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The insidious nature of narcissistic abuse

Public Domain
Wonderful Wizard of Oz, W. W. Denslow, 1900

The insidious nature of narcissistic abuse

In honor of October being National Domestic Violence Awareness Month this article will focus on narcissistic abuse. Physical violence, destruction of property, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, isolation and stalking are all common types of abuse, but narcissism occurs so covertly that it is often overlooked when addressing domestic violence.

“My ex is a narcissist,” has been a cry of the heartbroken; quite often, this diagnosis refers to behaviors rather than the condition known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. To truly understand narcissism, one must dive into the tactics and psychology of the perpetrator. 

According to Dr. Ramani Durvasula, Narcissists are seldom diagnosed. The false persona prevents them from addressing their transgressions; the true narcissist cannot self-reflect. Deep internal shame causes the narcissist to shield themself from scrutiny by employing an aggrandized false persona. Narcissistic tendencies, however, can be easily defined. True narcissists have extremely low self-esteem. 

There are five commonly accepted types of narcissism. 

The five types of narcissism will not be covered in this article; do your research to learn more.

The Narcissistic Abuse Cycle 

The narcissist has a disorder of perception. To compensate for this they require a steady supply of admiration, fame, esteem, respect or affection. When one supply runs dry, the narcissist must find a new supply to avoid the emptiness that plagues them. 

For this reason, the cycle of abuse continues from one partner to the next. When a new supply can’t be found, they often circle back to a previous source of narcissistic supply. The modus operandi remains the same.

Idealization / Love Bombing

The first stage of narcissistic abuse is love bombing.  The narcissist uses sex, flattery and admiration as they idealize their target. The love-bomb is often accompanied by a sob story of a painful childhood, or abusive ex-partner for eliciting sympathy. This phase floods the system with oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine.


As the narcissist’s idealization fades, they become resentful of their partner. Arguments fail to resolve as a result of the narcissist’s unwillingness to be accountable for wrongdoing. The narcissist then speaks negatively about their partner to friends and family in preparation for the discard phase, often isolating the victim from support systems.


The narcissist has a constant need for validation as a result of deep shame and a distorted self-image.  This validation is referred to as “narcissistic supply.”  When a partner begins to see through the veil of the narcissist’s false self, the abuser will often seek illicit affairs to obtain this supply. It is typical for the narcissist to have one or more affairs in preparation for the discard. 


Named after the Hoover vacuum cleaner, this tactic seeks to reel the victim back into the cycle of abuse after the discard stage. The narcissist will reach out to a discarded lover when their current supply runs dry.

Common tactics employed by the narcissist

The similarities in behavior among narcissists are uncanny. An underlying sense of entitlement leads to tendencies that the average person would find confusing. Some of the tricks used to manipulate are listed below.


Gaslighting is a method used to cause a victim to question their concept of reality. The gaslighter rewrites events to confuse the victim to the point of mania. 

Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender: DARVO

When a narcissistic abuser is held accountable for abuse they often deny, attack, reverse [roles of] victim [and] offender, flipping the script to implicate the victim as causing harm to the narcissist. DARVO is an acronym, coined by Dr. Jennifer J. Freyd, showcasing a type of gaslighting used to avoid accountability for wrongdoing. The offender claims that they are being wrongfully accused and then employs many of the tactics listed below to convince the victim that they have caused the offense. 

Triangulation and Flying Monkeys

Triangulation is a dysfunctional communication style where a person disrupts the flow of information to distort the truth. By bringing third parties into the argument, they pit people against each other through smear campaigns. The term “flying monkeys” refers to the cohorts and enablers of the narcissistic abuser, when referring to narcissistic behavior.

Guilt Tripping

This passive-aggressive form of manipulation is common and effective. Most people have employed this tactic, especially as children, but in the hands of a sophisticated manipulator, it becomes a method to establish dominance over the victim.

The Smear Campaign

The narcissist seeks to isolate and discredit their target through various means via the smear campaign. By playing the victim, lying, exaggerating, and insulting the target, the abuser isolates the victim from the community. This is accomplished in-person or through social media. When rumors are spread through social circles, the victim finds that previous support systems are no longer available. 

Word Salad

Word Salad is a term used to define deflection tactics used to confound the victim. A resolution can never be found because the topic is buried in emotive language, threats, insults and nonsense.

Future Faking

The target is fed a happily-ever-after fantasy, often telling their partner that they are twin-flames or soulmates. The fantasy shatters as the abuser moves into the devaluing and discarding phase of the relationship.

Reactive Abuse

When a victim is pushed to their limits and finally reacts, the reaction is used as evidence to implicate the victim as the abuser. 

Self-defense is a more accurate termIt’s important to understand that someone who has to resort to reactive abuse is not the instigator. Rather, they are a victim who is reacting to being abused,” said Sanjana Gupta of  Verywellmind.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse takes many forms. One strategy is to hoard and hide money, claiming to be broke, to manipulate another into paying for mutual needs. Financial abuse can go so far as to include theft or extortion. 

Narcissistic Injury

When the narcissist is forced to acknowledge the shameful nature of their actions, caught cheating or lying or being held accountable for wrongdoing, the veil of the false persona falls away causing narcissistic injury, and eventually the mortification of the false ego. This type of injury often leads to rage, lament, desperation and hopefully truth. One can not overcome narcissism without piercing this veil. Experts agree that reformation of a narcissist is rare. The false self protects the child from the torment of their environment; in adulthood, it is no longer needed. 


Narcissists are well known for their sense of entitlement and lack of empathy. When they experience a narcissistic injury, revenge is not an uncommon response; the rules of fairness seldom apply.

The Trauma Bond

The trauma bond is a cycle of abuse that results from the cultivation of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine from the love-bomb stage, followed by violent arguments causing massive cortisol spikes. This build-break-build cycle causes a literal addiction to the narcissist, similar to that of any addictive drug.

The Human Magnet Syndrome and Codependency

Codependents and people with addictive personalities are especially susceptible to narcissism. Ross Rosenberg coined the term “Human Magnet Syndrome.” He believes that codependents and narcissists have psychological profiles that perfectly match. The codependent seeks to placate their partner as a result of childhood trauma. The narcissist takes advantage of this tendency to manipulate and control the relationship. 

The Scapegoat and the Golden Child

Narcissistic parents tend to polarize people through a process called “splitting.”  The mother regards one child as the golden child and the other as the scapegoat. Even when the scapegoat succeeds, they can be punished, while mistakes made by the golden-child are disregarded or celebrated.  


Not to be confused with dissociative identity disorder (AKA multiple personality disorder), splitting is a childish process whereby the narcissist regards any person as either all-good, or all-bad.  When hit with a narcissistic injury, they split their concept, of the victim, into one of these polarities of good or evil. 


It is important to remember that narcissism is a disorder that causes a distorted view of reality. It is also important to keep in mind that one can have compassion for the diseased person without feeling obligated to tolerate abuse. Word salad can sometimes result from this distorted view, rather than deceptive intention. 

Early Childhood

For most young children, love is the coveted prize to acquire from the parent; for the narcissist the prize is attention. Two childhood models tend to lead to Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  The most common is an unstable or violent childhood home. The other is when a child is spoiled by a parent, in a manner that causes an unrealistically grandiose self-image and a sense of entitlement.  

Escaping the Narcissist

The generally accepted methods for dealing with narcissists are going no-contact and gray-rocking. No contact is self-explanatory, and is sometimes unavoidable. To employ the grey-rock method, a person would embody the personality of a grey rock. Since narcissists thrive on the reactions of others, displaying minimal emotion disarms the narcissist. It is generally accepted that co-parenting is not possible with a true narcissist, leading one to parallel-parent instead. One can learn a lot from a narcissistic relationship if willing to learn and grow through the process.  

Help is Out There 

There are many resources available to help you or a loved one escape narcissistic abuse. Knowledge is the first step.


N. Kepler holds associate degrees in Behavioral Health and Psychology and can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]

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About the Contributor
C. Nicholas Kepler
C. Nicholas Kepler, Reporter

C. Nicholas Kepler works as a Solar Broker, raising his beloved 3-year-old son, as a full-time student in the College of Psychology at California State University, Chico. Kepler is an owner and founder of Late Bloomr Vintage Boutique located at 363 East Sixth St., in Downtown Chico and holds degrees in behavioral eealth and psychology.  At a young age, he fell in love with the idea of being a reporter.

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