Recovering from Narcissistic Abuse
Narcissism is defined as: excessive sense of self-importance over and above the needs of others; grandiosity; arrogance; absence of ability to empathize and experience reciprocity in relationships; intense need for admiration/attention to fill very low self-esteem; impaired relationships resulting in parasitic/predatory behaviors designed to fill one’s self-esteem in the form of narcissistic supply (DSM-IV).
One could wonder, then, how someone would find such an individual, someone who embodies these characteristics, attractive. Well, studies show that people with narcissism market themselves in attractive, deceptive packages. They may present with a swagger, intense eye contact, false bravado/charm, knock-your-socks-off seduction (often learned by neurolinguistic programming (NLP), swift pacing of rushing the relationship into commitment/marriage/promising a future together (which is later discovered to be a lie), intense sexual chemistry, love-bombing or romancing the target excessively (flowers, etc). There is usually always the promise of mind blowing sex, but it rarely if ever materializes. Sex is a weapon to manipulate and control, not to share intimacy or love.
People with narcissistic traits are known for targeting intelligent, self-sufficient, empathic individuals as partners. They tend to lack core identity (Brown, 2013), and need narcissistic supply to fill their empty psyches. Narcissistic supply comes mostly in the form of adulation, adoration, and attention, but any sort of feedback allows the individual with narcissistic qualities to feel alive (including negative attention). These individuals feel a sense of challenge in targeting highly successful, attractive individuals who may already be in other relationships and/or who express a sense of vulnerability (i.e. having grief or depression, or recently getting out of a relationship).
The literature on malignant narcissism is extensive, yet many are not informed about the dangers of being involved with someone whose character or actions tend toward narcissism. I find that clients who were entangled in relationships with such individuals have more healing to do from breaks in these relationships than if they had been in relationships with healthy individuals, because often these clients are manifesting symptoms of posttraumatic stress.
Not only are they grieving the loss of the relationship, but they are also processing the unreality of a “fake relationship.” Furthermore, often psychological abuse (and emotional and sexual abuse) has permeated the relationship. In order to heal, psychotherapy must focus on grief work and trauma recovery, in addition to understanding the elements of the toxic relationship, so that patterns are not repeated in the future.
Once the initial honeymoon wears off, partners of people with narcissistic traits go from feeling high on a pedestal (much like being on cocaine) to feeling devalued, discarded, and figuratively knocked off the pedestal. Their partners have successfully seduced and hooked them into relationships.
But suddenly, the individual with narcissism begins to reveal traits of lying, future-faking, and Dr. Jekyll /Ms. Hyde Personality. She or he may vanish for hours or days on end, or gaslight (confuses the reality of) a partner. This person becomes emotionally abusive and detaches from the partner, extracting narcissistic supply in the process.
The partner, then, is ignored, dropped or discarded, coming to a sudden and shocking realization. The Narcissist is simply not capable of true intimacy/love, and really exhibits a limited capacity for emotional connectedness/bonding. The Narcissist is now a mere fantasy, because she or he acted through mind control and brainwashing (Brown, 2013).