Narcissists don’t really love themselves. Actually, they’re driven by shame. It’s the idealised 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 shame. To fill this gap, narcissists use destructive defense mechanisms that destroy relationships and cause pain and damage to their loved ones.
“You are not broken and in need of fixing. You are wounded and in need of healing.”
Many of the narcissist’s coping mechanisms are abusive–hence the term “narcissistic abuse.” However, someone can be abusive, but not be a narcissist. Addicts and people with other mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and antisocial personality disorder similar to the older term, sociopathy and borderline personality disorders can also be abusive, as are many co-dependents without a mental illness. Abuse is abuse, no matter what the abuser’s diagnosis is.
2. Building a support system.
3. Learning how to strengthen and protect yourself.
- 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 behaviour before labelling it narcissistic abuse.
- Manipulation: Generally, manipulation is 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.
- 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”
- Gaslighting: Intentionally making you distrust your perceptions of reality or believe that you’re mentally incompetent.
- Competition: Competing and one-upping to always be on top, sometimes through unethical means. E.g. cheating in a game.
- Negative contrasting: Unnecessarily making comparisons to negatively contrast you with the narcissist or other people.
- Sabotage: Disruptive interference with your endeavours or relationships for the purpose of revenge or personal advantage.
- Exploitation and objectification: Using or taking advantage of you for personal ends without regard for your feelings or needs.
- Lying: Persistent deception to avoid responsibility or to achieve the narcissist’s own ends.
- Withholding: Withholding such things as money, sex, communication or affection from you.
- 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.
- 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.
- Character assassination or slander: Spreading malicious gossip or lies about you to other people.
- Violence: violence includes blocking your movement, pulling hair, throwing things, or destroying your property.
- 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
- 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.
“A narcissist, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of an empath. Emotionally, narcissists are like brick walls who see and hear others but fail to understand or relate to them. As a result of their emotional shallowness, narcissists are essentially devoid of all empathy or compassion for other people. Lacking empathy, a narcissist is a very destructive and dangerous person to be around.”
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 self-reflect and are capable of feeling guilt.
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 are co-dependent 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.
What narcissists see in empaths is a giving, loving person who is going to try and be devoted to you and love you and listen to you,” she said. “But unfortunately, empaths are attracted to narcissists, because at first this is about a false self. Narcissists present a false self, where they can seem charming and intelligent, and even giving, until you don’t do things their way, and then they get cold, withholding and punishing.”
Judith Orloff, a psychiatrist and author.
- They have a sense of superiority, for example being highly critical, often judgmental about others.
- They have a sense of entitlement, sometimes this comes off as confidence, but can manifest in subtle ways, like cutting through a service station rather than wait at the traffic lights, or deliberately leaving rubbish for someone else to pick up.
- They give out back-handed compliments, such as “she has a figure like yours, you know, slim but no muscle tone.”
- In a romantic relationship, the relationship moves quickly, for example they will shower you with attention, compliments or gifts, and say “I love you” very early on in the relationship.
- They will start to subtly ignore you. They may appear to lose interest/get distracted or check their phone while you’re talking.
- Their seemingly innocent words are often contradicted by their body language and tone of voice.
- Their stories don’t quite add up, and you start to see the little white lies. You may even tell yourself, “I just heard them lie to their friend, it was just a little white lie. But s/he wouldn’t lie to me.”
- They have two sets of rules. Rules that apply to them, and rules that apply to everyone else. They may have unrealistic expectations of love and nurturing from others, but don’t hold themselves to the same high standards.
- They have a lack of empathy and are unable to put themselves in the shoes of others.
- They have poor boundaries, and may regularly invade your privacy, go through your belongings, or expect that you mind read their wishes and needs.
- They may be highly sensitive to criticism, or any suggestion that they are not in the right.
- They have a “my way or the highway” attitude. They believe that they know best, and that their way of doing things is the correct way.
- Initially they can come off quite charming and charismatic, always knowing the right thing to say.
- As the relationship becomes more established, you may start to see some stronger warning signs, or red flags, such as: You may spot bigger lies, and when you confront them, you never get a straight answer or they will turn it around and accuse you of what they’re actually doing.
- If you try to raise an issue with them, it becomes a full-blown argument. They may accuse you of causing the fight, or they may use the silent treatment as a way of punishing you for confronting them.
- Arguments feel circular and nonsensical. You’re left feeling emotionally battered and confused. There is no resolution to the issue, no sense of compromise or seeking a win/win outcome. It feels like they need to “win” regardless of the issue or what’s at stake. You’re left feeling unsupported and misunderstood.
- They may tell you something didn’t happen when you know it did, or vice versa. This is called gaslighting and it’s designed to make you doubt your own reality and judgment.
- You feel like you need to ask for permission before making plans with others. They may try to control where you go or call and text constantly to check up on you and interrogate you about where you’ve been/what you’ve been doing.
- You start seeing less of your family and friends. Perhaps because they openly prevent you from doing so through guilt tripping or threats of abandonment. Or, it could be subtler, where they make such a fuss about seeing your family and friends that you start avoiding them so you don’t have to deal with the fallout. You end up feeling isolated and lonely.
- The relationship feels one-sided – like you are the one who is doing all the giving, the one who is always in the wrong, the one who is trying the hardest, changing the most or doing the most sacrificing, just to make them happy. And it still doesn’t work. Nothing is enough for them.
- You can’t feel at ease or relaxed in their presence. You feel like you’re walking on eggshells, waiting for the next time they lash out at you. You realise you feel a sense of relief when they aren’t there.
- You feel like whatever you do, it’s not enough. You’re manipulated so that your flaws and vulnerabilities are exploited and used against you at every opportunity. You begin to feel inadequate, unlovable, and like everything is all your fault.
“I never knew what was walking through the door,” I was walking on egg-shells most of the time. Everyone said how lovely and bubbly she was and yet I was the only person who saw the other side. None of my friends would believe how controlling and cruel she could be.” Anonymous
The more of the above behaviors and feelings you recognise, the more likely it is that you are in fact experiencing narcissistic abuse.
“Narcissistic abuse does not usually include forms of physical abuse with physical signs like bruises. The signs of narcissistic abuse are invisible, which makes it much harder to identify. The abuse is more ambiguous and difficult to prove, but it is no less damaging because it’s a form of spiritual rape. Over time, the abuse chips away at the target’s self-confidence and self-esteem. The target isn’t even aware it’s happening until the damage has been done. The abuse is always about control.” Bree Bonchay
Our work together
If you’re in a present or past relationship with a narcissist, I will empathetically listen to you, while supporting you to understand clearly what’s going on and facilitate you to rebuild your self-esteem and confidence, and to learn to effectively set boundaries.
Boundaries are tools for building cooperation in relationships, for letting others know what you want and for letting them know which options are available to them (for getting what they want). Set boundaries when you want behaviours to change and wish to avoid negative, stressful behaviours such as nagging, yelling, threatening or punishing to get what you want. Whether you use boundaries in relationships with children or other adults, the characteristics of boundaries and dynamics of boundary setting are the same.
Understanding what has happened to you and recovering and healing from narcissist abuse is not a linear progression. Healing is a journey. We will explore the root of the subconscious programs and trapped emotional energy which keep your patterns of obsession, addictions, defences, learned helplessness and repeated attractions to abusive relationships and situations in your life. There is an addictive aspect to relationships with narcissists and an aspect of our work together is understanding the brain chemistry that we addict ourselves to, which can keep “trauma-drama” a constant companion in our lives.
Additional Areas of counselling I work with:
- Affairs and betrayal
- Anger management
- Pre-Bereavement, Bereavement
- Carer support
- Child related issues
- Chronic boredom
- Domestic violence
- Drug and alcohol abuse (Substance misuse)
- Eating disorders
- Elderly issues
- Emotional abuse
- Family issues
- Financial concerns/ debt
- Generalised anxiety disorder
- Historical abuse
- Intrusive thoughts
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Passive aggressive behaviour
- Physical abuse
- Pregnancy and birth
- Separation and divorce
- Sex problem
- Suicidal thoughts
- Wedding nerves
- Work-related stress