When we use the word “abuse” we tend to think of overtly damaging, even violent behaviour. While narcissists do sometimes resort to physical aggression, particularly when frustrated or threatened, the abuse they mete out to partners or other family members is generally much more insidious. Nonetheless it can still inflict serious harm. However, this trauma can go unrecognised by others, including the narcissist’s victims themselves. It is a form of torture and it can occur over an extended period in a relationship.
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A narcissist tends to be vain in both senses of that word. Everything has to be about them and that’s because there is an overwhelming emptiness at their psychic core, from which they are largely disconnected. At first narcissists may appear attractive. They can dazzle and are adept at seducing people into their circle. However, the people close to the narcissist tend to be seen and responded to as mere extensions; there only to keep happy the controlling narcissistic personality. Fail in this and they are likely to be discarded or, if retained, punished in some other way.
Narcissists project intolerable feelings
If there is anything to be found within the narcissist’s unconscious inner space it will be feelings of self-loathing, insignificance, shame and worthlessness. These feelings will have to be got rid of or compensated for so will usually be projected onto someone close who is then made to feel the very same things. On the one hand narcissists employ flattery, praise, bribery and manipulation while on the other scorn, ridicule, contempt, denigration to break down resistance to their control. Narcissists cast themselves in the role of victim, resorting quickly to blame and never taking responsibility for the breakdown of a relationship. They have thin skins, which if punctured, may result in intensely angry reactions.
Victim’s codependency leads to loss of self
In the case of narcissistic abuse, the victim tends to have traits consistent with codependency. They emotionally invest in false promises of fulfilment that usually requires them to contort and distort themselves in order to get what they need from the narcissist. It is a hopeless quest that puts them under great stress. Much of the time they live off emotional scraps, failing to see that they are losing themselves in a struggle in which they cannot succeed. To give up is to invite the conscious experience of pain and grief. But to recover, give up they must.
Steps to recovery
The patient comes to understand that sustainable recovery from addiction and associated mental disorders is not simply about the absence of symptoms that occasioned the original diagnosis. Rather, they recognise that it involves a commitment to an integrated approach to restoring the wellbeing of the whole system. Such improved wellbeing in the round will increase resilience. This may mean a radical change in lifestyle and a conscientious increase in attention to self-care. So, not holistic or integrative; both.
Victims of narcissistic abuse often feel hopelessly trapped. So it is important to reach out as part of forming a plan for recovery.
- Talk to someone about what you feel even if you doubt its validity. (Narcissists will make you doubt and encourage you to feel guilty)
- Listen to what your experience is telling you. Don’t brush it off or try harder. Write it down in black and white
- Assert your identity and needs. Build self-esteem
- Identify and activate ways to improve self-care and nurture