Gaslighting, hoovering, love-bombing and triangulation. The go to tools of the physical and emotional abusers every person needs to know.
Lily Online Magazine is very proud and humbled to have spent nearly 6 years as a community partner with the DV support network Empowered and Beautiful, a US based online DV network that provides online information on surviving DV, child abuse and sexual abuse. Founded by professional Domestic Violence Advocate Joi Partain (herself a survivor who’s story is published in Lily, supported by Helen Johnson who provides daily invaluable information and motivation to members, her story of survival is also published in Lily). Lily Online Magazines charter as a Community Partner is to publish articles raising awareness of DV and abuse. I help by publishing articles by survivors and support the organisers in sharing valuable information on issues, behaviour and survival techniques.
I’m often questioned about some of the terminology used in DV advocacy, so along with some valuable wisdom from Helen Johnson from Empowered and Beautiful (EAB) I’ve compiled some of the most common behaviours perpetrated by narcissists, abusers, predators who sometimes are flippantly categorised as ‘players’. These techniques demonstrate a far more sinister and seriously damaging underlying behaviour inflicted on victims and should not be taken lightly. They are slightly beyond just being red flags, these are in fact ‘neon flaming red flags’.
Many people who are experiencing some form of mistreatment are unaware that the techniques being used on them are classic textbook practices. Hell, after my experiences and work on survivor recovery I still fall for the odd textbook perpetrator technique. So let’s start with who are the perpetrators...
They come in all shapes, sizes and sexes, they can be friends, partners, lovers, coworkers, parents, children, siblings, anyone. Some perpetrators seem to be a product of nature while others are a product of nurture. It’s important that perpetrators family and friends understand the impact of enabling and supporting their unacceptable behaviour. People that gaslight, Hoover, triangulate and love-bomb generally demonstrate these characteristics in adolescence and it’s important family don’t blame themselves, it can be neurological, unless of course they’re raised in toxic, abusive homes where manipulation, lying and coercing is normalised. One of the biggest complaints we hear is that family and friends of the perpetrators wouldn’t listen, or “didn’t believe me”. In brief they often won’t because it requires them to possibly break with the trauma bond they’ve created over many years of forgiving, excusing and enabling the perpetrators behaviour and they sometimes feel a sense of blame, guilt, denial or often they’re just fed up and over it.
With the increase in mental illness and spectrum diagnosis we can expect to see more and more abuse and specifically narcissistic abuse and it’s likely it correlates with the rise in borderline personality disorder as well as bipolar disorder. Environmental, health and stressful lifestyles have contributed to an increase in these and hence our horrific statistics on sexual assault, domestic violence and murders of intimate partners are at epidemic proportions. Add to this the increase in objectification of women in popular culture in particular it’s created the perfect storm for abuse to thrive.
So what do the experts have to say, according to Dr. George Simon in salon.com, “Survivors of intimate relationships with malignant narcissists are often put through the psychological wringer. This is not surprising, as they have been chronically mistreated, demeaned and diminished by character-disordered individuals who are masters of interpersonal exploitation and who show severe deficiencies in their ability to empathise. Narcissists feel entitled to abuse and exploit empathic individuals for their own gain because they truly believe in the delusion of their own superiority”.
Abusive narcissists may be contemptuous, condescending and cruel beyond words, (usually behind closed doors, away from the image they have projected, usually with only certain individuals, partners, lovers, friends or family who are privy to the reality of their behaviour). Often narcissists display sociopathic and borderline personality disorder behaviours or possibly sit somewhere on the spectrum, with an inability to feel or show empathy for their victims, only focussing on their own needs.
There are several textbook behaviours that manifest in unhealthy and abusive relationships:
These make up some of the common stages of the ‘Cycle of violence’ often depicted in recovery and education programs about abuse. However in the context of this article we’re looking at them as very serious red flags.
According to Psychology Today, “Love bombing is the practice of overwhelming someone with signs of adoration and attraction…designed to manipulate you into spending more time with the bomber.” This is to meet their needs, attention seeking and ego boost. The defining factor is it’s not authentically about getting to know you or a desire to have you in their life. It’s about them.
At the heart of love bombing is manipulation. A narcissist uses it as a way to control you. Love bombs are actions to gain your attention, loyalty, love and trust. It could be flattery, compliments, romance or promises. Once they have your trust, they’re in control. A narcissist will manipulate you to get what they want. They’ll shape your role in the relationship and see you as a supporting cast member to their life. Narcissists have trouble maintaining mutually beneficial relationships. So once they’ve obtained what they needed, or someone else to play that supporting cast role, they’ll discard you.
Helen explains “Good (and decent) people will never try to rush you, or coerce you out of your boundaries! Healthy connection and love are built, not rushed. If someone tries to rush “love” or intimacy, at least consider the possibility that you might be being groomed by a narcissist, or an antisocial predator who needs you to feel bonded to them before they let their mask slip, and you see the REAL monster they are pretending not to be during the grooming phase”.
This is one of the most destructive, abusive red flags you can experience. It means to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity. It is the weapon of choice for many abusers. Some perpetrators will twist facts or recall events in a way so as to psychologically manipulate the victim in order to sow seeds of doubt in their mind making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.
They use this in order to gain more power and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. Confusion and self doubt weakens the victim making them more easily manipulated. Some warning signs that you are being gaslighted is when you start noticing:
- Lies and untruths. When someone blatantly lies with utter conviction, yet you know it’s a lie and they try to then accuse you of lying or put the blame on you. This web of lies sends the victim into utter confusion making them question their sanity and recollection of events and it’s compounded by the perpetrators convincing performance.
- Denial of things they’ve said or done. It makes you start questioning your reality. The aim here is to draw you into their version of reality. Not the actually reality. These small denials and lies over time become bigger and more obvious as they get away with it.
- Their actions do not match their words, look at what they are doing rather than what they are saying. What they are saying means nothing; it is just talk. What they are doing is the key.
-They project. They may label you with their conditions, habits, problems or even label you with past lovers, family or friends issues. This is a very common form of gaslighting. This is done so often that you start trying to defend yourself, and are distracted from the gaslighter's own behaviour.
-They try to align people against you. They’ll focus on depicting you as crazy, needy or clingy or as a liar. As master manipulators they’ll find the people they know will stand by them no matter what, usually loyal friends or family and they use these people against you to break down your support networks and confidence. They will make comments such as, "This person knows that you're not right," or "This person knows you're useless too." But remember the gaslighter is a constant liar and that's exactly what they want: Isolation of the victim gives them more control. It’s a preemptive strike to ensure if you turn to others for help they have been misinformed to the perpetrators projected reality.
Helen goes on to add “The covert type of narcissist might claim to be “concerned” about your mental health when you begin to set boundaries with them. It’s a gaslighting tactic used to confuse and discredit you. If they were truly concerned about your mental health, they would never have messed with you in the first place!”
Hoovering is an abuse tactic frequently used by people who struggle with narcissistic, borderline, antisocial, and personality disorders. Named after the Hoover vacuum cleaner, hoovering is basically a way of “sucking” a person back into an abusive relationship, communication, friendship, family or even workplace. Hoovering is typically done after little contact or can be a cyclic pattern of hoovering and ghosting, between the victim and the abuser. In an attempt to regain control over their victims, hoovering abusers will use manipulation tactics that target their victim’s soft spots and emotional vulnerabilities. If they are successful, the hoovering abuser will use their victim until they are bored of them and discard them.
Helen says “Narcissistic abusers and manipulators use Hoovering to “suck” their former and current targets back into a (romantic or platonic) communication or relationships that’s codependent with them, so pay close attention to how your body feels when they bait that trap!”
Triangulation in the context of narcissistic abuse is the act of bringing another person or a group of people into the dynamic of a relationship or interaction to inflate the perpetrators ego often belittling the victim and make the victim “vie” for the attention of the narcissist. You see this with people that have a harem, the need to have attention from multiple individuals of the opposite sex on the go at all times. Simply put they need attention and triangulation is great way to get it.
This method is often used to create love triangles among the people that the narcissistic abuser depends on for his or her daily fix of attention. Triangulation is one of the most insidious, heartbreaking tools malignant narcissists use to manipulate their former partners, their current partners and their harem members. The words player or stud come to mind but in fact it’s a very obvious narcissistic mind game that enables them to gain a sense of power and control over multiple people simultaneously. It confirms to them a sense of superiority that needs to be continually fed due to underlying insecurities, if they have all these people competing for their approval and validation it gives them comfort.
It can manifest in flirting with others, even in front of their partners, emotional and physical infidelity, as well as comparing their partners to others as a way to manufacture insecurities in them and can be a way of breaking down victims boundaries on relationships, fidelity and commitment. Triangulation is used to chip away at victims perception of normal relationships until an acceptance of triangulation occurs. Perpetrators that use triangulation often try to paint a picture of their victims within and outside of the triangle harem of the victims inadequacy or highlighting the victims failings in order to justify publicly their demeaning behaviour towards them.
This form of triangulation causes victims to doubt the reality of the abuse. The perpetrator will use statements like “My ex never had this problem with me” or “Nobody else has a problem with me!” and serves to make the victim feel unworthy and doubtful of their own experience of mistreatment therefore shifting into a gaslighting mode (”you’re acting crazy, needy etc”).
In summary, the need for narcissistic supply can be almost gratifyingly sadistic, a way to punish victims for seeking to be independent agents or to simply maintain power and superiority in a way to address the perpetrators own feelings of inadequacy that possibly their romantic targets are too good for them and that they might be out of their league. It’s the perfect way to drag what was once someone they deemed to be on a pedestal down to not just equal but below them in order to retain them.
So how do people find themselves in this ridiculous trap? All these tactics can happen in a covert, underhanded way meant to progressively make victims question themselves. The narcissist’s false mask helps to reinforce his or her charming presence, which lures victims. The abuse cycle shifts from love-bombing, idealisation to cruel and callous devaluation and a comfort then punishment dynamic is created called a trauma bond between victim and predator. Narcissistic people often gravitate to those with existing trauma as they’re easier to draw into this cycle if they haven’t yet dealt with the trauma or are unaware of the fake facade the narcissist is portraying. Either way their much easier targets.
Helen has these tips ..
"What if the abuser or manipulator isn't aware of what they are doing?" I hear this question from survivors of abuse often. According to Dr. George Simon, PhD, "When it comes to behaviour, it doesn't make a difference whether they're AWARE or not....If there is an AWARENESS problem, that awareness will come with the CHANGE in BEHAVIOR! Yes, it is POSSIBLE that someone who lies along the spectrum [character spectrum from healthy to character disturbed] is sometimes and to some degree, become aware of what they do, but this is a very dangerous assumption to make in our day in time, because we have far more people, unfortunately, because of the cultural climate of our time, who are more on the ‘character disturbed’ side of the spectrum.” Abusive and manipulative people simply do what works for them to get whatever supply they are attempting to get. The answer is stop letting it work for them. Set and ENFORCE healthy boundaries in ALL different types of friendships and relationships.” “As I began to heal and recover from narcissistic abuse and codependency, I began to set (and enforce) healthy boundaries for myself in all types of friendships and relationships, and even just with people online. Such as:
- people who used and/or drained me in any way
- people who didn’t respect my healthy, new boundaries that I set with them (or with others)
- people whose narcissistic rage or negative energy was harmful to me
- people who mocked survivors of the #metoo movement
- people who pushed against my boundaries, or tried to guilt (or shame) me back into being codependent again
- people who seemed to empathise more with someone who is abusive than they did with me
- people who commented on my body, or made other rude (entitled) comments
- people who are in the business of shame-based marketing
- misogynistic people
- and anyone who didn’t respect or believe me”
Helen goes on to say “As my friends list got shorter and shorter, my life grew more peaceful, and I had more time for the healthy and reciprocal friendships and relationships that actually add value to my life! And my health began to improve! I no longer feel so guilty ending a friendship that just isn’t a TRUE or HEALTHY friendship, and I no longer ignore Red flags just because I think I love someone. I love and respect MYSELF now too! I had to recognise when someone felt ENTITLED to being ABUSIVE to me, because they viewed me as an OBJECT, or as "less worthy" of respect than them. What patterns was I repeating? What boundaries did I need to set? I had to reexamine everything I had been taught to do, and rewrite my life script. As I began to set boundaries, the manipulative people in my life began to show their true colours, and go elsewhere to get their narcissistic supply once they realised that I wasn't going to jump into enabler mode for them anymore!”
If you need support on DV or any form of abuse visit Empowered and Beautiful on Facebook.