A Glitch in the Matrix. Narcissistic Cognitive Dissonance.
I have read over and again about Cognitive Dissonance, yet this is something that I never really ascribed to my own experiences with narcissists. In some ways, my situation has been somewhat unique, which is why it took so long for me to see the pattern that I have read and learned about, in my own life. It wasn’t until a few days ago even that I understood that I had also gone through a love bombing, gaslighting, systematic denigration, and then discard with many narcissists until this last week.
I have educated myself extensively on narcissism, yet, here I am, only genuinely understanding what happened to me, for the first time. I’ve listened to hundreds of examples and heard many stories, but none quite described my experiences, so I dismissed them, while still believing that in some ways I have been the victim now a survivor of narcissistic abuse, not by one person, but by many.
I am not writing to ‘diagnose’ the narcissists I’ve been exposed to, but rather to share my own experience of the various dynamics of narcissism as I’ve lived them, and in that way hopefully shine a light on these topics for other people. It is worth noting here, that at least one of these many people has been clinically diagnosed with NPD.
One of the most disturbing and critical aspects as a targeted victim of this type of emotional and mental abuse is Cognitive Dissonance.
Not only do I hold conflicting beliefs and observe conflicting behaviours in the narcissists I have in my life, but I battle to keep together the defining images I have of myself and my own actions and observations and perceptions as a result of this. How does this happen?
The movie ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ or at least the title springs to mind. When my eyes and ears and even written communication tells me otherwise, when I’m around these people, I doubt that I ever doubted them to start with. This causes an immense sense of tension and anxiety in me. While their Miasma and cloying ‘niceness’ is evident to everyone else, I get a different, underlying and defined message, my inability to hold these differing ‘pieces of evidence’ together in my brain and in my heart leads to feeling like I’m in a washing machine spin cycle.
Staying with the movie theme, when you watch a children’s film, that has multiple layers of funny double-sided innuendos, one only adults pick up on and the other aimed directly at the children who will never see the second layer of humour etc. This is, what it is to be the target of cognitive dissonance, except you are the ONLY adult who is hearing the other layers of humour and they are NOT funny. Yet to all but possibly a select few, you cannot adequately explain your disdain, dislike and fear of the narcissist, because they too have fallen for that ever-present disarming charm.
There is, in fact, a glitch in the matrix. There is a deliberate code error, and it has been placed there, by the narcissist. I have had the experience of Funny not funny many times with many different narcissists. Someone who will make a particularly nasty or sarcastic remark, aimed directly at me, yet, if I try to assimilate why I feel so hurt, I’m told, ‘I was only joking’ ‘you are too sensitive’, ‘that is your own stuff in your own head, it has nothing to do with me.’
My cognitive mind, my thinking brain, my own intellect tells me, there is something very wrong with what was said, the way it was said, the body language and the tone of voice, yet, there are smiles and a magnanimous openness just seconds later, mocking me for my hurt feeling. And there it is, the cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive Dissonance can happen on a large or a small scale, in the little moments or in grand manoeuvres, and I have experienced both. The subtlety of this is lost on the people around me as my own intuitive knee-jerk, and correct interpretation is immediately glossed over by the wave of charisma and seemingly (seemingly being the operative word here, narcissists are very good at seeming) good-natured joking around.
‘That didn’t happen.’ Cognitive Dissonance is achieved by the narcissist through gaslighting another catchphrase of Narcissistic abuse. If I had a Penny for every time, I’ve heard that exact phrase, and variations of that phrase, I’d be sitting on a mountain.
For this is the very reason, Cognitive Dissonance is sought out by the narcissist and perpetuated in my direction. It is to achieve an imbalance in me. To watch me wobble like an unbalanced top and to have the vindictive delight in having the power over me to do so, and having the power is what makes the narcissist tick.
Cruel control is the ultimate food for the narcissist, and I give it repeatedly in my unchecked reactions to real statements and circumstances perpetuated by these people. My uncontrolled results are the practical and appropriate responses, yet, these are also precisely what the narcissist is preying on. Nothing is straight forward, nothing is a direct line from A to B. Everything is part of the power game show, and I am the no 1 contestant.
The smart patterns and weaves of fabrications and false realities, most often with a tiny drop of truth to them, are what create that perpetuated state of confused reality. What someone already knows (partly) to be true of me is weaved into a web of lies, and over-exaggerated stories, these things spiral out of control. Sometimes by the time the state of my own life through someone else’s eyes gets back to me I’m stunned and amazed to apparently be having so much fun/causing so much mischief/doing things I’ve never done. I said in dazed confusion just the other day ‘I wish someone would invite me to this exciting life, I’m apparently having.’
However, it is reconciling this type of conjecture and what I know to be accurate of myself that hurts and this is where the cognitive dissonance again rears its head, to confuse me into a sense of hazy unreality. I disconnect from myself when this happens as I struggle to find my footing and keep my own sanity.
The beast is real. I know this. I have experienced the cruelty, the hurt, the threats and I have many of these in written format, yet when faced with the oh so niceness, the in my face ‘goodness’ and expansive ‘generosity’, I get confused. How can this be the same person? How can this be the same beast I know it to be?
The Superior Attitude, the grandiosity and the arrogance are what give it away, in the most subtle ways. It is in the body language and the deliberate dismissals, only noticing suddenly what I’m saying or undermining what I’m saying with saccharine sarcasm, again disguised as ‘nice’, or just seemingly ‘nice’ enough.
Selective memory on the narcissists part and the ability to just move on, immediately as though nothing they have said or done, is now pertinent to the situation and circumstances make sorting and sifting through the haze another challenge. While they have simply moved onto the next thing, no look back no regret and no accountability, I am left trying to figure out what just happened?
There is hope, though. Things that have helped me immensely are the habits and daily steps I still take to manage this phenomenon. The first of these was to start to learn to trust me and to remind myself through journaling and keeping specific interactions, primarily written ones. This way, I can refer back and see for myself that I do not imagine things, I am not making things up in my own head, I can follow the trail of deceit, deliberate hurtfulness, deliberate threats and intentional confusing, ambiguous communications and see for myself that I am indeed dealing with someone who is outside of the way mature and loving individuals behave.
It has been a long struggle, but I have striven to contain my reactions and to convert these to bland responses instead. Sticking to the absolute facts and repeatedly bringing those back into focus especially when I’m forced to deal with one of these people, is an invaluable skill and one I am still mastering because I don’t always get it right. If I’m in the company of one of these people, my own body language lets them know when they’ve hit the target. I can’t always control these reactions, however, learning to steer physically clear of them as much as possible or to cut them out of my life altogether if I can, and I’m able to do so has helped more than anything else.
Indeed, just understanding what cognitive dissonance is and how it is crafted with such intent, and that I have been a victim of this has helped me to move to a survivor.
Having a small and very tight circle of trusted friends and family has been the key to my survival, that and a therapist who is very well versed on narcissism. All these people help me daily, to regain my footing and keep my balance as I am learning to deflect, not react and only to respond to what is absolutely necessary. They are indeed the gems the nuggets of gold in my emotional bank account, and I would have been absolutely lost without them. They bring me back to myself and talk me down from those high ledges when I am spun out by a narcissist.
Fellow survivors. There is nothing more validating than talking directly with survivors on various forums and groups. They have the most honestly given and valuable insights to add to my growing understanding of what happens when I am the target of a narcissist and can often in one comment bring me back to stasis and clear-headed thinking. These people know, because they too have been there and back again, and battle in the same trenches.
I hope these thoughts and my lived experiences as I’ve explained help someone else, to see clearly, to understand what has or is happening to them. Reaching out to the broader survivor community is always the right place to start, and there are many online forums and groups to join. Please do and educate yourself on this otherworldly phenomena in all its aspects. This will immediately help you to start to recover and to manage how you proceed when faced with these people.