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What is Narcissistic Abuse?
Narcissistic Abuse is a type of emotional, mental and psychological abuse performed at the hands of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The abuse can also cross lines into sexual, physical, financial and even spiritual. The abuser can be a friend, a partner, a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a boss or really anyone who is close to you. The narcissist will emotionally manipulate the victim as a form of control to get their desired outcomes.
What are the signs of Narcissistic Abuse?
Narcissistic Abuse is often very difficult for a victim to explain to others or even realize that they are experiencing. Like many forms of abuse, Narcissistic Abuse centers around the cycle of power and control; however Narcissists are pro’s at confusing and disorienting their victims. They regularly use a technique called Gaslighting where they essentially make the victim question reality and feel like they are crazy. They will tell lies, tell the victim that they are not seeing things how they really are, or place all of the blame on the victim until the victim actually believes the narcissist.
Often times victims will really believe that “everything is their fault” or that they have done something wrong to elicit the behaviors from the Narcissist. They will often be so focused on self-improvement and solving the “problem” that they are completely distracted from the reality that the narcissist is actually the problem. The victim’s life will center around the needs and wants of the narcissist, they will lose interest in the things they once loved, they will distance themselves from friends and family, and they will often be the only one who does not see their narcissist for who they really are. They will struggle with identifying any of this as abuse as they will keep coming back to the fact that the narcissist isn’t physically abusing them and will believe the lies that the narcissist is telling them, the “I love you more than anyone in your life” type of statements.
How do you identify a Narcissist?
Narcissism is really a spectrum, and on some level all of us show traits of Narcissism at some point in time. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a diagnose-able personality disorder. Someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder typically has a troubled childhood with some form of abandonment by one or both of their parents (whether real or perceived.) As an adult, they likely have little to no relationship with their family, they have likely completely cut out a number of people from their lives (family, exes, friends, etc.). They are extremely good at playing the victim and when they explain their life story it will appear to have very valid reasons for why they have no meaningful relationships (big family fights, all the exes cheated on them, people mistreated them, etc.) The will also have an exaggerated sense of grandeur about themselves. Maybe they have tall-tales about their life, maybe they think they were chosen by God, etc. A narcissist will also be extremely charming, will often be very focused on their appearance and presence, and will often appear to be the life of the party. To read about some of the red flags my Narcissist displayed, please check out my post Signs You Might be With a Narcissist.
A narcissist will also move extremely fast in a relationship. From a very early point they will express their love and adoration for you and will often start referencing the term soul mates. They will speed through the normal phases of dating and will often want to tie down their victim as soon as possible. They also often use a technique called love-bombing to distract you with gifts and love and elaborate events early on in the relationship.
How does a Narcissist pick their victims?
I wrote a lot about this in my post What Made me a Prime Target for The Narcissist. I struggled for a long time with feeling like there was something wrong with me that resulted in me being chosen by the narcissist. The reality is that I am a compassionate, loving, nurturing, and empathetic person and all of those things made the narcissist pick me. Only an empathetic person would feel bad for someone’s victim stories, only a compassionate person would want to continually make that person feel better even at your own detriment. On some level I think that my narcissist was particularly drawn to my nurturing and mothering characteristics because those are types of love he did not receive from his own mother. They also often target people who have a lower self-esteem or are a little unsure of themselves because they feel like they can sweep you off your feet and really win you over.
How do you feel when you are being abused by a Narcissist?
From my personal experience with narcissistic abuse, I mostly felt crazy all the time. The Narcissist would convince me that me feelings weren’t real, that I was over reacting to everything, that I didn’t appreciate him, that I didn’t deserve his love, that he loved me so much more than I loved him, etc. etc. I had almost no contact with my family, I had lost touch with all of my friends. I was lonely, I was depressed and I was exhausted. I felt like I was walking on eggshells at all times. I had a constant need to be perfect whenever he was around. I had to look perfect, act perfect, talk perfect, shower him with affection and love, not do anything that would upset him, and basically be a Stepford wife. I ended up reaching a breaking point and went to a therapist because I truly believed that I was depressed and had anger issues and that I needed to fix myself if I was going to save my marriage. For more information please read my post Why I Stayed.
What do you do if you are being abused by a Narcissist?
My number one recommendation for someone who is currently being abused by a narcissist is to start educating yourself about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Abuse. In the early days of my leaving I had no idea that I was being abused, I had never heard any of this vocabulary and I certainly did not know how to talk about these things. There are so many great resources out there including books – some of my favorites have been Psychopath Free and From Charm to Harm, there are many, many blogs like this one where survivors discuss their stories and even better – find a therapist who is trained in abusive relationships to talk to. I also found it so helpful to start reaching out and trying to re-build my connections to my family and friends, and in fact they were the ones who helped me the most. For more info on how I got out of my abusive relationship, please read my post Why I Left.
How can you help a loved one who you think may be in an abusive relationship with a Narcissist?
The number one thing that you can do to help someone in an abusive relationship is to be available for them when they are ready. It may take them some time to come to terms with the fact that they are being abused, and they might even leave and then go back on a few occasions. Just be there, be supportive, and be ready for them. Try not to place the blame on the abuser – this will only trigger the victim to defend them, it is what they have been brainwashed to do. Also so very important… focus on their safety; leaving an abusive relationship is the absolute most dangerous time for victims. For more tips, please read my post on Domestic Violence Awareness.
How do you heal from Narcissistic Abuse?
I’ve been out of my abusive relationship for just over a year now. My healing journey has consisted of weekly therapy sessions where we use EMDR & Brainspotting to work on the C-PTSD and trauma triggers that I have as a result of the abuse. I have struggled for sure with my self-confidence, my body image, my perception of myself and just feeling like I am “good enough” overall.
I have found that doing things that help me to feel empowered has really been one of the most therapeutic things. For me, I signed up for a dance class and started practicing martial arts. I re-built my relationships with my friends and family. I rescue puppies and help them get adopted into homes. I just started doing things that I really love and that make me feel good, and that has helped a great deal.
The reality is that I am still healing today. Sometimes things pop up that bring out feelings I didn’t realize were there and even still, I feel pretty hesitant about entering another relationship as a result of all of this. I feel very weary about letting any other person have any control over my happiness and well-being. It is definitely a journey, but I am light years ahead of where I once was.