A narcissist, or one with Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), is someone who lacks empathy, has an overblown sense of self-importance and an overwhelming desire for attention and esteem. Such a person may appear confident, but in reality suffers from low self-esteem and shatters under even the smallest critique.
Friends, family members and romantic partners of narcissists can find themselves the victims of narcissistic abuse, a form of emotional abuse in which they are manipulated and generally mistreated. Their aim in abusing those closest to them is to try and exert control over them and retain their attention. If you know someone who exhibits narcissistic traits, there is a chance they will engage in the abusive behaviors listed below:
Many people might describe this as bullying behavior. It can also include constant criticizing, shaming, demeaning speech, and baseless blaming. This type of abuse often feels as though it was completely unwarranted or as if it came out of nowhere. It can feel very personal and hurtful when it occurs. Verbal abuse of this nature is likely to be more frequent over time when it goes unchecked.
Narcissists can also be very good at turning the tables in conversations by blaming their accusers when they are criticized. They can make things seem different than how they really are. They also use manipulation through gaslighting, making you doubt your own thoughts and beliefs to the point where you are not sure if what happened was real or if it was all in your head. Also, they may try and create conflict between people while placing themselves at the center of the strife, using a tactic known as narcissistic triangulation.
Narcissists can become extremely competitive, wanting to “win” at all costs. They will not be afraid to cheat or act unethically if it means they get where they want to be. In regular conversation, they also have the tendency to one-up people to inflate their own sense of self.
If you were to disagree, confront or even simply not do something they expected you would do, such as call them on their birthday, you might receive a “punishment” from them. This many include direct threats, ignoring you, withholding love or affection, or even spreading lies or rumors about you.
While physical abuse is not always present, it can sometimes be a sign of narcissistic abuse. It can be manifest in violent behavior like hitting or pushing you against the wall. It can also come in the form of coercion or intimidation like hovering over you or backing you into a corner to make you feel trapped.
In the same way that personality disorders and even personality traits in general range on a continuum, so do narcissistic personalities. Not every narcissist is going to display all of these behaviors. Some of these traits, in isolation, might not be considered abusive. However, the frequency and intensity in which they occur can be considered highly abusive. It is helpful to be aware of these sign as well as the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder.
If you feel you are in an abusive relationship, it is important to know you are not alone. Getting out of an abusive relationship can be extremely difficult. Please find someone to talk to who can provide you with safety and support.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
- Day, N., Townsend, M. L., & Grenyer, B. (2020). Living with pathological narcissism: a qualitative study. Borderline personality disorder and emotion dysregulation, 7(1), 19. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40479-020-00132-8
- Day, N., Townsend, M. L., & Grenyer, B. (2022). Living with pathological narcissism: core conflictual relational themes within intimate relationships. BMC psychiatry, 22(1), 30. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-021-03660-x
- Day, N., Bourke, M. E., Townsend, M. L., & Grenyer, B. (2020). Pathological Narcissism: A Study of Burden on Partners and Family. Journal of personality disorders, 34(6), 799–813. https://doi.org/10.1521/pedi_2019_33_413