fact: While there is no exact number, research suggests that narcissistic abuse is more common than we might think. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which is often associated with abusive behaviors, is estimated to affect around 1% of the population. However, it’s important to remember that not all narcissists are abusive, and not all abusers have NPD.
Let’s clarify: the term narcissistic abuse does not refer to all people diagnosed NPD, but to abusers who personify this behavior.
I get it, narcissistic abuse can be a difficult concept to grasp. It goes on behind closed doors and is comprised almost entirely of mind games. A narcissistic abuser tries to never give their victim any tangible evidence of mistreatment or abuse so they can continue to convince their victim that what they’re experiencing is normal. They usually never attack you physically, except for coerced intimacy, but we’ll save that conversation for a different day.
People ask; how the hell does someone get swept up in this kind of relationship? And STAY there? Let me break it down for you in my own terms.
At the beginning of a narcissistic relationship, it actually feels like magic. They duct tape a pair of rose-colored glasses to your face and present to you a beautifully packaged redeemable mess who just needs the right person to love them. You think; I’ve never felt anything like this before, nothing this intense, this MUST be what true love feels like.
step one: addiction
The trap is set when the narcissistic abuser makes love bombing the norm for the first couple months of the relationship. You are their perfect flower, everything you do is wonderful, and they want to be together all the time because they love you THAT much. This floods your brain and body with happy chemicals and establishes an addiction. Your life slowly becomes completely intertwined with theirs, and you don’t notice that the noose is tightening.
step two: starvation
Popular reality dating programs often use this tactic, *starving* particular contestants by denying them any access to the lead to extract extreme reactions. A narcissistic abuser employs the same tactic. Suddenly, nothing you do is good enough, they begin to criticize you for the same things they celebrated a few short months ago, starving you of those feel-good chemicals. By the narcissist’s design your brain naturally wants to feed that addiction.
Their starvation and criticism tactics are fully aimed at convincing you that you are the problem, and if you could only be as perfect as you were the first couple months then everything would go back to being beautifully rose colored.
So, your whole job in the relationship becomes being *perfect, * so that they have nothing to complain about, so they have nothing to critique you on, so that maybe, for once, you can have a nice evening. A huge part of that perfectionism is your commitment to them, which they emphasize by constantly questioning your loyalty, making you feel the need to constantly prove it. Now, no matter how badly you are criticized, if you break the commitment, you are the villain for leaving them. (we’ll come back to that later.*) You unknowingly become a hostage in an insidious war that you were always doomed to lose.
step three: isolation
By step three, the narcissistic abuser has you firmly mentally handcuffed to them and the relationship, and it’s time to increase your dependency on them by isolating you from your family and friends. There are many ways in which they can accomplish this; constantly badmouthing or making up lies about those closest to you, starting fights with you every time you hang out with others so that you must separate yourself to be on the phone with them, or conversely giving you the silent treatment. Over time you stop attending get togethers with your friends or family birthday parties just to avoid the altercations, trained by a sick and twisted narcissistic Pavlov. My ex was hardcore and went straight for the jugular, hooking up with my best friend.
step four: the first explosion
Everything the narcissistic abuser has done up to this point is to ensure that when they give you this first big test, you will stay with them. My ex showed me his true self for the first time on our sixth month anniversary. I honestly have blocked out a lot of my memories from that night. But I remember the confusion, how I was desperately searching for an explanation in my head that would make it all okay. My mind could not fathom the distortion of the man(boy) that I saw before me. The events of that night, the rollercoaster of manipulation that he dragged me on, the words specially chosen to break and control, the experience of narcissistic abuse is almost indescribable.
They destroy you emotionally and mentally but through isolation have also left themselves as your only ally. Your psyche is now a sinking ship, and they are the only lifeboat left. They offer it freely to you, so you take it to survive, prettily dressed up in bows and lies and promises they never intend to keep but you so desperately need.
step five: the shame cycle
Now that they’ve abused, manipulated, and coerced you into forgiving them for something unforgivable, they know how to make you do it over and over again. And as you forgive more unforgivable things, your self-worth plummets, as they manipulate you into thinking it’s your choice to stay every time. The guilt and shame of allowing this to happen to you repeatedly and of keeping it secret permeates your entire life. If you give up on the relationship now, then all the pain and trauma you have been enduring hasn’t been worth anything, and that is unfathomable once again. You are now stuck in survival mode, doing whatever you can to get by, doing whatever you can to avoid their wrath. The popular term is fight or flight, but in my experience the reaction to narcissistic abuse is more usually freeze. And through these darkest moments, they constantly remind you of the importance of your commitment to them, and that you have no one else.
Every time my ex abused me, he would tell me YOU SIGNED UP FOR THIS
Where was the contract? Where had I signed my life away to someone who was turned on by watching me cry?
*(HERE’S THE PART THE NARCISSISTIC ABUSER DOESN’T WANT YOU TO KNOW: Making a commitment under false pretenses is not a commitment, it is COERCION and has no merit.)
That realization finally set me free.
Welcome to my journey.