Narcissists: Insidious Ways They Plot To Steal Your Friends
They want to turn your friends against you and leave you with nothing.
Today I want to take the topic of narcissistic abuse in a focused direction. Much has been written about the relationship between a narcissist and their victim. I want to expound on the relationship between a narcissist and the victim’s friends.
I will introduce you to what goes on with friends in each of the three phases of the relationship: love-bombing, devaluing, and discard. I will also discuss the groundwork the narcissist puts in place beforehand.
Then I will discuss what to do when you find that a narcissist is attempting to tear you apart from the people and places you love. I will also offer ways to avoid getting trapped in such a situation in the first place.
Phase 0 of the relationship: The narcissist watches you from afar, learns your network of friends
In her book The Gaslighting Effect: A Revealing Look at Psychological Manipulation and Narcissistic Abuse, author Reva Steenbergen notes that narcissists watch their victims from afar for months, if not years, before making the first contact. They want to learn their victim’s
- Places they spend their free time
They also want to learn who their victim’s friends are. They want to have a good idea of the victim’s social circle well before making the first approach. Unfortunately, this is easier than ever to do in this day and age. They look at public Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds, as well as the victim’s blog and YouTube presence if they have one.
There are particular qualities the narcissist notes as they pull up the profiles and public posts of the victim’s friends:
- Who is single and of the gender the narcissist is attracted to? These are possible sources of future narcissistic supply, once the narcissist discards the current victim and is ready to move on. Also, the current victim and the next one can be triangulated against each other to destroy their friendship,
- Who displays narcissistic qualities themselves? As the saying goes, game recognizes game. These are the victim’s friends the narcissist can perhaps enlist as allies most easily in the eventual discard and attempt to ruin the victim’s life. Mega, mega bonus points if one of these friends displays narcissistic qualities and is single and the right gender.
- Who is gullible? These are the people who will most easily believe the web of lies the narcissist will manufacture about the victim.
- Who is agreeable? Those who possess the personality trait of agreeableness value harmony. Avoiding conflict and maintaining a sense of harmony is more important to them than justice and fairness for a particular member of the group. This is important because a member of the group, the victim, is en route to some major injustice.
- Who is either loyal, or an excellent judge of character, or both? The narcissist identifies these people in advance, because these are the victim’s friends who will be most likely to see through the narcissist and cause problems with their scheme.
Phase 1: The narcissist grows close to particular friends while love-bombing you
In this phase, the narcissist approaches the victim and develops a relationship with them. It seems to the victim like they’ve known the narcissist their entire life, and there’s a good reason — the narcissist has so thoroughly researched the victim that they know all the right things to say! The victim, showered with praise and attention, begins to feel they have found their soulmate.
The narcissist will be eager to get to know the victim’s friends — well, certain ones, the ones they have identified as gullible or agreeable. The narcissist becomes such fast friends with these people that they not only hang out when the victim is there too, but they make independent plans and form a friendship of their own. This thrills the victim, who is so happy that his significant other fits in so well with his friend group.
All is not as well as it seems, however. Some things are going on behind the victim’s back.
First of all, the narcissist by this time may already be bashing the victim to their now-mutual friends. How does the narcissist decide what to tell the friends about the victim? Very simple: Projection.
- If the narcissist is abusive, they will tell mutual friends that the victim is being abusive.
- If the narcissist is cheating on the victim, they will tell mutual friends they suspect the victim is cheating.
- If the narcissist stalked the victim for a period of time before “just happening” to meet them, they will accuse the victim of stalking behavior.
- The narcissist will accuse the victim of lying. (No “if” here. Lying is universal among narcissists.)
The narcissist may go so far as to cry to gain sympathy and support from the mutual friends, and to win them over to their side. The narcissist will paint themselves as being willing to put up with a lot to try and make the relationship work.
Of course, the victim, being showered with love, affection, attention, gifts, and sex during this phase, will not yet be aware this is happening. However, the victim may notice that the narcissist tries to steer them clear of particular friends, the ones identified to be loyal and/or good judges of character. The narcissist will try to make the victim doubt those friendships.
Phase 2: In the devaluing phase, they continue to lay the groundwork to take your friends from you
The happy days end and now it seems like whatever you say, it is the wrong thing. Whatever you do, it is not good enough to please your narcissistic partner. You seemingly can do nothing but disappoint. They make you feel worthless. This is another case of projection, because worthlessness is what they feel inside.
They will continue to bash you to your friends, especially those inclined to believe whatever they are told. However, now they will go after a new subset of your friends: those who are single and/or display narcissistic qualities themselves.
Just as they watched you from afar, the narcissist will watch your friends, learning their habits and routines. The narcissist will arrange to “just happen” to be in the same place as one of your friends and “just happen” to meet them, and guess what — they’ll charm the socks off them.
The goal here is triangulation — they want to play you (their soon-to-be discarded supply) against your friend (their new supply). They want to sit back and watch the carnage as the two of you destroy your friendship.
Phase 3: The discard
If they’ve done their work right, by this stage the narcissist has accomplished the following:
- They’ve poisoned your gullible and agreeable friends’ minds against you
- They’ve set themselves up as a love interest for your single friends, particularly those that have narcissistic qualities of their own
- They’ve caused you to distance yourself from your loyal and most intuitive friends
- They’ve made you feel worthless
At this point, you have nothing left to offer the narcissist, so they can discard you and move on. However, you may find that they’ve taken most of your friends with them. I once heard a wise man tell a victim,
It’s like they watched you for a long time, and when they were ready, they stepped into your life and pushed you out of it. They took away your friends and places you love, and they took your place in your own life and left you with nothing.
What to do if you find yourself in this situation
At this point, it will seem as though your world has turned upside down. The person you thought was perfect for you is now trying to tear you to pieces. Your friends don’t trust you, have lost respect for you, and some have even joined the narcissist in the bashing of you.
I’m not going to make any claim that this is going to be easy, but this is what you need to do.
Be calm; do not allow yourself to get emotional
One of the main tricks in a narcissist’s bag is to say or do things that cause you to get emotional and fly off the handle in an angry, unhinged response. Then they point to your reaction, and tell your now-former friends that this proves you’re every bit as crazy and abusive as they’ve been saying all along.
Avoid unhealthy coping habits
It’s quite natural to turn to alcohol or recreational drugs to deal with a major upheaval in your social life. Don’t do it.
For one thing, as long as you continue to turn to those habits, the narcissist keeps on winning. They keep on destroying you without having to put in any more work. It’s like passive emotional income for the narcissist.
Also, your coping methods will be used against you. The narcissist will portray you as a drunk, or a junkie, or a gambler, or whatever your mechanism is, in an attempt to further damage your credibility among your friends and in your community.
Attempt to reach out to your former friends — but be aware it might not work
Definitely attempt to contact your former friends and tell them you need to talk. Do this sooner rather than later. If you wait for weeks or months, it could seem like you’re accepting the narcissist’s version of the story.
Your story is going to be a long and bizarre one. Be aware that
- Your friends may not have the time to sit down and listen to the entire story, all the way through. Yours is a story that cannot be reduced to a 30-second “elevator pitch.” The narcissist may well have devalued you to the point that they no longer care to invest the time to hear your side.
- Even if they do hear your story, they may not believe you, especially if they have no prior knowledge of narcissistic abuse.
- Your friends who have the agreeable personality trait may not want to hear anything negative about their charming new friend. They may prefer to just sweep it under the rug, to stick their head in the stand about your issue with the narcissist for the sake of maintaining harmony in the group.
Keep a notebook and write down anything that was said in interactions with the narcissist, anything that former friends said to you that is related to the narcissist.
One thing narcissists do is gaslighting — they weave such a deep web of lies and deception that you are not sure what the truth is anymore. You’re not sure who your real friends are. Having notes of who said what, and when they said it, can help you keep things straight.
… but, be aware that THEY are documenting everything
For this reason, if you must continue to have any interaction with the narcissist, or with any friends you think the narcissist has turned against you, have them face-to-face. If that’s not possible, have the conversation over the phone.
Avoid communications over email, text, or private message; avoid mentioning the narcissist and their allies on social media. Narcissists are masters at using your own electronic communications against you, out of context. Don’t provide oxygen to fuel their fire.
If a friend apologizes
You may have a friend come to you and apologize, telling you that they have seen the light. They’ll tell you that they’ve been a pretty bad friend, that they should have listened to you about the narcissist all along, that the narcissist is crazy.
The apology is better than nothing, but you need to see them walk the walk for a while before you fully accept them back as a friend. If they continue to hang out with the narcissist, that’s bad. If they continue to hang out with the narcissist and attempt to hide that fact from you, that’s very bad.
If the narcissist apologizes
Maya Angelou said it better than I possibly could.
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
Go “no contact”
Cut the narcissist completely off. Delete their number from your phone. Delete their address from your email contacts. Unfriend and block them on social media.
In addition, do the same for any former friend who takes the narcissist’s side. I understand this means you might have to cut off contact with a wide swath of your friend group. It is the only way to get peace. The narcissist will never provide closure so you have to make your own.
One day, when these times are in your distant past, you may even feel a sense of gratitude to the narcissist, for helping you sort out who your real friends were.
How to avoid this kind of situation in the first place
If you have no prior exposure to narcissistic abuse, it may seem unbelievable that this kind of thing occurs. Once you learn how narcissists operate, though, you will be able to spot them and get away from them quickly. Their patterns are all pretty much the same.
Think about how much of yourself you’re putting out there on public social media
If you’re on Facebook and Public is the default visibility for your posts, consider changing it to Friends Only, or Friends Except and make a list of the people you’re not sure you can trust.
Make your Twitter and Instagram feeds private. Do the same for any other social platform on which you have a considerable presence.
This is a hard one for me personally. I enjoy being a public, open, transparent person, and I have met many more good people than bad ones by being that way. I hate the thought of losing the chance to meet 19 amazing people because I might meet one broken one.
Use your best judgment, but be aware that going a little more private is at least worth considering.
Read everything you can about narcissists
The book I mentioned at the top of this post, The Gaslighting Effect: A Revealing Look at Psychological Manipulation and Narcissistic Abuse by Reva Steenbergen, opened my eyes to the behavior and thought patterns of narcissists. It made so much sense out of what previously made no sense. It’s a quick and easy read.
If you don’t want to pay for a book, get on Quora, the site where anyone can ask a question and anyone can answer a question. They have several spaces (groups based around particular topics) devoted to narcissistic abuse. Read all you can.
The great thing about “anybody can answer a question” is you get answers from people with a wide range of expertise. You might read answers from
- Survivors of relationships with narcissists
- Authors of books about this pattern of abuse
- Psychologists with expertise in the area
- And, believe it or not, narcissists themselves. They will get on there and explain “this is what I would be thinking and doing in this situation.”
To wrap it up…
This is probably not the first post you have ever read about narcissistic relationships. You probably knew about the love-bombing phase, the devaluing phase, and the discard. You might have even known about the detective work narcissists put in prior to the relationship. What I have attempted to do here is explain what they do at each phase to target not only the victim, but the victim’s friends.
Be aware that they will target your friends who are single, gullible, or agreeable, as well as those who also have narcissistic qualities. They will start bashing you to those friends well before you realize it is happening.
When they devalue you and discard you, they will attempt to take as many of your friends as possible. You need to be prepared to talk to your friends, but realize they may not be open to hearing what you have to say. Be prepared to go no-contact with both the narcissist and former friends the narcissist has taken away.
Normally I end with, “I hope you enjoyed reading this,” but who enjoys reading about narcissism? If you wish to learn more, here are a couple of stories I wrote in the past on this topic: