5 Truths We MUST Understand About Narcissistic Abuse

5 Truths of Narcissistic Abuse

There is a LOT of misinformation swirling around in regards to the experience of narcissistic abuse and how we can heal from the inevitable trauma it causes. While the focus of the truths I am sharing here is in support of the victims of narcissistic abuse, I hope those who don’t relate to the term directly will want to read on as well.

We must all educate ourselves regarding this phenomenon. Narcissism is everywhere — in our government, legal system, educational system, entertainment industry, and even in the healthcare and mental health fields that are supposed to be helping us heal from such emotional abuse.

Abuse is happening all around us with what feels like increasing intensity. Knowledge is a big part of the solution. I am hopeful that by exploring the five truths that follow, you will be better able to protect and support yourself and others.

🎥 WATCH a video on this topic here: https://youtu.be/VzWJ1Qk9J_8

Truth #1 – Narcissistic Abuse is Real

To begin with, we must honor that narcissistic abuse is emotional abuse. It is very real and happening in a variety of ways. The gaslighting, dismissal, and invalidation tactics used by narcissistic individuals make a person feel crazy, as if they are overreacting and making it all up. Additionally, the word “abuse” is so loaded with emotion that many of us feel very uncomfortable admitting that what we experienced or are experiencing fits the definition.

Even defining abuse is a bit problematic. The current Wikipedia entry for abuse notes that it is, “the improper usage or treatment of a thing, often to unfairly or improperly gain benefit. Abuse can come in many forms, such as: physical or verbal maltreatment, injury, assault, violation, rape, unjust practices, crimes, or other types of aggression.“ [SOURCE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abuse] It also includes over 100 subclasses of abuse. WOW, no wonder it is so hard to recognize and accept! We can’t even clearly define it. 

Personally, I used to only perceive “abuse” as physical violence. This was an outcome of what society taught me. Like many women, I thought, “He doesn’t hit me. He doesn’t cheat on me. So, he is a good man. I should be grateful. It was a terribly toxic belief that trapped me in a relationship that I now recognize was clearly abusive on an emotional level.

In that relationship, the rules were always changing without discussion. My efforts were rarely acknowledged or appreciated. And nothing I did was ever good enough. It was like trying to jump through a hoop that was always being moved. It left me anxious, confused, and filled with self-doubt.

Even when the verbal abuse wasn’t apparent in shaming comments about how “weird” I was, or how “no one liked me,” or even that “I wasn’t really sick,” despite several clinical diagnoses, the nonverbal cues were endless. Every time I voiced my needs or wants, they were met with eye rolls, sighs, and the removal of all affection.

As a highly sensitive person, the abuse that came through the depletion of my energy field was the most debilitating and the hardest to comprehend. This kind of abuse is not only real; it is all-consuming. It hits you in all aspects of your being — mind, body, and spirit. That is why healing from narcissistic abuse and trauma takes a fully holistic approach that begins by accepting that it is really happening. 

So how do you know if a situation is abusive?

The simplest answer is similar to what we addressed in “Understanding Intimidation.” It comes down to power. If the person and those around them are using their power (implied or real) to control your behavior and beliefs without concern for how it is impacting you, that is likely abuse.

One key indicator is if you state your perspective or feelings and the other person refuses to see your point of view, won’t apologize, and, more importantly, won’t change their behavior. 

Abuse requires repetitive, intentional action, which can be difficult to detect. Yet, your feelings don’t lie. How you feel is typically your best indicator. If someone consistently makes you feel terrible about yourself, they are likely abusing you in some way.

When you are in an abusive relationship, it is common to believe that the abuse is normal or that all people can be abusive and hurtful. Fortunately, that is not true! There are healthy, loving people who do not intentionally abuse others. These people genuinely want the best for others. Look for these people. They will help you to shift your perspective. 

Truth #2 – We CAN Heal From Narcissistic Abuse

A positive shift in perspective is vital. You must always have hope and optimism in your life for any healing to take place.

There is so much chatter in the self-help world around healing from narcissistic abuse and the trauma it causes. Sadly, some of the messages are unbelievably pessimistic and harsh. I recently heard a talk where one of the leaders in narcissistic research declared that most people won’t heal from this type of abuse.

That made me terribly sad, because one of the most fundamental truths of healing is that we MUST believe it can happen. Our minds are incredibly powerful. Yes, trauma has many, many layers and is very challenging to address. However, we should NEVER close the door on the potential for healing it. It takes a lot of time and effort, but it is always possible.

Of course, we also always have free will. We can choose to stay where we are in life. I understand that some people aren’t yet willing or able to do the work necessary to leave an abusive situation. You may feel trapped and powerless. You could even feel comfortable where you are.  

There is no shame in whatever path you choose. Staying and leaving are both hard. You must choose which “hard” feels best for you.  

In the meantime, look around at all the people who have defied the odds. There are countless cases of people who healed from incurable disease or totally changed their lives after an unimaginable loss or struggle. Humans are far more resilient than we tend to believe. Never lose hope that your life can improve.

I was able to completely rebuild my life just three years after leaving a long-term narcissistic relationship. It took a lot of additional work beyond that, and five years later, I am still healing, but I feel like a completely different person energetically. That is why I am so passionate about this topic. I know we don’t have to suffer. We can leave. We can heal.

Truth #3 – It Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better

Belief is powerful, but it can’t erase pain or hardship. If you are brave enough to pursue a healing path, a dose of reality is crucial. It always feels a bit worse before it gets better.

Leaving a narcissistic relationship can feel like walking through fire. You will likely have to burn aspects of your life to the ground to break free. Freedom is rarely free. It always takes work and further loss.   

The healing process of narcissistic abuse is like treating a skinned knee. You must first clean all the debris out of the wound, then treat it with an antiseptic before bandaging it. That hurts like a bear! I remember hiding injuries from my mom because I didn’t want to experience the painful sting of that process. Many of those old wounds never fully healed and remain as visible scars. Healing from trauma and abuse means uncovering and sometimes reopening a wound to prevent a lifelong scar. It is going to require your full attention, along with a great deal of compassion and support.

Truth #4 – There Is Always Collateral Damage

Many people question individuals who stay in narcissistic relationships. Why don’t you just leave? It seems like a fair, logical question, but it misses a vital point. Leaving a narcissist almost always leads to collateral damage.

We lose a lot more than the toxic relationship. We lose all the positive attachments and benefits that surround that connection. Narcissists are incredibly good at manipulation. They typically paint the person who leaves as the villain. And, sadly, given their propensity to lie easily, others often take the narcissistic person’s side.

For instance, in leaving narcissistic, toxic jobs, in addition to the obvious loss of financial security and benefits, I always struggled with the loss of the work I had grown so passionate about. Likewise, I mourned the loss of the colleagues who had become friends. Any one of those elements was initially reason enough to justify staying far too long.

I only left when the abuse became too great. And, unfairly, in many of those cases, my leaving was mislabeled as a poor work ethic or lack of concern for my team. Nothing could be further from the truth. Naturally, my narcissistic managers made it clear that they would never vouch for my work performance, meaning all my efforts on their behalf were for nothing.

Similarly, one of the main reasons I stayed in my narcissistic marriage for as long as I did was because of the nieces and nephews that I loved so much. As anticipated, the divorce severely hampered our connection. That still breaks my heart.  

This element of narcissistic abuse is one that I rarely hear discussed, but it is a very potent reason why compassionate, loving people are the most likely to remain trapped. If your reasons for staying in a narcissistic relationship relate to the needs of anyone else — your kids, your spouse, or your colleagues  —  you must recognize that you matter most. You can’t be the best version of yourself for your kids, your work, or anything else if you are being abused.  

I respect that not everyone will agree with this statement. But, in my experience, people are always better off breaking free from a narcissistic relationship than they are staying. Only after leaving can the healing truly begin. And a healed person is always a better parent, worker, or friend.

Leaving is never easy, though. Narcissists often control the resources — the money, the home, the career potential, and even the family connections. You will need to put an escape plan in place before making a move. Slow and steady, one step at a time, is how you pull yourself out of this painful place.

Truth #5 – Narcissistic People Don’t Love in Healthy Ways

Love is a tool of manipulation and abuse for narcissistic people. They don’t love in the genuine, healthy ways that empathetic people do. This final truth, in my opinion, is the most painful but also the most powerful if you commit to believing it.

Narcissists see love as a tool for getting what they want, not a pure emotion that arises naturally and consistently. Love for a narcissistic individual is transactional. They “love” people who do things for them. They “love” people who bolster their egos.

They don’t seem to understand or embrace the positive power of love for love’s sake. They often perceive an empathetic person’s love and concern for people they don’t know as weird or foolish. They simply can’t comprehend love in such a natural, pure form.     

Some narcissistic people rarely use the word “love” at all, which is a pretty clear indication of their inability to embrace that state. In contrast, one of the scariest aspects of many narcissistic people is how easily they will say, “I love you.” They have learned to use that phrase as a means of getting what they want. As such, they say it freely and frequently.

For those of us who value words, this is especially confusing and dangerous. We will consistently forgive unloving and unkind behavior simply because the person said they loved us. 

Genuine love is reciprocal. It is given and received. It is exhibited through consistent actions, not words alone. Love is not just an emotion; it is a powerful energetic force. We feel when someone’s love is genuine. It will radiate naturally to and from our heart chakra. It will feel safe and warm.

If you want to explore how genuine love feels, snuggle with a pet. Once you experience that feeling of genuine love, anything less will not be acceptable, nor should it be.

Recognizing that the narcissistic people in your life have never really loved, valued, or respected you is so brutal that we tend to deny it is true. Yet, once you can see this reality clearly, the awareness is often the catalyst that enables you to finally see how dangerous they are. The fact that someone would manipulate your most sacred and primal desire for love and safety reveals their inherent selfishness, carelessness, and cruelty.

As painful as this recognition is, it enables you to see the situation clearly and to begin grieving the loss of the relationship you thought you had. It also enables you to choose only healthy relationships that are reciprocal and mutually loving in the future.

This was a long one! And yet, I feel it is just scratching the surface of this complicated topic. Narcissistic abuse feels like an epidemic to me. It is something that we should all be aware of. People should never have the power to bully, control, or disempower others. If you see something, say something! That is how change happens. 🎥 For more info, check out a video on this topic: https://youtu.be/VzWJ1Qk9J_8

If you are in need of healing support, please check out my comprehensive, virtual coaching course: Free From Narcissists: A 10-Step Program to Reclaim Your Joy.   

Or, for free support, check out the other blogs on Healing Narcissistic Abuse.

Michelle Gibeault Traub is a health writer, compassionate coach, and the author of Free From Narcissists and Online Dating for Sensitive Women. Her mission is to help women be their best in body, mind & spirit. Sign up for Michelle’s FREE Gifts – The Natural Healing Toolkit and 33 Ways to Add More Joy to Your Life.

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