Is it Narcissistic Abuse?
Narcissism is a word used often in our society, but diagnoses of narcissistic tendencies or Narcissistic Personality Disorder are rare. For someone living with narcissistic abuse, this can be very problematic. On the one hand, you might feel that there is an over-use of the word “narcissist”, with any and all problematic behaviour being called out on social media as narcissistic, and the terms “narc” and “nex” being thrown out as an insult. On the other hand, you are aware that something is very wrong in your relationship, whether that is with a parent, partner (or ex-partner), sibling, friend or work colleague. You recognise some unhealthy features such as gaslighting, stonewalling, manipulation. But if you can’t be sure they are a narcissist, is it right to talk about narcissistic abuse?
There is already a wealth of resources available on line that outline some of the typical behaviours of people with high narcissistic traits. If you are wondering about someone in your life, it might be worth searching the internet for useful articles or videos that relate to your situation, such as “narcissistic parents”, “narcissistic colleague”. These will give you an idea if the things that you are experiencing are perhaps caused by someone else’s narcissistic traits. For someone who isn’t too sure, it can be clarifying and help to make sense of the situation.
The other way to look at it is to focus on you, and your experiences. In some ways, it doesn’t matter whether the person in question is narcissistic or not, as long as that is the way that you have experienced them. Moving the focus from them to you can be really liberating. After all, it is usually all about them, isn’t it? Let’s talk about you.
Do you often, perhaps always, feel like you are walking on eggshells? Do you pattern your own behaviour on the expected reactions of the other person?
Do you struggle to make even simple decisions, because you have somehow learned that there is a “right” choice, and you are terrified of getting it wrong?
Do you find it hard to trust other people, and even to trust yourself? Do you even, perhaps, struggle to trust the truth? Sometimes we become so indoctrinated with an alternative truth that we lose ourselves in it, and no longer have confidence in the things we know to be true.
Do you feel like a fake version of yourself, or a hollow shell? Do you ever feel that you have lost the person that you used to be?
If you don’t feel OK, then that is all that matters. You don’t have to be “right” in labelling your experiences as narcissistic abuse. You can open a dialogue even if you just suspect, even if you only have a sense that something isn’t right. It’s OK to explore, to test out, to wonder.
Finding a good friend, or a counsellor, who genuinely understands this type of abuse might give you a safe space to explore what is going on for you, and to strengthen your inner voice. It might give you the opportunity to focus on you; on your feelings and experiences, and what you want to see happen moving forward. It might be the thig that breaks the cycle of abuse for you, and gives you the opportunity to listen to yourself and make the choices that you genuinely want to make.