What Does Narcissistic Abuse Look Like?

Vanity is not becoming. The more in love with ourselves we are, the more difficult it is for others to feel the same. I’m all for self-love, but there is a definite line between self-love and self-centered. The term “narcissism” dates back to the demigod Narcissus himself. According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was the exceptionally handsome offspring of a River God and a nymph. Narcissus was infamous for his beauty and his physique, and he knew it. The story goes that, one day, Narcissus stopped by a lake to drink and saw his reflection in the water. He became so infatuated with his beauty and his inability to fulfill his desire for himself that he died by the lake from sorrow. Narcissus was the center of his world – his love for himself was unparalleled. Today, when people hear the term “narcissist,” they think self-absorbed, self-centered, selfish, self this, self that.

Psychologists used to believe that narcissism was ironically a result of very low-self esteem and very high self-criticism. Now, however, psychologists believe that narcissism goes far beyond that. Psychiatrists agree that narcissists thrive by impacting significant others’ self-perception to improve their own; individuals who meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)  put down others for pleasure and fulfillment. Through always deflection their insecurities by attributing them to the actions and presence of others, inferiority develops into increased confidence and arrogance. Unfortunately, the obsession and denial of a narcissist’s flaws leaves no room for tolerating other individuals’, and thus results in narcissistic abuse.

Narcissistic abuse occurs in a relationship with at least one individual who meets the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and/or Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). Here’s a quick summary of what those disorders entail:

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

An individual diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has a significantly inflated ego. This ultra ego needs constant affirmation from others and serves as a defense mechanism to protect an extremely delicate self-esteem. Individuals with NPD lack empathy for others and are perceived as self-obsessed and manipulative. These individuals believe that they are superior and try to surround themselves with other men and women whom they believe are special or gifted as well. They handle criticism very poorly and demand constant attention and affirmation from others.    

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Like individuals with NPD, men and women who are diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) feel little or no empathy at all towards others. APD is defined by a disregard for morals and other’s rights and feelings. APD individuals lack the ability or will to differentiate between right and wrong. They are impulsive and occasionally violent; like individuals diagnosed with NPD, men and women with NPD believe that they are above the law and other rules/regulation. This often leads to criminal behavior and drug and alcohol abuse.

So What Is Narcissistic Abuse?

Narcissists and those with APD emotionally manipulate their partner through language intended to create a sense of control over him or her. NPD and APD individuals who engage in narcissistic abuse often make their partner feel worthless and abandoned by other people in order to create a sense of dependency. Narcissists want to be idealized, and use language to make their partner obsess over their own imperfections, doubt their own ability to make decisions, go above and beyond to gain approval from the narcissist, and give in to whatever needs or wants the narcissist may have.

Narcissistic Tactics

  • Extreme Affection
    • This approach is generally implemented at the beginning of the relationship and involves grand gestures of love and adoration in bursts.
  • Strategic Grooming
    • As the relationship progresses, narcissists progressively isolate their partner by emphasizing a unique and powerful connection that his or her partner lacks in other relationships
  • Lying
    • This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Narcissists are often pathological liars, both consciously and subconsciously. They will go to any extent to isolate their partners from their family and friends by lying and manipulating them so that they begin to mistrust everyone except for the NPD or ADP individual.
  • Hoovering
    • A relationship with a man or woman who meets the criteria for NPD or APD is exhausting and suffocating. Narcissists absorb all of their partner’s time while often controlling every aspect of their lives, up to when they eat and sleep.

Victims of Narcissistic Abuse

Like victims of any type of abuse (emotional, physical, verbal, etc.), men and women who have been in these types of relationship are subject to intensive counseling. Rather than recognizing the emotional abuse and consequential damage, patients are completely focused on their own flaws and weaknesses that have been exaggerated by the narcissist. Victims are self-critical and blame themselves for the narcissist’s behavior. Rather than focusing on their own healing, they seek help for how to improve in order to help their narcissist partner. Denial of the abuse and self-blame for the behavior dominates the mindset of the patient and the conversation between patient and therapist.

3 Signs You May Be in a Narcissistic Abusive Relationship

  1. Despite having a partner, you feel alone and abandoned. You feel more like a burden than a comfort, and conversations with your partner result in you feeling worthless and irrelevant.
  2. Your relationship is your entire life. Narcissists suffocate and manipulate their partners so that they slowly pull away from their family and friends. Actions are driven by fear that they may or may not please the narcissist.
  3. You have entered a cycle of “Hurt and Rescue.” Narcissists often employ the silent treatment as a means of enforcing fear of abandonment. When your partner begins speaking to you again, you are elated and can finally relax.. until the cycle restarts.

Like any abusive relationship, a victim of narcissistic abuse rarely feels like a victim. In fact, they typically blame themselves and consider their NPD or ADP partner the victim. There is significantly less information and research regarding Narcissistic Victim Syndrome (NVD) than Narcissistic Personality Disorder itself. Mental Health Services tend to focus more on the patient with NPD than the victim with NVD. This is likely due to a combination of psychiatrists knowing more about the mentality behind NPD than NVD and lacking training regarding NVD as the syndrome is relatively novel. In order to help NVD patients, therapists who do practice treatment for NVD first and foremost educate the victim about what NPD is, and how their relationship paralleled the behavior. Counseling similar to that given to victims of other subtypes of emotional abuse then follows.


  1. Thank you! This was an extremely helpful article. I am 58 years old and I’m in an emotionally abusive marriage with my husband who is 57 for 22 years. I have wondered for years what is wrong with him and with me. He is a Narcissist and a Sociopath. He lies and he steals. He ignored the doctors at The VA Hospital who wanted him to attend group counseling for PTSD. He is most certainly NOT RESPONSIBLE for his disorders and doesn’t think anything is wrong with him, but with everybody else. It has deeply traumatized me and has also affected my son who is 19 and attending college while living at home. My son tries to parent us. But I see how much it has affected his self-esteem. We struggle. Just the other day my son told me he applied for a job online (he said he HAS to do this) with our county school system just for the summer. I was so happy. He went to the interview and they offered him the job.
    I didn’t notice the signs for years and just recently a girlfriend told me about her Narcissistic relationship , so I read about it. I have attended quite a bit of counseling over the years. My husband has not.
    I also believe my husband has an abusive relationship with our dog Rocky. He is just a little to rough and I’ve seen him from a distance jerk him while walking him. I always say something to him about it but his reply is always no I’m not. My husband self-medicates with marijuana. He’s really out of control when he doesn’t smoke it. When his check (weekly) comes in he buys his marijuana first, everything else like gas ($20) first and groceries ($80) come after. If there is something I may need like my nasal spray, he will steal it. I refuse to go to the grocery store with him. He is also consumed with road rage narrating as he drives and playing road games calling everyone out there idiots. He will roll down the windows to yell at the drivers and give them the bird as he yells f__k you! So I choose not to ride with him, which leaves me at home alone because of it. I have a drivers license but I won’t drive because he let our car insurance lapse because he said he can’t afford it. But he can afford his marijuana.
    My twin sister is in Texas and I am in WA State, so I have no family support locally.

  2. He sounds like a real winner. His treatment of your dog concerns me, this dog has no choice but to live with the bastard. Protect that dog from him, that’s your job!

    Also, you’re son is 19. It’s a little late to be concerned, he’s an adult now, a dysfunctional adult but nonetheless an adult already – not much you can do there.
    Perhaps it’s time you move out? Leave him.

    Re: him having “PTSD”? From what?
    If he’s indeed a narcissist, chances are high it’s you who has PTSD and your son.

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