What Is Narcissistic Abuse And Why Is It So Damaging?

by | Abuse Literacy

The word narcissism seems to be widely used to describe all sorts of things. But what exactly is it? Is it just a buzzword or does it actually have substantive meaning? We want our readers to keep in mind that abuse is abuse no matter what is the abuser’s diagnosis.

It’s really about how they behave, about how they see the world, about how they are in relationship with not just us but everyone else in the world, and themselves. So it really becomes about how we treat one another.

What is Narcissism?

One man, named James admitted he’d been “extraordinarily narcissistic, particularly in intimacy avoidance.” He has been in recovery for 7 years from sex, love and steroid addiction. James goes on to explain that, “core trauma with a narcissistic wound, generally occurs generally in childhood, where someone is severely shamed for being who they are and they react in one of many ways. One is to go into full-blown ego narcissism, that can turn into a personality disorder, but one of the avenues it can also go down into is intimacy avoidance and sex addiction or compulsive sexual behavior.”

Why does abuse and narcissism seem to pair together in many situations? For one, many of the narcissist’s coping mechanisms are abusive (Psychology Today).

James’ wife said, “I fell in love with his vulnerability. But it was like a lure for a fish. It was not authentic.”

Whatever the abuse, it is abusive–it’s emotional abuse, mental abuse, psychological abuse. Whatever the wound, it is something that the narcissist has to work on. The resulting behaviors directed to a partner are not the fault of the partner. It’s not for the partner to forgive, overlook, and then continue to allow it to happen, because it’s abuse. This is what narcissists fail to see.

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What Is Narcissistic Abuse?

One of the things that is deeply affected by narcissistic abuse is a woman’s intuition. Her reality is blown up and a lot of women experience difficulty trusting their intuition after being in this situation, particularly long-term. The signs can be subtle and happen little by little over time, which is why it is sometimes not easily recognized or even understood.

Experts also agree that prolonged exposure to narcissistic abuse can lead to Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, mental illness, and take a heavy toll on overall self-esteem, well-being, and quality of life of the victim.

It is also important to know that narcissism may not always be an official psychological diagnosis for some abusers, but the mechanisms of abuse can still be narcissistic in nature.

8 Signs of Narcissistic Abuse:

  1. Gaslighting
  2. Manipulating
  3. Rationalizing
  4. Guilting
  5. Deflecting
  6. Empty Promises
  7. Blaming and Shaming
  8. Baiting and Switching

Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, describes her own experience with narcissistic abuse. She describes, “It gets tricky because I thought he was vulnerable most of the time and then he would have these moments when he screams and yells in my face. He was that he was wearing a mask and every once in a while the mask would fall off. The underlying person that I thought he was, went from being a good guy underneath to really being an abuser underneath, one who can wear a good-guy mask.”

Can Narcissism Be Cured?

In reality, Anne says, “Here is a monster, wearing a mask…and the mask is beautiful, but when it falls off and I see the monster. I’m scared of course, but then the mask goes back on and I think, oh, he’s not that bad.’ ” Currently, I have to hold a no contact boundary because I can’t process that somewhere deep down in there there is a good person.”

She also states, “I’ve heard many people and therapists and experts say, and the domestic violence community says, that narcissists and abusers can never change. I have a core belief that anyone can change if they choose to.” James agrees and gives some additional insight, in saying, “As a narcissist in recovery, I know that I can’t figure this out myself. I may need to call my sponsor, my therapist, and self-examine over time to dig deep and really find the roots of my behavior.”

We just added a new Betrayal Trauma Recovery group session with Coach Joi. Coach Joi specializes in helping women who have been traumatized by ecclesiastical leaders or clergy. If you have had this experiences, we encourage you to schedule an individualized session with her.

Consider making a monthly donation so we can continue to bring helpful information to women who have been traumatized and have suffered abuse.

Until next week, stay safe out there!

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