Mental Health Moment: Recognize and avoid narcissistic abuse

NARCISSISTIC ABUSE is one of the most prevalent reasons people seek counseling. Because we live in a society that has an underpinning of encouraging narcissistic traits in the form of selfies and social media posts, it can be easy to confuse what a narcissist is (or what to do about it) if you have one in your life.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) has criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder traits. The list includes grandiosity, superiority, arrogance, lack of empathy, a sense of entitlement, and being manipulative and exploitative of others. I’ll add — they need to be admired and can’t be alone. Praise them and you will be fine. Criticize them and you will pay!

Their sad truth is they lack the capacity to love or care about others. They also lack insight, so if you point this out to one of them, they won’t believe you. If you look at the PET scan of the brain of a narcissist, the part of the brain that regulates conscience and empathy has an activity deficit.

When a narcissist breaks your heart, it usually comes out of nowhere for no reason and often when you think everything is perfect in that relationship. That’s when people show up in therapy. Victims are devastated. It was intentional on the part of narcissist, but they can be very covert. There is a term called “crazy-making behavior,” and narcissists are famous for it. It used to be called “gas-lighting.” They set you up to get you upset. They systematically do things they know will hurt you and then blame it on you. They seldom accept responsibility and if they do “apologize” it is usually empty words such as, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” They are not sorry for what they do.

An example of crazy-making behavior is that a narcissist often ignores you and talks over you when you are expressing a deep desire. If you finally get angry and raise your voice, they say, “Wow, why are you so mean? Why are you yelling? You’re so selfish. What a horrible person you are. I’m leaving.” Bam!

There you are blindsided. Worse yet, they can impoverish and isolate you from the support of family and friends. They often begin your relationship as knights in shining armor but quickly turn into nightmares you need to be rescued from later. Beware, because you can meet a different kind of narcissist and repeat this unhealthy relationship. The pattern usually begins with having a narcissist parent and it feels “normal” to be with someone who puts you down. Fear, obligation, and guilt are other common tools they employ to exploit.

The truth behind a narcissist is that they are damaged. They feel extreme inferiority and overcompensate by hurting others. There is a “no-contact rule” in many pop psychology circles on NPD abuse. It’s a good idea unless the person is a family member or boss. Then it’s not so simple, but you can limit the time with the toxicity. Don’t tell them what you don’t like or they will do it. Don’t ask them why they did it, or they will keep on doing it. Then you will get angry. They will use your anger against you. Break the cycle by recognizing the disorder. They are just a step away from a sociopath on the personality disorder spectrum.

The best way to prevent this type of abuse isn’t just to recognize it but to recognize any insecurities in yourself that the narcissist exploits. When you become self-actualized and value yourself, no one can devalue you!


article by MARY JOYE, LMHC, PA

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Joye, LMHC, PA, is a licensed mental health counselor with offices in Lakeland and Winter Haven. She holds a Master of Arts in Counseling from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. For more information, visit

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