Narcissistic abuse is a construct used to describe a harmful manipulation pattern that can include psycho-emotional abuse, financial abuse, physical violence, and sexual abuse. It is synonymous with coercive control, the context in which domestic violence and intimate partner violence (IPV) occurs. The behavior is a maladaptive psychological defense mechanism against perceived threats to a manipulative person’s dominance, social status, and self-image. The term “street angel, house devil” is commonly used to describe the duality of dysfunctional narcissism.
Narcissistic People See Others as Objects
People who inflict narcissistic abuse objectify the people they exploit, intentionally using deception to foster feelings of love, trust, and loyalty. The foundational attachment in their relationship is weaponized and becomes the means through which narcissistic people exploit their victims.
The Erosion of the Self
One of the ways narcissistic abuse destroys a person’s sense of self is by chipping away at their self concept. This is often done through “gaslighting.”
Gaslighting is a passive-aggressive means of psychologically dominating people by causing them to doubt their perception of reality. Those who inflict these harms on others frequently use the gaslighting tactic to mislead the people they victimize. Sometimes gaslighting campaigns are extended to an entire social circle or community.
Control Through Character Assassination
Another feature of narcissistic abuse is sabotage, also known as “smear campaigns.” People who rely on narcissistic defenses to cover up their aggression toward others are known to preemptively discredit the person(s) they are victimizing by surreptitiously assassinating their character among family, friends, and acquaintances. Their goal is to cause the victim to be met with disbelief when they disclose the abuse.
Symptoms of Narcissistic Abuse
Symptoms of narcissistic abuse include but are not limited to:
- Low self-esteem
- Toxic shame
- Fawning (people-pleasing)
- Weak boundaries
- Feeling invisible
- Avoidant behavior
- Toxic shame
- Intrusive thoughts
Recognizing the signs of narcissistic abuse is crucial for taking proactive steps to address its impact on our well-being. Whether through therapy, counseling, support groups, or self-care practices, reaching out for help can provide valuable tools, coping strategies, and an empowering network to navigate and alleviate the effects of narcissistic abuse.
Developing an awareness of narcissistic abuse, learning to recognize its symptoms, and understanding the that it can lead to adverse health outcomes can help people make more informed decisions and, thus, mitigate its long-term effects on the body and mind.
- Howard, V. (2019). Recognizing narcissistic abuse and the implications for mental health nursing practice. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 40(8), 644–654.
- Marsden, S., Humphreys, C., Hegarty, K. (2022). Why does he do it? What explanations resonate during counseling for women in understanding their partner’s abuse? Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 37(13–14).
- Nicholson, S. B., & Lutz, D. J. (2017). The importance of cognitive dissonance in understanding and treating victims of intimate partner violence. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma, 26(5), 475–492.
Confidential support is available to anyone experiencing abuse.
Book a one-on-one consultation or coaching session.