GASLIGHTING IS A FORM of psychological manipulation that falls under the category of covert psycho-emotional abuse. Its aim is to cause a person to question their sanity.
What Is The Definition of Gaslighting?
The term comes from the 1938 play Gaslight, about a wife who discovers that her husband is secretly turning down the gaslights in their home in order to make her doubt her reality. Today, gaslighting is a colloquialism that describes a situation where one person manipulates another to think or behave a certain way that causes them to second-guess their own perceptions and beliefs.
Who is most likely to use the gaslighting tactic?
Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic commonly used by people with malignant personalities, such as the narcissistic- and anti-social personality types. Emotionally sound people are unlikely to gaslight others because they are able to empathize with others and want to avoid causing them distress. People with darker personalities have low empathy and are less likely to care about causing others distress, which makes them more likely to gaslight others. However, not all people with malignant personalities gaslight others.
In what context is gaslighting most likely to occur?
Gaslighting can happen in any type of relationship, including friendships, romantic relationships, and even within the family. It can also occur in the workplace when one person tries to manipulate another into doing something they don’t want to do.
How does one person gaslight another?
Gaslighting is usually accomplished by creating a false narrative and casting doubt on any facts or evidence that contradicts the false narrative. The perpetrator of the abuse misleads the recipient of the abuse by creating a false reality.
Why do people use the gaslighting tactic?
People who gaslight do so in order to manipulate and control others. The effects of gaslighting often leave the recipient of the abuse feeling powerless, invisible, and unable to influence the relationship.
What are some examples of gaslighting?
Some examples of gaslighting are:
When a partner denies having an affair, even when text messages are sent proving otherwise.
When a spouse is criticized for expressing an opinion or feeling, but when their partner expresses the same opinion or feeling, they are commended for being open and honest.
When a parent tells a child they are imagining things even though the child is not.
Denying that acts of aggression have taken place even though they have.
ONE OF THE MOST DEVASTATING aspects of narcissistic abuse in families is that it often leads to estrangement between the recipient of the abuse and their children. To orchestrate parent-child estrangement, narcissists use a manipulation tactic called triangulation. One of the reasons why extreme narcissism is so malignant is because a narcissistic person is prone to objectifying others and, therefore, has no qualms about weaponizing their children in order to exercise abusive power and control over the other parent.
Narcissistic abuse is most effective when the targeted person is isolated, so they excise external influences from the targeted person’s environment that threaten to disturb the narcissist’s narrative. In this way, the perpetrator of the abuse is able to control the targeted person’s perspective and shape the way the individual sees themselves, the narcissist, and the world around them.
In extreme cases of domestic violence, narcissistic triangulation can result in child-to-parent violence with the child mimicking the narcissist’s aggression toward the recipient of the abuse. This shocking behavior is devastating to the targeted parent, who cannot understand why their beloved child is unable to empathize with them or how their children rationalize enabling and sometimes participating in the abuse.
A member of our community who is a survivor of severe long-term narcissistic abuse suffered this cruel fate when they left their abusive partner and refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement after they were divorced. They wrote:
I am a survivor of narcissistic abuse and the atmosphere between my adult children and narcissist ex is cult-like. The children participated in the abuse when they were younger and refuse to have contact with me today. I’ve never met my grandchildren.
1. Narcissists See The World Through A Binary Lens
An important factor in understanding the behavior of children in the context of parent-child estrangement is the awareness that narcissists view the world around them through a binary lens. Dr. Kinsey explains:
“The context that I would give people who are estranged from their children or who are caught up in the narcissist’s version of reality [is] to understand is the nature of the narcissist’s defensive structure. The world to a narcissist is divided into good and bad and the narcissist distances himself or herself from the bad as much as possible. There is intense profound disgust for the bad and the bad always has to be outside of the narcissistic personality and that means that there are scapegoats, demons, devils, and people who are completely unworthy of association.”
2. Children Often Identify With The Same Sex Parent
Another aspects as to why parent-child estrangement can occur is because the identity of the child may be in lockstep with the narcissistic parent due to social influences, such as gender.
“An identification often develops, especially with the same-sex parent,” says Dr. Kinsey, addressing why some children who grow up the the dysfunction of narcissistic family dynamics may be unwilling to empathize with the recipient of the abuse, “If the same-sex parent is a narcissist then there is a tendency to emulate that way of dealing with problems, difficulties, and emotions. so, functionally, what this means is the bad that exists in everyone and especially exists in the narcissist is displaced or it’s placed into the other parent. Usually, these are things like vulnerability, weakness, and unworthiness can be disowned in that way
3. The Child Prioritizes Their Survival In Power Holder’s Social Circle
Another social aspect of the equation that could impact the child’s behavior is their survival instinct.
“Being within the narcissist-child dyad is, obviously, a very coveted place. You know with both of our parents there is such a deep need to be loved and accepted,” according to Dr. Kinsey, “If a child is forced to choose, they might choose the person that they feel they are most like or they’ll also choose the person who they feel is safer or who they feel is the more desirable one to follow. In the case of the kind of scenario you’re discussing, it’s really a matter of survival. Being in the “in-group” of the narcissist is so essential to survival.”
If you have been targeted for narcissistic triangulation and are estranged from your child, remember that you are not alone. Up to 45% of domestic violence survivors are targeted for this strain of post-separation abusive power and control. As distressing as the situation is, bear in mind that your children are secondary victims to intimate partner violence.
Focus on what you can influence and practice radical acceptance of the things you cannot control. Recognize that the aim of narcissistic tribulation between a parent and this child is to psychologically destabilize you, so it is especially important to practice emotional hygiene.
If you feel that you or a loved one could benefit from additional support with parent-child estrangement, reach out to Dr. Kinsey at Mindsplain.
Watch Episode 1 of Co-Parenting with a Narcissist with Dr. Michael Kinsey.
LOVE BOMBING is a manipulation technique used by one person to gaslight another in order to control and dominate them. It is commonly used by highly narcissistic people and people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), but it can be used by other types of manipulators as well. The aim is to give the perpetrator an advantage over the recipient of the abuse. This is accomplished using a schedule of intermittent reinforcement that alternates between love bombing and devaluation to deliberately induce, escalate, and then soothe anxiety in the victim-survivor. One of the dangers of love bombing is that it feels so good it can be difficult to recognize it for the psycho-emotional abuse that it is. Today, we’re going to highlight 6 Signs of Love Bombing with clinical psychologist Steven M. Sultanoff, PhD
For more than thirty years, Dr. Sultanoff has been a professor at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. He’s also served as a clinical supervisor and spent twelve years as clinical director of a psychology training network. In 2012, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award in therapeutic humor from the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: What is something most people don’t understand about love bombing?
Dr. Steven Sultanoff: The extreme narcissist is a “big game hunter.” He is stalking his prey, and the thrill is in the hunt and capture of the prey. In order to capture the prey, the narcissist will go to almost any length to achieve that goal. The result is self-congratulatory: “Look what major feat I accomplished!” In other words, “I made you fall for me.”
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: What you are describing it sounds more like entrapment than love.
Dr. Steven Sultanoff: He is on a quest to “do” whatever it takes to achieve the goal: capturing a “love” connection or perhaps more accurately capturing the object of his desire. Nothing will stand in the way. Whatever it takes (behaviorally) he will do. He will shower the “love object” with whatever might be pleasing including gifts, flowers, romantic getaways, etcetera.
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: This is an excellent analogy because it illustrates how little a narcissist’s behavior has to do with the person they are pursuing and everything to do with their self-image. What’s the pay off for the narcissist?
Dr. Steven Sultanoff: Once the goal is achieved, he will feel “full,” valued, worthy, etcetera until the moment of the accomplishment wears off.
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: So, they obtain narcissistic supply through success in pursuit and conquest of someone they regard as “prey”. It gratifies their ego and fills them with a sense of pride in their ability to manipulate the person they targeted. What is the first major red flag that people should look out for?
Dr. Steven Sultanoff: One tell-tale sign is over the top extreme behavior that, of course, feels like being nurtured and loved.
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: But in reality it’s neither of those things because the narcissist is using the capture and conquest of their “prey” to feed their ego. Dr. Sultanoff, you have been practicing for over thirty years. Please share something you’ve observed about narcissists in your clinical experience.
Dr. Steven Sultanoff: Most narcissists are men, although women are not immune to the disorder.
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Indeed, that’s consistent with the research. Can you please share some other signs you think might help people recognize when they are being love bombed?
Dr. Steven Sultanoff: Narcissists are frequently absolutely charming and they make a great appearance. For example, they are often coiffed meticulously. They are usually generous with money and material things, showering the object of their affection with an assortment of gifts mostly of monetary value but not necessarily. Depending on their style and expertise, they may offer more personal gifts such as poetry, writing songs, sunsets on the beach, looking at the stars, etcetera for their partner. They make a major effort to be in contact with their partner and may frequently text or email with lots of emojis or other endearing extras.
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: It’s often said that narcissists target people who have one or several blind spots. Can you talk a bit about this?
Dr. Steven Sultanoff: One sign that is often overlooked is the partner’s reaction to the love bomb. If you feel enamored, giddy, or enthralled especially to the point of discussing all the gifts with others then you may want to examine the relationship. It is easy for the partner to be “sucked into” the love bomb since it “feels” so good to be loved at such an extreme level.
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: That’s a very astute and helpful tip! Dr. Sultanoff, do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share on this topic?
Dr. Steven Sultanoff: Bottom line, if he is too good to be true, he likely is too good to be true. Look for the signs of excessively loving behaviors, look for feeling immersed in his love, look for constant actions of his love and desire to be with you, and finally look beyond his loving actions and ask yourself, “What is the substance behind the actions. Is he who I can love if all these loving actions were not present?”
Dr. Sultanoff’s 6 Signs of Love Bombing
To summarize, Dr. Sultanoff highlighted six signs of love bombing and they are:
Too good to be true
Visit Dr. Sultanoff’s website humormatters.com to learn about therapeutic humor.
TRAUMA IS THE WORD most commonly associated with extreme narcissism – and with good reason. People who have been targeted for narcissistic abuse often scoff when the pathology is described as shame based because they are distracted by the spectacle of the narcissistic person’s formidable defenses. But in reality, narcissistic personality disorder is a post-traumatic stress adaptation. It is usually developed to resolve intense feelings of inferiority and shame often connected with psychological devastation.
Extreme narcissism is a kind of scar tissue that develops to protect unhealed trauma. It numbs, hardens, and desensitizes the mind, eventually severing consciousness from feelings of incessant vulnerability, fear, and hyper-vigilance. It restricts the ability to genuinely bond with others, making empathy an elusive prospect. The deeper the trauma, the more narcissistic people disconnect from their emotions to cope. The overarching feelings of inferiority and shame become submerged in the subconscious mind. There, a false self is generated to serve as a bulwark to keep unbearable, vulnerable emotions at bay. The words narcissist and narcotic originate from the Greek narkao which means “I numb myself”.
Early life wounds fuel the adult fury boiling under the surface of this personality type. It’s what drives the explosive narcissistic rage that detonates with every real or perceived threat to their cherished false self. It feeds their obsessive need for control and it can blind them to the fact that they perpetuate the very trauma that wounded them on others, especially their children.
3 Effects of Narcissistic Parenting on Minor Children
Research shows that children who witness narcissistic abuse suffer the same degree of harm as the parent who is the primary target for the narcissist’s aggression.
Children who witness or experience narcissistic abuse are at risk for long-term physical and mental health consequences.
Some children who witness narcissistic abuse may have an increased propensity to act out the same violence in their own relationships.
“Children learn first and foremost by what they see and what they observe.” explains Clinical Psychologist and parent-child attachment specialist Dr. Michael Kinsey, “There are going to be lasting impacts of trauma in a context where there is emotional and physical abuse.There are things people can do to buffer against the permanent arresting of development that can happen as a result of witnessing or seeing that type of abuse.”
ACTOR WILLIAM HURT died of natural causes on Sunday, March 13, 2022. That evening as Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin walked the red carpet at the Critics Choice Awards, a reporter asked her to comment on the news of Hurt’s passing.
Matlin squared her shoulders, gave her head a quick shake as if ingesting a bitter tonic, and summoned the grace to say:
“We’ve lost a great actor. Working with him on the set of Children of a Lesser God will always be something I remember very fondly. He taught me a great deal as an actor. He was one-of-a-kind.”
Matlin’s response was so charitable and respectful, that for a brief moment it transcended the reality of the intimate terrorism Hurt allegedly subjected her during a two-year relationship that left her fearing for her life.
A History of Battery and Rape
Marlee Matlin was involved in a romantic relationship with the late William Hurt when she was a teenager. They met in the 1980s during her screen test for the film Children of a Lesser God. Hurt, then 35, was at the height of his acting career while nineteen-year-old Matlin was a Hollywood newcomer.
In her 2009 autobiography I’ll Scream Later, Marlee Matlin disclosed that William Hurt subjected her to repeated emotional, physical, and sexual abuse throughout their two-year relationship. Hurt was a brilliant but complex person who struggled with substance abuse for most of his life.
Accomplished and experienced, Hurt was able to take advantage of the glaring power imbalance in their relationship due to his status as a revered performing artist, their age gap and the privileges of his positionality in the world. He was free to manipulate and abuse Matlin with impunity and without any consequences.
According to The Daily Beast, Matlin recalls a horrific incident when inebriated Hurt, “…finally came home around 4:30 A.M. drunk and woke me up. The next thing I knew he’d pulled me out of the bed, screaming at me, shaking me. I was scared, I was sobbing. Then he threw me on the bed, started ripping off his clothes and mine. I was crying. ‘No, no, no. Please Bill, no.’ The next thing I remember is Bill ramming himself inside me as I sobbed.”
Several independent witnesses confirmed Matlin’s account. Among them are members of the crew on the set of Children of a Lesser God, her translator, a medical doctor, and Hurt’s children who treated her injuries after Hurt’s brutal attacks.
A Shift in the Balance of Power
Children of a Lesser God received multiple Academy Award nominations, including nods to Hurt and Matlin. Matlin made history that year when she became the youngest person ever to win the Oscar for best actress. Hurt walked away empty handed. This only increased his envy Matlin and was the beginning of the end of their relationship.
Matlin recalls that Hurt told her that she didn’t deserve her Oscar, and told her, “What makes you think you deserve it? There are hundreds of actors who have worked for years for the recognition you just got handed to you. Think about that.”
Matlin recalls feeling anxious and confused by Hurt’s mood swings and explosive violence. She described the extent of Hurt’s abuse to Nancy O’Dell of Access Hollywood:
“I always had fresh bruises every day. There were a lot of things that happened that were not pleasant. I loved him. I did. Or maybe I thought I did.”
She recalls how his attacks on her confidence intensified after she won the award. Hurt suggested that she take acting lessons and his aggression toward Matlin escalated. Eventually, she says she started losing her will to live, “I felt lost, helpless. I realized I didn’t care whether I lived or died.”
DARVO in Intimate Partner Abuse
Many of Hurt’s described tactics are typical of intimate partner violence. Matlin describes receiving a letter from Hurt in which he DARVOs her, blaming her for his aggression and domestic violence, “He said in that letter that he was guilt-ridden about what he called his ‘physical anger.’ But he blamed me for doing things that made him crazy angry.”
The relationship finally reached its breaking point after a horrifying episode of Hurt’s explosive rage.
Matlin remembers, “I have never been so scared in my life before or after that day. The struggle turned violent. I was afraid I might not survive.”
She alleges that she reached for the telephone to call for help but Hurt jerked it from her grasp and beat her severely, striking her arms and face. She says she realized that Hurt wasn’t going to change his ways and, if she returned to him, she might never find the courage to leave.
Matlin explains, “I understand how women are afraid to leave an abusive relationship. They should, but at the same time, I understand how they don’t know how.”
Guilt as a Tool of Control in Intimate Partner Violence
When Matlin escaped from the relationship, she did not file charges against Hurt because she was afraid her substance abuse would be used against her.
“I was so wrapped up in his world and my drugs,” She says candidly, “The drugs took over my life, took over my brain.”
Hurt also struggled with substance abuse. However, he eventually became sober, which he considered to be one the greatest triumphs of his life.
Marlee Matlin was asked by a journalist if Hurt had been informed about the book before its publication, and allowed to refute her claims, and she responded, “I had no contact with him. Really, I had nothing to say to him. He knows what happened, I know what happened. We both were there.”
In a statement issued by Hurt in 2009, the actor did not deny Matlin’s allegations.
He said: “My own recollection is that we both apologized and both did a great deal to heal our lives. Of course, I did and do apologize for any pain I caused. And I know we both have grown. I wish Marlee and her family nothing but good.”
Perhaps Hurt was merely being cautious with his words to avoid litigation but his statement effectively minimize the severity of his violence toward Matlin while underscoring her purported transgressions against him. This response is typical of a highly narcissistic person side stepping accountability. His acknowledgement and apology is so vague one might think he wasn’t speaking about battery and rape, which are criminal acts.
IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO CONFRONT a loved one who you suspect is being unfaithful to you. This is especially true if you are dealing with a highly narcissistic partner or someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) because they are likely to respond by blame-shifting, gaslighting, and a host of other tactics to escape being held to account.
To discern what’s really going on with a narcissistic partner often means learning to ignore what they say and watch what they do. But what exactly should you look for if you sense your partner may be cheating on you?
For answers, we turned to Genesis Games, a bilingual Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a Gottman trained couples therapist. She operates an online practice called Healing Connections, where she helps people navigate romance, friendship, and family relationships. She also works with high conflict couples, specializing in addiction, infidelity, mental illness, parenting, and divorce.
Genesis shares three ways to see past the smoke and mirrors narcissistic partners use to distract you from their infidelity.
1. Withholding Information
If you suspect your partner is withholding information, Genesis describes what to look for:
“A big indicator is the lack of transparency. Does your partner begin to omit information about their day to day life or expenses? Does your partner become very protective of their phone? Does your partner lie about their whereabouts? Do they tell you conflicting information? If your partner used to be open and communicative and all of a sudden it seems like they are keeping things from you this is a red flag.”
2. A change in language
Another subtle sign that your partner has emotionally checked out is a shift in the words they are using.
“They go from using ‘we’ language to ‘I.'” says Genesis, “Speaking in terms of ‘we’ is referring to us as a team and suggests that they are committed to building a life with you. Language is very powerful, if we notice this change in language we would want to explore the why.”
3. There is increasing distance
You may sense that your partner has somehow moved beyond your reach.
Genesis suggests, “If they begin to create distance, emotional and/or physical, this would also be a significant red flag. The distance might be created by sleeping on the couch, spending time in their home office instead of in common areas where you can interact, shutting down when you try to engage in conversation, flaking on plans you make together, and when you are together picking fights.”
Behavior never lies. If you want to understand what’s going on with a narcissistic partner, be observant, focus on their actions, and you will eventually arrive at the truth. So, how do you move forward, once you’re suspicions are confirmed?
“These are three major signs that something is “off” in the relationship that needs to further be explored, and often come up when infidelity is taking place.” Genesis explains.
If your partner is highly narcissistic or an NPD, confrontation is likely to lead to conflict. Instead, prioritize your mental health and reach out for support from a licensed mental health professional to help you determine the best way forward for you.
NARCISSISTIC PARTNERS DELIBERATELY make it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. They are slick and persuasive liars, prone to gaslighting others in order to escape being held to account for their misdeeds. Put simply, a narcissistic partner is not a reliable source of the truth. They are unlikely to willingly admit to adultery. If your suspicions are confirmed they usually react by devaluing and blaming you for their infidelity. This is why it’s helpful to be able to recognize narcissistic cheating patterns on your own. Once you know what to look for, you can make an informed and independent decision about how you wish to go forward.
Nikolina Jeric, co-founder of the dating site 2Date4Love, shares her expertise about how to spot narcissistic cheating patterns.
Don’t ignore your instinct if you sense your partner is being unfaithful to you.
Pay close attention to their actions, not their words.
Some signs of cheating include secrecy, changes in sexual activity, provoking conflicts, and unexplained costs.
Sometimes these signal may signal that your relationship is breaking down for reasons other than infidelity.
1. Unfaithful partners are secretive
An unfaithful partner will seek to keep you in the dark about their infidelity.
“They may suddenly become secretive about their phones and computers. If your partner never had a problem with you checking their phones but now has passwords and hides the screen every time they get a message or start deleting texts and clearing browsing history, you’re likely in a relationship with a cheater.”
2. Changes in frequency of sex
Another red flag to look for if you suspect a narcissistic partner is cheating on you is a change in your sex life.
Nikolina says this can show up in two different ways:
“There may be more and less sex. Both increase and decrease in sexual activity may indicate you’re in a relationship with a cheater. Less sex often indicates your partner is focused on somebody else, or they’re guilt-tripped because they cheat. More sex – with plenty of new moves – might indicate they’ve learned something new with somebody else, and they want to share that knowledge with you.”
3. They pick fights with you
Narcissistic people try to avoid accountability at all costs, especially when they are knowingly betraying someone. They usually accomplish this with a tactic called DARVO, which stands for deny, attack, reverse, victim, and offender.
Nikolina shares what this might looking like in an intimate relationships:
“They pick fights. Cheaters often want to rationalize their behavior by pushing the blame onto another person. If you notice that your partner is constantly picking flights about insignificant things, that may be a sign of cheating since they want to justify their adultery.”
4. You notice unexplained costs
Often unfaithful partners tend to get physically, emotionally, and financially invested in their new romantic interest.
Nikolina talks about an economic change you might notice:
“You notice unexpected costs. If you have joint accounts and you see there’s suddenly less money, you might be dating a cheater. If you ask them about it, and their answer seems insincere, it’s another way of confirming the suspicion.”
If you believe that your partner is unfaithful, consider reaching out for support from a mental health professional. Remember that you are not to blame for their actions. Your sole responsibility is to take care of your health, recover from their betrayal and move forward with your life.
Confidential support is available 24/7/365 to anyone experiencing abuse. In the USA call 1-800-799-7233 or log on to thehotline.org. In the UK call 0808 2000 247 or log on to nationaldahelpline.org.uk.
DARVO IS AN INITIALISM that stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim, and Offender. It is used to describe a defensive manipulation tactic used by one person to avoid being held accountable for their acts of aggression toward another person. It is an extreme form of gaslighting behavior that can be perpetrated by an individual or group. In the latter instance it is referred to as institutional DARVO.
Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D. first conceptualized DARVO in an article she published in 1997. Dr. Freyd, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, explains that perpetrators of DARVO
Deny their behavior
Attack the person who is confronting them, and
Reverse the roles of
According to Dr. Freyd, the DARVO tactic can be used by people who inflict harm on others as well as the bystanders who support them. Sometimes the purpose of DARVO is to minimize a transgression, and at other times it is used to deny that the transgression ever took place.
The DARVO tactic can be a means used in the process of scapegoating. It changes the focus from the misdeeds of the true culprit and emphasizes real or invented shortcomings of the person they harmed.
For example, a perpetrator breaks the law by assaulting another person but minimizes their crime by claiming that they were the actually victim by framing the victim-survivors acts of resistance as the actual assault. Thus, they make it appear as if they are the victim and the actual victim-survivor is the perpetrator.
Dr. Freyd explains:
“This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of ‘falsely accused’ and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.”
DARVO often relies on cultrual biases and people’s propensity to discrimination. It is most successful in the context of systemic oppression, i.e. racism, sexism, etcetera.
Narcissistic cheating patterns are important to learn. They will help you see through attempts to gaslight and manipulate your perception of reality. Because highly narcissistic people and full blown NPDs i.e. people with narcissistic personality disorder, are compulsive liars, they excel at concealing their true intentions and activities. Confrontation is useless. The closest most people come to getting a straight answer out of a narcissist are the farfetched accusations they make to deflect from the terrible truth about their treachery.
So how do you catch a narcissist cheating?
Jeni Woodfin, LMFT explains that the truth is evident in their behavior and shares how to spot three key narcissistic cheating patterns.
Why Are Most Narcissists Chronically Unfaithful?
Narcissists are relentlessly disloyal, which is why involvement with them leads to inevitable harm.
More often than not, narcissism is a driving force behind promiscuity and infidelity. Narcissists may feign commitment as a means to an end but in reality, they approach romantic relationships with an attitude of I’ll-get-you-before-you-get-me.
One of the reasons for this is that narcissists detest feelings of vulnerability. They are driven by an insatiable hunger for power and control because it relieves them of early experiences of impotence.
Narcissists prefer ego-boosting sexual conquests as proof positive of their ability to charm and seduce. It’s one of the ways they parade their superior manipulation skills.
Lying puts narcissists at an advantage as it thwarts their partner’s ability to make informed decisions. Misleading and deceiving others is a way to ease the nagging insecurities that plague them.
The risks of a relationship with a cheating narcissist
Under normal circumstances, infidelity can destroy relationships. But if your partner is a narcissist, the betrayals are so absolute and extreme that they may leave you completely shellshocked.
If you’re involved with a narcissist and they are cheating on you, you’re likely at risk for a traumatic discard which may include being unceremoniously replaced by a new partner who they’ve secretly been grooming behind your back.
Alternatively, a cheating narcissist may drive you to end the relationship with one outrageous offense after the next. Only to immediately replace you with a new love interest they have quietly groomed behind your back.
Learning to recognize these three subtle narcissistic cheating patterns will empower you to see past the smoke and mirrors of a narcissistic partner’s endless deceptions.
3 Narcissistic Cheating Patterns
For expert guidance, we reached out to Jeni Woodfin, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist trained in repairing relationships after infidelity. She obtained her master’s degree in counseling psychology from John F. Kennedy University. Today she practices in Silicon Valley where she specializes in betrayal trauma, including infidelity, emotional affairs, and other trust breaches.
They Put More Effort Into Their Appearance
Manya Wakefield: You’ve worked with hundreds of couples as well as with people who are cheating or recovering from infidelity. What’s the first narcissistic cheating pattern to look out for?
Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: Your partner changes and it’s noticeable.
Manya Wakefield: Do you mean that there are changes in the narcissist’s baseline behavior?
Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: You may see your partner become very happy, suddenly interested in their appearance, losing weight, buying new clothes, trying a new haircut, or updating their manscaping game.
Manya Wakefield: So the first narcissistic cheating pattern to watch out for is some kind of superficial change, like a change in style or appearance.
Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: If you notice your partner suddenly grooming more than normal, this is a potential sign your partner is thinking about how to be and feel attractive.
They Start Changing Their Schedule
Manya Wakefield: What would you say is the second of the narcissistic cheating patterns people should be aware of?
Jenny Woodfin, LMFT: Another clue would be a change in schedules.
Manya Wakefield: Can you describe what changes in the narcissist’s schedule might look like?
Jenny Woodfin, LMFT: Many of us have a fairly predictable schedule or routine. If your partner begins to take late meetings at work, has new business dinners in the evening, or is away from the house more, this potentially signals they are making time for another person.
There Are Changes in Sexual Activity
Manya Wakefield: So, a narcissist who is unfaithful would be grooming themselves more and making changes to their routine to win over another romantic interest. What would you say is the third one of the narcissistic cheating patterns to look out for?
Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: The last sign that often happens is a change in the bedroom that can go either way. Sex may increase, new sexual moves may be introduced, or new sexual behaviors may be requested. Or, some affair-involved partners go the opposite way with the bedroom becoming dead.
Manya Wakefield: This is an interesting red flag because, for many, it seems like a dead giveaway. Walk us through the strategy of the last one of these narcissistic cheating patterns. Why would a cheating narcissist stop having sex with their partner?
Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: These people may experience very low sexual desire for their partner, may avoid being sexual, or may have difficulty performing.
Manya Wakefield: Something I often hear from survivors is that people with this personality report feelings of boredom. Their infidelities are usually less about their partner and more about the insatiable emptiness they are constantly trying to fill with white knuckle experiences like substance use, promiscuity, infidelity, gambling, and the power trip of manipulation.
To summarize, what would you say is the common denominator shared by all three narcissistic cheating patterns?
Jeni Woodfin, LMFT: The link between all these signs is change. Many couples know each other very, very well. If you see a change from a long-time pattern, especially if the change results in coldness or distance, this could be a result of an affair.
CO-PARENTING WITH A NARCISSIST is often said to be impossible. A popular quote by A. Price asserts that “A narcissist will never co-parent with you. They will counter parent. They don’t care about the emotional damage that the constant drama inflicts upon the children as long as it causes emotional damage to you.”
He received his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the New School for Social Research and he is a specialist in the dynamics of personality, intergenerational trauma, and parent-child attachment.
In addition to his distinguished background, Dr. Kinsey is in private practice in New York City.
N.B. This interview aims to provide general information, not advice one should rely on. Please get the relevant professional or specialist advice before taking or refraining from any action based on the information in this interview.
Preventing personality disorders in children
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Welcome to Narcissistic Abuse Rehab, Dr. Kinsey, it’s an honor to have you here today to talk about co-parenting with a narcissist!
The first question is “I’m co-parenting with a malignant narcissist who was verbally & physically abusive to me in front of our children is it possible that my children risk developing personality disorders as a result of exposure to pathological narcissism?”
Dr. Michael Kinsey: Children learn first and foremost by what they see and what they observe. There are going to be lasting impacts of trauma in a context where there is emotional and physical abuse.
The question you’re asking is, “What are going to be the long term developmental impacts of that trauma?”
That’s a hard question to answer because there are so many variables. I think there are things people can do to buffer against the permanent arresting of development that can happen as a result of witnessing or seeing that type of abuse.
The first thing I would say is creating meaningful narratives around the experiences. Not walking away from it, not silencing it, not pretending as if it’s not happening. That’s a really important thing for kids. Kids need to know that they’re not experiencing an alternate reality from their parents.
And especially when the parent who is experiencing the abuse is the same-sex parent. There is a strong identification, i.e. the classic example of a husband abusing his wife emotionally or verbally. The child who is going to be most greatly impacted by that is going to be the one who is identified with the one who is being abused.
Of course, there are other problems in continuing the line of abusers down the line when the observer is identified with the abuser.
So I guess what I would say, going back, is just sort of validating the experience. Letting the child know that what they saw was really disturbing and it’s not okay what happened and that something is being done to protect or insulate the child.
One thing I can think of just at a very practical level [would be to say], “I know what you saw was really scary. Do you have any questions for me? Do you have any feelings about it?”
And also for younger kids watching for signs of the impact of the abuse in play is super important and not silencing the play when it shows up and saying in the language of the play, as well. So, if toys are fighting then you can sort of say, “Oh my gosh, they’re fighting. How scary.”
Things like that and just sort of validating that the child is seeing something that’s very hard.
Emotional abuse is a little bit more abstract and harder to pin down. But the other thing I would say, too, is that one of the biggest buffers against personality disorder development is having some sense of understanding of one’s feelings and the feelings of someone else.
And, I think a theme that we’ll touch on quite a bit throughout this discussion is the fact that narcissists are not devoid of feeling states.
To optimally protect kids, we need to help them develop an understanding of who that person is and what their emotional system is like and give them a context for understanding the behavior.
This is different from condoning the behavior. We can hold intention that the behavior itself, that the abuse itself, is unacceptable.
But, if a person is staying in that relationship despite the abuse, there’s already a way in which the abuse is being condoned.
So, at the very least, the child needs to have an understanding of who the narcissist is, why they are behaving the way they are and how it’s possible to still maintain a loving understanding of that person, even though they do very bad things.
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: This is important because I think you saw yesterday on Twitter we were talking about gaslighting and having your reality invalidated. I think what you brought up is important because a lot of the times survivors who are co-parenting with a narcissist try to overcompensate for the dysfunction in the family. What I see when the overcompensation happens is that it feeds into creating a false reality for the child. Down the line, what I’ve seen, is that it affects the child’s judgment – it skews things because good becomes bad and bad becomes good.
Dr. Michael Kinsey: Absolutely.
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: That can become very problematic. But, let’s go over to question two because it gets a little bit deeper into this. I hope it’s not…well, it is probably a hardball question.
Dr. Michael Kinsey: That’s what I’m here for.
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: That’s very true and I think it’s a great answer. I think all of these questions I have for you are kind of hardball. I hope you’re ready for question three! And it’s about–
Dr. Michael Kinsey: –Well, you know, these are…in some ways… I was observing your twitter yesterday and there is so much terminology within this community that is new to me and I find it fascinating!
The softball questions aren’t going to help anyone and hopefully, there’s something in there that will be of use to people.
Triangulation with the narcissist’s new partner
Narcissistic Abuse Rehab: Let’s get into question three about counter-parenting or co-parenting with a narcissist: I am being triangulated with my ex narcissist’s new partner. They are telling our children that the new partner is a better parent because they are carefree, while I have been battling anxiety & depression. Ultimately, they want the children to move in with them. In your opinion, what is the best course of action for someone in my situation?
Dr. Michael Kinsey: I think that there’s the short view and the long view here. The short term view can be pretty discouraging. The kids may be believing it, they may be acting in line with what the alienating or narcissistic parent is feeding them.
But the thing to keep in mind with narcissistic people is that if you have an estranged relationship with them you are one of many people. The hallmark of narcissistic personality disorder is there are chronically strained relationships.
And the reason for this is that everyone ultimately has a fall from grace with a narcissist. So if you kowtow and you ingratiate yourself back into favor things can continue peacefully. But it will always happen.
People will always see through the façade at some point. Maybe at first just for a few moments. Maybe there will be a prolonged estrangement that develops between the narcissist and the kids. But there will always be an opportunity.
And so what I would advise people is to create a very welcoming, open, accepting, non-contentious environment for the kids to return to.
In many ways, that’s the best you can do.
You stay above the fray.
You don’t comment on it.
You don’t respond to it.
You speak to the kids.
You don’t speak to the narcissist through the kids.
You speak to the kids and you say, “It really hurts that it feels that way to you, that this other parent is better, but I’m your mother or father and I’m always here for you.”
Part Two of ‘Co-Parenting with a Narcissist’ will be published on May 22, 2020. You can find Dr. Kinsey on Twitter at @mindsplain He can also be reached through his website mindsplain.com.