When you first start reading about narcissistic abuse, the signs of the abuse are really clear. Gaslighting, criticizing, selfishness, lack of empathy & more. What is seldom discussed is the subtle ways such behaviors begin & why.
Why is easy. If a narcissist immediately showed you their true colors, even if you knew nothing of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you would know this isn’t the kind of person you want in your life. Nothing they could do would draw you into the relationship with them.
How the subtle behaviors begin is a bit more complicated.
Narcissists often begin their relationships behaving in rather normal ways, often even above average ways. They’re incredibly flattering, thoughtful & romantic. They proclaim their new partner to be their soul mate, & say things like they never have known anyone so wonderful before. They share similar interests & view points as their victims. They’re often very prolific lovers, too. Victims are often lured into such behaviors quickly. Suddenly, they realize they’re madly in love. They believe they have found “the one.”
As time passes, suddenly the narcissist’s behavior changes a little. Instead of calling & texting constantly, they don’t call or text as often. Instead of lavishing praise & complements on their “true love”, they begin to criticize things. Rather than not being able to keep their hands off their lover, suddenly they would prefer to watch television or spend time with other people.
When someone is in this situation, the sudden change can be incredibly confusing, especially because it often happens so quickly. To the person who is unaware of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, this upsetting behavior pushes them into overdrive. They try to win back the affections of their partner. They try harder in every possible way to get the relationship to return to the blissful state it once was. What that person fails to realize is that narcissists love this behavior. However, rather than be moved to return the loving gestures, they become slowly more abusive. They criticize the loving gestures. They suddenly have demands that they didn’t have before, & say things like anyone else would be more than happy to do “this one little thing” for them. Maybe it’d be best if they went their separate ways. Their partner is terrified of losing this great love, so that person tries harder & harder & the cycle continues.
The longer the relationship lasts, the more abusive the narcissist becomes. Many are covert in their abuse, making constant petty demands of their partners. Male narcissist may want them to get their hair done, get manicures & wear a certain style of clothing. If the partner doesn’t do this, the narcissist becomes exceptionally critical. Often the narcissist compares the way other women look to their partner, making the partner feel ugly & as if she can’t compete. If the narcissist is female, she may admire other men’s success in their careers or their muscular physique rather than making obvious demands of her man, which makes him feel inadequate. Sometimes he may try to keep up, but that is impossible. He can’t please his narcissistic partner.
Overt narcissists may show such behavior to their partners, but they also include more obviously abusive behavior such as cheating or physical or sexual abuse.
Narcissists, whether overt or covert, also financially abuse their partners in much the same way. It begins as asking to borrow a small amount of money until payday. Then it’s a little more & a little more. At first the narcissist might repay the money but as time passes, the money never gets repaid. The amount “borrowed” also gets larger. It can get to the point of ruining the partner’s credit or even bankrupting them.
If this has happened to you, know there is nothing wrong with you for being manipulated. This type of behavior is just how narcissists work! They start subtle & work up to more obvious abuses to lure victims in & slowly erode their self esteem to make them more tolerant of their abuse.