dark triad

The Dark Triad: Are We Gaslighting Ourselves About Narcissism?

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When we first started learning about narcissism, most of the material we encountered was clear about how dangerous narcissists are and how detrimental it is to be in relationships with them.

But now, much of the material about narcissism is leaning more towards the “self-aware” narcissist or the “vulnerable” narcissist, comparing narcissists to their targets, comparing their inner wounds, and claiming that there are ways to make things work with a narcissistic individual.

Toxic relationships don’t suddenly become healthy.  People aren’t coming forward with the success story of the decade because the narcissist they know has suddenly had The Divine Epiphany and are deeply remorseful about their wicked ways. 

If narcissists are truly evolving and becoming ‘self-aware’, why aren’t we seeing any real-life examples of improved behaviors and relationships?

Today, I address the question, are we gaslighting ourselves about narcissism?  Read on…and decide for yourself.

Video Transcript

Narcissism is Part of the Dark Triad

Narcissism is part of the dark triad. The dark triad falls under dark psychology, which looks mostly at insidious behaviors and analyzes manipulation, deception, mind control, and other malevolent schemes. The other two personalities that fall under the dark triad are psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

What many of us are forgetting is that narcissists are emotional and social predators.  Narcissists act the way they do because they’re typically acting upon dark impulses that they have in order to meet a need; they’re acting from their primal instincts.  To the narcissist, all relationships are simply a means to an end.  They behave the way they do because they’re trying to achieve a certain outcome. And because they lack empathy and the ability to attach to other people, they’re okay with hurting you in order to accomplish that outcome.

Christine Louis de Canonville, psychologist and author of The Three Faces of Evil: Unmasking the Full Spectrum of Narcissistic Abuse, describes narcissists as the ‘First Face of Evil’.  She further goes on to explain:

To narcissists, others are inferior beings, therefore fair game for exploitation. With a limited, primitive empathy, they are free to exploit, devalue and prey on others with little or no remorse.  They also lack good boundaries, and without healthy boundaries, they disregard normal limits of social interaction.

However, many recent authors use an excess of different labels to describe the narcissist or the different levels of narcissism. One such label is the “vulnerable” narcissist, which doesn’t mean that they’re vulnerable like you and I are.  They’re not sitting around getting their feelings hurt and talking to their neighbor about it.  Vulnerable – when we’re using that word to describe a narcissist – is saying that they are easily offended and upset by anything that they perceive as being an insult or a slight.

The other label that we’re seeing now is the so-called “self-aware” narcissist. When you read that term or hear it, you might think they’re aware that their behaviors are detrimental and hurtful to other people. And it may also give you the false belief that they actually give a care.

Video:  Where are all the ‘changed’ narcissists?

The Narcissist Considers You Collateral Damage

We’re beginning to gaslight ourselves about the seriousness of the narcissistic personality, when we need to remember that narcissists are manipulators.  This means they are using manipulation in covert, deceptive, and underhanded ways to include making you feel that they have a bond with you and that they understand how much they’re hurting you.  They may apologize to you. Sometimes they may even cry.

Being the compassionate person you are, you want to believe that there is some shred of humanity inside of them that you can appeal to. But narcissists are only seeking to serve themselves, no matter what their behavior may look like in any particular moment. Narcissists don’t care about their targets, which includes you, it includes their children, and they don’t care about hurting people.

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The narcissist’s targets are considered collateral damage. They consider their targets a necessary sacrifice to get the outcome that they want to accomplish, which can mean different things to different narcissists. It can also mean different things to one narcissist depending on the day. One day the narcissist might decide that they’re sick and tired of living with you because they met someone a few neighborhoods over at a bar one night and went to that person’s house (unbeknownst to you) and that person has a very nice home.

Thus, in the narcissist’s underdeveloped mind, they have decided that they want to be in the other home. This also gives them a lot of background to work with where they can start to discard you. In the meantime, they’re going to be grooming the other person.  Eventually, the narcissist is going to start triangulating the two of you.  That’s just one example.

We need to remember that narcissists are dangerous.  Due to all the material we have out there today, they are able to modify their outward behaviors and weave seamlessly in and out of society better. Some of them are sitting around, as you and I are, watching YouTube videos so that they can perfect their manipulation.

The Narcissist’s Playbook

We all know that narcissists follow a certain playbook.  They act in certain ways: they seek out people like you and me who have certain traits of kindness and compassion.  That’s not to say you should feel bad about yourself for being a kind and compassionate person. It only means that you want to start being able to discern who you are safe to be yourself with and who you’re not.

Often the question of the day is, Do narcissists know that they’re acting this way? Do they know they’re hurting other people? These questions can be answered very easily. When you’re at home or behind closed doors with the narcissist, they are unleashing their deepest abuse on you, but when the two of you are out somewhere – where there are witnesses – they may act completely different. Additionally, they probably don’t act that way on their job. So, they know the difference between right and wrong behaviors. The difference is that those other people are not the narcissist‘s target at that particular time.  You are. This is why the narcissist tries to isolate you and brainwash you (yes, narcissists do brainwash you). This explains why you experience cognitive dissonance and why you start to believe you can’t trust yourself.

I have worked with very intelligent people in my coaching practice. People who have high–end degrees, who are doctors, attorneys, and business owners.  These highly intelligent people are confused and saying things like, “Well, they’re not really that bad”. But then they start describing some of the narcissist’s behaviors and how they left the gas stove on and took out all the carbon monoxide detectors. That should be a red flag. But if you’re inside of a relationship like that, you may have normalized it to the point that you are now living in dangerous territory.

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Fewer Traits Doesn’t Mean They’re Safer to Be With

Another mistake that we make is believing that if someone doesn’t check off all of the criteria on these checklists that you’re finding online, that they’re somehow safer to be with, and this is where I want to remind you that it only takes one pathological trait to completely destroy another person’s life.

An important fact about narcissism is that it falls into the Cluster-B category. So, if you believe you’re dealing with a narcissist, it’s highly likely that their narcissism is ‘clustered’ with something else. For example, you could be dealing with a narcissist who also has antisocial traits, or you could be dealing with a narcissist who has psychopathic traits, or a combination of all three. This why is why it’s often difficult to determine exactly which category they fall into because they don’t only fall into one. When you put them all together, you have a very dangerous individual.

Within the dark triad, people who are narcissistic are more likely to commit crimes. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going out and robbing establishments.  It could be things like forging a credit card application or getting loans in your name.  They’re also more likely to create social problems.

Narcissists are destroying people’s lives. People are losing everything they have. They’re losing their jobs; they’re losing custody of their children. They’ve gotten to the point where they cannot get out of bed in the morning. So, we need to stop gaslighting ourselves and falling prey to the articles that are encouraging us to believe they are like us, because they’re not.  They are masters at detecting certain vulnerabilities in people. This is how they’re able to make you believe that they’re more like you. They are predators. After very many long years of study by the psychological community, they have been included in the dark triad.

If you haven’t read up on the dark triad and dark psychology, do yourself a favor and read up on them so that you can come back down into reality and understand exactly what kind of danger you’re in. And if you have children, they’re in danger as well. When I talk about danger, I’m not trying to create mass hysteria because the danger creeps up on you very slowly and it’s not until your world is crumbling down around your ankles that you begin to realize it’s because of the narcissists in your life.

You don’t have to remain a target of narcissistic abuse from a member of the dark triad. It’s not easy but you can make it out stronger than ever before.

Recovery involves rewriting everything you thought you knew about yourself. It requires rebuilding your identity – or in many cases building an identity for the first time.

Like someone suffering from substance abuse, you need a narcissistic abuse recovery program that can help you avoid relapse by learning about yourself, habits, and triggers.

The Essential Break Free Bootcamp may be the missing piece of the puzzle. 

I know what you’re going through and I’m here to help. Learn more about the course and see what my students and neuroscience experts have to say about it.


Source:  Canonville, C. L. de. (n.d.). The 3 Faces Of Evil Book. Retrieved from https://narcissisticbehavior.net/the-3-faces-of-evil-book/

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3 comments
Ann says March 19, 2020

Narcissists use future faking,false promises and lies to string-along their supply.One minute they are making plans and next day they cancel them.This leaves people perplexed as to why the narcissist changed their minds so suddenly.

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Melissa says March 19, 2020

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Once I finally (age 36) told a family member, their response was “didn’t I teach you better?” with a scowl of absolute disgust. I was 6-8 and the teenage girl was 12-15ish. I was the oldest daughter and was verbally and physically abused, but have always loved my family. I’m now 46 and have lost everything except my car, my son, my endless sense of humor between the tears, and (most importantly) my absolute trust, hope, and faith in God.

I began working as a district court clerk in 1991, spent years in the legal field and have gained management experience which all transferred into 9-10 years of my passion – helping schools and community by serving on non-profit boards and organizing events and services to fill-in funding gaps. I was a competitive marathon runner for those 10 years and my p.r. was under 2 minutes for qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Then “it” happened. A smear campaign that people wouldn’t directly speak to me about, but everyone either cautiously interacted or walked away from up to 10 years of my living in a beautiful community. (My (ex)husband was a lawyer and this wasn’t him.)

Most people knew my diagnoses- I have anxiety disorder which can escalate into severe panic attacks, twice requiring the ER. The attacks started when a family member had a psychotic break and we learned they had been abusing drugs for 20 years (since they were 15). I wasn’t close with them, but because of the mental health issues (my boys both have anxiety disorders, ADD) I did what I’d do for a stranger – I listened daily by phone and text (they lived across state) and try to help by offering my humor and optimism. Within a couple of months, things changed but I didn’t fault them and assumed my own awareness was transferring their experiences into my own. But, they were exactly the same. I didn’t panic at first, rather leaned into my legal skills and began documenting it – which is possible.

It will be 8 years this June. I was forced to sell my lovely house, move out of the only state I’d ever lived in, serious medical issues began impacting my ability to survive, and I finally had to move back home. Two family members would passively make discussion – one would talk about all the horrible things they were doing (having an affair, committed car insurance fraud) and when the 3 of us spoke, I expressed serious concern – and was blown off, eyes rolled or the person would flat-out day they never said what they did. Then the other would do it. I’ve been proactive, in counseling for the better part of 15 years and have requested my medical records to help me progress. I try to focus on goal setting and am close to earning my BA. But, my mother has called providers and there are notes in my records reflecting that. And when I moved back I stupidly agreed to see her providers out of ease of finding a good one. And I stupidly agreed to let her “keep me company” when I went to a new provider (my pulmonary Dr for lung disease) only to allow her to come home, tell my father I didn’t ever have lung disease and I corrected her – saying that wasn’t close to what he said and it had been over 2 years of treatment. She told me to “call the assistant and get clarification” because she was SURE I was wrong. So, I STUPIDLY called and the assistant confined I had/still have that diagnosis. Mom got me alone a year ago and started yelling “why are you doing this to me!!??” out of nowhere. We were alone, had watched tv and I made popcorn, and I fell silent. I told her I’m confused, where was this coming from and was told she “tells everyone” about me and they all agree that she’s doing what’s right with how she treats me. A year after my return she staged a fight and I left because I wouldn’t engage – which enraged her. She told people horrible lies, that she kicked me out and that I abandoned my son. I was homeless… I stayed in a hotel, then moved in with my grandmother. Yes, a few people have seen this and know the truth. Everyone’s afraid of my mother. She is very intelligent and convincing. She also has complete control over people because of you ever try to state truth, she’s ready and cuts you down immediately. My PTSD scale is high and the attacks haven’t stopped – someone came into my current house and placed a medical ID sticker from 2 years ago onto my blow dryer in my bathroom…. they have a key to this house (it’s dad’s rental that I rent), but it was a mental health ID sticker I’ve never seen and my medical records are organized in binders, but I didn’t have time to get some that were left at my family’s house – 45 minutes away. It is cruel. It is calculated. Each time something good happens in my life (which I don’t discuss specifics now) there’s a negative interaction from them. I’m not scared or anxious, I’m sad and hurt. I can’t change them, but how can I (with legal experience) get the slander and mental health abuse to STOP?!?

I have proof, emails, texts, etc of 9 years of it building up and the way she reached out to all of our family and friends to share stories of my hate, bitterness, volatile nature. None of that was or is true. I found messages where she reflects on my making her feel like a bad gramma from 2005, which makes sense – the first time she gave me the silent treatment after visiting me with my sister/nephew and being very rude throughout. I spoke out for the first time ever and said that my feelings were hurt. That’s when I started counseling. I was crying and upset and blamed for her now being uncomfortable seeing me or my children.

I’m in decent health, but fell while walking and fell on a metal trunk (on my face) in December. My left side had gone numb (possible TIA) but arms couldn’t break the fall and my nose is broken and I have herniated disks in my neck. I’m seeing neurologists, but when will this stop? The repeat, relentless abuse unleashed on me has been prefaced as my either medicine or alcohol abuse – not sure which, but she tried saying something like it, did to one provider, then she emailed and “clarified” that no, that’s not what she said. I know more proof exists and I’m pursuing it – she’s burying me for some reason I can’t understand! This should fall under civil rights violations, HIPPA interference, and a hate crime.

Why? Because I felt compelled to write, started a blog, in 2013 to share my story of mental health stigma and biases with high-functioning people and the same-gender sexual abuse with coercion and conditioning I lived through. She’s furious. Because deep down she has to realize that her extreme physical and mental abuse are the reasons I never told her – fear and more shame – and she thinks it’ll reveal how cruel she was to a community she’s fooled for 70 years. Sadly, all 3 of us daughters have had to attend counseling for her abuse – she just doesn’t know that….

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Beth says March 19, 2020

Another form of proof that narcissists know what they’re doing to their target-victims is when they so accurately describe their own deplorable behavior as they project it onto their target-victim. When they ascribe their bad behaviors to the target, and say that YOU are the one who is tormenting them, YOU are the one who is the bully and the abuser and the hyper-critical one, YOU are the one who is responsible for their failed aspirations and is to blame for anything and everything, this is solid proof they know exactly what they are doing. It is monstrous and insidious evidence.

And you are so right about the current wave of positive psychology thumpers. Positive psychology can be helpful for non-disordered people, but it does not have any hope of helping a narcissist or a person with traits of multiple personality disorders.

What’s worse is the advice nowadays that borders on victim shaming and victim invalidation. I even heard one so-called narcissism expert from Australia recently say in an online summit discussion that narcissistic abuse is a gift. That’s like saying rape is a gift. Or that torture is a gift. This is a harmful message that retraumatizes target-victims. These types of dangerous and delusional statements should be deleted from online summits, podcasts and videos.

It takes a long time to recover after the devastation of narcissistic abuse because this is one of the worst forms of abuse that one can endure (which is why several European countries have now included it in their legal definitions of what constitutes domestic abuse — as all countries should and the US is in the dark ages in this regard — since the deliberate destruction of another person through psychological violence should never be acceptable or allowable).

It’s true that during the recovery process target-victims can build greater awareness and insight about themselves and their over-forgiving nature that can make them unwittingly vulnerable to narcissistic grooming and targeting, and they can develop a better early warning system and a set of non-negotiable boundaries to protect themselves in the future, but to characterize narcissistic abuse as a gift is abusive in and of itself. It is secondary abuse.

As always, Kim, thank you for this insightful and accurate post. Keep up the great work of shining a light of truth on the subject.

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