Narcissistic Abuse 101: What Is It & Why Don't People Know

In our October 16th post entitled "What The Heck Is A ‘Narcissist’?" we defined what a narcissist is and covered eight key characteristics of their narcissistic personality. I even shared specific, real life examples from my own relationship.

This post is going to pick up where we left off and dive deeper into what “narcissistic abuse” is in a relationship. While most people have heard the word “narcissist,” it still amazes me how few have heard the term “narcissistic abuse.” I think you’d be surprised at how many people this affects in the United States alone!

According to PsychCentral®, Narcissistic abuse affects over 158 million people in the United States. It defines narcissistic abuse as “a form of emotional and psychological abuse, primarily inflicted by people who have either narcissistic personality disorder (NPD, characterized by a lack of empathy), or antisocial personality disorder (ASPD, also known as sociopaths or psychopaths), and is associated with the absence of conscience.” The numbers are actually even more staggering in the article, but what’s crazy is that narcissistic abuse negatively affects more people than depression (approximately 80.8 million people). Yet, the public awareness about it is virtually non-existent and as invisible as the wounds of those abused.

So why hasn’t narcissistic abuse received the public attention, education and funding that it so deserves? Well, that’s easy…for one it’s INVISIBLE to the naked eye! Unlike physical abuse, it doesn’t leave any visible marks, bruises or lead to broken bones. It’s also the reason why so many people don’t even realize that they are actually being abused—and that it has an actual name (“Narcissistic Abuse”)—until the abuse has done its damage. Another possible reason is since it’s invisible it’s hard to prove what you can’t see. The emotional damage caused by narcissistic abuse is also cumulative – it happens in small, innocent-looking instances over a long period of time. The lack of public awareness and education blinds us from seeing pieces of our self-esteem and identity slowing being destroyed by a narcissist. This very reason sparked an awareness campaign recently by the hashtag #IfMyWoundsWereVisible.

Narcissistic abuse is covert and usually disguised by lots of charm, charisma, love and care. It’s not a single act of cruelty. It’s a treacherous, gradual and intentional erosion of a person’s self-worth. It’s both emotional and psychological abuse focused on undermining a person’s identity for the sole purpose of obtaining control for personal gain. It can involve patterns and cycles of dominance, manipulation, intimidation, emotional bullying, withholding, dishonesty, extreme selfishness, guilt mongering, rejection, abandonment, silent treatment, stonewalling, gaslighting, financial abuse, jealously, and possessiveness – just to name a few. Narcissistic abuse can even happen WITHOUT the use of anger, yelling, or name calling. HOW can that be, you ask?

Lundy Bancroft, author of Why Does He Do That?, provides an unsettling description of how abuse can be inflicted. His example shows it can cause great psychological harm, without the use of anger, yelling, or name calling: ‘'He (or she) can assault his partner psychologically without even raising his voice. He tends to stay calm in arguments, using his own evenness as a weapon to push her over the edge. He often has a superior or contemptuous grin on his face, smug and self-assured. He uses a repertoire of aggressive conversational tactics at low volume, including sarcasm, derision—such as openly laughing at her—mimicking her voice, and cruel cutting remarks. Like Mr. Right, he tends to take things she has said and twist them beyond recognition to make her appear absurd, perhaps, especially in front of other people. He gets to his partner through a slow but steady stream of low level assaults…

Another factor in the public awareness crusade is the fact that it’s challenging enough to describe what narcissistic abuse is, much less get people who’ve never experienced it to pay attention and care about it. Like I did at one time, many feel that they are too smart and too strong to ever be a victim of narcissistic abuse, or be impacted by it in any way. One commonly held misconception is the belief that only weak-minded, fragile, co-dependent types are vulnerable to being abused.

Why should YOU care about narcissistic abuse even if you’ve never experienced it? The damage it causes is not just limited to the individual victim. Whether you know it or now, its effects impact ALL of us! I'm positive you know someone in your family, friends or professional network who is directly affected by this form of abuse. Please don't look the other way or stick your head in the sand because you think or feel it's not your problem. It's ALL of our problem! Sometimes a victim just needs to vent. Sometimes they need help - a place to stay, knowing local resources to go to, a good referral to a professional (therapist, lawyer, etc.), or just affirmation and encouragement. You could be their lifeline of "hope" that they can survive.

There is a strong link between psychological and emotional stress and its relationship to increased risk of illness and disease. The prolonged, chronic stress of narcissistic abuse gradually wears our bodies over time. It wreaks havoc on our bodies’ stress response systems, physiology and overall well-being. Some common illnesses associated with the chronic stress are (but not limited to): heart attack, adrenal fatigue, weight gain or loss, hair loss, insomnia, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, PTSD, autoimmune disorders, digestive problems, asthma, migraines, epilepsy, cancer, arthritis, slower wound healing, Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), and increased dependency on alcohol or other substances.

Again, how does this affect you and impact society? Well, many victims of narcissistic abuse end up missing work, have to go on disability or even laid off from their jobs because of missing a lot of work due to their physical, mental and emotional challenges. Some victims are forced to turn to taxpayer funded government and state programs for assistance. The financial costs of narcissistic abuse places on society would be spent more wisely and effectively if it went towards public awareness and education.

As a survivor of narcissistic abuse, I will say this: I NEVER thought in my entire life I would ever be in this type of relationship. I was in denial that it was “abuse” for about half of the 8 years I was in it. I would NEVER have survived had it not been for my amazing support network of close friends. They may not have understand the specifics of narcissistic abuse, but they understood that I was in a toxic, unhealthy, abusive marriage. They saw the roller coaster I was on for 8 years and what it was doing to me. My support network, yoga, journaling and God saved my life!

While I’m still in my healing and recovery journey, my poor body is one big mess of health challenges. I will forever be affected by my experience, but I refuse to be defined by it which is why I’m such a passionate advocate on this subject. It is also the impetus for why I created “SpunkyDiva Diaries” because I wanted an online platform where women could feel comfortable sharing their real life stories. I'm committed to education and bringing awareness to Narcissistic Abuse. I wanted to create a virtual sisterhood where we can affirm, support, encourage and inspire one another…in life, in business and as great warrior divas who’ve survived the impossible.

There may be a lot of “new” vocabulary terms you are unfamiliar with in upcoming posts. Some will warrant their own blog post, but don’t worry I’ll try to add a glossary of terms when needed so you don’t get lost or caught up in the “narc lingo”!

My next blog post in this series will dive even deeper on how to spot narcissistic abuse and review some key signs that will help you identify if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist.