More than a year ago, my co-founder and I left an organization started by the founder. When we started, we were enrolled into a beautiful dream to help people.
As the weeks and months passed, layers peeled. Each round of narcissist rage, guilt-tripping, control, manipulation and transfer of power crept in until we were totally immersed. He turned out to be a narcissist and was proud to be so. [Read full story]
Through intensive work in this environment of fear, guilt, shame and oppression, we experienced these mental states of the narcissist victim:
- Self confidence was almost destroyed
- Self-doubt constantly
- Fear of making mistakes, of meeting him and getting threatened and manipulated
- Anger and vengeance at being mistreated, for allowing mistreatment to happen, at being denied help and justice from the higher ups
- Feeling helpless knowing that there was little chance to reverse the financial losses nor restore justice
- Distrust towards people and relationships
- Loss of motivation
We have since learnt many valuable life lessons.
Walking out of the darkness was a journey of facing and taking responsibility for what happened. Taking back our power and ownership of our lives has made us stronger and wiser. We are now able to differentiate better real vs fake intentions and make better choices in life.
If you’re trying to move on from a traumatic experience with a narcissist, be it your boyfriend/girlfriend or your boss, we sincerely hope our sharing helps you.
Lesson #1: We are all responsible for the outcome
As a victim, it is easy to blame the narcissist for being evil, mean and manipulative. But face it, I allowed it to happen. We allowed it to continue to happen.
In a narcissistic relationship, there are two parties – the narcissist and the victim.
The narcissist is responsible for the choices he makes to put you down and make himself feel better by guilt-tripping, anger flares, exaggerating your flaws etc.
The victim is responsible for listening and believing what the narcissist portrays as the whole truth. The victim is also responsible for not having self-belief, for self-doubting and giving away your power to the narcissist.
Let us give you an example.
Whenever I (or my co-founder, let’s call her Abigail) raised concerns about the business, he felt that he was being challenged, flew into a rage and attacked in various ways, including “you are selfish, greedy and you have no integrity, that’s why you are where you are now in life”.
Because I didn’t believe in myself, I believed that I was a selfish, greedy and no integrity person. I felt shameful and guilty for the mistakes I made and took on all the responsibility of the team, fuelling a great need to work harder and change myself.
When he saw me in guilty-mode, he went on to provide a solution with fake compassion, saying “stay with me, work with me and you will be better”. Foolish as it sounds now, I believed that.
My lack of self-belief gave him power and emotional hold over me. I made myself a victim. This is my responsibility.
Staying with him to work meant we worked long hours without rest, took on his rage and blame, eventually reaching burnout. As our results declined and his treatment worsened, I had a hard time admitting to myself, my family and friends that something was wrong.
My pride became my downfall. Holding on to pride and the need to prove myself extended the toxic working relationship from 1 month to 10 months.
My choice to lie to myself that everything is okay and it will change for the better – it had its consequences.
Staying with him, working closely with him, I ended up worse than before I worked on this business with him. I was exhausted, emotionally unstable and increasingly unable to differentiate logic and right from wrong.
I even started taking on his narcissistic and bullying traits, taking on a false sense of ‘power’ and taking it out on innocent parties like my family and teammates, while defending that what I did was the right thing to do.
With a victim mentality, I used to blame him for being so mean and putting me down. In fact, I am also responsible for putting myself down and going down the hellhole.
The narcissist – victim relationship can continue as long as the narcissist takes power away from the victim and the victim allows this power to be taken away. Both sides are contributing to this toxic give-and-take.
My narcissistic ex-founder had a need for power, a need to use fear, shame and guilt to put others down so that he feels superior. At the same time, what led me to become a victim, again and again, was my lack of self-belief, naivete, pride and stubbornness to make everything work and prove my worth.
Take responsibility for your decisions that cause you to feel guilty, helpless, powerless and taken advantage of. This is the first step to take back your power.
Lesson #2: He/She Doesn’t Mean To Hurt You
Being in close contact with a narcissist, so close that we could mirror his thoughts and think just like him, we learnt a few things about the narcissist psychology.
Note: This may not apply to all.
Understand the Narcissist’s Psychology
- Truly believes he is a good person with the most kind and loving intentions.
- Will justify to himself that all the hurtful comments and actions he causes to others was necessary and an act of love (harsh love where necessary).
- Cannot understand what is the real harm he inflicted upon others: In his mind, he is being loving and truthful when in fact, he was being condescending, angry and a liar.
- Does not realize how he destroyed his relationships. He feels like a victim. He wonders why people around him are leaving him. He tells himself, “They must have changed. It’s their problem.” And he feels bad that he couldn’t save them. Again, positioning himself as a kind and loving saviour.
- Finds it very difficult, or almost impossible to admit and take responsibility for mistakes he made. In his mind, it is the fault of others. He has tried his best and already done his part, but they haven’t.
- Needs to make himself look good and superior to others. He feels superior by blaming you for anything that goes wrong. Then, he makes himself look kind by giving you a chance to ‘redeem’ yourself.
(He can refer to both he/she here. We use “he” for easier reading)
When we worked with JK, our boss, he blamed us for the mistakes, although it was a team mistake. By pushing all the responsibilities to us, he became a good guy. To back up his point, sometimes, he would push all responsibility to one person and get the rest of the team to push it further onto that person.
When he saw us feeling guilty, he would appear apologetic and say it’s his responsibility, and continue to blame us again after.
When he saw us resisting his blame, he would fly into a rage or appear deeply disappointed, again to instill fear or guilt.
The mood changes quickly, with only one outcome – the narcissist is right and you are wrong. At the end of each encounter, you end up feeling like you did something wrong and you owe the narcissist a favour.
The most important learning was that the narcissist is trapped in his mind. And he does not intend to harm or hurt. And due to his strong self-justification, he is unable to see that he has hurt others and honestly believes he is the good guy.
Here is an analogy: If you have only been exposed to two colours – black and white, it is difficult to believe when someone comes along and tells you, do you see the yellow and red and blue? And it’s easy to blame: “Do you have something wrong with your eyes?”
Understanding the narcissist psychology helped us to forgive and move on from the abuse and the perceived unfairness.
Lesson #3: Be Aware of Emotional Manipulation
Emotional manipulation happens very often, from others and from ourselves. It starts early, from the time that we are children, and it is a natural way that humans use to get what we want.
What is emotional manipulation? From experience, it is sensing and using another person’s emotions (their fears, dreams, envy, shame and guilt) to convince them of a half-truth or lie and perhaps invoking more emotions and driving the person to act in the intended way.
Emotional manipulation isn’t necessarily bad. The danger comes when it’s done without care of harming another person.
Emotional manipulation in the narcissist-victim relationship:
1. Love Bombing
Giving you a lot of attention, empathy and understanding for your dreams, concerns and well-being. Giving you an impression that he/she cares more than anyone else in this world. Now, here’s someone who truly seems to care about your well-being and future.
We were at a stage of trying to build a future, a business that brought wellness and coaching to help people. Having failed somewhat in our previous attempts, we were open (and susceptible) to someone who seemed to be on the same page.
The next step is to isolate you from your support system – your family, partner, friends, teammates and community and make you almost completely reliant on him/her. This is done by piecing ‘evidences’ in a false logic that seems to be real logic backing up that he/she cares and others don’t care or even mean harm. In extreme cases, the victim may be convinced to move out of their current families or leave their partner.
For example, we were isolated (in reliance and trust) step by step from our family members, best friends, mentors, community and even our own team members. Until we perceived that we didn’t have anyone to trust except for him.
3. Establishing Superiority
The narcissist has a need to be superior, respected and looked up to. He/she provides reasons and evidence to show why you are not as good as him (citing your weaknesses) and why he/she is much better than you. This establishes a power difference and the victim starts feeling inferior, giving away his/her power and listening to the superior narcissist.
When things don’t go his/her way, the narcissist flies into a rage. Getting angry and instilling fear in the victim. If the victim has issues with managing angry people, he/she may cower, take a step back and try to do things to please the narcissist. Once again, power transfers from victim to narcissist.
5. Guilt Tripping
If rage is not sufficient, the narcissist starts to guilt-trip the victim, saying how he/she is very disappointed in spite of all the efforts put in, citing how the victim was the actual cause of everything. The victim feels guilty and wants to make up for it. This gets worse especially if you’re used to inflicting guilt upon yourself for little mistakes (victim mindset).
6. False Compassion
Once the victim is successfully under control, the narcissist adds more false compassion by giving gifts, doing things, spending time or words of approval to the victim to show how much he/she cares. The victim goes deeper into submission at this point.
7. Giving Approval for being Submissive
When the victim stops fighting and submits to the narcissist, he/she gives hearty approval to the victim, encouraging further behaviour of submission, of not thinking clearly and blindly following the narcissist’s demands.
As a victim, psychologically, if he/she has a need for approval from a parental figure, the narcissist fills this parental role and the victim will do anything to get approval.
On looking back, these 10 difficult months + 1 year of reflections and recovery thereafter provided very important lessons. I learnt to take back my power and take responsibility for outcomes (both good and bad).
Both the narcissist and victim are responsible for the outcome. Without the victim, the narcissist can’t do much harm. Without the narcissist, the victim is subconsciously looking for a more powerful leader to lead or even dominate him/her choices.
The narcissist establishes a more powerful position and the victim takes on a powerless position, and this relationship dynamic allows the narcissistic abuse to happen.
What helped us to move on from these experiences was to recognize and own our weaknesses of not believing in ourselves, feeling overly guilty or shameful and giving away power to others.