Why are Narcissists Abusive in Relationships?

An Article by Ryan Grey

There is a lot of discussion at the moment about narcissistic personality disorder. The concept of narcissism is often misunderstood. However, the destructive effects of narcissistic abuse are only too well felt and understood by their victims.

Around 1% of people are thought to have narcissistic personality disorder and it is seen more in men than in women. The narcissistic personality type was first described in 1925 and it was first understood as a personality disorder in 1968.

So how do people with narcissistic personality disorder end up becoming abusive in relationships?

The characteristics of a person with narcissistic personality disorder are excessive feelings of self importance and a strong need for admiration from others. They will also display a lack of empathy towards others. They will often focus and even obsess on achieving power over others.

It is not that the narcissistic person is more self confident than others. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Underneath their outward display of superiority, they often feel inferior to others. Their narcissistic behaviors are generally an attempt to rise above this inferiority. Criticizing and belittling others is their way to a feeling of power.

This leads to the narcissistic individual having a very fragile ego, despite the false outward image they display. They will react strongly to any criticism directed at them.

When these personal characteristics all come together in one person, it is not surprising that exploitation and abuse of others can occur. A lack of empathy coupled with a strong need to have control over others is not a healthy attitude to have within any relationship.

A healthy relationship is based on equality, mutual respect and trust. These are all factors which a narcissist finds very difficult to foster within a relationship.

However, for the narcissist, relationships are as important as they are to anyone else. For the narcissist, the object of a relationship is not about building a mutual, respectful two-way connection of love and intimacy, it is all about getting their selfish narcissistic needs met.

At the beginning of an intimate relationship, the narcissist needs to make the other person feel that they are a loving, respectful and worthy partner. They often do this by showering the other person with affection and really pulling them in. This process is known as love bombing.

It is only later that their partner starts to see the true narcissist. This is usually once some sort of a commitment has been made and the narcissist can safely allow their fake display to drop.

Often, by the time the effects of the narcissistic abuse becomes unbearable, the couple may have had children, been married or in a long term relationship or have a house and other financial commitments together. This makes it even harder for the abuse victim to get out of the relationship and they will often feel isolated and trapped. See my article on emotional abuse for more information: https://ryangreycounselling.com/2019/09/09/freedom-from-emotional-abuse/.

It is important to point out that the victims of narcissist abuse are not to blame in any way for being taken in by a narcissistic partner. The love bombing that happens at the outset is identical to the sort of healthy adoration and affection that cements any sort of relationship at the beginning. It is only in hindsight that victims are able to see the difference and that it was all an elaborate trick to draw them in.

It is very difficult for a narcissist to accept that they need help. Because of the nature of their disorder, their egos are too fragile to accept that there is anything wrong with them. To tell a narcissist that they have a problem is to come up against a wall of defense and probably a barrage of abuse and blame.

Narcissists naturally feel that they know more than health professionals. Of narcissists that do enter therapy, most don’t stick around long, or do not trust the therapist enough for any sort of meaningful change to take place.

Counselling can help the victims of narcissistic abuse to recover their sense of self. It can help victims to build back their sense of self esteem and to move forward with their lives. Learning new coping strategies around self respect and personal boundaries can help victims to move on in the aftermath of narcissist abuse.

Though it is unlikely that narcissists will change, the victims of narcissist abuse have every chance of a bright future. Through building up a good support network and accessing all the available support, there is every chance of recovery after narcissist abuse.

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