Narcissistic abuse is a particularly insidious form of emotional and sometimes physical abuse – often not recognised for what it is by the victim and partly outside of the conscious awareness of the abuser.
If you had a narcissistic parent or caregiver, the therapeutic work for this kind of abuse would be deep – touching and healing the core original traumas that set the tone for your thoughts, emotions and behaviours, and what you told yourself as a result of those experiences – subconsciously at a very young age – about how your life would turn out.
Healing from the hurt, confusion and anger that results from a relentlessly disapproving and un-empathic parent can be one of the biggest challenges of a lifetime. But it can be done.
If you are experiencing narcissistic abuse from a current or former partner or work colleague, we would look at identifying and healing the wounds that meant you were attracted to and/or targeted by this kind of personality-disordered individual.
The therapy does not focus on the narcissist beyond looking at their impacts; after all they developed a personality disorder due to their upbringing that traumatised them deeply. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend the whole of your life being the victim of it. You have rights too.
The focus is on achieving a more concrete self-concept, getting to know yourself better than before, with greater degrees of self-love, self-compassion and self-insight. The rewards and outcomes for achieving those are enormous and long-term. This is a journey back to self and a letting go of all that went on, fortified for a whole new future.
How do I know it’s narcissistic abuse?
These are some aspects of a narcissist that you may have experienced in your family or workplace:
GASLIGHTING: this term describes how narcissists can tend to distort how a particular event played out or even deny it happened. They can also resort to extreme verbal abuse which comes out of nowhere, phrased in a way that makes it difficult to defend. In extreme cases this kind of abuse can lead the victim to doubting their own memory, perception and even sanity.
TRIANGULATION: In the family system, for example, narcissists have an absolute drive to triangulate or ‘divide and conquer’. You may experience this as a favoured sibling – a ‘golden child’ who is overly enmeshed with the parent(s) and totally without empathy. The sibling is often manipulated into becoming a ‘flying monkey’ – that is attack the scapegoat by proxy, normally using the narcissist’s lies and twisted version of events, often without bothering to check their validity. Any complaint that the sibling is favoured will have been denied by all involved.
ENABLERS: You may be experiencing or have experience a less abusive parent who attempts to be loving but is essentially loyal solely to the narcissist. Often enablers end up being just as abusive as the narcissist.
SMEAR CAMPAIGN: You may be experiencing hidden and outright hostility from wider family without knowing why. Narcissists take five percent of the truth and distort it into something that makes you look unethical or immoral and will make a point of telling everyone around them. Narcissists are known for trying to poison the children of a scapegoat against them, often bypassing the scapegoat and contacting the grandchildren directly.
HOOVERING: This can be one of the most stressful aspects of going ‘no contact’ or ‘low contact’ with a narcissist. Due to the nature of their disorder they find it difficult to let go of a source of ‘supply’ (attention) and will refuse to respect boundaries and honour requests for an end to the relationship. For that reason it is important to recognise that this contact is not made by the narcissist because they love or miss the scapegoat.Part of hoovering means the narcissist will contact those around the scapegoat – family and friends – portraying themselves as the victim. Often they will say whatever it takes to lure the scapegoat to return, but unfortunately the only thing that is certain is that a resumption of relations will eventually lead to even greater punishments.
What are the impacts of narcissistic abuse?
The impacts of being brought up by a narcissistically disordered individual are manifold. If one or both of your parents was a narcissist you will likely have an impaired self-concept; not completely sure who you are and what you stand for.
The void within leaves you constantly turning to other people for advice, love and support, needing and relying on their approval and input, all the while never realising that the only true love and support that can validate, satisfy, sustain and empower you has to come from within; that you alone can provide all your emotional needs when you are finally ready to make that leap.
Other impacts may include:
Do you feel essentially defective at your very core? Not good enough? A failure in all or nearly all that you do? You cannot trust yourself? You find yourself making ill-thought through decisions that result in outcomes that seem to satisfy your need for self-punishment.
Do you self-sabotage in ways you don’t understand? As if there’s a part of you that acts out in a way that’s outside of your control? Are you in the grip of an addiction or compulsive behaviour such as over-shopping?
Are you good at connecting with others on a superficial level, but real intimacy seems impossible to achieve?
You have no real knowledge of what your emotional and physical needs are and how to ask for them to be met.
Are your friendships tinged with a lack of trust and perceived abandonment? You long for contact but when it comes you perceive it as overwhelming and destabilising.
Do you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere? Working in offices or groups stresses you out; knowledge of how to behave in these environments seems beyond you and you worry about the outcome.
Do you feel you need to do all the work to please others, not having the confidence to realise that they have to meet you half-way? Do you feel that it’s solely your responsibility to work for your partner’s love, for example, and if you don’t get it, it’s due to a shortcoming within you?
Do you find it difficult to ask for help – your aim is always to be fully self-supporting, except sometimes you collapse and have an overwhelming need for love and support – you can never get the balance right?
Are you an exhausted and perfectionist workaholic, never realising in fact that what drives you is your shame? Or are you living down to the expectations of the role of scapegoat? Coming to believe that you really are what the narcissist needs you to be.
Have you had a series of failed relationships, every time attracted to a person who makes you feel incredibly excited initially, on a high and feeling as if you have ‘come home’ within yourself? The chemistry is amazing and you feel this relationship is meant to be – he or she is your soul mate and it feels so right. However after a time you start to feel like your partner is judging you and you’re falling short – he or she pulls away leaving you confused and panic stricken. That old familiar loneliness and sadness that has been the background tape of your life comes back in full – this time making you feel even more defective, not good enough, potentially traumatised, and feeling terrifyingly lonely and empty inside.
Or have you been single for years – lost faith in the possibility of a healthy relationship, perhaps not even knowing what a healthy relationship looks like – or deep down you don’t believe that you are attractive enough or deserving enough or good enough to have what others achieve with ease?
Do you have physical ailments such as locked hips, from all the years of suppressed and repressed trauma?
Do you ‘scapegoat’ a part of your body – singling it out for a special hatred, and you have no real compassion for or connection with your body?
Are you told you’re imagining the abuse, or made out to be outrageously rude when you assert your hurt and stand up for yourself?
Are you estranged from your family, attempting to lessen contact or just finding it difficult to strike a balance that means you can have a halfway decent relationship with your family?
Is your narcissistic parent trying to poison your children against you?
Are you depressed, chronically angry, anxious, experiencing panic attacks, low in confidence? The list goes on…
Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome
A more extreme form of narcissistic abuse results in Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome (NAS), with all of the behaviours listed above and more. What actually happened when you met that exciting stranger is that you were familiar with that cold, unavailable energy – it resonated with you because it was the same as your narcissistic parent and your subconscious was grabbing at one more chance to resolve the problem or ‘get love from that parent’. After a time in a relationship with a narcissistic personality disordered partner, a person can be trauma bonded to the narcissist, his or her addiction to that person as strong as any class A drug, and often developing an overwhelming obsession with the narcissist after the relationship ends that can take years to abate. NAS can involve symptoms of complex PTSD, suicidal ideation, insomnia, major depression, dissociation, and a real deadening of hope and joy for years afterwards.