14 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Do you feel that your confidence has shattered and you have lost your self-worth and that you are always doubting your abilities? Do you feel like you are walking on eggshells most of the time and that you are constantly worried about your partner’s reaction? If your answer to these questions is in affirmation then chances are that you are dealing with narcissistic abuse. 

When someone is dealing with a narcissistic partner, friend, or parent it leaves him or her emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually drained. Narcissistic abuse is exhausting to say the very least and the dilemma with this form of abuse is that it is so subtle that one might not even suspect that they are being abused as they constantly blame themselves for the challenges they are facing in the relationship. 

Narcissistic abuse or Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome as it is referred to as is the trauma of abuse, inflicted on someone through verbal and emotional manipulation by their narcissist partner or parents. 

Narcissistic abuse is the impact of living with someone who has a narcissistic personality disorder, or NSD for short. A narcissistic personality disorder is a borderline personality disorder and it is diagnosed through DSM-V criteria. Nonetheless, most cases with NSD remain undiagnosed since individuals with NSD do not consider anything to be wrong with themselves and according to them it is always the other person, mostly their partners who are the cause of trouble. These individuals possess extreme selfishness and have a lack of empathy. These individuals are devoid of feelings for others and are not supportive of their partners. 

Anxiety and Traumas due to Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissistic abuse takes a toll on an individual’s mental health and emotional state since they are continuously subjected to gaslighting, negging, and verbal and emotional abuse at the hand of their partner merely to be controlled by them. Negging is an insult disguised as a compliment that is often used by narcissistic individuals. They do so to attack someone’s confidence by such backhanded comments. People facing narcissistic abuse receive manipulated words by their partners, demeaning their self-worth, and blatant lies that make them doubt the truth that they were well aware of.   

It can be very difficult to spot Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome since the survivor is unaware that he or she is being abused, blaming themselves for the dissonance in their relationship. Nevertheless, if any of these signs are found to be true in a relationship then it is highly significant that the person is struggling with Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome. These signs are as follows:

Always having a guarded behavior

These individuals tend to walk on eggshells as they are very cautious of their actions lest they might upset their narcissistic partners. This guarded behavior is a coping mechanism of these individuals as they stay alert and focused so as not to do something that might cause them to face emotional or domestic abuse at the hands of their partners. However, this attitude does not help them in the long run since they cannot escape their narcissistic partners who don’t need a reason to throw attacks of verbal abuse at them, inflicting them with emotional and mental trauma. In this attempt to protecting themselves from their abusers, victims of narcissistic abuse develop distorted personalities as they find it very difficult to deal with the real world since they spend a decent amount of time masking what they truly feel, robbing themselves of their originality. 

Lack of trust

These people find it very hard to trust someone because they have suffered abuse at the hands of someone they trusted, in this case, their partners. Narcissistic partners are very charming and alluring at the beginning of a relationship. This initial stage is referred to as ‘love bombing’ during which these partners are very generous, loving, and kind and gradually this attitude is replaced by malice and hurtful comments. Their narcissistic partners convince them that they are at fault and this paves the way to self-doubt. Individuals dealing with narcissistic abuse syndrome find it hard to trust themselves and others around them. 

Self-isolating oneself

These people tend to isolate themselves because they believe that no one will understand what they are dealing with since most of the time they remain unheard of. Their narcissist partners also cut off their ties from their family and friends saying that they need them more; a tactic to control them so that these individuals have no support system and are reliant on the abuser. In most cases of narcissistic abuse, things go exactly as the abuser wants them to be and their partners withdraw themselves from their social circle and this is when the narcissist partner manipulate the victim into believing that they have changed with their kindness and apologies just to repeat the malicious cycle of abuse all over again.

Losing sense of self-worth 

People dealing with narcissistic abuse syndrome are very low on self-esteem and they are robbed of their sense of self-worth, courtesy of their narcissistic partners who humiliate them at every opportunity they get. These individuals are always compared with a third-part by their abuser, hinting that they are not good enough. These insults make them lose their dignity as they are often questioning themselves about what is wrong with them instead of realizing that the problem lies in their abusive partner and not them.

Poor decision-making ability

Due to constant reprimand from their narcissistic partners or parents, these individuals have shattered confidence and are made to believe that they make wrong decisions. Their partners often sugarcoat the insults, a tactic known as negging which is quite hurting and a clear sign that one is dealing with a narcissist. Narcissistic partners often lie and knock you off with false accusations a technique that they master, known as ‘gaslighting’. They are such experts at the craft of lying that one questions the truth they had known all along. People who are dealing with such narcissistic individuals tend to lose their sanity in differentiating between what they know is right and what their partner claims to be true and hence they find it hard to make decisions.  

Feeling lonely

People who have narcissist partners are often dealing with loneliness, the reason being that their partners are usually giving them silent treatment- a way to show that they are disappointed or are angry at them. There might be no communication between the couple but this does not continue for long before the narcissist partner lures their victim into believing that they have changed only to repeat the same manipulative tactics. 

Freezing up 

This is another coping mechanism for individuals who are struggling with narcissistic abuse syndrome. These people tend to avoid being near the abuser and if they end up being verbally and emotionally manipulated by their abusive partners then they simply react by freezing up which means that they try to stay numb to the insults thereby preventing the emotional havoc that comes with such disrespect. 

Feeling that they are the cause of the problem or have done something wrong

Individuals dealing with narcissistic abuse are manipulated in such a way that they blame themselves for all the short-coming in their relationship with their partner or parents while the abuser remains guilt-free since they are the one shifting the blames on their partner. Narcissistic partners often roar in anger to suppress others from raising a voice and use the tactic of gaslighting- by accusing their partner of forgetting something they said which they never did in the first place. However, this makes the survivor feel that they are the ones causing troubles in the relationship. 

People dealing with narcissistic abuse often find it hard to believe in themselves. They doubt their sanity since their narcissistic partner somehow manipulates them into believing that their actions are wrong. Individuals who are going through narcissistic abuse are often accusing themselves, concerned about their flaws and failures that do not even exist but they are made to think that they are at fault by their narcissistic partners who blame them for their shortcomings.  

Individuals dealing with narcissist abuse usually feel very low due to the constant demotivation and disgrace that they suffer at the hand of their partners. This makes them emotionally drained and takes a significant toll on their mental health. These individuals are mostly feeling anxious about what might happen next or if they will have to face the verbal abuse again because they do not have the physical and mental strength to deal with the emotional trauma that comes with living with a narcissistic partner. 

Narcissistic Abuse Diagnosis and Treatment

Narcissist abuse makes one feel like they are the dumbest person ever. They are frequently compared with other people with superlative qualities and are made to feel bad about themselves. Narcissistic abuse robs people of their confidence, their persona such that they become a completely different person; someone with a lot of self-doubts and a broken personality.  

Narcissistic abuse has multiple unpleasant effects on the victim. Some of the general effects of narcissistic abuse are as follows:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Having confusion
  • Facing nightmares
  • Poor concentration
  • Having impaired memory
  • Being hyper-vigilant
  • Dealing with intrusive images
  • Being suspicious
  • Heightened or lowered alertness
  • Disorientation of time, place, or person
  • Increased or decreased awareness of surrounding

Narcissistic abuse has a plethora of behavioral effects. These are as follows:

  • Becoming anti-social 
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Increasing alcohol consumption
  • Change in the way of communication 
  • Intensified pacing

Since narcissistic abuse disrupts the emotional balance of an individual, the following are the emotional effects that result from this form of abuse:

  • Grief
  • Panic
  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Extreme anger
  • Depression
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Loss of the ability to control emotions

Long term effects of narcissistic abuse 

Researches have shown that narcissistic abuse acts as traumatic stress and can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Narcissistic abuse has long-term effects on the brain structure and personality of the victims. In the brain the hippocampus and amygdala are majorly affected causing cognitive impairment and trouble in decision making ability among other effects. 

Physical effects of Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome

Individuals who are struggling with Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome experience physical effects that are a result of staying in constant stress. Some of the physical effects are as follows:

  • Change in appetite
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping

These individuals often consume alcohol to ward off these unpleasant effects and even though alcohol temporarily eases their nerves, there is a potential risk of an overdose if they drink too much out of stress. 

Effects of narcissistic abuse on the brain

Research has proven that constant emotional abuse and stress have a significant effect on the brain and cause alteration in the structure of the brain. People dealing with narcissistic abuse have a shorter attention span and they have difficulty making decisions. This is because the emotional abuse that they endure makes the amygdala enlarge. Amygdala is the center of the brain responsible for primitive emotions and feelings such as fear, stress, hate, and lust. When the amygdala is stimulated it maintains a flight and fright response and narcissist partners often trigger the amygdala of their victim making it stay alert and active due to their constant criticism. Hippocampus is an integral part of the brain that deals with short-term memory. Reading, learning, and gaining information are all dependent on the hippocampus. Individuals going through narcissistic abuse often have a shrunken hippocampus. This is the result of the release of the stress hormone cortisol that damages the hippocampus thus reducing it in size and impairing the cognitive ability of the person

Effects of narcissistic abuse on future relationships

People who have dealt with narcissist partners have a really hard time trusting new relationships which is why it is said that narcissistic abuse is a lifelong trauma. Narcissistic abuse haunts the persons and they find it difficult to adjust to a new relationship out of fear and mistrust for people. Survivors of narcissistic abuse even when committing to a new relationship, are always occupied with the thoughts of their abusive partners as they hear their demeaning comments in the background. This makes it tough for them to focus on their present relationship. These people are often found looking sideways, out of fear that someone is observing them to criticize something that they might be doing wrong. These people find it hard to trust another person because they have been deceived by their abusive partners who were quite charming and trustable at first too. 

Narcissistic abuse leaves you scared, long after you have broken free from that prison of abuse and have left your narcissistic partner for good. You constantly feel like a ball of nerves; super cautious about everything you do because you fear that you will be criticized for every minor action, that the abuser used to humiliate you for. 

You will find yourself getting anxious at the supermarket after you spot a guy looking similar to your abuser. You might find yourself questioning if the dress, makeup, and hairstyle look fine on you after you were ridiculed for a terrible fashion sense by your narcissist partner. Questions like these and many more are racing your mind every day because of the impact the abuser has left on you after criticizing you severely, leaving your confidence crumbled. 

A narcissistic individual is very tricky to pick out but certain signs and symptoms make it easy to identify these individuals. 

Symptoms of a narcissist husband are as follows:

  1. They are quite charming at first 

Narcissist husbands give you a fairytale relationship experience in the beginning. They are very charismatic and alluring and they shower love generously, making you feel on top of the world. However, soon this ‘love bombing’ phase as experts like to call it, wears off and it is replaced by negging which is the use of backhanded comments. This causes much dismay to you since this face of your partner has just been unveiled over you, while you remain oblivious that there is much more to come. 

A narcissist often loves too strong in the beginning and it might make you think if they know you enough to love you so generously. These narcissist partners stay good as long as there is nothing that you do to offend them and the thing is that anything can turn off their mood.

  1. They talk about themselves a lot

Narcissist partners have a sense of grandeur and they think very highly of themselves. They are usually so busy talking about their achievements that they tend to forget to lend you a listening ear. 

  1. They are not empathetic

Narcissistic partners are rarely concerned about the feeling of others. They simply don’t care if you had a rough day at work or are bothered about something. To a narcissist only their feelings hold value, the rest simply do not matter. These partners are not interested in knowing about the struggles you are facing and may even show that they are bored by your long talks simply because they don’t have the heart to feel for others. This is the height of their selfishness and also the reason why a relationship with a narcissist does not work.

  1. They always want to be appreciated

It is a very common symptom that narcissists are always in a dire need of praise. If you are not appreciating them for something they have done, they will find a way to fish out the compliment from you. On the surface it may look like narcissist partners are super confident but in reality, it is their low self-esteem that wants them to bag praises. According to experts, narcissistic behavior is driven by shame and these individuals seek appreciation at every opportunity they get. A narcissistic husband might not celebrate or appreciate your promotion at work but they will expect you to praise them for a minor work that they did. 

  1. They are constantly abusing you verbally

Narcissistic husbands are always teasing around but the comments are hurtful, belittling, and humiliating. These insults that take place ever so subtly can be emotionally draining, yet you might not be able to pick on it at the beginning of the relationship and might shrug off the idea that you are being demeaned by them. However, these one-liner backhanded comments continue where the partner manipulates through verbal abuse and drain you of your energy. 

  1. They control the dynamics of the relationship

To a narcissist control is power, and so they try every means to bring their partner under control without making it very obvious. A narcissistic husband might tell you to stop visiting family and friends because they need more of your time, this way they cut off ties of their partner from their support circle. A narcissist partner may invade your privacy and go through your phone, wallet, and mail denying any respect for your boundaries. However, they don’t let that happen to themselves.  

Narcissistic Abuse examples

They often go on giving you a silent treatment if they are offended at something you have done and might even bring your support circle in their favor because nobody has seen their narcissistic side except you. This way you feel dejected and alone and that is when they lure you with their kindness and make you believe that they are a changed person now. This technique is referred to as ‘hoovering’. 

  1. They are mostly lying or gaslighting

 Narcissist partners are experts at gaslighting- which is a hallmark of narcissistic abuse. Gaslighting is a form of manipulated emotional abuse. They will make you believe that whatever you are perceiving is false even if you are right. This will make you doubt your sanity since they deny the truth with such skill that you are left wondering if all that you had known was even true.



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