The Use of Isolation in Coercive Control

The Use of Isolation in Coercive Control | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab | Julie Levine

I guarantee there is an entire generation that will instantly relate the word isolation to the 2020 COVID-19 crisis.

I do not.

I will not.

Every time I hear that word, my past haunts me. 

Images flash in my mind. 

But they are not of the present social distancing, wearing a mask, quarantine, and antibody testing. The images brought to my mind remind me of a different place, a different time when I was a different person.

Isolation is a reality of post-separation abuse for countless survivors around the world. It is one of the most powerful tools in the malignant narcissist’s game of power, control, and manipulation

The aims of isolation are two-fold:

  • The smaller a malignant narcissist can make your world, the more you will feel dependent on them. 
  • Isolating the victim makes it easier for the manipulator to distort the third partys’ perception of the victim and dominate the narrative.

An Invisible Prison

The last few months of social isolation have been extraordinarily difficult for me. I am reminded of my current strengths daily, as well as the person I used to be. In the blink of an eye, I remember things I wish I could forget.

When I was a married woman, living in a New York suburb, we had an electronic gate at the end of a very long driveway. Located in a well-to-do, bucolic neighborhood, the gate was attached to a concrete wall separating the house from the road – from the world.

There was a large metal box on one side of the front wall, which contained the gate’s motor and electronics. I did not know how to open nor operate the secured machinery. And there were video cameras everywhere. An ordinary person would think they were for security purposes — but I will get to that. 

You can be living in the dark hole of abuse – and not realize how bad it is until you start telling other people what is happening.

Julie Levine

The man I was then married to was in total control of operating the gate. On good days, I had a code to get in and a motion detector operated to let me out. However, on bad days when he felt I was disobedient when I had not been silent or had not worshipped him accordingly – he disconnected that gate when he left for work, abandoning me in a home with what I believed was no way out.

My sons would have to walk around or climb over the gate to get to the cul de sac for their school bus. When the gate was rendered inoperable – my world shrank and became even more restricted. I was ordered to remain at home until further notice.

Isolation was a punishment. It was deliberate. It was a minute component in the cycle of abuse.

Survival Mode in Coercive and Controlling Relationships

Looking back, I wonder: who was that woman who received such punishment? 

I could not drive a car out of the driveway with that damn gate stuck closed – but why didn’t I walk around it like my sons?

I never even considered it. I obeyed him. I lived in constant fear.

I was married to a man for almost two decades who used isolation amongst other Coercive Control tactics to dominate me. In the years since my divorce, I learned that his behaviors are consistent with narcissistic abuse.

In my case, other kinds of harm were added to the mix, such as domestic violence, and financial abuse. 

During my lengthy, high conflict divorce, the man who would later be known as my “ex” was diagnosed by several forensic psychologists as:

  •  a narcissist
  • a psychopath
  • a sociopath
  • having anti-social personality disorder, and
  • being morally bankrupt.

Did I ever hear of those terms before court-ordered reports?

Certainly not. 

For almost 20 years, I was so deep in survival mode, that I did not even consider there to be personality disorders and distinctions. It was just my way of life, a way of life I needed to survive for my children. 

Coercive Control destroys support systems

How Coercive Control Destroys Support Systems

Gradually, friends left my life, my family became estranged, people I had known for years stopped contacting me.

More isolation.

Eventually, the only human contact I had was with my children’s teachers and occasionally parents of my children’s classmates. But even those contacts diminished.

I tried socializing with other people in our community – as couples normally would – but that never lasted too long.

My ex-husband would tell me that people didn’t like me or only bothered with me because they thought I had money, convincing me that all break downs in communication with the outside world were my fault.

For many years, I never questioned it.

I was a class mother for my sons in school, an assistant soccer coach, a softball mom, etc.

I lived my life day to day as a mother of two sons whom I cared for and practically raised alone as their father showed no interest in them until I began to stand up for myself, mentioning divorce.

Throughout their childhoods, my sons learned that the only time their father showed them attention was when they would mirror his interests. My sons eventually understood how the equation worked, dropped their interests and passions, and reflected their father.

No more soccer, softball, or basketball. Playdates were few and far between.

Looking back at all this I realize that he was isolating his sons almost as much as he was isolating me. I didn’t know back then that children too could be targets for Coercive Control.

Coercive Control is Captivity

Getting back to that gate at the entrance of my home address — everyone thought it was to keep people out when, in reality, its purpose was to keep me in.

There were days I just stayed at home, often recovering from bruises, with no means of escape.

I guess I was so traumatized, controlled, and terrified that I did not dare climb over that gate to get out. I remained at home, in fear, until I had a release date that my then-husband determined. The security cameras were strategically placed around that gate to allow him to keep an eye on my comings and goings, recording it on six small television screens within the home and backed up on the Smart House computer system.  

There were years of physical, psychological, emotional, and financial brutality. I would be locked in a bathroom, locked in a closet — a prisoner in my own home — all to disarm me, to break me.

But here I am, despite it all. My life turned out to be one of survival over adversity. It is not one of victimhood. 

Little by little, I mentioned what was going on to people, I started to read, and believe I deserved better.

You can be living in the dark hole of abuse – and not realize how bad it is until you start telling other people what is happening.

Exit Fear Obligation Guilt

The Effects of Coercive Control on Children

Here is a shout out to anyone married to a narcissist. 

They will not want you to leave them, not even when they have a backup plan waiting in the wings in the form of their new supply.

As much as they use isolation to control their victim, narcissists fear abandonment.

If you have children with a narcissist, be prepared for the brainwashing of those children. The narcissist’s lies will be spewed and repeated, eventually destroying the relationship between you and the very children you love so dearly.  

When a narcissist knows you are on to them, they will use whatever will hurt you the most to get you back in line.

You can become isolated from the children who were once your entire world – alienated.

During the last few years living under the same roof, my ex did all in his power to separate and isolate me from the children I cherished. He wanted me to be as alone as possible.

Total isolation.

Isolation in a COVID-19 World

That word again – isolation. It is a gate that separates you from your children and the world. 

Lately, I’ve gotten so tired of hearing people complain about not seeing their families, not seeing their friends, not going out to restaurants, or on vacations. I’ve become inundated with people whining about how they can’t hug their grandchildren or go on their beloved shopping sprees.

Of course, these times are a challenge. But honestly, I think I’ve lived through worse. I often thank my Higher Power that at this very moment, at this very time – I am not in isolation with the man I was once married to.  

During this harrowing time of health crisis in our world, I am not isolated as I was in my past. This time, my isolation means I choose to stay safe.

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Narcissistic Injury

The Narcissist's Hidden Depression

IMAGINE LIFE WITHOUT the ability to generate authentic joy, love, or compassion.  It’s hardly a stretch to suggest that one’s internal ecosystem would be a bleak and desolate landscape. However, if you were to open up the mind of a pathological narcissist and look inside, what you would find is a psychological wasteland riddled with persecutory objects.

The ambiguity of malignant narcissism is that its outward manifestations are often the opposite of the internal reality, which is a gaping void. The gnawing emptiness within is a catalyst for narcissistic pretensions that serve to preserve their idealized false self. Chest thumping boasts of supremacy are a safeguard against the toxic shame that has engulfed their true self.

Where others have a conscience, the pathological narcissist has a vacuum. For this reason, they are on a constant hunt to consume anything that might fill the void. Alcohol, narcotics, pornography, sex, gambling, people – you name it, the narcissist ravenously devours it. But it doesn’t fill them up because they are bottomless pits.

When narcissists encounter people who are able to manifest constructive emotions the narcissist cannot, it wounds their pride, stirs their jealousy, and causes a narcissistic injury. 

What is a narcissistic injury?

A narcissistic injury is a threat to the narcissist’s false self. The threat may be real or imagined. What matters is that the narcissist’s steely psychological armor is penetrated and they experience a painful reminder that their false self is an illusion.

Sensing danger, their ego sends all hands on deck to rescue the false self from annihilation. For this reason, narcissistic injuries go hand in hand with narcissistic rage.

The narcissist’s first line of defense is a disavowal of reality. They devalue the threat, stripping the individual of their humanity and reducing them to the status of object. The narcissist’s ego then fractures the object as it resorts to primary defense mechanisms, such as splitting and projection.

narcissistic abuse rehab | narcissistic injury | triggers | false self

Someone who was once all good is now all bad. A person once hailed as the light of the narcissist’s life becomes the very heart of darkness. The threatening object is made wrong so that the false self can be right. Thus, the narcissist vindicates themselves from any criticism, wrongdoing, and – most importantly – shame.

The more the narcissist uses splitting as an ego defense, the more anything resembling a cohesive identity unravels. Whenever the ego splits an object, an identical split takes place in the ego itself, causing it to become fragmented. The more a narcissist splits off from the abuse they inflict, the more it escalates.

To escape accountability, the narcissist uses a sleight of hand and projects their sadistic acts on to the people they target. This enables them to shape-shift into a new persona – which they do with the ease of a serpent shedding its skin. 

What are the causes of narcissistic injury

The narcissist is a paper tiger. Their psychological structure is too feeble to grasp a self-concept with any complexity. They are satisfied to worship an illusion of their perfect false self. This disposition is common in toddlers, but it’s crippling in adults.

The construction of a false self may have shielded them from adverse childhood experiences in their early years, but it is maladaptive in adulthood as it prevents them from living authentic emotional lives.

The need for emotional bonds disgusts them. Yet, paradoxically it is also something they covet.

While the false self mimics edifying emotions, it does not experience them. A kind of emotional rigor mortis defines the narcissist’s existence.

How do narcissists cope with narcissistic injuries?

Their fragility sends them on predatory crusades to boost their ego. They may sustain their insatiable false self with adulation or attention or with cruel power trips utilizing coercive control, and psycho-emotional abuse.

Narcissists believe that by destroying a person or thing, they obtain power over it.  They accomplish this through deception, seduction, and psychological cannibalism. To the narcissist, this affirms their imaginary superiority.

It is their way of making the false self appear real. 

y disorder fragility

Bibliography

Children are targets for Coercive Control

Children Are Targets for Coercive Control | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

CHILDREN ARE OFTEN TARGETS for Coercive Control as part of a wider campaign of intimate partner abuse.

In dysfunctional families with malignant narcissists or psychopaths at the helm, it is not uncommon for the abuser to target and weaponize children to further isolate the recipient of the abuse. 

Why are children targeted for Coercive Control?

Abusers seek to maintain total dominance over the people they target by isolating them. Manipulation of the victim-survivor’s perception is easier to achieve without outside influences, which could be accessed through children or the child themselves.

Therefore, it is in the interest of the abuser to undermine the authority of the victim-survivor in their parental role and willfully sabotage the relationship between the targeted individual and their children.

Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.

In his research Dr. Evan Stark, author of the book ‘Coercive Control’, found that this kind of abuse has a far more damaging and pervasive effect on the a targeted individual than acts of physical abuse.

Dr. Stark’s research found that the violence model of domestic abuse was too limited to gauge the extent of injury because much of suffering inflicted on survivors was not prohibited by law at the time.

“Over the years, we’ve been able to amend the understanding of partner abuse that limited it to violence,” Dr. Stark told Welsh Women’s Aid, “And we’ve talked a little bit about the extent to which it involved Coercive Control. We rejected the violence model in part because we heard from women themselves about the range of harms they were experiencing beyond violence.”

The impact of Coercive Control on children

Child abuse occurs mainly in connection to domestic violence. Dr. Stark’s research found that in 45% of domestic abuse cases, the abuser was hurting the spouse and the children. Exposure to and direct abuse were harmful to children.

Dr. Stark explained, “As I began to interview children and looked at the research of Emma Katz and others – which was based on my work but went way beyond it by looking at the qualitative effected of Coercive Control on children. It really became clear to me that children were being coercively controlled as well as women.”

The study showed that child abuse is closely linked to the abuse of the targeted parent.

Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.

She explains, “Children’s access to resilience-building and developmentally-helpful persons and activities were limited.”

The abuse children experienced at the hands of an abusive parent were low-level assaults, comparable to the abuse inflicted on the targeted parent.

The research findings were the same regarding the sexual assault of children.

Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them as co-abusers.

Dr. Evan Stark

According to Dr. Stark, “There was sexual assault of children, some of it dramatic, but most of it fell on a continuum of sexual coercion: touching, inappropriate dressing [of] boys as well as girls.”

The research also found that children experienced the same patterns of isolation, intimidation and control as the targeted parent.

Children are weaponized in coercive and controlling relationships

The evidence gathered by the researchers discovered that children were often “weaponized” against the targeted parent by the abuser.

Abusers use Coercive Control tactics to modify the identity of the child and turn them against the targeted parent.

Dr. Stark explains, “Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them sometimes as co-abusers if they were older children. They would use them as pawns in court processes as ways of extending their abuse.”

What can be done when children are targets of Coercive Control?

Raising children with a high conflict personality, such as a narcissist or psychopath, can be extraordinarily challenging.

This is especially true, for survivors who have left the relationship and are targets for their abusers vindictiveness.

For information on how to approach this situation please read our interview with Michael Kinsey, Ph.D. ‘How To Co-Parent with a Narcissist.’

Have your say

Have you or someone you know experienced coercive and controlling behavior? Does Dr. Stark’s descriptions of the power dynamics in a dysfunctional family resonate with you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

How Narcissists Use DARVO to Escape Accountability

What is DARVO?

SOMETIMES IT CAN SEEM as if narcissists possess such extraordinary manipulation skills they appear to bend reality to their will.

This is made painfully clear when they inflict harm on someone and, astonishingly, escape accountability by flipping the script and blaming the person they’ve wronged.

Narcissists are expert at erasing the pain they cause from the narrative. They wipe their hands clean by projecting their malice, aggression and treachery on to the target.

The more malignant a narcissist is, the less of a conscience they have. This makes them able to blame the survivor with such ease and skill that, once the narcissist has spun their web of deception, the survivor appears to be the aggressor and the narcissist their hapless victim.

In many cases, survivors are left reeling as their abuser blithely revises the fact of their aggression, twisting the truth into a narrative that bears no semblance to what actually transpired.

This is because narcissists have mastered a tactical maneuver that effectively grooms individuals and, indeed, entire social groups by controlling their perception of events.

The name of this strategy is DARVO.

What is DARVO?

DARVO is an acronym for Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim and Offender. It is a defense mechanism used by manipulators to evade accountability for the abuse they inflict on others. 

The term was first presented in a 1997 article by Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon and founder of the Center for Institutional Courage.

DARVO | Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D.

According to Dr. Freyd, “The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim – or the whistleblower – into an alleged offender.”

Denial is used by the abuser and bystanders in their clique. It usually sounds like:

  • I didn’t do anything, but if I did, it wasn’t that bad.
  • It never happened, but if it did, it wasn’t that bad.

At the local level, this strategy is common among perpetrators of sexual offenses, psycho-emotional abuse, and domestic abuse. DARVO is a regular feature of coercive and controlling behavior.

At the structural level, Dr. Freyd refers to this tactic as institutional DARVO.

Who gets targeted for DARVO?

For DARVO to occur a power imbalance must exist. It is most effective when the abuser has more social capital than the survivor.

Power Imbalance | Social Capital

If the abuser is a member of a dominant group and the survivor is a member of a disenfranchised group, generally the survivor is less likely to be believed.

People who are likely candidates for DARVO are:

  • Survivors who confront their abuser.
  • Whistleblowers.
  • Socially vulnerable individuals or groups, e.g. women are more likely to be targeted for DARVO than men.

What is the purpose of DARVO?

The DARVO tactic serves many purposes.

  • DARVO is a smokescreen used by narcissists, psychopaths or other manipulators to conceal the truth of their behavior.
  • DARVO enables the narcissist, psychopath or other manipulator to control how others perceive the target and the conflict.
  • DARVO often stuns the targeted person into confusion and silence.

Thus, the abuser is able to craft a scapegoat story which is used to cultivate biases against the target and rally bystanders to their cause.

“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,” explains Dr. Freyd.

In a DARVO climate, no amount of evidence will suffice as proof of the abuser’s transgressions. The target will not be believed within a social circle that has been groomed by a narcissist, psychopath or other manipulator. On the contrary, the target will be subjected to a terrifying campaign of victim-blaming by the group.

Once the abuser has successfully secured the bystanders’ support and conditioned them to perceive the survivor as the perpetrator, the clique collectively subjects the survivor to the merciless process of scapegoating.

If the survivor lives through it, they are usually driven into isolation and social death. Other outcomes can include homicide or death by self-annihilation. The narcissist, psychopath or manipulator’s endgame is the complete destruction of the target.

DARVO as a collective grooming tactic

The cognitive distortions created by DARVO cultivate an ecosystem of moral corruption. Members of the peer group are encouraged by the narcissist to engage in polarized or black and white thinking.

The group’s empathy for the narcissist is weaponized and used to encourage negative biases about the recipient of the abuse. Narcissists, psychopaths and other manipulators do this in order to ensure that members of the dominant clique become indifferent and callous about the betrayal of the survivor.

The desensitization of the group opens the door to the objectification of the targeted individual and once this is accomplished every kind of violence becomes acceptable.

Examples of this can be seen in manifestations of anti-semitism, racism, sexism and homophobia.

Why do bystanders participate in collective betrayal?

According to Dr. Freyd betrayal blindness is a survival mechanism that arises “when awareness would threaten necessary relationships.” 

In other words, bystanders yield to betrayal blindness in the interest of looking out for themselves and to avoid the loss or pain they might risk if they sympathized with the target.

They assign more value to their relationship with the abuser so it follows that it’s in their best interest to empathize with the narcissist not with the survivor.

In fact, in many cases bystanders may stand to gain more social capital if they lend their support to the narcissist. So it is usually a combination of greed for gain and an instinct for self-preservation that eclipses any ethical or moral considerations in the bystander.

In other words, members of the clique adapt to conflict within the group by “turning a blind eye,” to the harmful behaviors of the narcissist.

The longterm effects of DARVO on survivors

Many survivors feel psychologically obliterated by the trauma of experiencing DARVO. It can have disastrous consequences for the survivor’s mental health. For example, it can cause severe anxiety, panic, depression, and post-traumatic stress which, in turn, can adversely impact the survivor’s physical wellbeing.

DARVO invalidates the survivor’s lived experience. It inflicts further pain and suffering as the wronged party is cheated out of any measure of justice. Instead, in addition to the original violation, survivors are persecuted and blamed in spite of the fact that they are the wronged party.

Rejection from their peers and the narcissist’s immunity to being held accountable is a constant cascade of salt poured in the survivor’s wounds, causing them to be repeatedly re-traumatized.

More about DARVO

Learn more about DARVO with Dr. Freyd in their lecture ‘Institutional and Interpersonal Betrayal.’

Bibliography

What is Coercive Control?

What is Coercive Control? | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

COERCIVE CONTROL is a term coined by Dr. Evan Stark of Rutgers University to describe the hidden, invisible psychological violence many survivors of domestic violence experience in toxic relationships. It is a component of narcissistic abuse.

Coercive control  is a kind of emotional terrorism that aims to subjugate a targeted person and give the abuser total control.

Dr. Stark’s groundbreaking work influenced the criminalization of this invisible form of violence  in England and Wales in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015.  

Here is the British Government’s definition:

  • Coercive behavior is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.
  • Controlling behavior is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behavior.

Coercive Control was criminalized in Ireland and Scotland in 2019. Efforts are also being made in Australia and in the US an historic Coercive Control Bill is being sponsored by State Senator Kevin S. Parker in New York. 

Coercive control in the context of narcissistic abuse

Coercive Control is a narcissist’s weapon of choice. After half a century of research, efforts are being made to put a framework in place to protect survivors from this insidious kind of psycho-emotional abuse.

Some of the basis for Dr. Stark’s work can be found in Albert Biederman’s Chart of Coercion and Mary Romero’s comparative study of domestic abuse survivors and prisoners of war.   The findings in these two reports were based on numerous studies of how stress can be used to break down the will of human beings.

Albert Biedermann's Chart of Coercion

For example, Chinese Communists used this kind of coercion in many contexts at universities, prisons, businesses, with laborer and peasants alike. They called  it zu-hsiang kai-tsao or “thought reform”.

Signs of Coercive Control

Here are the indicators of coercive and controlling behavior:

  1. Isolation – The abuser will keep you away from family and friends. 
  2. Monitoring your time – They abuser will want to know where you are, where you are going and what you are doing at all times
  3. Deprivation of Basic Needs: The abuser will restrict your access to healthcare and/or food.
  4. Monitoring Communication: Your abuser may use spyware to track your online communication tools.
  5. Taking control of your daily life: They may  control where you can go, who you can see, what you wear and what you eat.
  6. Put-Downs: your abuser may repeatedly tell you that you’re worthless or useless. They may call you degrading names or make comments about your appearance, your body, your intelligence, etc.
  7. Rules and Regulations: the abuser will create a set of ever changing rules which they enforce by humiliating, degrading or dehumanizing you.
  8. Financial abuse: the abuser will control your finances, making sure you have little access to money and making you dependent on them.
  9. Threats: an abuser may threaten to to hurt or kill; to take away your child; to reveal publish private information such as intimate photos or revealations about your sexuality.
  10. Criminal damage: the abuser may destroy your personal property. For example, they may destroy your cell phone or an article of your clothing.
  11. Assault or rape: the abuser may physically abuse you or violate you sexually.
  12. Obstruction of Employment: the abuser may stop you from working and earning your own money.
Coercive Control Evan Stark

The impact of this sort of abuse is long lasting. Coercive and controlling abuse harms the survivor’s sense of identity, safety, autonomy and their attachments to other people. 

It’s so subtle that many times survivors don’t realize what’s happening to them. They often compare it to the fable of the Boiling Frog. In their isolation, it can be difficult for them to have any perspective.

Daniel Quinn, author of ‘The Story of B’ explains, “If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.”

It’s important to remember that narcissism is a trait that exists on a spectrum. It ranges from healthy narcissism to full on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). These are two very different things. The further along the spectrum of narcissism an individual is, the more like they are to use coercive and controlling behavior to dominate others.

Resources

4 Subtle Ways Narcissistic Parents Abuse Their Children

4 Subtle Ways Narcissists Abuse Their Children

A PATHOLOGICAL NARCISSIST HAS MASTERED the art of inflicting psychological devastation without ever raising a hand. Their skillful manipulation of people’s perceptions and emotions leaves a trail of bloodless crimes in their wake.

This kind of person regards the pain and suffering they cause as a testament to their omnipotence. In reality, it is a manifestation of their sadistic nature.

A narcissist weaves a web of lies to entrap their victims. They win their romantic partners through deception and maintain their relationships through coercive and controlling behavior.

Thus, children of narcissists are born into a gaslit reality and given to the care of a psychological predator.

Here are four subtle ways narcissistic parents abuse their children.

1. The false self becomes a false idol

As a parent, the narcissist’s false self becomes a false idol that demands to be worshipped by their family unit.

Narcissists create glaring power imbalances between themselves, their spouse and children.

Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.

Because the narcissist’s needs supersede the needs of everyone else, the group internalizes the message that their needs don’t matter unless the narcissist says they do.

If the spouse is empathic, the narcissist undermines their authority. The children learn that might is right. They must appease the narcissist if they want to have their needs met.

4 Subtle Ways Narcissistic Parents Abuse Their Children

2. The narcissist engineers dysfunction

Because a narcissistic family unit is an organism that operates in a gaslit pseudo-reality, it is less akin to a family and more like a cult or a dictatorship.

In this dynamic, the group can’t be supportive, accepting, healthy, or just. Instead, family members behave and interact in unhealthy ways.

The children must learn to navigate the power imbalances and the inevitable abuses of power that ensue.

Thus, the default setting for existence in a narcissistic family is dysfunction.

3. Love is conditional

Children of narcissists learn that love is abuse. The narcissist shows them that if someone displeases you, it is okay to punish them and call it love.

For the child of a pathological narcissist, love is having your personality rejected and replaced with one the narcissist prefers. Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.

Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination.

Love is intermittent reinforcement with spouses and children alike.

The child is love-bombed when the narcissist feels the child reflects their false self. The moment the child fails to do so, the narcissistic parent blithely discards them.

Narcissistic family dynamics

4. Narcissists reject children who are not like them

Survival in a narcissistic family depends on each family member’s ability to take on and reinforce the assigned roles, toxic attitudes, and habits of the narcissist. No one is safe from a narcissist’s pernicious scrutiny, not even their children.

In the narcissist’s view, anyone who does not echo their image of themselves is rejecting them. Failure to reflect and affirm their false self is a threat. Thus, a child who does not accept the role assigned by the narcissistic parent triggers a narcissistic injury.

A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem.

The narcissist cannot process negative feedback, and by extension, nor can their family unit. They have zero tolerance for any person or thing they believe may endanger their fragile false self. When faced with such a threat, narcissists attack — even if the source of their ire is an infant.

Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination. Their response to this perceived narcissistic injury is contempt, oppression, and rejection of the offending child. As an act of expediency, the narcissist casts the child in the psychologically devastating role of the family scapegoat. The narcissist condemns the child to bear the blame for all of the family’s dysfunctional behavior and its outcomes.

Conclusion

To grow up in a narcissistic family is to grow up in an inverted reality, where right is wrong, and wrong is right. Anything goes as long as you tow the narcissist’s line.

There will be flagrant betrayals, hypocrisy, double standards, cruelty, and abuse. If one of the parents is empathic, the children will get a daily dose of how to manipulate, exploit, and subjugate another human being.

A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem. How the child turns out depends on how they navigate the harsh psychological terrain of the family.

This article is also published at Medium.com.

Resources

Christopher Hitchens on Bill Clinton

Christopher Hitchens on Bill Clinton | Photo by Gage Skidmore

IN JAMES BALDWIN’S ACCOUNT of the Atlanta child murders of 1979-81, The Evidence of Things Not Seen, he recalls a dreadful earlier moment from 1964. The swamps and creeks of Mississippi were being dragged for the bodies of Schwerner, Chancy, and Goodman (done to death by the political ancestors of Bob Barr), and the search parties kept turning up corpses. Examinations proved that these were not the cadavers that the authorities were seeking. It took a while for the subject to change, or at least for it to change enough for someone to exclaim: Wait a minute! What are all these other bodies doing in the swamp?

It is one thing to say, with reasonable confidence, that the Oval Office is currently occupied by a war criminal, a rapist, and a pathological liar. It is another to ponder the full implications. If half of what one knows about Clinton’s business deals and date-rapes is half-true, then he has been going through political life for years, aware or quasi-aware that any or every telephone call might be the one he has been dreading. That’s more stress than most of us could take. Only a certain kind of personality could be expected to endure it. You can find this under the simpering liberal inertia of “Comeback Kid,” or you can check it in a taxonomy of an entirely different kind, where the key phrase is “Threat to self and others.”

Almost no allegation ever made by a woman and denied by him has proven to be untrue.

Christopher Hitchens

It seems to me morally feeble, as well as intellectually slack, to split the difference between Clinton and Broaddrick or to characterize her allegation as unprovable. The feeblest summary of this compromise is contained in the lazy phrase “he said, she said.” In the case of the “he,” we already know he is a hysterical, habitual liar. We also know that almost no allegation ever made by a woman and denied by him has proven to be untrue. And we know that ex-girlfriends have been subjected to extraordinary campaigns of defamation, amounting in some cases to intimidation, merely for speaking about “consensual” sex. What allegation could be more horrific than that of rape? And yet, “he” hadn’t said anything yet. If I were accused of rape and the woman making the charge was a lady of obvious integrity, I would want to do better than have a lawyer speak for me and make a routine disclaimer (especially a lawyer, in this case, the pathetic figure of David Kendall, who had not even met me at the time of the supposed crime). Asked by NBC to say where Clinton had been on the morning in question – a fact easily established in the life of a state attorney general – the White House declined cooperation. I would have wanted to do better than that, too.

A provisional but by no means unsafe induction, then, is that Broaddrick is speaking the truth.

Christopher Hitchens

So much for the “he said.” What of the “she”? If the allegation is false, then Broaddrick is not just getting her facts wrong. She is deliberately fabricating one of the most damning charges that any one person can make against another. She must be a wicked or deluded or malicious person. There seems no escaping this corollary conclusion. There also seems no reason at reaching for it. Where is the famous Clintonian rapid-response team? Has it no pride? Can it not find or produce any shadow of a doubt to cast on Broaddrick’s character? I think that if it could, we would know by now. Furthermore, a woman who groundlessly makes such a charge may be, and in my opinion ought to be, proceeded against for slander and wasting police and legal time. No hint of that.

A provisional but by no means unsafe induction, then, is that Broaddrick is speaking the truth. Questioned fairly closely by NBC’s Lisa Myers, she and her contemporaneous corroborative witnesses were easily able to answer the questions about silence and delay. The victim felt guilty for letting an unchaperoned man into her room, even if he was the attorney general. In a banana republic like Arkansas, allegations against powerful men were believed to have potentially unpleasant consequences. The victim was also having an extramarital affair with a man she hoped to marry. She did not want to be exposed, and she did not expect to be believed. Finally, and very importantly, she didn’t “go public.” She was made public. The feminist movement has taught us to recognize this pattern of response as a familiar and intelligible one. (How sad it was, by the way, to see Patricia Ireland changing her mind at this late stage. Doesn’t she know that she has lost something that she can’t ever hope to retrieve, and has lost it to Clinton?)

I also know of three other women who could, if they chose, lay a charge of assault against Clinton, which makes him a serial rapist.

Christopher Hitchens

Perhaps I won’t be taken as an authority on the moral credibility of the feminist leadership. But something ought to be said about the honor of the male sex in this business. It has been disgusting, all through the past year, to hear Clinton defended as homme moyen sensuel. “Everybody does it…all men lie about sex…a gentleman is expected to lie.” One reason a gentleman may be obliged to lie is to protect the reputation of the woman. Clinton has lied in order to trash them. I don’t have any male friends who say that it wasn’t “sex” because the woman got nothing out of it (the gallantry defense). I don’t have ay male friends who hump the help and then (with the assistance of paid slanderers) call them liars, golddiggers, sluts, and blackmailers. I don’t have any male friends who have been plausibly accused of rape, either, though I do know several women who have been sexually assaulted and decided not to go public. I also know of three other women who could, if they chose, lay a charge of assault against Clinton, which makes him a serial rapist. This puts him, in male terms, way outside the limit of what can be tolerated. I see him on television all the time, biting that fat lip of his, and now I have an additional reason for the powerful nausea I have always felt. I imagine his teeth in Juanita Broaddrick’s lips after he’s told her to lie still or he’ll bite her again. But hey, it’s time to move on. So forget it. Forget it if you can.

This article was originally published with the title ‘The Clinton Swamp’ by Christopher Hitchens in his column The Minority Repost at The Nation on March 29, 1999.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

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