What Is Narcissistic Abuse, And Why Is It So Damaging?

(Read time: 2-3 mins)

Not all abusers are narcissists, but all narcissists are abusers. Narcissistic abuse is intentional, malignant cruelty by design, that inflicts serious emotional and psychological harm to the partner. The narcissist operates with purposeful malice designed to devalue, dismantle, and completely subjugate his partner.

What is narcissistic abuse?

1. Immediate boundary violations: love bombing, rapid declarations of love, pressing for quick commitment

2. Ongoing boundary violations and control: dominating the partner’s time, from the start (calling, texting, emailing multiple times a day, wanting to spend all of his time with the partner)

3. Emotional manipulation: such as creating obligation by making the partner to feel that only she can make the narcissist happy, and is responsible for this

4. Gaslighting: intentional crazy-making designed to confuse and destabilize the partner, making her question her perception of reality

5. Silent treatment: ignoring the partner, withholding affection, refusing to engage in conversations, or respond, abandoning the partner at social events, etc.

6. Verbal and emotional abuse: behavior that includes derogatory comments, criticism, humiliation, screaming and yelling, glaring, threats of leaving, making the partner jealous, cruel and vindictive treatment, controlling behaviors, including controlling access to finances and transportation

7. Isolating: refusing to let the partner enjoy time with friends and family, being punitive when she attempts to, slandering the partner to ruin her reputation and dismantle her support system

8. Lack of empathy: complete devaluation and dehumanizing of the partner through showing no empathy whatsoever to her pain and suffering, or remorse for his abusive treatment

9. Blameshifting: refusing to take responsibility for his behavior and actions, twisting the circumstances and blaming the partner for his behavior, manipulating the partner to make her feel guilty for her feelings

Narcissistic abuse is pathological. It is rooted in the narcissist’s toxic shame, internal rage, and maladaptive personality. It is not a “bad temper issue” or a “poor interpersonal communication” problem. It is not a “couples problem” that couples counseling will resolve.

It is very important for partners, and ex-partners of narcissists to understand this fact. The abuse endured by the partner, has nothing to do with her, but everything to do with her.

So, what does this mean? It means that the narcissist will always abuse his partner, no matter who she is. It has nothing to do with her personally, i.e. what makes her a unique individual. The simple fact that she exists as a decent, caring, compassionate human being is the provocation for the narcissist’s abuse.

This leads us to the “everything to do with her” part. Everything that the partner represents to the narcissist, her general attributes of goodness, compassion, her empathy, joy, competence, beauty, and intelligence, the qualities that make her so attractive to the narcissist, are the very qualities that fuel his envy, rage, and abuse.

The partner is everything that he is not. He knows this, and is furiously angry at her for this. His response to his internal self-loathing is to project it onto her, and relentlessly blame her, and punish her for his self-hatred, and the deep void within him. The partner of a narcissist is truly an innocent victim, in every sense of the word.

It is important to understand this because it means that there is nothing the partner can do, or change, to stop the narcissist from abusing her. She cannot be better, more loving, more understanding, or more patient. She cannot do anything to stop the narcissist from being a narcissist.

Narcissistic abuse is the manifestation of who the narcissist is. Envy, rage, and self-loathing are the lenses through which the narcissist sees the world; manipulation, control, and abuse are the mechanisms he uses to operate in it.

Why is it so damaging?

Narcissistic abuse is toxic on every level: psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical. It is a profound betrayal, and violation at the very core. It systematically dis-integrates and dehumanizes the partner until she becomes totally fragmented internally, living in a constant state of anxiety and stress.

The narcissist’s partner will often say she feels like her mind and soul have been raped by the narcissist. This reflects the extreme depth of the violation – the emotional, spiritual, and psychological, and sometimes physical violence – the narcissist perpetrates on his partner.

Narcissistic abuse can result in the partner developing health problems, chronic illnesses, experiencing shattered finances, a derailed career, broken friendships, and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). That a person could inflict such a level of harm and trauma on another person, in many cases without any physical abuse, as to cause her to develop a seriously debilitating anxiety disorder, shows how toxic and damaging narcissistic abuse is.

The only way to stop narcissistic abuse is to leave it. And don’t look back. Focus forward, and know that healing is possible, and life can be beautiful once again.

*Articles are written with the use of masculine pronouns to describe the narcissist. This is solely due to my own experience, and not meant to imply that men are not also victims of narcissistic abuse, which they are.

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