Unreality Check: Cognitive Dissonance in Narcissistic Abuse

Closeup of red haired woman's face, focusing on one eyePeople who are healing from toxic love relationships do well to educate themselves on the nature of the emotional abuse sustained so that they can move through their pain to a place of healing.

In my individual work with people who have uncovered that they were involved in a romantic relationship with a person with narcissistic qualities, one of the first things we do in psychotherapy is to work together to understand the psychology behind narcissistic abuse recovery. Putting together the pieces of the puzzle and empowering the person to narrate their story is essential in the reality testing and support of a survivor of narcissistic abuse.

What Is Cognitive Dissonance in Toxic Relationships?

As mentioned in my previous articles on this subject, it is not my practice to label people with “conditions” or “disorders.” I am a strengths-focused therapist, and very solution-focused in my practice with people in therapy. However, when I work with people who are leaving toxic relationships, it helps to understand the nature of the emotional abuse in order to fully conceptualize and process their reality of the experience. Narcissistic abuse is an insidious, covert form of emotional abuse that can happen to unsuspecting individuals who are entangled in a relationship with a person with narcissistic qualities.

One of the key methods of emotional abuse employed by people with narcissistic tendencies is the generalized concept called cognitive dissonance. What this abuse tactic does is create in the target a sense of unreality, confusion, and a mind-set of not trusting their own perception of the situation. Leon Festinger (1957) was one researcher who studied the theory of cognitive dissonance. Essentially, cognitive dissonance occurs when humans experience a state of holding two or more contradictory thoughts or beliefs in their cognition at one time. The result is a state of anxious confusion and a desire to reduce the resultant overwhelm and unbalanced perception.

Cognitive Dissonance in Narcissistic Abuse: A Snapshot

A simplistic, condensed example in a toxic relationship: an abuser professes love and divines a marriage date with their partner. The partner is courted, romanced, and ultimately falls in love with the abuser, not knowing that the abuser has ulterior motives (i.e., not staying in the relationship). The partner envisions wedding details and enjoys the courtship, flowers, and being placed on a pedestal. The abuser then suddenly makes a comment denying they said anything about getting married. They go on to say the partner is “crazy” for thinking that. Blame is then projected upon the partner, and the partner is dizzy with confusion, recalling that, indeed, their significant other did discuss wedding bells and a future together.

The partner then experiences a state of cognitive dissonance—a hazy unreality of confusion. Such emotional abuse renders the target confused and reeling with heartache that the pace of the relationship has slammed to an abrupt halt, in addition to feelings of betrayal and being blamed.

Gaslighting: Another Insidious Form of Narcissistic Cognitive Dissonance

Another common tactic of emotional abuse employed by individuals with narcissistic issues is “gaslighting.” This term was coined after a movie titled Gaslight (1944) in which a form of psychological abuse resulting in cognitive dissonance occurred for the main character, played by Ingrid Bergman. The result of gaslighting is that the target of abuse doubts their own reality of the situation because the abuser is trying to confuse and disorient the target in order to maintain power and control, all at the cost of the emotional well-being of the target.

Another example of gaslighting in the movies would be the Julia Roberts character as the target of abuse in Sleeping with the Enemy (1991). In her situation, her abuser would appear as a stalker in her house by straightening out the bath towels. Roberts’ character knew that her partner was particular about cleanliness and order, so when she thought she was alone in the house, she found out she was not by seeing straightened bath towels arranged eerily in order. This gaslighting resulted in Roberts’ character doubting her reality and feeling a state of psychological terror. In circumstances where emotional abuse occurs outside of Hollywood films, often the “gaslighting” is verbal or emotional, placing the target of abuse in a state of perpetual confusion.

Using Validation to Diffuse Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is diffused and reduced when the survivor of narcissistic abuse is able to receive validation and confirmation of the reality of their circumstances. Narrating the story can take place verbally in psychotherapy sessions and/or via the use of journaling exercises. Although this is just the beginning of the healing process, mastering the trauma associated with narcissistic abuse ensues when the target has unconditional, positive regard, validation for their experience, psychoeducation about the nature of narcissistic abuse recovery, and empowerment as they move through the emotions associated with grief/trauma recovery.

Being able to vocalize or write about the particulars of the experience releases the trauma and enables the survivor to reduce cognitive dissonance and continue with the healing work. Talking to a licensed, compassionate therapist can be one helpful step in moving toward healing.

There are many more steps in the healing process, but working through cognitive dissonance is a key, initial component in reducing trauma and anxiety in survivors of emotional abuse.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea Schneider, LCSW, therapist in San Dimas, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • terry

    terry

    October 7th, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    You would think that an abuser like this would be so easy to recognize but I think that there are enough of us out here who are so willing to suspend disbelief that we very easily fall into their traps. I’m not blaming anyone because I have been the victim of this type of thing too and you so want this person to really feel the things about you that they say that they do that you are pretty much willing to believe anything that they say just in hopes that this is the truth.

  • Debra

    Debra

    August 30th, 2016 at 10:59 PM

    I believe it’s the longing or the deep down desire to have the life with the narcissist that they offered you before they no longering wanted or needed you, and I’m talking from my own experience, to be real again and the sudden loss we feel when we are discarded is almost mind blowing in that it comes from no where, like a ton of bricks on your chest, and I have children with narcissist, so the discard was also done to my children, and I will never understand how a person can be involved for many years and then just drop a child like nothing, and that pain I saw in their eyes, I can never forget, and because we normal, sane people could never do such things, we scramble crazily to fix what we are told we broke, we lose our self’s and that isn’t fair to the children who are lost and need real love from the only parent capable of true love; and that is the worst part of the whole traumatic , disgusting relationship in my opinion. So be vigilant about safe guarding your children, and there is no better way to safe guard your kids than getting away yourself and your kids away from the toxic narcissist, and going no contact if possible, luckily my ex didn’t put up much of a fight. And FYI get as much evidence as possible of what goes on, just in case the narc puts up a fight. Love your self, and love your kids.

  • Pat

    Pat

    December 5th, 2017 at 6:28 PM

    Couldn’t have said it better. After a longstanding marriage, and children, the man I married turned from Jekyll into Hyde one day, and started making frivolous police calls to “come control the wife.” This, when I spoke up with an opinion that did not agree with his, for one of the first times in years. He convinced the none-too-astute officers that he would like me to have a psychiatric exam, because he was sure I was “bonkers” for having disagreed with him. One truly nasty cop obliged by coming back with the paperwork for him to have me held for 72 hrs., against my say-so. Apparently such archaic laws are still on the books in some places. When I met with a doctor, he told me my husband was obviously a dangerous man, and not to go home again, but to RUN! He released me immediately, told me to divorce him asap. I had underage children at home still, so I needed to go back. My Narcissistic husband became worse — enormous lies, smearing my reputation to everyone we knew (and I was shocked that some “friends” never questioned what he told them), destroying our finances, damaging or stealing my belongings, and becoming abusive in every way you might imagine. He continued trying to claim that I was the crazy one, as I did everything to sort through this mess. He cooked up another smear, took it to court this time, and had me thrown out of our home on false allegations. I had it overturned, but that took months and thousands of dollars. Then, I found he had been brainwashing our children to hate me. He had taken them away forcefully many times, for days at a stretch, to anonymous motels where I could not reach them. Police did nothing; said Dad had joint custody. This is where my husband indoctrinated our kids with subtle mind-control methods. Eventually, he had the kids thinking his way – like a cult leader with his groupies. I found out it is called Attachment-based Parental Alienation (see website of Craig Childress). My once-loving children became as vicious and abusive to me as my husband. I am still in shock. Waiting for the divorce. My kids refuse contact, and treat me like a worm whenever we do see one another. How did this happen? I am normal. I thought for years that my husband was too — apart from the fact that he could never thank or compliment me in any way whatsoever (no reciprocity). Wish now that I had known that was a clue. Take your children and get out of there! Just be careful that you do not jump from the frying pan into the fire by having him try Parental Alienation on them — which causes huge damage. It can land you in court for years of often-fruitless fighting for your kids. Emotionally, Parental Alienation leaves your kids at high risk of suicide. This is serious stuff.

  • Patty

    Patty

    August 28th, 2017 at 2:52 PM

    I know because I am trying to figure out how to recover my relationship just ended with a broken finger he didn’t like something I said

  • Cherisa L

    Cherisa L

    October 7th, 2014 at 4:13 PM

    Those who abuse in this way are so deceitful because their kind of abuse does not leave the outward appearances of cuts and bruises, but man oh man, do their words and actions sometimes hurt even more.

  • shan

    shan

    February 16th, 2015 at 2:44 AM

    Agreed 100%

  • Barrett

    Barrett

    October 8th, 2014 at 3:49 AM

    This can happen to men too. There can be a woman who convinces you that she is the love of your life and that you are hers and then the next thing you know she is running off to marry someone lots older and a whole lot richer than you are.

    Do I sound bitter? This just happened to me and I am somewhat still reeling from the whole experience. I want to be angry and I am but at the same time I have a hard time shutting off the lingering feelings that I still have for her. I think that she had me s wrapped up that there is still a part of me who hopes that she will leave him and come back to me. That’s how twisted this whole thing has gotten.

  • Dione

    Dione

    October 8th, 2014 at 4:57 PM

    I truly feel for you. I also can relate. My ex husband of 19 years is also a narcissist. Unbelievable lies that he spread about me were despicable and sickening. Yet I believed him for years that other people made this stuff up to create chaos in our lives. Sounds Crazy, I know but he convinced me I didnt see what I just saw. And I didnt hear what I just heard! I loved him with all my heart. Sadly I think I still do.

  • LaLisa

    LaLisa

    October 30th, 2016 at 12:17 AM

    My husband used to do the same thing to me. But not only was he emiotionally abusive, but he was severely physically abusive as well, and he slept with every single friend that I had. Then told not only friends, and family, but our children that I was the one who cheated. And now I think that I am in a similar situation, except that I can’t prove anything. Except, the fact that he likes to tell people that I am crazy, and have jealousy issues. And keeps secrets.

  • Steven Krautkramer, MA

    Steven Krautkramer, MA

    October 8th, 2014 at 9:27 AM

    Often times these kinds of narcissists can be master manipulators. When a person is highly emotionally charged of has be traumatized it can be very difficult to logically see their behavior, and they know it. I think many people get victimized by them at one time or another.

  • cole

    cole

    October 8th, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    It kind of makes you curious about what feeds this little madness, what would drive someone to become so manipulative and selfish.

  • Adair

    Adair

    October 8th, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    I am so glad I discovered this article and will be reading the 1st 3 of this series. My narcissistic husband of 26 years divorced me this year. I had no idea of the lies and deceit he has said and done. He has done it to 2 other women recently unbenownst to me. I found out about the “other” woman before Christmas and he moved her 1,000 miles to be with him. He has since dumped her after filling her with his lies and is working on another. Being victimized by a narcissist is so difficult to heal from, but I am working on it. I don’t want to give him the power over me he has had.

  • lisa

    lisa

    October 8th, 2014 at 6:36 PM

    I am the victim of a classic narcissist. The gaslighting? Check. The cognitive dissonance? Check check. It has been 20 years of hell. Verbal and emotional abuse. Sexual abuse…total alienation of affection and withholding, all as forms of control, power, dominance. Financial control and abuse that would render you slack-jawed. My husband is a cowardly and insidious bully. 2015 WILL be the year I finally divorce this person. 20 years of this chilling nonsense is enough. ENOUGH. So glad sites like these exist; and terrific books on the topic…

  • Patricia

    Patricia

    October 10th, 2014 at 2:11 PM

    Why wait till 2016, do it now!

  • Sucker#1

    Sucker#1

    October 8th, 2014 at 9:57 PM

    I am trying to figure out if Iam In this situation. My spouse of almost 20 years suddenly changed after I caught him at least Internet cheating. He left and claims I am trying to kill him and he still loves me but can’t be with me because he’s running for his life. Needless to say he’s been through police etc and plays like he is mentally ill but will state he is not but can change to coherent in a snap. I feel like a yoyo like this is a game. He promises to come home daily almost then breaks it but it’s always my fault and I should understand. That’s the just what is your opinion since you have experienced it???

  • Anne

    Anne

    December 23rd, 2016 at 5:20 PM

    Sounds like he’s trying to distract everyone from the real and original issue: his internet cheating, in which he was caught red-handed. Simple as that. Don’t fall for it and don’t let him drag you into peripheral conflicts. Keep coming back to the original issue: his internet cheating. Let the police and any flying monkeys he drags into this know the real score, and ask him/them every time “when will he address the real original issue of HIS INTERNET CHEATING?” Narcissisrs deny, deflect and defame.

  • jami

    jami

    October 9th, 2014 at 6:39 PM

    Sound like my reality….

  • SuzieQ

    SuzieQ

    February 5th, 2018 at 5:21 AM

    Do you think this would be an example of cognitive dissonance?
    My mother is a closet (covert) narcissist. My father is controlled by her, but he has some narcissistic tendencies as well. People tell me how wonderful my parents are , and I am wondering who in the world it is that they’re talking about. In private my parents are nothing like what these people are saying. It causes great confusion in my mind. I wonder if I am mistaken about my parents since other people think they’re so great.
    Is what I’m going through cognitive disonance or something else?
    Thank you.

  • Andrea Schneider

    Andrea Schneider

    February 5th, 2018 at 8:45 AM

    @SuzieQ — without knowing your information about your situation, yes, it’s possible what you are going through is cognitive dissonance — holding two contrasting theories about one concept in the mind creates cognitive dissonance…typically as a result of gaslighting, etc. I hope that helps – Andrea

  • Miguel

    Miguel

    May 9th, 2018 at 2:09 AM

    That happened to me with my late father. People who were unaware of his narcissism thought that he was the nicest gentleman that they have ever met. They didn’t know how he really was at home with us cause they weren’t there to now. The thing is that narcissists (covert narcissists) always project a different image to the world outside their homes.

  • Rommi

    Rommi

    October 10th, 2014 at 6:49 AM

    There is a tendency in our culture to believe that only men abuse women, which obscures the fact that we have a family law system that aids and abets abusive behavior by textbook narcissists, which in many cases results in fathers being marginalized or altogether removed from their children’s lives.

    When a woman is abused by a man, it is a terrible thing. Yet, decades of awareness focused specifically on the issues women face in these sorts of situations has resulted in programs, shelters and other avenues of retreat and sanctuary for them and their children.

    However, men have no such avenues, and even routinely have those avenues used against them in cases where it isn fact the man being abused.

    I appreciate the author’s attempt to express this issue in a gender neutral sense; but it telling that the readily available “Hollywood” examples all tend to reflect my aforementioned cultural bias.

  • lisa

    lisa

    October 11th, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    Rommi,

    I think that most information is pertaining to men because men are diagnosed with narcissistic personality more than women. That being said women are more prone to Borderline personality and demonstrate behaviors that are similar to narcissistic personality. Both genders are and do inflect pain and hardship on people who love them. I think it is a problem to focus on the gender and not focus on the problem behavior.

  • Attracta

    Attracta

    July 28th, 2016 at 1:45 PM

    I worked in refuges…. women have come together and set up many refuges and centers, many are voluntary run but others moved form being voluntary to being funded by governments because of the fundraising and long efforts of women who pursued this goal to have a place of shelter or a centre for counselling. Sadly men have not done the same and personally I do not think it is a woman’s place to provide this, it perpetuates the issue of the projections onto the woman, maybe the government should but it never will unless men lobby themselves. One day, a man of courage will begin to follow this process and stop waiting for others to do it.

  • gypsyblu

    gypsyblu

    November 14th, 2016 at 9:41 AM

    MRA (mens rights advocate ) is a grp of men who believe they are helping men but they aren’t. they hang out online/ social grps, twitter,u tube and any other social grp (who will accept their hatred they spew out ) to hate on women and blame them for any down falls in their life and or society.
    THEY actually believe they are helping men by making women the fall guy!!! they have threaten women and their families lives by way of gun, machete, doxing them, making web sites to post their personal info! and then cry how the gov wont help them !!! after posting pics of themselves with a gun that is suggested example to kill all women duh!! they think posting of such pics intimidates women to not speak out !!! one of the men who is leader of MRA claimed Oct as bash a bitch month to try to over shadow the oct cancer month for women …he sad make their faces bleed!!
    any how men dont know how to organize their selves with out making the opposite gender the problem, when they are the ones who have and continue to do so make laws and rules of society due to men being in power .but that is all changing more women are now graduating from college than men are, so in 20/30 years more women will hold ceo jobs!!!

  • susy

    susy

    August 30th, 2018 at 1:57 PM

    abusing women is a mans issue, 30 years or so past a young student at Sonoma State University organized a group to counsel men who abused women and evidently the courts picked it up in California for domestic abusers to seek this counsel and learn to accept woman in their lives as adored and connected to their lives rather than as a target of abuse , I married 2 abusers each with serious mental maladjustments and my children and I suffered, most the men I dated I realized were abusive and on it goes, the battle of the sexes is not a pretty sight for families are destroyed by it, I’ve noticed so many younger people who come from broken homes hold their marriages together and put in the effort to keep the peace and grow and it gives me hope, I am 66 years old and watched my abusers die from afar, at least I outlive their meaness and I won’t have it, How hard is it to love someone and not play competitive games who’s going to win who is boss, who is better it’s too insane when a man pushes a woman around, I know there are abusive women too and that really shocks me, just horrible …I wont give up on love but it’s boring to meet so many potential husbands who show their true colors in the very beginning , and they’re getting old and decrepid , don’t they realize the time we have on earth could be joyous and shared equally?

  • Terri

    Terri

    October 10th, 2014 at 7:20 AM

    WOW! This is all so very true. I was in that type of relationship for 8 yrs. Looking back, I can see things clearly. While in the middle of it, I had no clue. Just knew I was not myself at all. Now, I choose to take away from that relationship : learn from the positives and from the negatives and just let the rest go. Took a long time to get to that space, but love where I am today….As a person.

  • Kt

    Kt

    October 10th, 2014 at 6:16 PM

    I’m so happy that I stumbled across good therapy.com about 2 yrs ago! Recently, I read the article on narcissism and I was beyond elated to put a name to what I was experiencing. I was so so so very relieved because when I tried to explain to people what I was going through with my then narc-boyfriend, they would just look at me like I was stupid! Now that’s is over, the stinger is still left in me…it still hurts and I want to be free and healed! I’m 40 and I never knew these people existed…didn’t even know the name of the behavior! I felt bad because I’m an educated woman…smh!!!!! I feel like narcs are a species of people.

  • NYTX

    NYTX

    October 10th, 2014 at 6:30 PM

    Great article and wonderful comments. I too have dealt with said issues
    coupled with a mother who moved to be closer to us and refused to move into her own space because she pretend shes is in pain constantly. However, she is not in pain to go to church, conventions, etc. My mother-in-lawhusband refused to help herself with basic essential things such eating, drinking, doing laundry. All the while, she is active with her church group. She attend conferences, etc., and my husband her enables the situation. All this is to say, i am getting double serving.

  • NYTX

    NYTX

    October 10th, 2014 at 6:40 PM

    Clarification, i meant mother- in- law not mother in earlier post

  • Dee

    Dee

    October 10th, 2014 at 8:37 PM

    After extensive experience and divorce I will avoid a narcissist at any cost. My only regret is having children with this person. My kids have been manipulated by this master. They have their scars and insecurities. I have moved on and now know what a healthy loving marriage is and feel grateful for my husband and family. Don’t ever believe they can change. They are evil and will take and use others until they no longer need them and
    then dispose them like old trash. Remember that a leopard never changes his spots and a narcissist will never acknowledge his.

  • Arlene

    Arlene

    October 11th, 2014 at 4:57 AM

    What are the etiological factors in the development of the narcissistic abuser’s personality? Are there any excellent articles or books on the treatment of the narcissist?
    Thanks for this article!! And I agree with comments re narc abusers’ gender…I have encountered both male and female narcissistic abusers in my practice.

  • Anne B

    Anne B

    January 8th, 2015 at 11:28 PM

    my first boyfriend specialised in emotional abuse. He would go cold and silent, then I would beg him to tell him what was wrong, what I had done to displease him. He would drag it out for hours, or days until I was an emotional wreck, then finally reveal: I had spoken to a friend he disproved of, got my ears pierced without his permission, not worn sufficiently attractive clothes when he visited etc. Etc.
    The point was, his mother had done exactly the same to him all through his childhood. She could give him the silent treatment for days – a horrific woman!
    His father had left when he was a toddler and his mother had effectively kept him out of the son’s life, so she had full control.
    I feel desperately sorry for my so long ago boyfriend; he truly loved me, I believe, but his own experience of the only other love he knew was so abusive that he had no other way to express love. Thank god I got out, met other guys and married a wonderful, loving and balanced man, but for the 2 years I was in my first relationship I was a total doormat, unable to work out what was real and what was not and began to lose my sense of myself.

  • Mary S

    Mary S

    October 11th, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    I’ve never encountered this in a romantic relationship, but did encounter it twice with therapists. The first seemed to cast a negative spin on so much that I said: I said I was somewhat shy; she said I gave up my power. I said someone I worked with behaved in a manner that was inappropriate for the workplace; she said I had a problem with intimacy. I said that her manner seemed aggressive; she said that she wasn’t aggressive. I asked a question to try to understand what she was doing and why; she said I was asking her to give up her control. These are just a few examples. It really seemed like a crazy place. I started feeling crazy. It was counterproductive, not helpful.

    I finally quit and tried another therapist. She assured me, when I asked, that she let her patients know what she was doing. At first she seemed much better than the earlier one. But then she gradually got into things like changing the subject when I brought up something important to me; laughing at me at pretty insensitive times (for example, while saying she had no idea what I was talking about when I tried to talk about shame); and saying “I have my reasons” when I asked about something she was doing. Again, it seemed like a crazy place. Not quite as bad as the first one, but still more harmful than helpful.

    So beware: Some therapists behave this way. If you encounter one, I hope you can manage to quit earlier than I did. If therapy doesn’t make sense, ask questions. If the responses are not attempts to answer your questions, or if the answers themselves don’t make sense, don’t go back. It can take a long time to recover from harmful therapy.

  • Kathryn

    Kathryn

    October 13th, 2014 at 4:40 PM

    People who have strong narcissistic tendencies can be quite charming at times, particularly at first. Hard as it may be, believe your own perceptions.

  • Andrea Schneider

    Andrea Schneider

    October 14th, 2014 at 11:11 PM

    Thank you for all the comments…a few of you asked for more information on etiology and other articles/books on narcissism…I have 4 articles on the subject (see prior articles), all of which refer to a bibliography of excellent books and other resources for further reading…thanks again for the comments….Andrea

  • Kate R.

    Kate R.

    October 20th, 2014 at 3:49 PM

    I’m trying to boil down all I want to say to you. First, thanks, your articles have been truly enlightening to me. I am 69 and met X when I was 17, at college. He pursued me in a charming way, we were married, had 2 children, he divorced me in 1995 (pursued and married another). As other commenters have said, although I had many times wondered what the hell I was doing staying with him, many factors kept me there: the kids, my likelihood of getting a decent job, societal attitudes and lack of day-care, my basic loyalty, and most importantly, he’s a complex person, who can be loving and funny and interesting when he’s not being abusive in many subtle ways. You mention cognitive dissonance–he never swore at me, hit me, any of that, and most people thought he was a charming college professor. But he damaged me in many ways, and I kept trying to make sense of how I felt and what the reality seemed to be. The only explanation I could find was that I was at fault. Now, I think cog dis accounts for my 50-year headache! Other very helpful observation, that Xs “target intelligent, self-sufficient, empathic individuals.” Of course I have flaws, but those are my strengths, and to realize that life happened the way it did not because I’m really stupid, but at least in part, because of my strengths, is astonishing. To further complicate the issue, a person who knows she is pretty self-sufficient (even if not super confident) finds it impossibly confusing to be caught in this web. Thank you so much, Kate

  • Andrea Schneider

    Andrea Schneider

    October 20th, 2014 at 5:35 PM

    @Kate—so glad the articles have been helpful. I am glad you feel empowered. Keep up the great work with your healing. Sincerely, Andrea

  • Sonja

    Sonja

    November 22nd, 2014 at 5:19 PM

    I found that the major thing is (after multiple relationships with Narcissist and addicts), is that they make sure they approach you when you are vulnerable in the beginning, i.e. getting out of a marriage/relationship/dealing with a loss. They want to be that person you “lean on” so that they can get you while you are unguarded. This allows them to get the information that they need to develop that “image” that they need to hook you. I was able to see this last one within 18-20 months. Although, not happy it took that long, glad I did see the warning signs before commitment. In the beginning, there was talk of future eventually, combined family, et al. The relationship was great while I was going through my divorce from an addict and I was off kilter. Once the divorce was final and I had closer, I began noticing that he had no desire to “include” me and that I had to basically invite myself. He assured me he wanted me in his life, but never invited me to be a part of anything important. Basically, as long as I was doing for him, helping him, being there for him, and telling him how good of a father he was and everything was on his schedule, it was gravy. The minute the divorce was final, I began asking to be included or blending our families more frequently, and he immediately changed positions and that he did not want a commitment in the future. He just wanted a girlfriend, but not looking for marriage down the road. Now, after coming out of my marriage, I learned that actions speak louder than words, and began looking at our relationship. I noticed quickly that he 1) Would not rearrange his schedule to accommodate me for any reason. 2) The only time he was willing to come to my place was if he directly benefited from the trip (work on his truck, do laundry) and that he absolutely refused to spend any significant about of time (meaning take a trip) as a couple. And 3) If I wanted to spend time with him, I had to sacrifice my time with my children, and he would not. I broke it off because I had tried to tell him how I did not feel like a priority, but only a distraction for him in his free time, and that the relationship felt one-sided in his favor. He would say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel that way,” but he never changed or attempted to explain exactly how he meant to make me feel. I still hurt because part of me wants to believe that he is a good guy. Talk about cognitive dissonance. I think the biggest thing, however, was when I did end the relationship (which I did not do badly)…..he refused to speak to me because “I hurt his feelings”, and “I toyed with his emotions”, and the biggest was “I don’t make it a habit to talk to people that hurt me.” after I apologized for being my poor temper control (over his silent treatment after the breakup. I thought that if he realized that I was serious about my feelings we could work it out. I mean, I was supposedly the answer to his prayers. He did not treat me like it. No emotional maturity. And getting over him seems impossible. I have ended almost every mutual friendship, save two that are not my family. At this time, I make an effort to try not to go anywhere at a time that I am fairly sure I would run into him. Part of me still hopes for the man I thought he was. Confusion is real, and some of my friends don’t understand what this is like.

  • t

    t

    January 8th, 2015 at 9:30 AM

    I feel like I’m dating the man you are speaking of. To a t. So glad you got out. I’m at that point too.
    Tammy

  • maru

    maru

    November 22nd, 2014 at 6:53 PM

    I also have been gaslighted by my ex, worse still was when I knew what was happening, the lies, cheating and deceit, he wanted me back, I said no. I’d met someone else by that time only to find that I’d fallen for another controlling, selfish man (felt too much like the first one) and when I said I didn’t want to be controlled I was promptly dumped.

    And within 2 to 3 weeks he’d met another woman who he said would give up work to clean his house and look after his kids. (I don’t believe it)

    yet during my time with the second one I’d bonded with his kids, was cooking and cleaning and even arranged a holiday (was uninvited as soon as I told him I wanted to keep working) I couldn’t believe it. We spoke about the future as if we we’re going to be together forever 10 months later I’m single again. I felt like I’d been lovebombed and it was all lies…

  • Sonja

    Sonja

    November 23rd, 2014 at 9:11 AM

    These types (especially the covert ones that seem like normal everyday working Joes) are really good. My last bf was even an elder in the Church. When we started dating he even made a comment about my level of self-awareness. I never hid what I wanted, although I did change my position on remarriage (meaning that I put that option back on the table and did not scrap it entirely). These people ruin lives of everyone they come in contact with. I now have trust issues because I constantly doubt if what they say is truthful.

  • Jess

    Jess

    November 23rd, 2014 at 12:34 AM

    Please coud you point me in the direction of a therapist in the uk who also specialises in these kind of relationships. Two years after my relationship has finished, 3 therapists later, and I am still struggling !! 😕

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    November 23rd, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    Hi Jess,

    If you would like to consult with mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, https://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area. If you’re looking for a counselor that practices a specific type of therapy, or who deals with specific concerns, you can make an advanced search by clicking here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/advanced-search.html

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    Warm regards,

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Angela

    Angela

    November 23rd, 2014 at 1:27 AM

    My father is a narcissis and has tried to convince me for years that he is not the physical and sexual abuser that I remember. Starting off that way as a kid did some damage anf it took me about 28 years to realize that i wasnt the reason we didnt have a good relationship. Thanks for the article and putting a name on this phenomenon that occurs in my head.

  • Andrea Schneider

    Andrea Schneider

    November 23rd, 2014 at 1:24 PM

    Jess- There is a licensed psychotherapist in Dublin named Christine Louis de Cannonville (google her name and her website will come up). You can also choose to work via tele-health (phone/webcam/audio) which is also a service I provide. I am licensed in the state of CA as a therapist specializing in this area of expertise. For those outside of CA, if your situation is such that tele health life coaching would be beneficial, I can also discuss those options if appropriate for your situation. Please contact me via my GoodTherapy.org profile, at https://www.goodtherapy.org/andrea-schneider-therapist.php – It is essential you connect with a therapist who specializes in narcissistic abuse recovery. Andrea

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    December 11th, 2014 at 5:16 AM

    Thanks for writing about this. I wish I could find a reliable (ie: credentialed) resource online listing symptoms of gaslighting; when you can’t trust your reality any longer, objective information becomes critical.

  • Anne

    Anne

    January 10th, 2015 at 12:11 PM

    The Gaslight Effect, book by Dr Robin Stern

  • Michelle M

    Michelle M

    December 29th, 2014 at 6:51 AM

    Outstanding article, Andrea! Thank you so much for continuing to write about this extremely important, but too often overlooked and misunderstood, topic.

  • Luna H

    Luna H

    January 8th, 2015 at 10:23 AM

    Thank you for this great article- so well decribed, and a topic that needs more attention.

  • Cathryn

    Cathryn

    January 8th, 2015 at 7:52 PM

    Someone posted this article on Facebook and I followed the link here.It sounds horribly like my relationship with my ex-husband and now my son. The silent treatment is another favorite of theirs. I’ve seen tons of therapists without a whole lot of success but this really helps. Thanks.

  • kitten

    kitten

    January 10th, 2015 at 7:27 AM

    One of my exes did this to me. He was super nice for the first 2 years of our relationship. It was too good to be true apparently and he was a good actor and liar. Then he said he was dying of brain cancer and had 2 years to live. I was in a state of my whole world crumbling around me. Slowly he began to change into an abusive monster. I later found or he was lying about dying of cancer. What a d-bag.

  • Lila

    Lila

    January 15th, 2015 at 7:45 AM

    I was abused by a much older man, whom I’d known and trusted since I was a child. He was very close to my family, and he began a relationship with me when I was a teen. I was not ready to be drawn into an adult “affair” but he made me believe that I was just as complicit in this decision as he. The relationship was sexual and went on behind everyone’s backs for 4 years. The last year he became emotionally abusive, accusing me of having feelings for other young men. He was constantly seeking validation and affirmation of my love and feelings. It got to the point where he was yelling at me for saying hello to another man. All along – from the start – he’d told me he loved me and would marry me, and I chose to hold to this because of all the trauma and the fact that I felt connected to him. But I simply couldn’t take the stress and pressure any longer, and I broke things off with him. Afterwards, I could see narcissistic tendencies in him. I held this secret for almost 20 years, until just last year. It’s hard, because I still feel a connection.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    January 15th, 2015 at 8:55 AM

    Thank you for your comment, Lila. If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, https://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area. If you’re looking for a counselor that practices a specific type of therapy, or who deals with specific concerns, you can make an advanced search by clicking here: https://www.goodtherapy.org/advanced-search.html

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Cait

    Cait

    January 17th, 2015 at 10:38 PM

    This was a horrible article! The author gave poor examples and confused terms. It was vague. Very disappointing that someone would put this out there thinking it made any sense?

  • Andrea Schneider

    Andrea Schneider

    January 22nd, 2015 at 8:40 PM

    Thank you for the feedback all…I am glad this article has been helpful..Andrea

  • Christine V

    Christine V

    February 3rd, 2015 at 7:02 AM

    I am so relieved that we are talking about this issue. I just want to acknowledge Mary S’ comment (#19) back in October of 2014. First of all, thank-you so much for speaking out about crazymaking therapists. I would like to see this problem acknowledged, by this site especially, so people can stay safer. I had this experience as well with a therapist whose practice is based in psychoanalysis. It took me the better part of a year doing intensive research to discover why it almost killed me. I have tried so many avenues to even be heard by other professionals, and only a couple even acknowledge the harm (but can’t really help). The rest seem determined to bury the secret of abusive narcissistic therapists, while innocent people are in that office right now. Mary S, thank-you so much for your words and yes, everybody, if you feel crazy and confused, hurt, can’t get answers, this is not how any type of therapy should be practiced, including psychoanalysis.

  • Andrea Schneider

    Andrea Schneider

    February 3rd, 2015 at 1:59 PM

    @Christine V — this site, goodtherapy.org, is dedicated to support for people and linking them with strengths-focused therapists who have been vetted to be a part of this website. So you can start there with your research and also read about the mission of goodtherapy.org Secondly, as relates specifically to narcissistic abuse recovery, it is true, you do need to find a specialist who is licensed and trained to work with this specialty and the subtle intricacies of complex PTSD associated with narcissistic abuse. Because this phenomenon has only in recent times come to the surface as an area of need, training qualified therapists is essential. In the meantime, you can interview therapists and ask what kind of training they have, what books they recommend, etc. You can also check out Michelle Mallon, MSW’s Facebook page: facebook.com/NarcissisticVictimSyndrome where she is putting together a vetted listed of licensed therapists who work with narcissistic abuse recovery. Generally speaking, psychoanalysis would not be the predominant or preferred method of working with this form of recovery. Feel free to contact me through my profile. Sincerely, Andrea

  • Christine V

    Christine V

    February 4th, 2015 at 7:02 AM

    Thanks. However, it seems that maybe I wasn’t quite clear? I am saying that the therapist himself is the one who caused the complex PTSD, and the one who delivered the narcissistic abuse, under the guise of psychoanalysis. The therapist is a predator, and this has nothing to do with psychoanalysis or anything I did or didn’t do. People need to be aware that predators are masquerading as therapists, and as soon as we experience crazymaking in a situation supposed to help, to get out fast. It does indeed take a very long time to recover from this, especially when other professionals who can do something refuse to even acknowledge this event. If we are going to inform the public about what to look for in good therapy, we need to expose the blind spot of how easy it is to overlook an abusive narcissistic therapist. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

    It is also worth noting that practitioners of psychoanalysis feel they are in fact, using a predominant and preferred method of working with narcissistic abuse recovery. Many practitioners are well trained and have good credentials. This is a very good reason why the public can’t get answers (they are assumed to be competent) and a great place for predators to hide from accountability.

    You may choose not to post this comment, but the truth will come out soon. This is a major, deadly hazard to the public. Until this is adequately addressed, I for one am not looking for another therapist.

  • Andrea Schneider

    Andrea Schneider

    February 4th, 2015 at 9:49 AM

    With all respect, Christine V, I am in complete agreement with you….no form of narcissistic abuse is ok…and when a person is abused by a professional in a position of power, this is a very disturbing and dangerous situation…and unfortunately, common…(clergy, politicians, therapist, etc)…so it is absolutely essential for the consumer of the service to interview the person they wish to receive the service from…and information is indeed power…so I commend you on bringing attention to this issue…I think there are more therapists than you realize (myself included) who do not enable or stand for narcissistic abuse. There are bad apples in any profession and good eggs…but you are right, when that person is in a position of power, there can be tremendous harm done. I encourage you to report the individual to their licensing board. My hope is that you will also experience a truly helpful and healing connection with a helping professional…that is very possible. Kind regards, Andrea Schneider, LCSW

  • Michelle Mallon, MSW, LSW

    Michelle Mallon, MSW, LSW

    February 5th, 2015 at 6:42 AM

    As a survivor of therapist abuse, I am hoping I can provide an additional perspective to the discussion about Narcissistic mental health professionals. I have been following Andrea’s articles for several years now. In fact, when I first found her articles here on GoodTherapy I couldn’t believe my eyes! I had only learned what Narcissistic abuse was after searching tirelessly on the internet for something that could explain what I had just been through. It was primarily through stumbling upon survivors forums on several social media sites that I began to piece together the extent of what had happened.

    Andrea has written a number of excellent articles about Narcissistic abuse. However, the really interesting thing about her articles is that a reader can learn a lot about Narcissistic abuse (in particular whether or not the mental health profession is effectively helping survivors through the healing process) by carefully reading the reader comments after her articles (with the exception the occasional troll). What I have found by reading these comments is that many of the people who find their way to Andrea’s articles do so in much the same way I did- after tirelessly searching for something that helped them make sense of what they had been through. Even worse, many of these same readers report having sought therapy during and after the destructive relationships they were sucked into only to be told by their therapists that they just needed to try harder to understand the other person. In fact, even after finding Andrea’s articles and beginning to uncover the truth to what they have been through, survivors face an uphill battle trying to find a therapist who specializes in Narcissistic abuse. I myself have contacted the GoodTherapy support team to alert them that their advice to readers to go through their site search to find such a therapist was a dead end because up until just recently, they didn’t have the search term “Narcissism” in any form in their index. I have also worked with Andrea to try and help some of these commenters find mental health professionals in their areas who specialize in Narcissistic abuse recovery. It has been incredibly challenging. Even contacting licensing boards in various states to try and locate these professionals sometimes results in being asked “Narcissistic what?” when I explain what I need help locating. This is just heartbreaking! So even those very people who finally found their way here to Andrea are left with a vision of what the path to healing after this abuse might look like, but they still struggle to actually find it. Here are people who are broken and hurting and doing all of the things that healthy survivors should be doing to get help and yet they, in many cases, cannot find it.

    More importantly, through my own journey to healing I have been even more shocked to realize that this type of abuse is incredibly common. Parental Narcissism, Narcissistic abuse in romantic relationships, work environments, extended families, school setting, churches and yes even therapeutic relationships is unbelievably common. It seems outrageous that so few mental health professionals would be openly writing and discussing this type of abuse and the implications it has for survivors everywhere. It has left me repeatedly asking myself, “Why is this?” In fact, prior to the release of the DSM-V, there had been some very excited talk about the possibility of “Narcissistic Victim Syndrome” finally being included. After its release, I was incredibly disappointed to learn that this did not happen. In fact, the vast majority of mental health professionals don’t even know what this is. And as a result, many of the survivors who do seek out professional help during and after these types of abusive relationships are misdiagnosed. I have found it deeply troubling just how many survivors of Narcissistic abuse who are suffering from PTSD and complex PTSD are diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder. And quite frankly, I don’t believe for a minute that I am the only person in the world to have noticed this. And actually, through my painstaking searching I have found a number of other mental health professionals around the world who are saying some of these very same things I am saying. In fact, they have been for years. At some level, it is important to acknowledge that this ongoing “ignorance” throughout the mental health community regarding Narcissistic abuse and Narcissistic Victim Syndrome is not a result of a lack of other mental health professionals around the world trying to bring it to light. I believe there is another factor that is preventing this type of abuse from gaining the exposure it needs in order to be properly acknowledged within the mental health profession.

    And so this is where my unique perspective of being a survivor of therapist abuse and a mental health professional have given me some important insight into another aspect of this problem. Much like Christine, when I tried to protect other innocent people from the therapist who abused me, I was further traumatized by a licensing board that did not handle the complaint appropriately. In fact, much of what happened during the course of the board’s “investigation” of the 15 point ethical complaint that was filed by me (and the therapist I eventually got up the courage to see after the abusive one) was deceptive, unethical and potentially illegal. It was only because I had stumbled up the TELL (Therapy Exploitation Link Line) website and began communicating with the people there that I learned that some of what was going on with the board was problematic. I eventually filed a complaint with the state Inspector General’s Office regarding the board’s conduct. Despite being told by the IGs office that they were likely going to pursue charges against the board early last year, I found out in May that they had actually closed the case and didn’t notify me at all as they had stated they would. That was the end of my pursuit to try and protect innocent people from this monster. I had done all I could. However, what I have seen and experienced has left me incredibly concerned about what appears to be a lack of accountability within the mental health profession. Prior to what I experienced I would not have believed that this problem existed. It was a sobering experience and a frightening lesson that is impossible to unlearn.

    I think that in terms of what Christine is saying, the fact that so few mental health professionals even truly know what this type of abuse is and because some of us who have experienced therapist abuse has also had a first hand seat to the ugly inner workings of licensing boards whose role it is to protect the public from therapists who are Narcissists (exposing a tremendous lack of accountability within the profession) means that there are obstacles survivors of this type of abuse face in finding the path to healing that are “hidden”. I know for me personally, when I realized this, I became incredibly alarmed that the likelihood that Narcissistic abuse and Narcissistic Victim Syndrome would become more widely understood was small. These two problems- the lack of understanding within the mental health profession and what appears to be institutionalized obstacles preventing this understanding from happening- are very powerful and they reinforce each other. What further complicates this issue is that many of the mental health professionals who are incredibly competent and not pathologically Narcissistic have a very hard time believing that another mental health professional could be so destructive. Frankly, I know for me personally I wouldn’t have believed this either prior to what happened to me… or maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to believe it. I am not sure which it is.

    I believe that for a supportive and effective therapeutic alliance to be formed, clients do have to find the “right” therapist. And as Andrea suggested asking questions is a good way to attempt this. However, many clients have no idea what kinds of questions to ask. And frankly, for some of the really destructive therapists out there, the “red flags” in therapy do not occur until after the therapist has spent considerable time and energy grooming the client to trust them. Therefore, the suggestions for how to find the “right” therapist can be helpful in certain situations. However, I think what Christine is concerned about has to do with a lack of acquiring objective information about potential therapists. How many of us have tried to find a therapist and want very much to find a “good” one, but all we have to go on is a little description written by the therapist on their website (or the insurance company’s list of providers)? We could look at consumer rating sites but we don’t know for sure who has written the comments or left the ratings. We just don’t know how valid any of that is. You could go to the licensing board website to see if there are any violations for a prospective therapist. However, this can be falsely reassuring. The therapist who harmed me has no sanctions at all. Someone inquiring about him would have no idea he seriously harmed someone. This is the reality of what most of us have to do when we need to seek out professional help for ourselves or someone we love. And it’s a terrifying reality. We are able to get more objective information about our hair stylists than we can about a prospective therapist. It shouldn’t be this way.

    So I believe that it is very important for people like Andrea to keep writing publicly about Narcissistic abuse so that other mental health professionals who genuinely want to help people will begin to recognize how pervasive this type of abuse is and to advocate for changes in the professional training to be able to effectively recognize, diagnose and treat the survivors of this abuse. But it also important for people like Christine to continue to do all she can to point out these “hidden” obstacles that lie in the way of achieving this goal. I believe that the issue of an ongoing, wide spread lack of awareness about Narcissistic abuse and the issues related to preventing Narcissistic therapists from harming people are very much interrelated. In fact if the good folks here at GoodTherapy would like to help break this cycle, I would ask them to encourage more professionals to write about Narcissistic abuse in an effort to combat this continued ignorance. I don’t think this would single handedly stop this problem, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction.

    Thank you very much for your time in reading this.

    Respectfully,
    Michelle Mallon, MSW, LSW

  • Andrea Schneider

    Andrea Schneider

    February 5th, 2015 at 3:44 PM

    Thanks for your very eloquent reply, Crystal..very well stated and right on! Andrea :)

  • Andrea Schneider

    Andrea Schneider

    February 5th, 2015 at 4:00 PM

    ahh— that comment was meant for Michelle M

  • Kristin Walker

    Kristin Walker

    February 17th, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    As always Andrea, excellent article and on point! I, like Michelle, worked with a therapist that has NPD. She was not my therapist but a short terms co-worker who used her credentials to get her in the door with many business owners in behavioral health leaving a trail of destruction every where she went. She came to me by reading my posts about narcissism and told me she was currently being abused by a sadistic narcissist which was her boss at a mental health agency. Private agency emails were disclosed to me and I believed her when she said she was being abused by this woman who has a 20 year positive track record in mental health. What I found after working with this person was that she began to behave and treat me exactly as I witnessed her treating her former boss. I realized relatively quickly that the actual narcissist was sitting in front of me and had tried to ruin the career of her former employer. She was fired from this large agency and I helped her get her job back before she left or was fired again. I am not sure what the true story ever was because the amount of triangulation she created between myself, my family, my friends, and my clients was horrendous. I can only imagine the nightmare she created at this mental health agency. Now I receive emails and phone calls from my clients that are having a horrible time with this woman, again, leaving a trail of destruction where ever she goes. Why did I believe her story? And especially after JUST getting out of a 3 year relationship with a covert narcissist that was a colleague and an office full of his destructive narcissistic supply? Because she told me she was a therapist. She knew exactly what to say, as they all do, in order to extract as much supply from me as possible. Thankfully my family, friends, and colleagues were clued in and this experience helped me realize yet another place within me that I need to shore up with boundaries. This person is actively out in the mental health field touting they are a clinician and driving right through boundaries of everyone in the mental health community from providers to vendors. What I did to protect myself was to use the Gray Rock Method. Once enough clients, friends, and family complained and I paid attention past the trauma bonding I started telling the story of me being unsuccessful, going nowhere in business, having nothing to offer. I then wrote an article about my experience working with a narcissist. I knew this would set off major triggers with her. It did. Like a tick that has been burned with a match, she detached from me quickly and has moved on to other supply. While I certainly feel for anyone she works with I also realize it is not my responsibility to save the world here over and above saving myself and my company. I look at this as a great lesson on OVERT and COVERT narcissism. I had a big shot of both and glady help anyone I can by TELLING MY STORY. This is the only way to help other people while protecting yourself. Andrea has been invaluable and it is her articles that gave me this language which led me to experts like Christine Louis de Cannonville and Michelle Mallon. Thank you Andrea for doing the work you do and for shining a spot light on even therapists that have this disorder.

  • Andrea Schneider, LCSW

    Andrea Schneider, LCSW

    February 17th, 2015 at 1:12 PM

    @Kristin…thanks so much for your kind words. Thank YOU for helping to shed light on narcissistic abuse recovery and for your great work at your blog at everythingEHR.com You rock!!!

  • emma

    emma

    April 8th, 2015 at 3:00 PM

    Hi, I’m trying to put myself back together after recently discovering I’ve been the victim of a narcissistic relationship for 3&half years and starting to realise the impact it has had on me. However, I’ve tried to seek help re:counselling yet my doctor has referred me for CBT, which I don’t believe is the answer. Thus after reading other books/websites as well as your own, I am wondering how I can obtain more information as to organising a suitable therapist? As most of these sites are US based, and I am in the Uk! Please can you advise? Many thanks.

  • Slm

    Slm

    August 20th, 2015 at 7:18 AM

    Emma,

    I have just left a 2 yr relationship with the man I thought was my soulmate and my future. He spent all of that time with prostitutes and left me fighting for my life whilst in labour with our still born son to be with hookers. I have just realised the link with NPD and with researching find him to be absolutely text book. No idea how to process this. I am in UK and have a gp who is fast tracking me for therapy. If you want to share i will reply straight away.
    You are not alone xxx

  • emma

    emma

    August 20th, 2015 at 10:17 AM

    Hi Sim, many thanks for sharing your story & trying to help. However it has been almost 6 months now since I walked away & have followed the no contact rule, even though he has tried. I did pursue the CBT course which was very hard as it tackled depression which I realise I also suffered from during the last 2 years we were together & since. And even though I was skeptical it kinda worked & even though I know I cant stop thoughts of him, I’m beginning to recognise when I’m ruminating & change my thought patterns. I also sought counselling yet found this unhelpful as my therapist wanted to drag up a lot more about my past than I intended & tried to make connections between past relationships & this one, which was also very painful. Yet I’m happy to say that I’m beginning to feel like my old self again & laugh a lot more. There are days when I still wrestle with my conscience like this week with events happening in Bangkok (where he still lives) & considered sending a message to check if he’s ok, but then I also remember why I hate him & dont wish to speak to him ever again, after also cheating on me with hookers! & brainwashing me into believing he had no interest in Thai women & planning a future together! I also found Lisa.E.Scotts website about Narcissism aswell as Esteemology & read these daily to remind myself why I can never go back, whilst also reverting back to my journal I wrote & still add to now & again to release my feelings. I feel for you though, especially as you have a child, & can only say that hopefully with the right support you will also come through it, but its a slow process & I’m still not sure whether it ever goes away, just have try to stay positive. But good luck if you have found a good therapist as I think they are hard to come by in this field xx

  • Chris L

    Chris L

    April 30th, 2015 at 6:06 PM

    What I’m interested in knowing from an expert in the field is are these narcissistic individuals even aware of the narrative of their own actions from beginning to end, that is whether all actions throughout the cycle of idealization, degradation, and discarding are motive driven?

    As someone who has suffered at the hands of a pathological narcissist and still struggling with the problems, indeed it would seem that by the end of the course, after being discarded and divorced for no clear reason following years of abuse, it would seem to be all motive driven and indeed that is often how descriptions of narcissists seem to indicate. But I don’t believe there is motive and intentionality throughout the narrative, except perhaps maybe in parts of the abuse cycle. They don’t go intentionally looking for victims to use and ultimately hurt. I believe that when they initially start by making you feel like the greatest person in the world, in their deluded mid they believe that at the time, there is no deliberate acting, and manipulation, and when the extreme psychological abuse starts they are often not even aware that it is abuse since they completely lack any capacity to empathize and without the capacity for empathy it is very difficult to judge a situation in terms of good or bad in relation to another, since after all our entire moral framework relies on the assumption that people can express empathy to be able consider certain actions to be good or bad relative to how much pleasure or pain results from these actions, by being able to project our own experiences of these actions onto another person. It seems to me that with a pathological narcissist they are very much the victims of their own pathology, unaware that they are the villains in their own twisted story. Would this be a correct determination or are we the victims of an individual who plotted the whole story from the beginning, from the moment we come together and the surprisingly overabundant praise and idealization begins that causes us to fall completely in love with them?

  • Suzanne

    Suzanne

    September 17th, 2015 at 12:26 PM

    Great questions! Something to ponder.. I guess it depends on where they are on the spectrum.
    Some I believe are just conniving evil carcasses.. with ulterior motives.

    Others lacking in any emotional intelligence what so ever., aren’t in touch enough consciously being aware ..what the hell they do to themselves or others. I’ve seen some higher functioning abusers .. at least get a glimpse if their behavior.. enough to have periods of normality. It just doesn’t last long ..

  • anne

    anne

    October 29th, 2015 at 6:35 AM

    I had no clue I was a narcissit. I had cheated when my husband was away (for a 5 month period), but when he came back I stopped and thought I was being a good wife after that. Fast forward 6 years and I finally told my husband and went to therapy. But when we started looking at our entire relationship we realized it was full of various types of betrayal and that I never actually loved him, or anyone actually. I can’t empathise. I have a hard time experiencing regret. And I’m very selfish. But I’m working on these things. I don’t want to live the rest of my life never having loved. I want to treat my husband well. I don’t want my kids to learn my behavior.

  • Anny

    Anny

    January 6th, 2016 at 1:53 AM

    Good on you for recognizing. It’s very admirable and takes work with what you’ve realized!

  • Dave

    Dave

    January 23rd, 2016 at 8:54 PM

    The fact that you recognize your NPD…and that you truly want change…(if your sincere)…is an indication that it IS possible to some degree to control NPD tendencies and possibly experience if not feel what you have not felt before.

  • Andrea Schneider

    Andrea Schneider

    May 3rd, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    @Chris– to answer your question, narcissism runs on a continuum or spectrum — some with traits, some with NPD, and some with “malignant narcissism”, crossing over into psychopathy…those on the extreme end of narcisism are fully aware of the pain they are causing and actually intend to cause emotional pain, thereby boosting their egos and sense of power/control. Folks with less severe narcissism may just be acting impulsively to preserve their narcissistic supply without much thought to the impact on their partner. The further you go on the spectrum of narcissism, the less empathy that person has within. Healing wishes, Andrea Schneider, LCSW

  • Andrea Schneider, LCSW

    Andrea Schneider, LCSW

    October 29th, 2015 at 8:44 AM

    @Anne– if you have that level of insight and capacity for self-reflection and a willingness to shine a flashlight on your “stuff”, I would be cautious to label yourself as a narcissist…someone who has extreme NPD is closed off to change and doesn’t think they have a problem.

  • Anne

    Anne

    October 29th, 2015 at 11:53 AM

    Let me rephrase, “I never thought of myself as having narcissitc traits”.
    My first counselor said I had attachment disorder with BPD traits, second couselor agreed with first but also added there was NPD traits (vulnerable or covert type) but that they all overlapped. Both said to just call it “personality issues” and not focus on the label but the recovery.
    But once the cards were on the table it came to light that I was entitled,manipulate, egocentric, and lacking empathy. I never thought of myself that way before. I knew I always wanted my way,but doesn’t everyone? I thought most of my behavior was normal. So I do think it’s possible for someone who is low on the spectrum to not realize how hurtful they are, or how selfish.

  • Maria A

    Maria A

    October 29th, 2015 at 5:17 PM

    I am stuck in this abuse with a narcissist. I feel like I’m going crazy. I’ve always thought myself to be smart,caring and loving. Now it seems I think of myself as confused,scared,unrealistic and selfish. If I bring up something that is bothering me, it always turns into “Why can’t you just be happy” and then in turn, he gets mad at me and shuts me out for days or weeks. Tells me he is leaving me constantly and that he hasn’t been happy in a long time. I leave these conversations in confusion because that isn’t my perception of how things are. He has no problem telling me all the things that are wrong with me though…telling me I am too sensitive and behave like a child I don’t often have issues but all of a sudden I feel like…maybe he’s right. But he isn’t. I grew up in a home with abuse, alcoholism and gambling. I’ve shared stories of my childhood. When he’s “in a mood” he tells me that I don’t know real problems and that my childhood never happened. This is the first time o have ever shared any of these feelings. Maybe I’m choosing to do it here because it’s anonymous? I don’t know. I’m scared and yet I love him and don’t know if I have the strengh to leave. I have a counselling appointment next week..alone because he says he knows what his problem is…it’s me.

  • Wendy

    Wendy

    December 13th, 2015 at 2:40 AM

    Maria, just leave him, RUN in fact. I’ve been in this type of relationship for nearly a quarter of a century. Don’t believe his lies, don’t let him gaslight you. And ignore his criticisms. The man I’m divorcing has had literally hundreds of chances and he’s still trying to convince me that it’s ME. I’m far from perfect, but by hell, I know what I’ve done and said. He’s now in an all out smear campaign against my character. I’m losing people right and left because of it. Don’t wait for things to get better. Oh, he might temporarily lure you into another honeymoon phase, but it won’t last. RUN!!!

  • Michelle Mallon

    Michelle Mallon

    October 30th, 2015 at 5:17 AM

    Anne,
    I think what Andrea just explained is very important and I have personally seen this quite a bit with survivors of Narcissistic abuse. The fact that you are on this board, reading this article and the comments that follow it to try and self reflect and determine if YOU need to change is really not at all consistent with someone with NPD. Further having “narcissistic traits” is something that can a part of many other diagnoses and this is something that is often misinterpreted by mental health professionals. If you think about it, Narcissistic abuse involves a lot of projecting the awful, shameful parts of the abuser onto the victim/survivor. If the abuser is really successful at what they do, they can oftentimes convince people around them that they (the victims) are the Narcissists. I can’t tell you how many survivors I have spoken with who were diagnosed with a personality disorder of some kind only to find years later that they had, in fact, been suffering from Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. You can see from the number of responders here on this article and others that Andrea has written about Narcissistic abuse that what she is writing about is resonating with a lot of people. And there are also many people posting comments on her articles about being unable to find mental health professionals who understand this type of abuse. The effects of Narcissistic abuse are so poorly understood within the mental health profession and as a result, many survivors are being misdiagnosed. It sounds like the counselors you saw aren’t really sure what is going on and that is actually fairly common when it comes to Narcissistic abuse. I would ask you to read some of the information about Narcissistic Victim Syndrome that Christine Louis de Canonville has provided on her site NarcissisticBehavior dot net (I have tried to put the links directly in but the message will not post) and think about whether or not this might apply to you. The two articles on her site that I think might be particularly helpful are Narcissistic Victim Syndrome: What the Heck Is That? Narcissistic Victim Syndrome: A New Diagnosis?

    Please keep an open mind and know that it is very possible (and even very common) for survivors to be misdiagnosed for years when it comes to the effects of Narcissistic abuse (please refer to the very first thread on my survivors’ forum on Facebook for support of this statement. The name of this forum is Narcissistic Victim Syndrome: Hope for Victims and Survivors.

    -Michelle

  • Hugh

    Hugh

    March 15th, 2016 at 5:00 PM

    I am a narcissist. I realize it is very unusual that a narcissist could see it and admit it in himself, and that his doing so reliably disqualifies him. Nevertheless, I am one. I have read the article and most of the comments; that was after reading many other on-line articles for the last couple of hours about narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and energy vampires. What can I say? It fits. Not only does it fit perfectly, I am grateful for the diagnosis. I realize, though (from my readings) there is not much I can do about it. I am 56 and in a relationship now, barely. There is a lot of tension. We have been in (and out) of a relationship for ten years. At first I love-bombed her. I always did that. I thought that was normal romance. I liked the high. That lasted about six months, while I was grooming her to participate in sexual activities of a somewhat unusual kind. We went to an adult theater after making agreements to just check it out and not have any contact with anyone else. I broke my word. I tried to minimize my transgression, make it seem she was the one who had done something wrong, We were at a crisis point and I begged her to stay with me, promising to change. She stayed, I didn’t change- not much, anyway. Only when absolutely necessary (breakup time) and as little as possible (just enough to get her off my back). But some part of me really was sincere, though the larger part was lazy… and lying. I had been trying to figure out what was wrong with me for decades. I knew my life wasn’t working, that my relationships weren’t giving me what I thought I wanted. I had read the DSM (4) cover to cover searching for me: Antisocial fit somewhat; Boderline a little less so; Depression was in there but always seemed more like a side effect than the cause; PTSD from my childhood was looking better and better as I came to understand just how crazy my very high functioning alcoholic father had been, and how emotionally unavailable my mother was (and is). Speaking of alcoholism, I have tried 12-Step recovery (in a half-stepper manner) throughout my “adult” life. I think sex addiction is a better diagnosis for me than alcohol dependency, though accepting that has taken decades (it’s been literally 30 years since my first Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meeting). So, I don’t feel like I am in danger of drinking or acting out sexually today, but I don’t seem to be able to stop being a jerk in my relationship. Of course, it’s hard for her to give and for me to accept feedback that I am acting like a jerk. I can’t see it, so I accuse her of being passive-aggressive, a control freak, or gaslighting ME! Over the years I have come to trust her, though she is definitely the first person I have ever trusted. I suppose my trust of her is of a limited variety, as I don’t think of myself as particularly trustworthy (and so I project that). And I really do want to heal. It is excruciatingly painful to have to look at how cruel, manipulative, sneaky, cowardly, I can be, and how worthless I really feel. I thought I was fabulous. I thought my self-esteem was off the charts; my problem was that I WAS superior. Well, I have tried psychotherapy with ten counselors that I can think of right now, those attempts started in high school after an overdose,though that wasn’t my choice. In college I sought out the help of a therapist because it was paid for. I paid for it myself several years later, but didn’t feel helped- no connection, no intensity. In my thirties it was mostly self-help: lots of workshops, etc.. In my forties I tried anti-depressants. I tried three different psychiatrists; not much help there. No one could compare to my dad (a minister and counselor), who was still running the show… from inside me. At the age of 40, I set a limit with my father: no more contact. This limit lasted the rest of his life. I got in touch with my rage at him, and subsequently was able to see my rage at everything and everyone. Also my fear: I’d required women (and men) to make me feel good about myself. I was a bottomless pit. I thought that was typical for an alcoholic (and/or ACoA), and it is, but mine went further. I manufactured drama, intensity, fun, eroticism, conflict, feelings of closeness all in the name of intimacy, but the game was rigged. I was doing it to AVOID intimacy. All relationships had a “destruct” mechanism built in. I had NO INTENTION of growing together, building a life together, staying together, being authentic, though of course I knew I needed to SAY all these things to get my fix. I reluctantly accepted that I am a relationship and romance addict, and was ready to call it a day- had resigned myself to the life plan of trying to get and stay sober with absolutely no hope of success. I had accepted the insanity and unmanageability of the !st Step, but had not ever come to believe I could be restored to sanity by a power greater than myself (Step 2). I have a trail of about a dozen major relationships behind me, which, until recently, I considered all very meaningful. Now I see it as mostly BULL***. Mine. Add a dozen minor relationships, which I used to hope were broken hearts. The thing is, I never wanted to be this way. Obviously, at 56 I bear all of the blame/responsibility for my actions since 18, But I really wanted to be happy and effective, brave and well-adjusted, reliable and loved- all the things all of us want. What I DID was to manipulate women (mostly) into making me FEEL all those things without ever having to take the real risk of EARNING those things, or risking failure. My girlfriend and I are in a very tense situation. She is hoping against hope I can change; she realizes that is insane, but is stubborn. I am increasingly pessimistic about ever being normal, happy, functional.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    March 15th, 2016 at 5:46 PM

    Dear Hugh,

    Thank you for your comment. The GoodTherapy.org Team is not a substitute for professional advice, but we encourage you to reach out. Change is possible for all, and a therapist or counselor may be able to offer you help and support in addressing and achieving your goals.

    You can locate a therapist or counselor in your area by entering your ZIP code here:
    https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html

    We have a “Share Your Story” feature on our site, and we would like to encourage you to submit your story for consideration. In doing so, you would have the opportunity to expand on your experience with mental health issues and explain any experience you have with therapy.

    You can learn more about the Share Your Story feature and submit a piece for our review here:
    https://www.goodtherapy.org/submit-your-story.html

    Above all, please know help is available, should you seek it. We wish you the best of luck in your search.

    Kind regards,

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Gettingthere

    Gettingthere

    December 8th, 2016 at 10:04 AM

    Hugh, that is incredible insight you have gained about yourself. I just wish this was possible for all narc’s but unfortunately, I haven’t witnessed this. You have made your first step in the right direction towards knowing yourself better, changing who you are and the very real possibility of improving your relationship and life for good. I wish you well with your journey.

  • Michele

    Michele

    April 19th, 2016 at 5:46 PM

    Three years ago, at the age of 51, I reconnected with an old boy friend from college. He had been the love of my life, but at that young age, we went our separate ways. He was British and I lived with him in England for one beautiful, romantic, amazing year. Now in midlife, he was in the “final” stages of a very messy divorce. I couldn’t believe my luck getting back with this man. He was perfect. My family adored him and everyone who knew me was so happy for me. He was tender and demonstrative, always telling me he loved me more than anything in the world and that I saved him from a depressed, hopeless existence.
    We began going back and forth across the Atlantic almost every month.
    Our week long trysts were intense and powerful. I thought that I had truly found my soul mate and he told me I was his heart and soul in every way possible.
    I had been with him a year and a half when I found out he had been maintaining a sexual relationship with a co-worker the entire time.
    I wish I could say I ended it there, but he swore to me he was done with her and that if I would give him another chance he would spend his whole life making it up to me.
    So began the cycle. Periods of intense love bombing, only to find out about another lie. More promises that we were back on the right path. Excuses about how he only lied because I forced him to with my demands.
    And then came the therapy. He would go with me if only I would give us another chance. And here’s where that incredible luck that I thought I had at the beginning of the relationship actually manifested itself. I have since read many stories of people in couples therapy getting sucked further under with a well meaning but uneducated counselor. Thank God that is not my story. Our therapist saw us for two months, then she saw me individually and explained what it was that I was dealing with.
    She told me she would not keep wasting our money and would not keep seeing us together.
    While she certainly didn’t tell me to leave him, she gave me the insight and information I needed to effectively do just that. And I am now in individual therapy with her. I went no contact with my narc and I thank God for my escape. My narcissist doesn’t feel so lucky. He stalks me regularly, attempts to love bomb me and guilt me. I get pages of e-mails every day. I don’t have any idea when he will tire of this. He has shown up unannounced on my doorstep, having taken a plane across the Atlantic, and I’m happy to say, I did not answer the door.
    I would like to know if violence is a regular part of a narcissist’s pattern when their victim gets free.

  • Ale b

    Ale b

    July 14th, 2016 at 11:07 AM

    I feel like cognitive dissonance needs to be mentioned in the same sentence with Trauma bonding, victims otherwise cannot understand why they still feel attraction to their abuser basically against their will…..

  • J.M.

    J.M.

    July 14th, 2016 at 5:08 PM

    I wouldn’t have been able to stand up for myself if I hadn’t gone and gotten therapy once I realized something was wrong in my marriage, and that it wasn’t my fault. I had a child with this woman, and was repeatedly treated to rage fits, extreme devaluation, gaslighting, projection, projective identification, wash-rinse-tumble dry: the whole package. Turns out it was my fault for ignoring the warning signs of more than a dozen hospitalizations before 18 and took the assurances that she was better. My 5-year old even got told “Mommy doesn’t love daddy anymore” and I got to watch my child cry. It broke my heart. She couldn’t stand being made accountable for her words and actions, so I stood up to her, and she left…then came the blame and accusations of abuse. Life lesson learned- you can’t help or fix a personality disorder. I even got made fun of and treated with scorn for getting help. She refused everything, including couple’s counseling (she told me she would either sit there or try to recruit the therapist as a negative advocate “it’s all his fault!”, then refused to go to two appointments I had set). Told me that therapy was a waste of time. Now, while I do realize that psychology is largely a pseudo-science, it has been incredibly helpful to me, not only in getting me through the experience of separation and divorce (and settling into the reality of a major life change), but also getting my self back and being able to see what was really going on in my marriage to this woman. To all other men out there who are being emotionally abused by a woman with BPD or NPD, take heart…there is hope. It’s not easy to get away from these people (especially with a child involved), but surrounding yourself with good (and smart!) friends (and possibly a therapist if you feel it to be appropriate) who can help you “reality test” things is fundamental to recognition of BPD/NPD personality traits (or any Cluster B personality disorder), and being able to call them out on the abuse. In my case, when she realized she couldn’t push my buttons anymore, the abuse got more brutal until I finally told her: “get help, or leave”. She left. My own wisdom for all other men either going down or that have been down this road and are currently suffering, or who are still suffering, is this: “Don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it happened. Don’t let your personal life experience disempower you. Focus on the positive in everything, and you’ll find there are much better ways to solve problems than making yourself unpleasant and becoming negative”.

  • Megan

    Megan

    August 12th, 2016 at 8:47 AM

    WOW!!!!!! Thank you so much for this article and all of the information, I really thought I was losing my mind. I have had constant bullying and monitoring of what I am doing and whenever I would bring it up- I was denied the truth time & time again. I am so happy to at least know that narcissistic abuse goes under the radar so much of the time, I’ve never been so low and I felt like I was becoming a completely different person. I am thankful for the information and learning that these learned behaviors can be unlearned. Thank you so so much!!!! <3

  • Andrea Schneider, LCSW

    Andrea Schneider, LCSW

    August 15th, 2016 at 4:26 PM

    @Megan — you are so welcome — thanks for your comment. Andrea

  • BuBl

    BuBl

    August 18th, 2016 at 8:01 AM

    After working with an excellent therapist and now a local support group, I found this site today. I feel another layer of relief and support. While I work on the best level of no/limited contact, education on this subject helps to separate me a step at a time from the narcissist in my life. Thank you for this site.

  • Marie B.

    Marie B.

    November 27th, 2016 at 6:34 AM

    To be honest, I am posting in a variety of related forums in that hope that somebody, somewhere will be able to help us (myself and my 2 children, 12 and 15), in particular my 12-year old son.

    I left the relationship with my narcissistic (in my opinion undiagnosed NPD) ex 5 years ago, in the hopes of providing greater sanity for my children and myself and a healthier living environment. While I have more or less achieved what I set out to achieve for myself and, to a great degree, for my daughter (now 15), this has sadly not been the case for our son, now 12.

    We share custody of our children (and this is perhaps where I’ve gone wrong; I should maybe have gone the court route, but I assumed he would crush me in that context. He is very charming, astute, intelligent, well-spoken, respected…), and whereas my daughter will have little to do with her father (she doesn’t even call him her father and any time she spends time with him comes back calling him a monster), our son has suffered enormously.

    My ex has been extremely abusive, emotionally and verbally (possibly sexually, but I don’t think so) towards my son who remains faithful to his dad, while admitting he is often abusive and having talked to psychologists about it on several occasions. My ex has been (kind of) investigated by Child Protection Services on 3 occasions, and they do nothing.

    He gets his narcissistic supply from 2 sources: his work environment where he is “ruler” of “his” kingdom… and from our son. The toll on our son is enormous. My ex’s other son is borderline, 40-years old and living in his mother’s basement.

    My son is in great emotional pain and has been for years. He has seen 3 different psychologists over 4 years and just keeps getting worse (because he is not being treated for what is going on: long-standing abuse since he was a very young child and undiagnosed personality disorder in the family; but rather for the symptoms of anxiety, behaviour problems and depression).

    Last year when he was 11, he absolutely wanted to live with his father so – desperate and not knowing what to do – I agreed to it. During the 6 months he lived with his dad he suffered a major depression, started self-harming (cutting) and dropped out of school (at 11!). I was then able to help him finish his school year at home through considerable financial burden and help him get back on his feet psychologically, emotionally. And my partner and I took him away for a month. He has not self-harmed since. He now spends considerably less time with his dad (weekends), but too much.

    My son is now quite abusive at home, particularly towards me. He is in great emotional pain. He says he wishes I were dead and that I would die in a car crash. He says I steel all his dad’s money (something his dad has always said, even though he pays less child support than he legally is supposed to), and he blames me for his pain (I told him years ago that things would get better with the “help” of psychologists, and they have not). He also says he hates his life and wishes he were dead.

    I fear that I possibly don’t have much time left to save our son, given the self-harming component and the fact that he would appear to be entering another depressive phase, at the same time as last year, actually. He now feels that the situation is hopeless and that he will never have a life worth living.

    Any suggestions regarding how I might help our son or “catch” a narcissistic abuser would be greatly appreciated.

  • Sikies

    Sikies

    September 4th, 2017 at 12:46 PM

    Narc always start with I . And use I through out the entire paragraph it’s like there retarded limited .notice how Many times does Hugh has to write I to remind readers it’s him .why does he do that ?limited person . When you listen to these ppl they sound so boring but need the attention.like there some dictator.

  • Anne

    Anne

    December 23rd, 2016 at 5:27 PM

    I’ve always been thankful that after only 9 months of marriage I filed for divorce from my N. Sometimes I try to imagine what the past 30 years would have been like – and what shape I’d be in now – if I stayed married to him. Reading some of these blogs tells me I did the right thing.

  • spot

    spot

    July 9th, 2017 at 6:15 AM

    I am still struggling to entangle from the addictive narcisstistic entanglement with my mom. I really do care about her, maybe too much because i feel stuck to her and can’t let her go. I know deep down that i need to let go and have my own life, to move out and move on. but for some reason i am stuck. and i wonder what i am waiting for. maybe still hoping to get the love i deserved as a little girl? I know that won’t happen. I understand that she is incapable. Hopefully I’m not keeping myself in a state of perpetual confusion.

  • PAtty

    PAtty

    September 5th, 2017 at 6:50 PM

    It’s funny because he said to me ” I am looking for someone like you”

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