You may have heard of narcissistic abuse, but do you know how to identify it and deal with it? Hi, I’m Simon Dippenaar, and I’m a family lawyer who has dealt with this issue extensively. If you think you might be a victim of narcissistic abuse, here’s what you need to know.
Identifying narcissistic behaviour and its more extreme form, narcissistic personality disorder, can be difficult, especially because narcissists typically focus their attention on destroying your self-esteem. This often causes you to question whether your feelings and reactions are valid, and can even leave you doubting your sanity. But make no mistake, narcissistic personality disorder is real, and the repercussions of being on its receiving end can be severe.
A narcissist is often very charming and likeable at first. They know how to make you feel special. However, this initial impression often belies the fact that they are driven by self-interest, power and control. Their primary focus is themselves, and this makes itself apparent in their profound arrogance and their inability to empathise.
Narcissists will do anything they can to avoid engaging with their own painful emotions. And this avoidance manifests in a number of different ways, including verbal abuse, manipulation and gaslighting, lying, withholding love and affection, constantly exercising control and love bombing.
Shaming, bullying, belittling, threatening and criticising those around them are regular tactics of narcissists. They tend to shift blame quickly, and are likely to make you feel embarrassed or afraid in an effort to protect themselves. Narcissists desperately crave external validation and admiration and will do whatever they can to avoid feeling bad about themselves.
They also make you doubt yourself and invalidate your experiences. This can cause you to feel disconnected from your own intuition, and bound by feelings of fear, responsibility and guilt. Narcissists are also likely to lie. These are not benign white lies. Instead, they’re serious, pathological lies that narcissists hide behind in order to maintain a firm grip over the power in their relationships.
Withholding love and affection, as well as money, sex and communication, further helps narcissists exercise control. This can make you feel neglected, which is especially problematic for children of narcissistic parents. It’s possible that neglected children will grow up to become narcissists themselves, since they’ve been taught from a young age that one’s individual needs are all that matter. Control is further exercised in the narcissist’s influence on what those around them wear and eat, who they interact with and what kind of work they do.
Of course, a relationship with a narcissist isn’t always difficult. Narcissists want people to adore them, and so there are often periods of happiness that are driven by large, over-the-top gestures called “love bombing”. This helps narcissists keep their partners coming back, but at some point the narcissist will always return to abusive behaviour.
If this sounds familiar, and you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship with a narcissist, help is available. Psychologists are equipped to deal with the mental and emotional ramifications of this sort of abuse and can help you to disentangle yourself from your narcissistic relationship. If you decide to step away entirely, which is usually the best approach, our team of divorce and family law experts are here to lend a hand. For a confidential appointment, please call me, Simon Dippenaar, attorney in Cape Town on +27 (0) 86 099 5146 and we can help you start afresh.
- Narcissistic abuse – What is it and how do you handle it?
- Divorcing a narcissist
- Co-parenting with a narcissist? There are ways to cope.
The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.