(Let Me Reach) Do you feel like you were brainwashed by the narcissist? You were. Through manipulative psychological techniques that effectively condition your subconscious mind.
Narcissists use subtle clues and suggestions to guide you towards things that are not in your best interest by subverting your thought processes. It’s all about making you act how they want you to, and do what they want you to. Below is a sampling of subliminal persuasion techniques employed by Narcissists and other emotional manipulators.
It started with love-bombing. It’s often been noted that in the first stages of a relationship with a Narcissist or other Cluster-B personality type, it seemed he or she showed a genuine interest in their target. Manipulators generally take the time to scope out the characteristics and vulnerabilities of their potential victim. It further explains why Narcissists seem overly sweet, polite, and caring when first meeting them.
To establish rapport with potential victims, manipulators know they need to match their target’s nonverbal behavior, leaning forward, listening carefully to their target’s words, and intentionally using similar language. In so doing, manipulators build rapport with their target and, hence, increase their chances of collecting pertinent information to exploit the victim when entering into the one-sided relationship.
Playing the Victim
Once the Narcissist successfully establishes rapport, barriers fade and trust develops. It’s typically during this phase that the Narcissist shares some “sob story” from their past regarding horrible exes, battling depression, a traumatic childhood, and how they’ve generally been down on their luck. This is also when the target opens up about their own obstacles and uphill battles (shared in all sincerity), which are, sadly, used against them at a later time.
Narcissists also play the victim to manipulate the conscientious. People with a conscience typically feel badly when they have to confront someone who appears to be depressed or has supposedly had a rough life. In fact, sincere and honest people often feel an obligation to care for and forgive such a person. If the Narcissist can further manage to get into an intimate relationship with the conscience-bound, then all the better. This particular technique has been the ruin of many a codependent.
Playing the Parent
Psychological studies have shown that such things as tone of voice, mannerisms, and other non-verbal behaviors play an important role in communication. Many women who’ve had a Narcissistic partner report that their abuser dictated what they wore, who they could be friends with (if anyone), gave them a curfew, insisted they wear little to no makeup, sneered at them if they fixed their hair, and generally wanted them to appear unkempt.
These requests weren’t conveyed in a civil, diplomatic way. No, the Narcissist typically raged and shouted until their target acquiesced.
What typically happens when someone talks to us as if they were a parent, in a ‘fatherly’ tone of voice? Chances are it will affect our mindset, our sense of liking the person, and our emotions! Manipulators are often very aware of these things and in an instant can transport another adult back to childhood with the associated emotions of wanting to please and feel loved and accepted.
Robert Cialdini studied manipulators and he realized that they were doing things to control others’ emotions, for example, create a sense of obligation in others, create a fear of loss, or make people feel a sense of subservience to authority. In Narc terms, this is the FOG (Fear, Obligation, Guilt). Most targets are unaware that this is going on. This weapon of influence works outside of people’s normal consciousness and makes this technique incredibly powerful.
Fear-then-Relief (or Hurt and Rescue)
This tactic preys on a person’s emotions. Here, the manipulator causes their target a great deal of stress or anxiety and then abruptly relieves that stress. The most common tactic used by the Narcissist in this category is the silent treatment, which evokes their target’s fear of abandonment. When the Narcissist finally returns, the victim experiences a rush of euphoric relief.
The silent treatment is executed by the Narcissist when his or her victim attempts to establish a boundary or shows displeasure at something the Narcissist says or does. This might include having another lover, a porn obsession, overspending, irresponsibility, and/or being mean to children in the household.
Repeated cycles of fear and relief are emotionally exhausting. This is the same method used in police interrogations to get a person to confess, sometimes even when they are innocent! When the Narcissist returns after numerous stints of the silent treatment, their victim is emotionally defenseless and more prone to accepting the unacceptable in order to avoid having their fear of abandonment triggered. Further, this often leads to the victim pleading and apologizing, begging for the Narcissist to stay, even when the victim has done no wrong.
The fear-and-relief cycle, along with trauma-bonding and biological addiction, explains why emotional abuse victims experience cravings and obsessive thoughts once No Contact has been executed. According to an experiment inspired by Langer, Blank, and Chanowitz (1978), and recently conducted by Dolinski and Nawrat**, when the stimulus that provokes and justifies one’s experience of fear is suddenly removed (implementation of No Contact), we may experience a short-lasting state of disorientation. The action produced by fear is no longer functional in the new circumstances (removal of silent treatment due to No Contact), and a new program has not yet been instigated. Their assumption is that during this period of disorientation, people function automatically and mindlessly, engaging in automatic, pre-programmed actions.
Emotional Manipulation is Abuse
The above examples are only a scratch on the surface of emotional manipulation techniques used by Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Psychopaths. If you constantly wonder about the status of your relationship, ruminate about what you could do differently, feel like the problems with your partner fall on your shoulders, constantly obsess about your relationship, are constantly fearful and anxious, and/or feel like less of a person than before you met your partner, then it’s highly likely you have been the victim of emotional manipulation.
The good news is that you can untangle yourself from the toxic relationship. However, it’s important to understand that the aftermath of emotional trauma needs to be taken seriously. Books can help, but the most effective programs for recovery include going No Contact (with the help of a coach, if necessary), finding a licensed therapist who specializes in emotional trauma, incorporating energy healing techniques, and recovery from codependency.
** Dolonski, D., Ciszek, M., Godlewski, K., and Zawadzki, M. (2002) Fear-then-relief, mindlessness, and cognitive deficits. European Journal of Social Psychology.