Narcissistic abuse may be had to recognize, but the impact can be long lasting on your mental health. Here’s how to recognize the signs and find help.
While physical abuse can leave bruises and scars, some forms of emotional abuse can be seen through manipulative actions, frequent arguments, or shouted insults.
But some signs of an abusive relationship are not always so clear.
Narcissistic abuse can simmer just below the surface. This kind of abuse can be difficult to identify and discuss openly. It may not even occur to a person that they are experiencing abuse from a narcissistic partner.
As a result, statistics on how common narcissistic abuse is in the United States are hard to come by, it does still exist.
Over time, the effects of this abuse can seriously impact someone’s sense of self-worth and mental health.
If you or someone you know is experiencing narcissistic abuse, there is hope for healing. Some important tools for processing narcissistic abuse include:
- recognizing the signs
- developing coping mechanisms for healing
- asking for help
Generally, narcissistic abuse refers to emotional or psychological abuse.
In other words, a narcissistic person sees their partner in terms of what they can offer them to either elevate or gratify themselves.
Narcissistic abuse tends to involve someone lacking empathy for their partner. Where empathy or guilt might prevent you from mistreating or taking advantage of your partner, a narcissistic person typically isn’t held back by the pain it might cause someone else.
Because studies and statistics are harder to come by with narcissistic abuse, it can be difficult to define what all of the symptoms are or how they present in relationships.
Also, the study determined that while grandiosity and strong self-worth were present in narcissistic people, 69% of participants also reported vulnerabilities that indicated their high self-esteem often relied on others to lift them up.
While more research is still needed, it can be helpful to understand some of the common effects of psychological abuse as a way to potentially identify narcissistic abuse.
Signs of psychological abuse may include:
- verbal insults, frequent criticisms, or put-downs
- being screamed or yelled at often
- threats of physical harm or to remove something you hold dear
- controlling your routine, like when you eat, sleep, or see family and friends
- forcing physical or emotional isolation
- invasions of privacy, such as checking your phone or reading private text messages
Narcissistic abuse can be hard to identify. Plus, people may not always feel comfortable coming forward about their experiences.
Currently, there are only general estimates of how many people in the United States are in narcissistic relationships.
Sandra L. Brown, the founder of the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education, wrote an article titled “60 Million Persons in the US Negatively Affected by Someone Else’s Pathology” that provides an estimate of the prevalence of this type of abuse.
In her article, Brown stated that about 1 in 25 people in the United States have some type of personality disorder, such as antisocial personality disorder.
At the time of her writing, Brown estimated the U.S. population to be about 304 million people. When divided by 25, that works out to over 12 million people who could have a personality disorder.
Based on these numbers, Brown estimates that if each of these people had approximately 5 partners or close relationships throughout their lifetime, over 60 million people might be affected by a narcissistic relationship.
So, while these numbers are just hypothetical estimates, it shows the widespread potential for this type of abuse. And for someone currently in a narcissistic relationship, it illustrates that they are far from alone in their experiences.
According to Brown’s article, these estimated numbers may even be on the lower side. That’s because narcissistic abuse isn’t just limited to romantic partners — it can also impact family members and their children.
For example, a narcissistic person may influence their romantic partner, but that abusive behavior can also be used against their own children in the future.
Ultimately, anyone in a relationship with a narcissistic person may be at risk for this kind of abuse — such as a boss or supervisor at work with NPD victimizing an employee — especially if the narcissistic person views the relationship as strictly beneficial to them.
If you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse, you are not alone and there are resources available for recovering from abuse.
The first step is often to recognize that you actually went through — or are currently experiencing — abuse.
Next, try to remember that healing is possible. You can survive and thrive beyond the abuse you experienced.
Harnessing the power of affirmations may help you deal with harsh criticisms. Using positive affirmations may also help train your brain to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
Affirmations like, “I am enough,” and, “I have worth and am worthy of love,” can help you regain some of the self-esteem that may have been lost as a result of trauma and abuse.
Movement can be a powerful healing tool for stimulating your brain and body. Consider taking daily walks or trying out a new form of exercise.
Making time to engage in activities and hobbies you love can be incredibly healing after experiencing trauma from abuse and control.
Getting help from a qualified professional can be helpful in navigating healing. Consider speaking with a professional therapist or counselor who can help you sort out your feelings and process trauma.
Being in an abusive relationship may sometimes feel hopeless, but know that you can overcome narcissistic abuse.
If you have experienced narcissistic abuse, moving on can sometimes feel overwhelming.
It’s OK to heal at your own pace and ask for help, whether from a counselor or a trusted loved one who can help support you.
Calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at 800-799-7233 can be a powerful way to reach out, ask for help, and find the resources you need.
Media can be a helpful way to feel less alone as you navigate your own healing journey from narcissistic abuse. For additional support, consider tuning into a podcast, such as the Narcissism Recovery Podcast.
Regardless of how you choose to heal, taking that first step toward recovery can be incredibly empowering.