June 1st is World Narcissistic Abuse Awareness Day (WNAAD). This time I'm writing about this controversial and very complex topic. Mainly because you might be experiencing symptoms of narcissistic abuse that you're unaware of and might get angry at the topic instead of asking yourself, "How is this so triggering for me?".
Narcissistic abuse is invisible, and it is invisible by design... of a narcissist. Do you want to know how it works?
At the end of this post, I wrote down 5 signs of narcissistic abuse and linked 3 resources for you to continue learning about it.
My take on narcissistic behavior comes from several sources. As a trained professional in developmental trauma, I view narcissism as a survival strategy for children who had to completely abandon their own sense of self to fit into the role and the image that served their caregivers. I believe that narcissists raise narcissists - people who cannot see their own humanity and cannot see the humanity in others.
Narcissists do have empathy, but it’s intellectual, not emotional, and is only reserved for their own idea of how people should be around them and how they should serve their needs. Narcissists build transactional relationships because that’s how they have been raised - they had to fulfill a function within a family or community. So everybody does, on their own map of the world.
Narcissists do not self-reflect. There is nobody “at home” to reflect on. They’re disconnected from their own internal experience. Their attention and sense of self are often outwards oriented. They perceive themselves in relation to other people’s roles with comparisons in power dynamics - who’s on top of me and who’s below me now? They adapt different roles and force others to play in theirs so that narcissists can preserve control over their idea of the world.
People in relationships with narcissists often feel not seen. No matter what they do or how much heart they pour into the relationship, narcissists cannot take it in (because there is no one inside to take it in).
Generally, you are only good or can do something right when you fit into the narcissist’s image for you in their life. When you violate their expectations, you shall be punished by coercion and manipulated back into serving your role, just like narcissistic parents did to their child.
Shame is the underlying, most present emotion in narcissists. And they do everything, absolutely everything, to avoid feeling shame. The sense of shame is unbearable because they built their whole life on a constant effort to fit in that environment that was not attuned to them, so they had to work hard (secretly, they want acknowledgment for the hardship).
That’s why grandiose narcissists are proud and demand respect from other people, and covert narcissists are constantly resentful and jealous of others’ success as a way to not look at their own sense of inadequacy and the detrimental feeling of shame.
Without therapy or education, people do not know that the shame they’re experiencing is reflecting poorly on the environment that failed them as human beings.
Narcissists internalized shame because they entirely depended on the caregivers who didn’t see them. A child that internalizes shame has no space for protest or agency. That’s how trauma develops. A child has no choice but to submit to a controlling environment even if it completely denies their humanity.
It’s a very cruel form of abuse. It’s also invisible and can only be noticed when you know what to look at (see the signs below).
Perfectionists, overachievers, workaholics, burt out CEOs of companies, and flawless family members are the people who had to deny their own human needs in order to survive in high pressure, high-performance, high-demand environment. Therefore, they chose professions where those needs aren’t required to succeed.
Unlike physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse doesn’t leave bruises. It’s invisible.
Thus, people go through life recreating narcissistic abuse without knowing about their impact. How can you point at something that you do not see? That’s why we now have WNAAD to remind people about the invisible bully in the room - unwillingness to see and acknowledge human beings as vulnerable, fallible, dependent, and needing connection, compassion, validation, and deep recognition for the beings they are.
As well as the lack of understanding that we primarily develop our sense of self from healthy interdependent relationships with people who can attune and relate to us with care and dignity.
Here are the signs that you or your friend might be experiencing narcissistic abuse (or have had it in the past and are still suffering from symptoms):
If you notice your friend disappearing from their social life, see them doubt themselves a lot, feel angst, and hear them talk about themselves as if they can never do anything right but their partner is perfect, flag that conversation. If you notice they contradict themselves while speaking about their relationship, sending them some psychoeducation about narcissism and narcissistic abuse might be a good idea.
Here are some resources. My absolute favorite expert on narcissistic abuse, with an extensive video library on youtube, is Dr. Ramani.
Daniel Shaw is a world-renowned expert on narcissism and systems of subjugation (cults).