If you have experienced emotional abuse, mental abuse, or verbal abuse from a partner you might be confused about what has happened to you. You may think it’s just a bad breakup, a fight, a stage of your life that’s passed but it doesn’t stop.
It’s so hard to initially get a handle on what is really going on. It can feel like emotional whiplash.
We have our entire life invested in a person and they are so charming, so loving, it’s almost inconceivable that they could be doing this to us over something as petty as not being able to have their own way of being embarrassed over something that never happened.
This video offers additional information on the signs and symptoms of narcissistic abuse.
What is Narcissistic Abuse?
Narcissistic abuse is a type of psychological abuse – a pervasive, covert type of abuse in which one partner exploits the other in a toxic relationship, along with serving up plenty of manipulation, control and psychological abuse of the other partner.
It’s more than just a relationship gone sour—it’s a serious pattern of behavior that often escalates over time.
Narcissistic abuse can be subtle or overt; it can be physical and/or emotional; and it can take place over a long period of time or just once (though, typically, the more severe the abuse, the longer it lasts).
Often, narcissistic abuse victims are in decades-long relationships before they even recognize the abuse.
Narcissistic abuse involves subtle manipulation, pervasive control tactics, gaslighting, and emotional and psychological abuse. Many narcissistic abusers might be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder – if they actually go to a psychologist for diagnosis, but this rarely happens as narcissists don’t feel that there’s anything with them.
How does narcissistic abuse affect the victim?
Narcissistic abuse affects the victim’s mental health, but it also affects their physical well-being.
While narcissistic abuse can result in profound emotional and psychological harm, as well as long-term physical effects, the covert nature can make it difficult to spot and even more challenging to manage. Over time, this kind of manipulation can lead to self-doubt and low self-esteem—and eventually, depression and anxiety disorders.
The person who is being abused may actually believe they’re the problem in their relationship. This is because they’re often unaware they’re being abused due to having been manipulated into believing that their partner treats them well (or would, if they’d just behave themselves) and that in fact, the victim is the problem, not the other way around.
What are the dynamics of narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship?
Love Bombing or Idealization Phase
Perhaps the most confusing thing of all is the first step in most toxic relationships – the love bombing or idealization phase. That’s when the narcissist may seem to be charming in the beginning, and they lift you up on a pedestal, treating you better than you can remember anyone treating you ever! You feel like you’ve met your soulmate and like nothing could ever go wrong again.
Thanks to the love-bombing phase, you’ll feel like nothing could ever tear you apart from the narcissist – and that’s exactly why, when the devaluation phase starts, you’re so blindsided.
You can’t quite figure out what happened to the person you thought was your soulmate. As the narcissist increasingly becomes more and more controlling and demanding, you’re spinning, trying to figure out what you did wrong.
At this point, you’ll do anything you can to just win them back and find the person you initially fell for, but it feels like literally nothing works.
The devaluation phase happens right around the time they feel they have complete control over their partner.
We know that people who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) tend to be controlling, manipulative, and extremely self-centered. When the discard phase hits, these tendencies are magnified and used to hurt you. During the discard phase, the narcissist will either leave you “emotionally” by continuing to be near you but blatantly ignoring you – giving you the silent treatment – or they’re going to physically abandon you, for a short period of time, or a longer one.
Either way, at the end of this, you might even be more committed to dealing with the narcissist in the long term. That, of course, assumes that you’re a codependent who likely has a lot of their own baggage to get through.
When the narcissist has decided they want you back after their most recent discard, they will come to you with some sort of “hoover,” or an attempt to sort of “suck you back into the relationship.”
The hoover might be a loud declaration of their undying love, or it could be something dramatic like a sick dog who won’t make it without you. Or, it might be an argument, a lie, or any other thing the narcissist could use to drag you back in.
Who do narcissists typically seek out in a relationship?
If a narcissist is involved with someone who actively challenges them, they’re likely to psychologically test and retest their source of narcissistic supply. They’ll push it so far that you might find yourself getting angry and beginning to shut down.
In general, narcissists have a tendency to get involved with partners who have low self-esteem or who are emotionally vulnerable because these people are easier to control, and because those people are more likely to WANT to please the narcissist despite (and sometimes in direct reaction to) the abuse.
What do narcissists do to their victims?
As mentioned previously, narcissistic abuse victims are especially vulnerable. They have notoriously low self-esteem, but they’re never going to show you that. This is why some of the following behaviors should be red flags for anyone in a relationship to watch for.
Encourage Risky Behaviors
Narcissistic abusers might encourage you to engage in behaviors that are unhealthy or abusive towards themselves or others. This could include drugs, alcohol, gambling – even sexual behavior, and anything else to which one can become addicted.
Some of these behaviors might just be emotionally risky, while others can be physically dangerous.
Isolate You From Everyone in Your Support System
During the relationship, you’re going to find yourself becoming isolated from family and friends as the narcissist attempts to isolate you from your support system. Again, this is all about control.
(Remember: there are no limits to which an abusive narcissist will not stoop.)
Give You a Serious Case of Cognitive Dissonance
The victim may also begin to experience cognitive dissonance as they try to reconcile what’s happening with what they know about themselves or how they normally behave in relationships with other people. This can lead them into feeling depressed, anxious, or confused about what’s going on with their relationship and how it affects them emotionally – especially if there’s no one around who understands what they’re dealing with.
Make You Doubt Your Own Perception
Narcissists have a way of making you begin to wonder if you’re even a real person. You doubt your perception, your experiences and even your very existence as a whole adult.
What kind of relationships can be affected by narcissistic abuse?
This kind of abuse can affect any and all types of relationships. When you’re dealing with a narcissist in the family, they will often abuse everyone in the household and even affect the extended family members. This could be a parent, spouse, or even a sibling. Even friendships, professional relationships, and acquaintanceships can be affected by narcissistic abuse.
Malignant narcissists have little to no empathy for the people around them and they act from that perspective. That is: they don’t care how you or anyone else feels, and you can tell because of the way they treat the people around them.
They may be overtly narcissistic, or they may be more a covert narcissist. They will exploit and take advantage of you given the opportunity, and they aren’t capable of “seeing” you as a whole person with valid thoughts and ideas of your own.
In either case, anyone in a close relationship with one of these toxic people will be used as a form of narcissistic supply and not treated with any regard whatsoever.
Are you dealing with narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship? Get help now!
- Sign up for our free email newsletter service that includes a free guided recovery experience via your inbox.
- Start your narcissistic abuse recovery here with our free narcissistic abuse recovery support system and program.
- Use our free narcissistic abuse recovery program-finder.
- Join one of our free online narcissistic abuse recovery support groups!
- Join one of our private small coaching groups!
- Get private, one-on-one narcissistic abuse recovery coaching or counseling.
- Get a therapist who will work with you online. Check out our guide to finding a therapist or psychologist who understands narcissism and narcissistic abuse.
- Think you might be a victim of narcissistic abuse? Take this test and find out.
If you are being abused in any way by someone who has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), then you should get help immediately.