What is Narcissistic Abuse?

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What is Narcissistic Abuse?Narcissists don’t really love themselves. Actually, they’re driven by shame. It’s the idealized image of themselves, which they convince themselves they embody, that they admire. But deep down, narcissists feel the gap between the façade they show the world and their shame-based self. They work hard to avoid feeling that shame. This gap is true for other codependents, as well, but a narcissist uses destructive defense mechanisms that damage relationships and their loved ones’ self-esteem.

Many of the narcissist’s coping mechanisms are abusive–hence the term, “narcissistic abuse.” However, someone can be abusive, but not be a narcissist. (Learn the traits required to diagnose a narcissistic personality disorder, “NPD.”) Addicts and people with other mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and anti-social personality disorder (sociopathy) and borderline personality disorders are also abusive, as are many codependents without a mental illness. Abuse is abuse, no matter what is the abuser’s diagnosis. If you’re a victim of abuse, the main challenges for you are:

  • Clearly identifying it;
  • Building a support system; and
  • Learning how to strengthen and protect yourself.

What is Narcissistic Abuse
Abuse may be emotional, mental, physical, financial, spiritual, or sexual. Here are a few examples of abuse you may not have identified:

  1. Verbal abuse: Verbal abuse includes belittling, bullying, accusing, blaming, shaming, demanding, ordering, threatening, criticizing, sarcasm, raging, opposing, undermining, interrupting, blocking, and name-calling. Note that many people occasionally make demands, use sarcasm, interrupt, oppose, criticize, blame, or block you. Consider the context, malice, and frequency of the behavior before labeling it narcissistic abuse.
  2. Manipulation: Generally, manipulation is an indirect influence on someone to behave in a way that furthers the goals of the manipulator. Often, it expresses covert aggression. Think of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” On the surface, the words seem harmless – even complimentary; but underneath you feel demeaned or sense a hostile intent. If you experienced manipulation growing up, you may not recognize it as such. See my blog on spotting manipulation.
  3. Emotional blackmail: Emotional blackmail may include threats, anger, warnings, intimidation, or punishment. It’s a form of manipulation that provokes doubt in you. You feel fear, obligation, and or guilt, sometimes referred to as “FOG”
  4. Gaslighting: Intentionally making you distrust your perceptions of reality or believe that you’re mentally incompetent.
  5. Competition: Competing and one-upping to always be on top, sometimes through unethical means. E.g. cheating in a game.
  6. Negative contrasting: Unnecessarily making comparisons to negatively contrast you with the narcissist or other people.
  7. Sabotage: Disruptive interference with your endeavors or relationships for the purpose of revenge or personal advantage.
  8. Exploitation and objectification: Using or taking advantage of you for personal ends without regard for your feelings or needs.
  9. Lying: Persistent deception to avoid responsibility or to achieve the narcissist’s own ends.
  10. Withholding: Withholding such things as money, sex, communication or affection from you.
  11. Neglect: Ignoring the needs of a child for whom the abuser is responsible. Includes child endangerment; i.e., placing or leaving a child in a dangerous situation.
  12. Privacy invasion: Ignoring your boundaries by looking through your things, phone, mail; denying your physical privacy or stalking or following you; ignoring privacy you’ve requested.
  13. Character assassination or slander: Spreading malicious gossip or lies about you to other people.
  14. Violence: This includes blocking your movement, pulling hair, throwing things, or destroying your property.
  15. Financial abuse: Financial abuse might include controlling you through economic domination or draining your finances through extortion, theft, manipulation, or gambling, or by accruing debt in your name or selling your personal property.
  16. Isolation: Isolating you from friends, family, or access to outside services and support through control, manipulation, verbal abuse, character assassination, or other means of abuse.

Narcissism and the severity of abuse exist on a continuum. It may range from ignoring your feelings to violent aggression. Typically, narcissists don’t take responsibility for their behavior and shift the blame to you or others; however, some do and are capable of feeling guilt and self-reflection.

Malignant Narcissism and Sociopathy
Someone with more narcissistic traits who behaves in a malicious, hostile manner is considered to have “malignant narcissism.” Malignant narcissists aren’t bothered by guilt. They can be sadistic and take pleasure in inflicting pain. They can be so competitive and unprincipled that they engage in anti-social behavior. Paranoia puts them in a defensive-attack mode as a means of self-protection.

Malignant narcissism can resemble sociopathy. Sociopaths have malformed or damaged brains. They display narcissistic traits, but not all narcissists are sociopathic. Their motivations differ. Whereas narcissists prop up an ideal persona to be admired, sociopaths change who they are in order to achieve their self-serving agenda. They need to win at all costs and think nothing of breaking social norms and laws. They don’t attach to people as narcissists do. Narcissists don’t want to be abandoned. They’re codependent on others’ approval, but sociopaths can easily walk away from relationships that don’t serve them. Although some narcissists will occasionally plot to obtain their objectives,  they’re usually more reactive than sociopaths, who coldly calculate their plans.

Get Help
If you’re in a relationship with an abuser or a narcissist, it’s important to get outside support to understand clearly what’s going on, to rebuild your self-esteem and confidence, and to learn to communicate effectively and set boundaries. Doing the exercises in my books and e-workbooks, particularly Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People will help you make changes. Join my mailing list and receive a “Checklist of Narcissistic Behaviors.” If you feel in danger, don’t believe broken promises. Get immediate help, and read, “The Truth about Domestic Violence and Abusive Relationships.”

© Darlene Lancer, 2016

 

What is Narcissistic Abuse? by Darlene Lancer, MFT, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Monica, CA, and author of Codependency for Dummies

 

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james
james
1 year ago

My mother is a gaslighter and I believe a narcissist. I have only met narcissistic women and have had children with them who now suffer in their care.
I am still abused by all of them on some level, some say you attract what you are which doesn’t help, I just realized I’m co-dependent. Realization is a beginning I suppose. the list above tells me I wasn’t strong but stupid and ignorant, I have ended up with physical problems that are neurological and imitated a stroke at there worst and best confusion, I have to deal with her hate and abuse still it’s hard to recover. My children are now regular victims of her hate.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
Reply to  james

Awareness is the beginning of change. See my blogs “Gaslighting 101” and “Sons of Narcissistic Mothers.” I suggest you attend Coda, get counseling, and study and do the exercises in my ebooks Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People and
How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits and webinar How to Be Assertive

Kim H.
Kim H.
2 years ago

I am at the end of my rope and feel almost every day that life isn’t worth living. Due to health reasons, I am stuck with my husband of 42 years. Your articles have truly opened my eyes. Thank you.

Jane Doe
Jane Doe
2 years ago

im being stalked by a narcissist who wants revenge on me for reporting him for physical assault. hes done 1 3 4 6 7 9 12 13 and 14. he even followed me to my university orientation 3.5 hours away. i’m scared out of my mind. i dont know what to do. its been 4 years.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
2 years ago
Reply to  Jane Doe

Do what’s necessary to protect yourself. Seek legal advice and talk to law enforcement – perhaps for a restraining order, and get therapeutic help for trauma and anxiety.

Helen
Helen
2 years ago

Every single one except 11. So sad. And I was totally blind. Away and in therapy now. I would never ever imagine I would get trapped in an abusive relationship in my life.

SaraLiz
SaraLiz
1 year ago
Reply to  Helen

I’m in the same boat, everything except #11. It’s been 7 years, everyone hates him, and I literally have to hide him from my friends and family, which he actually allows most of the time, begrudgingly, and sometimes he even promotes it himself. Every time I end it, it which is extremely hard, he comes back and lays on the kindness, love, emotional support, etc. For a brief period of time. It always goes back to me begging for his love and comfort, whilst he denies me, laughs at me, says I caused it so he refused to give me the comfort I beg for because he “doesn’t want me to think whatever I’ve done is ok. He thinks every man in my life

David
David
2 years ago

So Im prob a mid range narsasist (its the top 10% thats the problem fo the workplace and anywhere else) (70% millenials are narsasist)
2 narsasist parents (omg learned what gas lighting and validation where at 31 self acceptance too…ugh). I have a narsasistic family & exte, tribe great grandmonther on down to mom covert nar. Its genetic on autism scale. What i realized is its the need to maintain image that hurts these families. I’m trying to get them now to own the trait as part of who we are as it is. its not bad per se. its the same gift that drives me to change lives.
its the insecurity and lack of awarness that is abusive

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
2 years ago
Reply to  David

It’s not true about millennials. There’s a difference between just feeling entitled and being a narcissist. Research has been mixed and there’s a big difference between narcissistic traits and NPD. Some studies say it’s declined since the recession, and also varies among schools and races.

Carol Gill
Carol Gill
4 years ago

it appears after reading all the articles about Narcissism’ambiaent abuse”, my boyfriend is one. He is so negative and i believe the abuse is ambient abuses. He rages about eh govt…rages…but he sez his anger is NEVER towards me. Thats his violence. Its pretty sick what he sez. And no one can stop him, not even his best buddy of 65 years. I think when he does it, hes possessed….and he wants an audience (like a 2 years old’s temper tantrum) …His anger is constant. Sometimes it scares me. Gosh, its is scarey! I know i need to get out but i have no place to go. He knows that so he has amped up his abuse. I thin I need help…..

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
4 years ago
Reply to  Carol Gill

Some forms of ambient abuse are mentioned in my blog, “Emotional Abuse: Beneath Your Radar.” You can address it using the approach in Dealing with a Narcissist.

Holly
Holly
4 years ago

I’m so confused. I’ve been with my husband since 18. I always thought I was in charge but now I’m not so sure. In the beginning I chased him and when he realized that I was going places he latched on. But, I was dominate and treated him not so great. But getting real feelings was and is hard. I was difficult loud person he was quite easy going good guy everyone liked. One major flaw and secret, always pushing me to make more and go farther which I did. While I could not convince him to complete any trade school or GED. We would have sex and then he’d go shower and watch TV. We had kids built big house. I worked more. I fell apart. He cheats.

Laurence
Laurence
4 years ago

I have a sister who claims our mother is a malignant narcissist and throws around terms like flying monkeys to refer to the rest of us. I grew up in the same house and don’t see my childhood the same way she does. Help me to understand.

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
4 years ago
Reply to  Laurence

There are many blogs and a peer-reviewed article on narcissism on my website. Moreover, sometimes a narcissist targets specific children and favors others, but even if not targeted, there is subtle shaming that a child may not be that aware of. Conquering Shame and Codependency explains this in more detail.

Suzy Homemaker
Suzy Homemaker
4 years ago

Patricia from July 11th: you’re right to wary. Your husband is gaslighting you. It makes you question your reality and de-stabalizes you. He wants counseling so that he feels the therapist will say he is right. Be careful. You can get re-victimized. My therapist kept telling me to lower my expectations (of being treated decently and lovingly) and finally told me to have “no expectations”. That allowed him to hi-jack the whole marriage and made me completely submissive. I didn’t understand he’s narcissistic (malignant) or the emotionally abusive relationship, married for 15 years & 5 marriage counselors. NO professional (DOCTOR) caught it !!!!

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
4 years ago
Reply to  Suzy Homemaker

It was wrong of your therapist to tell you to “lower expectations” when you want to be treated with respect. Individual help can make all the difference to rebuild self-esteem and empower a victim, but we do need outside help. See also Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Limits with Difficult People.

Alexandria
Alexandria
5 years ago

My Ex-H just pulled a N episode on me for the 3rd time. It was not until a few days ago when I was left bewildered one again that he could “love me more than I would even know” to not talking to me and blaming me for being a liar when I caught him in a lie, that I realized that he actually is a narcissist and has repeatedly done this to me for the past 20 years. B/c I was the one who had an affair in our marriage that always clouded the way he treated me. We even divorced and he remarried. Now I’m left feeling helpless and broken pretty sure he went back to his current wife, the one he left recently to start fresh with me, his “soul mate”

Patricia
Patricia
5 years ago

My long-time verbally abusive husband is now very condescendingly insisting that we go to couples counseling after he’s said hurtful things and denied doing it. I’ve read that it usually results in the victim being revictimized, due to counselors having no idea that the charming, intelligent man is actually an abuser. My husband almost instantly denies having said anything vicious to me and has never admitted to having done so. So what are the prospects for counseling for “a communication problem”?

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
5 years ago
Reply to  Patricia

A good counselor should be able to see through that. Also, YOU need counseling to set boundaries with him, and go to CoDA meetings. Finally, some people bring in written communications or even recordings of arguments to reveal abusive language to the counselor. Shortly, I’ll have a webinar on assertiveness up. Until then, practice from “How to Speak Your Mind.”

Patricia
Patricia
5 years ago

“How to Speak Your Mind” has a wealth of good suggestions–I read it today and will reread parts of it and make some lists of things to focus on. In the past, I would write down each hurtful thing he would say and it did discourage his chronic denial. So I’m going to start that again. He doesn’t do it often, so I’ll need to maintain my resolve and focus on assertiveness and boundaries for life. But I’m no longer feeling as hopeless as I was. Thank you for all this help!

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
5 years ago
Reply to  Patricia

thank you. Know that it takes PPP: Patience, practice, and persistence. Let me know if you’d like to get the webinar How to Be Assertive, which you can listen to and/or watch. It’s $10.

Patricia
Patricia
5 years ago

Yes, I think that webinar might help me. It probably seems odd that I’m still working on these skills at 69, 30 years into a 2nd marriage, but I was raised by an abusive narcissistic mother and my first marriage was to a charming, handsome, violent sociopath who was abusive in just about every way. I’m a late bloomer :/

I did have an excellent therapist 20 years ago, but I was unable to put most of his advice into practice then. I was on so many antidepressants that I felt like a zombie. Glad to be off all of them now, though I’m still coping with anxiety (by walking a lot).

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
5 years ago
Reply to  Patricia

Advice doesn’t usually create change, but instead you need to heal the trauma of a narcissistic mother, to change your underlying beliefs, and to learn new skills. Consider doing the exercises in Conquering Shame

K
K
5 years ago

Do Narcissists know they are that way?? I have done a bunch of these things in my relationship -how do I know if I am the Narcissist or if I am just reacting to them??

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