Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissistic personality disorder is one of the four Cluster-B personality disorders listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and defined as follows:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • A preoccupation with perfection or fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the perfect love
  • Believes he/she is special and unique, and can only be understood by or should associate himself/herself with other special or high-status people or institutions
  • A need for excessive admiration from close friends and relatives as well as complete strangers
  • A sense of entitlement to goods and services
  • Exploitive behavior in interpersonal relationships (including private and professional relationships)
  • A lack of empathy
  • Envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • A demonstration of arrogance in behaviors or attitudes

To diagnose NPD, a person must show a pattern that reflects at least 5 out of the 9 traits above.
Furthermore, the DSM-5 lists an alternative model that describes a limitation of the following:

  • Identity
  • Self-direction
  • Empathy
  • Intimacy

One of the most important traits the DSM-5 is failing to make aware of is the distinction between overt and covert narcissism.
While the above traits are often quickly ascribed to overt narcissism, they can also be observed in covert narcissism over time. Covert narcissism is the most dangerous because covert abusers hide these traits from their targets in the beginning to not only gain access but also power and control over their victims through strategic and insidious manipulation tactics, leading to what we describe as narcissistic abuse.

Narcissistic abuse in intimate relationships is the systematic destruction of a narcissist’s partner for his/her personal gain of narcissistic supply. Victims supply narcissists in various ways, e.g. attention, housing, transportation, money, sex, food, status, jobs, etc.

Narcissistic abuse follows a universally recognizable pattern divided in the four phases:

  • Idealization or Love-bombing
  • Devaluation
  • Discard or Escape
  • Hoovering

Through various grooming and manipulation techniques in the early stage of a relationship, a narcissist makes a usually vulnerable and thoroughly selected target dependent on him/her (most of all emotionally). The target will be idealized and literally bombarded with attention, affection, and artificial love, which he/she believes to be authentic, often, due to a lack of self-love and an inability to recognize or interpret true love.

Once the now victim shows his/her commitment to a narcissist, the devaluation process begins. In most cases, a narcissist has isolated a victim from a valuable support system by that time to execute complete power and control over him/her.

During the devaluation phase, the victim may experience various types of abuse such as emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or spiritual abuse, leading to mental and physical depletion, and in some cases even death.

Over time, a narcissist deems his/her victim useless, as he/she becomes more and more unable to cater to his/her ever-changing demands and insatiable needs, leading to the rapid discard and replacement of a victim with another target, who will soon become the next victim. Some victims manage to escape the devaluation phase before narcissists are able to discard them; a dangerous time in which they may try everything re-gain power and control over their victims, engage in stalking, and monitor their victims’ every move.

Once, a victim has been discarded or escaped, he/she enters the final stage of narcissistic abuse, hoovering. The term is named after the Hoover vacuum cleaner and just like it, a narcissist tries to suck a former victim back into a toxic dynamic with him/her to repeat this vicious cycle.

Victims of narcissistic abuse often receive stern looks and harsh criticism for staying with or returning to their abusive partners. What outsiders do not understand is that due to the ups-and-downs of re-idealization and devaluation, victims develop a so-called trauma bond (commonly known as Stockholm Syndrome) – a deep psychological and emotional connection (or addiction), keeping them hooked and dependent upon their abusers’ validation.

Since narcissistic abuse is insidious, invisible, and personalized, one must have experienced it in order to fully understand the effects of it.

Narcissistic abuse is not only a problem within intimate relationships. It can also occur within family dynamics, among friends, or at the workplace.