When an empowered individual who possesses qualities of high emotional IQ enters into a love relationship, s/he isn't knowingly signing up for a Manipulation of Grand Scale. However, in circumstances were a person has fallen head over heals for a narcissist (or other personality disordered individual), they are most definitely entering into a relationship in which they will be harmed by their seeming knight-in-shining armor. As part of their recovery, survivors of narcissistic abuse often perform a "postmortem" on their relationship in therapy regarding their narcissistic abuser. This autopsy of emotional abuse allows the survivor to recount and detect when the red flags of manipulation began in the cycle of abuse, thus fortifying the survivor and empowering him/her to be on the look-out to detect such warning signs in future relationships.
When a pathological person targets an individual for a love relationship, they have ascertained that the prospect has qualities that will generate a copious volume of narcissistic supply (or ego fuel). Sandra Brown (2009) defines these characteristics as "supertraits" in her groundbreaking book, Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of Inevitable Harm with Psychopaths, Sociopaths, and Narcissists. Desirable preferred qualities in a love object would include high empathy, cooperativeness, extraversion, competitiveness, goal-orientation, and ambition professionally, among other qualities. These facets of personality are hardly the often-termed labels "codependent" or "love addict", which serves to reinforce victim-blaming and shaming. On the contrary, pathological and personality-disordered people actually seek to extract ego fuel from highly successful, confident, caring, and beautiful partners. Not to say that some targets may have their own trauma history blueprint which renders the pathological person "familiar" to the survivor. Yet it is intriguing that NO ONE is immune from the potential predation of a narcissist/psychopath. That being said, there are red flags a person can look out for to be alerted to a potential manipulation before they allow themselves to fall head-over-heels with Mr./Ms. Too-Good-To-Be-True.
Signs that a person has potentially encountered a manipulative dating partner with possible nefarious intentions are the following:
1. Love-bombing/Future-faking: At the beginning of a relationship with a narcissist/psychopath, targets describe being literally swept off their feet and being caught up in the rapture of the effects of love-bombing. This manipulation tactic is a pathological person's attempt to hook their partner into the intoxicating high of the idealization stage of the relationship. Narcissistic people shower their love objects with charm, affection, gifts, non-stop phone calls/texts/emails, dates, marathon sex, promises of future blending of lives, marriage proposals, pregnancy. The abuser makes themselves so relevant and omnipresent that the love object becomes laser-focused on their new love, to the exclusion of any thing grounding her in logic and reality-testing. Often targets report feeling rushed into the relationship and not having the time to discern how they are truly feeling about their lover, being that chemical cocktails of oxytoxin, endorphins and dopamine are surging during the time of hastened pacing of infatuation. This "other-worldy" experience is literally intoxicating for the target, who feels like s/he is high on the best mood-elevating drug ever...and s/he is...with the love-bombing cocktail her narcissistic partner has thrown at her like a grenade. The target easily bonds to the abuser because s/he is capable of true intimacy, empathy and vulnerability. The narcissistic abuser can attach to their partner but they cannot bond in a healthy way and easily detach like a leech, once the initial rush of ego fuel has them satiated.
2. Mind control seduction/ NLP techniques: Narcissistic/psychopathic individuals are very skilled in the use of flowery, suggestive language that is designed to seduce and induce trance states where the target feels anchored and bound to their abuser via imagery and story-telling. The internet is filled with seduction websites that teach people how to deceptively seduce people through mind control, and no doubt abusive and deceptive suitors have taken notes (and practiced) these sinister techniques on many unwilling and unsuspecting targets. Intense eye contact is also woven into the descriptive language that binds a target to her suitor. S/he may think her new partner is lovingly gazing into her eyes only to find out that truly, this intense gaze is more reptilian and predatory in nature. The abuser is really sizing up his prey and drinking in how he is going to extract maximum narcissistic supply, with generous infusions of power and control. If your newfound lover is a sweet-talker and you find yourself in mesmerizing, trance-like states after spending time listening to him talk about how he will blend his life with your's, complete with vivid sensory detail, you would do yourself a favor to quickly obtain some smelling salts and wake up. Research mind control seduction techniques on the Web, and you will see exactly how your abuser is grooming you in the seduction stage so you will attach to him like Velcro.
3. Facade of altruism/heroism/outer mask: Many people in positions of power and successful status in the professional world are healthy, authentic individuals. However, there are some who are very deceptively NOT healthy, and they hide behind the mask of doing good for the community (pastor, doctor, therapist, teacher, lawyer, politician, etc). This mask allows the predator to hide amongst the masses and extract Prime Grade Ego Fuel (attention, adulation, praise, and eventually emotional pain and suffering) from large quantities of people. In turn, pathological abusers can present as high functioning on the outside (or on a dating profile) at the beginning of a love relationship. With time, however, the mask inevitably slips, and the disordered underbelly is eventually revealed.
4. Gas-lighting: Abusers will deploy this trick when they want to destabilize their love object, throwing them off-center. Extreme narcissists will retract something that they said or did and project onto their lover the insinuation that the lover made up the situation or is going crazy. The term was coined from the movie Gaslight (1944) starring Ingrid Bergman. Gaslighting results in cognitive dissonance, the state of confusion and dichotomous thinking that a person feels when they simultaneously feel love for their abuser and also know that their abuser is engaging in a form of psychological abuse, causing them harm. Gaslighting happens in the devaluation and discard stages, and will resume after a hoover if the target allows another cycle.
5. Projection/Blame-Shifting: An abuser verbally regurgitates his feelings onto his love object. Most often, an extreme narcissist ironically does not have high self worth and most definitely lacks solid insight. Narcissists are not able to examine and acknowledge their own transgressions and inadequacies. Grandiosity prevents a narcissist from allowing him/herself to be vulnerable as a human being and examining areas of growth. Instead of accountability, a narcissist "vomits up" their buried feelings about themselves onto their love objects. Over time, the target is repetitively abused, shamed, blamed and castigated for the very issues the extreme narcissist committed. Eventually and with exposure to relentless and persistent projection and gaslighting, the target's self esteem plummets.
6. Trauma Bond: Patrick Carnes discussed the notion of the trauma bond in his work, The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships (1997). Narcissistic abusers are notorious for blending their love-bombing with abuse tactics such as gaslighting, the silent treatment, and projection to intersperse the devaluation stage of the trauma bond, sprinkled with crumbs of consideration here and there. the intermittent reinforcement of the dizzying cycle of abuse perpetuates the trauma bond, rendering otherwise very strong and fortified individuals as paralyzed and feeling chained to their abuser. Fortunately, this trauma bond can be broken with intensive therapy for the survivor and no contact with the abuser.
7. The Silent Treatment: The silent treatment has been written about extensively and is a cruel form of emotional abuse, not to be confused with No Contact. A survivor goes No Contact when they have decided to end the relationship with their abuser, as a way to create a healthy and safe boundary and to end the emotional pain and suffering inflicted upon them by their abuser. Pathological abusers use the silent treatment to invoke a state of power and control over their victim. Often the love object has set a limit or a boundary, perhaps criticized and action of the narcissist (and rightfully so with the egregious behavior that surfaces during devalue and discard stages). In response, a narcissistic injury follows for the narcissist who cannot fathom having their grandiosity and "specialness" questioned. To punish their transgressor, the narcissist deploys the silent treatment for as long as the abuser sees fit to resume power and control in the relationship. Often, endings of relationships initiated by narcissists are extended silent treatments whereby the abuser hoovers at a later date to tap the target for additional ego fuel (if the survivor is willing the play the game again).
The above are just a few of the manipulation tactics a narcissistic/psychopathic abuser deploys in his arsenal of emotional mayhem. Those who are dating and seeking romantic relationships need to be particularly careful to vet and take the time to get to know their dating partners. Know your worth. Know that any thing legitimate and authentic is worth waiting for and taking the time to thoroughly explore and establish honesty, healthy boundaries, integrity, authenticity, empathy, vulnerability, reciprocity, accountability and compromise. Narcissistic abusers and psychopaths are not capable of any of those elements of high emotional IQ. They may pretend to imbue those qualities, as they are masterful actors. Always check in with yourself and pace the dating relationship. Again, know your worth. You hold the power there.