What is Narcissistic Abuse you may ask? Well, it is a term that I came to know in 2015 and prior to that had no idea of the impact it would have in my life. It described something I lived in my past relationships and how it has shaped my life.
Narcissistic abuse is what I call “hidden abuse” in the form of psychological, emotional, and verbal abuse. It doesn’t usually include forms of physical abuse, although it is common in abusive relationships. Note, there are 7 types of abuse 4. 7 types of abuse physical, emotional, verbal, mental, sexual, financial and spiritual. Narcissistic abuse is a form of abuse hard to identify if you don’t know the Red Flags of a Narcissistic Abusive Relationship. The type of abuse received is more ambiguous and difficult to prove, especially in court cases or for people to believe victims, survivors, and thrivers, but it is no less damaging than physical abuse. It strips you away from your life, yourself, your identity, self-esteem, self-love, your essence, your joy, your happiness, your confidence, your soul, and who you are.
Narcissistic Abuse is commonly done by individuals who meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It is a personality disorder classified within cluster B by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Cluster B personality disorders are characterized by trouble controlling emotions, irrational behaviors, dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behaviors. I will only touch on what Narcissistic Abuse is and they are often referred to sociopaths, psychopaths, narcissistic sociopath or narcopath, narcs, emotional manipulators and/or abusers. I will be using narcissist or abuser to refer to Narcissistic Abusers.
Characteristics of Narcissistic Abusers
- Extremely Charming, aka ‘Prince Charming.’
- Often they are public figures, well known in society, leaders in the community, cult/spiritual leaders, well liked by others etc. Pretty much someone with power or influence, although is not always the case.
- Lack empathy for other people.
- They are usually very intelligent.
- They are often attractive and fixated on their looks.
- Have a sense of grandiosity.
- They need continual and excessive admiration from others.
- They have big egos.
- They have a sense of entitlement to special treatment from others.
- Act as victims of circumstances and people from their past. No accountability for their behavior and it was always everyone else’s fault.
Read more of their traits and red flags here.
Narcissistic Abuse Phases
Love Bombing Phase
The Love Bombing stage of narcissistic abuse is the stage where women are completely charmed away by the narcissist. It’s excessive amounts of ‘love,’ attention, compliments, gifts, and romance. Also, at this stage, they will sweep you off your feet with everything they can to impress you and make you believe they love you. They say I love you super fast within days or weeks of meeting you. Love bombing can last from days to a few months. They use just the right words you want to hear that no other man has told you before. They mirror everything you want and give you all you have been longing for. This is why women that are vulnerable fall super easy on their tactics. They are extremely charming and you feel you have never met someone like them before and you often have thoughts of ‘it’s too good to be true,” “fairytale romance,” and feel “he is the one.” They want to rush love and romance, not to mention intimacy. They tell you words like, “I’ve never met someone like you,” “you are everything I’ve been looking for,” “you are nothing like my ex,” or “I’m falling in love with you,” within days of meeting you. They also paint a victim story of how much they have suffered in relationships, how they have never met a woman that understands them, how the ex-was crazy, psycho, and just horrible things about her, that makes you feel “I will be the woman that will change him.” He makes you believe your love is a fairytale and you see everything through pink-colored glasses. This stage is not the same as a normal and healthy relationship as the man will take the time to get to know you. He will display healthy amounts of attention, romance, gifts, but not as excessive and rushed as a narcissist. You will know the difference when you attract a normal individual vs a narcissist. After the fairy tale months are over, they transition to devaluing you. This is where the ‘hidden abuse’ starts.
The devaluing state of narcissistic abuse is when the ‘love bombing’ is over and transitions to devaluing you as a woman, person, and human. This is the stage where your soul gets destroyed, your identity, who you are and your entire life. They degrade you to the point that you lose yourself and feel worthless, not good enough, insignificant, unloved and your sense of self is lost. Your self-esteem, self-love, confidence, charm, joy, spirit, happiness, energy and motivation are severely damaged and destroyed. Their common tactics include emotional abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse, name calling, putting you down, gaslighting, triangulation, toxic projections, stonewalling, coercive control, flying monkeys, smear campaigns, blame, shame, among others. In this stage, they also isolate you from your family, friends, and loved ones. They control your whereabouts, where you go, what you wear and who you talk to. They do smear campaigns on people you love to turn you against them and you are left with no one on your side so that you only have them to rely on. They also use triangulation that is usually associated with them telling you about other women, how other women want them, or to provoke jealousy and make you hate the other women and fight for his love and attention. Think of this stage as an illness that day after day it gets progressively worst in body, mind, and soul.
In this stage is where Trauma Bonding begins. It can be hard for others to understand why someone stays with an abusive partner and they often don’t support us emotionally because they don’t understand how complex this is. Often women don’t know they are in an abusive relationship, because society has conditioned us to think abuse = physical. But, psychological, emotional and verbal abuse are forms of hidden abuse. Women stay because of something called “trauma bonding,” where you become addicted to the hormonal rollercoaster an abuser sends you on. It is the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change. It starts with initial angry outburst when he explodes, insults, cruel/mean comments that you brush-off saying “oh he is just having a bad day,” or “he is not always like this” or ‘this is so out of character from him.” You make excuses for their behavior, not knowing is abusive and hurts you. Then they use “blame shifting” to excuse their behavior and tell you “if you hadn’t done that, then I wouldn’t have reacted like that,” or “you made me so mad,” or “I only reacted this way because you made me.”
You crave how he was at the beginning of the “love bombing” stage and constantly try to do all you can by molding yourself to do anything the narcissist wants, just so you can get that man back, to get those feelings of euphoria and love and to try to win the abuser’s affection again. This cycle is like an addictive drug where you go through a roller coaster of biochemistry changes just as a drug addiction. During low moments with the abuser, you go through this “punishment” phase where your body goes through high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This cycle is paired with high levels of dopamine when he rewards you and shows affection and you get glimpses of the love bombing stage again. You get addicted to this punishment and reward cycle without knowing is an addiction. This is trauma bonding of narcissistic abuse. Also, to note this is where your health starts being affected and declining.
The discard stage of narcissistic abuse is such a painful realization when the abuser simply discards you and throws you out. It is literally as if you were tossed away as if nothing had ever happened, with no remorse, no empathy and as if you didn’t matter. It sounds harsh, but this is the reality. It can happen at any time with no warning after he has sucked the life out of you and you are no longer needed. You are left wondering a thousand questions, questioning yourself, lost, confused, overwhelmed, with no direction in life and in so much emotional pain. Also, in this stage, it is very common that the abuser has moved on within hours, days or weeks onto someone else and is probably now engaged or living with the person. Believe me, I’ve heard cases and in my case, it was within the same day and it happened multiple times. You are left broken and feeling unworthy and invaluable. You keep replaying scenarios in your head as to what happened, maybe if you had done/said something differently or maybe if you had worked more on yourself to improve the relationship. You go on a social media stalking frenzy to compare yourself to the other woman and try to make sense as to why and how he moved on so fast. You stalk him to find out what he is doing, where he is, etc. You feel unattractive, jealous, heartbroken and a cluster of the roller coaster of emotions. Ask any woman that has undergone narcissistic abuse and you will find our stories are so similar.
Another thing that is very common in the discard stage is smear campaigns. They go around acting as the victim and telling people you are the crazy one, psycho, cheater and even the abuser. They use other people as ‘flying monkeys‘ to side with him and spread the word against you. This is where the most damage to your word, story, and reputation is made. Flying monkeys are the abuser’s enablers and are people who act on behalf of a narcissist to torment the victim.
I want to explain something about narcissistic abuse and how the abusers operate. They use women, people or anything that feeds their ego, pleases them, elevates them and gives them power as Narcissistic Supply. Narcissistic Supply is a psychoanalytic theory by Otto Fenichel in 1938. They only use women as a constant source of energy to support and sustain their self-esteem and ego. They feed off attention, women praising them, admiration and elevating their egos, also feeling powerful. But, you have to understand something, the new woman is just an old version of you that probably has no idea what she is getting herself into. Think of how you were when you first met them, she is probably in the same situation.
No Contact Phase
One of the hardest things is to go NO CONTACT and to block the abuser from all forms of communication. No contact is to protect yourself from falling back into his tactics and to help you heal. It is also a long period of healthy silent treatment to allow you to move on and to start your life again. It is true that having no contact or knowing nothing about the abuser is one of the best ways to start healing. But, this stage is really hard. Why is it hard? Is because your brain chemistry has changed from all the abuse you received. Your brain structure is changed, your amygdala is enlarged, your hippocampus shrinks and your body biochemistry is also changed. You crave his love and attention as a drug user craves a drug. You get addicted to that feeling of finding out what he is doing, who he is with or when he contacts you, it provides instant gratification and instant pleasure, same as a drug (remember Trauma Bonding?). It provides same pleasure points similar to a drug addiction, therefore you are dealing with an addiction. I know, it took me a while to swallow this one back in 2014. There are also those women that have children with the abuser and where contact is inevitable. Gray rock is the technique that must be taken, it literally means becoming a “rock” with no emotions, no reactions, and acting as if he does not affect you. They can’t handle this! They feed off your emotions, rocking your stability and your reaction.
After going No Contact this is what they try… Hoovering!
This is the last stage of narcissistic abuse. Hoovering comes from the term ‘hoover’ from the vacuum cleaner that sucks dirt, debris and anything you are trying to clean. It is literally how the abusers try to ‘suck you’ back into the relationship after you have gone no contact or gray rock, or a long period of silent treatment. They come back with their most amazing, yet cruel tactic “love bombing.” This is why so many women keep going back to the abuser. They fall back into the relationship thinking this time will be different, because he is back to his usual loving self, he is charming, loving, promising you the world again, making promises that they have changed, that they realized “you are the one” and they even promise to go to therapy and do anything you ask. You fall into it because you associate “love bombing” as the most beautiful stage of your relationship and you long for that man you once knew. You believe that’s who he is, but it is a lie. Your brain says ‘oh wow he is really changed and he does love me and he realized I am the only woman for him.” It even elevates your own ego because you really feel you are “the ONE” that will change him and he will change because he realized your worth, value and all your sacrifices. So, you go back to the relationship to find out this “love bombing” stage is short lived and the toxic cycle starts again.
This is the toxic cycle of narcissist abuse and why so many women keep going back or stay in these type of relationships. Abusers have an intense fear of abandonment; they work really hard to prevent the person to leave them for good. They will fake anything to lure you back or to keep you in the toxic relationship.
I hope this blog post helped you become familiar with narcissistic abuse, its stages and what happens in a relationship with a narcissistic abuser. Often victims stay years not knowing they are in an abusive relationship because they are not been physically abused. But, hidden abuse does exist and it is a real no matter your socio-economic status.
But, there is hope in healing from this. There is a way to get off the toxic cycle wheel and heal your life. Understanding how they operate and seeing the relationship for what it is is a huge improvement. Knowing the stages will empower you to realize you are being controlled and that this is a drug-free addiction. Yes, narcissistic abuse has become an addiction by how your brain and body chemistry operates now. You have the power to say ENOUGH and finally get off the cycle.
I’d like to hear from you:
- Are you in an abusive relationship with a narcissist?
- Have you suffered narcissistic abuse?
- Do you know someone that is this type of relationship? If yes, share this blog post with them.
Mary Miranda from My Fit Healing