Monthly Archives: October 2017

This is What Happens When You ‘Discard’ an Abusive Narcissist First

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By Shahida Arabi

This article was first posted on Thought Catalog on March 28th, 2017.

Many books, articles and online platforms for abuse survivors often focus on what happens when a narcissistic abuser ‘devalues’ and ‘discards’ their victims.  Yet what happens when survivors are lucky enough to identify the abuse that is occurring to them and with the right support and resources, are able to leave their abusers first?

Unfortunately, what would otherwise be a path to freedom can be complicated by the predatory nature of malignant narcissists, whose severe sense of entitlement combined with an unnerving lack of empathy are intrinsic to their disorder. This is a dangerous combination that can result in the abuser sustaining what is known as a narcissistic injury (a threat to the narcissist’s sense of power and control) and subsequently, narcissistic rage.

This type of injury and rage manifests in different ways. According to Dr. Sarkis, narcissistic abusers are likely to do everything possible to win back their victims if they suspect they are on the verge of leaving. Yet this also applies to after their victims leave, as well. To explore what can happen when a survivor leaves his or her narcissistic abuser first and how survivors of narcissistic abuse can protect themselves in this vulnerable stage of their healing journey, I’ve listed the four main ways in which narcissists can act out their “injury” and pose potential harm to their victims, as well as some ways you can empower yourself during this precarious time.

1. Stalking and harassment.

Unless the narcissistic abuser had other sources of narcissistic supply (people who provided them a steady stream of attention, praise, admiration, resources, etc.) they were already grooming by the time you left, chances are that he or she was left blindsided by your departure – especially if you planned your departure quietly and safely. A normal partner may be understandably hurt by a break-up that was sudden and not mutual, but eventually, that partner would understand if you needed to end a relationship because it was causing you much more pain than happiness. At the very least, that partner would find some way to move forward with his or her life, knowing that you were not the one for them.

An abusive narcissist? He or she will fly off the handle when they realize that you’ve ‘one-upped’ them somehow and “beaten them” to the discard. Despite the fact that you were obviously in severe emotional and/or physical danger, the narcissist will perceive your escape as an abandonment, rather than a way to secure your safety and sanity from their psychological violence.

See, abusive relationships with a narcissist rely on an idealization-devaluation-discard cycle which enables the narcissist to degrade their victims and discard their victims without any accountability whatsoever. This cycle confirms the narcissist’s distorted sense of being superior to their victims. If the victim ‘discards’ the narcissist first, he or she upsets the power dynamic that bolsters the abuser’s desire for power and validation.

Remember: even if you left the relationship for legitimate reasons – such as for your own emotional and physical safety, your abuser still views the relationship as a competition. For you, the seemingly helpless and powerless victim, to leave first, sends them into a tailspin of fury and devastation. After all, how dare their victims forge the path to freedom, when they essentially ‘belong’ to the narcissist? That is how the narcissist thinks and believes: they truly see their victims as objects to be owned, controlled, mistreated and used as emotional punching bags, not as independent agents with free will.

Make no mistake: you deserve to live a life free of abuse. You have rights. You have boundaries. You have limits. The narcissistic abuser works to erode those boundaries and rights throughout the abusive relationship and sustain a parasitic connection with their victims; they leech off their victim’s resources, empathy, compassion and compliance. By leaving the narcissist first, you threaten their sense of ownership over you and their excessive need to control and gain from you what they cannot find in themselves.

That is why the devastation they feel at the loss of supply is not due to the loss of the survivor, but rather, the loss of power they once held over the survivor. Narcissists rely on narcissistic supply (anything in the form of praise, money, gifts, sex, attention, etc.) to survive their daily experience. They are “addicts” that zoom in on vulnerable targets – anyone they perceive to have high degrees of empathy and compassion – and exploit those targets for all they’re worth, sucking them dry emotionally, physically, and spiritually. They use their victims as trophies to give themselves access to the victim’s resources – status, wealth, the reputation of being with someone attractive and/or successful, as well as social proof of their normalcy.

When their victims are able to escape their grasp without all of their resources being fully exhausted, or right around the time when the narcissist is depending on another devaluation phase to feed himself or herself that daily high – they become inexplicably enraged.

It is no wonder, then, that narcissistic abusers are known to stalk their former victims months, sometimes even years, after the ending of the relationship, especially if their victims discarded them first. They might harass and stalk you in person, through e-mail, texting, phone calls, voicemails, or third-party contact. They may stalk you on your social media platforms and even engage in cyberbullying or threats. Their messages can range from threatening to love-bombing, and may vacillate between rage and tenderness, causing a confusing cocktail of emotions for their victims who simultaneously may want to be left alone but may also be concerned about whether the narcissist’s performances of remorse, pity ploys, or apologies are in any way authentic attempts at accountability.

The usual advice given to the survivor is to go No Contact with his or her abuser – but the sneakiest of narcissists will find their way around the barriers you place. It is actually very common for an abusive ex to linger far beyond the expiration date of the relationship, because abuse is all about power and control. In more extreme scenarios, an abusive partner may hack into your computer or phone and install spyware; they may obtain a plethora of fake IP addresses or fake accounts to cyberbully you on different social media platforms without it being traced; they may threaten you “anonymously” through different e-mail addresses or texts with messages that are meaningful to you but confusing to outsiders, in order to evade suspicion from law enforcement.

Narcissists can even use various phone apps to mask their numbers and use multiple numbers to harass you all day long or bombard you with an excessive amount of messages per day. This leaves you with the rather dreary choices of blocking each and every number while a new one pops up, or changing your number altogether.

When stalking and harassment takes a severe emotional toll and you feel you are being retraumatized, unable to move forward in your journey to healing, it may be time to consider taking legal action (if, and only if, you feel safe doing so) whether by reporting the harassment to the police and/or filing for an order of protection or restraining order.

Some survivors may not feel comfortable with this, as it has the potential of making their abusers even more vindictive and it may be even more traumatizing should the case proceed to court. Others may feel empowered by receiving legal documentation that will often make more cowardly narcissists back out of their schemes as soon as they realize they may face legal consequences for their actions.

Research the laws in your state about how to best protect yourself, understand which laws support you in documenting and recording the various forms of abuse and remember to also consult the National Domestic Violence Hotline if you have any questions about how to proceed in your specific situation.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you’re taking some steps to document the harassment and stalking in case you ever need proof of it. Let those you trust know about what is occurring as well as your whereabouts. At this time, for your own safety, you need to be able to seek support and ‘check in’ with those who can help you – whether it be with a trusted friend, family member, therapist or all of the above.

Never forget: the time when an abuse victim is leaving an abusive relationship can be one of the most dangerous points in the abuse cycle. Please take care of yourself and do what you feel is most emotionally and physically safe as well as practical for you.  Don’t discount your intuition, either – it can save your life.

2. Devaluation and Jekyll and Hyde hoovering. 

After the breakup, the character of the narcissistic abuser can become disturbingly clear – and dangerous. Malignant narcissists will usually attempt to sweet-talk you back into the relationship with promises of change, faux remorse for their misdeeds, and feigned accountability for their actions. They may romanticize the relationship and re-idealize you, taking back all their hurtful words and actions in one fell swoop (or cleverly constructed text message). This is known as hoovering, and it is when, like a Hoover vacuum, the abuser attempts to “suck” their victim back into the abuse cycle.

Yet when you fail to comply with their demands to meet up, reconcile, remain friends or you resist the idealization in any way, abusive narcissists revert back to their true, vindictive selves. Pulling the signature Jekyll and Hyde moves they subjected you to during the relationship, they devalue you all over again, engaging in name-calling, cruel insults and demeaning remarks about your personality, your lifestyle, appearance, talents, career – anything and everything they can pull in to make you feel small, undesirable and unworthy.

For you to say “no” (even politely) and set boundaries is akin to setting off an atomic bomb in the narcissist’s eyes. It sends them into a frightening rage as they realize they can no longer control you and that you are actively resisting their hoovering attempts. Even if you are not verbally expressing anything, you are essentially saying “no” firmly through your actions, your silence and by refusing to get ensnared once more into the traumatic vortex of the relationship.

Your abuser had, after all, hoped that you would react just as you had all the other times you had reconciled with them after incidents of abuse – denying, minimizing or rationalizing the abuse while accepting the crumbs of their love-bombing efforts. Instead, they are left with a void in which they must try to secure other supply, lest they have to confront any need for possible self-evaluation.

Even if they are securing other supply after the break-up, it doesn’t mean they are done with you yet – they may still continue to harass and stalk you, taunting you and debasing you in order to regain a sense of power and control. They may text or call you while they’re with their new partners, to further minimize, provoke and compare you. They may swoop periodically in and out of your life through these hoovering tactics, so they can gain supply in the form of your emotional reactions.

3. Post-breakup triangulation. 

Once the narcissist has secured new supply, they’ll want you to know about it. That is why, on the No Contact journey, I always recommend that survivors block their narcissistic abusers as well as their harem members on all social media platforms, because even just one accidental look into their Facebook or Instagram can send you back into a downward spiral of self-doubt and self-blame if a new victim pops up shortly after the breakup.

Survivors who “discarded” the narcissist first may have an emotional advantage, in that they may be more fully connected to the reality of who the abuser is. These survivors may have resolved some of the cognitive dissonance that arose during the relationship, and successfully battled the fear, obligation and guilt (FOG) that occurs due to the traumatic nature of this form of relationship. They know why no new victim should ever be envied, as these new victims too will also go through the same horrific cycle.

Still, any survivor is still vulnerable to post-breakup triangulation (the deliberate manufacturing of love triangles to control and devalue you) whether online or in real life because survivors are still in the process of healing from their “addiction” and trauma bond to the narcissist. This leaves them susceptible to further emotional manipulation, unnecessary comparisons and excessive gloating from their abusive ex-partner. To avoid this, be gentle with yourself and very firm with your boundaries so that you can remove temptation or the risk of encountering the abuser altogether.

Ensure that you are avoiding places that you know the narcissistic abuser frequents; remove any form of contact with their harem members; be mindful of any urges to ever reach out to or reestablish contact with a narcissistic partner, as they may be prone to using those instances to brag about their new supply.

4. Smear campaigns and threats.

If you discarded the narcissist first without warning, they are sure to be desperate to reframe the narrative about you as soon as possible. This is because in breaking up with them first, you unintentionally ‘exposed’ who they truly were as well as the hidden nature of the abusive relationship – and exposure is one of the narcissist’s greatest fears. Breaking up with a narcissist threatens their very sense of security because it could potentially rip off their false mask and reveal the true self to their harem members.

Many narcissists begin the smear campaign even before any devaluation begins by sneaking in hints to their family members or friends about your shortcomings or projected abusive traits (which are in fact their own) and provoking you publicly throughout your relationship. Smear campaigns are often staged successfully when the narcissistic abuser has access to both his or her harem group as well as your social network. However, if you never introduced the narcissist to your friends or your family, and if you are able to gain validation from within after the break-up, the smear campaign might be less effective.

The narcissist may still find other ways of slandering you – shortly after you leave them, they may threaten to release your personal information, such as private photos, text messages, videos or otherwise confidential discussions; they may stalk and harass you online; they may contact others who know you as a way to gain information about you. The means in which they can desperately try to regain a sense of control over your life are endless – but the portal to inner peace is not as impossible to reach as you may think.

Remember: all smear campaigns rely on the idea that the abuse victim is unable to self-validate and cope without the approval of others. The truth is, there may be legal ways to protect yourself against slander or the release of private information depending on the state you live in; you can still report the narcissist for harassment if they try to reach you via a third party; you can get professional support that helps to validate your experiences of the abuse and regain a sense of emotional freedom and security within yourself. As survivors, we still have choices, even if those choices primarily lie within doing what we can to seek out resources and help.

Undoubtedly, this can be a difficult time, but all we can control is how we approach the situation and empower ourselves. Research what you can do legally to protect yourself. Build support networks that help to validate your experiences and strengthen your resolve to detach from the toxicity and focus on your own inner peace.

Explore alternative and traditional healing modalities that can reconnect you with a healthier mind, body and spirit. Find assistance anywhere and everywhere – through domestic violence hotlines, lawyers, support groups, therapists, life coaches, books, articles – you name it, it can all be used to propel yourself towards healing and a brighter future.

Envision yourself being in a better place than the situation you’re currently in. Know your own worth and celebrate being finally free at last from your abuser. In knowing your inner power and trusting in your ability to survive seemingly insurmountable odds, you’ll realize that you are much more powerful than you might think. You were powerful enough to leave your abuser and survive the abuse – don’t underestimate how powerful you can be in thriving after it.

Copyright © 2017 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. This includes adaptations in all forms of media.

Image by InnervisionArt. License via Shutterstock.

Get my #1 Amazon Bestselling Book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare.how-to-devalue-and-discard-the-narcissist-r2-ebook-cover-3

About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent bookPOWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology.

She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.

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3 Sneaky Techniques Covert Narcissists Use to Disarm and Demean You

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We’re all familiar with loud, bold, and overly confident overt narcissists. These types of narcissists are visibly grandiose, aggressively posturing their superiority for all to see. They may be vain and somatic, overly focused on their appearance, or they may be on the more cerebral end, contemptuously putting down anyone and everyone who threatens their so-called intellectual superiority.

Fortunately, overt narcissists are usually easy to spot and hopefully easier to avoid investing in. Covert narcissists, on the other hand, present new challenges; they can appear meek, innocent, charitable, even humble at first glance. They can be disarmingly seductive, even loving, personable and gracious.

Yet beneath their quieter nature and seemingly sensitive façade lurks a contempt and sense of entitlement that is ultimately even more harmful simply because it is so startling and traumatizing to the victims who bear witness to it. Their tactics work to diminish, demean and sabotage their victims behind the scenes – which is why their manipulation and exploitation can leave their loved ones blindsided and reeling from the unexpected psychological violence they subject them to. Here are three manipulation techniques that covert narcissists use and tips on how to stay grounded if you encounter one:

1. Mixed put-downs, double meanings and coded language.

A mixed put-down occurs when a covert narcissist is threatened by someone else’s intelligence, accomplishments, status, appearance or any other resources he or she may covet. It involves throwing the victim off the pedestal while also offering potential for getting back on it. In order to put their victims down while still evading accountability, the covert narcissist will first provide a sweet compliment, followed by a backhanded “slap” of sorts (ex. “Wow Mary, you’ve really lost weight! Too bad about the sagging skin, huh?”).

This can also occur vice versa – the narcissist may first attack with an overly critical stance, only to seemingly ‘soften’ the blow with a crumb of a compliment to create confusion in the victim (ex. “You do know you’re completely wrong about that, right? Well, you’re hardworking, at least, I’ll give you that.”). This will allow their put-down to appear more like a legitimate critique rather than an excuse to tear you down unnecessarily. It “trains” and conditions the victim over time to seek the narcissist’s approval and validation.

Covert narcissists can even get creative and send a mixed message by contradicting their seemingly innocuous words with a devious undercurrent. For example, this may include giving you a compliment with a condescending tone of voice, relaying a humorous “joke” at your expense with a contemptuous look, using a startling gesture or provocative facial expression or saying something that can easily have two meanings (one innocent, and the other, abusive). Of course, they will do everything possible to convince you that they never “meant” to communicate the more malicious meaning, but the underlying undercurrent of something deeper is always present in such an interaction.

They may also engage in what I like to call “coded” language. This can involve putting you down in front of others by poking fun at something they know you’re sensitive about, but others may not realize is a vulnerability of yours. Much like an inside joke, the knowledge of how this comment affects you is shared between you both, but unlike an inside joke, it is meant to undermine you rather than build rapport. It also serves to evoke reactions in you that may seem excessive to any outsider looking in. This is a way for them to get away with their abusive behavior and provoke the victim to react in public. They then use their victim’s reactions to prove the victim’s “instability” while casting themselves as the innocent party.

To understand why covert narcissists employ these methods, remember that their ability to prey upon a victim’s uncertainty allows them to create a sophisticated “Gaslighting Effect.” In her article, “Effects of Gaslighting in Narcissistic Victim Syndrome,”psychotherapist Christine Louis de Canonville describes how this effect is amplified over time:

“The gaslighting, as a harassment technique, starts with a series of subtle mind games that intentionally preys on the gaslightee’s limited ability to tolerate ambiguity or uncertainty. This is done in order to undercut the victim’s trust in their own reality and sense of self. Even when the victim is bewildered and left wondering, “What just happened there?”, there is reluctance to see the gaslighter for what they are…it is this denial that is the cornerstone of the gaslighting relationship.”

Essentially, the victim reduces his or her own cognitive dissonance and confusion by choosing to “believe” in the abuser’s version of events. Slowly but surely, these covert put-downs, coded messages and ambiguous comments become integrated into a warped reality that the covert manipulator creates for his or her victim. 

Tip: When encountering a put-down like this, avoid reacting to the narcissist’s hypercriticism as much as possible. Instead, validate your own accomplishments and leave the conversation as soon as possible. The more emotionally reactive you are to a put-down, the more likely the covert narcissist will store that information and use the same exact tactic again in order to provoke you. If you react to their hurtful tactics and coded language in public, rest assured they will use your reactions as “proof” that you are somehow unstable. Keep your cool in public whenever possible and if possible, address it to them in private (though, it is likely they will never own up to it) if you have to.

If you are feeling baffled as to whether or not you’ve experienced a covert put-down, compare the way the narcissist has reacted to your success to the way other, healthier people in your life have. Chances are, the healthy people in your life congratulated and celebrated you in whatever arena the narcissist is currently putting you down in. This is a sign that the narcissist’s criticism stems not from helpfulness, but rather from their pathological envy.

2. The great diversion.

The covert narcissist does whatever is possible to distract you from the fact that they are putting you down in the first place. That means that they will create all sorts of diversions to get you from staying grounded in your own sense of what has just happened. This serves to disguise their malicious intent to gain control and power over you by keeping you in a state of perpetually walking on eggshells. Instead of focusing on holding them accountable for their behavior, they get you to refocus on your own behavior, personality, or fabricated flaws.

One second, they may be making a harsh, cruel comment about your body, and the next second, they’re being disarmingly sweet and complimentary about how slender you are, as well as how you “read too deeply into things” when you express your confusion about the sudden “switch.” Another minute, they’re planning a romantic evening out with you, and the next, they’re blaming you for expecting that of them in the first place – even if it was their idea to treat you in the first place. By intermittently switching from pain to pleasure, from dissatisfaction to loving admiration, they are able to hide the fact that they’re constantly shifting blame onto you.

This is how they “divert” from the fact that they’re putting you down and setting you up for failure by constantly shifting the goal posts. It is also how they change the subject rapidly when they are confronted on their shady behavior. Phrases such as, “I am not going to argue with you,” or “This isn’t worth pursuing” is common when they are called out on their insidious tactics.  No matter what you do or don’t do, the narcissist will rarely be satisfied and you will never be satisfied by their inability to ever take responsibility.

Tip: Stay true to what you experienced and observe the long-term patterns of behavior rather than what the narcissist claims to be doing or not doing. A narcissist’s longer-term predatory behavior will tell you far more than their contradictory words ever will. When a narcissist tries to “divert” you from the main topic by pointing out something irrelevant you did or said, or tries to stonewall you by ending the conversation even before it’s had a chance to begin, repeat the facts, stay focused on the issue and end the interaction without giving into their gaslighting attempts.

3. Tunnel vision minimization.

This is when the narcissist develops “tunnel vision” by hyperfocusing on something irrelevant or unrelated to minimize something you’ve accomplished, are proud of or something they know is considered an asset of yours. If you’ve graduated with a Master’s, the covert narcissist might start demanding to know when you plan to get your Ph.D; if you recently signed the lease on your dream apartment, they might change the subject to something in your neighborhood that seems unsavory or mundane. To a narcissist, there is always a way to get under your skin and inside of your head.

The presence of minimization can usually help you identify who the narcissist is in a group setting; while others are congratulating you on a job well done, the narcissist is often lurking in the corner, sulking and ready to burst your bubble like a needle to a balloon with a backhanded compliment, excessive critique or a “helpful” obnoxious reminder of something they perceive you’re lacking.

Remember: when a covert narcissist causes you to feel insecure, uncertain and unbalanced, it is often because they don’t want to deal with their own emotional issues and the fact that they may not be as special or unique as they desperately want to believe. This is what narcissism expert Dr. Craig Malkin (2015) calls playing “emotional hot potato,” where the narcissist continually passes off any unwanted feelings onto their victims. Minimization and projection act as self-serving tactics for the narcissist to avoid the discrepancy between the grandiose, false self and the true self.

Tip: Resist the minimization and maximize your self-validation. Instead of focusing on the narcissist’s envious attempts to minimize you, refocus on the people who are celebrating you. Realize that in the narcissist’s minimization is a secret confession of their own sense of ineptitude and entitlement; they want to be exactly where you are and have what you have but they know they never will. You really are that threatening to their false sense of superiority.

Most importantly, celebrate yourself. Self-validation and self-love are two of the most powerful tools you can have when conquering the sabotage of a covert narcissist.

References

De Canonville, C. L. (2016, October). The effects of gaslighting in Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://www.narcissisticbehavior.net/the-effects-of-gaslighting-in-narcissistic-victim-syndrome/

De Canonville, C. L. (2016, September). Revealing the two faces of narcissism: Overt and covert narcissism. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://www.narcissisticbehavior.net/revealing-the-two-faces-of-narcissism-overt-and-covert-narcissism/

Hammond, C. (2016, September 06). How to Identify a Covert Narcissist. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://www.pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2016/09/how-to-identify-a-covert-narcissist/

Malkin, C. (2015, November). Rethinking Narcissism (Episode 4) [Audio blog post]. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://www.drcraigmalkin.com/podcast/DCM-Podcast-Episode-4.pdf

Photograph by Sergey Nivens. Standard License via Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared on Psych Central as 3 Sneaky Techniques Covert Narcissists Use to Disarm and Demean You on July 17, 2017.

Copyright © 2017 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. This includes adaptations in all forms of media.

Get my #1 Amazon Bestselling Book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare.how-to-devalue-and-discard-the-narcissist-r2-ebook-cover-3

About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent bookPOWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology.

She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.

11 Signs You’re the Victim of Narcissistic Abuse

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By Shahida Arabi

Imagine this: your entire reality has been warped and distorted. You have been mercilessly violated, manipulated, lied to, ridiculed, demeaned and gaslighted into believing that you are imagining things.  The person you thought you knew and the life you built together have been shattered into a million little fragments.

Your sense of self has been eroded, diminished. You were idealized, devalued, then shoved off the pedestal. Perhaps you were even replaced and discarded multiple times, only to be ‘hoovered’ and lured back into an abuse cycle even more torturous than before. Maybe you were relentlessly stalked, harassed and bullied to stay with your abuser.

This was no normal break-up or relationship: this was a set-up for covert and insidious murder of your psyche and sense of safety in the world. Yet there may not be visible scars to tell the tale; all you have are broken pieces, fractured memories and internal battle wounds.

This is what narcissistic abuse looks like.

Psychological violence by malignant narcissists can include verbal and emotional abuse, toxic projection, stonewalling, sabotage, smear campaigns, triangulation along with a plethora of other forms of coercion and control. This is imposed by someone who lacks empathy, demonstrates an excessive sense of entitlement and engages in interpersonal exploitation to meet their own needs at the expense of the rights of others.

As a result of chronic abuse, victims may struggle with symptoms of PTSDComplex PTSD if they had additional traumas like being abused by narcissistic parents or even what is known as “Narcissistic Victim Syndrome” (Cannonville, 2015; Staggs 2016). The aftermath of narcissistic abuse can include depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, a pervasive sense of  toxic shame, emotional flashbacks that regress the victim back to the abusive incidents, and overwhelming feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.

When we are in the midst of an ongoing abuse cycle, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what we are experiencing because abusers are able to twist and turn reality to suit their own needs, engage in intense love-bombing after abusive incidents and convince their victims that they are the ones who are abusers.

If you find yourself experiencing the eleven symptoms below and you are or have been in a toxic relationship with a partner that disrespects, invalidates and mistreats you, you may just have been terrorized by an emotional predator:

1. You experience dissociation as a survival mechanism.

You feel emotionally or even physically detached from your environment, experiencing disruptions in your memory, perceptions, consciousness and sense of self. As Dr. Van der Kolk (2015) writes in his book, The Body Keeps the Score, “Dissociation is the essence of trauma. The overwhelming experience is split off and fragmented, so that the emotions, sounds, images, thoughts and physical sensations take on a life of their own.”

Dissociation can lead to emotional numbing in the face of horrific circumstances. Mind-numbing activities, obsessions, addictions and repression may become a way of life because they give you an escape from your current reality. Your brain finds ways to emotionally block out the impact of your pain so you do not have to deal with the full terror of your circumstances.

You may also develop traumatized ‘inner parts’ that become disjointed from the personality you inhabit with your abuser or loved ones (Johnston, 2017). These inner parts can include the inner child parts that were never nurtured, the true anger and disgust you feel towards your abuser or parts of yourselves you feel you cannot express around them.

According to therapist Rev. Sheri Heller (2015), “Integrating and reclaiming dissociated and disowned aspects of the personality is largely dependent on constructing a cohesive narrative, which allows for the assimilation of emotional, cognitive, and physiological realities.” This inner integration is best done with the help of a trauma-informed therapist.

2. You walk on eggshells.

A common symptom of trauma is avoiding anything that represents reliving the trauma – whether it be people, places or activities that pose that threat. Whether it be your friend, your partner, your family member, co-worker or boss, you find yourself constantly watching what you say or do around this person lest you incur their wrath, punishment or become the object of their envy.

However, you find that this does not work and you still become the abuser’s target whenever he or she feels entitled to use you as an emotional punching bag. You become perpetually anxious about ‘provoking’ your abuser in any way and may avoid confrontation or setting boundaries as a result. You may also extend your people-pleasing behavior outside of the abusive relationship, losing your ability to be spontaneous or assertive while navigating the outside world, especially with people who resemble or are associated with your abuser and the abuse.

3. You put aside your basic needs and desires, sacrificing your emotional and even your physical safety to please the abuser.

You may have once been full of life, goal-driven and dream-oriented. Now you feel as if you are living just to fulfill the needs and agendas of another person. Once, the narcissist’s entire life seemed to revolve around you; now your entire life revolves around them. You may have placed your goals, hobbies, friendships and personal safety on the back burner just to ensure that your abuser feels ‘satisfied’ in the relationship. Of course, you soon realize that he or she will never truly be satisfied regardless of what you do or don’t do.

4. You are struggling with health issues and somatic symptoms that represent your psychological turmoil.

You may have gained or lost a significant amount of weight, developed serious health issues that did not exist prior and experienced physical symptoms of premature aging. The stress of chronic abuse has sent your cortisol levels into overdrive and your immune system has taken a severe hit, leaving you vulnerable to physical ailments and disease (Bergland, 2013). You find yourself unable to sleep or experiencing terrifying nightmares when you do, reliving the trauma through emotional or visual flashbacks that bring you back to the site of the original wounds (Walker, 2013).

5. You develop a pervasive sense of mistrust.

Every person now represents a threat and you find yourself becoming anxious about the intentions of others, especially having experienced the malicious actions of someone you once trusted. Your usual caution becomes hypervigilance. Since the narcissistic abuser has worked hard to gaslight you into believing that your experiences are invalid, you have a hard time trusting anyone, including yourself.

6. You experience suicidal ideation or self-harming tendencies.

Along with depression and anxiety may come an increased sense of hopelessness. Your circumstances feel unbearable, as if you cannot escape, even if you wanted to. You develop a sense of learned helplessness that makes you feel as if you don’t wish to survive another day. You may even engage in self-harm as a way to cope. As Dr. McKeon (2014), chief of the suicide prevention branch at SAMHSA notes, victims of intimate partner violence are twice as likely to attempt suicide multiple times. This is the way abusers essentially commit murder without a trace.

7. You self-isolate.

Many abusers isolate their victims, but victims also isolate themselves because they feel ashamed about the abuse they’re experiencing. Given the victim-blaming and misconceptions about emotional and psychological violence in society, victims may even be retraumatized by law enforcement, family members, friends and the harem members of the narcissist who might invalidate their perceptions of the abuse. They fear no one will understand or believe them, so instead of reaching out for help, they decide to withdraw from others as a way to avoid judgment and retaliation from their abuser.

8. You find yourself comparing yourself to others, often to the extent of blaming yourself for the abuse.

A narcissistic abuser is highly skilled at manufacturing love triangles or bringing another person into the dynamic of the relationship to further terrorize the victim. As a result, victims of narcissistic abuse internalize the fear that they are not enough and may constantly strive to ‘compete’ for the abuser’s attention and approval.

Victims may also compare themselves to others in happier, healthier relationships or find themselves wondering why their abuser appears to treat complete strangers with more respect. This can send them down the trapdoor of wondering, “why me?” and stuck in an abyss of self-blame. The truth is, the abuser is the person who should be blamed – you are in no way responsible for being abused.

9. You self-sabotage and self-destruct.

Victims often find themselves ruminating over the abuse and hearing the abuser’s voice in their minds, amplifying their negative self-talk and tendency towards self-sabotage. Malignant narcissists ‘program’ and condition their victims to self-destruct – sometimes even to the point of driving them to suicide.

Due to the narcissist’s covert and overt put-downs, verbal abuse and hypercriticism, victims develop a tendency to punish themselves because they carry such toxic shame. They may sabotage their goals, dreams and academic pursuits. The abuser has instilled in them a sense of worthlessness and they begin to believe that they are undeserving of good things.

10. You fear doing what you love and achieving success.

Since many pathological predators are envious of their victims, they punish them for succeeding. This conditions their victims to associate their joys, interests, talents and areas of success with cruel and callous treatment. This conditioning gets their victims to fear success lest they be met with reprisal and reprimand.

As a result, victims become depressed, anxious, lack confidence and they may hide from the spotlight and allow their abusers to ‘steal’ the show again and again. Realize that your abuser is not undercutting your gifts because they truly believe you are inferior; it is because those gifts threaten their control over you.

11. You protect your abuser and even ‘gaslight’ yourself.

Rationalizing, minimizing and denying the abuse are often survival mechanisms for victims in an abusive relationship. In order to reduce the cognitive dissonance that erupts when the person who claims to love you mistreats you, victims of abuse convince themselves that the abuser is really not ‘all that bad’ or that they must have done something to ‘provoke’ the abuse.

It is important to reduce this cognitive dissonance in the other direction by reading up on the narcissistic personality and abuse tactics; this way, you are able to reconcile your current reality with the narcissist’s false self by recognizing that the abusive personality, not the charming facade, is their true self.

Remember that an intense trauma bond is often formed between victim and abuser because the victim is ‘trained’ to rely on the abuser for his or her survival (Carnes, 2015). Victims may protect their abusers from legal consequences, portray a happy image of the relationship on social media or overcompensate by ‘sharing the blame’ of the abuse.

I’ve been narcissistically abused. Now what?

If you are currently in an abusive relationship of any kind, know that you are not alone even if you feel like you are. There are millions of survivors all over the world who have experienced what you have.  This form of psychological torment is not exclusive to any gender, culture, social class or religion. The first step is becoming aware of the reality of your situation and validating it – even if your abuser attempts to gaslight you into believing otherwise.

If you can, journal about the experiences you have been going through to begin acknowledging the realities of the abuse. Share the truth with a trusted mental health professional, domestic violence advocates, family members, friends or fellow survivors. Begin to ‘heal’ your body through modalities like trauma-focused yoga and mindfulness meditation, two practices that target the same parts of the brain often affected by trauma (van der Kolk, 2015).

Reach out for help if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, especially suicidal ideation. Consult a trauma-informed counselor who understands and can help guide you through the symptoms of trauma. Make a safety plan if you have concerns about your abuser getting violent.

It is not easy to leave an abusive relationship due to the intense trauma bonds that can develop, the effects of trauma and the pervasive sense of helplessness and hopelessness that can form as a result of the abuse. Yet you have to know that it is in fact possible to leave and to begin the journey to No Contact or Low Contact in the cases of co-parenting. Recovery from this form of abuse is challenging, but it is well worth paving the path back to freedom and putting the pieces back together.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, be sure to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at  1−800−799−7233.

References

Bergland, C. (2013, January 22). Cortisol: Why “The Stress Hormone” is public enemy no. 1. Retrieved August 21, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1

Clay, R. A. (2014). Suicide and intimate partner violence. Monitor on Psychology, 45(10), 30. Retrieved August 21, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/11/suicide-violence.aspx

Canonville, C. L. (2015). Narcissistic Victim Syndrome: What the heck is that? Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://narcissisticbehavior.net/the-effects-of-gaslighting-in-narcissistic-victim-syndrome/

Carnes, P. (2015). Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships. Health Communications, Incorporated.

Heller, S. (2015, February 18). Complex PTSD and the realm of dissociation. Retrieved August 21, 2017, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/complex-ptsd-and-the-realm-of-dissociation/006907.html

Johnston, M. (2017, April 05). Working with our inner Parts. Retrieved August 21, 2017, from https://majohnston.wordpress.com/working-with-our-inner-parts/

Staggs, S. (2016). Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/complex-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/

Staggs, S. (2016). Symptoms & Diagnosis of PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-and-diagnosis-of-ptsd/

Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. London: Penguin Books.

Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving. Lafayette, CA: Azure Coyote.

Image by lpedan. Licensed via Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared on Psych Central as 11 Signs You’re the Victim of Narcissistic Abuse on August 21, 2017.

Copyright © 2017 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. This includes adaptations in all forms of media.

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About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent bookPOWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology.

She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.