What is Narcissistic Abuse?

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You might have heard this term being bandied about, or seen it pop up on your social media feed. It’s shorthand for the inevitable harm caused by individuals who might qualify for a diagnosis of narcissist, sociopath or psychopath. Here’s the catch. Such individuals rarely receive a diagnosis. They don’t go to therapy because they believe they are perfect, and the problem is always the people around them – friends, family, colleagues or partners.

The other catch? Nobody gets it. Psychological abuse, coercive control, persuasive control,
manipulation and exploitation are hard to define and impossible to articulate. That’s where
lived-experience clinicians really come into their own. The people who really understand
what living with a narcissist (or splitting up with them) is like are those who have been
through it themselves. It’s traumatic, and while you’re still in the narcissistic relationship you keep second-guessing yourself. Is the problem them or me?

You and Narcissistic Abuse

Here’s what I can tell you from evidence-based clinical research. You are likely highly
conscientious and highly agreeable – two of the so-called Big Five personality traits. It’s
possible that compromising or sacrificing for the narcissist in your life has led you into
patterns of co-dependency, but that’s for another article. (That can be victim-blaming rhetoric that is deeply unhelpful.) So set it aside for now. Okay?

You might be experiencing:

• Walking on eggshells around this person
• Never having any of your emotional or other needs met
• Important events in your life seem to get sabotaged by their illness or other
emergency time and time again
• Frequent belittling, humiliating, offensive humour or backhanded ‘compliments’
• Finding it hard to say “no” for fear of the damaging consequences
• You’re really good at putting other people’s needs before your own
• You’ve lost the ability to recognise what you really need right now
• Continually giving, giving, giving, and getting nothing in return
• Confusion over whether your suspected narcissist is the person who shows up in
public or the one who shows up behind closed doors
• Feeling shame for the humiliation your narcissistic other puts you through
• Suffering mood swings and rumination trying to figure out how to make this
relationship healthy, loving and peaceful (like it was for a while)
• Feeling like you’re trapped in a repeating cycle between the other’s love-bombing and
their rage. passive-aggression and stonewalling

Your Narcissistic Other

The bottom line in narcissistically disordered characters is a chronic lack of empathy and a
massive, possibly hidden, sense of entitlement. We tend to think of narcissists as arrogant
peacocks strutting around boasting or showing off. Ah-Hah! Nothing could be further from
the truth. Clinical narcissists come disguised as many things. They could be your pastor, your boss, your dentist, your pool man, your sibling, your parent or your partner.

You might notice:

• Lying and infidelity
• Self-centredness and an inability to grasp your point of view
• Manages to switch the conversation back to themselves within a few minutes
• Never asks how your day was, what your opinion is, and goes blank or shuts you
down if you venture it
• Indifference to your suffering, illness or fair and reasonable requests
• Censors (disallows or mocks) your normal human emotions in many varied ways
• Refusal to apologise for doing the wrong thing by you
o Or, blame-shifting apologies: “I’m sorry you made me so angry”
o Or, empty apologies: “I promise not to do it again”, but they do it again the
next day
• Mocks you, shuts you down or walks away when you cry
• Treats you badly privately but idolises you in public
• Continually, even deliberately ignores or pushes through your boundaries

We can all be guilty of narcissistic behaviours from time to time – like when we’re sick,
scared, depressed or traumatised. It’s when all of these behaviours happen repeatedly to
create a pattern that we need to sit up and take notice. An agreeable person can keep writing these behaviours off in another as ‘just stress’. A conscientious person can stay in an abusive relationship trying to make things work to the point where they damage themselves.

If you’re living with a narcissist, you will have to accept that you will always be ‘last on the
list’ for them. Narcissists tend to make scapegoats out of the people they spend the most time with. They often only need one target as an outlet for their toxic behaviours. Is it you?
If they are never there for you when you need them. If they are only ‘nice’ to you when they need something from you or want to make a favourable impression on others. If they throw you under the bus to make themselves look better. Then you’re IT. Run!

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