Deciding whether or not to leave a narcissist feels like the ultimate no-win situation. You feel damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Not surprisingly, narcissists are the experts at producing no-win situations. If you have or had a narcissist in your life, you’ve probably been cornered into your fair share of no-win situation traps. You know the ones. They’re the terrible dilemmas that leave you feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place; the lose-lose predicament that forces you to choose between two equally harmful options. No matter what choice you decide to go with, you lose. Choosing to go with one choice over the other results in a wrong decision, either way or an outcome where there is no foreseeable gain. Many of these traps are choreographed long in advance and are intentionally set by the narcissist, as a means of control, without the use of overt persuasion or coercion. They are laden with mixed messages, and subtle pressures, that put their victims in very difficult, confusing, and frustrating, Catch-22 like situations.
5 REAL LIFE EXAMPLES OF NO WIN SITUATION TRAPS:
1. The narcissist will buy your favorite food, one that you can absolutely not resist, let’s say it’s a bag of licorice. Then they will leave the bag out, and not eat any, and when you finish them, they will come at you screaming, “YOU ATE THEM ALL?! I NEVER GOT ANY OF THEM!! YOU ALWAYS EAT EVERYTHING, AND I NEVER GET ANYTHING!”
2. A narcissist will accuse you of not being nurturing or loving enough, when you ask him/her what he/she would like you to do, they will say, “IF YOU REALLY LOVED ME, YOU WOULD JUST KNOW”.
3. The narcissist realizes you are struggling with a difficult decision to make, let’s say re-homing your large dog, that has been very aggressive toward the smaller dogs in the house. If you choose decision A) re-home the aggressive dog. The narcissist will criticize you, and drown you in a puddle of guilt, for being an unloving, heartless pet owner. If you choose decision B) keep the aggressive dog, and hope that the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of your money you spend, hiring a dog trainer works. The narcissist will say, “BUT IF THE DOG TRAINING DOESN’T WORK, AND ANYTHING HAPPENS TO MY DOG, I’M GOING TO BE REALLY MAD!”.
4. A narcissistic parent will tell their child to stand up for themselves against bullies at school. When the child comes home, and proudly tells their narcissistic mother that they told Jim the bully off, and put him in his place, the narcissistic parent will say, “YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER THAN TO TELL JIM OFF, HE HAS PROBLEMS, POOR KID, HE PROBABLY DIDN’T MEAN IT”.
5. The narcissist will praise another person for something. It could be about anything, but most likely it will be about something you are very good at, let’s say dancing for example. Although the narcissist will not explicitly insult or criticize you, you will be left feeling inadequate by comparison. If you bring this up to the narcissist, he/she will accuse you of being too sensitive, or be reading into their words. The narcissist might casually say to his female partner, “I DATED A WOMAN THAT WAS AN AMAZING COOK”.
WHY DO THEY DO THIS?
CONTROL MONGERS: “People in power need to control others to maintain power. One of the ways to do that is to take that which is threatening and demonize it.” ~ Jasmine Guy
In reality, narcissists are very dependent on their victims. The dependency a narcissist feels on their victims for supply overwhelms them with feelings of anger, inadequacy, and elicits feelings of not of being in control. They must counteract and disprove these feelings by choreographing situations to take control of every aspect of their victim’s life. They will exploit every opportunity to unload (displace) their hidden anger and prove their supremacy by devaluing and knocking their victim down a notch or two, by setting them up for failure.
WINNING IS EVERYTHING: “Strong people don’t put others down…They lift them up”. ~Michael P. Watson
Narcissists have a pathological desire to win, and if they can’t win by playing by the rules, they will just change the rules. It’s a game, one that is rigged, so the victim always loses and is delegated to the eternal one-down position. If it starts to look like the victim is winning, then the narcissist just changes the rules. The narcissist will change his/her opinions, and preferences on a whim, and deny that they ever did so. Creating no-win situation traps not only guarantees a real winner/ loser scenario, but it feeds the narcissist with endless amounts of supply, as the victim tries harder at playing the “How can I please you?” game. Although, no matter what strategy the victim uses, whatever they do will be the wrong thing, according to the narcissist, and they should have done something else instead. No-win situations set the victim up to lose. Thereby, the narcissist wins by default. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
ONE-UP POSITION: “When a person attempts to control someone else’s life, it only reflects the lack of control they have on their own.” ~ Daniel Chidiac
Asking for what he/she wants would put the narcissist in a subordinate position, and place them in the uncomfortable situation of having to be appropriately grateful to the victim, for granting their request. By manufacturing no-win situations, the narcissist elevates himself/herself to a level of authority, and control, as they become the provider of the answers to the victim’s painful dilemma. This alleviates their feelings of inferiority, dependence, and obligatory gratitude while duping the victim into offering the narcissist what he/she really wanted.
YOUR PAIN IS THEIR GAIN: “People will attempt to hurt you in an effort heal themselves”. ~Anonymous
As painful as it is to believe, narcissists enjoy manufacturing situations that cause other people pain or distress. Not only do they delight in the rush of their own maliciousness, but a victim’s pain is a sweet feed of supply, that inflates their sense of control, and exaggerated view of themselves.
ANGER DUMPING: “Anger is an emotion that expresses insecurity. People who feel in total control of a situation and of themselves don’t show this emotion”. ~ Donald Lynn Frost
The narcissist’s core-self is filled with anger and plagued by constant nagging feelings of self-loathing. They displace and dump these feelings by passive-aggressively, and stealthily hurting others in the same way a bully overtly hurts others. Narcissists are also very vengeful, and diligent, grudge-holding score keepers. It’s not uncommon for a narcissist to turn a great day into a bad one in the blink of an eye, without the least bit of provocation. There is never an inappropriate moment to seize an opportunity to “pay back” their victim, for a real or perceived wrong, that occurred months ago. No alleged crime goes unpunished and is ever forgotten.
The bottom line is, you’re never right. Every decision you make is wrong. You’ll never be good enough, and you can’t win!
Narcissists use a broad range of manipulation tactics. The worst part about manipulation is that it is just that –manipulation– and it is difficult to put the finger on and identify.
If you experience any of the following feelings in your relationship on a regular basis, you are no doubt dealing with a very skilled and highly manipulative person:
1. Your partner makes you feel guilty, or to blame for just about… EVERYTHING
2. You constantly doubt yourself.
3. You feel like you are walking on egg-shells, and censor what you say to not provoke a fight.
4. You always find yourself on the defensive end of the conversation.
5. You always feel like no matter what you do, it’s never “right”, or quite good enough.
6. You avoid bringing certain subjects up, especially those having to do with your own needs and wants.
7. You feel the need to constantly explain yourself, and justify your actions.
8. You don’t look forward to the holidays, as they are usually ruined, and fraught with drama.
9. You have arguments that never seem to get resolved.
10. You feel less confident and happy than you did when you started the relationship.
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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