In writing this blog, I am realizing that there are many terms particular to narcissism and relational trauma — some of these you may already find familiar, and all deserve further exploration, which I will do in future posts — see those below with links (more info can also be found elsewhere on the Internet). I also may have left out some key concepts, but this is my best attempt to cover the main ones. Thank you so much to our students in the Neuroscience, Consciousness and Relational Trauma Coach Certification Program for their help with these definitions!
Baiting: Baiting occurs when the toxic person escalates an interaction to the point where the target is pushed to the limit and blows up or responds in some strong or dramatic manner. Often then the toxic person relaxes and even seems calmer, and may begin gaslighting (see below) the target by calling them out of control or overly dramatic.
Breadcrumbing: Someone who “breadcrumbs” leads you on by dropping small morsels of interest or attention. In the case where it is not an actual relationship, this might look like an occasional compliment, message, phone call, date plan, or social media interaction as an attempt to “keep their hand in” so to speak. In this case there is rarely any follow-up (and it’s a good sign that you’re probably dealing with a toxic personality).
Breadcrumbing can also occur in the devalue stage of an existing toxic relationship as part of the intermittent reinforcement cycle. As someone once described her relationship with a narcissist: “at the beginning it was like I had just had the most amazing chocolate chip cookie in the world. After a while, I was just getting crumbs, but they were reminding me how great the cookie was, so I stayed hoping I’d get the whole thing again!”
Coercive Control: Coercive control is a strategic form of ongoing oppression and terrorism used to instill fear. The abuser will use tactics, such as limiting access to money or monitoring all communication, as a controlling effort. While this form of abuse is illegal in some countries, (including the United Kingdom since 2015), it’s not yet considered illegal in the United States.
Cognitive Traps: There are some classic cognitive traps that can keep people in a toxic relationship even when it is causing extreme disruption in a client’s life. One, they don’t want to leave the party too soon—what if it gets better? Two, they want to be 100% sure it won’t change (and toxic people can be very manipulative and convincing about their plans and intentions to change). Three, they have “sunk costs” into the relationship. A concept from behavioral economics, the “sunk cost fallacy” is the reason someone might put a lot of coins into a slot machine and not want to step away because it just has to pay off soon. Or hold on to a stock that is tanking rather than getting out when they can.
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD): Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, C-PTSD, is a devastating condition that can affect people who have lived through long-term trauma, such as months or years of abuse. It causes symptoms similar to PTSD and includes a broader set of difficulties than those typically seen in PTSD alone, leading to significant impairments in relationships and quality of life.
Many childhood traumas occur before a person has had the opportunity to develop a secure sense of self or learn skills to regulate emotions and maintain meaningful relationships. So, it’s not difficult to correlate many of the signs of C-PSTD with childhood trauma. In addition, other types of trauma that fundamentally undermine a person’s sense of safety in the world or trust in others might also precipitate C-PTSD. For example, betrayal by a parent, family member, trusted person of authority, and sexual trauma.
Devaluing: Devaluing is the second phase of the Idealization, Devalue, Discard cycle. When the ‘honeymoon phase’ begins to wane, the toxic person will generally begin to devalue their partner, taking them down off the pedestal they had put them on during the idealization or “love-bombing” stage. Note that this is different from the normal process of moving out of the initial infatuation of a relationship, when partners begin to see the realness of each other and begin to work to grow closer and develop deeper love and connection.
Flying Monkeys: Flying monkeys are people who actively participate in a toxic person’s attempts to devalue, discard, and/or tarnish the reputation of the target. The term comes from the Wizard of Oz, where the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys carried out her commands. It’s important to note that flying monkeys may or may not be aware of the role they are playing, in that they can also be manipulated by the toxic person and believe they are doing or saying what is right.
Future Faking: A term used to describe a toxic person’s tendency to promise you something you want in the future in order to get what they want in the present. It could be the engagement and the wedding that they dangle in front of you, or it could be that you want to buy a house or take a special holiday. They’ll talk about it, possibly even go to open houses or pick up travel brochures, but then they do absolutely nothing to turn that dream into a reality. In other words, they will lie to you in order to string you along. In the workplace this can look like endless promises of promotion that never actually materialize.
Gaslighting: Another movie reference, this comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, where a toxic husband attempts to drive his wife crazy (to gain an inheritance) by flickering the gaslights (among other things) and then denying it when mentioned. Gaslighting is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt themselves. Its intent is meant to discredit or undermine. There are five primary styles of gaslighting: manipulation, withholding, contradicting, diversion, and minimization. Gaslighting is often very much part of coercive control.
Golden Child: The child or employee (or any person in a group) who is treated as perfect and special. They often don’t see or experience the toxic behavior because it is generally not directed at them, so they may live in the illusion that the parent, boss or leader of the group is wonderful and those who see things differently are simply negative, unforgiving people with an ex to grind (see also Scapegoat below). However, experts in narcissistic abuse tend to report that the Golden Child in a toxic family actually has a harder time differentiating and healing that the Scapegoat, because their cognitive dissonance can be far greater. In other words, the Scapegoat can have an easier time seeing the dysfunction for what it is.
Grey Rock: Grey rock is a strategy to deal with a toxic person when you can’t (yet) leave. The terms comes from the idea that if you are as interesting as a grey rock, the toxic person will not experience their supply (see below) and may lose interest. It is not recommended as a long-term strategy due to the psychic cost of pretending that you simply don’t care about anything the toxic person says or does, but it can be a useful stopgap measure.
Hoovering: Hoovering is often done by a toxic person when they think the victim or the person who they abuse or control is seeking to move away, or the relationship has ended and they decide they want it back. This is an attempt to see if a prior target of abuse can be conned into another cycle of abuse, so that the toxic person may reclaim the sense of power and control by causing distress once again (emotional and sometimes physical) to their target. It is highly addictive, because for once, the target is getting the love and attention they have so craved from the abuser.
Love Bombing / Idealization: Love bombing or idealization are actions/words that are overly or inappropriately affectionate, lavish, or over the top and are well beyond the level of the relationship or commitment. This is used for manipulation of the other person. As part of the Idealization, Devalue, Discard cycle, it generally occurs at the beginning of a relationship, when the target is put on a pedestal in an unrealistic way.
Mirroring: Mirroring is a manipulative technique used by toxic people. They will often “mirror” the other person to gain trust and intimacy. This looks like “miraculously” having the same likes and dislikes, pretending they are “soul mates” etc. Once they are in the door, so to speak, they tend to demonstrate their toxic behaviors.
No Contact/Low Contact: No contact is the recommended strategy for dealing with (and healing from) relational abuse. It’s not a short term strategy—it’s indefinite. If a toxic person has a way of contacting you, they will. Low contact (keeping contact to an absolute minimum) may be necessary when co-parenting or for other reasons.
Supply: The term used for the attention and focus the toxic person is seeking from their target. Often likened to a vampire seeking blood, supply is what the toxic person lives on and believes they must have in order to survive. Like a parasite, no matter how much you give, it’s never enough to fill their emptiness and satisfy their hunger. It may be fair to think of the neurotransmitter dopamine as a key component of supply. One way dopamine is generated is through various sorts of stimulation, which can help to explain why narcissists come on strong in the beginning but then lose interest–the target is no longer particularly stimulating. (See The Goldilocks of the Brain for an interesting look at stimulation and the brain.)
Trauma Bond: Trauma bonding is a type of attachment that a client might feel toward someone who’s causing them trauma, and can explain why the client can’t bring themselves to leave. People often experience feelings of sympathy and compassion for the toxic person, as well as associating their breadcrumbs (see above) with a sense of relief from the stress of the relationship, but the trauma bond tends to create confusion because of the disruption and pain client is also experiencing. The intermittent reinforcement that is part of the idealize-devalue-discard cycle has a direct impact on the trauma bond, in that the occasionally loving or positive behavior can serve to “keep hope alive.” (See my post on this subject for more.)
Triangulation: Toxic people often use triangulation, usually to maintain control over situations by manipulating others. With triangulation, one-on-one conversations or disagreements might quickly become two-against-one situations and may well involve flying monkeys (see above).
Previously Published on butnowIknowyourname.com and is republished on Medium.
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