Why I Stayed with My Covert Narcissist

Human Doormat Syndrome


I suffer from Human Doormat Syndrome (HDS).  I’m thinking of starting a recovery program for fellow sufferers.  Like AA, we could come together in a circle, take turns saying “Hi.  I’m MurphyCee and I am a Human Doormat”.  Then we could share our stories of how we’ve willingly allowed others to walk all over us, and what, if any, techniques we’ve used to get up off the floor.  Unfortunately, I’m not willing to tell many of you who I am, so the whole circle thing is off the table.

One the major issues with HDS is that non-abusers don’t see it.  They don’t see it because they don’t treat you like a doormat and, in turn, you don’t have to act like one around them.  If you try to describe to them how you are doormat, they won’t believe you, because they haven’t seen it.  In fact, you probably stand up to them more than a “normal” person would, simply because you know you Can and they won’t abuse you.  I recently had someone I love tell me that I wasn’t a doormat, evidenced by the fact that I had disagreed with her and stood up to her several times during a dinner we shared.  It got me to wondering if perhaps I was imagining HDS, because my response to her is always 100% honest, automatic and genuine.

Here’s what happened after she said that.  I went through the following thought process.

Maybe she’s right.  Maybe I’m not a doormat.  Maybe I’ve not been taken advantage of, walked on, used and manipulated by the abusers in  my life.  Maybe I’m imagining it, being overly sensitive, misunderstanding what is happening.  Maybe everything I’ve come to see as abusive is actually normal behavior that I am misinterpreting.  Maybe I’m just a crazy, overly sensitive, demanding bitch who gets what she deserves.

See how that happens??  Before I knew it, I was reevaluating everything I’ve come to see as true.  I momentarily found myself right back on the floor, in the throes of an attack of HDS.  Hence the need for a support group.

I’ve been thinking about the techniques the covert narc uses to keep you in place, laying at his feet, sublimating your will to his.  I think it’s important to understand how this happens, and why it is so easy to fall victim.  The tools they use include:


  • The silent treatment.  This is one of the easiest for me to handle, because I grew up with it.  While it raises my anxiety,  has me walking on pins and needles, and usually results in an actual physical illness, for me it is manageable.
  • Psychological torture.   There are many tools in the psychological  torture toolbox, including projection, guilt, triangulation, pity (for you or for themselves), lying,  and gaslighting.  In my case the easiest way to keep my down is to tell me I’m crazy, overly sensitive or misunderstanding.  These are triggers that date back to my childhood, and are strong and effective.  The covert narc will learn what your triggers are and, if you attempt to stand up, will use them to put you back in your place..
  • Separation from others.  My narc quickly tapped into my ambivalence towards my family and used it to separate me from them.  As my contact with them diminished, his ability to control the picture they saw grew.  By the end my family felt sorry for him. Friends?  Only those he approved of, those who bought his story, stayed in my life.  This separation from objective eyes made it impossible for me to see clearly.
  • Diminishment.  In this technique, the abuser puts the HDS suffer down for any real accomplishments, skills or strengths she has.  Then, once he is sure she realizes she has little real worth, he compliments her on something ridiculous, such as her ability to fan paper napkins at a cookout, making it clear that her contribution to her family or society is so minimal she is ridiculous.  This technique was used so often by my narc not only was I a Human Doormat, I believed I was an extremely ineffective doormat.  I was the doormat that never quite fulfilled it’s purpose, the doormat that is too thin or slippery.  A failed Human Doormat.
  • Physical violence.  This happened only 2x’s in my relationship with my ex, and both were shoving.  There were numerous times he used his size to keep me from moving, which is on some level physical violence, but would never be considered so by our legal system.   While this is scary, there is a clear beginning, a clear end, and usually an apology afterwards, so sadly, it’s preferable for me.
  • Abandonment.  This rarely happens, because the ones who revel in your HDS get more out of keeping you in this spot then walking away.  This is the fear they hold over your head, making sly insinuations that one wrong move and you will be abandoned.  Since you feel so worthless, you lay on the floor shaking with terror.
  • Hope.  This is the most powerful technique of all.  In this technique my abuser picks me up (literally) and, with the sincerity of Jimmy Stewart in It’s  A Wonderful Life, assures me that I am loved, cared for, competent, and will finally be treated as worthy.  Never again will I be made to lay down and suffer HDS.  It was all a mistake, a misunderstanding between us that has been cleared up.  I am the fabulous person he originally told me I was.  We are the soul mates he claimed us to be, and our lives will, from that day forward, be everything I could ever want and more.  This is the technique most often used when my abuser believes I am ready to leave, and it worked every time.


One of the main reasons we/I stay in these relationships is the variable reinforcement schedule we are on.  We never know when we’ll get that Hope that keeps us going.  We know it is right around the corner, we know it will come eventually, so we wait for it.  We have no idea what we need to do to get it, or what we have done to deserve it in the past, so we can never command it.   We have no control over when, how or why that bit of Hope will come our way, so  we wait, lying on the floor, willing to let our abuser wipe his feet, knowing that at some point he’ll pick us up, shake us off and validate our humanity and worthiness.   Once you are fully engrossed in HDS, he is the only one who can provide you Hope, because he has isolated you from your family, your friends, your skills and abilities, and your sanity.  It feels like the only option left is to lie in wait, hoping that the moment will come in which you get Hope.  I hate Hope.


I am trying really hard to recover from HDS, but I’ve been suffering with it for over 20 years, and denial is a powerful thing.  I am like the alcoholic who says ” I can stop drinking whenever I want, I just don’t want to”.  I am the HDS sufferer who thinks “I can get out of this any time I want, because it’s all in my head.  I just need to not be crazy”.

This is why I need a support group.  Only those of us who have suffered HDS truly understand that not only does it exist, it’s grip is no less powerful then the drink to the alcoholic.

When I am asked “what’s the worse that can happen” I can’t find the words to adequately answer.  The worse that can happen is all of the above.  The worse that can happen is that 1 by 1, the abuser will work me through his toolbox of torture, each one pushing me further and further into the nowhere land of confusion and self loathing.   The worse that can happen is that I’ll start standing and feeling strong, then before I know it, be on my back, lost in a haze of bewilderment, powerlessness and fear.  The worse that can happen is that the meager attempts I’ve made to escape HDS will be washed away, and I will once again disappear.

I don’t want to disappear again.

2 thoughts on “Why I Stayed with My Covert Narcissist

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