Whenever you travel by plane, flight attendants provide important safety instructions prior to takeoff. “If there’s a loss of cabin pressure, the panels above your seat will open, and oxygen masks will drop down. Place the mask over your nose and mouth,” they inform. Then comes crucial information: Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others. While this safety advice pertains specifically to flight emergencies, it can also be a metaphor for life. In other words, take care of yourself first and foremost, and prioritize your own wellbeing. While this might seem obvious, many people sacrifice self-care. In some cases, this is due to a relationship fueled by narcissistic abuse.
What is Narcissistic Abuse?
Many think a narcissist is consumed with self-love. But ultimately, they have a deep sense of shame that they constantly avoid. This drives behaviors which make the narcissist feel superior. They exaggerate their achievements and believe their opinions are the only ones that matter. They expect special treatment from others, and if at all criticized, they’re strongly defensive. In the mind of a narcissist, they’re entitled to their every want and need. Therefore, they take advantage of others to further their own agenda and rarely feel empathy for those they tread on.
Some individuals exhibit narcissistic tendencies from time to time, but if the behavior is consistent, pathological, and if it becomes detrimental to their relationships with others, they may be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. According to Psychology Today:
The hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. They may also concentrate on grandiose fantasies (e.g. their own success, beauty, brilliance) and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment. These characteristics typically begin in early adulthood and must be consistently evident in multiple contexts, such as at work and in relationships.
In personal relationships, a narcissist aims to exert control and authority over loved ones, resulting in a type of abuse termed “narcissistic abuse”. They take pleasure in inflicting pain in order to build themselves up. It’s particularly detrimental due to the feelings of shame, doubt, and low self-esteem it elicits in those experiencing it. However, a narcissist doesn’t take responsibility for the harm they cause and instead places the blame on those they’ve hurt.
Are you Experiencing Narcissistic Abuse?
Perhaps the descriptions above make you think of a loved one who acts like a narcissist. Maybe you’re constantly serving the needs of this person, and feel insecure and anxious as a result. If so, you could be experiencing narcissistic abuse.
The following are common signs you may be dating a narcissist:
- You are verbally attacked by this person. They belittle, blame, accuse, and criticize you. They call you names intended to make you feel awful.
- You feel manipulated by this person to put their desires ahead of your own. When you don’t, they get angry. They threaten or punish you, and you experience fear and remorse. You feel obligated to meet their wishes – if only to avoid their negative reactions.
- Whatever you do, it’s not enough for this person. No matter how hard you try to gain their approval, you never meet their expectations.
- This person invalidates your perceptions of reality, causing you to distrust your own viewpoints. They recall situations much differently than you do and insist your perceptions are wrong (this is called “gaslighting”).
- You witness this person lie to and deceive others in order to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.
- This person ignores, and even dismisses, your needs. They are too consumed with their own needs to notice yours. When you communicate your needs, they make you feel selfish for doing so.
- This person withholds money, sex, communication, or affection from you, either as punishment or as a means of control. You feel desperate to “earn” what they’re withholding.
- This person invades your privacy. They look through your phone and mail, stalk or follow you, and ignore your requests for privacy.
- You’re controlled financially by this person. Perhaps they don’t provide you with the means to become independent, or they drain away the finances that you do have. Regardless, you are left financially dependent on them.
- The person is violent towards you. While it’s not their primary means of control, they may block your way during an argument, preventing you from leaving. They may throw objects, or destroy your property in fits of rage.
- You feel isolated from friends, family, and other support networks. This person is possessive and pulls you back in when you reach out to others.
The combined impact of this physical, mental or emotional abuse, especially over time, may cause you to feel trapped. But you do have a way out.
Related: Read a full list of warning signs of domestic abuse.
Confronting and Recovering from Narcissistic Abuse
If you’re experiencing narcissistic abuse, it’s crucial you build a support system, and learn how to strengthen and protect yourself. Open up to trusted friends and family members about what you’re experiencing. This can be difficult if you’ve been isolated, but support is key to regaining self-esteem and confidence. Seeing a therapist is helpful in learning how to address and protect yourself from further abuse. As you gain independence, the abuser will likely lash out. During this time, it’s important you realize your self-worth. You have a right to act in your self-interest, not to be verbally attacked, and not to be hurt emotionally or physically, no matter the situation. Be assertive with your abuser, as opposed to being passive or aggressive. Identify your limits, and set boundaries that define how you want to be treated. Communicate boundaries clearly, and set consequences for when they’re ignored. If the abuse continues, you have the right to cut ties with the abuser.
Keep in mind that abuse, in any form, and by anyone, is never acceptable. Nobody deserves such treatment. Put your oxygen mask on first, and don’t allow anyone to make you feel guilty or selfish for doing so. Your happiness, your health, and your ability to live life on your own terms depend on it.
|GET HELP: To talk to someone, set up a safety plan, or learn more about support available, call The Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online at www.thehotline.org. Help is available 24/7. Calls and chats are completely confidential.|
Grace Malloy is a 28-year-old living in the Greater Boston area, with interests in writing, public service, and women’s rights. While working as a software support specialist, she received her Masters Degree in Public Administration – a challenging yet fulfilling experience. She aspires to use her strengths and passions to make a positive impact on her community.