3) Inconsistent character and behavior.
The most skilled abusers will save the “hot and cold” tactics for when they enter long-term relationships, but other abusers may give you a sample of this even within the first month of dating. They do so by the following:
Projection and Gaslighting. Narcissistic dating partners and other toxic people are also proficient at gaslighting and projection, techniques they use to convince society that their victims are the crazy ones and to convince their victims that their reality is inaccurate. The effects of this type of manipulation are incredibly lethal on victims long-term, so it is important to note signs early on in the dating process so that you can detach more quickly from the different type of reality these toxic partners are likely to impose upon you.
Gaslighting and projection are very clever tactics that allow toxic dating partners to simultaneously shift the blame of their own characteristics onto you while also enabling them to escape accountability for their hypocrisy, deceit and otherwise unsavory behavior.
If you find yourself feeling at unease about something a dating partner did or said and later denied, minimized or projected onto you, remember that narcissists enjoy calling others “crazy.” It’s a common word they’ll use to describe any valid emotional reaction victims have to their shady and inconsistent behavior. It is gaslighting in its simplest form but over time becomes a complex type of psychological torture in which the victim starts to mistrust his or her perceptions of the covert abuse and feels unable to trust his or own reality. Stonewalling (shutting down a conversation even before it’s begun), silent treatments and devaluation soon follows in order to maintain control. Narcissists can easily maintain the illusion of their false self whenever their behavior is called out and discredit their victims so that the covert abuse is never recognized or addressed without the dire consequences of you walking on eggshells.
To understand the difference between a partner who provides you constructive criticism or simply disagrees with you and a partner who routinely projects their own qualities and gaslights you, look closely at their actions rather than their words.
Does it appear that the person you are dating often accuses you of the same characteristics, traits or actions that they themselves seem guilty of committing? Do they call you a hypocrite when they are the ones who often contradict their proposed beliefs? When you call them out on being rude, do they bring up something irrelevant you did in response, in order to shift the topic back to you instead?
For example, you may meet narcissistic partners who, in the beginning, are very possessive of you, track where you go and who you are with, seem to check up on you 24/7 and call you out if you ever dare to show signs of flirtation or interacting with another man. Yet the moment you ever call out signs of potential infidelity on their part or question any lies that don’t quite add up, they may unleash their narcissistic rage and gaslight you into thinking you are the jealous, possessive one and tell you that you’re getting too heavily invested in the relationship too soon – minimizing the fact that they had been putting you under surveillance from the very beginning.
Be careful – the projection and gaslighting of narcissists is so adept, so sneaky, so conniving, and so utterly convincing, that you are often led to apologize for being alive at all.
Superficial charm. There are an endless number of toxic people who begin their ploys with superficial charm accompanied by self-absorption and an actual lack of empathy or substance. You can begin to spot how superficial their demeanors are once you’ve had some practice in identifying nonverbal gestures, nuances in facial expressions and tone of voice. Skilled predators are quite charming and you can easily learn to see through this by observing the way they exaggerate how they feel about you and their glib ways of showing you that they “care” when they really don’t.
For example, hearing “I’ve never felt this way about anyone else,” on a first or second date is not only premature, it’s most likely a lie to impress you. When this charm is paired with actions that don’t align with the abuser’s words, like the fact that this person never actually asks you about your interests or passions despite being so “enamored” with you, you’ll soon realize these are just shallow ways of getting into your head (and most likely your bed).
Pathological lying. Do you catch the person in frequent lies or stories that simply don’t add up? Do they “drip-feed” you information so that the full story eventually unravels over time? A girl he hung out with was once just a “female friend,” and now suddenly he mentions that he used to date her. A man she sees for Sunday brunch is “just” a colleague, but then you find out that it’s an ex-husband. It’s true that everyone reserves some crucial information on the first few dates for later and everyone makes mistakes or tells “white lies” to preserve their self-image occasionally. However, if these lies seem to be chronically common, it’s not a healthy pattern to start off a relationship with. Disclosure, honesty and open communication are foreign words to the abuser, who lives in a world of falsehoods.
Frequent disappearances. In the beginning, the person you were dating was constantly on top of you, bombarding you with calls and texts. Suddenly, they disappear for days, only to come back again as if nothing ever happened. These disappearances, which are often staged without convincing explanations, are a way of managing your expectations and making you “pine” for contact.
Attitude changes towards you. Abusers engage in black-and-white thinking and this results in emotional polarization in the ways they view you. You’re either “the one” when you’re meeting their needs or you’re suddenly the villain if you disappoint them in any way or threaten their fragile sense of superiority. Beware of this “hot and cold” behavior, because it’s another tactic to manage your expectations and keep you on your toes. Even if you don’t even like the person, if you tend to be the people-pleasing type, you might fall into the trap of attempting to avoid rejection and win their favor. It’s “reverse psychology” at its finest.
Intermittent reinforcement. This is a psychological tactic that provokes you into trying to please a toxic person, even if he or she is mistreating you. The abuser gets to have you on your “best behavior” without changing his or her own behavior. Abusers love giving “crumbs” after they’ve already seduced their victims with the idea of the whole loaf of bread. You might find yourself on the receiving end of praise, flattery, attention one day, only to be given cold silence the day after. Occasionally you will get the same idealization that you received on the first few dates, but more likely, you will get a mixture of hot and cold, leaving you uncertain about the fate of the relationship.