By this point, you've probably heard about ‘gaslighting’: a phenomenon in which one person manipulates another by undermining their reality. But what about other manipulative practices? Ever heard of ‘favour sharking’? What about ‘future faking’?
Dr Ramani Durvasula is a clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at California State University. Known for appearing on TV shows like Red Table Talk, she has a particular interest in the dynamics of narcissistic abuse, and has penned a number of books on the subject. Her 2017 book – Should I Stay Or Should I Go? – flags the key signs of narcissism look out for when getting to know someone new, or behaviours that suggest someone in your life could be an undiagnosed case.
Dr Durvasula has featured in countless videos and podcasts talking about various personality disorders and there’s a plethora of content out there breaking down symptoms, treatment options and everything you may want to know if, like basically all of us, you’re a practising armchair psychologist.
And while Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a diagnosis that is few and far between, Dr Durvasula speculates that it’s more common than patient records let on. Some stats point to 1 in 200 people having narcissistic traits. Her reason for the disorder’s rarity is that symptoms of NPD make other people uncomfortable rather than the patient themselves. Usually, a diagnosis of any mental disorder is brought on by the patient bringing attention to their discomfort by seeking treatment. If it’s only other people who are being affected by the disorder, there’s no reason for the subject to reach out; keeping them undiagnosed and out of the statistics.
In general, she explains that narcissism revolves around a pattern of insecurity, which requires the narcissist to have constant validation and attention. Finding yourself on the the receiving end of a narcissist’s behaviour is confusing, destabilising and invalidating. People usually expect a mirror; for instance, when we share bad news with someone, we expect them to look sad and vocalise their concern for us – this shows they’re having a genuine empathetic response. But we can’t get a narcissist to consistently respond like this. In fact Dr Durvasula summarises a relationship with a narcissist as a lack of reciprocation, an imbalance of give and take. They will always need more than what they’ll give to you.
Narcissists have a wide moveset at their disposal, and these are some of their favourite weapons:
Favour Sharking. When a person does something for you that you didn’t want or ask them to do, only to have this ‘favour’ brought up later to get you to do something for them.
Future Faking. When a person lies or promises something about your possible future in order to get what they want in the present. Be mindful of anything that may seem too good to be true.
The Foot-In-Door. Making a small request that you agree to, which is followed by the real request. It’s harder to say no, because you’ve already said yes. The reversal turns your words around to mean something you didn’t intend. When you object, manipulators turn the tables on you so that they’re the injured party. Now it’s about them and their complaints, and you’re on the defensive.
So this gives you a good indication of what to look out for. If you can identify the behaviour, if you have the language for what you’re experiencing, you are far more likely to be able to remove yourself from these relationships that may not be good for you.
But what about the narcissists in your life you can’t avoid? Be it a parent, boss, sibling, neighbour or just someone you can’t easily detach yourself from? Well, Dr Ramani has some advice for this.
The key strategy, she explains on the Being Well with Dr Rick Hansen podcast, is to have realistic expectations. Expectations around narcissists is akin to waiting in line: you don’t go for your vaccine expecting it to be done quickly. Or line up at RMS and expect to be seen straight away. You know there’s a chance you might have to wait a long time, so you bring a water bottle and a book (or just sink deep into the Reddit hole on your phone). The point is that you come prepared with the expectation that you will probably have to wait. Narcissists work the same way: be prepared to have an unpleasant or unsatisfying encounter. Dr Ramani speculates that it’s better for your mental wellbeing to anticipate these behaviours. “Shock and surprise use a lot of emotional bandwidth”, she says.
Another thing to keep in mind is that narcissists love projecting. They have fragile egos and will make their shit, your shit. But it’s their shit! Never forget this! (Shockingly, these are not quotes by Dr Ramani). So when a narcissist says something accusatory towards you, remember that it’s not about you – they are looking for an argument, so walk away. Never defend yourself in their presence.
And finally, for the very stubborn narcissist, Dr Ramani talks about radical acceptance: the ability to accept situations we can’t control without judging them. Life doesn’t always work out the way we want, and there will be times when we have to accept certain situations to minimise our own suffering. It sounds bleak, but look at the news.
If you’re dealing with a narcissist, you probably can’t get them to change. The best thing to do is educate ourselves and know who we’re dealing with. In the end, the best way to manage difficult people is by raising our own self-esteem and self-respect. If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen?
If you need mental health support, there are plenty of ways to seek help. Jump on over to Headspace (ages 12-25) or call Lifeline (all ages) on 13 11 14 to speak to someone. Kids Helpline has some great resources on their website, too, and a 24/7 call line at 1800 55 1800.
Written by Sophie Chandler. More from her here.