What is Narcissistic Abuse?
Learn Everything You Need To Know
Narcissistic Abuse takes place when you are in a relationship with a toxic person who is intentionally determined to eliminate your sense of self by inflicting manipulative tactics designed to make you feel as if you are crazy or doubt yourself and/or your sense of reality. The malignant narcissist can be a parent, a significant other, a friend or even a co-worker; regardless of who they are, their goals are all the same – eliminate the other person's sense of self and reality.
Narcissistic abuse is difficult to recognize because of the fact that narcissists, mainly covert narcissists, construct a false self that was used to draw their victims into committed relationships, and only the victims are then shown the true self, which is full of emotional, psychological, verbal and financial abuse – abuse that no one outside of the narcissists living partners are even aware of.
With parental narcissistic abuse, the outside world views the parent as an amazing parent with a difficult child; by making their child seem like the problem, as opposed to their emotional abuse, the child is confused and grows up thinking that all of the problems in the family are somehow their fault. Because the outside world is fooled by the narcissist’s false self, family members and even counselors deepen the belief that it is the victim’s fault and the abuse stays hidden and covert and intentionally destructive to the child.
Confusion is a hallmark emotion in victims of narcissistic abuse. Malignant narcissists begin the soul destruction of their partners, with false perceptions, criticisms and negative realities, as if they have the victim’s best interests at heart. They are pointing out your flaws and defects because ‘they care and want to help you’, when in truth they are sadistically eroding your self-esteem and self-worth.
The goal of the abuse is to allow the narcissist to extract whatever he or she perceives is of value from the victim including, attention, admiration, power, control, love, sex, money, a place to stay or any other resources. At other times the goal is to stamp out any quality or ability their victim has that is viewed as a threat by the malignant narcissist.
If you are happy, they do or say something to stamp out that happiness, because after all – how dare you have the ability to possess something they are incapable of. If you are successful – they will criticize you and make you feel as if nothing you do is special or worthy of anything – because how dare you be successful and have others admire you when they are the only ones that deserve admiration.
The Following Is A List Of Manipulative Tactics That Malignant Narcissists Use To Erase Your Sense Of Identity:
- Silent Treatment – any time you point out a behavior the malignant narcissist is displaying you are punished with silence. The narcissist can go days, weeks, even months without acknowledging that you are alive and exist. This inflicts emotional distress on victims and when they react, the narcissist points out their reactive behavior as if it is that behavior that is causing the problem in the first place. Little by little, victims say less and less, point out less and less and accept the narcissists bad behavior to the point that in time – it becomes “normal."
- Gaslighting - Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic that can be described in different variations of three words: “That didn’t happen,” “You imagined it,” and “Are you crazy?” Gaslighting is perhaps one of the most insidious manipulative tactics out there because it works to distort and erode your sense of reality; it eats away at your ability to trust yourself and inevitably disables you from feeling justified in calling out abuse and mistreatment.
- Projection - One sure sign of toxicity is when a person is chronically unwilling to see his or her own shortcomings and uses everything in their power to avoid being held accountable for them. This is known as projection. If you accuse the narcissist of a behavior, they will spin it around and accuse YOU of having that behavior. Projection is a defense mechanism used to displace responsibility of one’s negative behavior and traits by attributing them to someone else – namely you. It ultimately acts as a digression that avoids ownership and accountability and forces the victim to carry the load of responsibility of all of the problems of the relationship on their shoulders alone. They are responsible for their own mistakes, and they are responsible for the malignant narcissists mistakes as well.
- Coercive Control – Is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victims into submission. Coercive control creates invisible chains and a sense of fear that pervades all elements of a victim’s life. It works to limit their human rights by depriving them of their liberty and reducing their ability for action. Experts like Evan Stark liken coercive control to being taken hostage. As he says: “the victim becomes captive in an unreal world created by the abuser, entrapped in a world of confusion, contradiction and fear.”
- Conversational Word Salad – If you think you’re going to have a thoughtful discussion with someone who is toxic, be prepared for the most confusing conversation of your life. Malignant narcissists and sociopaths use word salad circular conversations by tossing in arguments, projection, gaslighting to disorient you and get you off track should you ever disagree with them or challenge them in any way. They do this in order to discredit, confuse and frustrate you, distract you from the main problem and make you feel guilty for being a human being with actual thoughts and feelings that might differ from their own. In their eyes, you are the problem if you happen to exist. After a ten minute word salad conversation with a narcissist you will be perplexed, dazed and confused and be unable to recall how the argument even began. You simply disagreed with them about their absurd claim that the sky is green and now your childhood, your friends, your career, your self-image, as well as any information you ever told the narcissist in confidentiality as to any difficulties you ever suffered in life are being thrown in your face. That is because you had the audacity to disagree with them, which popped the illusion they have of their false belief that they are the all-knowing and omnipotent, which caused narcissistic injury in them to which they needed to attack and destroy you in order to feel better. By the end of the discussion you are drained, defeated and confused and they are happy again – after all they feed off of the drama they create.
- Deliberately Misrepresenting Your Thoughts and Feelings - In the hands of a malignant narcissist or sociopath, your differing opinions, legitimate emotions and lived experiences prove you are a separate person from them, which infuriates them and therefore get translated into character flaws and evidence of your irrationality. They will weave tales to reframe what you’re actually saying as a way to make your opinions look absurd or ridiculous. Let’s say you bring up the fact that you’re unhappy with the way your toxic mother treats you, he or she will put words in your mouth by saying “ Oh so now you think you’re so perfect,” or “ so you’re trying to say that everyone is toxic, including me, you are the only one without problems.” Meanwhile, all you were doing was expressing yourself and suddenly you are under attack and are invalidated and confused. This enables them to invalidate your right to have thoughts and emotions about their inappropriate behavior and instills in you a sense of guilt when you attempt to establish boundaries.
- Constantly Raising the Goal Posts – Constructive criticism is valuable, but there is a difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. In the latter, there is the presence of a personal attack combined with absolutely impossible standards to reach. The malignant narcissist supposedly wants to “help you” with their criticism, but the truth is they are addicted to nitpicking and love you pull you down and scapegoat you at every opportunity. As you are forced into the hamster wheel, of trying harder and harder to please them – they are continually raising the goal posts, or raising the standards higher and higher to ensure that they have every reason to be perpetually dissatisfied with you. This is when, even after you’ve provided all the evidence in the world to validate your argument or taken an action to meet their request, they set up another expectation of you or demand more proof. You are so busy striving harder and harder to obtain their approval that you don’t even notice the double standard – they are doing less and less while you are striving to give more and more.
- Isolation – The narcissist slowly, or in some cases quickly, isolates the victim from parents or friends so that the only reality that the victim is fed is the reality of the malignant narcissist. They use the concern of family and friends as evidence of the need to isolate – “they are trying to break us up”, “they are jealous of what we have”, fabricating false realities to the victim so that the victim often willingly isolates themselves in order to “protect” the relationship.
- Monitoring Your Time – In the beginning it seems as if your partner just loves having you around and having your attention, but little by little it becomes apparent that you are expected to have no time for anyone or anything else – other than caring for the narcissists demands, or dealing with their temper tantrums – you don’t even have time for yourself or your own thoughts. They coercively control you to give less and less to anything but them – every time you do something for yourself – you are punished, every time you enjoy something with someone else – you are punished. On a subconscious level you begin to associate doing things for yourself or others with negativity, and so little by little you stop doing those things.
- Repeatedly Degrading or Criticizing You – Sometimes this begins in small ways, and in the form of “caring” or “trying to help you be better”, until they are constantly degrading you and eliminating your self esteem and self-worth.
- Double Bind Technique – this manipulative tactic is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario. If you go left the narcissist will complain you didn’t go right, so the next time you go right they will humiliate you for not going left – if you choose to not go in either direction they will insult and rage about your inability to make decisions. This is designed to create Double binds are often utilized as a form of control without open coercion—the use of confusion makes them both difficult to respond to as well as to resist.
- Destructive Conditioning Due to Pathological Envy – Malignant narcissists and sociopaths’ condition you to associate your strengths, talents, and happy memories with abuse, frustration and disrespect. They do this by sneaking in covert and overt put-downs about the qualities and traits that they once idealized and praised you for as well as sabotaging your goals, ruining celebrations, vacations and holidays. They also inflict financial abuse by either forcing you to live on a stipend where they control every penny you spend, or forcing you to work 3 jobs to take care of all of the responsibilities while they are spending the money however, they selfishly choose. They “train you” just like Pavlov’s dogs to become afraid or feel negative regarding the things that you once felt so passionate about. Their goal is to bring the attention off of you and back onto themselves as you continually focus harder and harder to try to please them. Their need for constant attention is likened to a normal person need for oxygen – they cannot live without it. In the idealization phase, you were once the center of a narcissist’s world – now the narcissist becomes the center of yours as you learn to revolve around them and only them. They destroy anything that makes you happy because, if you learn that you can get validation, respect and love from other sources besides the toxic person, what’s to keep you from leaving them? To toxic people, a little conditioning can go a long way to keep you walking on eggshells and falling just short of your big dreams.
- Smear Campaigns – If a malignant narcissist is unable to control you, this often happens when the victim is finally learning and recognizing that they are in an abuse relationship and begin to take steps to leave the toxicity – they will attempt to control how others view you. They play the victim card and label you as the toxic individual. They are determined to destroy your reputation so that you won’t be able to have a support system to fall back on – their goal is to force you to see that no one believes your version of reality, to convince you that the problem lies with you so that you stay in the abusive relationship constantly trying to “fix yourself”. They hide their abusive behavior by projecting it onto you. Sadly, the smear campaign often is taking place for years before the victim even realizes it, the narcissist has been setting them up. Before meeting together with family, they will emotionally, verbally and psychologically abuse you, then when you arrive at the home of your family – you appear to be a mess and they are calm, cool and collected. If a member of the family says anything to the narcissist the narcissist acts concerned and says something like “I don’t know what’s wrong with her, she seems to be unstable, but don’t worry I’m going to be there for her no matter what.” The family member is being conditioned to view the victim as the problem and the abuser as a great person for “putting up with” such a difficult person. If and when the victim decides to leave – it’s very common for their own family members to be against them and on the side of the narcissist due to this covert smear campaign that has been going on for years. Malignant narcissists love to gossip behind your back and claim that you are engaging in the same behaviors that they are afraid you will accuse them of engaging in. They will also methodically, covertly and deliberately abuse you so they can use your reactions as a way to
For more information on how narcissists operate please watch the video playlist entitled Narcissistic Traits on my YouTube channel below
The Dangers Of Narcissistic Abuse
Narcissistic abuse often flies under the radar of what we expect abuse to be. It is subtle, invisible, at times quietly inflicted and confusing. Victims become like a frog in lukewarm water that are unaware that the pot is cooking; just as an unaware frog will boil to death before jumping out of the boiling water – the true self of a victim of narcissistic abuse slowly dies until one day they wake up and don’t even know who they are anymore, what their passions are, how they became so emotionally undone and broken.
What many fail to realize is that emotional and psychological distress is only one side of the coin that victims of long-term narcissistic abuse experience. Victims of narcissistic abuse often undergo the destruction of their physically healthy self as well. Many develop unexplained pains in their bodies and are diagnosed with fibromyalgia, others suffer migraines, develop autoimmune diseases, heart problems and neuroscientists have discovered that long term narcissistic abuse can actually lead to brain damage.
When suffering consistent emotional abuse, victims experience a shrinking of the hippocampus and a swelling of the amygdala. The hippocampus is vital in learning and developing memories while the amygdala is where negative emotions like shame, guilt, fear, and envy come to life. This results in a victim being stuck in fight or flight, having chemicals like cortisol flooding their bodies and wreaking havoc on their nervous system. Narcissistic abuse victims lose logical thinking ability, suffer with memory problems and are stuck in emotional states such as anxiety, fear and panic. Due to the brain’s amygdala sabotage, victims often appear to the untrained eye as the cause of the problems in their relationships which lead to further abuse and control by the abuser.
Healing The Damage Of Narcissistic Abuse
While prolonged narcissistic abuse creates severe emotional and physical problems in victims, the good news is that you CAN overcome the devastating effects of the abuse, you CAN heal, you CAN move on to have a life in which you feel truly happy, full of self-love, confidence and healthy relationships – but it does take effort, self-compassion and often outside assistance. I can confidently say that it IS possible, because not only have I experienced it in my personal life, but with my coaching practice I have been an eyewitness to the healing of so many former victims of narcissistic abuse.
For free information about life after narcissism, as well as how to heal C-PTSD visit the following playlist on my YouTube Channel:And remember, while we all have to travel our own journey to heal, we do not have to travel alone. My coaching sessions are designed to help you step by step to strengthen your self- identity, increase your self-love and confidence, develop healthy and strong boundaries so that you can live life as the best version of yourself!
Here is the link to my coaching packages, it is an honor to be invited on the healing journey of others, therefore I am dedicated to helping you thrive on your own personal journey:
What Stage Are You At?
I've put together some information for each stage you may be going through in your narcissistic abuse recovery.
You may be wondering how or why this happened to you, you may even be wondering why it took so long for you to recognize that you were in fact being abused. I know this because that is exactly how I felt – how could I have been in abusive relationships for so long without ever recognizing the signs.
There is nothing wrong with you as a person. In my coaching practice I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many amazing individuals that are talented, kind, empathic, intelligent, beautiful souls. Unfortunately, they fell into relationships with malignant narcissists who used their good qualities against them; who used their pains and weaknesses due to their toxic childhood to control them.
The truth is, many of us were raised with a narcissistic parent yet had no idea until a toxic, intimate relationship opened our eyes to the truth. Yes, it wasn’t until after we realized we were in a relationship with a malignant narcissist that we suddenly realized that the behaviors, the treatment, the abuse was all too familiar. If we were raised with faulty programming by narcissistic parents, then without realizing we were operating within a programming that caused us to be attracted to narcissists and them to gravitate to us like bees to honey.
The good news is, just as a computer that has a virus can have that virus removed so that it continues to function adequately, victims of narcissistic abuse can have their faulty programming, the virus installed by toxic parents removed so that they can go on to have a healthy self-image, strong self-love and confidence, the ability to have and enforce boundaries as well as moving on to have a healthy and loving relationship first with themselves, and then also with others.
Just as you would go to a computer expert to have your virus removed – there are now many experts on Narcissistic Abuse Recovery. You do not have to heal alone!!
Here is a link for those that would like to Work Personally with Michele
Is It Possible to Heal and Love Again?
Yes!! I promise you that.
One of the negative outcomes of a relationship with a toxic person or malignant narcissist is how deeply scarred we feel. Often we feel angry at the abuser for their sadistic treatment and angry at ourselves for not recognizing it sooner or for allowing it to take place for so long. We develop a lack of trust in others and even in ourselves which can keep us from having the healthy, loving, reciprocal relationships we’ve always wanted.
There is a challenge in overcoming these negative effects of emotional manipulation. Removing ourselves from toxic people is only half the battle – the real challenge is removing any faulty programming that may be attracting you to toxic people or having them feel attracted to you. The programming was not your fault, you were most likely a child of a toxic parent who installed that programming within you. But now that you know it’s there, there is a level of responsibility we all need to have so that we remove what is causing us repetitive heartache.
This requires being willing to take time to first develop a healthy relationship with yourself, long before you once again begin an intimate relationship with others. Taking a break from intimate relationships while you are getting back in touch with your own needs, desires and values will only aide you in learning to have a healthy relationship with yourself which will enable you to have healthy relationships with others.
You may be wondering – how can I do that? Can I really overcome the self-hate that I feel has stained my soul? Can I really learn to have confidence and trust in myself? Am I really worthy of healthy love?
The answer to all of those questions is YES!!!
As someone who has already traveled that road back to me, I now dedicate my life to helping others do the same! I say this often – we all have to take our own healing journey, no one can take it for you – but we do not have to travel it alone!!
Michele Lee Nieves
Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Expert, Coach, Author & Energy Practitioner
I’m Michele Lee Nieves and I’ve dedicated my life to helping victims of narcissistic abuse on their journey to escape, heal and fall madly in love with themselves and their life.
Nobody understands what you're going through more than someone who has been there. I grew up with narcissistic family member and had intimate relationships with malignant narcissists. For the majority of my healing journey, I felt as if I was all alone. I now dedicate my life to being the person for others, that I needed on my own healing journey, so that YOU never feel alone.