Narcissistic abuse is a particularly insidious form of emotional, psychological and sometimes physical abuse – often not recognised for what it is by the target and mostly outside of the awareness of the abuser.
If you had a narcissistic parent or caregiver, the therapeutic work for this kind of abuse would be deep – touching the original trauma and/or neglect that set the tone for your core beliefs, self-concept, relationship to self, 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, sadness, confusion, trauma, fear, anxiety, sense of betrayal and anger that results from being around an unempathic and totally self-focused parent or partner can be one of the challenges of a lifetime. But it can be done.
The therapy ideally does not focus on the narcissist – recent research is discovering a significant genetic component to personality disorders, so speaking about a narcissist’s back story will not help you to heal. The therapy will focus on you, on what happened to you, and on clarifying the impacts before moving on to the healing work.
While the therapy is tailored to each client and their prevailing issues, overall my aim is to help you achieve a greater level of self-love, a more concrete self-concept and sense of self, with greater degrees of self-compassion, self-acceptance and self-worth.
This is not a comprehensive list, but the work will always include understanding this disorder in order to develop a rational, detached, less triggering view of how you were/are treated. Other work may include: at the outset – trauma focused work. Then, learning how to identify, utilise and process your emotions to help develop a more concrete self-concept; developing emotional resilience; meeting your ‘parts’ and developing your sense of ‘Self’; identifying and changing your core beliefs about yourself, others and the world; addressing your core wounds (abandonment, rejection and so on); developing your connection to your gut instincts; alleviating self-doubt; healing emotional triggers; using anger in a healthy way towards recovery; developing self-esteem; addressing trust issues; addressing toxic shame; putting in place stronger boundaries and levels of assertiveness; learning strategies for dealing with narcissists; and an enhanced ability to recognise and disrupt a pattern of ‘types’ of people you are drawn to and why.
I don’t focus on the area of forgiveness, rather my view is that achieving an acceptance and a ‘letting go’ of what went on as an empowered survivor with a new life script is the ideal.
This is a journey back to self, fortified for a whole new future.
HOW DO I KNOW IT’S NARCISSISTIC ABUSE?
Narcissistic abuse leaves people feeling lonely and unanchored. It is the hardest type of abuse to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Thousands of incidents described one at a time can make the target look like they’re making something out of nothing and set them up for further judgement. This is often a laser-targeted abuse; the narcissist, covert especially, is gifted in making sure their words and actions are unseen, and in manipulating those around them to believe their target is the ‘bad’ person. In this abuse we can witness the downsides of human nature – that those around the narcissist – family and friends – will often minimise and dismiss their actions, for a wide range of reasons.
These are some aspects of a narcissist that you may have experienced in your family, relationship or workplace:
EMPATHY DEFICITS: Narcissists have deficient and deeply fluctuating levels of empathy. Certain ‘golden’ people around the narcissist receive what looks like empathy but are actually in receipt of the narcissist’s ‘good child’ projections – so the narcissist is in effect aggrandising their own ‘good part’. Narcissists do not have the full emotional spectrum at their disposal, so are masters at mimicking empathy but this is cognitive (or ‘cold’) empathy – to gain information and bond. Alternately, their mannerisms may look empathic (mirroring, parroting) but this often belies the fact they are not listening.
GASLIGHTING: A huge and overarching phenomenon in narcissistic manipulation, used to maintain the abuser’s sense of power and to redirect blame to the target. Gaslighting is serious – it can reduce the target’s cognitive and psychological competency. Denying and distorting the target’s sense of reality can lead to them denying their own experiences eventually, and even beyond that, can alter their memories. The gaslighter becomes the primary/only source of truth.
Narcissists have intact reality testing but serious perceptual gaps and can make the facts fit their emotions (self-gaslighting).
Here we see denial of the target’s assertion of hurtful, deceptive or manipulative behaviour; accusing the target of attacking the gaslighter and reversing target and abuser roles (by claiming the target is targeting them without cause). Other strategies include moving the goalposts, bait and switch and straw man arguments.
In my experience, some narcissists go to gaslighting mostly when they are confronted – ‘I never said/did/intended that’…’ ‘If you did X then I wouldn’t have to do Y’. The more defensive, the more unconscious is the behaviour. Other types use gaslighting as a constant, intentional and malicious technique.
TRIANGULATION: This is one of the most hurtful and damaging aspects of narcissistic abuse. In a partnership and after the initial ‘love bombing’ stage, narcissists will subtly or overtly compare their partner to someone or something else. For example, that ‘another’ has their respect, trust, affection and ‘love’. Over time this can bring about or exacerbate deep and painful feelings of not being good enough and our human tendency to ‘compare and despair’.
In the family system, for example, narcissists have an absolute drive to ‘divide and conquer’. Open communication is not encouraged and a toxic dynamic is common. A favoured ‘golden child’ can be encouraged into family ‘mobbing’ of the scapegoat child. The golden child commonly becomes an apath regarding the scapegoat (or untrustworthy fence sitter at the least) and is duped into becoming a ‘flying monkey’ – that is to attack the scapegoat by proxy using the narcissist’s lies and twisted version of events, often without checking their validity. Any complaint that the sibling is favoured will have been denied by all involved.
Triangulation of siblings can sit outside of their awareness for years and can be extremely subtle but powerful – especially when a covert parent is involved. The scapegoat in particular can be so utterly focused on trying to get love and approval that they split off the evidence they are hated (the narcissist ‘hates’ their ‘bad child’ part – they are not actually ‘seeing’ the scapegoat). Both golden child and scapegoat are ultimately competing at a dry well but deep resentment on both sides is a common outcome.
ENABLERS: You may be experiencing a parent/caregiver who attempts to be loving but is ultimately loyal solely to the narcissist and often ends up being just as abusive. In a typical narcissistic family nest, the enabler revolves around the attention-hungry narcissist, and the children – despite appearances to the contrary – are sidelined psychologically. Often the enabler, even more than the narcissist, elicits a great deal of anger and confusion about their behaviour.
SMEAR CAMPAIGN: You may be experiencing a subtle distancing or even outright hostility from family and friends without knowing why. Narcissists will take zero or five per cent of the truth and aim to make the target look unethical or immoral. Commonly their accusations centre around sexual, financial or inheritance issues. Narcissists trade on the fact that most people will feel empathy for a person in distress and automatically feel anger at the abuses they suffered. Once in victim mode they are emotionally persuasive way beyond the ability of a neurotypical person. They seek people who will agree with their irrational beliefs using peripheral persuasion and negative stereotyping.
NARCISSISTIC RAGE: Any threat to their fragile sense of self as a ‘good person’, or a sense of a shortage of admiration/attention can elicit uncontrolled anger out of all proportion to the situation or comment that prompted it. A grandiose narcissist can react overtly. A covert narcissist, already highly sensitive to insults real and imagined, when triggered will be drawn even more under the influence of their cognitive distortions (thoughts that don’t fit reality such as ‘all or nothing thinking’ e.g. you’re good today/bad tomorrow or ‘I’m upset, I feel like a victim, so I must be’ (affective realism). They tend to hide their rage, which then manifests as a long-term plot for revenge, e.g. disinheritance. While the internal collapse and cognitive distortions are unconscious to the narcissist and seem necessary to their survival in the moment, the rest of the attack campaign is conscious and something they can get a sadistic kick out of, with not enough empathy to put a break on the situation.
LYING: Narcissists may chronically lie because their feelings override reason and morality. Perceptual gaps mean they fill in the story with inaccurate ‘facts’ – often as a consequence of their subterfuge. There are many forms of their lying, e.g. a covert narcissist psychopath will keep a lie secret for years because it wouldn’t be in their best interests to reveal it. A narcissist with one or more of the ‘dark tetrad’ personality traits e.g. sadism, will lie ‘because they can’ and enjoy the pain the lie is causing or will cause in the future. Aside from outright lying, we see lying by omission; words and actions not matching and false promises that can cause serious consequences in the life of the target.
ENVY: Grandiose narcissists have an inflated sense of superiority so tend not to feel much envy. Covert narcissists, while still believing they are special and entitled, have more of an inner world of fear, shame, anxiety, fluctuating low self-esteem and depression. Their vulnerability predicts envy and they experience it much more than the grandiose. A narcissist with dark tetrad traits and festering with envy and anger, combined with their distorted take on the situation, can be very dangerous. For children of narcissists especially, picking up even unconsciously on that envy can leave a sense of shame and a ‘shrunken self-sabotaging self’ not willing to shine on any stage in the future for fear of consequences.
HOOVERING: Getting in touch when they are fully aware that you have requested no or low contact. Again, this can be an extremely stressful situation to deal with. Often the way narcissists try to hoover is inappropriate – turning up to a workplace or sending letters to a grandchild’s place of education for example. As part of this the narcissist will often contact those around the target – family and friends – portraying themselves as the victim.
Due to the nature of their disorder, they find it difficult to let go of a source of ‘supply’. This, combined with their strong sense of superiority (‘you don’t get to tell me what to do’) and viewing the target as an extension of themselves, means they will refuse to respect boundaries and honour requests for an ending to the relationship. Their abandonment schema means that unless it is their decision (I’m in control here), ending a relationship will be messy and difficult to say the least (here we see situations like ‘divorce terrorism’ as the legal arena presents narcissists with the perfect opportunity to try to exert their sense of superiority and hostility towards the target).
It is important to recognise that contact is not made by the narcissist because they love or miss the target. Classically, they will say whatever it takes to lure the target to return to their role, but the only certainty is that a resumption of relations will lead to even greater punishments for daring to take control.
MORE ABOUT NARCISSISTS
There are too many sub-types to cover here e.g. somatic, communal, cerebral, social butterfly, middle of the road...and a narcissist can transmute into different types over their lifetime. In terms of the two distinct expressions of narcissism – grandiose and covert – the grandiose type is more easily identified with the traits often on view. The covert (vulnerable) type (especially covert narcissist/psychopath) is much harder to spot: the same traits are there but display themselves in a subtler and different way. That does not make the covert any less dangerous. (See the pdf attached)
Narcissistic personality disorder can be co-morbid with other personality disorders and not infrequently narcissists are substance abusers (alcoholics etc) as a coping mechanism.
Narcissists have no self-awareness or ‘observing self’ and cannot reflect on and understand their impacts on others, that is not on their radar – they are not the problem and there is no problem. It also involves the use of projection ‘you/others are at fault’. They have a disordered behaviour pattern, lack problem solving skills, are antagonistic and can only relate to others through creating drama. When under pressure, narcissists use intellectualisation, rationalisation and projection.
In terms of trait diversity, that does not exist in personality disorders, which are in fact marked by trait excesses and deficiencies – a significantly over-developed trait and an under-developed trait. In narcissism the over-developed trait is self-importance/competitiveness and the under-developed trait is sharing/empathy.
Being around a narcissist, even at the lower end of the spectrum, is exhausting, stressful, confusing, unsettling and upsetting – a shock will be in store from this emotionally immature personality type no matter how long the waters have been smooth. For a target of a narcissist the abuse is active and incessant – there is no end point. No other personality disorder, in my opinion, has the ability to be as intelligent in its malignancy, in knowing what to say and do, and when, for maximum impact – the disorder is cleverer than the person.
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL IMPACTS?
The impacts of being brought up by, romantically involved with, in a friendship with or working with a person on the narcissistic spectrum are manifold.
CPTSD: a relational trauma – cause by people who are/were supposed to protect you and love you e.g. primary caregivers, a lover, a manager. This kind of deep trauma happens when love is betrayed. Chronic anticipation of upset, even at an ambient level, affects the brain: a narcissist’s unpredictable, scary and cruel actions, words and emotions represent a threat to the brain – to its sense of safety and hence survival. Unprocessed trauma at a CPTSD diagnosable level includes dissociation, flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance of reminders of trauma, anxiety and depression, hypervigilance, emotion regulation difficulties, anger, fluctuating empathy levels; a negative self-concept, a sense of worthlessness, guilt, interpersonal problems, and a feeling of disconnection.
At a lesser degree we can have ‘remnants’ of CPTSD symptoms, as well as an amygdala with a ‘set point’ that means you only feel comfortable at a certain level – either when over-exercising, or you may feel uncomfortable when you try to relax. You might notice that you are calmer when a crisis hits, or drama feels like your ‘normal’.
Co-dependency: an area that is too comprehensive to address here, but essentially a disease of the need to co-exist and ‘control’ – I will over-focus on you (addict, disordered person, emotionally unavailable person, person who fails to take responsibility, person who reminds my nervous system of a parent), and if you change and give me the love I have always sought then it will prove I’m OK, and in fact my life depends on it.
Moral injury: Can result when a person perpetrates, fails to prevent or witnesses events that contradict deeply held values, moral beliefs and expectations. For example, a narcissist asks their child or partner to lie on their behalf – moral injury is the distressing psychological, behavioural, social and sometimes spiritual aftermath. Guilt, shame, disgust and anger are some of the hallmark reactions, as well as an inability to self-forgive and consequent engagement in self-sabotaging behaviours (e.g. feeling like you don’t deserve to succeed at work on in relationships).
Gaslighting impacts: tends to trigger people pleasing behaviour by the gaslightee. Signs and effects include denial, loss of self-confidence, emotional disturbance, depression, anxiety, PTSD, increased vulnerability to further emotional abuse, loss of autonomy, increased risk of codependency, re-traumatisation of survivors and difficulty making decisions. Other signs and impacts include: overthinking; lack of self-trust; ‘I don’t know who to believe’; conflict aversion at all costs; loss of joy and chronic self-doubt. A sense in the survivor of somehow believing they were at fault.
Post-traumatic OCD: combined with genetic factors, that unconscious sense of a lack of safety in childhood and the narcissist’s parentification of a child – leading to an inflated sense of responsibility for the parent or whole family, can also be one of the causes of OCD in whatever form. Many narcissists, coverts especially, are hyper-focused on a clean and tidy environment, projecting off their sense of internal ‘dirtiness’.
Anxiety disorders: common after childhood emotional abuse (especially emotional neglect). The causes are too myriad to go into here. Anxious attachment, especially in friendships, leaves people worrying about having said or done the ‘wrong thing’. Not voicing your opinions, your thoughts on another’s behaviour because of an unconscious fear of consequences – that assertiveness will lead to conflict.
Sadness: a deep and pervasive sense of sadness is the most common overarching impact of narcissistic abuse in my experience. Sadness = separation anxiety. Over time, we learn now to nurture and honour our sadness while also constantly cognitively re-framing it.
Major depression and/or Dysthymia: another common impact, with the many symptoms often not noticed for what they are.
Melancholic depression: Loss of the ability to feel pleasure, difficult mornings, intense feelings of guilt (can be mis-attributed to the narcissist’s guilt tripping – probably originated from it), chronic sadness, lack of energy, eating too much or too little, physical symptoms such as jiggling your leg,
Shame: a huge area in narcissistic abuse. Shame binds to many other emotions and most damagingly to our core identity, thus we have an internalised sense of ‘I am wrong/bad/broken’. We have a double dose of shame from being brought up by a narcissist – subject to their ‘bad’ projections as well as the shame that arises from being parented by them. Shame is a clever survival response, a resourceful state that allows us to more easily submit to, and be less threatening to, a perpetrator. It is a neurophysiological response that if not deal with will cause us to ‘hide out’ in plain sight as adults, often developing a ‘false self’.
Guilt: the issue of guilt is wide-ranging and complex. For one reason, recognising that as a child you were manipulated by the narcissist to feel guilty as a default is a step forward in healing. Toxic guilt is one of the main impacts on adult children of narcissists in my experience.
You might also be experiencing guilt around ‘reactive abuse’ – some of your behaviours in response to the abuse may have been less than desirable, but were actually a result of the emotional torture that you had endured.
Projective identification: unconscious projections from the narcissist such that you become what they need you to be. We become a ‘host’ to the narcissist’s split off parts (which they like to control and keep close), and very damagingly ‘be’ and ‘act’ in accordance with those introjections.
Chronic and acute anger: this is a large and complex area. We have been treated badly and a ‘wounded self’ develops. As importantly as that, narcissists do not allow our anger so it goes underground, becomes toxic and threads like a venous system throughout our life – affecting our thoughts and behaviours, our health, driving addictions, amplifying emotional triggers, damaging relationships and so on, often outside of our conscious awareness. Anger has value – it tells us something is wrong, that a boundary has been transgressed. Ideally it is righteous and can be used for our healing. It’s also an umbrella emotion – going beneath to the real emotion is vital.
Reactive abuse: The narcissist is clever at the ‘set up’. Manoeuvring a situation such that the target’s reaction incurs accusations – ‘you’re mentally ill’, ‘aggressive’, ‘selfish’, a ‘know all’ – the list is long. The way that we react to the set up can lead us to feel bad about ourselves, not realising that manipulation has been at play.
Hypervigilance and ignoring or having an undeveloped gut instinct: Your attachment and survival needs drove you as a child to focus on the narcissist, pushing outside of your awareness your intrinsic and accurate gut instincts, your relationship to your body and connection with your own wants, needs and self-care.
Cognitive dissonance: narcissists can be ignoring and neglectful of your emotional and physical needs and then switch to seemingly attentive and loving behaviours. While crudely reductionist they can also be incredibly insightful – they are not ‘insane’. As a result, the tension of opposing thoughts about them causes the brain to take the line of least resistance and opt for the easiest route – thus we keep ourselves in abusive situations. CD (as well as gaslighting) can lead to self-doubt, impaired decision making and trust issues.
Ruminations: the endless cycle of repetitive, washing machine thoughts: ‘I can’t believe they did/said that!...’; ‘How could they have done that to me?...’; ‘If only I had said/done that…’ etc. Going over and over events and trying to make sense of them is inevitable when a neurotypical person has a relationship with a personality disordered individual. The brain tries ceaselessly to make sense of what happened and gain answers – which simply cannot be achieved.
Especially punitive inner critic: That relentless voice, telling you that you are ‘stupid’, ‘selfish’, inadequate, don’t rest or relax, do more, be better, be perfect… When we realise that our critics are really a protective mechanism and work with them with compassion, we can start to heal.
Self-doubt: The directional narcissist, the mocking and judgemental narcissist, telling the target what to do, say, wear, how to think etc., means they take up residence in the target’s head. Thus, in their absence we see: ‘What would they think if I do that?’ Self-doubt also tends to be related to childhood emotional neglect and the impacts of gaslighting.
Trust issues: The impacts are varied. As an example, recent research has shown that the brain of an anxiously attached toddler will re-wire itself to cope with a parent’s inconsistent attentions. As an adult, that means the person will have a neurologically impaired sense of people who are untrustworthy – they are simply not picking up on the cues because the brain had to ignore them as a child in order to keep the relationship with the parent (and survive). Other reasons include that the abuse has caused the brain to over-protect us and thus ‘generalise’ i.e. ‘I can’t trust anybody’, ‘Everybody is a narcissist’. Or our ability to trust can get distorted – ‘X is being nice, what is she after?’ Self-trust is another significant area, e.g. in decision making, in our assessment of our ability to cope in the world, or that some part of us isn’t going to act out.
Emotional triggers: wounds that are buried deep, often around unfairness, unjustness, lack of respect, not being heard, seen and so on. Schema that are ‘touched’ can leave the person unable to control their reaction to the triggering event, and in a way that is often out of all proportion to the event.
Core beliefs: fundamental beliefs about ourselves, others and the world that sit like a rock at the core of us and impact every area of our self-relationship and external lives e.g. ‘I don’t deserve’, ‘I’m stupid’, ‘I’m weird’, ‘I’m unlovable’, ‘I’m unworthy’, ‘Others are at the front of the queue’, ‘The world is unsafe’…The list is long. We can manipulate our environment to confirm them so it is extremely important that they are replaced by more positive, productive beliefs.
Narcissistic fleas: learned and ingrained from being brought up by or being involved with a narcissist – these are behaviours, attitudes, thoughts that are ‘narcissistic’ – that do not mean you are on the spectrum of this disorder. This is a complex picture – victims of narcissistic abuse can themselves look like narcissists, but the core clinical traits are not there.
Addictions: this is another huge area and very common in those brought up by a narcissist. Addiction = attachment hunger.
If one or both of your parents was a narcissist you will likely experience many of the impacts mentioned above. Other impacts can include carrying a distorted sense of self – the narcissist/family narrative is at odds with the authentic person; a lack of self-care; developmental and social deficits – because narcissistic abuse, especially by parents, is as much about what you didn’t get as what you did get. Enmeshment with the narcissist in terms of their financial assistance (all about control for the narcissist) is another common theme.
Our relationship with our emotions is always affected, whether that be emotion-regulation issues, perceiving emotions as dangerous and overwhelming or as having no value. The idea that we are allowed them, that we should in fact be labelling them at a deep and nuanced level for many reasons is often outside of our awareness.
The abuse can also leave you feeling scattered internally and overly-dependent on others, with a belief that you cannot cope alone. The void within means you needily turn to other people for advice, love and support, totally relying on their guidance and approval, 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.
In families, the ever-present golden child and scapegoat child phenomenon causes a fracture in family relationships that often cannot be healed.
Empathy deficits in the golden child towards the scapegoat are common, to protect them from the effects of witnessing the process. Scapegoating is a huge area for recovery, but clinical experience demonstrates that the golden child is as much a victim of abuse as the scapegoat. They can form an alliance with the narcissistic parent and their status (and safety) is elevated as the scapegoat’s decreases. The enmeshed family, which to all intents and purposes looks good on the outside, becomes locked in the misery of this dynamic. Golden children’s developmental stages are impacted by the witnessing and hence vicarious trauma. Deprived of a normal model of parenting (so anxiously attached) and coerced into adopting the narcissist’s view of the scapegoat, golden children can develop a distorted view of relationships as dominant/submissive. As well as that, we see a dissociation between their thoughts and feelings (to witness the abuse and maintain the family secret), the development of cognitive distortions in the service of self-preservation (e.g. blaming the scapegoat) and internalised learned helplessness (from fear of the parent as a result of trying to help the scapegoat).
With their empathy deficits, these children become emotionally numb later in life. Children who have developed empathy but fail to demonstrate it towards the scapegoat are vulnerable to experiencing damaged self-esteem and identity difficulties, as well as a compromised self-concept in perceiving themselves as a good and worthy person. This damaged self then enters into relationships as an adult, and the intergenerational problems continue when a new family is patterned on a template of power and control.
However, this is a complex area – since narcissism is strongly inheritable, often I see that golden children have clinical narcissistic traits or experience acquired situational narcissism. Others do not, and later come to realise their behaviour had an impact on the scapegoat.
Golden children, narcissistic and otherwise, are duped into believing they are valued and loved for themselves, to an extreme degree, hence they can find it hard to operate in the outside world (‘nobody else is so reverential – why is that?’ thinks the golden child). Childlike, self-pitying but also grandiose and arrogant, I often witness either a distancing from the parents or a ‘failure to launch’ – lured to stay in the nest by promises of inheritance for example, unaware they have been manipulated to stay by the narcissist because of their own abandonment schema (their utter self-interest is focused around ‘I can’t be alone’, and/or Who will look after me when I’m old?’). Scapegoated adult children are similarly so enmeshed and trauma bonded to the parent to the degree that they never ‘leave’.
Other impacts may include:
- Do you feel essentially defective and toxic at your very core?
- Do you worry that you are narcissistic?
- Do you fear that you will pass on your ‘toxicity’ to your children?
- Do you have a sense of never being good enough?
- Do you feel that people won’t like you if they really get to know you?
- Do you have a sense of your own power and ability to control your life, or do you recognise learned helplessness?
- Do you find it hard to take a long-term view of your future, or seem pretty certain that if you experience abundance, success, happiness, something will go wrong or come out of the blue to take it all away?
- If someone offers a compliment…if someone really likes you, does that feel even more strange than someone who is unpleasant and/or unavailable?
- Do you have a sense that you don’t deserve success, love and so on?
- Do you have a strong desire to ‘fix’ and heal people?
- Do you have a sense of an internal battle? That parts of you are in conflict?
- Do you self-sabotage in ways you don’t understand?
- Are you in touch with your gut instincts and act on them?
- Do you experience self-doubt and find decision making difficult?
- Do you feel that you don’t really know who you are?
- What is your relationship with your emotions? Do you push them away or process them properly?
- Do you tend to blame yourself?
- Do you suppress your shadow side in order to prove that you are ‘good’ or not who the narcissist said you are?
- Do you constantly worry that you may have hurt, upset or offended someone? Is your focus mostly directed at others, rather than how you feel about them?
- Do you experience guilt at a level that is pervasive and uncomfortable?
- What have you lost as part of your survival adaptation with the narcissist – your assertiveness, your spirituality, your success, your sexuality, your playfulness…?
- Do you find certain looks, comments or incidents trigger you into utter emotional and physical dysregulation or a totally rigid thinking style full of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’?
- If you are a scapegoat, can you see how you are living down to the expectations of the role, and coming to believe that you really are what the narcissist needs you to be?
- Are you in the grip of an addiction or compulsive behaviour?
- Have you come to see any financial assistance from your parents as the only true measure of their love? You may not realise how you have been controlled and infantilised in this way.
- In relationships or friendships, do you feel you need to do all the work, at whatever cost to yourself, to make sure that others are happy?
- Are you overly-controlling in relationships?
- Are your relationships and friendships tinged with a lack of trust and perceived abandonment? You long for contact but when it comes you feel it as overwhelming and destabilising.
- Do you feel like you don’t fit anywhere? Working in offices or being in groups is stressful; knowledge of how to behave in these environments seems beyond you and you worry about the outcome.
- Do you fail to see or refuse to acknowledge the power structures at work or in groups?
- Do you veer between thinking you are very special and, alternately, deservedly at the bottom of the tree?
- Do you rage at others for their imperfections and perceived transgressions?
- When you argue with a partner or friend, do you believe in that moment that they are all bad, rather than hold the view that they are good and bad?
- Are you deeply uncomfortable at the idea of criticism?
- Do you have boundaries?
- Are you assertive or do you equate assertiveness with conflict?
- Are you an exhausted and perfectionist workaholic, unable to give yourself credit and suffering with imposter syndrome?
- Do you fear failure?
- Do you find it hard to give and receive love at a deep level?
- 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?
- Have you been single for years – lost faith in the possibility of a healthy relationship, perhaps not even knowing what real love and a healthy relationship looks like? Deep down you don’t feel that you are attractive enough or deserving enough to have what others achieve with ease.
- Do you have a physical condition – especially a Musculo-skeletal disorder or thyroid disorder?
- 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 overall?
Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome
Have you had a relationship or series of relationships with someone who made you feel incredibly excited initially? The chemistry was amazing and you felt almost powerless to resist – you felt such a familiarity with this person. Their attentions helped you to finally ‘fall in love’ with yourself and experience yourself in new and deeper ways; these might be qualities that you disowned long ago or that were not allowed, or put outside of your awareness by a narcissistic parent.
However, after a time you started to feel like your partner was judging you and you were falling short – then, he or she distanced themselves, leaving you confused and panic stricken. That old familiar loneliness and sadness that was the background tape of your life returned in full – this time making you feel even more defective, anxious, not good enough, alone, potentially traumatised, and terrifyingly empty inside.
In the relationship you resorted to ingrained psychological patterns of looking after the narcissist (seeing the sad child within them), prioritising them and being overly self-sacrificial.
What actually happened when you met that exciting person was that your unconscious and your body (nervous system) was doing the choosing. The narcissist’s cold energy was reminiscent of your emotionally unavailable parent/caregiver and your unconscious was grabbing at one more chance to resolve the problem or ‘get love from that parent’.
A number of factors keep you in place including:
- you are trauma bonded; you cannot let go of the battle to get love as much as the anger that you haven’t received an apology for not being loved
- neurochemically dysregulated: the intermittent reinforcement and unreasonable control foster dependency
- a dependent, love-addicted personality as a pre-existing state, normally due to narcissistic parenting
- lowered self-esteem and confidence as a pre-existing state or as a result of the abuse
- and empathic drive to heal the narcissist and make them happy
- cognitive dissonance – the tension of two opposing views – the brain takes the easy route – ‘she/he’s OK really’ and stays in abuse
- lack of self-love – your abandonment schema is heightened by the narcissist
- a desire to re-experience your partner as they were in the heady days of the love bombing phase and how way they made you feel about yourself
- the hopeful fantasy that one day the narcissist will truly love you
- you are good at ‘splitting’ – forgetting the bad behaviours and ploughing on – a defence mechanism you would have used from childhood
- your supertraits (agreeableness, cooperativeness, relationship investment traits)
A ‘romantic’ relationship with a narcissist can invoke depths of emotion that are scarily destabilising and these often only manifest fully when the relationship has ended.
All the while that a neurotypical person is in a relationship with a narcissist the psychological damage will be accumulating, often outside of that person’s awareness.
Even after a short relationship and after a sudden and traumatic break-up with a narcissist, the neurotypical partner can develop symptoms of PTSD and an overwhelming obsession that amounts to an addiction. The relationship led to dysregulated oxytocin and dopamine, leaving the person with intense cravings for the narcissist in the aftermath – a connection is required to keep from going into withdrawal. Thoughts follow to make sense of feelings and behaviour; hence we see, ‘but I love him’, ‘who is he with now? ‘are they better than me?’, ‘I will contact him/her just this once’.
Other impacts of NAS can include suicidal ideation, insomnia, major depression, and a deadening of hope and joy for years afterwards.