World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day on June 1 dedicates the day to education, support and effective change. Unlike physical abuse, narcissistic abuse leaves no physical marks. A form of psychological, mental and emotional abuse may be invisible, but it leaves scars. Abuse is also dangerous. Many people lose their lives every day through partners or ex-partners. Each year I will join the campaign to raise awareness of abuse because educating and empowering ourselves is a way of escaping and protecting ourselves and each other.
What is Narcissistic Abuse?
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (PSD) is a personality disorder with a long-term pattern of abnormal behaviour characterised by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.
For many of us who have suffered at the hands of narcissists, the effects and suffering can be devastating and can last for years. Many also develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex PTSD.
Narcissistic abuse (a form of psychological and emotional abuse) is incredibly damaging, which is why I have written several articles to help raise awareness of this important issue today. Many people are unaware that they are being abused. Many people are aware of but are lost in the abusive cycle of narcissistic abuse.
The hashtag #IfMyWoundsWereVisible was set up because, unlike physical abuse which leaves visible marks or bruises and qualifies an act of domestic violence, narcissistic abuse is invisible. Mental, verbal, emotional, and financial abuse are all forms of domestic abuse, and the wounds are very real. Much of the abuse is covert and insidious. Narcissists will deny anything they have done. They will lie and cheat on you yet appear loving and charming, causing their victim cognitive dissonance.
We are a generation obsessed with attention-seeking selfies and social media. You might be able to recall the story of Narcissus who falls in love with his reflection. However, Narcissism is more than an obsession with self and a sense of grandiosity.
Narcissists will lie and manipulate, deny what’s real and attempt to control a victim any way they can. Victims of narcissistic abuse are constantly confused; the focus of love-bombing one day and yet are walking on eggshells to avoid being verbally abused. Isolating victims from friends and family is designed to maintain power over their victim. Narcissists will not take responsibility for their actions and blame everyone around them. Typically, they often project to shift the blame. If they accuse you of cheating, they are probably doing this themselves. It’s crazy behaviour, but somehow you are led to believe that you are the one who is crazy.
“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.”
Narcissistic abuse usually follows a cycle defined by three stages: Love-Bombing > Devaluation > Discard. I will walk you through each of the stages now.
Your significant other will tell you how much they love you and you will feel that you have met your soulmate. Any red flags you will ignore because of how in love you feel. When you are in this stage, you feel elated. The narcissist will ‘love-bomb’ until they have created a bond with you. In a calculated move they will ‘mirror’ your wants, dreams and desires. What’s actually happening is that you are being drawn into a toxic, obsessive, demanding relationship.
Once, you were perfect in the eyes of the Narcissist. Suddenly nothing you do is right anymore. You crave the times you felt loved and desired. You have fallen off their pedestal in the devaluing stage of the relationship. What the victim doesn’t realise is that the narcissist engineered these intimate moments for you to become attached and not leave them. Occasional moments of affection mean that a trauma bond is formed with the abuser, who has tested us many times before to see what we will endure and what our threshold of abuse is. However, this painful and bewildering stage leads on to…
The discard. Exhausted, confused and unhappy, you will be discarded in the most horrendous way. Your narcissist will have their ‘new supply’ (“NS”) already lined up. Remember they constantly need attention to feel valued. You are no longer perfect in their eyes. Their attention will now be focused on the new supply. Who may then be triangulated with you? You will be feeling depressed, worthless and sad and wondering what happened.
Traumatic bonding occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds with the victim. People ask why victims don’t just walk away the minute they are being intimidated, shouted out, or verbally abused…this is why.
Warning Signs & Red Flags
Suppose you are unsure whether you are with a narcissist. Then take a look through some of the warning signs and red flags below:
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.
Back-handed compliments, such as “she has a figure like yours, you know, slim but no muscle tone.”
They will start to ignore you subtly. 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 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.
Initially, they can come off as charming and charismatic, always knowing the right thing to say.
A sense of superiority. Being highly critical or often judgmental about others.
A sense of entitlement sometimes comes off as confidence. Still, it can manifest in subtle ways, like cutting through a service station rather than waiting at the traffic lights or deliberately leaving rubbish for someone else to pick up.
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 lack empathy and are unable to put themselves in the shoes of others.
Poor boundaries may invade your privacy, go through your belongings, or expect your mind to read their wishes and needs.
High sensitivity to criticism or any suggestion that they are not in the right.
“My way or the highway” attitude. They believe that they know best and that their way of doing things is the correct way.
You may see stronger warning signs or red flags as the relationship becomes more established. 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 doing.
It becomes a full-blown argument if you try to raise an issue with them. 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. They need to “win” regardless of the issue or what’s at stake. You’re left you feeling unsupported and misunderstood.
They may tell you something didn’t happen when you know it did, or vice versa. Gaslighting is designed to make you doubt your reality and judgment.
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 to make them happy. And it still doesn’t work. Nothing is enough for them.
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.
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 more subtle, 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.
Can’t feel at ease or relaxed in their presence.
Feel like you’re walking on eggshells, waiting for the next time they lash out at you. You realize you feel a sense of relief when they aren’t there.
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.
Gaslighting, Cheating & Triangulation
‘Gaslighting’, ‘triangulation’ & cheating are prevalent in relationships with narcissistic abuse. It is designed to keep you always feeling like you are not good enough, that you need to do more to keep the narcissist and insidiously that you are going mad. You are made to doubt your own perception of reality when it is, in fact, the narcissist lying and manipulating you. Read this article to find out more.
What is financial abuse and how to protect yourself?
Many of us think of abuse as physical, emotional and even mental. We often don’t think of financial abuse as part of this equation, but this is a harsh reality for many people. Financial abuse is a form of coercive control, and there are numbers of women* who are unable to leave their partners or lead an independent life. It can leave women with no money for basic essentials, access to bank accounts, ability to earn their own income, and in debt, and this can continue after the relationship has ended.
Domestic abuse takes many forms and can happen to anyone regardless of race, sex or ethnicity.
Many survivors of narcissistic abuse suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder following the end of the relationship. Many people suffer such unbelievable emotional, financial, and verbal abuse that it takes a long time to recover from the trauma. Please do get professional help from someone who has been trained in narcissistic abuse.