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Are You Experiencing Narcissistic Abuse? How to Recognize the Signs

There’s up to a 50% chance you have.

Love with him was intoxicating, a 24/7 buzz without the come-down of a hangover or the slow bore of sobriety.

His touch on my bare skin felt right and good, and I couldn’t imagine being any happier. I hadn’t believed in soulmates until this man had put his hand on the soft nape of my neck and kissed me. I had never felt anything like it.

And never would again.

Thank God.

What I didn’t know then is that I was in love with a fantasy, an actual made-up person.

I was in love with someone who was narcissistically abusing me. Someone who had carefully constructed and curated a beautiful image of himself that matched everything I’d ever wanted in a partner, only to rip it away when I least expect it and abuse me in a way that was stunning and annihilating.

The term “narcissistic abuse” is an actual misnomer. You don’t have to be a narcissist to narcissisticly abuse someone, nor is “abuse” by itself quite the right term for it either.

REACH: Beyond Domestic Violence defines abuse as, “a pattern of behavior used by one person to gain and maintain power and control over another.”

While “narcissistic abuse” does in fact entail attempts to gain and maintain power and control over another, the part that differentiates it is the “mask” or “con” that precipitates the abuse.

Dr. Milstead provides this “working” definition of “narcissistic abuse:”

“Narcissistic abuse is the intentional construction of a false perception of someone else’s reality by an abuser for the purposes of controlling them.”

If someone deliberately creates an image of themselves in order to exploit and control another person and their resources, they are committing narcissistic abuse.

With that definition, it’s clear that it’s not just narcissists who do this type of behavior. It can actually be many others.

In one article, the author estimates that some 60 to 158 million people may be impacted by narcissistic abuse in just the U.S.

With a current population of over 330 million in the U.S., that means that 15 to nearly 50% of the population in the U.S. has been affected by narcissistic abuse.

Based on that stat alone, it is highly likely that you have been impacted, whether it be by a family member, friend, or sweetheart.

Narcissistic abuse is one of the most difficult forms of abuse to identify and address. It can come in many different forms and can be especially damaging because it often occurs in relationships that involve trust and intimacy.

Victims of narcissistic abuse may not even realize they are being abused as the signs of narcissistic abuse can often be very subtle and go unnoticed until more extensive damage has been done.

Knowing how to recognize the signs of narcissistic abuse can help you determine if you’ve been a victim and take steps to protect yourself.

1. Gaslighting One of the most common signs of narcissistic abuse is gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which an individual attempts to make their victim doubt themselves and their perceptions.

They may do this by denying their victim’s experiences or by questioning their motives. Over time, the victim of gaslighting might start to believe their abuser, becoming more confused and uncertain of their feelings and opinions.

2. Emotional Blackmail An abuser may make threats, withhold information, or issue ultimatums to coerce a victim into staying in a toxic relationship. They may make it difficult for the victim to leave the relationship by exploiting their emotion, as emotional blackmail can make victims feel as though they must remain in the relationship in order to avoid emotional pain.

3. Controlling Behavior Another sign of narcissistic abuse is controlling behavior. Their behaviors often include telling victims what to wear, what to do, where to go, and who to associate with. Controllers may also have an extreme need for attention and approval and might do anything to gain control over the relationship.

4. Feigning Injury When a victim expresses their anger or dissatisfaction, an abuser may feign injury in order to draw attention away from the abuser’s own wrongdoings. This creates a toxic dynamic in which the victim is forced to consistently consider their abuser’s feelings rather than their own, leading to feelings of guilt and shame.

5. Silent treatment The silent treatment is a common practice used by narcissistic abusers as a way to control and manipulate their victims. It is a form of emotional abuse in which the abuser refuses to engage in communication with the victim, either through verbal or nonverbal cues. The goal of the silent treatment is to make the victim feel isolated, unworthy, and undeserving of their abuser’s attention. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness and despair in the victim.

Narcissistic abuse is a complex and damaging form of abuse which can be hard to identify and address. Being aware of the signs of narcissistic abuse is one of the most important steps someone can take to protect themselves from this damaging behavior. If you think you may still be in a situation like this, seek professional help and take steps to remove yourself from the situation.

If you need help in recovering from unhealthy, toxic, and/or abusive relationships, check out my new book, Reclaim & Recover: Heal from Toxic Relationships with a 7-Step Guided Journal.

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