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This is what you tell people who don’t believe you were abused by a narcissist


By Cm pariharPublished about a month ago 18 min read

In my 49 years on earth, I’ve had the misfortune of being involved in three distinct narcissistic romantic relationships. The emotional and psychological toll of the third one was enough to help me realize that I had a pattern of my own that I needed to deal with, so I sought therapy. 2 1/2 years later, I’m well on my way to healing. But one of the most difficult parts of that journey has been the loneliness and isolation that comes from your closest friends and family members not understanding or even believing what you’ve been through, largely because they haven’t been victims of narcissistic abuse themselves. Or if they have, they have no understanding of what it was, or just don’t want to look into their own painful history.

Some of the common points I’ve heard from my close friends who are skeptical of my experience is the disbelief that someone like a narcissist — in my case a covert variation — even exists, that someone could be so cruel as to not experience feelings of guilt or remorse, that they actually never cared, that they view people as objects to be used. Trust me, it’s traumatic for us as the victims to realize that not only do these people exist, but accept the way allowed ourselves to fall in love with them, and stay in our lives for months, years, and sometimes decades.

I’ve searched high and low for succinct ways to help these friends understand what narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is, which is really challenging at a time when people are throwing the word narcissist around like candy on Halloween, and how traumatizing the resulting abuse can be. No one wants to deal with a barrage of YouTube or TikTok videos and articles from several different websites, especially when they’re not being personally impacted by some thing. So I decided to write a concise guide myself. This is based on the work of clinicians, psychologists, written studies, and experts on narcissistic abuse, along with my personal experience and that of hundreds of other women who have shared their experiences. If you have friends or family members who think your narcissistic ex was just a jerk, or that what you went through wasn’t that bad, or no worse than other women who have been through painful break ups, then I hope this guide can help them understand more clearly the depth of abuse you’ve suffered.

The difference between someone with narcissistic traits (just a jerk) and an actual narcissist (with NPD)

The term narcissist gets thrown around too easily these days, and many people interpret it as somebody who is merely self-centered and arrogant (a jerk). However, the true meaning goes far deeper than that. True narcissism is a personality disorder, categorized in something called cluster B, along with borderline personality disorder and sociopathy. It doesn’t refer to somebody who is just emotionally unavailable, a player, or treats women poorly depending on the situation. Narcissism is pervasive, it has no cure, it is a pathological way of behaving with people that is consistent and repetitive across-the-board. Narcissism is severely underdiagnosed and underreported because narcissists don’t seek therapy. This is because they don’t think anything is wrong with them, they don’t believe any of their behaviors are bad, they don’t feel the need to change or be better.

There are several different types of narcissists, but they do have a few things in common, including a sense of entitlement, grandiosity, and a complete lack of empathy. To be accurately diagnosed as someone with narcissistic personality disorder, a person has to meet at least five of the following nine diagnostic criteria:

DSM 1: Grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievement and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements);

DSM 2: Fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love;

DSM 3: Belief in being “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should be associated with, other special or high-status people (or institutions);

DSM 4: Requires excessive admiration;

DSM 5: Sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations;

DSM 6: Interpersonally exploitive, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his/her own ends;

DSM 7: Lacks empathy; is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others;

DSM 8: Envious of others or believes that others are envious of him/her;

DSM 9: Arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Due to a variety of factors that include childhood trauma, narcissists never developed a sense of self and were stunted emotionally at a very young age. They have no way to derive self esteem from within, so they rely completely on the attention and validation of others to survive. This is what’s known as narcissistic supply, and their entire lives revolve around getting this from other people. All narcissists are incapable of feeling or demonstrating real love or empathy, and they view people as objects to be used to serve their needs. They also all have a layer just under the surface of anger that can turn into narcissistic rage when crossed.

Overt narcissists are what some people might automatically link with that word. People who are loud, pushy, boastful, and arrogant. But covert narcissists present very differently, which makes them extremely dangerous. They are also known as vulnerable narcissists and come across as nice, shy, humble, and charming. What really throws you off is how self deprecating they are. They will put themselves down in order to seek compliments and validation from other people. Coverts are deeply insecure, highly sensitive to real or perceived criticism, refuse accountability for their actions (it’s always someone else’s fault), and believe the world is out to get them (victim complex). They created a false self, also known as a mask, a long time ago so that people will like them. When you interact with a covert, this is who you get, and who you fall in love with. It’s an illusion, it’s not who they really are.

The narcissistic relationship cycle of abuse

Something that makes a relationship with a narcissist unique and different from a relationship with someone who is just emotionally unavailable or a jerk is the cycle of abuse. There are distinct phases that every single relationship with a narcissist goes through without any variation. If your friend is trying to explain to you her experience with narcissistic abuse, it’s because she has gone through these phases, probably multiple times with her former partner.

Love Bombing

This happens at the very beginning of the relationship, when the narcissist will shower you with attention, affection, gifts, and praise. They will study you and they will mirror you to become a person that seems like they were custom-made for you. Remember that a narcissist doesn’t have a true sense of self, so they are chameleons in that they can become whoever their partner wants them to be. You will fall very quickly and get addicted to the dopamine rush they provide. You will feel like no one has ever understood you as well as this person, you will feel very intensely connected, like they are your soulmate. It’s important to understand that none of this is real, and it is all a mask designed to hook you.


Once the narcissist has you hooked, something undefinable will happen where they start to withdraw. They get bored or you do something to reveal yourself as a normal flawed human being, and they start to assert control and a sense of superiority over you. Jealousy is a hallmark of covert narcissism, but not for the reasons you think. They will start hating everything about you that they loved in the beginning. They are jealous of all your amazing attributes because they can never be those things. This is why they devalue. They will stop liking your social media posts. They will stop texting or calling as much. Texts will be short and dismissive. They will stop taking you out on dates, limit and control the amount of time you spend together. They may withdraw sex and affection altogether. Anything they know that you want or need from them, they will intentionally withhold because they know it hurts you. They will breadcrumb you and give you just enough attention to keep you hanging on, but then go long periods of time ignoring you or treating you like garbage. They will minimize your successes, won’t celebrate your achievements, won’t be there for you if you get sick or need them for help.


This is when the the narcissist finally gets rid of you, or engages in something called a reverse discard. This is when they push you to break up with them so they don’t look like the bad guy. The discard can be extremely cold, brutal, and may come out of nowhere. It usually happens because the narcissist no longer has use for you, can no longer derive any supply from you, has a new supply (he was likely grooming her to be your replacement while you were still together), or you have inflicted narcissistic injury. This is when you cause some sort of offense, whether intentional or not, that deeply bruises their ego. However, just when you think it’s over and the narcissist is done with you, they will do something called a hoover, which is named after the vacuum as their preferred method for sucking you back in to their orbit. It’s basically the love bombing stage all over again. If you resist the hoover and decline to engage with the narcissist after a discard, they are likely to get extremely angry and express some sort of narcissistic rage. This can take the form of a smear campaign, verbal or physical abuse, gaslighting, and/or stalking.


Regardless of who ended the relationship, if a narcissist thinks they can still get some sort of supply out of you (money, sex, attention, status, etc.), they will try to suck you back in to their orbit, whether it’s a renewed relationship or as a “friend.” They will go back to the love bombing phase, say all the right things, do all the things they knew that you needed and wanted, and basically become the perfect partner in order to get you to drop your guard and reengage with them. Anything they previously withheld from you, they will now give it to you freely. This is known as Hoovering after the vacuum cleaner, and it is a form of abuse.

Examples of narcissistic abuse your friend or family member have likely experienced

The tactics below are common manipulations used by narcissists to control, punish, and exert power over their victims. Some narcissist may only use a few of these tactics, others may use all of them.

Gaslighting. This is another term that gets thrown around a little too easily, but its meaning is very specific. This is when a narcissist tries to get you to question your reality by rewriting history or making you doubt what you’ve seen, heard, or believe to be true. For example, you know 100% that your narcissist partner said a certain thing or promised to do something, but they will tell you that never happened or they never said that, or that it occurred very differently from what you remember.

Lying. Narcissists use deception to manipulate, control, and most commonly avoid accountability for their bad behavior. Sometimes they lie about minor things that they have no reason to lie about and often actually believe their lies to be true, something known as confabulation.

Withholding. If a narcissist knows that you like some thing or need some thing or want some thing from them, they will withhold it from you intentionally because they know it hurts you. This could be time spent together, sex, affection, or attention. This is particularly damaging to the victim because all of these things may have been frequent at the beginning with a narcissist, and leaves victim wondering what they did wrong, and with crushed self-esteem and self-worth.

Stalking. This almost always happens after the relationship with a narcissist ends. When they feel like they are losing control or if you have rejected a narcissist, they need to regain that control by knowing what you are doing and who you are doing with it all times. Narcissists feel that they own you for life, that you are their property, their toy or accessory or appliance. This stalking can happen online or in person, and can become very dangerous and violent.

Triangulation. In order to manipulate you and exert power, a narcissist may bring a third-party into your relationship to instigate jealousy. This could be a former partner, side supply, or anyone else that could cause you to become confused, jealous, or hurt.

Breadcrumbing. If a narcissist feels that you are withdrawing or getting ready to leave them, they will give you just enough time or attention or whatever it is you want from them to keep you hooked, with minimal effort exerted on their part. They will give you a promise of hope, that things may be better in the future just to keep you hanging on.

Control. Narcissists must maintain control of everything and everyone in their lives at all times. If they feel they are losing control, they will do whatever it takes to regain it. They control how much time you spend together, how much or how little you communicate, how you interact. In extreme cases, they will want to control how you dress, how much time you spend with friends or family, how you live your life.

Power dynamics. Narcissists are motivated by having power over their victims, and this is how they derive supply from them. They deeply need to feel superior to their partners, people who think they are friends with a narcissist, coworkers, family members, and even total strangers. This is because they are all incredibly insecure, no matter how they come across, and often have extremely low self-esteem.

Stonewalling. If you try to talk to a narcissist or communicate with them about problems in the relationship, they may completely shut down and refuse to communicate at all. They could just give you a blank stare and not say anything, or even leave the room.

Silent treatment. If you try to communicate with a narcissist about anything, they may punish you by not returning your phone calls, not returning your texts, basically shutting you out and not communicating with you at all for extended periods of time.

Baiting. If you’ve withdrawn or otherwise gone quiet on a narcissist, they may intentionally do things to provoke you in order to get you to respond. This could range from some thing as simple as a text out of nowhere asking you how you’re doing, to blocking you on social media, to spreading false rumors about you.

Verbal/physical abuse. This can happen during the relationship or after the relationship ends. Especially if you damage a narcissist fragile ego, set a boundary, tell them no, do anything to accept them, they can start name-calling, yelling, or an extreme cases resort to physically assaulting you.

Post separation abuse. When you leave or otherwise reject a narcissist, especially if you’ve gone into no contact with them, any abuse experienced during the relationship usually gets worse after it ends. Hoovering is usually the first tactic used. If that fails, they may resort to baiting. If that fails, they may start a smear campaign in order to discredit you and prevent anyone from believing your claims of their abuse. They may also resort to stalking or making threats.

The most difficult things to believe about narcissists that are 100% true

Even after reading all of the above, it still may be difficult for you to believe that such people can exist in this world, and that this accurately describes the person your friend or family member was involved with. You may know them as may be a little cocky or arrogant or annoying, but generally a friendly, kind, or helpful person. I can assure you that narcissists are not theoretical, they are not a suggestion, they are not exaggerated. They are real, and if your friend is explaining to you that their former partner meets most of the diagnostic criteria and has experienced much of the abuse above, it is something to take very seriously. Below are some of the more common things about narcissists that are difficult believe, but are absolutely true and have impacted your friend or family member in a traumatic way.

  • They never cared about your friend, they never loved your friend, they don’t care about anybody but themselves. If you happen to be friends or acquaintances with them, they don’t care about you, either.
  • They don’t know how to be in trusting and reciprocal friendships. All of their relationships are completely superficial. The only reason they are nice to you or they keep you in their lives is because they find you useful and you provide some sort of validation or ego boost for them (narcissistic supply).
  • They are incapable of feeling actual love for somebody else or accepting love. And yes, this includes their parents, family members, and even their own children. This may be the toughest one to believe, but please remember that narcissists are not neurologically wired in the same way that you are. They do not think like you do. They do not feel like you do. They just do not have the capacity to care about anything outside of themselves, even if they wanted to. These are deeply damaged people.
  • They have zero capacity for true empathy and can never understand somebody else’s feelings. Some can engage in cognitive empathy, which is basically knowing in their head the right thing to say it to make somebody feel better, but not truly understanding it at an emotional level.
  • Their entire persona is a mask that is completely artificial, a fraud, a lie. The person who your friend fell in love with never existed. The person you see and interact with does not exist. A narcissist creates a different personality for everyone they interact with based on what they think will provide them with the most supply.
  • Absolutely everything they do, and I mean everything, is with the goal of obtaining supply from someone or something. When they are nice, when they are friendly, when they are helpful, it’s all with the purpose of bolstering their image, making them popular, making them well liked, making them look good.
  • They have no sense of self, meaning that they don’t know who they really are. Their core is a black hole, and they are not able to validate themselves or feel good about themselves. They are 100% dependent on external validation, attention, admiration from other people to feel good. This hole is a bottomless pit that they constantly need to fill. Literally every single day of their lives revolves around getting that attention and validation from other people or activities.
  • Your friend's narcissistic ex chose her because she is beautiful and amazing and kind and generous and successful. These are all things her ex can never be, and he wants all of that positive energy for himself. All of the things he loved about her at the very beginning or the things that he despised her for at the end. He pursued her specifically because she made him feel good about himself, then later it made him feel good to break her down and destroy her.
  • If your friend spent a decent amount of time with her narcissistic ex, he feels that he owns her for life, that she is his property. He feels entitled to her affection and attention whenever and however he wants it, so he will do anything to keep her in his life to serve only his purposes. Narcissists usually have a harem or garage of former partners that they keep around whenever they need attention or validation.
  • If your friend has ever told her narcissistic ex NO, or set any boundaries, or ended the relationship, or otherwise rejected him in any way, he will hate her with every fiber of his being, and seek to punish her in every way he possibly can. Everything that has ever gone wrong between the two of them will always be her fault. If she refuses to be part of his harem or remain friends with him after the end of the relationship, the narcissist will always view her as the problem.
  • As an outsider to your friend’s relationship with her narcissistic ex, you will not see any of this. All you will see is a man who is confident, popular, well liked, and friendly. If he is a covert narcissist, he will also seem humble and self deprecating, which will further prevent anyone from believing they have NPD, since the narcissistic stereotype is someone who is outgoing and arrogant and loud and showy and a braggart.
  • Your friend did not stay with her narcissistic ex because the abuse wasn’t that bad. She stayed because of something called intermittent reinforcement, which caused something called a trauma bond. She was literally chemically addicted to her ex, and in love with her abuser. It sounds crazy, but it’s true.
  • Your friend may have a pattern of engaging with narcissists due to her own past trauma or history. Even though she may have been through this before, it may take her a while to realize she’s become the victim of another narcissist. Please show her kindness and grace instead of judgment as she’s dealing with a lot of pain and shame as a result.
  • Break ups with narcissists are not normal break ups. They are abusive and traumatic. The abuse does not end when the breakup happens. In most cases, the abuse gets worse after the break up. This is why it can sometimes take years for narcissistic abuse victims to heal from these relationships.
  • If your friend has realized that her ex has NPD, then she has experienced pain equivalent to the death of a loved one. And in a way, it was when she realized her entire relationship and everything she thought she knew about the man she loved was a complete lie. The cognitive dissonance that results from trying to reconcile the man she knew at the beginning who cared about her, who put her on a pedestal, who adored her, who told her she was beautiful and amazing, and treated her like a queen, with the man at the end who called her names, lied to her, cheated on her, belittled her, ignored her, withheld attention and affection to hurt her on purpose, is traumatic in and of itself.
  • THESE PEOPLE EXIST. If they are a covert narcissist, you will probably never know that this is what they are unless you are in a romantic relationship with them. And even then, they can take years to figure it out. Their behavior in the public eye is shockingly different than their behavior behind closed doors with the people closest to them.

How you can support your friend or family member who has been abused by a narcissist

  • If your friend or family member has confided in you that she has suffered narcissistic abuse, please understand that she is experiencing pain and shame that not many people understand, but more have gone through than you know. She feels isolated and alone, that no one will believe her, and that she can’t trust anyone. Here’s how you can help her during this time.
  • Just believe her. Simply believe her. No matter how strange or crazy or impossible it sounds to you, she’s telling you the truth of what happened to her. And yes, it was abuse.
  • Never ever ever tell her that she needs to get over it or that she needs to move on. Never tell her that she’s exaggerating or that it doesn’t sound that bad. And definitely don’t tell her that you don’t believe her. This level of invalidation when she’s trying to express her experience and her pain will make her feel incredibly isolated and alone, and will just add to all her pain.
  • If you are also acquaintances or friends with her narcissist ex, you’ll have to decide how much you want to continue to engage with him in the future. One of the most painful things for her is knowing that possibly no one will believe her because of the amazing persona her narcissistic ex has created to make himself likable and popular. She knows he will likely never experience real consequences for his abuse. It will be painful for her to see you continue to engage with him as if he did nothing wrong.
  • If you don’t understand what trauma is or what abuse is, or if you’re minimizing it because you think it has to involve physical violence to be truly traumatic or abusive, take the time to read up on these topics. Emotional and psychological abuse can often be worse than physical abuse because it’s invisible, it’s insidious, and it occurs slowly over time. It also takes significantly longer to heal from, and can have lifelong affects on future relationships.

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Cm parihar

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    Cm pariharWritten by Cm parihar

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