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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Dimitrion, LCSW, CST

Peeling Back the Layers of Narcissism Part 3: Making Sense of Narcissistic Abuse


Narcissistic abuse is a pervasive and insidious form of psychological and emotional mistreatment that occurs in relationships with individuals who exhibit narcissistic traits or a narcissistic personality disorder. The impact of narcissistic abuse can be profound, affecting victims on a deep emotional and psychological level. This article aims to shed light on the dynamics of narcissistic abuse, its signs, and provide guidance on healing and moving forward.

Defining Narcissistic Abuse:

Narcissistic abuse involves a pattern of manipulative and controlling behaviors used by a narcissistic individual to dominate and exploit their partner, friend, family member, employee. Narcissists display a grandiose sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and an intense need for admiration. These traits can manifest in harmful ways, leading to emotional, psychological, and sometimes even physical abuse.

Signs of Narcissistic Abuse:

  1. Manipulation and Gaslighting: Narcissists often manipulate their victims through tactics like gaslighting, making them doubt their own perceptions, memories, and sanity. This can create confusion and erode the victim's self-esteem.

  2. Isolation: Narcissists seek to control their victims by isolating them from safe and healthy others, creating a dependency on the narcissist for emotional support and validation.

  3. Emotional and Verbal Abuse: Emotional and verbal abuse are hallmarks of narcissistic relationships. Insults, criticism, and demeaning remarks are used to break down the victim's self-worth.

  4. Lack of Empathy: Narcissists struggle to empathize with others, leading to a lack of emotional support or understanding for the victim's needs and feelings.

  5. Idealization and Devaluation: In the early stages of the connection, a narcissist may idealize their partner, making them feel special and loved. However, this phase is often followed by devaluation, where the narcissist criticizes and degrades the victim.

  6. Hoovering: Just when you set firm boundaries or get prepared to walk away, the narcissist turns back on the charm in an effort to lower your guard and draw you back in. Once they have the cycle starts all over again.

Impact on Victims:

The consequences of narcissistic abuse can be severe and long-lasting. Victims may experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and a distorted sense of reality. The trauma can affect their ability to trust others and form healthy connections in the future.

Healing from Narcissistic Abuse:

  1. Acknowledge What Is Happening: Recognizing and accepting that the connection is causing you harm is the first step toward healing. Whether or not you decide to name it abuse is completely your choice. What is most important is reclaiming and honoring your experiences and validating the instincts that say "this is not okay".

  2. Establish Boundaries: Setting clear boundaries can be extremely difficult with a narcissist. As noted above, they know exactly how to get those within their orbit to drop their guard and disregard their own needs. When contemplating setting boundaries with a narcissist, it's best to start small. Lean Some examples of boundaries (small and large) include:

    1. Taking small steps toward meeting your own needs before caring for the narcissist's (i.e. spend that time between work and home to go to the hair salon rather than rush home to cook dinner for the narcissist).

    2. Placing some responsibility back on the narcissist (i.e. if they ask you to take their car for an oil change, request that they remind you to do so in the morning. If they don't remind you, don't follow up.)

    3. Use the Gray Rocking Method: When the narcissist attempts to provoke you, disengage and remain as muted (and boring) as possible. This minimized the reactionary ammunition they are craving to further escalate the altercation. Eventually they will stop because they are getting the reaction out of you that they are seeking.

    4. Limit the time you spend with the narcissist to a minimum, basing it around when you have the bandwidth to tolerate them. Note: this of course can be more difficult if you live with the narcissist.

    5. Make the tough decision of cutting off contact from the narcissist. Work with healthy and trusting friends, family members, and your therapist to navigate this process if you decide it is right for you.

  3. Self-Care: Prioritize self-care to rebuild your physical and emotional well-being. This may include therapy, exercise, mindfulness, and engaging in activities that bring you joy.

  4. Educate Yourself: Learn about narcissistic personality styles and abusive dynamics to gain insight into the patterns of behavior you experienced. Knowledge can empower you to break free from the emotional chains of abuse.

  5. Seek Professional Help: Therapy, especially attachment-informed trauma therapy, can be instrumental in healing from narcissistic abuse.

Moving Forward:

Recovering from narcissistic abuse is a process that takes time and effort. It's essential to surround yourself with a supportive network, practice self-compassion, and focus on rebuilding your life. As you heal, you can emerge stronger, wiser, and better equipped to form healthy, fulfilling relationships in the future. Remember, you are not alone, and there is hope for a brighter tomorrow.

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