Loving a Narcissist is hard. Let our therapists located in Philadelphia, PA, Providence RI, Mechanicsville VA, and Ocean City NJ. Be it a parent, a romantic partner, or a family member or platonic friend- Narcissists are unique and can leave us feeling confused, overwhelmed, and sometimes hurt. Narcissists can be very difficult to identify, so it’s no surprise that the negative impact can often go unnoticed for long amounts of time. In fact, it is this very insidiousness that makes the behaviors even more harmful and difficult to spot. This article will be breaking down the basics of what narcissistic abuse can look like including why this can be so difficult to spot. Narcissistic Abuse can be physical, emotional, physical, sexual, financial and everything in between.
1. Love Bombing- This refers to an excessive and sometimes inappropriate show of attention and admiration in early or reparative stages of a relationship. This can look like the narcissist giving their loved one an abnormal amount of positive attention in the form of lavish gifts, special emotional mementos, surprise trips or special dates. It often extends beyond the recipient and can often include the narcissist giving special gifts or attention to their loved one’s family and friends.
Why it’s confusing: What is wrong with gift giving? How could a generous expression of love and sacrifice be bad? Love bombing is often the narcissists first attempt at using their resources to gain control of a relationship. By using all their resources to impress and persuade, the narcissist gets the upper hand quickly and often will not let you forget it. It is not uncommon for narcissists to reference these gestures during fights to make their victim believe they are being unappreciative or ungrateful. All relationships have some form of gift giving, but with a narcissist, it is often taken to an unbalanced extreme.
2. Strategic People Pleasing- Ever charming and captivating, narcissists often will have exciting stories or big events in their life that need your attention. Because the narcissist knows how good it feels to have the spotlight, they often know how to give the right amount of attention to get what they want. This is emotional manipulation at its core and can tie back to love bombing and other patterns of inappropriate attention and admiration.
Why it’s confusing: It can feel good to be a support for a loved one going through a struggle or needing your advice. The problem is Narcissists are great at taking advantage of others' kindness and eventually, can get used to hogging the conversation. Extended exposure to this can lead to their victim minimizing and hiding their own needs and emotional expression. It is easy to lose sight of self worth and importance when the conversation is always on someone else.
3. Gaslighting- A form of emotional manipulation where the narcissist attempts to change the narrative and redirect the blame back on their victim. When under fire, the narcissist often can not accept that they are in the wrong and will take control of the situation the best way they know how- deflect, deflect, deflect! It is an emotional uno-reverse card that is extremely insidious.
Why it's confusing: Gaslighting can feel like you are losing your mind. It can cause you to question your judgment and moral character. In our society, we are taught that being a healthy partner means taking accountability for our actions, so it is natural to question one's position in a disagreement. What is not normal is when someone repeatedly casts blame back on you during every single argument making a consistent pattern.
4. Isolation - Isolation can look like preventing you from making new friends or spending time with family (especially if they have a negative opinion or history of conflict with the narcissist). It can also take the form of discouraging you from participating in social groups or hobbies that bring you joy outside of the relationship. Some extreme forms of Isolation can include controlling where one works, when they can use their phone, and when they can leave the home. The bottom line here is that the Narcissist is looking for ways to exercise their power and control over another person in a methodical way.
Why it's confusing: Isolation with a narcissist often begins in a very subtle and innocent way, making it very hard to detect until it is too late. Sometimes the narcissist will express that they just love you so much that they want to be with you all of the time. Other times the narcissist might talk about how they feel jealous of you spending so much time away from them. The bottom line is that oftentimes times can feel great to be desired by a partner, but too much of a good thing can have harmful consequences and quickly become a narcissist's mechanism of power and control.
5. Demeaning Language/Verbal Abuse
Why it’s confusing: This one may seem clearly harmful, but the hurtful comments that a narcissist makes is so often disguised as constructive criticism that it can be easy to write off as well intentioned. What the narcissist may feel is “helpful advice” may actually be quite harsh and damaging. The narcissist's constant comments and critiques can chip away at one's self esteem and lead to significant emotional harm.
6. Withholding Affection-People who are narcissists may withhold money, affection, or even communication in an attempt to manipulate or punish their victim in response to an action they don’t like. The silent treatment is a common form of withholding and often leaves the victim feeling like they need to walk on eggshell. This type of behavior can send the message that love is conditional on the narcissist's rules, which might be ever changing.
Why it’s confusing: We all have bad days and withholding affection can sometimes seem like the narcissist is just in a bad mood or needs some alone time after a conflict. When it becomes a problem is when it is their consistent response to conflict and they are not able to notice or acknowledge this pattern. Overtime, this behavior can reinforce the message that love, kindness, appreciation and respect are all qualities that are conditional and one must be without flaws to be worthy of good treatment.
7. Ignoring Boundaries- This can take the form of digital privacy invasion-which might mean the narcissist might look through their partners phone, email or track their partners location via apps. Ignoring boundaries can also take the form of possessiveness and intense need to protect to the point of stalking or harassment.
Why it’s confusing: At first this behavior can easily seem innocent, as if the narcissist wants to protect their loved one from harm. The narcissist may also say it comes from their own experiences having their trust broken in the past and not wanting to have their heart broken. When the narcissist is not able to see what impact this imposition is having on their partner is when this can become a problem. In many ways this behavior shares similarities with gaslighting and playing the victim.
8. Inability to Tolerate Criticism- Although narcissists may appear confident on the outside, they often have a very fragile sense of self esteem. The covert narcissist may have an especially hard time receiving any kind of negative leaning feedback and may react with extreme emotional sensitivity when a friend or loved one tries to discuss emotions. This can limit the amount of healthy communication that one is able to have with the narcissist and can lead to them trying to redirect or direct their feelings, which can end up looking like gaslighting or other emotional manipulation techniques.
Why it’s confusing: Let's face it- most people do not enjoy receiving criticism…even if it is constructive and well meaning. A narcissistic person’s inability to tolerate criticism becomes apparent when it occurs repeatedly in a way that is blocking the ability to hold healthy conversations where feelings can be expressed and communicated without fear of retaliation or a feeling of walking on eggshells. It is also possible that the narcissist may become verbally abusive or physically violent as retaliation for criticism, which is absolutely never okay.
If you feel that you may have experienced narcissistic abuse and find yourself struggling to heal, please know that you are not alone. Consider reaching out to an experienced therapist that can help you identify if the person in your life might have narcissistic traits and what that means for your own wellbeing. You may also benefit from joining the Life After the Narcissist Support Group, which meets virtually twice a month.
You can self schedule an in-person or virtual couples therapy session at the Center for Growth by calling (215) 922-5683 x 100.
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