By Shahida Arabi
Contrary to popular belief, narcissism can and does run in group dynamics too – it just plays out on an even more massive and destructive scale. Rather than one partner abusing another, there is an entire group working to undermine and plot against a chosen target.
When we speak about narcissism, we often focus on the individual. He or she is narcissistic. He or she is a victim of a narcissist. Yet what about those victims who are bullied and targeted by groups filled with narcissistic individuals or in a group where the narcissistic pack leader has toxic enablers? What happens when there is a conspiracy led by an entire group against one individual?
This is especially harmful to any chosen victim because research shows that social rejection activates the same areas of the brain as physical pain (Kross, et. al 2011). Theoretically, being emotionally abused by a manipulative group can be at times just as painful as being physically assaulted.
The frontrunners of such a group use enablers or what is colloquially termed “flying monkeys” to ensure that the recipients of such bullying are properly silenced (Stines, 2017). This is also known as “mobbing,” where a toxic individual enlists the help of others to carry out his or her vicious campaign and dirty work against another individual (Duffy, 2013).
We see this unhealthy, abusive dynamic play out within the realm of the narcissistic family unit, friendship circles, workplaces and anywhere there is a possibility for bullying. This form of conspiracy may not be technically “illegal,” but it poses great harm to those who are targeted. The target suffers through unbelievable emotional, verbal, perhaps even physical abuse at the hands of the toxic group, who uses them as a scapegoat for the group’s problems and deviant desires.
Therapist Christine Hammond (2017) writes that:
The purpose of a scapegoat is to pass responsibility onto someone else. Usually this person is unsuspecting at first and agrees because they are trying to get along with others. This technique of passing the buck is very common with narcissists, sociopaths, and addicts. Narcissists can’t allow their ego to be tarnished by an error. Sociopaths do it for the sport of it.
For an excellent example of how a narcissistic group dynamic can undermine and scapegoat one individual, one needs to look no farther than the devastating bullying Today Show co-host Ann Curry suffered under the reign of Matt Lauer (who has now been exposed as a sexual predator) and her colleagues back in 2011.
According to Vulture, executive producer Jim Bell reportedly launched what was known as “Operation Bambi,” a mission to eradicate Curry from the team, early on in her employment (he denies this, of course). She was subjected to not only Lauer’s mistreatment but also exclusion, taunting and bullying by her other colleagues as a result. In 2012, a clearly traumatized Curry was forced to leave the show in a highly televised exit despite the fact that she was, and remains today, a highly talented, empathic and one-of-a-kind journalist. In fact, NBC lost more than a fifth of its audience after her departure. This example illustrates something deeply important: groups with one or more sociopaths do not target people who are incompetent. On the contrary, they target those who threaten the status quo in some way.
Curry represented the type of conscientious, empathic and sincere person that juxtaposed Lauer’s own predatory personality and threatened the group dynamic of keeping toxic behavior under the wraps. Since the corporate world tends to favor and promote sociopathic individuals, they chose Lauer’s preferences over Curry’s potential and incredible abilities to connect with her viewers in a deeply compassionate way.
To make the conspiracy all the more effective, the victim is further silenced by what makes them so special in the first place – their ability to be discerning, their sensitive nature, their compassion, is used to paint them as unhinged should they dare speak out. The victim’s own wounds are played with. The narcissistic group feeds upon the victim’s insecurities and vulnerabilities to ensure that the victim feels too powerless to complain or take action. They identify the wounds and weaknesses of the target. They also use the target’s strengths against him or her.
They emotionally blackmail their targets. They exhaust their targets. They gaslight their targets into believing that the abuse isn’t occurring. And ultimately, they bully them into contributing to the group’s deviant agenda.
The manipulative leaders of narcissistic conspiracies find ways to covertly abuse the victim so they can escape accountability for their actions. The victim is made to feel like and look like the “crazy” one – and everyone is able to avoid individual responsibility for inflicting harm and participating in the conspiracy.
In all narcissistic “conspiracies,” this scapegoat is a “black sheep” who is treated like an outsider of the group. This chosen black sheep is then terrorized, taunted, excluded, persecuted and becomes the site of many projections or unfair blame for the mistakes of the narcissistic group. The group has no problem using the victim to advance their agenda or add to their resources, but they fail to recognize or reward the efforts of that individual in a fair way. In fact, the harder the scapegoat works to win the approval of the group, the more the scapegoat is persecuted.
Since the group is usually led by one or more narcissistic or sociopathic individuals, very little mercy or empathy is given to the victim. The victim suffers emotional terrorism at the hands of ruthless individuals who prey on his or her vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Narcissists and sociopaths usually choose those they are envious of and threatened by. These victims are exploited for their strengths, but demeaned, teased and made to feel like outsiders, just as Curry was. The alienation takes a toll on victims of group bullying, as they may isolate themselves even more just to avoid further persecution.
How And Why Is The Victim Chosen?
The target that is chosen to be bullied and ostracized from the group is one that is threatening in some way. It could be because they threaten the narcissistic leaders or enablers in their intelligence, appearance, resources, determination, ambition, social aptitude, wealth, independence – or whatever other quality that evokes their envy or fear.
In the dynamics of a family with one or more narcissistic individuals as caregivers, the scapegoat is the child or children who are most devalued and demeaned, made to feel less than. These children are often outspoken, sensitive, empathic and have integrity. They present a threat to the existing dysfunction of the toxic family unit, so they are inevitably punished. They are pitted against the “golden children” (children who are excessively overvalued and spoiled in exchange for their blind obedience) and triangulated so that there is a sense of competition, distrust and supreme allegiance to the narcissistic parent or parents in the household. In a group that is not familial, such as friendship circles or the workplace, the chosen victim is usually someone new to the group or a long-standing member who “dares” to question the authority of the narcissists or sociopaths within that group and is thus excommunicated.
These victims may at first be idealized and love-bombed. They are subjected to praise, laser-focused attention, gifts and false promises to lure them into the group. They are “groomed” to feel like a part of the group, which often has many cult-like qualities which discourage dissent and discussion. There are implicit rules to never unmask the toxicity of the group or its decisions. Questions are always met with ambiguous or vague answers or outright reprimands and punishment. The victim’s duty is to keep quiet, remain a scapegoat and not make a fuss about carrying out dirty work for the group.
So long as the victim abides by these silent rules, they win temporary safety through their obedience. The authority of the narcissistic members of the group is upheld as the final say, regardless of fairness or equity. As soon as the victim starts to question the dynamics of the group, however, or the group feels like the new victim might potentially “overthrow” the hierarchy in some way, the victim is then “put back” in his or her place. They may be publicly humiliated in front of other members of the group, they may be dismissed, they may be shut down and stonewalled. They may have an ongoing smear campaign against them by the leaders or enablers of those leaders regarding their character, stability and ability to be within the group. It is easy to make the victims of group bullying seem like the unhinged ones – the most abusive people, the leaders of the group, work hard to drive their targets over the edge and push all of their emotional buttons.
Groupthink and The Bystander Effect
Not all group members of the cult-like conspiracy are unempathic, but when they participate in enabling behavior, it creates a collective consciousness, what psychologists call “groupthink” in which a narcissistic unit works together to render the victim powerless enough so that the victim either feels unable to exit or even becomes “trauma-bonded” in some way to the group as a way to survive (Rosenblum, 1982). Those who see the victims being bullied and yet fail to do anything about it usually encounter what it known as “The Bystander Effect,” in which individuals feel as if they don’t have to intervene, especially as the group gets larger, because personal accountability is diminished (Hortensius & Gelder, 2014).
The chosen target usually has empathy, resilience and is authentic in their integrity. They are agreeable, kind and conscientious to a fault, which makes them ideal prey for sociopathic predators. They are open and willing to consider other perspectives, so they are taken advantage of easily by narcissistic leaders and their enablers. This is very threatening to a group that works best without integrity or fairness. These are all qualities narcissists look for to ensnare their victims, but of course, most narcissistic groups realize that such qualities also make these victims powerful as well. Truth-tellers are commonly scapegoated in groups where there is toxicity brimming beneath the surface.
The target fulfills the following roles:
- As a convenient scapegoat. They take the blame for any errors or mistakes the narcissistic group or leaders don’t want to be held accountable for.
- They become the outlet for any projections, rage, dissatisfaction that the group wants to dump on them.
- A target for an ongoing smear campaign in which the narcissistic individuals involved spread rumors, gossip and misinformation to make you look like a “troublemaker.” This ensures that other group members also fear calling out the toxic dynamics of the group because they don’t wish to be associated with you or your “antics.”
- To obscure the truth and further the group’s selfish agenda, whatever that might be.
- They stroke the narcissist’s ego – they are made to feel diminished so that the narcissists in the group feel superior. It feels especially gratifying for them to take down a person who is more successful and well-liked (at least initially before scapegoating begins) than they are.
- They are used to strengthen closer alliances among the already existing cliques in the group. Membership in the group is emphasized and seen as exclusive and coveted because there are “outsiders” who can’t get in.
If you are a victim of scapegoating or a black sheep, take heart. You were chosen because you have the qualities that narcissists lack. You were chosen because you were threatening. You were chosen because you were powerful. They saw that power in you, and they wanted to take it away.
Though it appears now that wolves in sheep’s clothing rule the world, it is actually scapegoats who have the power and ability to lead others – authentically.
When the black sheep finds community, validation and resources to help them thrive after the experiences of being persecuted and alienated, they reconnect with the amazing qualities that made them a target in the first place. Rest assured that karma does come for those who conspired against them – and predators like Lauer are always eventually exposed in due time.
Scapegoats can and will rise above the conspiracy – and they can grow stronger in spite of it.
First song written by me.