What is Narcissistic Abuse?
Narcissistic abuse is a form of emotional abuse projected by a narcissist on to another individual. Although narcissistic abuse is primarily focused on emotional and psychological abuse, there are other types of narcissistic abuse that can be classified in this category. These include abuses such as financial, spiritual, sexual, and physical.
Type of Narcissistic Abuse Relationships
Narcissistic abuse can occur in any kind of relationship. It occurs within families and workplaces and in all age groups.
Narcissistic abuse may also occur in adult-to-adult relationships, where the narcissistic person tends to seek out an empathetic partner in order to gain admiration of their own attributes and feelings of power and control – narcissistic supply. The narcissist creates a dynamic abuser and victim relationship through a cycle of abuse resulting in traumatic bonding that makes it hard for their partner to leave the increasingly abusive relationship.
People with codependent-type traits may seek relationships with narcissists.
The narcissists’ relationships are characterized by a period of intense involvement and idealization of their partner, followed by devaluation, and a rapid discarding of the partner. Alternatively, that scenario can loop, with ghosting (ceasing communication with the former partner) and hoovering (luring the former partner back) instead of discarding. At the beginning of a relationship (or its new cycle) with a narcissist, the partner is only shown the ideal self of the narcissist, which includes pseudo-empathy, kindness, and charm. Once the partner has committed to the relationship (e.g., through marriage or a business partnership), the true self of the narcissist will begin to emerge. The initial narcissistic abuse begins with belittling comments and grows to contempt, ignoring behavior, adultery, triangulation (forming any relationship triangles), sabotage, and, at times, physical abuse.
At the core of a narcissist is a combination of entitlement and low self-esteem. These feelings of inadequacy are projected onto the victim. If the narcissistic person is feeling unattractive they will belittle their romantic partner’s appearance. If the narcissist makes an error, this error becomes the partner’s fault. Narcissists also engage in insidious, manipulative abuse by giving subtle hints and comments that result in the victim questioning their own behavior and thoughts. This is termed gaslighting. Another common abusive tactic is underhanded public humiliation, when the narcissist says something seemingly neutral but offensive to the victim and enjoys the emotional reaction. This is called dog-whistling. Any slight criticism of the narcissist, whether actual or perceived, often triggers narcissistic rage and full-blown annihilation from the narcissistic person. This can take the form of screaming tirades, silent treatment or quiet sabotage (setting traps, refusing communication, hiding belongings, spreading rumors, etc.).
The discard phase can be swift and occurs once the narcissistic supply is obtained elsewhere. In romantic relationships, the narcissistic supply can be acquired by having affairs. The new partner is in the idealization phase and only witnesses the ideal self; thus once again the cycle of narcissistic abuse begins. Narcissists do not take responsibility for relationship difficulties and exhibit no feelings of remorse. Instead they believe themselves to be the victim in the relationship as of their self-debasing projections, their partner can only ever fail to meet their expectations.
A research study published in the International Journal of Research studies in psychology published a qualitative study based on the points of view of those who believed their romantic partners to be narcissistic abusers. The synopsis of the results is best quoted directly from the research study: “The core category/issue that emerged from the date was problems in self-esteem of the abuser. According to the date, the exercise of power, maladjustment, immorality, lack of sense of reality, and need for manipulation appeared as manifestations as serious problems in self-esteem (Määttä, 2009). Self-esteem is a salient part of personality affecting the functioning of one’s ego. Self-esteem includes the feelings of self-respect, self-appreciation, self-acceptance, and self-proficiency. Furthermore, the desire for self-esteem from a fundamental need for psychological security, which is of the victims which is engendered by people’s awareness of their own vulnerability and mortality (Greenberg, 2008)” The stories of the victims seem to narcissistic abusers have issues in all these areas which then reflects in their behavior. Self-esteem is considered to be a core reason for their behaviors.
Parent – Child/Family
Parent-child and any family relationship is based on the same principals of a narcissistic abuser. The narcissist needs validation of self and feelings of power and control. Results of research show that misbehavior in their children, for example, may provoke them to physically make them believe the child’s misbehavior is a direct rebuke of their authority. The same can be true for any family members, although the dynamic between siblings, for example, is different than that between a parent and their child.
Research suggests that narcissistic abusers can and do climb the corporate ladder more readily and are to charm and gain trust from other co-workers and management to do so.
One study even showed that managers had three times the rate of the disorder than the general population. (Lipman, 2018). Nathan Brooks (2016), another researcher who studies psychopathy in the workplace notes, “Typically psychopaths create a lot of chaos and generally tend to play people off against each other… for psychopaths it (corporate success) is a game and they don’t mind if they violate morals. It is about getting where they want in the company and having dominance over others.” This is a typical pattern of narcissistic abusers.
Narcissistic abusers charm others to climb up the ladder and undermine co-workers in various ways to push them down. They covertly sabotage others by unethical means. They may even have these tendencies in their personal relationships outside of work.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, harassment, intimidation, and covert coercion at work “is akin to domestic violence at work, where the abuser is on the payroll.” This form of covert abuse occurs more frequently then we might assume. Dr. Martha Stout (2004) estimates that 1 in 25 Americans are sociopaths, which is an alarmingly large number considering that many workplaces reward narcissistic and sociopathic traits. Research indicates that as many as 75% of workers have been affected by workplace bullying, either as a target or a witness (Fisher-Blando, 2008).
Three Stages of Romantic Narcissistic Abuse
Idealize – The first part of the abuse trap is to fool you into believing they respect you. At first, they’ll show kindness and empathy toward you, and will often compliment your strengths. Once you’re hooked, they’ll engage in talk of creating a wonderful future with you. This stage happens more frequently in the beginning of the relationship. They do until they feel you’re under their spell, which later, makes it difficult for you to leave.
Devalue – This is where they slowly begin to tear you down. It will start with making small, off-putting remarks at first to test your boundaries. Once they determine your boundaries are low, they’ll use multiple techniques to degrade, destroy, and demean your character and self worth. They’ll isolate you so that you will believe the lies about yourself and prey on your weaknesses, until you have no identity left except the one they created for you. They will make you completely dependent on them and make it seem impossible to leave without suffering significant damages.
Discard – At this stage, you are no longer useful to them.You do not fulfill them or their wishes, or you aren’t living up to their expectations. During this stage, they will push you beyond your reasonable limits and when they’re done, they’ll leave the relationship.
Four Phases of Recovery After Narcissistic Abuse
Hurt – You are confused about what has happened and may not know that you were abused. You may experience the feelings of depression, shame, sadness, rejection, and anger.
Knowledge – You seek out all information about narcissistic abuse and begin to understand that your ex-partner’s behavior was a pattern.
Awakening – You’re fully educated about your ex-partner and understand everything that happened during your relationship. You can put terminology to all your experiences as you put the pieces together. You feel like you don’t want to be a victim anymore.
Awareness/Recovery – Unless you have children together, you finally have full No Contact. Boundaries are being set and with less drama in your life, you can fully heal with the emotional and physical distance. During this phase, a tremendous amount of introspection and self growth can occur, thus, creating much healthier future relationships and propelling you to a more fulfilling life.