Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

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Recovering from Narcissistic Abuse, Part I: Blindsided

June 7, 2013  • By Andrea Schneider, LCSW, Learning Difficulties Topic Expert Contributor


We often hear the term narcissist, but what does it mean? From my vantage point as a psychotherapist, I work with a lot of individuals who are leaving and healing from relationships, especially romantic ones, with narcissists. When I first heard the term narcissist as a graduate student, I had a hard time labeling someone with such a name. I pride myself on being a strengths-focused therapist, in direct opposition of any of such disempowering diagnostic nomenclature.


However, as time progressed, I found in my own psychotherapy practice that, indeed, there exist some individuals on this planet with narcissistic challenges. My clients educated me about the aftermath of what it is to heal from narcissistic abuse. I feel I owe it to my clients, and others who may be in similar circumstances, to assist with educating the public about narcissistic abuse, so that people can be informed and aware of how to protect themselves in the event they encounter people with narcissistic traits.


The following is an attempt at a primer on such individuals. For further study, please refer to the resources listed at the end of the article, as the subject is quite vast.


Identifying Individuals with Narcissism

So just what traits does someone with narcissism have, and what does that person look like in the early stages of dating? Studies say that 1% of the population (2-16% of psychiatric population) has narcissistic personality, while an even greater number exhibit typical traits of narcissism (Brown, 2013). In addition, although 75% of people with narcissism are found to be male, women can also be narcissists.

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 (Brown, 2013) 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) programs or online seduction programs), swift pacing of rushing the relationship into commitment/cohabitation/marriage/business partnership, promising a future together (which is later discovered to be a lie), intense sexual chemistry, love-bombing (repetitive texting, emailing, phone calls), or romancing the target excessively (flowers, etc).


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).


Characteristics of the 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 (PTSD).

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 sometimes physical 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. Jekyl /Mr. Hyde Personality. He or she 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 dropped/discarded, coming to the sudden and shocking realization that the other, the partner to has narcissistic qualities, is not capable of true intimacy/love, and really exhibits a limited capacity for emotional connectedness/bonding (Brown, 2013). The partner who has exhibited narcissistic personality traits, who was once a knight in shining armor, is now a mere fantasy, because he or she acted through mind control and brainwashing (Brown, 2013).


To Protect Yourself

So how does one avoid encountering someone with narcissism? I would suggest being particularly cautious with the pacing of dating. If you’re using a dating website, exercise extreme caution when meeting up with a dating partner for the first several dates until you feel you know the individual (i.e. meet in a public place).

If the dating partner attempts to rush the relationship, that is a red flag. An individual who respects your boundaries will work with you to slowly progress the relationship at a pace that is mutually agreed upon. Just because initially there is a highly seductive “zing” quality to the attraction does not mean that the dating partner is healthy. To protect yourself from someone who may end up behaving out of narcissism, it is best to allow the connection to unfold slowly and observe to see if actions and words are matching up.


Sexual chemistry is not the same thing as healthy bonding and attachment. A healthy person will want to get to know your personality, dreams, and interests, and slowly evolve the relationship. An individual with narcissistic tendencies may also want to know all about you, but then may fake being your soul mate by rushing you into consenting to a relationship/marriage/cohabitation/business arrangement (Hotchkiss, 2010).


If you have encountered an individual who seems to display these qualities, or are considering leaving a relationship with a similar person, it is in your best interests to get yourself out of the relationship as quickly as possible. People with narcissistic characteristics may be prone to causing harm by invading personal boundaries, lying about future possibilities in relationships, engaging in abuse, and exhibiting no empathy or remorse for emotional harm they have done.


Consult a licensed psychotherapist who is trained in narcissistic abuse recovery in addition to locating a qualified support group to help you through this time. You will recover. You will heal. But, it will take time and the assistance of qualified professionals who understand what you have endured and how to help you to reclaim your self-esteem.



  •  Sandra A. Brown, MA’s website and resources related to abuse recovery from unhealthy relationships

  • The Path Forward online forum and support network for survivors of narcissistic abuse

  • A website dedicated to individuals healing from relationships with emotionally-unavailable people (including narcissists)

  • A website with support and resources for people moving forward from abusive relationships

  • Help! I am in Love with a Narcissist by Steven Carter and Julia Sokol

  • Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of Inevitable Harm with Psychopaths, Sociopaths and Narcissists by Sandra L. Brown

  • Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us by Robert D. Hare

  • Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry by Albert J. Bernstein, PhD

  • Emotional Blackmail: When People in Your Life use Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You by Susan Forward

  • Why is it Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism by Sandy HotchKiss, LCSW

  • The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love and Family by Eleanor Payson, MSW

  • Narcissistic Lovers: How to Cope, Recover, and Move On by Cythnia Zayn and Kevin Dibble

  • Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder by Bill Eddy, LCSW

  • Stop Walking On Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Love Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul Mason, MS

  • Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited by Sam Vaknin

  • Freeing Yourself from the Narcissist in Your Life: At Home, At Work, With Friends by Linda Martinez-Lewi, PhD

© Copyright 2013 by Andrea Schneider, LCSW, therapist in San Dimas, California. All Rights Reserved.




Recovering from Narcissistic Abuse, Part II: The No-Contact Rule

June 18, 2013  • By Andrea Schneider, LCSW, Learning Difficulties Topic Expert Contributor


In my previous article, I touched on the subject of narcissistic abuse recovery. I decided to write a second article as a follow-up for individuals who wish to explore further how to move forward through this specific healing process.


As mentioned previously, recovery from this form of abuse can take a fair amount of months (or even years in some cases), given the insidious and covert nature of the emotional abuse (Sokol and Carter). Individuals who exhibit malignantly narcissistic behaviors are predatory in nature and seek to “conquer” targets to fuel their narcissistic supply (NS), which is the emotional sustenance which drives and fills them. These people thrive on attention (negative or positive) and will do anything in their power to ensure that their primary and secondary sources of NS are working in concert to feed the insecure ego of a broken psyche. Although by no means exhaustive of the complexity describing the individual suffering from narcissism, the DSM-IV states that people with narcissism exhibit the following traits: inflated sense of superiority, grandiosity, attention-seeking, self-absorption, arrogance, entitlement, and limited capacity to empathize and reciprocate in relationships.


Trapping a Target

It would make sense that individuals pulling away from someone like this would experience tremendous loss and trauma (Brown). Initially the person with narcissism presents as a knight in shining armor, completely in sync with the target’s emotions and dreams. The target is unaware that the individual then hones in on the target, studying the desired love object so that he or she can then act as the target’s soulmate, in essence.


This “hunting” can occur on dating websites or in the initial stages of dating (Brown). The target, who generally has the capacity for true, mature intimacy and love, is intelligent, attractive, and successful, then falls head over heels in love with the person with narcissistic tendencies. Subsequently, that individual then feigns love for the target. And the moment the target is hooked, distancing maneuvers ensue, which serve to disorient and confuse the target.

The target then becomes incredibly confused and experiences what is called cognitive dissonance, or a state of confusion. The person with narcissism had expressed love, but is now exhibiting distancing and detaching behaviors, which are not in alignment with the initial honeymoon stage (Carter and Sokol). Eventually, the individual is fully satiated on NS and then becomes bored and tired with it, because the target is merely an object or a vessel to obtain NS.


The target is devalued and discarded when the individual exhibiting narcissism no longer feels the need to court the individual who is a source of NS (Carter and Sokol). Ultimately, the target is left wondering what happened, and how someone who seemed so perfect as a soulmate completely undid everything that the target worked so hard to build. It was the target who fell in love with that individual, not the other way around. The person with narcissism purely was “feeding” on the NS, and as soon as his/her ego was full, the target was no longer considered useful (Payson).


Motivations of Narcissism

At that point, the individual with narcissism will either vanish completely or will say and do certain cruel and emotionally abusive things designed to injure the psyche of the target. He or she actually seeks to cause harm, and straddles the line of sociopathy (Brown). Ultimately, the target has no way of understanding what happened and is left with confusion, shock, disbelief, and betrayal.

Because people who tend toward narcissism always needs newer and fresher sources of supply, they have a habit of devaluing and discarding targets (Hotchkiss). They may be incapable of true love, empathy, reciprocity, kindness, and compassion. In essence, they may have broken psyches, much like a broken appliance (Hotchkiss).


Studies show that there is very limited effectiveness in treating narcissism in psychotherapy, as it can be firmly hardwired to someone’s personality due to largely environmental circumstances that occurred in his or her early childhood (Martinez-Lewi), including parental abandonment and severe abuse. It could be that they had inconsistent sources of love as children, if any at all, and to survive childhood, they had to create an outward mask to the world of the perfect individual. Underneath, these children could be empty and lacking a core sense of self, prone to depression and anxiety without NS to fill a void. Adults who are narcissistic are often referred to as developmentally stuck at age 5, when their emotional maturity ceased (Hotchkiss).


So what is a person to do if they have been crossed by this kind of toxic personality? First, I would say that though the pain is initially intense, you are blessed that the person with narcissism left. And no contact with this person will result in any form of healthy exchange.


The No-Contact Rule

Experts on narcissistic abuse recovery all agree that contact with someone like this always results in pain (Payson). Maintaining zero contact is essential for you to be able to heal and cognitively and emotionally process the mental hurricane that hit. Some clients have likened the experience to like coming off a drug; it is so painful to go through the traumatic grief work in being abandoned that these feelings are akin to withdrawals. However, as you heal, you can be empowered, stronger, wiser, and more discerning and reclaiming of your own self-worth.


The target is capable of empathy, reciprocity, true and mature love, and growing in a relationship. People with narcissistic behaviors are generally not. They are only capable of deceptively seducing preselected targets to fill a psychological void. The same cycle may repeat every time. It is so imperative that the target understand the process of grieving the loss of the fantasy of the person who narcissistically manipulated him or her.


Those with narcissistic behaviors are usually hard-pressed to find a healthy connection in any relationship. When the masks are pulled off, they realize they cannot manipulate and seduce as they are accustomed to. Too many people have caught on and discovered who they really are.

Luckily, for those whose lives have been touched (or slightly marred), there is a path to healing. This process takes place through no contact, a compassionate and understanding psychotherapist, and a support forum (whether online or in person). Those who have been targets heal and move on to love others in healthy, mature relationships.



  •  Sandra A. Brown, MA’s website and resources related to abuse recovery from unhealthy relationships

  • Help! I am in Love with a Narcissist by Steven Carter and Julia Sokol

  • Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of Inevitable Harm with Psychopaths, Sociopaths and Narcissists by Sandra L. Brown

  • Why is it Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism by Sandy HotchKiss, LCSW

  • The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love and Family by Eleanor Payson, MSW


© Copyright 2013 by Andrea Schneider, LCSW, therapist in San Dimas, California. All Rights Reserved.




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