Often the victim of domestic abuse by a narcissist initially delight in the glow of the narcissist’s charm but soon become anxious and drained because of tantrums, attacks and accusations of imaginary slights. The victim begins to doubt herself and worry about what their tormentor will think of them; eventually they become pre-occupied with the narcissist in an attempt to try to keep the peace. Victims often get caught up in trying to please the narcissist by meeting their endless requests for admiration, gifts and services, yet these attempts are often devalued.
Next, the victim will lose their self-confidence and self-esteem. Many narcissists are perfectionists and nothing the victim does is good enough. If you try to talk to the narcissist, the discussion is turned around and the fault is then transferred onto the victim. Narcissists do not like being judged, do not like rejection or to hear ‘no’, and they will manipulate to ensure their needs are met and the victim feels the guilt.
Because of these behaviours, victims soon feel they cannot cope and begin to display a cluster of symptoms similar to trauma victims, including: avoidance behaviour, loss of interest, feeling detached, sense of a limited future, sleeping or eating difficulties, irritability, hyper-vigilance, hopelessness, psychosomatic illnesses, self-harming, and thoughts of suicide. Victims of narcissistic abuse express feelings of humiliation and shame, tending to blame themselves because they have learned to own the narcissist’s behaviour because they are constantly told the problem is theirs. It is interesting to note that some victims develop Stockholm Syndrome, supporting and defending the abuser despite what they have gone through.
Victims learn to ‘dissociate’ or detach from their emotions, body, or surroundings; against the control and power which are used as weapons: intimidation; emotional, physical and mental abuse; isolation, economic abuse, sexual abuse, and coercion. The threat of abuse is always present.
Victims of narcissistic abuse often appear uncertain of themselves, they often seek clarification that they haven’t made a mistake and have heard correctly. Their confidence may be so low that they have trouble making decisions. This is caused by a psychological abuse technique called ‘gaslighting’ which instils confusion and anxiety in victims to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgment. Initially, the victim notices that ‘something happens that is odd’, but they don’t believe it, and soon the victim moves to defence in an attempt to fight against the manipulation. Confusion sets in with comments such as: ‘You’re too sensitive’, ‘You’re crazy’, ‘You’re imagining things’ or, ‘I never said that.’ Gradually, the victim cannot trust their own perceptions and they begin to doubt themselves, and this psychological abuse can lead to depression. The victim now doubts everything about themselves—their thoughts, ideas and opinions and they become co-dependent on the abuser for their reality.
Narcissists do not like their image tarnished, and a recent case in Australia cited a man who filed for divorce after his wife underwent a double mastectomy due to breast cancer. He said she “spoiled his image”. Thus after initially being swept off their feet, partners of narcissists are often treated as replaceable commodities. The following diagram will give you an idea of the “life cycle” of a narcissistic relationship, it is commonly referred to as the ‘Dance of the Narcissist’:
At the beginning of a relationship the narcissist is seemingly a vastly different person from the person at the end of the relationship. Gone is the charmer, the one who swept her off her feet. The victim is now bled dry and the narcissist is certainly not taking any responsibility. As I’ve said previously, narcissists lack empathy so they are usually oblivious to any of the victim’s pain so they will heap all the blame on to victim. The victim is denigrated, degraded, disenchanted and devalued. (Abuse by a sociopath is different in that the sociopath is aware of the victim’s hurt, but they simply don’t care). When it is obvious the relationship is finished, the narcissist is again looking for new ‘meat’, a new supply to feed their insatiable appetite for admiration, attention and adoration. If there is still hope for the relationship, it is likely that the narcissist will revert back to the charmer he was at the start of the relationship, and the dance begins again.
Victims benefit greatly from psychological help, validation and education about what has happened to them. They need support to remove themselves from their narcissistic relationship, and to not repeat the cycle of abuse in their next relationship. One of the victim’s greatest challenges may come from not being believed by friends and family, either because these others have not seen the private face of the narcissist, (narcissists behave very differently in public and are often seen by others as jovial, charismatic and popular) or because they themselves are in the narcissist’s trap.
Some of the symptoms of narcissistic abuse include:
- Sleeping or eating difficulties
- Lost sense of self
If you believe you have suffered narcissistic abuse, I strongly suggest you see your doctor and ask for a referral to a psychologist or Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Expert, someone specifically trained to guide you to recovery. And remember, it is not only the spouses who are victims, children suffer greatly as do friends and family. Please, get help.