Narcissistic Abuse - Lorna Slade Counsellor and Psychotherapist

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Narcissistic abuse is a particularly insidious form of psychological 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 the original traumas that set the tone for your core beliefs, 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, sadness, confusion, anxiety and anger that results from a relentlessly disapproving, unempathic and totally self-focused parent or partner can be one of the challenges of a lifetime. But it can be done.

The therapy does not focus on why the narcissist in your life developed the disorder. It will focus initially on what happened and on clarifying the damage done to you before moving on to the healing work. The fact is you are not here to be a victim of that disorder – you have rights too.    

While the therapy is tailored to each client and their prevailing issues, overall my aim is to help you achieve a more concrete self-concept with greater degrees of self-esteem, self-acceptance and self-compassion. Other work will include developing an academic knowledge of narcissism in order to take a detached, less triggering view; developing your gut instincts and alleviating self-doubt; using anger in a healthy way towards recovery; developing greater confidence; addressing trust issues, putting in place stronger boundaries and levels of assertiveness; learning strategies for dealing with narcissists and an enhanced ability to recognise them.  

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 is the ideal   

This is a journey back to self, 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, relationship or workplace:

GASLIGHTING:  This term describes how narcissists tend to deny or distort how a particular event or conversation played out. They can also invent something entirely fictitious and try to gaslight you into believing it happened. In extreme cases this can lead the victim to doubting their own memory, perception and even sanity.          

TRIANGULATION:   This is one of the most hurtful aspects of narcissistic abuse. After the initial ‘love bombing’ stage, narcissists in relationships will subtly or overtly let their partner know that someone else has their respect and even trust, affection and ‘love’. They may show more attention and affection to a pet in a way that is designed to convey the message that you are ‘less than’. Over time this can damage self-esteem and exacerbate our human tendency to ‘compare and despair’.
          
In the family system, for example, narcissists have an absolute drive to ‘divide and conquer’. You may experience this as a favoured sibling – a ‘golden child’ who is overly enmeshed with the parent(s) and effectively an apath. The golden child is often manipulated into becoming a ‘flying monkey’ – that is attack you, the scapegoat, by proxy, normally using the narcissist’s lies and twisted version of events, often without checking their validity. The golden child is often invited by the narcissist and enabler to become involved in difficult situations, making matters worse for the scapegoat with their misguided take on the situation. Any complaint that the sibling is favoured will have been denied by all involved.

The scapegoat has many psychological challenges, but so too does the golden child as the role classically brings a false sense of entitlement, brittleness, and the inability to function among others who don’t show the same huge (but false) love and respect as the narcissist. It also brings frustration, confusion, an overly-judgemental outlook and chronic anger. Golden children rarely come for therapy.  

ENABLERS:   You may be experiencing a less abusive 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.

SMEAR CAMPAIGN:   You may be experiencing a subtle distancing or even outright hostility from family and friends without knowing why. Narcissists will twist an event or comment into something that makes you look unethical or immoral and will make a point of telling everyone around you. Often their accusations centre around sexual, financial or inheritance issues. They are known for trying to poison the children of a scapegoat against them, often bypassing the scapegoat and contacting the grandchildren directly. Their ability to brainwash others against the scapegoat is truly amazing and powerful.  

NARCISSISTIC RAGE: The narcissist, highly sensitive to perceived insults, can react with uncontrolled and irrational anger, often out of proportion to the situation or comment that prompted it. That rage can be overt or covert, full of blame, entitlement, righteousness and setting in train a short or long-term plot for ‘revenge’ e.g. disinheritance.  

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. It is important to recognise that contact is not made by the narcissist because they love or miss the scapegoat. Classically, they will say whatever it takes to lure the scapegoat to return, but the only certainty is that a resumption of relations will lead to even greater punishments for daring to abandon the narcissist.  Often the way narcissists try to hoover is inappropriate – emails into a workplace or to a grandchild’s place of education for example. Another part of hoovering means the narcissist will contact those around the scapegoat – family and friends – portraying themselves as the victim.  

TYPES OF NARCISSIST AND MORE ABOUT THEIR BEHAVIOUR

There are many types of narcissist but overall the grandiose type is more easily identified with the traits often on view. However, the covert type 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 below for more info on traits)

Narcissistic personality disorder can be co-morbid with other personality disorders and not infrequently narcissists are substance abusers (alcoholics etc).  

Narcissists can verbally, physically, spiritually, intellectually and financially abuse their victims, often leaving them isolated via the smear campaign and spinning with self-doubt. Problems endured by the scapegoat become opportunities for vilification by the narcissist and their acolytes: when you are most in need of compassion and empathy they will be crudely reductionist. They manipulate, compete, demean by comparison, sabotage, exploit, and lie pathologically.  

The potential harm from this kind of abuse is not to be underestimated.

WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL IMPACTS?  

The impacts of being brought up by, romantically involved with or working with a narcissistically disordered individual are manifold.  

Being around a narcissist is exhausting, unsettling and upsetting since you will regularly be forced to deal with their traits – a shock will be in store no matter how long the waters have been smooth. It’s also very confusing because what a narcissist says and what they actually do are two different things.   

CPTSD: this is not uncommon after enduring the chronic anticipation of trauma, even at an ambient level, A narcissist’s unpredictable and cruel actions, projections, words and emotions represent a threat to the unconscious – to its sense of safety and hence survival. Unprocessed trauma memories and a hypervigilant amygdala set the tone for an adulthood filled with dissociation, emotional flashbacks and emotion regulation difficulties, somatic symptoms, impairments in memory, planning and focus, a pervasive sense of ‘fear’, a punitive self-critic, an inability to truly relax and interpersonal relationship difficulties.

OCD: that unconscious threat to safety in childhood and the narcissist’s parentification of a child – leading to an inflated sense of responsibility for the parent, can also be one of the causes of OCD in whatever form, including a pervasive sense of being a ‘bad person’.  

Anxiety disorders: common after childhood emotional neglect and years of being ranked and judged by the narcissistic parent or partner. With social anxiety especially, an unconscious fear of ‘consequences’ remains and can impact all areas of one’s life.

Shame: we have a double dose of shame – partly from being brought up by a narcissist and all that involves, as well as being the repository of their toxic ‘bad child’ projections. Introjecting that shame is inevitable, especially for a scapegoat, and will sit within for a lifetime unless addressed.   

Guilt: The issue of guilt is huge and complex. Recognising that as a child you were most likely ‘trained’ by the narcissist to feel guilty as well as to take the blame is a step forward in healing, as is recognising that your unconscious needs to be ‘redirected’. Guilt is also more likely if we have come from childhood emotional neglect (which is always the case for children of narcissists).  

You might also be experiencing guilt around ‘reactive abuse’ – some of your behaviours in response to the abuse could have been wrong but were actually a result of years of being scapegoated.  

Ignoring of 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. Gaslighting and cognitive dissonance also mean we lose faith in our gut instinct, or indeed cannot locate it.

Cognitive dissonance: narcissists can be ignoring and neglectful of your emotional and physical needs and then switch to seemingly attentive and loving behaviours. As a result, the tension of opposing thoughts about the narcissist means the brain takes the line of least resistance and opts 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 ‘how could he/she have done that to me?... ‘If only I had said/done that’… ‘who is he/she with now…does he/she love them more than me? 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.  

If one or both of your parents was a narcissist you will likely have low self-esteem, low-confidence, a lack of self-compassion and self-acceptance, an impaired self-concept, a punitive set of core beliefs – not feeling good enough and unsure of who you are and what you stand for.  

The abuse leaves a void within that means you needily turn to other people for advice, love and support, totally 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?

Do you trust yourself? Are you confused when it comes to knowing whether to trust others?

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?

Can you see that you are living down to the expectations of the role of scapegoat 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.

Do you feel you need to do all the work to please others, not having the confidence to realise that they will meet you half-way if they want to?

Do you feel that you attract narcissists and self-absorbed people as friends? Alternately are your 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.

Have you withdrawn from the world? You’ve lost faith in people and are not willing to risk being hurt again

Do you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere? Working in offices or groups is stressful; knowledge of how to behave in these environments seems beyond you and you worry about the outcome.

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?

Are you unable to take criticism without reacting defensively?

Are you in touch with your emotions? Do you have a real knowledge of what your emotional and physical needs are and how to ask for them to be met?

Do you have solid boundaries and an ability to say ‘no’?

Do you know who you really are? Did your parents reflect back to you your real self when you were growing up?

Are you assertive?

Do you have a deep sensitivity to being made a fool of or disrespected? The cruellest trick of all has been played on you – that you believed your family loved you and you now realise they don’t and never did.

Do you have a hugely developed sense of justice, and a hatred of unfairness?

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, unable to give yourself credit and suffering with imposter syndrome?

Do you struggle with decision making? Are you in touch with and respectful of your gut instincts?

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?

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 believe that you are attractive enough or deserving enough to have what others achieve with ease.

Do you have CFS or physical ailments such as locked hips?

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?

Have you been pathologised by your family, told that you are mentally ill, or just a really bad person – the source of all the problems?

Are you told you’re imagining the abuse, or made out to be outrageously rude when you 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 them?


Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome
Have you had a series of failed relationships, nearly every time attracted to someone who makes you feel incredibly excited? The chemistry and sex is amazing and you feel almost powerless to resist – you feel such a familiarity with this person. Their attentions help you to finally ‘fall in love’ with yourself and experience yourself in new and deeper ways, as if you are witness to a range of qualities you didn’t even know you possessed.  

However, after a time you start to feel like your partner is judging you and you’re falling short – then he or she distances themselves, leaving you confused and panic stricken. That old familiar loneliness and sadness that has been the background tape of your life returns in full – this time making you feel even more defective, not good enough, potentially traumatised, and feeling terrifyingly empty inside.    

What actually happened when you met that exciting person was that your unconscious 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

lowered self-esteem and confidence as a result of the abuse

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 they made you feel about yourself

the fantasy that one day the narcissist will truly love you – a part of the ‘splitting’ defence mechanism that you would have used from childhood to endure your family environment.

you have a Protector/Persecutor complex
 
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.  

Indeed, after even a short time in a relationship with a narcissist a person can develop a physiological addiction to them as strong as any class A drug.  

After a sudden and sometimes emotionally and/or physically violent break-up with a narcissist, the neurotypical partner can develop symptoms of PTSD and an overwhelming obsession with the narcissist that can take years to abate if untreated.

Other impacts of NAS can include suicidal ideation, insomnia, major depression, and a real deadening of hope and joy for years afterwards.


Copyright Lorna Slade 2017-2021
lorna@iwtherapy.com
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