With Halloween approaching, it’s high time to remember that nothing is scarier than a narcissist or psychopath’s emotional vampirism, or their true self unmasked. Ghouls, vampires, ghosts, and monsters under the bed simply do not compare to the real-life monsters who may be lurking in your bed. Narcissists and psychopaths manufacture chaos to keep you focused on them and only them. They know they cannot sustain your interest in them long-term because they rely on a false mask to navigate the world.
Manufactured chaos allows malignant narcissists to keep you on the hamster wheel of trying to figure out their intentions and second-guessing yourself. They try to train you to question what you did wrong rather than holding them accountable for their actions. They convince you that setting boundaries or expressing discomfort with their disturbing antics is the problem, rather than their problematic behavior.
Here are five ways these manipulators manufacture chaos and passive-aggressively cause destruction, and tips on how to defend yourself against their manipulation and provocation:
1. Instigating crazymaking arguments.
Narcissists and psychopaths are well-known for a tactic known as “baiting.” They deliberately provoke you so that you emotionally react and swallow their blameshifting hook, line, and sinker. When you fall for it, narcissists and psychopaths go to great lengths to create circular conversations that go nowhere – they use these conversations as a space for their gaslighting, emotional invalidation, and projection.
When called out for their deplorable behavior, narcissists play the victim and lash out in narcissistic rage when you dare to confront them, however politely (Goulston, 2012). They will depict even a well-mannered, reasonable attempt at holding them accountable as an “attack” on their very rights. In their warped reality, they are not at fault for making a demeaning comment or insulting you. Rather, you will be blamed for reacting to such a comment at all or protesting their mistreatment.
These crazymaking arguments do have a purpose: they serve to distract you from the narcissist’s true self and the nature of their manipulation. They act as fuel for the narcissist’s supply – they derive great pleasure and an emotional “feed” from seeing you react, as it validates their sense of superiority and importance. These tactics also work to disarm you and exhaust you to the point where you are unable to fight back, defend yourself, or engage in self-care.
When you notice an escalating argument, stop in your tracks and withdraw from the conversation altogether (even if you have to make up an excuse to do so). With a narcissist, you are not dealing with someone who will listen to reason. Know when to opt out. You are better off detaching and doing something to self-soothe, gain validation from people you trust (like a counselor well-versed in emotional abuse), or another form of self-care.
2. Ruining holidays, special occasions or sabotaging you before big events.
Have you ever noticed that a narcissist or psychopath is usually overly negative and sullen right around the holidays, or around times where you should be celebrating, such as a birthday, the news of a promotion or career success? This is no coincidence. These emotional predators despise holidays and special events because these take the attention off of them. They reveal contempt for such a celebration either through overt put-downs or even underhanded sabotage.
According to Dr. Sharie Stines, “Narcissists have a tendency to practice seasonal devalue and discard during the holidays, focusing these abuse tactics on their nearest targets and closest partners. Why do they do this? Because they have no empathy and cannot handle intimate relationships and are compelled to do what it takes to destroy them.”
For example, it’s not uncommon for a narcissist to begin a crazymaking argument with you right before the day of a big event or interview, to make you cry on your birthday, or to purposely “forget” to give you a gift on Christmas. They may even ruin celebrations by actively provoking you behind closed doors before attending family events, to make you look like “the crazy one.”
My advice, if it is possible, is to avoid narcissists altogether during the holidays – and that includes electronic communication, as narcissists enjoy “hoovering” right around this time. Find supportive friends and family members who you can enjoy your day with instead. Even spending a holiday alone is preferable than being with someone who will attempt to bully and demean you on a day that should be filled with joy.
3. Provoking jealousy and using love triangles to make you compete.
Narcissists and psychopaths are notorious for something known as “triangulation” – pitting two people against one another to make them compete for the narcissist’s attention, usually through love triangles. That’s why these manipulators drop unsettling comments about how attractive they find someone, hint at sexual affairs, or boast about how often they are hit on. This is a way to provoke you into reacting and vying for their affection.
In his book, The Art of Seduction, Robert Greene suggests that seducers create an aura of desirability by pretending they have many suitors (whether that’s the reality or not). This involves creating a perceived sense of competition so that the target is compelled to “win” this highly desirable person’s attention and affection. As Greene writes:
“Few are drawn to the person whom others avoid and neglect; people gather around those who have already attracted interest. To draw your victims closer and make them hungry to possess you, you must create an aura of desirability—of being wanted and courted by many. It will become a point of vanity for them to be the preferred object of your attention, to win you away from a crowd of admirers. Build a reputation that precedes you: If many have succumbed to your charms there must be a reason.”
When placed in a love triangle, opt out of the competition. Stay clear of the narcissist’s social media, where many attention-hungry narcissists go to show off new supply and hunt new victims. Refuse to react in ways that reveal to them that you’re bothered; use that disgust you feel towards their triangulation tactics to cut ties with them instead. You never have to compete for a person who is truly worthy of you.
4. Sleep deprivation.
Narcissists and psychopaths deprive you of sleep to keep you exhausted and to keep both your mind and body in a state of chaos so you cannot see clearly or act in ways that benefit your well-being. They may deprive you of sleep by arguing with you for hours into the night, provoking you right around bedtime, or treating you with profound cruelty to keep you ruminating and unable to sleep.
According to Dr. Kelly Bulkeley, sleep deprivation is a form of torture. It is no wonder it’s often (cruelly and excessively) used in interrogations and military tactics to make people vulnerable. As Bulkeley writes:
“Part of the reason for this calamitous breakdown is that during sleep the immune system performs a host of vital regenerative functions that are absolutely necessary for a healthy mind and body in waking life. When a person is deprived of sleep, the immune system becomes unable to perform these functions. The negative effects become much more intense when people are already sick, injured, or traumatized. Whatever bodily damage they have suffered will not heal as fast. Whatever pain they are feeling will get worse. Whatever new bodily damage threatens them will be harder to defend against. Forcibly depriving a person of sleep is a profound assault on the entire biological system at the foundation of that person’s mind and body.”
If you find yourself losing sleep daily over a toxic partner, recognize that this is having an enormous effect not just on your mind but also your body. Your immune system is being severely affected. If you are already dealing with illness, you must get away from the narcissist as soon as possible. They are poison for the healing and recovery process and their presence literally puts your life at risk.
5. Stonewalling and the silent treatment.
Stonewalling is shutting down the conversation before it has a chance to begin. It is when a person withdraws from a conversation and refuses to address your concerns. The manipulator may choose to outright ignore your requests, respond with dismissive, invalidating replies or evade responding appropriately altogether by giving vague responses that refuse to answer your original questions. Often, stonewalling and the silent treatment go hand in hand as the abusive partner refuses to speak to their victim for long periods of time.
A pattern of chronic stonewalling can be debilitating as research shows that receiving the “cold shoulder” and the silent treatment activates the same area of the brain that detects physical pain (Williams, Forgas, & Hippel, 2014). Stonewalling literally hurts and can feel akin to being punched in the stomach. Narcissists chronically stonewall their victims to make them bend over backwards to please them.
The silent treatment and stonewalling evoke excessive anxiety, fear and a persistent sense of self-doubt in their victims. The narcissist thrives off of the power and control they feel as they continue to pull the strings of the victim like a master puppeteer. They usually dish out silence or stonewalling right around the time the victim is becoming discerning of their mind games and attempting to call them out on it. Rather than playing into their ploys, withdraw your attention from them and refocus on your self-care. Do not try to make them return. They are not a prize nor are they a loss. Their silence speaks volumes about their character and tells you everything you need to know about who they really are.
If you are being stonewalled or given the silent treatment, this is a golden opportunity to recognize how big of a bullet you’ve dodged. If someone can’t even have an ordinary discussion or respect your boundaries without lashing out at you and punishing you for holding them accountable, you do not need them in your life. Know that no one deserves to be treated like this, and that anyone treating you with this type of contempt is unworthy of you.
The Big Picture
Manufacturing chaos is one of the main ways a narcissist gains control over a victim’s psyche. When you are too busy trying to defend yourself against the narcissist’s gaslighting or accusations, you have less time to see reality for what it is. The reality is: the narcissist is instigating crazymaking arguments, trying to provoke jealousy in you, sabotaging you before big events, depriving you of sleep, micromanaging you, and ruining holidays. The smoke and mirrors the narcissist surrounds you with to blameshift as they deliberately provoke you and then shame you for setting boundaries or speaking out are meant as diversions.
Solution? Remove yourself from the hamster wheel of chaos altogether. You don’t have to run in circles trying to prove your worth or your reality and perceptions. You know what you felt and experienced. Let that be enough.
Bulkeley K. (2014, December 15). Why sleep deprivation is torture. Retrieved October 29, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dreaming-in-the-digital-age/201412/why-sleep-deprivation-is-torture
Greene, R. (2004). The art of seduction. Gardners Books.
Goulston M. (2012, February 9). Rage-coming soon from a narcissist near you. Retrieved October 29, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/just-listen/201202/rage-coming-soon-narcissist-near-you
Stines S. (2018, December 26). When the Narcissist (or other such Emotional Abuser) in your Life ruins the holidays. Retrieved October 29, 2019, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/recovery-expert/2018/12/when-the-narcissist-in-your-life-ruins-the-holidays/
Williams, K. D., Forgas, J. P., & Hippel, W. V. (2014). The social outcast: Ostracism, social exclusion, rejection, and bullying. New York: Psychology Press.