The Three Baited Lures of Narcissism

Artwork by Lionel Kennaugh

Narcissistic baiting comes in three distinct ways and at three different stages in the cycle of this emotional abuse. There are other mechanisms at play and used during these three phases. They are often used deliberately, methodically and without guilt.

Bait One.

The first time that baiting is used, it feels terrific. The lure is set out, and it appears to be everything you desire. It is a colourful concoction of emotional and physical attractiveness that draws you close to it. Curious about what it offers, you approach it with no fear and without concern for any consequences. You are attracted in by the prospective friend/lover/business partner etc. and they will feel completely safe and utterly approachable to you.

It looks so enticing you are not even aware that there is imminent danger to you. A narcissist does nothing without a price tag attached. There is no little thing, no small favour and no kind gesture from them that will not go untallied later. Every compliment and insignificant something they do during the first baiting phase, (usually referred to as the love-bombing phase) is recorded. There will be an insult to go with it later. A scorecard is kept of your weaknesses and strengths. Both will come under fire and eventually be used against you.

Baiting in this first instance is the fact that you are enticed into the relationship to start, you are dazzled by that lure and utterly unaware of the sharp hook attached to it. Whether this ‘owing’ to the narcissist is real or perceived is immaterial as they will label and mark it up according to their own reckoning.

This first bait though is a heady invitation and often hard to refuse. Most especially if the narcissist has already zoomed in on all your weaknesses and what they believe you really desire to land you into the relationship. They will pander to all these needs and desires perfectly. 

The narcissist banks on your longing and need to be loved and valued and they bank on the fact that what they have ‘promised’ is worth more to you than your own innate sense of self-worth. It is the most classic case of leading someone on, only for their personal gain.

You have something they want or need, and they will trample right over all your good intentions to get it. No good deed goes unpunished. Ultimately even your negative attention will be valuable to them.  They rely on your hopes to keep you bound to the relationship. The hope it will get better. The hope that you haven’t made a grave error in giving so much to them.  The hope that they will still love you, when in fact their love or their interest in you was just a construct, a haze and illusion right from the start.

What to do?

The obvious answer is, of course, don’t get caught out in this way by a narcissist in the first place. Which while obvious, is not that easy to put into practice unless of course you have had training with more than one of this type of person and even then, they are hard to spot.

Develop a healthy sense of paranoia. If it’s too good to be true, it usually is. When everything, every little thing is right, no matter what you do, it’s a red flag. Nobody is perfect, and if someone is making you feel like the most perfect person on the planet, they are feeding your ego.

If little sleights go unchecked all in the name of ‘you are the best, there is not a single thing wrong with you, you are perfect’. Ask yourself, is this attraction just a bit too intense? Red flag.

How do they treat other people when you are around? This can be one of the most telling things of all. As an example: Do they treat waiter staff or home domestic staff poorly, and in the next second turn around to you and the charming face is back on? Red Flag.

Are things moving along too quickly? Are concrete and tangible commitments required of you in a noticeably short space of time, such as moving in together, marriage proposals, or a binding financial commitment? Things you would ordinarily wait and test out first were it someone else, something you would usually be cautious about committing to?  Red Flag.

Are you ignoring the vague sense of unease, but can’t put your finger on quite what is wrong? A nagging anxiousness that makes you feel unsettled, but you don’t know why? Red Flag.

Do you sense a superior attitude? You can’t compliment them enough; they soak up all your good energy and are hungry for more at any given time. The perspective of being superior to others is first hidden and then becomes more evident over time. So, your idolisation of them is never enough, not really, no matter what you do. Red Flag.

Do you feel uncomfortable declining or saying no to them? Knowing it’s going to ‘disappoint them’ Are you the partner who is overly eager to please this person? Red Flag.

Are you idealising this person to the point of putting them on a pedestal too? Narcissists are adept at making themselves appear to be the most desirable of partners. Even when your own intuition is yelling at you that there is a problem if you are ignoring that intuition consider it a red flag

Is this person already overly familiar with you personally and then your friends and family also? Easing into your life, well, literally with ease, as they charm everyone around you, not just you? Red Flag.

These are all things; among many others, you will notice in the first baiting stage. All aimed at getting you hooked and reeling you in.

Take a giant step backwards, carefully, and firmly and then keep your distance, it will save you from the next two phases.

Bait two.

You have fallen for the narcissist anyway, and now you’re about to get a taste of a whole new kind of narcissistic baiting. This is the most understood term with regards to narcissistic baiting.

Once you are genuinely invested in the relationship in a tangible way, be it a business arrangement, friendship, even pregnancy or marriage. If the investment seems irreversible and you are seemingly stuck, then the systematic denigration starts. Everything that was once lovable about you is now an irritation, and you are always criticised and walking on eggshells. This is the systematic denigration of everything about you.

Information you have shared about yourself up to this point is now going to be used against you. Any way that you made yourself vulnerable will be used against you. Anything you shared in confidence will soon be on the open market for anyone else to hear, usually with a damning personal twist on the details by the narcissist. Of course, nobody will hear the whole story. Each person will only get a tiny titbit each, so nobody knows what’s really going on. Ultimately this is to cause humiliation or to use against you for their own agenda, such as in a divorce or break up etc. You cannot trust that anything you have told them in confidence is still in confidence. They’ll have collected this information over time about you and will hold onto every little piece of ‘evidence’ they have against you.

Here is where if you are unprepared, you are going to have a nasty taste of the second type of baiting, and that is a deliberate provocation to get a reaction. Nobody else sees the lure and the bait beneath the surface, they only ever see the flailing fish on the end of the hook, once it breaks the surface. Being baited by a narcissist is just like this, and you are the flailing fish.

The narcissist has already prepared their audience for your response. Look! See? This is what I must deal with. Look at how crazy, unreasonable, and unstable this person is. This is where triangulation with other people is also the most effective. Putting out provocative bait to you, in front of others and then sitting back to watch your pain and your reactions are what they are best at. It is subtly done, and often others don’t even realise they are also being used in a way that baits you and brings forth a reaction from you.

Not falling for this lure and bait is probably one of the hardest things to endure when you are involved with a narcissist in any way. The focus is never on the provocation but shone onto your reactions to the provocation.

Notably for this baiting to work a narcissist won’t commit themselves one way or the other until you have made yourself plain or precise as to your intentions. Due to the secretive nature of the narcissist, you can’t or are not privileged or worthy enough to know the whole truth. This constantly leaves you on the alert to be tripped up by a ‘secret’ you were not privy to – usually something about you. This causes hypervigilance and cognitive dissonance within you.

You are never able to fully relax or feel safe as you don’t know when or where the next provocative barb is going to come from. You don’t know when you are going to be faced with information about yourself, that simply isn’t true.

By nature, narcissists are deliberately evasive and ambiguous; however, their big reveal is after you have made yourself vulnerable already.

This is especially true when you have no choice but to have to engage with a narcissist, and this means that there is always an opportunity for baiting, to turn whatever the communication is about into an agenda. The narcissist is an opportunist, so whenever you engage a narcissist, you are potentially allowing the narcissist to set you up to fail.

Another way the narcissist will prevail is by turning the perceived wrong you have done them and the rebound reaction to this wrong to be disproportionate to what has happened. Again, triangulation will be used to ‘show you up’ as being ‘insert label here’.

Shaming you by offering a ‘public’ or copied into the world in general criticism is often the next step. If the narcissist can get you to engage on a public forum all the better to be deliberately provocative and inflammatory.

Causing you to doubt your own sanity is one of their favourite tricks. To ask yourself ‘did I really do something so wrong?’ You will go around and canvas your friends to find out from them if your reaction to accusations and provocations are ‘normal’.  This is otherwise known as gaslighting and gaslighting is one of the narcissists favourite ammunitions.  

During this second phase of baiting, the narcissist will use funny – not funny dark, scathing humour. As soon as you are hurt, it is you who are too sensitive. They were only joking, and it’s all in your own head.

The chain reaction goes like this: Provocation and inciteful behaviour =  your reaction = look-see? = I am the real victim here, look how crazy she really is! You feel bad = you end up apologising for something you haven’t done wrong = you hand control back to the narcissist.

Up and down communication is another denigration and form of baiting. First patronisingly down talk is employed – “grow up” and the use of such phrases. This implies that you are emotionally immature and not worthy of their lofty attention and cannot attain their impossible goals. Then equally as patronising down talk using condescending circular arguments and big words, also known as word salads, to confuse and discombobulate you. Both tactics are to demean and to harm you and can also be used interchangeably and simultaneously.

Who’s the best? There is no win/win situation when confronted with a narcissist. The narcissist always must be the better/winner/most/better than. The narcissist must be the better parent, the better partner, the better provider etc. This will leave you trying to attain an impossibly high standard, and continually feeling less than.

A narcissist is deliberately deceptive and duplicitous. By being intentionally non-committal about essential details about themselves, they create the fog to keep you doubting. Deliberate ambiguity is another tool, so they cannot be called out in detail later.

It is a kind of addiction called intermittent reinforcement. When the narcissist behaves kindly and well towards you only just enough of the time to keep you hooked.

The narcissist is kind to everyone except you. And the narcissist is kind to you only in front of others, but not behind closed doors. In front of other people where their behaviour is on display, they’ll be utterly charming and attentive to you.

The narcissist is always the artful entertainer with a sleight of hand and tongue. While you’re caught up in the glare of the narcissists’ hurtful headlights your attention is on the narcissist. Meanwhile, the narcissist is weaving a back story for you to your family friends and colleagues. A story that ‘seems’ to make sense to them, and turning your friends and family via triangulations into unwitting flying monkeys. (People who support the narcissist blindly without question and often ‘do his bidding’ to harm you or your reputation in some way).

Ultimately there will be a discard even if this comes in the form of a ‘constructive dismissal’. When the discard happens, it may not be as straightforward as it sounds. It will either occur suddenly and dramatically, and the narcissist will drop you like a hot cake, walk away without a backwards glance, and leave you shattered. Your life in pieces, or as a constructive dismissal, until the narcissist is ready for the third type of baiting.

Either the dramatic discard or the narcissist will push you hard enough to tell them to get moving, which could be something that takes you months if not years to do. This, of course, puts the narcissist in the perfect position to call themselves the victim. Effectively the narcissists will position themselves as the reverse victim. Because look, the narcissist has been saying this all along? That you finally ended the relationship or partnership etc. makes you the de facto bad guy. Your particularly excellent and sound reasons for finally leaving this toxic partnership are irrelevant. You’ve just handed the narcissist every reason on the planet to malign and bad mouth you in the name of the narcissists own victimhood and pain. The fact that you were finally pushed to make the break that you did (the constructive dismissal) is beside the point.

What to do?

You want to be a snake charmer to disarm the narcissist with as little fuss and interaction with them as possible. Defusing the narcissist is achieved by first and I’ll say this a lot –not reacting. The last thing you want to do is poke a viper in a box. Defuse the fuse they have lit by a moderate and calm response rather than a reactional defensive attack.

You have to hang onto your own calm and sanity for grim death so as not to be provoked in the first place. Practice this – roleplay it in your head, see yourself calmly not reacting to the narcissist.

A common temptation is to feed the narcissists ego in the hopes that they’ll leave you alone as their egos are satiated. Not true. This is a false sense of security and one that is quickly ripped apart. All you are doing is reinforcing to the narcissist that you are not good enough and still willing to pander to their desires to keep the peace, and this will be used against you later.

Eating up the narcissist’s emotions as though they are your fault to keep the peace will make you want to vomit later. Don’t accept responsibility for how the narcissist or anyone else for that matter feels. As an adult, you are only responsible for your own emotions.

Use of stipulations and ultimatums. Just because the narcissist does this, doesn’t mean that you have to do the same. State your case calmly, give a time/date for required or expected feedback if necessary but don’t expect him to react well to an “if this isn’t sorted out, then …..” scenario. You don’t want to have to eat your words, or worse, not follow through on an ultimatum or threat, which tells him he can just go right ahead and railroad your boundaries once again. Do enforce a consequence, though. Stating why, calmly and objectively.

Like a naughty toddler, any attention, even negative attention is what the narcissist needs from you. They love a good fight and will go to extraordinary lengths to get this adverse reaction from you, the less you give, the harder they will try. Any negative attention you give them once again can and will be held over your head for future reference. Lashing out in writing, on email/SMS/WhatsApp or any other written forum is even worse. Where your reactional emotional responses are carefully kept and recorded. You have to be in absolute control over your own emotional realm and work really hard at reigning back the retaliation in favour of responding calmly.

Don’t play on their turf, they know it better than you do. The narcissist will drag you down in that space. Never allow yourself to be tempted into that space with them, where they have you as a wide-open target to play with, you will only hurt yourself.

Out of context baiting is one of their best offensive moves and one that is bound to get you riled up. Anything out of context said to the next person about you can be twisted rather artfully. When you find out about this, your natural reaction is to want to defend yourself. This is where show don’t tell is all-important. Act and behave as though the narcissist is wrong about you, because, they are, and you know that. Again, this takes tremendous will power, but it is worth it.

Bait three

So, you’re out of the toxic relationship. Now what? Now comes the third and potentially the most dangerous bait. “Let me back into your life” the narcissist will say with as much allure or more than the initial bait, and if you’re not careful, you are going to fall right into taking them back. This is also known as hoovering.

A common misconception is in the hoovering phase, only love bombing is used. However, it can take the form of more abuse, threats, stalking and escalate into more dire and dangerous actions for you very quickly.

Hoovering has many different faces to it, here are a few:

The classic “I’m sorry (not sorry)” grand apologies that seem so sincere. Unfortunately, these ‘sorry’s’ will often come on the back of a slew of vitriol against you first. Then just as you are left stunned and unbalanced by this fresh abuse and, though the relationship is over, will come the seemingly sincere apology, for the exact same behaviour.

Narcissists use both the carrot and the stick, often both simultaneously. You must remember that narcissists don’t have relationships, they take hostages. Intermittent reinforcement surprisingly can and is commonly still used even in the hoovering phase of this abuse. It perpetuates a frightening cycle if it goes unchecked.

The narcissist will double down their efforts when they don’t get a response from you in this phase. The apologies, the begging, the reassurances that they have changed and seen the error of their ways. Even the use of humour, anything that will get you reinvested into the relationship.

It can be weeks months or even years after you cut ties and they will find a way back to you, or so they hope. Those sudden phone calls and messages out of the blue claiming to be ‘thinking about you’ ‘missing you’. They’ve realised ‘you were the right one all along’.

Picking up where they (not you) last left off as though they have done nothing in the past to hurt or harm you in any way. Picking up with a comfortable ‘familiarity’ that they don’t have the right to use anymore if they even ever did is another hoovering technique. A narcissist will fondly always go back to the last reset point, the previous game savepoint, and want to pick up casually from there.

If the split from this person is still relatively fresh, threatening you with self-harm if you don’t acknowledge them is another tactic. As is developing a sudden health crisis or any other type of emergency to reel you back into their world where your focus is entirely on them.

Remember that their reasons for hoovering are not about you, it’s about them. They need you for bolstering or some other reason, the ‘reforms’ are not about real, heartfelt reforms they are about ‘appearing to have changed’ when they haven’t changed at all. In fact, each time you take them back, they become potentially more dangerous to you. They will hold onto every injury to themselves and throw that back at you for leaving the relationship in the first place.

It is all about regaining control over you, and they will use any tactic, including saying what they think you want to hear to get a foot back in the door. And the old saying of give a finger and they’ll take an arm is pertinent here. They will take more from you each time you allow them back in and gain even more ground than they did the last time because they now know they can railroad your boundaries.

Future faking/future promises are not real –  the narcissist has no real intention of committing to any of these. No matter how grand or how much you really want what is on offer. It is only a lure to get you back onto that cyclic damaging wheel of hope/denigration/false promises/love bombing/back to abuse and discard again with some gaslighting and the use of flying monkeys along the way to keep things interesting.

The narcissist craves the drama and your reactions. So re-engaging with them is a perfect storm as far as they are concerned, it gives them every excuse to behave just as badly and worse the next time on this merry go round.  

Ever opportunistic, even a real crisis for them will be turned into an opportunity to get you back on board with their agenda. Your real heartfelt sympathies and care are used against you the moment you relent.

Tears on-demand – crying in the corner as you leave. At the same time, they were the one who booted you to start with or lead you to take that painful but necessary decision to put distance between you and them. An intoxicating blend of cruelty, pity seeking, apologies, blame casting, guilt-tripping and begging to get back with you.

If you are not holding onto yourself tightly, you could fall for this enticing blend of emotional turmoil. Mistaking it for intense love or a friendship rekindled, a parent and child reunited, when all it is, is hoovering.

There will be payback in the reunion as you are re-punished for leaving in the first place. The harder they must work to win you back, the bigger the punishments are going to be, the faster the cycle is perpetuated.

The fishing technique – a lot like phishing. An ‘accidental’ call, SMS, WhatsApp etc. to see if you are going to respond. These are often very random messages and don’t make any sense whatsoever. They are not meant to, they are intended to fish to see if you’ll bite and to make you reply and therefore – re-engage with them. This mechanism is used to create an opening.

What to do?

You need to limit your exposure by not reacting or responding, and to keep shifting the spotlight back to the narcissist, while keeping your distance emotionally, mentally, and physically. While this may seem to be a banal statement to make, in each instance, you can respond minimally or not at all while maintaining your distance, for example:

The ‘oops I sent a text by mistake (on purpose)’ doesn’t need a reply from you.

The crisis of health or loss of a loved one, while it may even be real, only requires a formal “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I’m sorry you are ill, I hope you get well.” Then left at that, if you ever feel the need to respond at all.

If you really feel that they pose a physical danger to themselves, call your local authorities or helplines. Get them the assistance they think that they need, but don’t engage with this yourself.

Don’t have high expectations of them even when they have been behaving for a while. Without concrete proof of change, there is no way for you to be able to believe that they have really changed at all.

When so-called ‘positive’ hoovering hasn’t worked, don’t fall for the blame and guilt. You are not responsible for the state of their lives or emotions, only your own, which need to be preserved and protected.

You have to let go of the fear that they really do have the ‘power’ to ruin your life should you not want to re-engage with them and move on anyway. No matter what is said or done behind your back, you go on furthering your own life and goals, and you don’t look back. Someone who has already done maximum damage can still try to do more – yes, but only if you let the fear of them get to you.

If you are personally in danger from this person, don’t hesitate to go to the necessary authorities. If nothing else, it will prove later that you followed all the correct protocols to keep yourself safe, if it ever becomes a criminal case or litigation.

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