No doubt you’ve heard about narcissism or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
It is considered a long-standing personality pattern, difficult to change—mostly because persons with those traits don’t believe they have a problem. The most obvious signs of the disorder include a grandiose sense of self-importance, difficulty empathizing with others, a high need for flattery, jealousy, and a sense of entitlement.
But how do those qualities translate into abuse? What toxic relationship dynamics show up with a narcissist that may not show up when one’s partner is NOT narcissistic, but simply insecure or likes to be the center of attention?
Here are some signs of narcissistic abuse:
1) A narcissist tries to shrink your world.
Narcissists are jealous and possessive. They have a need to control your life. Do you enjoy visiting your parents or siblings or just chatting with them on the phone? Do you like to go out with friends? Do you have a gym membership?
Narcissists will accuse you of ignoring them or your children. They will say you are putting others (or yourself) ahead of them, and that your priorities are all wrong.
To avoid an argument, you may automatically turn down invitations from others or speak to friends at limited (even secretive) times. You will limit your hobbies. Soon your world shrinks. Then when you decide to go out with friends anyway for a special occasion, it will be taken as proof of your lack of regard for your partner.
Your choice is always to defend your rights and get into arguments or limit your involvement with others. A lose-lose.
And by the way, when you cancel your plans with friends to prove to your partner he/she is always your priority, don’t expect him/her to shower you with attention all evening. He/She will likely ignore you. If you complain about being ignored after you gave up a night out, well, that brings us to the second point of narcissistic abuse:
2) A narcissist never accepts blame.
It is always someone else’s (your) fault. The rule is simple: if you do something they dislike, you are to blame; if they do something you dislike, you are to blame for making them do it. Narcissists always have excuses for their bad behavior, whereas your bad behavior is inexcusable.
Many times, narcissists won’t even admit that their hurtful or manipulative behavior is wrong. You will be accused of being too sensitive, or you take things too personally.
But in fact, narcissists take every slight – however small – very personally. This brings us to the third point of narcissistic abuse:
3) Narcissists project all of their unfavorable qualities onto others.
They are not controlling, but you are controlling. They are never selfish or demanding, but you are. They will accuse you of lying or being secretive, when in fact they keep you in the dark about many things.
Sadly, when one is in a relationship with narcissistic abuse, the weary partner often will go behind the narcissist’s back do something they have a right to do (spend their money, visit a friend, and so forth)—just to avoid an argument. But when that secrecy is discovered, the narcissist now has more “proof” that the partner cannot be trusted, which results in even greater efforts to control their partner.
The bottom line is you can’t win with a narcissist. Which bring us to point number four:
4) Narcissists use double-standards—and they make up rules to suit their needs.
You can’t easily win an argument with a narcissist because they will NOT admit they are wrong.
So when you accuse them of having double-standards, they will always have an excuse or find a way to make you feel stupid. Their strong sense of entitlement means that rules don’t apply to them. But since they must exercise control over you, then the rules must always apply to you.
If by chance you catch them red-handed doing something you would NEVER be allowed to do, they will still make you the focus of their contempt.
There are many ways they do this. They may admit what they are doing BUT accuse you of having done it many more times. They may say you have no right to accuse them of anything, given all they have to put up with in your relationship. They may accuse you of being unforgiving or intolerant. If you bring up the incident later, they will accuse you of holding grudges.
To make it more confusing, the rules will change on a moment’s notice. Thus, you will be guilty as charged whenever it works to their advantage to make you wrong. You then start losing perspective on who is right and who is wrong; which brings us to:
5) You think you are going crazy.
Narcissists want to keep you off-balance. They want you to doubt yourself, not them. They want you to doubt your perceptions and feelings. This is one reason victims remain in an abusive relationship. They begin to believe they are seriously flawed, that others may not want them, and that the abuser is right to find fault.
Keep in mind that narcissists rarely end up with other narcissists. Instead, they find people who are willing to look inward at their own flaws rather than blame others, who try hard to be extra-fair and cooperative, who are willing to give more than they get. It is such people they can manipulate more readily.
And when the relationship leads to children or owning property together, leaving that relationship becomes even more difficult for the one being abused. This brings up to point number six:
6) If you reject a narcissist, they will seek revenge.
In psychology, it is called “narcissistic injury”: when a narcissist feels hurt, challenged, wronged, or made to look stupid. That is NOT tolerable to a person who has a grandiose sense of importance. They must get even or have the final word.
On a mild level, it can take the form of angry texts or condemning you to others. (It is true that when a narcissist can no longer control you, he will try to control what others think of you.) In more serious cases, a narcissist may try to use the children as pawns against you, or punish you financially.
The narcissist may contact you even a year after a relationship break-up. This brings us to the final point of narcissistic abuse:
7) A narcissist will reject you just so he can pull you back in and then reject you yet again.
In one example, a narcissist ended a relationship with a woman. He told her he never wanted to hear from her again. A few days later, she received a text from him. He just wanted to say hello and hoped she was doing fine. She took it as a sign they might reunite.
They agreed to meet for dinner and ended up spending the night together. The next day, he was cold and rejecting and humiliated her for even thinking he might want her back.
There are degrees of narcissistic abuse. In milder forms, it may be a bit easier to put up with. But it is always a challenge. The best advice: be wary of being in a relationship with a narcissist.