Narcissistic abuse is often difficult to explain or make sense of when you are in the midst of it. People who have been narcissistically abused tend to feel incredibly alone, hopeless, helpless, and have a foggy understanding of what is happening. They may not be aware of the fact that there is a name for what they are experiencing. Recovering from this insidious type of abuse is not only possible but necessary in order to regain a sense of reality and stop the cycle of being idealized, devalued, and discarded. Our experienced therapists hold hope for those dealing with a narcissistic parent, child, partner, friend or boss. We understand the importance of narcissistic abuse recovery in order to stop the patterns of self-sacrifice and subjugation.
Narcissistic Personalities on a Spectrum
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is one of the most misunderstood mental disorders, even among mental health providers. Personality disorders can appear on a spectrum with some individuals having traits and others meeting the full criteria. Individuals with NPD have internal experiences of defectiveness, insecurity, shame, and rage that are hidden from the outside world. Often, they appear quite the opposite- even-keeled, charismatic, kind and confident. Narcissists are often referred to as “Jekyll and Hyde” due to their rapidly shifting moods and behavior. This contributes to narcissistic abuse survivors’ struggle with extreme mental discomfort resulting from holding conflicting views of the narcissist.
Depending on the type of narcissist you are dealing with, the presentation of the individual and levels of abuse vary. These are common traits and behaviors of a narcissist:
- Need to win
- Unable to be truly vulnerable
- Lacks authentic remorse or responsibility; uses deflection and blame-shifting
- Preoccupation with fantasies of success, power, and perfection
- Need to be in control
- Deep fear of abandonment
- Expects preferential treatment
- Breaks rules and boundaries
- Lacks authentic empathy; willingness to take advantage of others to meet own needs
- Deeply repressed shame & insecurity
- Angry or rageful outbursts, passive-aggression, silent treatment
- Splits things and people into all good or all bad
- Vengeful and/or punishing – speaking up against them or expressing your feelings, needs, beliefs results in consequences.
- Critical and contemptuous
- Need for excessive amounts of praise, acknowledgement, recognition, attention
- Relationships are seen as transactional (source of “supply”) rather than human beings to have reciprocal relationships with.
- Belief that he/she is a victim
- Trouble viewing others as separate beings. Parents may be jealous of children and/or view them as extensions of themselves rather than individuals with their own thoughts, needs, desires, goals
Hope is the fuel that sustains all narcissistic relationships.”Dr. Ramani Durvasula
The Cycle of Narcissistic Abuse
A narcissistic relationship is incredibly tumultuous. The abusive behaviors of a narcissist are attempts to cope with their “narcissistic wounds.” These are unhealthy defenses often targeted toward their closest family and friends, subordinates, or children.
Narcissistic abuse tends to happen in a cycle. You may remember a time when the narcissist made you feel special or chosen and you may feel like you did something wrong to fall out of favor with them. If you think you are experiencing narcissistic abuse, learning about the cycle of abuse can help you better understand the relationship and ways in which you can empower yourself through education and non-engagement.
The cycle of narcissistic abuse may begin with idealization. During this stage, the narcissist may be fixated on you, showing you endless love and affection and making you feel hopeful and trusting. If the relationship has been in trouble, this tends to be the stage where the narcissist will offer to attend therapy.
In the devalue stage, the narcissist feels a perceived or actual threat (“narcissistic wound’). In an effort to gain or maintain control, the narcissist will turn on the gaslighting, criticism, and degradation causing the abused individual to feel self-doubt, confusion, and panic.
Narcissists use many tactics to manipulate and control. One of the biggest trauma factors from narcissistic abuse is gaslighting. It leads the person subject to this form of psychological abuse to question their thoughts, feelings, memories and even their own perception of reality.
Discard is the final stage in the cycle of narcissistic abuse. The narcissist has reestablished their position of entitlement and power. Very often, the narcissist has found another source of supply at this point and is behaving in a ruthless, cold manner towards the abused individual. This stage is where the abused individual experiences withdrawals as though they are coming off of a drug.
Cycle of Narcissistic Abuse Chart
By: Tanya Gaum AMFT & Barbara Herring LMFT
If you are in any type of relationship with a narcissist, you may be feeling or experiencing:
- Memory loss
- Damaged or defective
- Questioning if you are the narcissist
- Emotionally and physically depleted
- Emotionally unhinged (“crazy”)
- Desperate for validation
- Ruminations regarding the past
- Emotional flashbacks related to Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Struggle with unexplained somatic symptoms (i.e. skin rashes, headaches, etc.)
Healthy grieving can turn our tears into self-compassion and our anger into self-protection.”Pete Walker
How Therapy Can Help You Heal
A narcissistic relationship can cause long-lasting emotional issues. There is always hope for healing, though. Therapy with someone who understands narcissistic abuse is the most valuable catalyst to healing.
Goals of Therapy
- Identify if you are in a toxic relationship
- Learn about narcissists & narcissistic abuse
- Gaslighting survival skills
- Boundary setting
- Express feelings and needs in a healthy way
- Learn to manage expectations of the relationship with narcissist
- Support in preparing to leave a narcissistic abuse relationship or accepting that things will not change
- Heal from abandonment & discard
- Recognize patterns that make you a target for narcissistic abuse
- Help parents navigate parallel parenting with a narcissist
- Grieve loss of vision of what you wanted, expected and/or was promised by the narcissist
Our therapists understand the complexities of narcissistic abuse and how it impacts relationships as well as the individual being abused. If you suspect you are in any kind of personal or professional relationship with a narcissist and would like support, please click here to schedule an appointment or consultation call.