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  • Christy George, LMFT

Surviving Narcissistic Abuse:  Finding the path to freedom, love and yourself

Have you been the victim narcissistic abuse? Being in a relationship with a narcissist can take a toll on a person’s self esteem and mental health. The narcissist could be a romantic partner, a spouse, a parent, a friend or even a boss. Over time, these relationships erode our self identity, and can have us questioning our own sanity. Whether your relationship with a narcissist lasts for a few months or goes on for years, you are likely to be negatively affected. True narcissism goes beyond selfishness and self centeredness. Some therapists suggest there are few true narcissists, and often dismiss clients who come to them for help. This likely happens because narcissists are rarely seen in treatment because they don’t’ believe anything is their fault or that they need fixing, and when they are seen by a therapists (usually in couples or family therapy) they may be difficult to detect because they are good at masking their negative attributes to get what the want.

Narcissists should not be confused with selfish and self centered people who are capable of caring for others, and displaying empathy. The characteristics of a true narcissist are embedded in their personality, and are ingrained in the way they interact with the world. Typically, narcissists appear to have an overly inflated sense of self and may criticize others to make themselves look good. They need constant admiration and attention, from others - - all others. They lack empathy, and are insensitive to the feelings of others. They feel entitled to what they want, whether it’s attention, time, sex, money, or a more attractive partner. They will expect you to take care of them, you to take the blame, and you to change. You get the picture. Here are some examples that might feel familiar.

The Romantic Partner or Spouse: At first he is charming, and showers you with affection, compliments, gifts and adoration. The relationship is intense, and you feel like you’re madly, deeply in love. You have been lured in and hooked. Unfortunately, you discover too late that all of this was a superficial ruse to help him to get his needs met, without any consideration of what you need. He understands at a primal level how to catch a partner who will do almost anything for him. In his reality, everything is about him. This person requires constant worship and admiration from you and everyone else. He likely brags constantly about past romantic conquests, his job, his money, his athleticism, his intelligence, you name it. He needs his partner and everyone around him to support his ego and goes to great lengths to make this happen. If you are the partner of such a person, you will be an extension of him. You will be expected to look perfect at all times, and be who he wants you to be. This person is emotionally unavailable to you, is insensitive to your feelings, and is always right. Prepare for an adult sized tantrum, lying and manipulating if you dare to hold him accountable for anything or suggest he’s wrong. It will always be your fault. If you pull away, he may chase after you and turn on the charm until you are hooked again. Then expect to be manipulated, criticized and devalued until you feel too guilty, foolish and crazy to ever leave again. Narcissists are masters of discovering the vulnerabilities of others and exploiting those vulnerabilities to their advantage.

The Parent: The narcissistic parent also needs constant admiration and acknowledgement from others, and is overly concerned about appearances and how their children will make them look as a parent and a person. They will have high expectations that can never be met. Nothing is ever good enough for this parent. This parent will be not be supportive of their child’s interests they do not share, and take over those interests they do. They will blame their children for their own shortcomings or missed opportunities in life, and will take credit for anything the child does right. They will resort to using; anger; shame; punishment; guilt, degradation, attention, affection, approval, scapegoating and favoritism to get what they feel entitled to, which is everything. They feel entitled to all of your time, attention and money; and want favors, control, and status. It is common for such parents to create competition and conflict between their children to gain more attention and control. Sadly, these parent’s needs are always put before the child’s at any age, and nothing the child does will ever be good enough. This parent is insatiable. Watch out if this person happens to be your mother or father in law.

The Friend: At first she is charming, and is great at making you feel special and included. Typically everyone likes her because she seems incredibly accepting, kind and generous. She is a master at being liked. Like the narcissistic lover, it is all subterfuge to win friends who will admire her, and feed her constant need for adoration from everyone. In private you will see a different side of this woman. She will gossip and spread vicious rumors, while criticizing almost everyone she knows in your confidence. Of course, when you are not around she does the same thing with everyone else. She feels entitled to your time, your things, and maybe even your partner and other friends. She has no empathy, and doesn’t care about your feelings. If you dare to call her out on her behavior, she will deny it, throw a fit, and somehow it will end up being your fault. She will likely be dismissive of you and your feelings, and will punish you by excluding you from parties, and other events. She will try to make you feel jealous and worthless my boasting about other people, and criticizing you.

The Boss: Like the others the narcissistic boss thinks only of himself and what he wants. He will likely use you to make himself look good, feel good and to have someone to blame if something goes wrong. He will expect you to be devoted to him, there at his beck and call, to adore him, and may sexually harass or assault you. He will use his charm, and intuitive knowledge of your weaknesses to manipulate you into doing whatever he wants, and will not have your back when you need him to.

The treatment described in all of these relationships equates to emotional abuse. Victims of narcissists are often left feeling confused, having constant self doubt, consumed with guilt, feeling not good enough, anxious, depressed, hopeless, worthless, lacking control over their lives, feeling responsible for the other person, empty, desperate, unable to trust others or themselves, and foolish. While it can be difficult to leave and recover from such a relationship, it is possible. It is possible to heal, find yourself again, and connect with others in healthy supportive relationships. If any of this sounds familiar to you, and you believe you are a survivor of narcissistic abuse, please reach out for help. I understand the kind destruction these relationships have in people’s lives, and I have witnessed the bravery and strength of people who have lived through the abuse, taken their lives back, and healed their wounds. There is hope, and support in your journey of recovery.

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