Mental Health & Relationships: Confronting Abuse
By Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT
Narcissistic Abuse can be physical, mental, emotional, sexual, financial, and/or spiritual. Some types of emotional abuse are not easy to spot, including manipulation. It can include emotional blackmail, using threats and intimidation to exercise control. Narcissists are masters of verbal abuse and manipulation. They can go so far as to make you doubt your own perceptions, called gaslighting. Someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) will rarely take responsibility for his or her behavior. Generally, they deny their actions, augment the abuse, and blame the victim. The objective of narcissistic abuse is power. It stems from insecurity and is designed to dominate you, while adding to your doubt, shame, and dependency. Abusers want to feel superior to avoid hidden feelings of inferiority. Like all bullies, despite their defenses of rage, arrogance, and self-inflation, they suffer from shame. Appearing weak and humiliated is their biggest fear. By understanding this and not taking personally the words and actions of an abuser, you’re able confront narcissistic abuse.
Mistakes in Dealing with Abuse
When you forget an abuser’s motives, you may naturally react in some of these ineffective ways:
- Appeasement. If you placate to avoid conflict and anger, it empowers the abuser, who sees it as weakness and an opportunity to exert more control.
- Pleading. This also shows weakness, which narcissists despise in themselves and others. They may react dismissively with contempt or disgust.
- Withdrawal. This is a good temporary tactic to collect your thoughts and emotions, but is not an effective strategy to deal with abuse.
- Arguing and Fighting. Most abusers aren’t interested in the facts, but only in justifying their position and being right. Verbal arguments can quickly escalate to fights that drain and damage you. Nothing is gained. You lose and can end up feeling more victimized, hurt, and hopeless.
- Explaining and Defending. Anything beyond a simply denial of a false accusation leaves you open to more abuse. When you explain and defend your position, you endorse an abuser’s right to judge, approve, or abuse you. Your reaction sends this message: “You’re entitled to judge me.”
- Seeking Understanding. This is based on the false hope that a narcissist is interested in understanding you, but a narcissist is only interested in winning a conflict. Sharing your feelings may also expose you to more hurt or manipulation. It’s better to share your feelings with someone safe who cares about them.
- Criticizing and Complaining. Although they may act tough, inside they’re fragile. They can dish it, but can’t take it. Complaining or criticizing an abuser can provoke rage and vindictiveness.
- Threats. Making threats can lead to retaliation or backfire if you don’t carry them out. Never make a threat you’re not ready to enforce.
- Denial. Don’t fall into the trap of denial by excusing, minimizing, or rationalizing abuse. And don’t fantasize that it will go away or improve at some future time. The longer it goes on, the weaker you can become.
- Self– Don’t blame yourself for an abuser’s actions and try harder to be perfect. This is a delusion. You can’t cause anyone to abuse you. You’re only responsible for your own behavior. You will never be perfect enough for an abuser to stop their behavior, which stems from their insecurities not you.
Confronting Abuse Effectively
Allowing abuse damages your self-esteem. Thus, it’s important to confront it. That doesn’t mean to fight and argue. It means standing your ground and speaking up for yourself clearly and calmly and having boundaries to protect your mind, emotions, and body. Before you set boundaries, you must:
- Know Your Rights. You must feel entitled to be treated with respect and that you have specific rights, such as the right to your feelings, the right not to have sex, a right to privacy, a right not to be touched or disrespected. If you’ve been abused a long time (or as a child), your self-esteem likely has been diminished. Seek therapy, get support, and read 10 Steps to Self-Esteem-The Ultimate Guide to Stop Self-Criticism and watch the webinar How to Raise Your Self-Esteem.
- Be Assertive. This takes learning and practice to avoid being passive or aggressive. Get How To Speak Your Mind―Become Assertive and Set Limits and the webinar How to Be Assertive.
- Be Strategic. Know what you want specifically, what the narcissist wants and what your limits are. You’re dealing with someone highly defensive with a personality disorder. There are specific strategies to having an impact. Read the steps and scripts in Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People.
- Set Boundaries. Boundaries are rules that govern the way you want to be treated. They must be explicit. Don’t hint or expect people to read your mind.
- Have Consequences. After setting boundaries, if they’re ignored, it’s important to communicate and invoke consequences.
- Be Educative. Research shows that narcissists have neurological deficits that affect their interpersonal reactions. You’re best approach is to educate a narcissist like a child. Explain the impact of their behavior and provide incentives and encouragement for different behavior. It requires planning what you’re going to say without being emotional.
To respond effectively requires support. Without it, you may languish in self-doubt and succumb to abusive disinformation and denigration. It’s challenging to change your reactions, let alone those of anyone else. Expect pushback when you stand up for yourself. This is another reason why support is essential. You will need courage and consistency. CoDA meetings and psychotherapy provide guidance and support.
If you’d like more information on narcissism and relationships with narcissists, see www.whatiscodependency.com/blog. Email me if you’d like a copy of a “Checklist of Narcissistic Behaviors.”
Warning: If you’re experiencing physical abuse, expect it to continue or escalate. Get help immediately. Read “The Truth About Abusive Relationships.”
© Darlene Lancer 2018
This article was originally published, in a longer form, here. It is republished with the author’s kind permission.
Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s the author Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies and six ebooks, including: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits, Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People and Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness, also available on Amazon. Ms. Lancer has counseled individuals and couples for 30 years and coaches internationally. She’s a sought after speaker in media and at professional conferences. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, www.whatiscodependency.com, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.”