Back in July of this year, we featured a section from Chapter Three of Eleanor Payson’s excellent book ‘The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists’. The name of the Capter Three is ‘Follow Your Yellow Brick Road‘, and deals with the various ways an NPD individual will try to cause his/her target to lose sight of her own needs and boundaries.
From the book:
By ‘boundaries’ in this context, we mean the recognition that you are your own separate person with your own needs, rights, preferences, and ability to make your own decisions.
If the NPD individual has decided that you are a person worth pursuing, he will attempt to draw you into his arena, causing you to lose track of your own agenda and priorities. The NPD person is compulsively driven to come out ahead in relationships and employs a number of strategies in this pursuit. The behaviors that accomplish this have a variety of forms but generally fall into one of the following nine types: Admiration/Idealization; Martyr/Guilt; Intimidation; Distraction; Devaluing; Repetetive Criticism; Double Message/Double Bind; Projection; and Emotional Hostage.
Each of these includes many unconscious defenses and conscious behaviors designed to protect the narcissist from experiencing his own sense of inadequacy. … As we identify these patterns of interaction, you will understand how they inevitably render you increasingly unable to take care of your own needs and interests in the relationship. Depending on the nature of the involvement with the NPD person, he will automatically begin sizing you up for his estimate your value to play a part in his pursuit of self. If a business relationship, and he has decided you are a threat, he may attempt to neutralize your power by intimidating and devaluing you in the presence of influential people. If he has decided you are a significant threat, you will immediately begin experiencing behaviors designed to devalue you in one way or another. He may be overt about this or extremely deceptive and covert. In the latter case, you would not be given any external clue hat he has decided to wage war against you.
Because the NPD individual is is entirely unconscious of his own grandiosity, you will generally gain a hint of his agenda as he reveals an attitude of contempt towards you either subtly or openly.
This time, we want to zero in on another one of these, the Repetetive Criticism Dynamic. This is yet another form of abuse I experienced myself with Dan, my ex. He was constantly smug, self-superior, and full of derogatory, critical remarks at me about most everything I said and did. I always “walked on eggshells” around him, and even when sending emails or posting to lists that he was also on – for fear of his criticism and derision – privately or publicly. On numerous occasions, he berated and humiliated me in public, and in front of friends and neighbors. During the last 2-3 years of our relationship, rarely had a nice word to say. Dialogue with him was mostly insults, name-calling, snide remarks, self-satisfied claims of his own superiority and my inferiority in some-or-other area, and my being made the butt of his “jokes”. Being an empathy-challenged narcissist, he never understood how hurtful or damaging his abuse was to me and our relationship, nor did he care.
Here’s more from Chapter Three about the Repetetive Criticism Dynamic (some emphasis mine):
The narcissist generally has an endless repertoire for delivering criticism; by the time you are well into the relationship or have grown up in the relationship, defending yourself and your position has become a knee-jerk reaction. This pattern, however, only further undermines your self-esteem because you have already fallen into the trap of validating the criticism by defending yourself. Countering the criticism with an explanation or rebuttal also serves to encourage the narcissist’s desire to pursue his critique all the more because you are now fully in his arena, debating his issue in terms of his original premise. Unless you are prepared to take “his” course in logic and debate, you are better off walking away from the argument.
There are examples given in the book for staying OUT of the “arena” with the narcissist when he is launching criticism. One good example I saw in Patricia Evans’ book, at least in regards to the “you’re too sensitive!” meme that abusers like to toss at their victims is this one:
When your abuser accuses you of being “too sensitive, calmly respond with: “Yes, I’m very sensitive. Please respect that.”
What does this do? Well, first of all it removes any argument. Remember that arguing with the abuser or any attempt to defend yourself will only launch you into HIS arena, and validate his critical assertion about you. It’s a losing battle. Secondly, you can ASK for what you’re not getting from the criticizing narcissist: recognition and respect for YOUR feelings. These are things that narcissists – due to their total lack of empathy – always have difficulty with. With this response, you can avoid being drawn into his arena, and you can assert your boundaries with the abuser by requiring his respect for your feelings.
An example given in the book is the following (some emphasis mine):
A mother complains to her daughter that she just doesn’t understand why her daughter buys an item of food and gives a list of reasons why the food is unhealthy. The daughter, who has begun to identify the dynamics of her mother’s narcissm, calmly reasserts her own boundary by saying: “Mom, I bought that for me, not for you. You don’t have to eat it.” In this instance the daughter is able to firmly avoid the setup to argue the point about whether or not the item is worthwhile to eat and instead responds to the issue of boundaries, asserting her right to choose what she wants for herself.
You might also, with a bit of practice and rehearsal either privately with a friend or therapist, or in your mind, be ready to provide consequences for times when these instances of unnecessary critique occur – such as ending the discussion or leaving the room or the house. You must be emotionally prepared for this – having worked through some of the confused, angry and hurt feelings caused by the narcissist’s abuse. Prepare to confront him and to provide a clear and specific description of your abuser’s critical behaviors and to express the hurt and anger (calmly!) that they cause you – and what you intend to do next time that behavior occurs. Be prepared, also, to consistently and repeatedly carry through with your stated consequence or you’ll end up further behind with the narcissist than when you started!
I should emphasize that if you feel that your physical safety is in danger, either do not attempt this, or arrange to have a friend or relative present when you do it. Expect that the narcissist may retaliate – either by further verbal abuse and criticism or physically if they are prone to physical violence. Eventually, though, he may learn which behaviors you will not tolerate and refrain from them in your presence, even if he doesn’t understand why you will no longer accept it.