It’s Narcissist Friday!
In the new land, you are determined to be strong and to control your story. This isn’t going to be like it was, where you were confused and frightened and manipulated. Now, you are going to be in control.
But the dragon whispers lies. You hear him. He lies to you and to those around you. He does things and blames you, even now. And it gets under your skin. No matter how hard you try to let the lies and the jabs slide off, they still hurt. It seems like the dragon can whisper his lies and taunts without anyone challenging him.
Finally, you respond. You pull your sword to strike the dragon in your anger, but you have little skill. You frighten others, maybe even hurt someone. Now others think you are the dragon. And the dragon laughs.
I’ve watched it happen in my office. I’ve read it in your stories. I’ve felt it in my own experience. I call it “provoking.”
Push, poke, prod. Antagonize, lie, cheat, steal, twist words, and more. The death of a thousand cuts. You feel it coming. Each time you seem to grow smaller. Each time the narcissist seems to gain a little ground.
Friends tell you what they heard, and they wonder if it’s true. You wonder how many others don’t come to you because they believe the lie. The people around you watch as the narcissist “teases” and jabs with little criticisms and cuts, but you say nothing. They wonder if the narcissist is right simply because you didn’t defend yourself.
The purpose of provocation is to move someone to a regretful action. The provoker (or provocateur) does not want to be the one who is seen in a negative light. He/she knows just what to say or do, and just how often or how much, to get you to do something negative. And it usually works.
You finally crack, or break, or blow up. You deny the truth, and the narcissist points out your lie. You cuss, and others hear you demean yourself. You threaten, and the narcissist has the recording. Whatever it is, the narcissist is ready.
It might be in public. You say or do something others see. It might confirm what the narcissist has been saying about you. It might be something even worse. But the provoker will jump on your words or actions to point the finger at you. He/she will tell everyone that the case against you was right after all. Or maybe he/she will just step back and let everyone else judge you as angry, or mean-spirited, or crazy.
It’s a disgusting tactic, but one that is very effective. That’s why narcissists use it so often. If you are the crazy one or the evil one, then anything the narcissist has done will either be ignored or justified. No one will remember what the narcissist has done because the light is shining on you. And the narcissist laughs. That was the plan all along.
After the narcissistic relationship is over, the narcissist will want to look good. The primary way to do that is to make you look bad. If the game is going to end, the narcissist will want to be able to start a new game with someone else. Besides, if you are strong enough to stand up for yourself, the narcissist will want to hurt you. Bringing you down makes him feel better about himself.
It is important for us to understand how well this provocation works. Few of us are able to handle the poking and lies forever. Because the narcissist is ruthless, playing by no rules but his own, and persistent, he/she will usually get satisfaction. We will break, and we will do or say something we regret.
And we do regret those things. We wish we had been able to stop ourselves. We held back for so long; why not just a little longer? Why did we make that post, say those words, do that thing? We blame ourselves, and there is no way to excuse or explain or take back what we did. The narcissist won. Again.
So, what do we do now? Listen: you move on. You stop beating yourself up. It is not unusual for evil to win, not in your life or in history. Those who are willing to manipulate others to make themselves look and feel good often get what they want. It was not your weakness or brokenness that let them win; it was their cruelty and cold-bloodedness. They worked hard to break you, and they are strong.
But that thing you said or did does not define you! You are not crazy. You are not mean. You are not what the narcissist says you are. Fixing this might be hard, and some people may turn their backs, but you must refuse to let it stop you. Pick yourself up; dust yourself off. Keep going.
And when you are in the position to watch someone else finally crack, give them grace. Understand what has happened. Ask yourself if this is consistent with who you know this person to be. Then don’t turn away. Even if you are the one hurt by the explosion, be strong enough to continue to give support.
I think this “dragon provocation” is one of the most despicable tools in the narcissist’s arsenal, but we see it almost everywhere. Learn to recognize it when it happens to you or to others, and be quick to give grace.