The Cost of the Narcissist’s Charm

27 Nov 2018

How do you accurately assess the cost of the Narcissist’s charm to you? And, if you have fallen for a Narcissist’s charm before, how can you protect yourself in the future?  In this article we shall be looking at how a slight tweak  in your own thinking may prove the best protection of all, going forward.

The simple solution

The simple– but surprisingly unsafe – solution that many women opt for at the beginning of their healing journey is to swear off men forever.  You would be hard pressed to find a simpler plan or one that seems a more appropriate way of addressing the issue.  As an initial response, at least, it has a lot going for it. It prevents you from rushing in at the time when you are at your most vulnerable. However, as lasting solutions go, it is by no means perfect.

The swearing off men forever solution presents the survivor of narcissistic and emotional abuse with three dangers.

The three inherent dangers

1) It means that you end up living in constant fear.  That is not a great way to live.  Plus, it means that you are forever fixating on the thing you most want NOT to happen.  Somehow, that kind of fixation usually ends badly.  Most likely because it gets in the way of clear thinking.

2) It creates a different kind of vulnerability. It means that if someone comes along who is smart enough to present as “different enough” from your abusive ex, or if someone is persistent enough, you tell yourself that this must be a different kind of man.  Sadly, that kind of thinking leapfrogs an important step.  Before you decide that someone is actually a different kind of man – and  therefore partner – you have to exclude the possibility that they are simply a different kind of Narcissist and abuser.

3) It gets in the way of you looking at your own emotional processes.  One  vital part of healing from any kind of abuse hinges on you changing your own internal narrative.  Most of us have  some really sucky – Disney-based – stories that sit, undiagnosed, in our heads playing havoc with our emotional well-being. By the end of this article, you will be much more able to recognise and diagnose any that are lurking at the back of your mind.

Not all Narcissists possess the Narcissist’s charm

Now, one thing that my – undeniably narcissistic – husband did not have in spades was the obvious Narcissist’s charm.  Saying nice things, guaranteed to make a person feel good, was really NOT his thing.  He favored rugged honesty and selective attention instead, and they worked for him.  (In reality, the “rugged honesty” was more like brutal self-serving observations but, hey, when did abusers ever not put a “spin” on what they say?)

The arrogance of the Narcissist

The selective attention piece, which I have noticed in a lot of other Narcissists, worked well for him, too.  It signified, roughly speaking, “Most people are too stupid for me to bother with.  You, on the other hand, are bright enough to be worthy of my attention.” (Other Narcissists use the same kind of selective attention formula but simply change the relevant adjective, as in “Most people are too ugly/unimportant/unsuccessful/unworthy….)

Given that I had grown up in an environment where I was considered too stupid to be of any consequence, that line worked wonderfully well on me.  (It only took me a couple of decades to realise that I actually am significantly brighter than Herr Big Brain.)

My entire family was, for the record, monumentally under-endowed with the Narcissist’s charm.  But what they lacked in charm they more than made up for in arrogance.

Witnessing the Narcissist’s charm from the sidelines

Over the past few months, I have thought a lot about the power of charm as I watch my lovely Italian friend recover from her toxic relationship.  Her husband of two decades provided a heady cocktail of Narcissistic charm, arrogance and selective attention.

I adored him –despite being well-acquainted with his naughty, divaesque behaviors.  He had a way of turning it into an in-joke that I bought into, indulgently.   Despite the back-story that I want to share.

The back-story

My marriage broke up soon after the friendship began.  One night, I sat with the two of them in a pizzeria in Rome and explained that I had left the wasband because he was emotionally abusive.  Neither could really grasp the concept of emotional abuse.  (Funny that!)  They virtually suggested that it must be some quaint anglo-saxon notion.

I explained that emotional abuse was, so to speak, the kid sister of physical violence. Now, physical violence they did understand.  But then the husband said something to the effect that in Italy a slap was neither here nor there.  To make the point, he “playfully” slapped his wife.   That slap was very hard and very loud.

In that moment, of course, I realised that he was a total scumbag.

It made for an uncomfortable evening. But the years went by, she stuck by him – and they appeared to grow closer and develop a deep bond of love and trust.

Don’t bury red flags

Since my hands were tied anyway, I buried that monumental  red flag that I had witnessed.  This summer, when my friend and I talked about it, she acknowledged that she, too, had buried many red flags, early in the relationship.  We are both left with a taste of dust and ashes in our mouths – although my sadness is as nothing compared to her.

Even at the start of the relationship, when they are piling on the Narcissistic charm, abusers still drop a red flag, or two.  You just have to be prepared NOT to turn a blind eye.  Even when that means saying, “Yes, on paper, he may look like the best thing since sliced bread.  However, it’s a “No” from me.”

How you build trust in yourself

Putting your faith in the kind of deep knowledge that comes from intuition is one of the great antidotes to living in constant fear. It is not enough NOT to want to repeat  the whole abuse scenario.  You have to be able to trust yourself to use every resource that you have to keep yourself safe.  That is how you start to build confidence in your own ability to make good decisions.  And that does not just apply to partner selection.

You cannot risk basing your wellbeing on oversimplified thinking.  The “If it is not A, then it is B” school of thought just doesn’t work out.  I have heard too many stories of women who replaced an aggressive abuser with a super-humble, adoring type.  Only to realise that #2 was simply wearing a different kind of mask.  Behind that mask #2 was merely differently toxic.

Look deeper at your own story

That is why you have to look closely at your own story. Are you a sucker for chick lit and romance? Do the archetypal fairy stories resonate with you? And beyond that, what are the half-truths that you take as gospel?

This week, a client told me about an attractive, interesting man she met at a party.  As far as she knew, she was having a great conversation with him. However, apparently she answered one question on his check list wrongly.  He abruptly walked away and refused to acknowledge her again. She was hardly heart-broken. But she was bemused.

We looked at the real meaning of his response to her answer.  She said, “It was very strange because he didn’t seem like a superficial person at all.”

He did not seem like a superficial person doubtless because he was intelligent.  My client has a personal narrative about intelligence and charm equating to depth.  She would do well to ditch that narrative.

In fact, as a general principle, the more – habitual – narratives you ditch the better you will do.  Intelligence equates to intelligence. Things are what they are.  X is not Y.  Do not get creative, or romantic with the truth.

Charm is charm

Charm equates to charm.  Things are what they are.  X is not Y. You have a responsibility to ask yourself, “Could that be Narcissistic charm?”

Charm is appealing in the same way that a pair of Manolo Blahnik’s are nice things.  But the Manolo’s are not really intended for everyday life (at least not my everyday life).  The same goes for charm, at best.

The Narcissist’s charm will take you on a big dipper to hell.

My friend has been cast aside like an old shoe. After her husband has taken from her everything he possibly could – money, self-worth, years of her life, the possibility of having a family, a career.  That is the cost of the Narcissist’s charm.

None of us could do any better than we did the first time around.  Because we could not know what we did not know. But now that has changed.  Going forward the best way to protect yourself from the cost of the Narcissist’s charm is not to fall for it in the first place.  If you are not sure that you have mastered the highway code of keeping yourself safe, then you need help. Get in touch.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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