Narcissistic abuse can be subtle, but ending the cycle is possible.
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Maintaining a relationship with someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can sometimes feel like too much to handle.
Characteristics of narcissism that can make a relationship feel one-sided might include:
- an inflated sense of self-worth
- lack of empathy
- a constant need for attention
Sometimes, narcissists can even be abusive toward certain people in their lives.
Narcissistic abuse can be:
The harm from this type of abuse may be obvious, but in many cases is more subtle.
If you’re dealing with narcissistic abuse, it’s important to recognize that you don’t deserve this type of treatment and don’t have to tolerate it.
It’s understandable to be hesitant to confront the offender. Narcissists are usually good at using manipulation to shift the blame onto others. They might even try gaslighting to make you doubt your own perceptions.
The good news is, there are some effective ways to confront a narcissist who’s using abusive tactics.
While many adults display a few narcissistic traits, people who are diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) have an actual personality disorder. NPD affects up to 5.3% of people.
People with NPD aren’t making behavior decisions to be narcissistic. Rather, they have a disorder that causes them to act in ways that many people often find off-putting.
Still, you don’t have to tolerate abuse from anyone, regardless of their diagnosis.
Signs of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)
People with NPD are commonly driven by a desire for power — including over others — often due to underlying shame and low self-esteem.
Some tell-tale signs of NPD can include:
- an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- a tendency to manipulate others
- strong feelings of jealousy or envy
- feeling superior to others
- acting arrogant or overly confident
- strong desire to be more successful, smart, powerful, or attractive than others
- need for constant admiration
- exaggerating achievements and talents
- unable to recognize the needs of others
- difficulty dealing with criticism
- feels rage at a challenge to their sense of grandiosity
Not everyone who has NPD will exhibit abusive behaviors, and not all abusers have NPD.
Power, control, and narcissistic abuse
The goal of narcissistic abuse is usually power.
Narcissists may try to boost their control and authority while creating doubt, shame, or dependency in the person being abused. These types of behaviors can help narcissists hide their feelings of inferiority.
In a 2021 study, researchers found that narcissistic behaviors are commonly driven by insecurity, not an inflated sense of self.
People with NPD can exhibit extreme anger and violence, including sexual abuse. Or they can use subtle tactics to manipulate others. Either way, it’s still abuse.
A narcissist will rarely take responsibility for their behavior. Generally, they deny their actions and augment the abuse by blaming the person experiencing abuse.
Symptoms of narcissistic abuse can vary in tactics and severity. A person who is a narcissistic abuser might use violence or harsh words. Or, they may manipulate you by using the silent treatment.
Common tactics used by narcissistic abusers can include:
- insisting you please them
- isolating you from family or friends
- gaslighting you
- becoming angry or physically abusive if you don’t meet their needs
- verbal abuse, including belittling, bullying, threatening, or shaming
- demanding unconditional love while not giving it in return
- controlling your money or privacy
- spreading rumors about you
- acting hyper-emotional to get what they want
- focusing on your imperfections and insulting you
Effects of narcissistic abuse
Being on the receiving end of narcissistic abuse can be a confusing, painful experience. It can be hard to identify and avoid being the target of abuse. For some, it can be even harder to escape the abuse and manipulation once it has begun.
However, it is possible to end the cycle and regain your strength and freedom after abuse. Understanding the effects of narcissistic abuse can help you identify it.
Effects of narcissistic abuse can include:
- a constant feeling that something is wrong
- questioning your self-worth or sanity
- feeling overly concerned about your perceived failures and flaws
- difficulty knowing what’s real and what’s not
- holding a narcissistic person in high regard
- doing whatever their abuser tells them to do
- pulling away from friends and family
Emotional abuse is a form of abuse where someone uses nonphysical behaviors to:
Narcissistic abuse can be considered a type of emotional abuse, but it can also involve other harmful behaviors, such as physical abuse.
Confronting someone with narcissistic traits or an NPD person can be challenging, but it can be important to stand up for yourself.
If you choose to confront a narcissist, it doesn’t mean you have to fight or argue. Confrontation can look like speaking up for yourself clearly and calmly. It can also look like setting personal boundaries to protect your mind, emotions, and body.
Pushback from people with NPD can be common. Appearing weak is often a narcissistic person’s biggest fear. Knowing this, try to avoid taking the words of an abuser personally.
Safety and support for domestic violence
If you feel like you’re in physical danger, don’t confront your abuser. Create an exit plan, find a temporary place to stay, and get to safety.
- You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 for free, confidential, 24/7 care and support.
- You can call loveisrespect.org at 866-331-9474 or text LOVEIS to 22522 for support if you think you could be in an abusive relationship.
In addition, you can visit The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), a domestic violence prevention advocacy group with a list of resources for relationship abuse help.
Know that you deserve respect and stay firm in that belief. Try to avoid being passive, which a narcissist commonly sees as a weakness.
Try not to react or become aggressive, even if the narcissist does.
Try to keep your strategy and goals in mind. Before beginning a conversation, it can be helpful to clearly understand:
- what you want specifically
- what the narcissist might want
- what your limits are
- where you have power in the relationship
Boundaries are rules that govern how you want to be treated.
It’s important to know what your boundaries are before you can communicate them. Try to be as clear as you can about your boundaries, even if this upsets the narcissist.
Consequences are not threats, but actions you take to protect yourself or meet your needs. Taking measures to invoke consequences can be important if your boundaries are ignored after they’re set.
Educate yourself on NPD
Learning about NPD and narcissistic traits may help you better understand narcissistic abuse and the disorder in general.
Separate the behavior from the person
If you’re pointing out a flaw, try to honor your needs by using “I” statements about the other person’s behavior. This can help remind the narcissistic person of your boundaries and limitations they may have overstepped and the treatment you’ll accept.
It’s not your fault
People with NPR or narcissistic traits often repeatedly deflect blame and avoid feelings like shame and guilt. Try to remain aware of this tendency and recognize when this is happening.
Even writing down mantras for yourself to revisit during or after a confrontation with a narcissistic person can assist with remembering your goals and adhering to boundaries to protect your self-worth.
Therapy is often the main treatment method for NPD. If you feel comfortable speaking frankly, it might be helpful to suggest therapy to the narcissistic person.
Be prepared that they may or may not be receptive to this idea.
Keep in mind that narcissistic people don’t typically like to admit when they’re wrong or show vulnerability. It may be wise to keep your expectations in check when it comes to them opening up and seeing your side.
Ending abuse frequently requires support. Reaching out to family and friends to let them know what’s going on can be a positive first step.
The peer support and skills discussed during Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) meetings can also be valuable. Narcissistic people often gravitate toward those with high empathy or tendencies for codependency.
Finding a good therapist can be helpful for guidance and support. A therapist can help you develop tools to protect yourself and raise your self-worth. Over time, this can help you heal.
Confronting a narcissist isn’t always easy. But with the right support system and resources, you can successfully stand up for yourself.
You deserve to be treated with respect — and you can get through this.
If you feel like you’re in physical danger or might be if you confront your abuser, don’t approach them. Instead, consider creating a safety plan to get away immediately.
Try to remember that you have options, whether you want to work through the relationship or end contact completely.
Narcissistic abuse resources
Some tools to help you heal from narcissistic abuse include:
- support groups, like Narcissist Abuse Support and CoDa
- educating yourself about narcissistic abuse and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)