What is narcissistic abuse?
You may have heard the term before, but you may not be sure what it means. Narcissistic abuse is a type of emotional abuse that is often inflicted on victims by someone who has narcissistic personality disorder.
It is difficult to pin down an exact definition or description of narcissistic abuse, because there are endless ways narcissists can manipulate and hurt their targets.
Victims of narcissistic abuse feel like they are constantly walking on eggshells, unsure of where the next attack will come from.
The end goal for the narcissist is to shatter their victim’s confidence, to make them totally dependent on their abuser and turn them into a never ending source of narcissistic supply.
Different forms of Narcissistic Abuse:
Gaslighting is one of the most common forms of narcissistic abuse. The narcissist rewrites history with blatant lies and denials of the obvious. They will minimalize and trivialize the impact of their behaviour or claim that it was just a joke, accusing the victim of being overly sensitive or exaggerating. They will also conveniently “forget” what they had said or done, even if it was just a few minutes earlier, insisting that it was all a figment of their victim’s imagination.
The victim no longer knows what to believe. They end up questioning their own sense of reality and ultimately even their sanity. This mental confusion often also results in negative self-talk, where the victim has internalized the lies and insults showered on them by the narcissist to such an extent that their inner voice takes over and continues the job. The narcissist thus takes up permanent residence in the victim’s head. Check out this post for narcissist gaslighting examples.
Verbal Abuse and Denigration
Narcissists radiate confidence and grandiosity, however in truth this façade hides a deep well of insecurity. In order to feel better about themselves, they denigrate the people around them. Their criticism and sarcasm is razer sharp, targeted to wreak maximum damage on their victim. They will stop at nothing to dominate and isolate their victim, using tactics such as smear campaigns or orchestrating public episodes of reactive abuse to destroy their reputation.
In other words, instead of working on improving their own self-confidence and achievements, narcissists destroy those of the people around them. This gives them a rush of power that momentarily distracts them from their narcissistic injury and their own abysmal lack of self-worth.
Abuse by Proxy
First, the abuser manipulates third parties by lying to them about the victim. Then they recruit them to increase pressure on the target in various ways. The recruits often do not understand what is happening. They are usually just unwitting tools wielded as weapons by a malicious abuser.
The victim ends up hit by a barrage of lies, rumours, and general harassment from third parties. As a result they no longer know who to trust, becoming more and more socially isolated and vulnerable. The relentless pressure makes the victims feel helpless.
They come to believe that there is no way they can ever free themselves from their abuser.
Narcissists will stop at nothing to get what they want. They will resort to emotional, physical, psychological, sexual or financial blackmail in order to coerce their victim to bend to their will.
At the end of the day the only person who matters to the narcissist is the narcissist. The feelings, needs or desires of others are of no interest to them, other than as a means to an end.
Victims of narcissists often talk about the disproportionate reactions of the narcissist in their lives. As described in this post about narcissistic injury and narcissistic rage, the narcissist is extremely insecure and will react like a cornered animal if anyone contradicts them or shows them up in any manner.
The fury they unleash on their target is visceral and terrifying. They will stop at nothing – screaming, verbal abuse, physical abuse, insults, threats or accusations. The aim is to intimidate the victim, who will think twice about contradicting or standing up to them ever again.
Love Bombing and Hoovering
Narcissists are master manipulators and when necessary they can turn on the charm. If they meet someone they want to ensnare (love bombing), or if the person they are currently controlling tries to get away, they will shower them with affection and grand gestures (hoovering). Love letters, romantic dinners, impromptu holidays – the narcissist will stop at nothing to suck the person into their dark universe.
Of course, all the gestures and declarations of love are meaningless. They are simply part of the arsenal used by narcissists to keep their victims entrapped. This strategy is particularly effective if the victim has also been isolated from friends and family, since their is nobody around to inconveniently point out the inconsistency in the abuser’s behaviour.
Narcissistic abusers often use manipulation to control their victims. They may use guilt trips, threats, or pity plays to get what they want. For example, they may guilt trip you into doing something for them by saying things like, “I did everything for you and this is how you repay me?” Or they may threaten to leave you if you don’t do what they want. They may also use pity plays to get what they want, such as telling you that they can’t live without you and begging for your help.
This is when the abuser creates a situation in which the victim has to choose between two people they care about. For example, narcissistic abusers may try to convince friends and family members to take sides in an argument. They may do this by spreading rumours about the victim, or by convincing friends and family members that the victim is the one in the wrong. This can be extremely damaging to victims, as it can make them feel like they are alone and have no one to turn to.
The Silent Treatment
The silent treatment is one of the most damaging forms of narcissistic abuse. The abuser will simply stop communicating with the victim, often without any explanation. This can leave victims feeling isolated and alone, and can make them feel like they are going crazy. The silent treatment can be especially harmful if it is used to punish the victim for trying to break free from the relationship.
How does a narcissist choose who to target with narcissistic abuse?
The impact of narcissistic abuse can be devastating. Victims often feel like they are going crazy, and may struggle with depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. They may also have difficulty trusting others, and may feel like they can’t do anything right.
Narcissists are experts at identifying people they can manipulate. Anyone with above average empathy and kindness will ping on their radar, because these are the types of people most likely to rationalize the abuser’s behaviour and forgive them time and time again.
The truth of course is that however much their victim loves them, the narcissist will never change. The only solution for the victim is to get away as fast and as far as they can, and deploying protective tactics such as grey rock, low contact or no contact, depending on the circumstances. It will not be easy, because narcissistic abuse is insidious and causes deep damage that will take years to process and heal – but it is essential for survival.
If you or someone you know is being abused by a narcissist, it is important to reach out for help. There are many resources available that can help you get started. Here are some tips on how to deal with a narcissist at work, in your friend group or in your family.
Quotes describing Narcissistic Abuse
“View your life as a toxic-free zone! If someone treats you badly don’t lower yourself to their level. Stay toxicity free. Simply do what you can to move on.”Karen Salmansohn
“When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. The misinformation will feel unfair, but stay above it, trusting that other people will eventually see the truth just like you did.”Jill Blakeway
“Narcissists rewrite history to escape accountability. You are not crazy..”Unknown
“But that’s the thing about narcissists. They can try to fool you, with all their heart, but in the end, they’re just fooling themselves.”Ellie Fox
“Narcissists think of themselves as gods, or puppeteers, pulling our strings and making us react. They then claim that our emotional reaction to the manipulation are the problem, rather than the abuse itself.” Carla Corelli
“How starved you must have been that my heart became a meal for your ego.” “Amanda Torroni
“A narcissist paints a picture of themselves as being the victim or innocent in all aspects. They will be offended by the truth. But what is done in the dark will come to light. Time has a way of showing people’s true colours“Karla Grimes
“Realize that narcissists have an addiction disorder. They are strongly addicted to feeling significant. Like any addict, they will do whatever it takes to get this feeling often. That is why they are manipulative and future fakers. They promise change, but can’t deliver if it interferes with their addiction. That is why they secure back up supply.”Shannon Adler
“Love doesn’t die a natural death. Love has to be killed, either by neglect or narcissism.”Frank Salvato
“Relationship with a narcissist in a nutshell:
You will go from being the perfect love of their life to nothing you do is ever good enough. You‘ll give everything and they will take it all and give you less and less in return. You’ll end up depleted, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and probably financially, and then get blamed for it. “Bree Bronchay
For a daily dose of inspiration follow Carla on Twitter.
For Further Reading:
The following are the most potent abusive tactics in the narcissist’s toolbox –
- Abuse by Proxy – How to Identify and Deal with this form of Psychological Abuse
- How to Detect and Escape Ambient Abuse: A Survivor’s Guide
- Divide and Conquer – a strategic way of isolating victims
- The Fauxpology – a devious weapon of the Narcissist
- Future Faking – Narcissists make hollow promises about the future
- Narcissistic Grooming – How Narcissists Brainwash and Condition their Victims
- Love Bombing – The Narcissist’s Trick to Keep You Hooked
- What is Narcissist Discard and what are the signs?
- Narcissist Hoovering – How to Deal With It
- Narcissist Triangulation – What it is, why Narcissists do it, and how to deal with it
- What you need to know about Narcissistic Rage
- Narcissistic Smear Campaign – how to spot it and what to do about it
- Narcissistic Word Salad – one of the tools in the narcissist’s toolbox
- 7 Types of Narcissistic Abuse with Practical Examples
- Narcissistic Abuse – How Narcissists Manipulate and Hurt their Victims
- 13 Warning Signs of Narcissistic Abuse: How to Deal with It and Get Help
- Narcissistic Abuse Examples – How to Recognize the Toxic Signs of Narcissism
- The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle: How to Recognize It and Break Free
- Narcissist Manipulation Tactics: How to Safeguard Yourself from Emotional Abuse
- Jokes or Abuse? When Jokes Cross the Line
- Narcissistic Abuse – The Signs and Why it’s so Damaging
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. When you use one of my affiliate links, the company compensates me. At no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission, which helps me run this blog and keep my in-depth content free of charge for all my readers.