Seeking Growth or Performative Growth: Spotting the Counterfeit

Don't Fall Into the Common Narcissist Trap, Warns Relationship Expert

Image by Caleb MacKenzie Gaskins

Expert warns against falling into common narcissist trap in relationships

Seeking growth is a beautiful thing. Whether it’s delving into emotional awareness, adopting new habits, or nurturing relationships, it’s a journey worth pursuing. But what happens when you encounter someone who claims to be pursuing growth but leaves you feeling stuck and frustrated? Welcome to the world of “performative growth,” where emotional intelligence is a counterfeit used to trap and trick. So, let’s dive in and explore how to spot it and how to deal with it.

How Narcissists Reel You in with False Promises

1. Using therapy speak as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card

Being in therapy or coaching, reading countless books and journals, and psychoanalyzing 24/7 means nothing if it’s just empty speech. Talk is cheap, and some people, especially those with dark personalities, use therapy as a mere checkbox, to boast about their personal growth without actually committing to it. They may drop phrases like, “You know I have Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, and that’s why you have to understand me.” Contrast this with someone who genuinely acknowledges their mistake, apologizes, and commits to change.

The problem with performative growth is that it evokes empathy and makes you believe that they’re truly working on themselves. As a result, you find yourself trapped in an accountability loop. You walk on eggshells, blaming yourself every time they get triggered, and denying your own pain to accommodate theirs. It’s like living in a twisted reality where their growth matters more than your well-being.

2. Becoming an emotional-intelligence expert (& painting you as the “EQ idiot”)

Dark personality types use psychological jargon to manipulate their partners into believing they are experts in emotional intelligence (EQ). They understand your triggers and deliberately push your buttons, only to blame you for reacting. They may even suggest processing emotions together or sitting down for lengthy talks to gain insights into your psyche, while using confusing language that sounds intelligent.

Their manipulation serves several purposes. It keeps you doubting your own intuition, erodes your boundaries, and makes you blame yourself for everything. Their calm demeanor and use of psychology jargon give them an air of authority, leading you to believe that they’re right and you must be wrong.

3. They think they’re the only one with competence

Dark personality types often believe that they are the only emotionally and technically competent individuals. They constantly complain about how everyone else is terrible or doing a lousy job, making it seem like they’re the martyrs forced to come to the rescue. Their drama becomes the center of attention, overshadowing any hiccups others may face.

In their world, they are the only ones who can save the day, and they expect constant praise for their heroic acts. It’s an exhausting cycle where their inflated sense of superiority drains your energy and leaves you feeling inadequate.

Image by Kesiena Boom, M.S.

How to Discern the Truth

Now that we’ve identified performative growth, let’s explore how to distinguish it from genuine growth.

1. Is the “change” hardly a change at all?

If the change is superficial or incomplete, it’s not real growth. Empty promises and minimal actions do not demonstrate a genuine commitment to personal development. Booking a holiday trip without doing the necessary research, planning, and commitment is not growth—it’s a mere fraction of what needs to be done.

2. Does the change last?

Transient changes are another red flag. Dark types may make short-lived changes just to brag about it or use it as ammunition against you. For example, boasting about not hitting you for a few days into the new year is not growth; it’s a temporary manipulation tactic.

3. Are you punished for wanting growth?

Dark types often punish you for any change they embark on, blaming you for their failures or shortcomings. They know which buttons to push and how to make it look like everything is your fault. This kind of behavior indicates a lack of genuine commitment to growth.

4. Do they violate your trust and/or peace?

Deliberate violations of trust, peace, and respect are warning signs that someone is not committed to change. If they refuse to repair the damage caused by their actions, it’s clear that their growth is insincere.

5. Do they make an effort to repair?

In genuinely growth-oriented relationships, both parties work hard to repair any accidental ruptures. If they refuse to make any effort to repair the damage they’ve caused, it shows a lack of commitment to growth and change.

6. Are you making (or looking for) excuses?

Confirmation bias often blinds us to the truth. If you find yourself inflating their temporary changes or rationalizing their manipulative behavior, it’s a sign that you’re making excuses for their lack of genuine growth.

7. Are you only focusing on the good?

Positive interactions should not overshadow the overall picture. Even serial killers can have positive moments, but it doesn’t negate the fact that they are harmful. Don’t let occasional positive interactions blind you to the abusive dynamic in your relationship.

8. Do you actually trust them?

Can you trust this person to support you and be happy for your success? Dark personality types consistently betray trust and shift the blame onto their partners. Trust is a crucial element of a healthy relationship, and their actions show that they cannot be trusted.

9. Does couples’ therapy become another battleground?

Even in couples’ therapy, dark types can manipulate the situation to further abuse their partners. They may deceive the therapist and continue their abusive behavior behind closed doors. It’s essential to recognize when therapy becomes a toxic environment and seek help accordingly.

Remember: You Can’t Fall in Love with Potential

While everyone has the potential for growth, not everyone will live up to it. It’s important to recognize that investing in performative growth is a gamble that you will ultimately lose. If you find yourself staying in a tumultuous relationship, hoping for change that never comes, it’s time to reevaluate your situation.

Consider the consistent patterns of behavior and whether the relationship has truly been positive and healthy overall. Don’t justify their actions based on a few positive interactions or cultural expectations. Abuse is abuse, and you didn’t sign up to be abused.

The takeaway:

The longer you stay in a performative growth relationship, the harder it becomes to leave. Real growth requires intentional action and an ongoing commitment to mental health. If your relationship doesn’t align with these principles, it’s time to cut your losses and walk away toward a more peaceful future.

Image by Kesiena Boom, M.S.