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Toxic care

Updated: Feb 2

Spot the difference

Please bear with me.

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 friends and there may be financial abuse in the name of shared responsibility. There may be coercion - the abused may be pressurised to do, sign, 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". Or an adult child who is grooming a vulnerable parent. It is an abuse of power - it's smoke and mirrors - it's malignant.

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.

Just to be sure - financial abuse in a marriage or civil partnership is the refusal of one party to fully disclose financial information (this applies to other legally binding arrangements). There are other forms of financial abuse but I will address these elsewhere. Often, seeming care about financial matters in a home is a power play. Even if accounts are kept separately, partners are entitled to know what their other partner has or is liable for. Seek legal advice if this it not your experience.

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 (unbeknown 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, a bully 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.

The policy of isolation 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 cannot look people in the eye. That said, I understand that those with the dark triad personality sometimes train themselves in the art of being convincing.

So, what to do? It is usually after a few incongruous experiences that we know 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 you feel you are being care trolled, speak to someone you trust and keep track of social media, messages, texts, financial documents or correspondence that shore up 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.

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