The Subtle Abuse of ‘Dog Whistling’

Posted by Kate Munden
On 18/05/2024
In Blog

If you’ve ever felt hurt or frustrated by a partner who seems to behave perfectly in public while subtly undermining you, you might be a target of a covert narcissist’s abuse tactic known as “dog whistling.” This insidious behaviour can leave you feeling isolated and powerless, but understanding it is the first step towards reclaiming your sense of self and well-being.

What is Dog Whistling?

Dog whistling is a covert narcissist’s way of causing punishing harm to their targets while maintaining their facade of innocence. In social settings, they engage in behaviours that appear harmless to everyone else but are intended to deeply hurt or bother you. The goal is to make you feel frustrated and powerless, as only you understand the offensive context.

Some Real-Life Examples of Dog Whistling

The Housekeeping Critic:

At home, your partner or family member constantly criticises your housekeeping, pointing out minor flaws and making you feel inadequate. Then, when visiting a friend’s house, they shower the host with compliments about how amazing the home looks. This leaves you feeling hurt and unappreciated, but if you express your frustration, you appear unreasonable to others.

The Cooking Insult:

Your cooking is never good enough for your partner, who finds faults in every meal you prepare. Yet, at a dinner party, they rave about how delicious the food is, making you feel like your efforts are invisible and worthless. If you voice your hurt, the narcissist plays innocent, making you seem overly sensitive. Targets of emotional abuse are often labelled as sensitive.

The Fashion Saboteur:

Despite your efforts to look nice, your partner criticises your weight or clothing or blandly ignores your appearance. Then, they go on and on about how amazing your friend looks, leaving you feeling unattractive and insignificant. When you react, they accuse you of being jealous or irrational, deepening your sense of isolation.

The Professional Belittler:

In private, your achievements and career progress are belittled and dismissed by your partner. However, in social situations, they praise a colleague or friend in a way that highlights your perceived shortcomings. This makes you feel devalued and frustrated, as your partner’s behaviour appears supportive to others but is actually a calculated slight.

The Parental Saboteur:

Your parenting skills are a frequent target of criticism at home, with your partner pointing out every small mistake. Yet, when talking to friends, they extol the virtues of another parent, subtly suggesting that you don’t measure up. This can leave you feeling like a failure and make it difficult to explain your hurt without seeming overly sensitive.

Why is Dog Whistling is So Effective?

Dog whistling is a particularly cruel form of abuse because it isolates you emotionally while maintaining the narcissist’s public image and the target’s cognitive dissonance. If you react to these subtle provocations, the narcissist can easily play innocent, making you appear irrational and unreasonable. This not only damages your self-esteem but also your credibility with others, deepening your sense of isolation.

How to Cope with Dog Whistling

Recognise it as a Tactic…not a truth

Understanding that you are dealing with a covert form of abuse is crucial. Recognising the patterns of dog whistling helps you see the behaviour for what it is – a manipulative tactic designed to hurt you while preserving the narcissist’s image.

Document Incidents

Keep a record of instances where dog whistling occurs is incredibly helpful. This can help you identify patterns and validate your experiences. Having a written account can also be useful to remind you of events (abuse can make targets extremely confused) and if you decide to seek professional help.

Set Boundaries:

If it feels safe and possible, establish clear boundaries with the narcissist. Let them know that certain behaviours are unacceptable and that you will not engage when they try to provoke you. Consistently reinforcing these boundaries can reduce the narcissist’s ability to manipulate you.

Seek Support:

Talk to trusted friends or family members about what you are experiencing. Their support and understanding can help counteract the isolation and self-doubt caused by dog whistling. Consider joining a support group where you can share your experiences with others who understand what you’re going through.

Professional Help:

A specialist with experience in narcissistic abuse can provide you with strategies to cope and heal. Professional guidance can help you rebuild your self-esteem and develop healthier ways of dealing with the narcissist’s behaviour.

Find Your Self-Care Practices:

Taking care of your physical and emotional well-being is essential. Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, and make time for self-reflection and self-compassion. Strengthening your sense of self can reduce the narcissist’s impact on your life. This could be any form of exercise (movement is medicine), dance, music or creativity.

Understanding dog whistling and how it affects you is a powerful step towards regaining control over your life. Remember, you are not alone, and there are resources and people who can help you navigate this difficult journey. By recognising the abuse and taking proactive steps, you can break free from the covert narcissist’s manipulative grip and reclaim your sense of self-worth. info@katemunden.com

Kate is a trauma and embodiment specialist. She is a TRE & EFT Supervising Mentor and is on the Executive Board of EFT International (formerly AAMET) and is a Comprehensive Energy Psychology Practitioner, DipPsych, Master Hypnotist, Master Practitioner of NLP and Time Line Therapy (accredited by the ABNLP) and has been an intuitive body & energy worker for 30 years. While she works with any problem state she specialises in the sensitive areas of Post Traumatic Stress, emotional abuse, chronic pain and anxiety.

Kate Munden
Kate is a trauma and embodiment specialist. She is a TRE & EFT Supervising Mentor and is on the Executive Board of EFT International (formerly AAMET) and is a Comprehensive Energy Psychology Practitioner, DipPsych, Master Hypnotist, Master Practitioner of NLP and Time Line Therapy (accredited by the ABNLP) and has been an intuitive body & energy worker for 30 years. While she works with any problem state she specialises in the sensitive areas of Post Traumatic Stress, emotional abuse, chronic pain and anxiety.

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