Narcissists don’t really love themselves. Actually, they’re driven by shame. It’s the idealized image of themselves, which they convince themselves they embody, that they admire. Deep down, narcissists feel the gap between the façade they show the world and their shame-based self and work hard to avoid feeling it. This gap is true for other codependents, but a narcissist uses defense mechanisms that are destructive to relationships, cause pain, and damage to their loved ones’ self-esteem. (To diagnose: see narcissistic personality disorder)


Darlene-Lancer1Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist. She is a relationship expert and author of “Codependency for Dummies” and “Conquering Codependency and Shame: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You,” as well as five ebooks.. Her articles have been published widely in professional and popular periodicals. She has worked extensively in the field of addiction and codependency. Her philosophy is to encourage each person to determine their own abstinence and treatment objectives..

Editor: Samreen Masaud

Many of the narcissist’s coping mechanisms are abusive–hence the term, “narcissistic abuse.” However, addicts and people with other mental illnesses are also abusive. Abuse is abuse, regardless of the diagnosis. Here are a few examples of abuse you may not have identified:

  • Verbal abuse: Includes belittling, bullying, accusing, blaming, shaming, demanding, ordering, threatening, criticizing, sarcasm, raging, opposing, undermining, interrupting, blocking, and name-calling. Note that many people occasionally make demands, use sarcasm, interrupt, oppose, criticize, blame, or block you. Consider the context, malice, and frequency of the behavior before labeling it narcissistic abuse.
  • Narcissistic-AbuseManipulation: Generally, manipulation is indirect influence on someone to behave in a way that furthers the goals of the manipulator. Often, it expresses covert aggression. Think of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” On the surface, the words seem harmless – even complimentary; but underneath you feel demeaned or sense a hostile intent. If you experienced manipulation growing up, you may not recognize it as such. See my blog on spotting manipulation.
  • Emotional blackmail: Emotional blackmail may include threats, anger, warnings, intimidation, or punishment. It’s a form of manipulation that provokes doubt in you. You feel fear, obligation, and or guilt, sometimes referred to as “FOG”
  • Gaslighting: Intentionally making you distrust your perceptions of reality or believe that you’re mentally incompetent.
  • Competition: Competing and one-upping to always be on top, sometimes through unethical means. E.g. cheating in a game.
  • Negative contrasting: Unnecessarily making comparisons to negatively contrast you with the narcissist or other people.
  • Sabotage: Disruptive interference with your endeavors or relationships for the purpose of revenge or personal advantage.
  • Exploitation and objectification: Using or taking advantage of you for personal ends without regard for your feelings or needs.
  • Lying: Persistent deception to avoid responsibility or to achieve the narcissist’s own ends.
  • Withholding: Withholding such things as money, sex, communication or affection from you.
  • Neglect: Ignoring the needs of a child for whom the abuser is responsible. Includes child endangerment; i.e., placing or leaving a child in a dangerous situation.
  • Privacy invasion: Ignoring your boundaries by looking through your things, phone, mail; denying your physical privacy or stalking or following you; ignoring privacy you’ve requested.
  • Character assassination or slander: Spreading malicious gossip or lies about you to other people.
  • Violence: This includes blocking your movement, pulling hair, throwing things, or destroying your property.
  • Financial abuse: Financial abuse might include controlling you through economic domination or draining your finances through extortion, theft, manipulation, or gambling, or by accruing debt in your name or selling your personal property.
  • Isolation: Isolating you from friends, family, or access to outside services and support through control, manipulation, verbal abuse, character assassination or other means of abuse.

Narcissism and the severity of abuse exist on a continuum. It may range from ignoring your feelings to violent aggression. Typically, narcissists don’t take responsibility for their behavior and shift the blame to you or others; however, some do and are capable of feeling guilt and self-reflection. Someone with more narcissistic traits who behaves in a malicious, hostile manner is considered to have “malignant narcissism.” Malignant narcissists aren’t bothered by guilt. They can be intentionally hurtful and attack as a means of self-protection.

If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, it’s important to get outside support to understand clearly what’s going on, to rebuild your self-esteem and confidence, and to learn to communicate effectively and set boundaries. Doing the exercises in my books and e-workbooks, particularly Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People will help you make changes. If you feel in danger, don’t believe broken promises. Get immediate help, and read, “The Truth about Domestic Violence and Abusive Relationships.”

© Darlene Lancer, 2016