man yelling at his partner

What is Narcissistic Abuse?

Narcissistic abuse is seen in someone who has an unreasonably high sense of importance. They display traits such as being self centered, arrogant in their thinking and displays behavior coupled with a disregard for others to gain a sense of excessive admiration. People with NPD project an air of confidence, when in reality they feel insecure about their self worth. This uncertainty causes them to seek external validation from other people in an effort to cope with their unstable self esteem. One key feature of narcissism is that they lack empathy, and see others as objects, which supports their abusive and toxic behaviors. This type of abuse is often very subtle, which makes it incredibly hard to recover from. Narcissistic abuse is not only seen in romantic relationships but can be experienced with parents, siblings, friends or even supervisors in a workplace.  

The Four Phases of Narcissistic Abuse in Romantic Relationships

  • Idealization: This occurs right at the beginning of a relationship where they essentially “hook” you. During this phase they present themselves to be everything that you want by showering you with love and adoration (love bombing). Oftentimes, victims are caught off guard and even feel a sense of intoxication by this person’s presence.

  • Devaluation: After reeling you in, the narcissist then begins subtle tactics of manipulation. Over time, they will increase their antics by becoming verbally abusive, which may look like insults, shame, threats, guilting you into doing things you don’t agree with, and withholding things from you, such as love or money while making demands from you. The manipulation often causes victims to doubt themselves, their sanity and live in a constant state of confusion.

  • Discard: The narcissist is very self centered and is always looking for what benefits them in relationships. Once the narcissist has gotten all they can from you, they will “discard” you like an old piece of trash. They will then move on to another “upgraded” supply to feed their ego.

  • Hoover: One of two things will happen in this phase, either they will leave you alone because they see the emotional pain they caused and feel validated by it or try to reel you back into having a relationship with them again. They may use tactics such as crying, guilt-tripping, blame-shifting, threats, or making false promises that they have miraculously changed to get you to come back, thus the cycle of abuse starts all over again. 

Narcissism in Families

Narcissistic abuse does not only occur in romantic relationships but can also be experienced in families. When growing up with a narcissistic parent the roles are reversed and instead of the parent focusing on the needs of the child, the child is expected to meet the emotional needs of the parent. The child’s basic needs may or may not be met, but one common characteristic is that these parents' are emotionally unavailable and their behaviors are unpredictable. Over time children from these households lose their sense of self worth and experience ongoing guilt and self blame. They often grow up feeling depressed, isolated, and cut off from their own emotions. 

Children learn early on that in order to survive they have to constantly be on guard to read their parents’ emotions, while repressing theirs in order to keep them happy. Children in these homes are constantly trying to meet the impossible, ever changing expectations of their parents. 

Some common signs that you grew up with a narcissistic parent are that their love for you is often seen as conditional, which usually revolves around making sure you do whatever you can to keep them happy. Other signs might be that you may have questioned your reality, you weren’t allowed to safely express your emotions or opinions, you were expected to help them maintain a “perfect” image outside the home, they never took any responsibility for mistakes, and emotions and behavior were unpredictable, almost seen as vacillating between “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.”

What are the effects of Narcissistic Abuse?

The effects of narcissistic abuse can vary depending on the type of relationship and how long you were exposed to their tactics. Narcissistic abuse can cause anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, loss of self worth or sense of self, self blame, somatic complaints, mood swings, trust issues and self destructive behaviors. 

Healing from Narcissistic Abuse

One of the challenges to healing from the abuse is the fact that it is hidden. First of all, the perpetrator goes to great lengths to conceal their abusive behavior by projecting an ideal version of themselves to the outside world. Secondly, through gaslighting and manipulation their tactics are often so subtle that you are left questioning the validity of what you have experienced and may even question whether or not YOU were the abuser. Healing is possible but it takes a lot of time, by first coming out of denial and acknowledging what happened, educating yourself on the abusive traits and reclaiming your personal rights and healthy boundaries. 

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