The abuser has been observing you for a while. He’s seeking your attention.
There are many wondrous things in life worth celebrating. Among them is love. One of the most powerful and distinct human experiences, immortalised in stories, songs, and dramatic events as far as history can stretch. When I think of being in love, I think of rolling around in the sweet pollen of daisies on a sunny day. Like a honeybee. Or of falling through soft air laced with sparkling ecstasy that tickles every sense.
Unless that is, you are in love with a narcissistic abuser, in which case you are likely to find yourself yanked from the pleasure dome they’ve created around you with premeditated lies and tossed into oblivion of dread, where they will suck you dry. Cell by cell, emotion by emotion, they will drain you until there is nothing left. Because while love can’t be forced, a skilful manipulator can and will, without flinching, manufacture it to serve their needs.
The medical profession describes narcissistic personality disorder as:
‘... a mental health condition in which a person believes they are better than everyone else. People with narcissistic personality disorder may appear arrogant, with an inflated self-image and disregard for the feelings of others. It usually starts in the early adult years and affects more men than women.’
‘Narcissistic abuse refers to the emotional, physical, sexual, or financial forms of abuse that a narcissist inflicts on others. This abuse can range from mild put-downs to severe, life-threatening violence.’
Narcissistic abuse travels along a cycle of idealisation, devaluation, and rejection, and has common actors; the abuser and its targets. The abusers come from all backgrounds and genders. The ones I had the misfortune to experience were men who targeted women vulnerable to emotional exploitation. Narcissistic abuse can happen to anyone, and it happens not because the targets are ‘dumb’ or ‘deserve what they get’, as one abuser had told me when justifying their actions, but rather because the targets are kind and trusting. An involvement with a narcissistic abuser can feel like a day at a carnival, which starts spectacularly well, but which ends with red flags aflame that can and do turn into all-consuming bonfires.
The Ferris Wheel Idealisation
The abuser has been observing you for a while. He’s seeking your attention because he has deemed you a promising source of adoration. He did that because you seem nice and needy. Maybe you’re stuck in an unhappy relationship, or having financial problems, or maybe you just arrived in town and haven’t made friends yet. Whatever it is, something in your life has made you seem easy to source adoration from. Adoration is narcissist’s oxygen. They source adoration from multiple people simultaneously. Some sources are permanent partners, others fleeting encounters.
But you don’t know this yet. You don’t know you have been marked as a potential source, and that the stacking of illusions around you has begun.
‘Hey, why don’t we jump on the Ferris wheel? Just you and me babe. x’.
You go on the wheel with him, he buys you fairy floss, your blood glucose level spikes, your body drowns in the sensory overload of the carnival, the blinding lights, the deafening sounds, the dizzying heights of the rides. You are on the ride with him, because you have nothing to lose, because you are hungry for affection, and he seems nice and gentle. He is patient, he’s attentive. You don’t know this, but he is still studying you, learning your pressure points, as you tentatively laugh at his jokes, and are amused by the constant stream of texts, songs, jokes, movie recommendations and clever memes he sends 24/7. He shares his life with you through photos of the meals he cooks, the books he reads, the guitar he strums in the warm glow of casual evenings he seems to spend alone on his balcony with a great view. He seems so endearing in the countless selfies he sends you, in which he doesn’t mind looking vulnerable, clearly seeking your approval. ‘Here’s me with a moisturising mask on, don’t mind the messy hair… xx’, you clap your hands at his lack of toxic masculinity. He seems perfect.
You and he end up at the top of the Ferris wheel, where he sweeps his arm at the spectacular view that could be your life together. “Just imagine, we could have a meaningful existence, always be in the moment with each other, we would make such an attractive couple together.” Being an attractive couple isn’t a priority to you and you should have paid attention to this, a red flag: he is vain. While at this stage it seems natural, the vanity will soon reveal itself to be all consuming. It will drive his every decision. One time soon, he will admit when drunk that ‘having a hot piece of arse hanging off his arm’ is important to him, but for now you let it slide. Oh yes, and he drinks—a lot. Another red flag. Oh, and he never has money. You should be seeing RED, but instead you are illuminated by the pinks, purples and resonant blues of a spectacular sunset of love that is bathing you and him at the top of the Ferris wheel. And you feel like you have won a romantic lottery jackpot, because he is the ‘bestest’ teddy bear at this carnival of love and he seems all yours! He kisses you and it’s the best kiss you have ever tasted.
The Big Dipper Devaluation
Narcissistic abusers adjust their behaviour based on previous experiences. They tweak their mode of operation for maximum impact, but mostly follow a predictable path of grooming. They don’t do this consciously, it’s a subconscious flow, response to behaviours being rewarded by their unaware targets.
A relationship with a narcissistic abuser almost always starts with a sensory overload of love bombing. Nothing is off limits; the I love you’s flow freely. The attention is incessant, and you take it because it feels so good to be wanted. What follows is an intense up and down roller-coaster on the Big Dipper. You go up on his promises, and down when they don’t materialise. ‘We will be. Trust me. You are the love of my life.’
And so you want him more, you’re ready for the next step: to spend weekends together, to meet his family and friends, to do the things people do when in a relationship. This is when you notice how unavailable he is. The distance between you two seemed natural before, he was attentive but not needy, he seemed busy with own life, which was great, because you want someone with their own identity and independence.
You don’t know this, but the distance exists, because he’s balancing many targets and invests in them based on a calculated return on investment. So now as you’re ready to take the next step, he puts you on hold. He has turned the tables and it feels like you are the one chasing him. He has turned from endearing, vulnerable and affectionate to elusive and cocky. You don’t understand this, you thought he wanted you. This is when you find yourself rolling on the tracks of the Big Dipper and its unsettling tunnels becoming longer and darker.
You make plans that he doesn’t keep. The rare occasions you do spend together are exciting but feel tenuous. He asks you to chill towards him on social media, because he likes his privacy, the world doesn’t need to know about you and him. You are not invited to his house, he only talks to you on the phone after midnight, you have sex in hotels or your house, because his ‘sister is visiting’, or ‘the landlord is inspecting’. The more you ask questions, the more defensive his responses become… it’s when the gaslighting starts.
‘Do you have a girlfriend?’
‘Ha, sometimes I’m worried about your mental health, you really have an overactive imagination. x’
When you spend time with other people, he sends a barrage of abusive messages, in which he tells you that you’re banal, and that he’s too good for you. You are on a roller-coaster that smashes you between love bombing and harrowing abuse.
‘I’m a monster, I’m sorry. I’m just jealous of other people spending time with you. It’s just that I love you so much, too much.’
Your friends tell you there is something wrong with this guy, but you berate them for it. Then he sends a selfie in which a silhouette of a woman is reflected in his sunglasses on an evening he’s supposed to be home alone. You ask him who it and he claims it’s his cousin. You look for clues on social media, you find a monolith. The ‘cousin’ seems to be his girlfriend and according to her posts, they live together… you contact her to ask about things, she doesn’t respond and blocks you. You feel the blood rise in your body that chokes up your senses and logic.
The House of Horrors Rejection
And so now you find yourself walking through the House of Horrors. Disoriented, disempowered, questioning your sanity. Is it possible you have been emotionally and sexually involved with someone who has a partner, who pretends to be single and who grooms multiple women at the same time as seeing you?
There are distortion mirrors all around you, grey mist hisses from smoke machines in the corners of this nightmare. You can’t see. You’re tired, anxious, depressed. The mixed messaging is still twirling around you like spiderwebs, except now the threads feel more like ropes around your neck, because now you are a junkie for his love. As you meander alone in the shadows, because you have distanced yourself from family and friends who have been warning you about him. He’s syphoning out of you passion, sex, energy, money, support, love, attention… dignity.
Then his girlfriend contacts you.
She had not received your previous message and it wasn’t her who blocked you. He did. He monitors her social media accounts. You wonder why she lets him. She does because he controls her. She tells you her story. She lays bare information about other women whom he has destroyed and left behind. The women were all vulnerable when he met them, one was a sexual abuse survivor, one had cancer, another was going through a divorce. She tells you she is too damaged to walk away, but that it is not too late for you.
This is when the distortion mirrors around you explode, exposing you standing alone in an empty, charred room.
The faces of the other women stare up at you from the shards of broken mirror glass, urging you to run. He texts. He apologises for lying and hurting you, he asks to be given another chance:
‘…why don’t you send me a photo of you, I miss you. I love you so much. xxx’.
There are two ways you can end this. You can go back to him and become one of the broken reflections on the floor, or you can seek help. No matter how much you think you can save the abuser from himself, you can’t. Your duty of care must be to yourself. So you leave, you talk to people, you bring back into your life those who truly care about you, you bring back the sunshine. After a time, you can tell your story to remind the world that love exists and that it can be great. You remind yourself and others to look for it where the honeybees roll around on daisies with feet covered in sweet pollen.
Good love is there, you just need to look for it far away from the spiderwebs of meticulous carnivals of lies.