Narcissistic Families: The Abuse Tactics
A narcissist's tactics are always used with the end goal of turning others against you in hopes that others do not search for or find the truth. It stems from the narcissists inability to accept reality, as reality is in direct contradiction with what they desire to be true. Narcissists are extremely fragile and, therefore, cannot accept that they may not in fact be wonderful people or have engaged in harmful ways. Thus, they seek to always present the appearance
that they are always good, and their victim is always evil. Additionally, they need constant reassurance and validation that their delusions are true.
Sometimes tactics are first employed with the insight that they are lies and fiction and become the narcissist's truth over time. Other times, the tactics are first employed with the belief that they are in fact true when they are not. Either way the most dangerous part about narcissists and those caught in their web is that they actually believe the false narratives and lies that they engage in. Here are some tactics they use to keep their delusions and false narratives alive:
Framing the story
As described in the first blog post, Narcissistic Families & the Pain they Bring, narcissistic families will attempt to frame the problem by leaving out important, key aspects of the situation or event. The aspects usually left out include anything that does not portray the narcissist in a positive light and threatens to expose the truth. As a result, the narcissist will omit the parts of the story where they were abusive or provoking and include only the victims reaction to the abuse(2). For example, if the narcissist attempts to mistreat or bully you and resulting in you stand up for yourself, then the narcissist will frame this as you being cruel and harmful to the narcissist. They will downplay or omit their aggression and abuse then frame your self-defense as aggressive and threatening. This gives them a way to continue living in their own delusions, while justifying their abusive behavior as deserving(2).
This term is used to describe the ways in which the narcissistic family unit can appear to be closely bonded and in close agreement to the public(1). However, in reality, they struggle to connect with one another and have highly harmful relationships they keep hidden away from others. To the outside world "everybody acts, talks and smiles as though they’re on the same page…but they aren’t!"(1)
Gossiping, Lying, Slandering & Smearing
The narcissist will spread false information about the victim as a way to gather support from others. This will include gossiping about the victim by twisting truths and even creating lies about the individual. Narcissists are not actually interested in resolving or fixing the problem, but rather finding someone to blame for their toxic emotions and internal misery. Lying, gossiping, and slandering another party is a way to ensure they are getting the continuous validation they need in order to have some moderate level of self-esteem. In severe cases, the narcissist will spread smear campaigns and engage in character assassination, which are far more damaging and harmful to the victim(2). The end goal, is to ensure that they are seen as good, moral, caring and virtuous and the other party is seen as cruel, harmful, evil and selfish(2, 3).
This tactic is used by undermining the victim's mental state. This leaves their victim questioning their perception of reality(5). Examples of statements you may hear if gaslighting is occuring is, "you like playing the victim," "you're (insert name calling)," "grow up," "get over it," or "you're over-reacting/being dramatic." All statements are used to minimize or discredit the victims experiences and emotions. Narcissistic parents will present polarized narratives, twists the truth and shares false information of the situation, event or person as a way to isolate their victim and leave reality unclear for all involved(5). It doesn't matter if you confront the narcissist parent or how clear the facts are, they are unable and unwilling to admit to their emotional abuse.
This is one of the most commonly used tactics by the narcissist and enabling family members. Projection is a form of lying where other's words, traits, motives and actions are cast onto someone else, usually the scapegoat, in order to avoid responsibility. The very abusive, harmful behavior that they engage in is the same that they project onto their victim and blame their victim for engaging in. For example, if they're not willing to compromise, then it is you who is too rigid. If they are insulted, then you are the one who is critical. If they are spreading false information, then you are the liar. If they're unable to accept their abusive role in the dysfunction, it is you who is delusional and harmful. Projection distorts the truth and makes it possible for the narcissistic family members to avoid responsibility for their harmful, abusive role in the dysfunctional family dynamic. It is the ultimate blame game(3, 5).
Usually tied to projection and gaslighting, triangulation is defined as, "indirect communication where one person (usually the narcissist) acts as a messenger between two others, often fabricating the message to suit the talebearer’s objective"(7). The narcissist will refuse to communicate with the individual they're in conflict with. Instead, they will seek out one or more other family members to discuss the problem at hand. They have no desire to resolve the problem as it would mean losing sympathy, attention and affection. Narcissists will even create problems if needed to gain these resources. Even if the narcissist did wish to resolve the problem, which again is not likely, they are unable to resolve issues on their own with the identified individual. Whereas, healthy adults would be able to resolve conflict without involving outside parties. The use of triangulation is to bring in an additional party to an interaction, in order to gain support, belittle the victim and further assert control(6). Usually, those that the narcissist brings into the triangle feel a sense of obligation to become a part of the triangle in an attempt to resolve the narcissist's problem(7). The end result is triangulation, passive aggressive behavior, and anger. Triangulation is one of the most toxic and harmful tools a narcissist can use(6).
Triangulation Among Siblings
The narcissistic parent will constantly compare siblings to each other to determine who is doing best. This creates competition and division among siblings. Thus, leaving siblings to feel disconnected from one another despite appearing close on the outside. Dividing siblings and pitting them against each other is used by the narcissistic parent to have the most control of the family unit. If everyone is loyal to the narcissistic parent to avoid punishment, then they will begin to fight amongst themselves leaving the narcissist unscathed. Ultimately, a division among the family unit keeps family members distracted from the narcissist's abuse and keeps the narcissist in control(8).
Silent Treatment & Isolation
By isolating, giving the silent treatment and withholding affection
the narcissist attempts to further ostracize the victim from supports, in order to gain more support and control for their fictional narrative. If others aren't asking the victim for their side of the narrative, then others aren't likely to find out the truth of what is actually happening and the narcissist will not be exposed for who they truly are(4).
Us vs. Them
This tactic is most successfully used in large families where there are more people to manipulate and control. Often in larger families, the narcissist will employ an us versus them tactic regarding relatives and non-related spouses/partners. This creates a clear division, enables the narcissistic parent to maintain some level of control and makes the use of manipulation easier later on.
These tactics are all employed once the victim begins to set boundaries and stops giving resources to which the narcissistic parent feels they are entitled to. Some of these resources may include time, attention, money, etc. The narcissistic parent categorizes these boundaries as aggressive. If you look closer, you'd see that the narcissistic parent is disrespecting the adult child's boundaries and then going another step further to manipulate others into siding with their skewed perception. This usually includes portraying the narcissist as being good, kind, and righteous and the victim as being cruel, cold and aggressive. The narcissist sees boundaries and withholding of resources as a threat and begins to utilize these abusive tactics as a way to manipulate, control and gain support from others around them.
Almost done, but not just yet. We've highlighted the main difference between narcissistic families and healthy families, identified the family roles in narcissistic families and defined the dysfunction in narcissistic families. Now it's time to heal. Stick around for the last and final post in the Narcissistic Family Series where we will break down ways to heal from the toxicity and abuse endured from narcissistic families. See you soon!
For those who are or have experienced this type of abuse and toxic dynamics, please don't hesitate to seek help. You are not alone. Mental health services can be helpful in processing your experiences and developing tools to heal. Sometimes we need therapy to help us deal with the people who should be in therapy. If you're in the Quad Cities area, don't hesitate to reach out to schedule an appointment today to start your journey to healing.
Thompson, L., (May 22, 2017). Narcissistic Family and Pseudomutuality. Retrieved from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/narcissism/2017/05/narcissistic-family-and-pseudomutuality/
Cikanavicius, D., (November 5, 2018). How Narcissists Play the Victim and Twist the Story. Retrieved from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/psychology-self/2018/07/narcissist-delusion/?li_source=LI&li_medium=popular17&fbclid=IwAR2KSyTQDmIhxW1qBOuSImr3YcY0X0ATwA23fzuUmZuNpGigJNduNbv3_is
Live Bold and Bloom. 61 Devastating Signs of Emotional Abuse in a Relationship. Retrieved from https://liveboldandbloom.com/02/relationships/signs-of-emotional-abuse
Mathews, A., (September 26, 2016). When is it Emotional Abuse? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/traversing-the-inner-terrain/201609/when-is-it-emotional-abuse
Hall, J., (January 26, 2017). The Narcissistic Family: Cast of Characters and Glossary of Terms. Retrieved from https://narcissistfamilyfiles.com/2017/01/26/the-narcissist-family-its-cast-of-characters-and-glossary-of-terms/
Arabi, S., (October 9, 2018). 3 Ways to Heal from the Toxic Triangulation of Narcissists. Retrieved from https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2017/05/3-powerful-ways-to-heal-from-the-toxic-triangulation-of-narcissists/
Parenting Exposed. (March 26, 2018). No Triangulation Here Thanks. Retrieved from http://parenting.exposed/no-triangulation-here-thanks/
Inner Integrations. (July 1, 2018).Scapegoat and Golden Child: How and Why Narcissists Assign These Roles (and not just in the Family). Retrieved from https://medium.com/@OwnYourReality/scapegoat-golden-child-how-and-why-narcissists-assign-these-roles-and-not-just-in-the-family-f78fe568dfa7