What is Narcissism?

Narcissism is an unhealthy focus on self that affects others in unhealthy ways. Everyone to some extent is narcissistic. Most people want good stuff and view everything we do as having some emotional pay off, in order to feel better about ourselves and life. narcissistic abusive relationship

The definitive quality of healthy narcissism is obtaining self-gratifying results in ways that don’t damage other people, whether as unhealthy narcissism works from the mindset of ‘I win, and I don’t care if you lose’. Narcissism is self-absorption coupled with destructive behavior.

Narcissistic abusive relationships are becoming increasingly more common. 1 in 10 people will endure the torment and torture of loving a narcissist. Not all survive. If you have survived a narcissistic abusive relationship, consider yourself lucky to be alive, and read on to find out how to heal and reclaim your life.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a cluster B mental disorder, and is categorized in this cluster alongside others such as Histrionic Disorder and Borderline Disorder. Oftentimes we can mistake NPD for Bipolar Disorder. Someone who presents with Narcissistic personality traits can be difficult to distinguish from someone who is experiencing mild to moderate hypomania (bipolar mood elevation less acute than full mania) with grandiose perceptions of self.

Narcissism is known to be a construction of false self, and therefore the individual will exhibit behavior that is pathological in nature.

The Pain, Shock, and Trauma of Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissistic relationships are tragic and can lead to significant demise. Many people die from this version of ‘love’, or at the very least, spend years, if not the rest of their lives, emotionally, mentally, financially, physically, and spiritually crippled.

5 Powerful Ways Abusive Narcissists Get Inside Your Head

People with NPD can operate in extremely manipulative ways within the context of intimate relationships due to their deceitfulness, lack of empathy, and their tendency to be interpersonally exploitative.narcissistic abuse

  1. The Idealization- Devaluation- Discard Phase


Narcissists tend to subject partners through 3 phases within a relationship. The idealization phase (which often happens most strongly during the early stages of dating or a relationship) consists of putting you on a pedestal, making you the center of their world, being in contact with you frequently, and showering you with flattery and praise. You’re convinced the narcissist can’t live without you and that you’ve just met your soul mate. Be wary of: constant texting, shallow flattery, and wanting to be around you at all times. This is a technique called ‘love bombing’ and it’s how victims get sucked in: they’re tired of the “games” people play with each other in communication and are flattered by the constant attention they get from the narcissist. You may be fooled into thinking that this means a narcissist is truly interested in you, when in fact, he or she is interest in making you dependent on their constant praise and attention.


The devaluation phase is subsequent to this idealization phase, and this is when you’re left wondering why you were so abruptly thrust off the pedestal. The narcissist will suddenly start to blow hot and cold, criticizing you, covertly and overtly putting you down, comparing you to others, emotionally withdrawing from you and giving you the silent treatment when you’ve failed to meet their ‘standards’. You become convinced that perhaps you’re at fault and you can ‘control’ the narcissist’s reaction.


Even though the narcissist can be quite possessive and jealous over you, since he or she views you as an object and a source of narcissistic supply, the narcissist is prone to projecting this same behavior onto you. They make you seem like the needy one as you react to their withdrawal and withholding patterns, even though the expectations of frequent contact were established early on in the relationship by the narcissist themselves.


You’re misled into thinking that if you just learn not to be so ‘needy’ or ‘clingy’ or ‘jealous’, the narcissist will reward you with the loving behavior they demonstrated in the beginning. It’s a way to maintain control over your legitimate emotional reactions to their stonewalling, emotional withdrawal and inconsistency.


Unfortunately, it’s during the devaluation phase that a narcissists true self shows itself. You have to understand that the man or woman in the beginning of the relationship never truly existed. The true colors are only now beginning to show, so it will be a struggle as you attempt to reconcile the image that the narcissist presented to you with his or her current behavior.


During the discard phase, the narcissist abandons his or her victim in the most horrific, demeaning way possible to convince the victim that he or she is worthless. This could range from: leaving the victim for another lover, humiliating the victim in public, being physically aggressive and a whole range of other demeaning behaviors to communicate to the victim that he or she is no longer important.


  1. Gaslighting


This is a technique narcissists use to convince you that your perception of the abuse is inaccurate. During the devaluation and discard phases, the narcissist will often remark upon your emotional instability, your ‘issues’, and displace blame of his/her abuse as your fault. Frequent use of phrases such as, “You provoked me”, “you’re too sensitive”, “I never said that”, or “you’re taking things too seriously” after the narcissist abusive outburst are common and are used to gas light you into thinking the abuse is indeed your fault or that it never took place.


Narcissists are masters of making you doubt yourself and the abuse. This is why victims so often suffer from ruminations after the ending of a relationship with a narcissist, because the emotional invalidation they received from the narcissist made them feel powerless in their agency and perceptions. This self-doubt enables them to stay in the relationship even when it’s clear the relationship is a toxic one, because they are led to mistrust their own instincts and interpretation of events.


  1. Smear Campaigns


Narcissists keep harems because they love to have their ego stroked and they need constant validation from the outside world to feed their need for excessive admiration and confirm their grandiose sense of self-importance. They’re clever chameleons who are also people pleasers, morphing into whatever personality suits them in situations with different types of people. It’s no surprise then, that the narcissist begins a smear campaign against you not too long after the discard phase, in order to paint you as the unstable one.


This smear campaign accomplishes 3 things: 1) It depicts you as the abuser or unstable person and deflects your accusations of abuse; 2) It provokes you, thus proving your instability to others when trying to argue his or her depiction of you, and 3) serves as a hoovering technique in which the narcissist seeks to pull you back into the trauma of the relationship as you struggle to reconcile the rumors about you with who you actually are by speaking out against the accusations. The only way to not get pulled into this track is by going full No Contact with both the narcissist and her or her harem of other narcissists.


  1. Triangulation


Healthy relationships thrive on security, unhealthy ones are filled with provocation, uncertainty, and triangulationinfidelity. Narcissists like to manipulate love triangles and bring in the opinions of others to validate their point of view. They do this to an excessive extent in order to play puppeteer to your emotions. Triangulation is a popular way the narcissist maintains control over your emotions. Triangulation involves bringing the presence of another person into the dynamic of the relationship, whether it be an ex-lover, a current mistress, a relative, or a complete stranger.


This triangulation can take place over social media, in person, or even through the narcissist’s own accounts of the other woman or man. The narcissist relies on jealousy as a powerful emotion that can cause you to compete for his or her affections, so provocative statements like, “I wish you’d be more like her”, or “He wants me back into his life”, “I don’t know what to do”, “I’ve had better lovers”, are all designed to trigger the abuse victim into competing and feeling insecure about his or her position in the narcissist’s life.


The narcissist will belittle your feelings and continue inappropriate flirtations and affairs without a second thought. Triangulation is the way the narcissist maintains control and keeps you in check. You’re so busy competing for their attention that you’re less likely to be focusing on the red flags within the relationship or looking for ways to get out of the relationship.


  1. The false sense and the true self


The narcissist hides behind the armor of a ‘false self’. Due to this armor, you’re unlikely to comprehend the full extent of their inhumanity and lack of empathy until you’re in the discard phase. This can make it difficult to pinpoint who the narcissist abuser truly is- the sweet, charming and seemingly remorseful person that appears shortly after the abuse, or the abusive partner who ridicules, invalidates, and belittles you on a daily basis? You suffer a great deal of cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile the illusion the narcissist first presented to you with the tormenting behaviors he or she subjects you to. In order to cope with this cognitive dissonance, you might blame yourself for their abusive behaviors and attempt to “improve” yourself when you’ve done nothing wrong.


During the discard phase, the narcissist reveals the true self- the genuinely abusive and abrasive personality beneath the shallow veneer rears its ugly head and you get a glimpse of the cruelty that was lurking within all along. You bear witness to their cold, callous, indifference as you are discarded.


Narcissists don’t truly feel empathy or love for others- so during the discard phase, they feel absolutely nothing for you except their excitement of having exhausted another source of supply. You were just another source of supply, so don’t be fooled into thinking that the magical connection that existed in the beginning was in any way real. It was an illusion, much like their identity.


Not only were you a victim of narcissistic abuse, you are also a survivor. It’s time to pick up the pieces, heal, and move forward. You have done nothing wrong. You are not to blame. You are worthy. You are enough.


Signs That You’ve Been Abused by a Narcissist


  1. You Doubt Yourself self doubt


Do you recognize you’re doubting yourself more than you ever have before?


Victims of narcissistic abuse often appear uncertain of themselves, constantly seeking clarification that they haven’t made a mistake or misheard something.

Because this relationship has NON EXISTENT boundaries, you’ll find yourself constantly PUT UPON and FORCED to accept responsibility for things you didn’t do or say. This borrowed humiliation and shame is exactly what the narcissist intends for the victim to take from the narcissist. Their own unfelt core of shame.


  1. Confusion


Daily boundary transgression and criss crossing of responsibility starts to wear on even the clearest minded targets.


Suddenly you wake up and realize that all the realities and borders between yourself and others is not only BLURRED but MISSING.


It’s confusing to KNOW that you aren’t responsible for someone else’s behavior, thinking and feeling, but to be CONSTANTLY SCOLDED for behaving, thinking, and feeling as if you ARE.


It’s in your CONFUSION and acceptance of responsibility that belongs to the narcissist, that a narcissist is able to successfully CONTROL YOU and USE YOU as a scapegoat for their problems.


  1. Feeling Crazy


If you don’t think that having a crazy person constantly blaming you for being “crazy” will make you crazy, think again.


This disorder isn’t a relationship gone wrong. This disorder isn’t kids stuff. It’s MALEVOLENT. It’s a transference of malevolence and MENTAL DISORDER from the person who has it to the person who doesn’t.


Narcissistic people don’t just hurt people, they DESTROY people. They can take someone that has nothing wrong with their own mental health, who has it together, who’s resilient, and mentally tough, and turn them into someone who becomes physically violent because of the psychological warfare they continually endure.


  1. Emerging Clusters of Symptoms that Have No Other Explanations


The victim just doesn’t know what’s wrong with themselves. They feel BEWILDERED and where they cluster symptomscould otherwise articulate their feelings and emotions, they’re just left incapable of expressing the depth of what they’re feeling or going through in order to get help.


You’ve been questioned about cheating, accused of sexually fantasizing about or flirting with the waitress or anyone else you come into contact with.


Sufferers report that their spark has gone out and, even years later, find they just cannot get motivated about anything.


Unaware that they have been living in a war zone with a tyrannical narcissist, we can’t quite grasp the words to articulate the abuse, yet at the same time, we VERY MUCH FEEL IT. Until the word NARCISSISTIC ABUSE is given to it, we have NO IDEA what’s causing our pain.


In Narcissistic Victim Syndrome you are looking for a cluster of symptoms to emerge, many of which are the symptoms of trauma (avoidance, loss of interest, feeling detached, sense of a limited future, sleeping or eating difficulties and nightmares, irritability, hyper-vigilance, easily startled, flashbacks, hopelessness, psychosomatic illnesses, self-harming, thoughts of suicide, etc). Some victims develop Stockholm Syndrome and want to support, defend, and love the abuser despite what they’ve gone through.


  1. Dissociation


Victims tend to ‘dissociate’ or detach from their emotions, body, or surroundings. Living in a war zone where all forms of power and control are used against you (intimidation, emotional, physical, and mental abuse; isolation, economic abuse, sexual abuse, coercion, control, etc), the threat of abuse is always present. Dissociation is an automatic coping mechanism against overwhelming stress.


Other symptoms sometimes found along side dissociation in victims of traumatic abuse include anxiety, PTSD, low self-esteem, somatization, depression, chronic pain, interpersonal dysfunction, substance abuse, self-mutilation and suicidal ideation or actions.


  1. PTSD


A cerebral anxiety attack that makes your whole body come alive with PALPABLE FEAR comes from PTSD. The rapid heart beat, the intrusive and spinning thoughts and fears- just like the abuse is currently HAPPENING SEQUENTIALLY ALL OVER AGAIN. This is called RE-LIVING. It’s as if the traumatic abuse event is occurring in the present tense. All the emotions of fear, shame, shrinking, wincing, looking over your shoulder, and walking on eggshells waiting to be attacked AGAIN.


  • Physical Numbness

(Toes, fingertips, lips) is common, as is emotional numbness (especially the inability to feel joy).


  • Avoidance

Avoidance of places, sounds, tastes and songs that remind you of your abuser or the abuse. Intense feelings of anxiety even in anticipation of having to revisit the memories.


  • Memory Loss

Almost all targets report impaired memory. Partially due to conscious avoidance as well as from the damage done to the hippocampus, an area of the brain linked to learning and memory.


  • Need for Solitude/ Tendency to isolate

Feelings of withdrawal and isolation are common; We just want to be in our own head for a while, find our own answers: thus isolation is sought.


  • Lack of Joy and Hope

Inability to feel joy and deadening of loving feelings towards others are commonly reported. One fears never being able to feel love or trust again.


  • Sleeplessness

Melatonin becomes your best friend. The nightmares and night terrors can be so overwhelming that good restorative sleep becomes impossible. You might manage to get real restorative sleep if you feel safe enough to fully let go.


On waking, the person often feels more tired than when they went to bed. Depressive feelings arrive very early in the morning, making falling back asleep impossible. Feelings of vulnerability and loneliness may be heightened overnight.


  • Anxiousness, Guilt and Disturbing Thoughts

Targets usually have an extremely short fuse and are easily irritated. The person frequently experiences obsessive visions of violence happening to the narcissist, hoping for an accident for, or murdering the narcissist; the resultant feelings of guilt further limit progress in healing.


  • Fight or Flight Response

With your system on alert for ever present danger in the environment and new relationships, it’s easy to react sensitively to sudden changes- causing the startle response. Within new relationships after enduring a narcissistic abusive relationship, the victim who hasn’t healed will panic when feelings of vulnerability emerge, or when they feel love from other person, and they will often run from the relationship.


  • Awareness of Symptoms

It’s very harrowing to realize that you are different from the person you were before the narcissist; FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT. When you’re very aware that PTSD has replaced the narcissist, it emotionally drains you of any hope for being PERMANENTLY NARCISSISTIC FREE. We don’t want to be constantly reminded and aware of the person we escaped. We want to live freely but symptoms are a constant reminder that we DON’T.


There is healing after surviving a narcissistic abusive relationship. Read our Healing from Narcissistic Abusive Relationships to put yourself on the road to recovery. You can begin living a normal life as early as today if you implement the EFT Tapping to Release Yourself from Narcissists and Psychopaths.



  • Suzanne
    Posted January 17, 2020 9:29 AM

    This article is so dead on it is scary. I am recovering and realizing all these symptoms. It has taken me awhile of no contact to put the puzzle pieces of narcissistic victum abuse together. I now working on rebuilding my life. But I am also dealing with anger and shame at myself that I let someone have so much control of my head. I know it will get better because I love myself again. Thank you for this article which confirmed it all for me.

    • Kimberly Shukla
      Posted January 19, 2020 2:20 PM

      You are very welcome Suzanne. I created this article not only as a Psychologist, but because I was also in a long narcissistic relationship. The odds are not in most women’s favor unfortunately. I’m glad I can help others not only recognize the signs, but get through it in a healthy way 🙂 The most caring of us are typically their targets.

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