When a narcissist disappears from your life, they leave destruction in their wake. Through their love bombing, gaslighting, and manipulation, they’ve managed to turn you into a shell of your former self, with no clear way back to who you once were.
Once they start to heal, victims sometimes beat themselves up, trying to answer questions about why they stuck around, or how they let someone so toxic into their lives in the first place.
But as Shannon Thomas, the author of the book “Healing from Hidden Abuse” points out, it was your strengths that attracted the narcissist to you in the first place, like a moth to a flame. You weren’t broken and exposed when they found you, but they certainly made you believe that was true when they left.
Psychological abusers, whether they are narcissists, sociopaths, or psychopaths, are attracted to what makes another person shiny, be it their successful career, their strong circle of friends, or their wealth. Thomas said they are drawn to many strengths in a person, but there are five which she sees targeted time and time again.
“Whatever strength they go for they turn that around and destroy it,” she told Business Insider. “I think there are a few that they zero in on specifically.”
The seek to destroy strong relationships with friends and family
The first is strong family relationships. If a narcissistic abuser knows you have a strong bond with your relatives, they will seek to destroy it by worming their way in and causing issues from within.
Thomas said it’s a sign you’re dating an abusive manipulator if at first your new partner is really excited by your family relationships and wants to be a part of them, then something shifts and they start to be overly critical. It’s not dissimilar to when you first started dating and they seemed like the perfect fit for you — until they began pointing out all your faults, insulting you at every opportunity, and warping your reality.
“If the survivor notices that now since they’ve been dating this person or hanging out with them, that those relationships are no longer as healthy as they were before, it’s a huge red flag that [he or she] has been targeted,” Thomas said.
The same thing can happen with friends too, which is why it is important to know the signs that someone might be pulling away because they are being isolated by an abusive manipulator.
Narcissists also target your career success, physical health, and financial stability
“If the survivor is doing things on their own and is moving forward in life, building wealth, or financial stability, somebody will absolutely target that,” Thomas said. “And not just to use it but to take it away. If they have a good friend group, if they are social, that’s another huge shiny sparkly item that an abuser would want to destroy.”
Unless you’ve known an abuser, either someone in your family or in a previous relationship, it doesn’t always feel natural to protect the strengths you hold dear, said Thomas. We don’t like to assume people are out to hurt us, which is one reason we struggle to put up healthy boundaries to keep ourselves safe.
Thomas said that as a result, if we have great friendships and family relationships, we want to share them and welcome new people with open arms.
“When we have a good life, and we have things we’ve worked hard for, we really do have to think about how do we protect those things,” she said. “It’s almost like if we were carrying around a beautiful jewel, and people start to approach us, and we know we have that jewel, so we might be a little more cautious about protecting it.”
Boundaries are essential for knowing what we deserve, what we are willing to put up with, and — most importantly — what we absolutely won’t. As psychologist Perpetua Neo told Business Insider in a previous article, boundaries are our “hell no”s in life.
For example, if your partner decides they don’t want you to go to the gym, and they manipulate you into staying with them instead out of guilt, this is crossing a line. Someone who isn’t controlling and toxic won’t be offended by you living your daily routine. In fact, they’ll probably respect you for it. But a narcissistic abuser will chip away at all the things that make you who you are, and make you feel like you’re abandoning them by taking care of yourself.
“A toxic person will start to show themselves, because they might get upset we aren’t doing what they told us to do,” Thomas said. “It will start to snowball from there… And I think recognising the strengths so when someone tries to change them or tinker with them, we start to recognise that shouldn’t be happening.”
By recognising your strengths and boundaries ahead of time, you are telling yourself you value these aspects of your life enough to protect them, Thomas said, just like carrying around that proverbial jewel.
They want to see how much they can destroy you
Narcissists thrive on chaos, so they do not act out of jealousy, as that would imply they want your relationships, career, wealth, or health for themselves. Rather, they just don’t want to see other people happy.
They don’t want to put the work into maintaining everything themselves, which is why they don’t stick around once they’ve destroyed their target’s life. They simply move on and do it to someone else, because that’s the way they entertain themselves.
“It’s more like entertainment and control to be able to take someone who had this really great life and be part of watching them fall,” Thomas said. “Or someone who had really good self care and took care of themselves, and was really calm, not anxious, and not depressed, and watching them fall apart.