The show begins.
A permanent smile that makes your cheeks sore. An endlessly positive conversation flow. Forced laughter. It is a majestic tip-toeing around a cunning presence lurking in the shadow of your unconscious. This presence hides behind a facade, pulling strings and snatching control from you with jolts of fear, guilt and shame to bring you back into line. It sabotages you whenever you resist it, driven by a hidden agenda; acceptance.
The phantom does what it must to get its agenda met — regardless of the price. Your boundaries. Your integrity. Your self-esteem. Your resources. They are all up for grabs, as long as people accept you. A narcissist sees this and swoops in.
It feels like you exist on a singular, never-changing frequency. Positive regard must be maintained at all costs. They are good, you are good, everything in between is good, therefore the relationship is good. No exceptions. Maintain this long enough, and at some point unease and resentment will arise. It gets exhausting being ‘on’ all the time. What about changing the station? Maybe toning the mood down, or mixing in a variety of moods? Showing your real feelings? Saying no. Speaking your mind. Expressing your desires. Letting off some steam, and not needing to be happy and positive all the time? Being genuine.
Forget about it. You are not in charge. The phantom is.
What is the phantom? It is the hidden part of our ego protecting our vulnerable Self. It is the result of us being overwhelmed by the suffering of our True Self during a time of overwhelming abuse. The phantom came about as a final resort; it was a way to make sense of the world and put an end to the pain. Now it is lurking in the shadows, doing what it must to ‘protect’ us.
In short: The phantom = Ego + Trauma + Shadow.
The phantom creates a construct of you as loveable, then creates a construct of the other person as magnanimous, and then lathers on the positivity to draw in that person. What targets of narcissism find difficult to accept is that this positivity has a dark side. The phantom is pulling strings to gain acceptance, interchanging between positive regard and withdrawal to keep the show going. When the other person resists too much, or pushes us too far, the phantom closes the production and withdraws for good. The only people immune to this are narcissists, since they are masters at keeping their target engaged and providing narcissistic supply. Your phantom is overwhelmed by the narcissist’s power. Your buttons are being pressed, and you are inundated. You have no time to think or act — only react.
The phantom of a narcissist, more than anything, wants to secure power and control. Expose the narcissist’s phantom, and you will feel their wrath. Sometimes as an outright attack, but often as a dramatic withdrawal of the positive regard you were so gladly offered. Remember, the person you are interacting with is not in charge either. It is their phantom pulling the strings. Their positive regard can remain as long as the phantom is satisfied with your loyalty.
One might argue that the phantom is what makes a person narcissistic. But how can this be, when every person carries a phantom to a degree? The malignancy and intensity of the phantom’s rage will vary depending on how wounded a person has been in their past, but the phantom is there. Everyone has a shadow.
The shadow consists of parts of ourselves which others rejected, and therefore we rejected. It also contains our wounds, our self-loathing, our rage, our pain and our trauma — all the things the phantom is trying to hide. When a person’s trauma rises above a certain threshold, the ego creates this defensive character to shield the person. The first resort is to do whatever it takes to gain love, which the ego believes will stop the abuse. However, if the person grew up in an environment which valued power and control, the phantom gladly attaches itself to this model and uses it as a way to get its needs met. Why submit when you can dominate? Rather than acceptance, the phantom is looking for control. This two-sided coin is what lies at the core of the narcissist-codependent dance.
We are all ‘hierarchy-curious’, meaning we all wonder what life would be like if we had more power, more dominance, more people worshipping us. Many of us simply wish to avoid the kind of suffering and agony which first created our phantom. We all need to cultivate power in our lives, at the very least to protect ourselves from those who wish to manipulate and use us. But we also need to be aware that the line which divides us from narcissism is extremely thin. What gives meaning to our power is what determines which side of the line we stand on.
Acceptance at all costs is unsustainable. It leads us to dysfunctional relationships, destroys our health, and keeps up stagnant and depressed. Worst of all, it leads us to manipulate others to gain their love. To live well, we need to take control back from our phantom. Some of us need to begin by acknowledging that we actually do have a phantom. Deep down, the phantom does not want to dominate the discourse. It understands that a competent, wise and powerful Higher Self is far more powerful and effective than its silly games and manipulations. Our Higher Self, when aligned with the True Self, has access to the infinite wisdom in the body. All of our ancestral energy is available when we move beyond the ego. We have access to knowledge that spans back to the beginning of time — to the Big Bang. What is the phantom in the face of this? Insignificant. And it knows this.
A crucial step in evolving beyond narcissistic abuse is to face your phantom, to delve into its pain and bring order to its inner chaos. Through conscious focus, you can transcend it and understand how it works and why it sabotages you. You can come to withstand its intensity and accept its presence — difficult as it may be. Your phantom does not want to be seen. It is hiding for a reason.
Nonetheless, you can channel your Higher Self to see it and validate it. You can show it a reality far greater than itself. Prove to it that you are capable of taking over. Prove to it that you can bring people into your life who are there for your benefit and have your best interests at heart. Prove to it that you can manage the inevitably complex emotional states that dynamic relationships call for. Prove to it that you can assert your needs while setting boundaries that protect its sensitive nature. Prove to it that you can help it evolve, release its rage, and become a helpful participant in your life. Show it your assertiveness and tenacity. Have a noble vision, and convince your phantom to fall under the banner of that vision. Do these things, and you fortify yourself from narcissistic abuse — while also managing your own narcissism. Fail to do the above, and the phantom will have no choice but to resume its games.
To better understand the mindset of the narcissist and begin healing from a narcissistic relationship, check out my book, How To Kill A Narcissist. In the follow-up, How To Bury A Narcissist, I delve deeper into the narcissistic family and Self-actualising after narcissistic abuse. If you need support in cultivating healthy, empowered relationships, then Transformational Life Coaching might also be helpful.