Taking Off The Rose Colored Glasses

Love Bigger book cover image.

Ruthless Lessons Part 1

Some of us relate to others through the eyes of young, innocent parts with a naïve, idealized, optimistic tendency to see the best in others, give them the benefit of the doubt, assume good intentions of others, and extend a great deal of empathy and compassion outwards. These are such beautiful qualities, but part of growing up and maturing beyond childhood is taking off the rose colored glass and earning some street smarts as we learn that not everyone has our best interests at heart or should be trusted.

Kids who grow up in rough neighborhood, for example, might learn early on how to be savvy about who can be trusted and who they might need to be careful around. But kids who grow up in generally healthy families or those who grow up in less healthy families but might be indoctrinated by religion to extend unconditional love and forgiveness to anyone who behaves badly can be very vulnerable to being hurt repetitively in life.

This is why my therapist started our therapy with what she called “ruthless lessons.” Ruthless lessons were a series of psycho-education lessons in how to spot untrustworthy people, especially those who dressed up their ruthlessness in religion and New Age or “non-dual” spirituality. I was initially very resistant to these ruthless lessons. I had childlike parts that wanted to believe that everyone is doing the best they can, that people are generally good-hearted and well intentioned, and that most people who behave badly are just not being loved enough in life and will soften and improve their behavior if you shower them with the love and affection they maybe didn’t get in childhood.

This made me very vulnerable to abuse and exploitation as an adult. I kept feeling betrayed and blindsided by people I shouldn’t have trusted but did. This frightened me because I couldn’t figure out how to break the pattern and was terrified I would just keep trusting and getting betrayed.

Enough people have heard me talk about my “ruthless lessons” and have asked me to share what I learned. So I’m teaching a class Becoming Unf*ckwithable about how to take off the rose colored glasses, see reality more clearly, practice healthy discernment, have good boundaries, and protect yourself better.

It’s not easy, losing our innocence and realizing that there are folks out there who, because of their own trauma, do not wish us well and may view us as someone to exploit, manipulate, control, and take advantage of for self-interested purposes. But it’s crucial to learn how to protect ourselves and our more vulnerable parts that might have a tendency to trust untrustworthy people because of our naïve optimism.

In preparation for Becoming Unf*ckwithable, I’ve been listening to a great podcast Navigating Narcissism with Dr. Ramini. Part of what I appreciate is that she covers all the various ways we might inadvertently fall prey to narcissistic individuals who do not wish us all- romantic relationships, narcissistic bosses, housemates that turn into squatters and game the system, narcissistic parents, narcissistic best friends, narcissistic colleagues, etc. Most of the pain and exploitation I’ve experienced has been in the realm of narcissistic colleagues (many of their names would be familiar to many of you), mostly in the spiritual self help space. Because I mostly thought about narcissism in romantic relationship and parental relationships, I wasn’t on the look out early on in my career as an author for colleagues who might spot me as easy narcissistic supply. I also find it helpful to study such things to check any narcissistic tendencies in myself and do the Internal Family Systems (IFS) work on any parts of myself I might have inherited from my narcissistic mother.

There are so many great quotes and one-liners about how to spot as early as possible the signs of toxic or narcissistic relationships (in others or in yourself) that I’ve been taking notes. Let me share them with you here, in no particular order.

  1. Love bombing

If you don’t know what the term “love bombing” means, learning how it differs from actual love is key to becoming unf*ckwithable. Love bombing is a form of manipulation typically employed very early in a new relationship, during which you are showered with intense and even overwhelming attention, praise, flattery, premature claims of love, excessive gifts, or effusive promises of desirable things you might be craving in your future, all delivered at breakneck speed with premature intimacy, before and closeness has been earned. In romantic relationships, it can be an overwhelmingly intense fairy tale kind of love bombing. In professional relationships, it can seem like a “too good to be true” deal (like the Tom Cruise character in Tom Clancy’s The Firm or in my relationships with one of my early publishers), because you don’t realize you’re making a deal with narcissistic individuals who want to control you, often for financial gain for themselves but sometimes just for narcissistic supply.

Love bombing can come in the form of narcissistic gift giving, such that you’re showered with jewelry, exciting and exotic travel, clothes, or moving into a beautiful house. Sometimes, though, the gift giving lacks empathy or thoughtfulness and can be self serving for the narcissistic individual, or even punitive, such as buying you exercise equipment or work out gear or yoga/ gym memberships because they want you to lose weight (if you’re female identifying) or bulk up and get muscular (if you’re male identifying so you look better on their arm.

Love bombing behavior can be so obsessive that it borders on stalking, such that they find out where you work, where you live, what car you drive, and they surprise you with gifts everywhere- not only to show you they know what you’re up to, but to remind they of themselves all day long. If you don’t appreciate the love bombing or excessive surprises, you may get the passive aggressive silent treatment.

  1. Data mining to track your likes, dislikes, fears, confessions, and dreams

Part of the love bombing includes an intense interest in every little thing you like and dislike, your insecurities, every big dream and scariest fear, everything you’ve done that you’re ashamed of- so they can mine your data for the purposes of manipulating you. It feels intoxicating at the time, because you may have never had someone so interested in every little thing about you before- and that can feel very loving and inflating. But there’s a motive to how obsessively they are centering you and expressing interest in you. Later, anything you disclose may be used against you. They make a mental spreadsheet and map out and keep an atlas of your vulnerabilities so they can pull your puppet strings later. They data mine your worst terrors, because they’re getting intel.

“Tell me your greatest fear baby because I want to take care of you.”

They may encourage you to share your most traumatic experiences, and then they have no problem using your own trauma as a tool to manipulate you. They may even retraumatize you in a similar way to what’s happened in the past because it will destabilize you because they’re needling your trauma. Once you’re destabilized, you’re easier to manipulate.

  1. Fast forwarding commitment & dependency

Narcissistic individuals want you to commit prematurely and may spring early commitments on you when you’re in a vulnerable position, such as a recent break up, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, health problem, or financial crisis. They may propose marriage way too early, ask you to sign a contract before you’ve really had a chance to think about the terms of a business deal, or pressure you to quit your job so you are financially dependent on them. They may socially isolate you so you are emotionally dependent on them.

  1. Future faking promises

When a narcissist feels safe, they “future fake” promises, like never leaving you, marrying you, having kids with you, moving across the country so you can live together, helping you realize a dream you’ve longed for, getting a big financial windfall, getting a big promotion or your perfect job, and finally living happily ever after. But if they feel unsafe because you’re questioning the validity of the promises or whether they’re just false promises meant to hook you and keep you dangling, they can turn on a dime if you challenge whether their promises are real. If you start setting boundaries or demanding that they keep their promises, abuse is common and you can be dropped with no warning or the promises are suddenly withdrawn. The future faked promises may be linked to something they want from you. “Give me money to help me out of a bind and I’ll give you the big promise you’ve been counting on.” If you do what they want, they gush and love bomb and you feel like a million bucks. If you doubt the future faking plan, the narcissist makes you think you’re the dumb one or the unsupportive one or the paranoid one- for doubting and not believing in that plausible future that will never come true.

If it works to keep you hooked, they keep pushing back the deadline of the future that will never come. But if you fail to fall for the manipulation or say no, they withdraw affection, pull away, attack you, blame you, or threaten you. The love bombing and the abuse get intertwined- back and forth. As long as you’re cooperating with their agenda, they relax and love bomb. But the minute you say no, the aggressive rage flies out – then you’re blamed for not cooperating with their agenda. Then they manipulate you with fear of their rage. You’re trying to please someone ultimately unpleasable.

For example, companies with narcissistic leaders (like many Silicon Valley start ups) thrive on future faking and hype- until the house of cards crashes down as it did for Elizabeth Holmes, who is support to report to jail today after her bid for appeal was turned down. In companies with narcissistic leaders, the mantra is “If it’s not working, hustle harder.” All narcissistic relationships are a hustle.

We so badly want to believe the future faking, but if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Still, we tend to suspend disbelief because we so want to believe in the fantasy. A little bit of denial goes a long way.

  1. Blame shifting

The grandiosity of the narcissist means they can’t take ownership for mistakes. Blaming you for their mistakes is a strategy for maintaining the grandiose façade.

  1. There’s intense urgency around their entitled demands.

They push you with urgency and don’t give you time to think about their outrageous request rationally.  Everything goes so fast you don’t have time to figure out how you’re getting conned or manipulated. There’s often a perceived sense of time pressure and the threat of danger, as if something bad will happen if you don’t give them whatever they feel entitled to right away. They may intensely pressure you, like a car salesman that won’t let you leave the lot to think about your purchase first. Then they’ll rage and attack- or cry or threaten self harm- or pull up some sob story about their enemies who might not wish them well- or threaten something bad against you- if you don’t comply with helping them get what they feel unhealthily entitled to. They won’t let you pause and think about it, and they’ll intensely pressure you if you suggest you’d like to ask someone else’s advice, hire a lawyer, get outside feedback, consult your financial advisor, talk to your therapist or best friend, or ask a trusted advisor whether complying with their request seems like a good idea. If you don’t respond immediately to the urgency because you’re taking a pause to make sure you’re making a wise decision, they may claim you don’t care.

  1. Grooming period/ trauma bonding

Dr. Ramani says, “Grifters are working a game from the moment they meet us.” Antagonistic people learn how to game the system and pride themselves, even bragging about how they can get away with working the system or breaking the law.  Victims of coercive control are often targeted and researched in advance, especially if you have something the narcissist thinks will help them advance their self-interested agenda. Early on, you get tested to see what they can get away with. They push the boundaries to see if you’ll push back, say no, or let them get away with the crossing of boundaries. There’s a series of perpetual tests and deals with the devil that leads to the “boiled frog.” They turn up the heat and see if you can tolerate it, and you may not even notice you’re getting boiled until it’s too late.

Trauma bonding creates a trance state that makes the victim vulnerable. The spellbound trance of the charismatic narcissist feels good. Then if the trance stops, the victim wants to get back under the spell because the spell bound state feels so good. But you’re forever chasing that high- and it will never come back to the level of where it started. The carrot keeps moving, but you keep the chase because of the intermittent reinforcement.

During the grooming period and boundary testing, your sovereign territory is getting annexed. Yet we mistake this chronic testing for “love.” If you came from a family with a narcissistic parent, chaos is familiar and chaos is confused for love. So the chaos gets normalized. Someone is taking you over, and you’ve become parasited in a way that only benefits the host. But you may be too exhausted to have the energy to fight back- because you’ve been hollowed out, and they count on that. That constant encroaching elicits a primal fear of being abandoned and an essential hijacking’s of the self. Pain and love get intertwined, and if you question or doubt, you feel like you’re at risk of losing your whole world view. You’re trying desperately trying to hold your psyche together, but psychosis is not uncommon when you’re with a narcissist. The gaslighting gets so intense that nothing makes sense, and the psyche can shatter. And then you’re blamed for being mentally unstable.

The grooming period inevitably ends when they realize you’re not going to hold them accountable for bad behavior, and then the gloves come off and the trauma bond is cemented and the love bombing tapers off. You go from five good days and one bad day, to three bad days and then three good days to give bad days. The good days reinforce the trauma bond like a slot machine offering intermittent reward. You keep hoping for one more hit of the intoxicating love bombing, but ultimately, it tends to stop completely unless you try to leave or fail to keep cooperating with the agenda. Then the love bombing gets dialed up to full force to try to get you back under their control.

  1. Weaponizing your empathy and tendency to forgive

Narcissists are attracted to empathic people who cut them slack, extend compassion towards the narcissist when they misbehave, and don’t hold them accountable. They weaponize your empathy, using it like a thief uses a crack in the basement window to slip and rob you blind. They take advantage of the most generous parts of you.