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Toxic care

Updated: May 22

It's a thing

Spot the difference

Abuse can sound something like this:

"Are you sure you're ok? You're looking a bit pale - maybe skip going out tonight?

You worry me sometimes"

"I'll deal with that - no need for you to bother"

"After all your hard work you need to have time away - don't worry, I'll take care of everything at the office and with the client"

"I'll check on you later to make sure you got home"

"Just calling to see how your night out is going"

"I am really worried about your mum. You know how much I love her but she really needs help"

"Given my duty of care, all contact through me, please".

In a healthy environment, with psychologically stable individuals, the above statements are genuine opportunities for genuine care for another person. However, when dealing with narcissistic or dark triad personalities they mean something else entirely,

These are real examples of real experiences. All plausible enough but let's translate into narcissistic:

Are you sure you're ok? You're looking a bit pale - maybe skip going out tonight. You worry me sometimes"

I don't want you to go out with your friends and get feedback on what they think of me and how I treat you. I need to make you feel guilty whatever you decide.

"I'll deal with that, don't you worry - no need to bother."

I don't want you to check the bank statements because you will see what I am spending money on. I need you to feel as if you can trust me and that I'm looking after you.

"After all your hard work you need to have time away - don't worry, I'll take care of everything at the office and with the client"

I want to control your exposure to the client. You've done the work and now I want the glory.

"I'll check on you later to make sure you got home"

I want to know where you are because I need to control you and will do this by making you feel as if I care.

"Just calling to see your night out is going"

I want to know where you are at all times. I will make my presence felt even when I am not with you.

'I'm really worried about your mum. You know how much I love her but she really needs help"

She is getting close to the truth and I need her out of the way.

"Given my duty of care, all contact through me, please".

I need to cut off all contact with your colleagues.

Power and control

Toxic caring is a confusing and subtle form of manipulation. It's convincing and plausible and difficult for the abused to find sympathy when, on face value, they are so apparently "cared" about or for.

It's an illusion. Just like every other aspect of the narcissist. It's an act they perform in order to convince the world they are decent human beings. It is how the abuser cultivates trust and ensures that the abused is isolated from recognition (at work/amongst family and friends/socially), then increasingly withdraws from their social life. Additionally, there may be financial abuse in the name of shared responsibility. There may be coercion - the abused may be pressurised to do, sign or say something because they were told that it was in their best interests.

Very sadly, it can be a parent who denies their child every chance to become independent - "this is for your own good"; "the world is a scary place"; "if you do what I suggest, one day all this will be yours". Or an adult child who is grooming a vulnerable parent - obtaining power over finances, for example, only to use money for selfish gain. It is an abuse of power - it's smoke and mirrors - it's malignant.

Beware of the 'helper" taking control of finances - Trusts, PoAs, proxy arrangements, conservatorship and guardianship all possible weapons of financial abuse.

Shockingly, narcissists believe they are genuinely caring for the abused. If they didn't delude themselves in this way they would have to face up to their true selves and they are unlikely to ever do that. Frighteningly, the caring professions are where many abusers hide themselves, finding their "supply" in the vulnerable and trusting. They are masters/mistresses of disguise.

What makes it even more difficult is when the environment is ostensibly a platform for care. This is when another psychological process can kick in - cognitive dissonance. It's when a person is required to hold two different views - for example: the doctor/teacher/officer/priest is hurting me but I shouldn't think that because they say they care about me. In this case expected standards and experienced behaviour do not align. This can happen at a systemic or institutional level with whistleblowers muted, threatened and disposed of. This "closing ranks" to collude in a lie is an all too familiar headline these days. And the vulnerable suffer.

Gatekeeping or control?

Toxic care is hard to spot. It might present as the husband turning up at the hospital to ensure his wife is recovering after her "fall" eager to love bomb her in front of staff. To further complicate matters, the duel forces of delusion (abuser) and denial (abused) are often at play. This serves to perpetuate the narrative and the narcissist's image and self-perception prevails and the abuse missed.

Another example might appear as a manager announcing that an employee will be taking a leave of absence on "health grounds" after (unbeknownst to colleagues) they challenged the narcissist about their behaviour. In my line of work I find it sickening how many of my clients have had their mental health questioned after some form of disruption. They may have called out a cheating partner, an inappropriate behaviour of a boss, a corrupt organisation, a malignant institution or a narcisisstic therapist. But the alternative version, carefully crafted by the narcissist, is likely to use language aligned with the duty of care of staff or spouse, or student or patient or congregation or electorate. It sounds like careful and considerate gatekeeping but it really is cutting off social oxygen and isolating the abused. All concerned get gaslighted.

A policy of isolation

This is a common technique. A narcissistic employer may call a member of staff into a seemingly benign meeting - maybe in the name of a welfare chat - only to then weaponise any information disclosed. Rarely are there witnesses - please note. The charming, seemingly empathic front is often a cover for a nastiness that decent people cannot imagine. The "ending" (work/relationship/contract) is often done by a third party or remotely. Narcissists are cowards and avoid the heavy lifting where possible, sometimes ensuring gatekeepers do the work. That said, those with the dark triad personality sometimes do the opposite - hiding in plain sight - cultivating the art of appearing convincing often emerging as benefactors, saviours, philanthropists, rescuers of the needy or mentally compromised. It's about power and access - let's not kid ourselves.

So, what to do? It's usually after a few incongruous experiences that we know that something is off and we ask ourselves if we are being manipulated. For example, when an individual treats us differently depending on the audience or if they deny something they said or did. If this is happening to you and you feel you are being abused in this way, speak to someone you trust and keep track of social media, messages, texts, financial documents or correspondence that shore up your experience.

If, in any relationship, someone is trying to control your money or by their money - please take legal advice, especially if this is in a legally binding relationship or when children are involved. Financial abuse is treated as a crime and is a symptom of domestic abuse and coercive control. When it is sugar coated in "care" it can be difficult to spot so please research as much as you can if you feel this is your experience.

Continue to educate yourself about narcissism and abuse and if you feel unnerved or unsure about a person or situation - honour your instincts - try not to minimize your sense that something is not right or gaslight yourself. It may be that you cannot extract yourself from the situation but you can boundary yourself. Do not be alone with the person, make note of what is said/done, do not give away personal information or insight that can be weaponised and plan your way out. Very often those abused do not take action against the abuser for fear of retaliation - reputational, physical, emotional, financial and psychological. Please avoid judging this. Often, when safe or safer - that is the time to report concerns.

Toxic care is damaging and perverse and so very, very hard to spot. Awareness about and responsibility to call abuse as it is - are the first steps in stopping the rot.



continued from below comment:

...because I have not seen my sister for 10 years -- I was banned from "his" home, for a trivial reason.

A complication was that my sister was also a narcissist. We both came from a narcissistic family where my mother passed-down the narcissism.

I have recently been looking-for a new counsellor, and I have found that many prospective counsellors are narcissistic, sad-to-say!


A great article about toxic care. Toxic care can easily avoid/escape the law.

Toxic care can be done unconsciously or part-consciously.

For example, my sister died 4 months ago. I believe that she was killed by coercive control that had taken-place over 60 years of being married to a narcissist who appeared to be very nice -- to others.

A problem was that my sister in-effect conspired with the coercive control by her husband. She thus "internalised" her oppression by him.

She died, quite suddenly, 2 months after her husband had died. I.e., she had become too dependent on him as a result of the protracted period of coercive control and she died a psychosomatic death.

It has hit me deeply…

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