Narcissists know you so well that they publicly abuse you without others recognizing the abuse.
So-called “Dog Whistling” is a covert form of gaslighting that narcissists use to trigger or disorient you in public or private. A dog whistle is something that dogs, but not humans, can hear. In this case, dog whistling is a word or a phrase that has significance in the narcissistic relationship but is banal in routine conversation.
Used in politics, this coded language is innocuous to most but has a specific, usually controversial, underlying meaning. It garners support from a group of people while rejecting others. It makes a point when you don’t want to say what you mean explicitly. And when do politicians ever say what they mean?
Let’s look into dog whistling as emotional abuse used by narcissists.
Covert Narcissists and Covert Manipulation
Since covert narcissists are so good at going undetected in public (and, indeed, may be adored or lauded by others), they love dog whistling.
With it, they can belittle and consternate their victim while suffering no consequences. They use it to degrade you, compare you to others, or even privately gaslight or punish you if you call them out on their behavior.
It is like an inside joke that is definitely not funny.
Dog Whistling is also called covert bullying or reactive abuse.
Let’s break down how dog whistling is done.
Different Methods of Dog Whistling
Dog Whistling can be done in private or in public.
Subtle threats and hand-slaps
Covert abuse via retraumatizing (referencing past traumas only they know about)
Covert abuse via gaslighting (changing your version of reality to their version)
Humiliating you without other’s knowledge
Punishing your covertly
Inducing jealousy by comparing you to others
Methods of Dog Whistling
As you learn about their manipulative and abusive tactics, you can often see the glee on their face as they abuse or gaslight you. While crazymaking, if you step back, you can see a sardonic grin of joy.
Dog whistling is particularly fun for narcissists because they can do it in public or private; you feel the emotional reaction and become triggered. The pleasure doubles when you appear unhinged in public after a benign comment. They get away with abusing you with no consequences.
Remember, the narcissist has been studying, mirroring, and taking notes on your most intimate fears and insecurities. He knows you well and will use shorthand to remind you. These insecurities are used against you (to trigger you) and to smear you with flying monkeys. They seemingly express concern about you, all while gaslighting you. They change reality to one that better serves their twisted version of truth that supports their grandiosity.
If you ask them about the dog whistling, they imply the conversation was accidental and they are innocent of harm. They were just forgetful, or the remarks were meaningless or coincidental.
For a normal person, this might be true. But the narcissist will continue to use coded comments to rub salt in the wound. That is dog whistling. How often can they forget or accidentally remark about the same thing? You’d be surprised—they can do it as many times as it continues to be effective in hurting you!
The best kind of dog whistling is so subtle that you may start second-guessing yourself. No, he didn’t mean that. We discussed that, and he seemed to understand how hurtful it is. He couldn’t do that again, could he? He must mean something else. Maybe I am overreacting and need help as he says I do.
The difficulty is that this is a pattern of manipulation and abuse. Any single comment would not be hurtful, but in the context of previous abuse, every comment can pull the Band-Aid off the wound and re-create all of the horrible feelings of self-hatred and lack of self-worth.
Example of Dog Whistling
So, say, for instance, you used ”late lunch” to mean spending the evening in bed. It is cute when used between the two of you, and they say they are having a late lunch with someone else. However, this can provoke jealousy, competition, or shame, among other emotions.
Provoking fights is also fun. For instance, you canceled your country club membership because she spends 1.5k a month on food. It is a boundary and leads to a big blow-up fight (who are you to set a boundary on her spending?) She mentions “country club” in casual conversation to trigger you. Oops, I forgot. Why are you so sensitive? Oh, that triggers you? And she will do it 18 times as long as you continue to get triggered.
Early on, before you know she is a narcissist, you wonder how she could forget that you asked her not to talk about it 12 times before (you are actually counting), but she keeps doing it. Then, at some point, you realize she is not that vapid; she’s intentionally doing it to hurt you.
How to Respond to Dog Whistling
The most effective response to dog-whistling is none. Do nothing. Gray or Yellow Rock.
Write down what happened (what was said or implied) and then put it in the context of the abuse in the relationship. Remember, he will try to gaslight you that it never happened or that you are too sensitive or crazy, but know your reality. So write down everything you can to remember what is true.
Typically, however, dog whistling is verbal communication and should just be ignored. Work on your triggers, and don’t react. Take your time and respond instead.
Summary: Dog Whistling in Narcissistic Abuse
Dog Whistling is borrowed from politics, but it is a narcissistic gaslighting.
At best, they can look at you a certain way and shut you up. Like you are saying too much or you are out of bounds. Just a look. Because you have a secret language between you and because she knows you so well, it is like kissing babies when narcissists gaslight you via dog whistling.
These code words are used lovingly in most relationships, but they are phrases that publicly manipulate you while sounding harmless to others’ ears. Like a dog whistle. Listen, the narcissist delivers a poise-shattering dog whistle that only you can hear.