Narcissistic abuse refers to a type of abuse that is perpetrated by people with narcissistic traits and behaviors. Some authors believe it is different from other types of abuse because a narcissist might act in specific ways and affect the victim’s well-being through determined patterns that other forms of abuse do not describe in an accurate way what happens in these situations.
What is Narcissism?
Narcissism refers to a series of traits and behaviors that are characterized by an inflated sense of self and grandiosity. A person with narcissism feels superior to others and will usually seek ways to confirm their superiority. They want admiration and attention from others to a greater degree than most people and can go to extremes to receive them. They tend to be very sensitive to criticism and feel entitled to receiving special treatment or special status. Narcissists also are likely to have a lower level of empathy and be more self-centered than the average person. Narcissism involves a combination of a focus on the self and an inflated sense of who one is and one’s importance with a relatively fragile ego that is easily hurt. Narcissists tend to take steps to stay ahead, look good, and also value status symbols a lot.
Before discussing narcissistic abuse, it is worth noting that not all individuals with narcissistic personality disorder or narcissistic traits engage in abuse, nor is abuse always linked to narcissism. However, some individuals with high levels if narcissism do engage in abusive behaviors that fall under the umbrella of narcissistic abuse.
Let’s take a look at what distinguishes this type of emotional abuse and how it can affect us emotionally, psychologically, and in our daily life.
Narcissist abuse generally follows the below three phases
Love Bombing -> Devalue -> Discard
Phase 1: Love Bombing
Narcissistic abuse often starts out with a seemingly perfect relationship. When the relationship first begins, narcissists usually start with a behavior known as love-bombing – a pattern of behavior when the narcissist expresses a lot of affection. They make you feel special, perhaps, more special than ever before. They lavish you with compliments, gifts, and more. The relationship feels like something of a romantic movie and might move quickly – you move in together, you get engaged, you get to a significant commitment in just a couple of months, etc. The attention you get showered with can be overwhelming, to the point where you don’t question it, and you might feel very good about the situation.
Phase 2: Devalue
The abuse will start once you have gotten hooked and are stunned by everything. Usually, it starts out slowly and begins to replace the signs of love with something more insidious.
Narcissists will try to use various techniques to manipulate you.
Many narcissists are good at developing critiques and engage in a technique called negging, meant to lower your self-esteem and make you doubt yourself. The criticisms might delivered in the form of back-handed compliments, jokes, questions, or comments. For example, you might hear “is that what you’re wearing?” or “you are really looking good today, you should try it more often” or “are you really going to eat cake?” If addressed, the person might say that they were joking or that you misunderstood or that you are making a big deal out of nothing. However, these comments or jokes leave you feeling doubtful, hurt, or unsafe.
The behavior might increase if you do something that narcissist disapproves of or goes against their idea. When it escalates, you might also wonder, especially at first, whether you did something wrong that led to a change in the fantastic and loving behavior from before.
If you try to talk about the situation, it might be turned on you. Another common tactic is gaslighting.
Gaslighting refers to the strategy of continuously dismissing your experience and making you doubt your perception of reality. They might say that something didn’t happen, that you misunderstood, that you are exaggerating, or accuse you of lying or being “hysterical.”
Narcissists often care a lot about their public image and tend to be very charming with the people who are not part of their inner circle. With your friends and family members, as well as with acquaintances, the person is likely to be highly enchanting and attentive.
This works for them in two ways.
- It makes others less likely to believe you.
- It maintains their social status and the esteem of others. If they are perceived as charming and nice, it’s hard to get others to believe how they might treat you, which can make you doubt yourself even more and wonder whether your perception is true. Beyond this, the narcissist will often pre-emptively talk badly about you or act in ways that might harm your reputation, especially when you feel angry or frustrated, which is natural when facing abuse.
Phase 3: Discard
At any given point of time, a Narcissist has multiple victims so that he or she can have sadistic pleasure (supply) from multiple victims. Once the Narcissist has received enough supply from you, they might discard you temporarily and move to their next target where in they start the cycle of Love Bomb – Devalue – Discard with someone else. The discard phase might last for a few days, a few weeks or a few months.
It’s not always easy to recognize this situation as abuse. However, you should pay attention to your emotions. During this time, You might feel guilty, unsure, confused, upset, or as if you did something terrible to upset the Narcissist, even if you can’t pin exactly what happened or why are they behaving like this.
The narcissist might seek to isolate you, both through charming other people to side with them, and by slowly asking you to spend more time with them. They might get offended if you do something without including them and slowly trim down your personal time and space.
As soon as they would realize they need something from you, or that they need supply from you, they would start the love bomb phase again.
Effects of Narcissistic abuse
Narcissistic abuse tends to be more subtle. It undermines your confidence and allows the narcissist to gradually gain more control over your life and decisions. You can feel like you are losing yourself, like you have given up things that have made you yourself.
Pattern of Self doubt
The effects of narcissistic abuse might build up over time, and one common sign is a growing doubt in yourself. You might feel unsure about every decision you make and constantly second-guessing yourself, especially if you feel like you must get the narcissist’s input before you do anything. You might also start avoiding things you used to enjoy or appreciate because worry about their disapproval. With this type of abuse, you are constantly made to feel like you’re to blame, while the other person will take no responsibility for any problems or situations.
Staying quiet even when something is bothering you.
Another common tactic is anger and oversensitivity. Narcissists often will blow up for a relatively simple reason and often, that will make unwilling to bring up issues because you fear their reaction. This is a pattern that can also creep into other relationships and teach you to stay quiet when something is bothering you.
Physical Pain and Symptoms
You might feel upset and confused, experiencing emotional and physical symptoms of distress, such as insomnia, nausea, headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, unexplained pains, and more.
Now that we have looked at what narcissistic abuse is, let’s take a look at how to escape it. What can you do?
How to heal from Narcissistic abuse?
1. Talk to those who will validate you
Narcissists might undermine you, so it’s important to seek interactions that help you feel better. Talk to friends, colleagues, and family members who will offer you validation and help you build yourself up. Avoid negative and toxic people, focus instead on more interactions with those who will support you. When you listen to a positive view of yourself, it becomes easier to internalize it and counteract all the negative things the narcissist has told you or suggested to you.
2. Trust your instincts
Even if the narcissist abuser in your life dismisses your concerns or even if your loved ones fail to take your side, you know what you are experiencing. A relationship should not be a constant source of insecurity, negative emotions, stress, and blame. If you are always feeling like this, something is definitely going wrong. Look out for signs like a loss of yourself, constant distress, negative emotions after being around the narcissist person in your life, a difficulty making choices, feeling guilty about things that are not your fault, and more.
3. Document / Write things down
Our memory is fallible, but what we write down in the moment will help us keep track of everything that is going on. You should jot down what happened and what upset you, how you felt, how the other person reacted, and any other important details. This will help you trust yourself and record what is going on with more objectivity. A journal can help you see that what is happening is a pattern and also serve as a tool to let it all out. Be careful, however, with where you keep the journal, as the narcissist abuser might use it against you or destroy it.
4. Find support
A narcissist might have isolated you from other sources of support and possibly worked to turn people against you. It’s especially important to seek help from others when you are planning to leave. Reach out to trusted friends and family members, find those who will take your side. You might also benefit from professional support, as a therapist will be on your side. Look for support groups and programs that are meant to help people leave abusive circumstances – they are more likely to offer you emotional back-up and also might provide good advice and even some material resources. With support, you can feel safer and also find the right type of help that you require. It can be difficult to talk about narcissistic abuse because it’s not always evident, but when you do, a lot of things become easier.
5. Prepare yourself for leaving the Narcissist
Leaving is not always as easy as just walking out of the door. You might need to make preparations. Focus on mentally preparing yourself up for leaving and also on preparing everything you need. Make sure you have your documents in order, that you tell people you trust, and that there is a place for you to go. It’s important to keep your plan secret, as the narcissist might try to undermine it or attack you with love once again or get angry. You have the right to leave when you feel safer and take any reasonable precaution you deem necessary to keep yourself in one piece and with good emotional health.
6. Reduce your contact with the narcissist
As you are preparing to leave, you might see if you can reduce the time you spend with the narcissist. Try to spend more time at work or with other people or create new commitments for yourself that will keep you busy, however, do not engage in this if you feel it might not be safe. See how it feels to be alone or away from the person, whether you feel better. Recognize how different you act or feel when you are not near this person. Start building your plan for leaving.
7. Cut contact when you can
Once you leave, the narcissist might increase their efforts to either get you back or make you pay for leaving. In both situations, it’s better to try and cut contact as much as you can. Do not engage in long conversations, do not meet them and especially not your own, don’t give them the opportunity to use either lovebombing or anger to get you to come back. In some cases, you might not be able to cut down completely, so it’s useful to find a middleman, carry out the communication in writing, or have others come with you to the meetings, if they cannot be avoided. Go back to your memories and especially your notes about the bad experiences to avoid going back.
Overall, healing from narcissistic abuse is not an easy endeavour, but it definitely can be done. The first step is to recognize what is happening and give yourself permission to leave the situation. If you don’t feel good in a relationship, you are always entitled to leave, just make sure to do so safely.