By Peg Streep
Looking back, it’s my hopefulness that irritates me most. I kept thinking that he’d see the light, get what was wrecking our relationship, understand that I couldn’t live with his constant manipulation. He’d placate me with promises but I don’t believe he ever intended to behave any differently. Actually, I think he liked jerking me around.
As I can personally attest, it’s not always easy to recognize that the person you’re with is high in narcissistic traits. (I’m using the masculine nouns and pronouns because there are more men at the end of the spectrum but feel free to switch up the gender.) Not everyone is the “Look at Me!” type, full of grandiosity, constantly needing to be the center of attention, and wholly self-referential. The narcissist in your life may be soft-spoken, even a bit shy, but the tip-off to who he really is isn’t so much as what he does but what he doesn’t do.
I didn’t realize it while I was in it but he manipulated me in every discussion I tried to have about the problems in our relationship. He’d either refuse to talk about it outright—by stonewalling or saying something like ‘Not that again. Do we have to cover the same ground over and over? It’s always the same tattoo”—or he’d turn the tables on me, saying I was unhappy because I made myself unhappy. Or he’d deny there was a problem at all. It took me a while to realize that he never took responsibility for anything. He blamed other people for doing things to him, including me. It was mind-bending.
What the person high in narcissistic traits doesn’t do constitutes a pattern of its own and, in many ways, makes him easier to identify. Once you’ve focused on what he isn’t doing, you can see that what motivates him isn’t the need to connect to you in any meaningful way—which is, of course, what you’ve been hoping for all along—but a very private and specific agenda which is making sure that his vision of himself stays protected and invulnerable.
So, if he’s not doing any of the following nine things—which people who actually want real connections do all the time—you need to wise up pronto.
1.Own his feelings
Dr. Craig Malkin calls this playing “emotional hot potato” because it’s a common pattern –ascribing whatever he’s feeling in the moment to you which is a form of projection. This becomes a manipulative tactic as well, especially if the narcissist in your life also uses stonewalling and can be emotionally very confusing. (I am speaking from experience here.) Let’s say that you want to talk through a problem and you begin calmly, stating what the problem is. He reacts defensively and he’s clearly getting angry—you can tell by the way he’s folding his arms over his chest, how his jaw muscles are working, and how the furrow between his eyes deepens—and says he doesn’t want to talk about the issue. You start to feel angry and frustrated but you try again and he cuts you off. You ask him why he’s getting so angry and he responds by saying he’s not angry but you are. Yes, that’s the hot potato moment but the fact is that you are angry and getting angrier by the minute. Escalation is built into this and now you’re screaming at him and he looks at you and says, “I’m tired of your anger” and leaves the room.