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What is the victim of a narcissist called?

Narcissistic Abuse: Examples, Signs, and Effects

The term describes a type of emotional abuse that comes from a person with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). People with NPD have low empathy and see others as beneath them, which can lead to harmful, toxic, abusive behaviors.

Narcissistic abuse can be incredibly difficult to endure. Someone with NPD may use insults, threats, and accusations to manipulate you into doing what they want. Learning more about narcissistic abuse and talking with an online therapist or provider can help you cope. The sooner you have a better understanding, you can begin the healing after emotional abuse from someone with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Read on to learn about the signs of narcissistic abuse and to understand more about the damaging effects of being in a relationship with someone who has NPD.

Signs of Narcissistic Abuse

People with NPD have a constant need for admiration. Over time, narcissistic behavior can isolate a victim and damage their confidence. It’s tactics like these that allow someone with NPD to control their victim and gain more power in the abusive relationship.

“Abuse in any form is difficult to discern, but narcissistic abuse is particularly hard to notice, as the toxic relationship and the abuser can present perfect in the beginning. Oftentimes, narcissistic abusers can manipulate the truth or gaslight, which can in turn force you to question your own sanity, integrity, or truth.”

Signs of narcissistic abuse include:


It’s not unusual for people with NPD to shower you with compliments and affection. While this attention may seem positive at first, it’s actually a form of emotional manipulation. A love-bomber might give you expensive gifts or tell you what you want to hear. This is a way they can earn your trust and eventually control you.


When called out, it’s not unusual for a narcissistic abuser to deny hurtful behaviors, pretend they don’t remember the events being described or accuse you of lying or not understanding the way things “really” happened.

This manipulation tactic, known as narcissistic gaslighting, is designed to make you doubt yourself. It can make you more vulnerable to future narcissistic behavior and abuse.

Ignoring boundaries

It’s common for someone who’s a narcissist to test your boundaries or ignore them entirely. Someone with NPD might read through your text messages, follow you around, or do things that you’ve asked them not to do. Attempts to reinforce boundaries may be met with arguments, anger, or accusations. If you are experiencing this, learn how to set boundaries with a narcissist.


Instead of taking the blame for mistakes, a person with NPD may project bad behaviors onto you. A common manipulation technique is DARVO, which stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim, and Offender. By shifting blame onto their victim, narcissistic abusers can deny guilt and damage credibility.


Some criticism is normal in a relationship, but a narcissistic abuser can make you feel like everything you do is wrong. Someone with NPD might criticize your appearance, behavior, and even the sound of your voice.

Examples of Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissistic abuse can take many forms. This type of abuse can come from a narcissistic parent or other family members, a romantic partner, a friend, or even a boss or co-worker.

Some common examples of narcissistic abuse include:

  • Withholding: People who are narcissists may withhold money, affection, or even communication in an attempt to punish their victim. The silent treatment is a frequently-seen form of withholding.
  • Emotional blackmail: In an abusive relationship, your own emotions can be used against you. When you don’t do what an abuser wants, they may try to make you feel guilty or fearful.
  • Insults: Verbal abuse like name-calling, harsh criticism, and other insults are ways for those with narcissistic personality disorder to chip away at a victim’s self-esteem. Abusers will often try to disguise their behaviors as sarcasm or jokes.
  • Malicious gossip: Someone with NPD may deliberately spread lies about you or your behavior. Slander, lies, and damage to your reputation can all be ways to intentionally isolate you from others.
  • Sabotage: Narcissism may cause someone to take steps to sabotage your career, relationships, or any other aspect of your life. This can be a way to keep you under their thumb and strengthen their power over you.
  • Accusations: When you’re in a relationship with a narcissistic abuser, you may be accused of lying, stealing, cheating, or other negative behaviors. Being wrongfully accused can put you on the defensive, which can help deflect from the behaviors and actions of someone with NPD.
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Effects of Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissistic abuse has a negative impact on both your physical and your emotional well-being. Being in an abusive relationship with someone who has NPD often can have lasting effects, even if the narcissistic abuser is no longer in your life.

“Narcissistic abusers can make you question your worth. It’s important to get support in order to learn how to own the truth, your truth, again, as narcissists manipulate and control swiftly. If you’re struggling, connect with a support group or a professional who can help you identify your boundaries while helping you rebuild your values, integrity, and self-esteem.”

The damaging effects of this abuse may include:

Anxiety and depression

Abusive behaviors don’t have the same effects on everyone, but after experiencing abuse from a narcissistic person, victims may struggle with fear, depression, or anxiety, even when they’re in ordinary, everyday situations.

Abusers frequently isolate victims, and that social isolation can increase the risk of depression. For many people who suffer at the hands of someone with NPD, it can be hard not to believe their narcissistic abuser’s negative comments, which can lead to feelings of worthlessness.

Post traumatic stress disorder

The trauma of narcissistic abuse can cause a person to develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People with PTSD may have a heightened anxiety response, always feeling like they’re on-guard. It’s common for them to have flashbacks of the abuse they’ve experienced and struggle with intense feelings of guilt and shame.

Cognitive issues

When you experience trauma, your brain releases stress hormones. Over time, this can have an impact on brain function. People who’ve experienced emotional abuse may develop memory issues or struggle to concentrate on tasks.

Health symptoms

Not only can narcissistic abuse take a toll on your emotional well-being, it can also impact your physical health. The prolonged stress from abuse can cause minor physical symptoms, such as headaches and nausea, but it also might increase your risk for serious health issues like ulcers, neurological disorders, and heart disease.

Taking Steps to Heal from Narcissistic Abuse

Even though abusers don’t always harm victims in the same way, living through abuse can seriously affect you. Thankfully, even though narcissistic abuse can be intensely damaging, an abuse survivor can heal.

A narcissistic abuser might shatter your sense of self-worth, but you can work to rebuild your confidence and heal from the trauma you’ve experienced. It’s important to point out that if you’ve been abused and mistreated, you must remember that it’s not your fault. If your abuser is still in your life, you’ll have to set clear boundaries to protect yourself from harm in the future.

A mental health professional can help you to process what you’ve experienced and start the path to healing from narcissistic abuse. With the help of a therapist, you can learn to forgive yourself and find ways to cope with the negative effects of the abuse you endured. Although it will take time, therapy can help you lead a healthy and confident life, free from narcissistic abuse.

How To Recognize Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome

A partner’s severe narcissistic tendencies are a form of emotional abuse that can leave you feeling worthless.

Claire Gillespie is an experienced health and wellness writer. Her work appears across several publications including SELF, Women’s Health, Health, Vice, Verywell Mind, Headspace, and The Washington Post.

Updated on May 1, 2023

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Living with a partner who displays signs of narcissism—a general disregard for others, an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and cold-heartedness—can be difficult.

Those relationships may lead to an influx of severe emotional abuse. Sometimes, that abuse leads to what some mental health providers colloquially refer to as narcissistic abuse syndrome. Also known as narcissistic victim syndrome, the experience involves adverse mental health outcomes resulting from being on the receiving end of a person with narcissism.

Narcissistic abuse syndrome is not a mental health condition that healthcare providers can officially diagnose. Still, the experience can be a harsh reality for someone in a relationship with a person with narcissism or narcissistic tendencies.

Learn about how partners of narcissists can be victims of emotional abuse.


What Is Narcissistic Abuse?

Often, people who are narcissistic are so preoccupied with their status or image that they become unsympathetic to the emotions of others, which leads to narcissistic abuse.

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Look at narcissism on a spectrum, Rashmi Parmar, MD, an adult and child psychiatrist at Mindpath Health in Newark, Calif., told Health. A mild form of narcissism can be necessary for developing a mature ego and self-esteem. On the other end of the spectrum, some people with severe signs of narcissism may develop narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

The «Diagnostics and Statistics Manual, Fifth Edition, Text Revision» (DSM-5-TR), the most up-to-date criteria for diagnosing mental disorders, defines NPD as a cluster B personality disorder.

According to the DSM-5, signs of NPD include:

  • An exaggerated sense of self-importance and desire for admiration
  • An extreme focus on success, power, and beauty
  • Arrogance
  • Does not care about others’ feelings
  • Feeling superior to friends and family and entitled to special treatment
  • Jealousy toward others’ successes
  • Takes advantage of others

Most people do not have the complete picture when they get involved with a narcissist. Their behavior, or signs of NPD, typically do not emerge until establishing the relationship.

During the early days of a relationship, a person with narcissism or narcissistic qualities is loving and generous. They may even present over-the-top affection, admiration, and extravagant gestures. With such intense attention and special treatment, known as «love bombing,» it is possible that the red flags are not obvious.

Narcissists use several techniques to manipulate their partners. For example, gaslighting makes people question their reality by disregarding their experiences and refusing to engage in conversation. That behavior serves to make a narcissistic person’s partner more susceptible to emotional abuse.

Sometimes, narcissistic abuse is part of a codependent relationship. The narcissist manipulates the other into becoming dependent upon them. Putting their partner down allows the narcissistic person to feel superior. Essentially, they depend on their partner for those feelings of dominance.

What Is Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome?

A person on the receiving end of such detached behavior may suffer the effects of psychological abuse. Some experts refer to those effects as narcissistic abuse syndrome.

«People who are in a relationship with a narcissist may experience significant amounts of abuse, particularly emotional abuse,» Sheila Forman, PhD, a psychologist based in Santa Monica, Calif., told Health. For example, people receiving emotional abuse may do anything to keep their partner calm. Constantly watching your behavior to ensure your partner is not upset can be overwhelming.

«The affected person feels choked in the relationship, especially with an emotionally abusive and manipulative partner,» said Dr. Parmar. «The relationship often revolves around the narcissistic individual at the expense of the other person’s emotional well-being.»

Narcissistics may not be aware of their mistreatment. They often speak negatively to their partners to invalidate or manipulate their emotions.

Signs of Narcissistic Abuse

There are some common signs to look out for if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with narcissistic abuse syndrome.

In general, a person who is the victim of emotional abuse may show signs like:

  • Chronic pain, like headaches
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Loss of interest in their hobbies
  • Low self-esteem
  • Stress

It is crucial to seek help if you believe you or someone you love has narcissist abuse syndrome. The effects can be severe.

«Narcissistic abuse syndrome can take a severe toll on a person’s emotional health over time,» noted Dr. Parmar. It can lead to other mental illnesses—like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Effects of Narcissistic Abuse

The person on the receiving end of narcissistic abuse may encounter feelings of worthlessness and confusion. Often, they blame themselves for the negative aspects of their relationship.

A person could lose their self-esteem or self-worth and develop difficulty trusting others and making decisions, noted Dr. Parmar. People enduring narcissistic abuse syndrome will often isolate themselves due to fear and judgment from others not understanding or believing their experiences.

«You might notice yourself being extra cautious around a narcissistic family member and being easily coaxed into agreeing with them to avoid arguments or confrontations,» explained Dr. Parmar.

Experiencing narcissistic abuse syndrome can also result in symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms include emotional triggers, flashbacks, isolation, detachment, avoidance, and hypervigilance, noted Forman.

Getting Support for Narcissistic Abuse

Working with a healthcare provider, like a therapist or psychiatrist, is a good first step toward recovering from narcissistic abuse syndrome. Though, keep in mind that healing is not always a linear process.

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Not everyone affected by a narcissist may be willing or able to see the impact of that relationship. Some people may even approach a counselor with the goal of self-improvement. They may feel so ashamed, anxious, or paranoid that they believe the problem lies with them rather than their partner.

Consider contacting a local mental health rehabilitation center, where people can direct you to experts and other resources. Virtual therapy is another option.

Finally, staying with your partner endangers your health if the abuse you are dealing with has turned physical. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can help you understand your options.

A Quick Review

People with narcissistic abuse syndrome are on the receiving end of a narcissistic partner. Often, narcissistic people feel superior to others and lack empathy, leading to emotional abuse.

Consult a mental healthcare provider if you display signs of narcissistic abuse syndrome, such as a loss of interest in hobbies, low self-esteem, and stress. Seek immediate safety and medical attention if abuse becomes physical.

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Effects of Narcissistic Abuse

Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.

David Susman, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist with experience providing treatment to individuals with mental illness and substance use concerns.

effects of abuse

Narcissistic abuse is a type of emotional abuse where the abuser only cares about themselves and may use words and actions to manipulate their partner’s behavior and emotional state.

Effects of narcissistic abuse can vary depending on how long one can endure these types of relationships. The effects range from mild to severe, with some survivors recovering while others may sustain lifelong damage. Here’s how narcissistic abuse can impact your life.


Many narcissistic abuse survivors live with anxiety. After experiencing narcissistic abuse, you may experience extreme fear or anxiety in relationships with new people. Those who leave abusive relationships may experience separation anxiety, leading them to feel panicked and disoriented when they’re not with their abusers.

If your symptoms include anxiety attacks, panic attacks, or hypervigilance after being abused by a narcissist, know that these symptoms will ease over time, particularly if you can work through your trauma with a professional.


Many people who have experienced narcissistic abuse also develop depression. Survivors often struggle with feelings of worthlessness after months or years of being told how useless and stupid they are by their abuser. After years of being manipulated and gaslighted, you may also isolate yourself, which can make feelings of depression worse.

Post-Traumatic Stress

As a narcissistic abuse survivor, you will likely have symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Your brain will be on high alert, looking out for danger. This is because the traumatic events triggered a fight or flight response within you. As a result, anything associated with those memories can trigger an anxiety attack.

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, you may feel the need to be on guard 24/7. Victims of narcissists often mention that they never knew what their abuser was going to do next. You may struggle to relax because of chronic hypervigilance and expecting them (the abuser) to be around every corner.

You may also steer clear of certain situations or things that remind you of the abuse. This can range from avoiding certain places or particular people.

Loss of Sense of Self and Self-Worth

You may feel as if you have completely lost yourself. Narcissistic abuse is a form of brainwashing, and as such, it can destroy your sense of self-worth. You may no longer feel like the person you were before all this began.

In many cases, those who have experienced narcissistic abuse will struggle to recognize themselves in the mirror because they no longer see their true reflection staring back at them.

You may also have trust issues with other people (especially those closest to you), and constantly find yourself doubting or second-guessing yourself.

You may begin to feel like you are not good enough or that you did something to cause the abuse in the first place. This can lead to shame and embarrassment, which may often stop you from reaching out for help.

You may also have trouble making decisions. You may get confused by simple decisions, or you might feel unable to make any decision at all.

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Narcissistic abusers will often try to derail your goals and aspirations. They want to control everything about you, down to the activities that made up who you were as a person.

Inability to Forgive Yourself

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, many victims struggle with feeling unworthy or believing that they deserve how the narcissist treated them. It may feel like there must be something inherently wrong with you if someone who was supposed to love you unconditionally used their power against you in such cruel ways. You might struggle with low self-esteem and believe that the narcissistic abuser would have treated you better if only you had done things differently.

You may also have trouble focusing on your goals and dreams. This could be because you’re still preoccupied with thoughts of what happened to you. Or, it could be that your sense of self-worth is so damaged, it’s difficult for you to believe that anything good can happen in your life anymore.

Physical Symptoms

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, you may live with physical symptoms, including headaches, stomachaches, or body aches. You may also have difficulty sleeping after experiencing narcissistic abuse. You may be stressed about what happened and find it difficult to shut off your brain at night. Or, you could end up having nightmares that haunt you for days afterward.

Cognitive Problems

After narcissistic abuse, it may become difficult for you to concentrate on everyday tasks, such as completing work or just watching TV. Memories of traumatic events are known to interfere with concentration and focus. You may experience memory loss, especially short-term. This is because the brain releases a surge of stress hormones when traumatized, affecting the hippocampus region in your brain.

Emotional Lability

After going through a traumatic event such as narcissistic abuse, it’s common to suffer sudden mood swings accompanied by irritability. Or, you may find yourself feeling emotionless and like a robot. You might experience depersonalization where it feels as if everything around you is not accurate.

You might even feel the need to exact revenge against your abuser. But this hatred towards them only creates more stress and anxiety, which perpetuates mental health problems.

Effects on Children

If you have children who witnessed narcissistic abuse, they could also be at risk of developing mental health problems such as PTSD, anxiety disorders, or depression. They might become fearful in situations that remind them of their traumatic experiences. They might also feel angry at your spouse or the world, feel disconnected from other people, or have low self-esteem or confidence issues.

Loss of Self-Worth

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, you might feel like you don’t even know yourself anymore. You could start questioning your self-worth, have trust issues with other people (especially those closest to you), and constantly find yourself doubting or second-guessing yourself.

You may begin to feel like you are not good enough or that you did something to cause the abuse in the first place. This can lead to shame and embarrassment, which may often stop you from reaching out for help.

You may also have trouble making decisions due to a lack of self-worth. You may get confused by simple decisions, or you might feel unable to make any decision at all.

Stuck in a Cycle

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, many people find themselves stuck in a cycle where their abuser continues to contact them after the relationship has ended.

They may act nice (also called hoovering) in an attempt to get you back, issue threats, or attempt to manipulate you by making you feel sorry for them. This can be a tactic used by narcissists to keep their victims trapped in the cycle of abuse.

Trust Issues

After experiencing narcissistic abuse, your trust levels will likely be very low. While this can seem like a good thing (in some ways), it could also hinder your future relationships. This issue may lead to other problems such as social anxiety.

You might find yourself constantly wondering whether people are being truthful with you or if they are just manipulating your emotions to get what they want. You may become hypervigilant and overly sensitive to criticism or judgment from others due to the fear of being betrayed yet again.

You may struggle with trust issues in all aspects of your life, including personal relationships, friendships, work interactions, or even contact with family members. You may also experience insecure attachment, which means that you may constantly feel that people will leave or betray you.

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People Pleasing

You may become a people pleaser and try to make people like you. You may become overly accommodating to get approval from others after having had to walk on eggshells for so long. You might struggle with expressing your emotions and thoughts after narcissistic abuse because of the fear of being judged for what you say. To avoid confrontation from a narcissist abuser, you likely bottled up your feelings.

Self-Destructive Habits

Another effect of narcissistic abuse can be self-destructive habits. People who have been in relationships with narcissists often feel the need to punish themselves because they may feel as though they were at fault for their partner’s bad behavior toward them.

You may experience problems with addiction such as drinking, smoking, and even food addiction or overspending. These addictions may be a way to numb emotional pain.

How to Heal From Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissistic abuse has the potential to destroy the foundation of most people’s lives irreparably. It takes time and energy to heal from betrayal, heartbreak, gaslighting, and financial losses caused by an abusive partner. What’s more, you may have lost friends and family members along the way due to self-isolation. If you are struggling, it’s important to find ways to heal. Below are some suggestions

  • Recognize and accept your feelings. You may experience a range of emotions such as grief, depression, anger, and anxiety. Whatever you are feeling is valid, and it’s important not to suppress those feelings or judge yourself for having them.
  • Educate yourself. Learn the traits of a narcissist and what constitutes narcissistic abuse to more easily recognize when you are being manipulated.
  • Join a support group. There are many communities on the internet and in real life for people who have had similar experiences. You may find it therapeutic to interact with others who understand exactly what you’re going through and can offer tips and advice to help you cope.
  • Reach out to a therapist or counselor. A therapist can help equip you with tools to cope with and heal from narcissistic abuse in a safe and non-judgmental space.
  • Practice self-care. When your self-esteem has taken a hit, it’s easy to feel like you don’t deserve anything good for yourself. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s essential to take care of yourself. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, and engaging in activities that you find enjoyable.

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A Word From Verywell

After being involved with someone narcissistic, you may find yourself developing one or more of these effects. You’ve likely developed some negative coping mechanisms, including people-pleasing behaviors and/or self-destructive habits after experiencing such an ordeal. These are common responses among those who go through situations like this, so know that there is nothing unusual about feeling the way you do.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

4 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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  2. Jabeen F, Gerritsen C, Treur J. Healing the next generation: an adaptive agent model for the effects of parental narcissism. Brain Inform. 2021;8(1):4. Published 2021 Mar 2. doi:10.1186/s40708-020-00115-z
  3. Nevicka B, De Hoogh AHB, Den Hartog DN, Belschak FD. Narcissistic Leaders and Their Victims: Followers Low on Self-Esteem and Low on Core Self-Evaluations Suffer Most. Front Psychol. 2018;9:422. Published 2018 Mar 29. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00422
  4. Day NJS, Townsend ML, Grenyer BFS. Living with pathological narcissism: a qualitative study. Borderline Personal Disord Emot Dysregul. 2020;7:19. Published 2020 Aug 14. doi:10.1186/s40479-020-00132-8

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of «Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder» and «7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety.»

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