8 Signs of Narcissistic Abuse in a Relationship—Plus, What To Do About It

Photo: Getty Images/Eri Miura
In a perfect world, whenever you enter into a romantic relationship, it would be with someone who is loving and who has your best interests at heart. While that can certainly be the case, it's also possible that you could unsuspectingly end up in a relationship with a narcissist, even if the partner in question seems like the real deal in the beginning of your courtship. With this in mind, it's crucial that you learn the signs of narcissistic abuse to look out for.

Narcissistic abuse is a type of emotional abuse that’s carried out by someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), says abuse recovery coach expert Annie Kazina, PhD, author of The Woman You Want To Be. “Narcissistic abuse is basically a systematic approach to humiliate, reject, blame, and actually destroy the other person in a relationship,” she says. “It is not love—a narcissist feeds on their victim.”

“Narcissistic abuse is basically a systematic approach to humiliate, reject, blame, and actually destroy the other person in a relationship.”—Annie Kazina, PhD, abuse recovery coach expert

Dr. Kazina adds that narcissistic abuse is “almost vampiric” in that a person who is narcissistic “needs someone to provide them with all the attention, creature comforts, and sense of being powerful and superior.” While it's reasonable to assume few people if any would willingly sign up for such traits in a romantic partner, keep in mind that most types of narcissists can be incredibly charming in the beginning. “It feels like there’s this great love happening,” Dr. Kazina says. In fact, it's easier than one might realize to end up loving a narcissist.

Furthermore, folks with certain personality traits and relationship tendencies may be more at risk for entering a relationship with narcissist and enduring narcissistic abuse. “Someone who has narcissistic tendencies tends to be in a relationship with someone who has co-dependent tendencies,” says David Klow, LMFT, author of You Are Not Crazy: Letters from Your Therapist. “The narcissist often needs the co-dependent to feel better about themselves and the co-dependent feels more worthy when they are with someone who is larger than life.”

Feel like you might be in a relationship with a narcissist? Experts suggest looking out for the following eight signs of narcissistic abuse (and then acting accordingly to protect yourself).

8 signs of narcissistic abuse in a relationship

1. Your relationship was intense from the beginning

A narcissist will “appear as this person who really gets you,” Dr. Kazina says. “It feels like a great love, and they will make it seem that they will love you more than anybody has ever loved you in your life,” she says. Basically, things may feel really intense, really early, and there's never any sense of calm.

2. But that feeling doesn’t last

While a narcissist will make you feel like you’re their soul mate early on, things will soon change. “They will make you feel like you don’t deserve them,” Dr. Kazina says. “They can make you feel worthless.”

3. It feels like they’re no longer listening to you

Early on, it’s likely you felt like your partner was hanging on every word you say. But over time, a narcissist will block you out, making you feel unheard, Dr. Kazina says.

4. They say things to deliberately be mean

Narcissists will go out of their way to undermine others and to make them feel less-than, Dr. Kazina says. That may mean a range of things, including telling you that an outfit looks bad on you, that you’re not smart, or that you’re not worthy of certain things in life.

5. They try to gaslight you

Dr. Kazina says “reality can shift dramatically” when you’re the victim of narcissistic abuse, with the narcissist saying something to you, “and if you repeat it back and they don’t like it, they’ll say they never said that,” As a result of such textbook gaslighting, you may become less confident in your ability to tell what’s actually going on in your life.

6. They blame you for anything and everything

People who are victims of narcissistic abuse often walk on eggshells around their partner because “you don’t know what will be offensive to them,” Dr. Kazina says. “They will blame you for things…[and then] you accept that you mess everything up because you’re always blamed.” This is another manipulation tactic that will contribute to you breaking down over time.

7. You don’t feel as confident about your decision-making skills

Narcissists are big on undermining people, Dr. Kazina says. As a result, “you become increasingly less confident…victims of narcissistic abuse “stop having any belief in their abilities,” she adds.

8. You feel depressed and anxious

Being the victim of narcissistic abuse can make you feel “increasingly depressed,” Dr. Kazina says. At the same time, you can struggle with anxiety. “You’re hyper-vigilant, because you’re trying to check where the next attack will come from,” Dr. Kazina says. “You’re frantically people-pleasing and sacrificing yourself for someone who doesn’t appreciate it.”

What to do after you've identified signs of narcissistic abuse

Dr. Kazina recommends listening to your gut on how to proceed after identifying signs of narcissistic in order to best protect yourself. “If you’re feeling badly and you suspect this is what’s going on, it’s time to start to prepare to get out,” she says. “You’ve got to get a plan in place and leave.”

That plan may mean looking for a new place to live, if you live together. It also might mean seeking counseling with a trained mental-health professional in order to help you regain your confidence, understand how you got into this relationship, and what you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again, Klow says.

Also, be prepared to disregard what others in your life may think—you're the only person who knows the ins and outs of the relationship, and you're the only person you need to protect.. “There will be lots of people who think the narcissist is a lovely person," Dr. Kazina says. "They don’t see the reality.”

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