’t paying close attention, these changes are often only perceptible when piecing together clues, that have occurred for a long period of time. Usually, this realization comes very late, often when lives have been altered in extremely negative and damaging ways.
The anecdote of the boiling frog is the perfect depiction, of how victims of narcissistic, covert abuse, don’t recognize that they are being abused until severe damage has been done to them.
For the sake of narrative flow, I’ve written this article about Narcissistic Covert Abuse, and the deceptive tactics of the Devaluation Stage, from the perspective of the female. Of course, males, also, can be victims of narcissistic abuse, and this parable can serve as a cautionary tale to them as well.
Before I describe the deceptive tactics of the Devaluation stage, let’s start from the very beginning: I’m sure you are familiar with the fairy tale, where the girl kisses the frog and turns him into a prince, right?
THE TWISTED TRUTH
Once upon a time, before you met the narcissist, you had probably kissed more than your fair share of frogs. Finally, akin to a romantic fairy tale, you met your Prince Charming. In reality, this is a happily-never-after fairytale that is as twisted as a narcissist’s rendition of the truth.
At the beginning, known as the Idealization Stage in a narcissistic, abusive relationship, showered with attention and flattery, you believe that you’ve found your ideal partner. Prince Charming will be sure to utilize every trick in his toolbox, to blind you to the control and manipulation, that he is about to assert over you.
He will use flattery, and you’ll bask in his constant attention. There will be promises of everlasting and eternal love. You’ll be declared his “soulmate” and told that he’s never met anyone as perfect for him as you.
Public declarations of his love will be constant. He will claim to share the same dreams, aspirations, and viewpoints as you. Progressing at a whirlwind pace, soon you’ll be making plans to move in together and considering marriage, children; the entire modern-day fairy tale.
Filled with surging love, and breathlessness from the rapid pace of the relationship, scarcely a moment is available to think rationally. Caution will be thrown to the wind because he seems so perfect, and you feel as though you have a deeper connection with him than anyone you had ever met before, or could ever meet again.
Unbeknownst to you, during the magical Idealization Stage, is that he has said and done all the same things with all of his former “soul mates.” With every new victim, his predatory skills were sharpened, and he became craftier at luring his targets to the metaphorical stove with the giant pot of water.
The public declarations on social media, that you were the love of his life and your reciprocal loving comments, were merely calculated maneuvers, to ensure that you could be perceived a liar, or just plain foolish if you contradict the narrative that he’s been weaving.
When your Prince starts to reveal his true self, no one will believe you are speaking the truth, if you speak negatively about him, following those grand, affectionate, public displays; probably not even yourself.
He’s convinced everyone you know, along with your help, how perfectly wonderful he is. Like an astute chef, he tenderized, marinated and basted you in idealization, priming you for the devaluation to come, as he slowly began to warm the water.
Assured that you have fallen in love with him, the Devaluation Phase begins. Despite his constant affection, in reality, he had been preparing you for devaluation and emotional deprivation from the moment you met. Dishing out doses of devaluation slowly, careful consideration was placed on how you’d react. When you felt the temperature rising, and sensed the instinctual urge to leap out of the pot, he quickly stirred in just enough crumbs of the Idealization Stage to keep you captive and confused.
THE NEED FOR CONTROL AND PRESERVATION OF THE FALSE SELF
Narcissists are all about control. Everything they do stems from a need to control others. Without someone to control, the narcissist feels empty, unworthy, and void of self-esteem. He requires supply, the same way humans require oxygen to survive. His partner’s role is to sustain the narcissist’s self-inflated view of himself and meet his need to feel superior.
There are no such things as reciprocity or love in a narcissistic relationship. The more control his partner relinquishes, the more loved and superior the narcissist feels. This is why narcissists can’t stand boundaries and will take extreme measures to trample any and all boundaries you try to erect. To a narcissist, boundaries are blockades to control, and barriers to the supply they seek. When his supply is cut off, the narcissist feels as though his life is in peril.
WHY NARCISSISTS ARE DRIVEN TO DEVALUE
The narcissist views his partner as an extension of himself, except his partner is an inanimate object, not a living creature in his eyes. The narcissist needs his partner to provide a regular flow of supply to feel worthy, superior, and good about himself. The slightest disagreement, criticism, or difference of opinion, is perceived as an assault on the existence of a narcissist. Differences of opinion are viewed as an outright attack on the false persona he has carefully created.
Any suggestion, belief, or opinion that contradicts his false-self is not tolerable, and the narcissist will do anything to defend his points of view and demonize yours. His manufactured false image is dependent upon his partner to sustain. He’s driven to devalue his partner because he despises his dependence on her as much as he is dependent on her. Devaluing his partner is the only way to disavow the unwanted dependent feelings while maintaining his sense of superiority and control.
HAPPILY NEVER AFTER
Back to the fairy tale of the prince and the frog. Your relationship with your Prince has progressed into a steady rhythm. As time passed, you may have noticed that his attentiveness had waned a little, or perhaps his desire to impress you decreased. You wrote it off as a normal transitionary stage that all relationships go through.
ALERT: Remember the cautions that are exemplified in the tale of the boiling frog. Even gradual change can harken disastrous ramifications.
Since you were purposely blinded by your narcissist, you didn’t pay heed to the subtle, but very drastic, deviations in your prince’s behavior. The temperature in the pot got a little warmer, but overall you felt pretty good and continued to wander along the path of your fairytale. Gradually, more dramatic changes in your Prince’s behavior will begin to manifest, completely contradicting the personality of the person that you fell in love with.
Slowly, he will begin to subtly and covertly devalue you. Where you once could do no wrong, fault will be found. The devaluation may take various forms, including nit-picking, gas-lighting, withholding physical intimacy, blaming you for everything, needing to always be “right,” projecting his feelings onto you, playing the victim, triangulation, constant criticisms of minor and trivial things disguised in form of just “trying to be helpful”, and domineering behaviors that started small in the beginning, but eventually permeated until every aspect of your life is under his control.
You may start to notice cockiness and arrogance in his statements, where he was once modest. He may start saying things like, “I am better at my job than all my co-workers” or “I am just good at everything I do.” Though a bit taken back at first, you still believe your Prince is wonderful, and that a little bragging here and there isn’t so bad.
Soon, he will start to direct his grandiosity toward you. Since he is always right, he always has a better way to do things. If you don’t agree, his anger flares, and you find yourself subjected to various forms of abuse. You and your prince begin to argue over the most trivial things. A key narrative in these arguments is that you have failed to meet his expectations of a loving and nurturing relationship.
He started to expect you to read his mind. He told you that if you really loved him, you would be more tuned into his needs. If you try to get him to see your point of view and your needs, you’ll be assured that everything could go back to the way it was in the beginning, “if only you would…(insert a demand here).”
As you sense the heat continuing to rise, he recognizes that you are becoming irritated and are contemplating jumping out of the pot of water. He will always quickly add a dash of little reminders of the Idealization Stage. Assuring you of his ever-lasting love, he again becomes more attentive. He will stir in a bit of “future faking” with promises of marriage and a happily ever after.
Watching the achievement of an excellent actor, you will be moved by the performance of your narcissist, as he swears with tears in his eyes that he can’t wait to grow old with you and make a future with you. You become convinced that he is all you could ever need. You decide to stay in the pot, as his WORDS soothed you, and calmed your doubts. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that his actions only fuel the voice in your head hinting that something is amiss.
Desperately wanting everything to go back to the way it was in the beginning, you will attempt everything in your power to please your prince. You’ll put things in places where he believes they belong. You’ll change your habits because he insisted his ways were better.
It will become easier not to have long circular arguments over what appears to be the most minor issues. For instance, if he liked the dishes organized a certain way, it was really not all that important to you, so you just acquiesced and relinquished more and more control.
Your energy will become sapped, as you work harder and harder to try to meet his incessant need for nurturing and attention. This, even though you’ve been providing the same amount that you did in the beginning, and it once satisfied him. Despite your faithful attempts to keep him happy, for reasons that you cannot understand, what you have to offer is no longer enough.
The more you give, the less he gives in return. If you confront him about the lack of reciprocity in the relationship, he will resort to gas-lighting and outright deny the truth, despite copious amounts of evidence to the contrary. He will shift the blame back to you, and his behavior will somehow be your fault.
You start to feel like nothing you do or say is ever good enough. You knew you had not changed since the two of you met, yet he started to find fault in you at a rapid and unrelenting pace. Soon, you will be uncomfortable and uncertain of yourself, in nearly every aspect of your life.
You become so focused on your prince and his wants and needs, you start to lose yourself and your identity. Your needs take a backseat to his. No matter how hard you try to get him to see your viewpoint, it is always a vain attempt. Since you aren’t viewed as important, a narcissist will never believe that your opinions or beliefs should be considered. To consider another person’s feelings, that person must believe that other individuals are worthy of consideration. That will never happen in your relationship with a narcissist; he is the only person that matters to himself.
With the temperature having risen so hot, that it nearly paralyzes you, you are rendered too lethargic and depressed to leap out of the pot. You sure as hell contemplated it, but find that all of your energy has simply been drained. You begin to drown in your own confusion and despair.
Just in the nick of time, your prince gallops in, rescuing you, as he pulls your head above the water. While holding you in one arm, he carefully stirs in more specks of the Idealization Stage with the other, adding just enough to keep you afloat and extract more supply.
Despite giving your Prince more of you than you had given to anyone in the past, he accuses you of being selfish and not loving enough. He would never admit, nor consider fault. He would never agree to compromise. In the same breath that breathes your demise, he will proclaim his love for you and desire to make the relationship work. His actions will never change, no matter how convincing his words sound.
He held you to very high expectations of love and nurturing, but didn’t hold himself to the same high standards. His hypocrisy becomes glaringly apparent. No matter your continual efforts, nothing will seem to satisfy him anymore, on any front. You went from being his soulmate and the best partner he had ever met, to someone who couldn’t even perform the most mundane of tasks, like draining spaghetti or filling up the dog’s bowls with water the correct way.
Your self-esteem eroding, you will begin to feel emotionally depleted. You will be stunned to find one day that you barely recognize yourself. Even worse, you will begin to lose respect for yourself.
You’ve been nearly boiled to death. To add insult to injury, you were blamed for it too.
THE OUTCOME IS INEVITABLE
The narcissist is no prince. He is a parasite; a vampire; a soulless creature that masquerades as your Prince Charming.
Even if you muster the energy to attempt to challenge the chaos and duplicity that he has brought into your life, it only accelerates the end of the relationship. A narcissist has no use for anyone he can’t control, and since he never valued you, he thinks nothing of tossing you aside, as he begins to search for his next victim.
He is a slave to his need for supply and must devalue the very thing that he needs to exist, or be forced to confront his feelings of inferiority, dependence and self-loathing. Confronting those feelings requires a level of self-awareness, and empathy, that a narcissist could never possess.
There is nothing you could have done to change the ending of this story. The outcome was inevitable. A parasite is a parasite, no matter how much love you give it. It’s time for you to consider the wisdom of another parable by Ilse Lehiste: “No matter how much you feed the wolf, he keeps looking at the forest.” You will never be able to offer him anything that can quench his insatiable desire for the unattainable.
You were targeted because you are emotionally generous, forgiving, and compassionate. These are qualities that the narcissist never possessed, despite his uncanny ability to feign those characteristics. Those aspects of your personality are incredibly important to the narcissist because they know that they can prey upon them, using your own goodness against you as they continue to bleed you emotionally, financially, spiritually, and physically.
The ending of this happily never after fairytale was written before the story ever began. Don’t second-guess yourself, or wonder what you could have done differently. Close the book and never re-read it. There are so many other books with worthwhile stories and better endings.
Just be sure, that once you’ve set the book of your narcissist aside, that you recall the tale of the boiling frog that was found on the pages, and take heed of gradual change in the future.
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.
If you would like to learn more about narcissistic triangulation tactics, read my article, The 4 Most Common Narc-Sadistic Triangulation Tactics
Join my Facebook online Narcissistic Abuse and Toxic Relationship Recovery Forum by clicking the link.
All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2015 Bree Bonchay