Signs you’re the victim of narcissistic abuse

Narcissistic abuse — the type of emotional abuse dished out by a partner or close family member suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) — may be difficult to spot, at first. Just as in the parable of the boiled frog, where a frog placed in a slowly-warming pot of water does not realize the danger it’s in until it’s too late (via Lessons for Living), you may have grown accustomed to the narcissist’s gradually-increasing abusive behavior. While everyone around you can see that you’re being boiled alive (metaphorically, at least), you keep making excuse after excuse — “I’m just tired,” “They’re under a lot of stress, “Maybe I really am kind of stupid.”

It’s time to stop with the excuses and take a good, hard look at yourself and your circumstances. If you feel you really haven’t been quite yourself lately — red flag alert! You haven’t been yourself. Instead, you’re in the process of being twisted like a pretzel into someone else’s messed-up creation, and you need to put a stop to the process, like, yesterday.

You're always walking on eggshells

Do you feel like you have to carefully consider every word you say, and censor about 90 percent of your thoughts before giving them permission to exit your mouth? Are you constantly monitoring your every action, asking yourself if it would meet with the narcissist’s approval? Are you in constant fear that any ill-considered action of yours will trigger their wrath and bring down some terrible punishment? Do you still know, deep down, that no matter what you do or say, or refrain from doing or saying, there is just no pleasing this person, and sooner or later all hell’s going to break loose and you’ll be the one catching it?

This is not right, this is not normal, this is not what you deserve. What it is, according to PsychCentral, is a very typical symptom of narcissistic abuse. What’s more, you’re also in danger of becoming a pathological people-pleaser, since you may come to dread the possibility of conflict with anyone else and go to great lengths to avoid rubbing anybody the wrong way. This can lead to a loss of any ability to be assertive or spontaneous. Ultimately, you may wind up feeling like a mere shadow of your former self.

You feel unreal

You just don’t know what is real anymore and what is not. Not only don’t you trust anyone else, but you’ve lost all trust in yourself, even your own thoughts, perceptions, and memories. Small wonder, since the narcissist is most likely gaslighting you into believing that the world is as they say, and anything that indicates otherwise — even if it’s something you can see with your own eyes — is obviously wrong, wrong, wrong.

As a coping mechanism, you may begin to “dissociate,” or feel emotionally, perhaps even physically, detached from your environment. Nothing feels real. You may feel like you’re just watching yourself act out a part in a movie — and, what’s worse, you’re a minor character, and even you don’t really care too much about that character’s fate. This feeling is your brain’s way of dealing with overwhelming trauma — the abuse you’re being subjected to on a daily basis is too much for anyone to cope with, so your brain is just kind of detaching itself and leaving you to go through the motions.

You develop Stockholm syndrome

If your abuser has managed to isolate you from all of your other friends and family and successfully planted seeds of doubt so that you no longer believe anything anyone else tells you, that will leave you with only one person’s input: the narcissist’s. As a survival mechanism, you may experience something Thrive Global describes as a form of trauma bonding, also known as Stockholm syndrome. The latter name was derived from a situation in which hostages taken captive by bank robbers came to sympathize with and support their captors.

Although you had probably already bonded with the narcissist before their abuse became apparent, the worse they treat you, the more tightly enmeshed you may become. This is understandable once you realize that agreeing with the abuser seems to be, at least in the short run, a far safer choice than making any attempt to oppose them. Ideapod also explains that justifying and even defending your abuser’s actions — whether to yourself or to others — may be less upsetting than having to come to terms with the fact that yes, you are being horribly maltreated.

While leaving an abusive relationship is undoubtedly going to be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, it will also be one of the most important. Remember the boiled frog, and know that you, too, are in real danger. Getting away from your narcissistic abuser could quite literally save your life.

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