Understanding Narcissism & Abusive Relationships

by | Apr 17, 2021 | Blog, Domestic Abuse Help, Narcissistic and Emotional Abuse | 0 comments

So, you think your current or ex partner was a narcissistic abuser? @ Click To TweetSadly, mine was too so I can relate.  I would encourage you to learn and understand narcissism.  You need to learn how to work with your ex without further pain. Most urgently- you need to protect your children from narcissistic abuse.  Understanding narcissism will help you and your kids heal and help prevent more abuse.

Understanding Narcissism & Abusive Relationships – Prevent Abuse

Plus, most importantly you need to know how to protect yourself from ever being with a narcissist again!  What follows is a primer on narcissism.  I hope it gives you a good start- and that you really begin to understand- NO, you are not crazy, NO!  It was not your fault.  Information is power, so let’s get started!

What is Narcissism?

The term narcissism comes from the ancient Greek story of Narcissus.  According to the story, Narcissus was the very handsome son of a God.  His mother was told he would life a long life if he never saw himself, but one day he caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection of a river.  He then began to stare at himself, and was so obsessed with his own image that he wasted away and died.  Yikes, what a way to go!

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is clinically diagnosed using The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) .  In order to be diagnosed with NPD, an individual must have 5 of the following 9 traits.  My ex has 6 of them, and I have highlighted them.

  1. An inflated sense of self-importance- can be overt or covert
  2. Many pipedreams of massive success, gaining power,  being a brilliant individual,  having good looks, or perfect, fairytale love
  3. He thinks that he  is “special” and unique.  Your narcissist thinks that he can only be understood by other special, high status people.
  4. He needs constant ego feeding by compliments, flattery, admiration
  5. The narc thinks he is entitled, selfish- born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
  6. He exploits relationships for his benefit – as a matter of course, he takes advantage of others.  He may have many “friends” on a shallow level, or no friends at all because of the one sided nature of friendship with a narc.
  7. Lacks empathy for anyone else- but squeezes every drop of empathy and understanding from everyone around him.  ESPECIALLY his love interest.
  8. Envious and jealous of others or thinks that others are envious/jealous of him
  9. Shows arrogant, holier than thou behaviors and attitudes

The Two Major Classes of Narcissism

There are two major classifications of NPD in the mental health field.  Covert narcissism is the most difficult to identify, and covert narcissists tend to appear introverted or shy.  They tend to suffer from depression and/or social anxiety.  The DSM criteria for narcissism was based on the Overt type of NPD, and as these people tend to be very outgoing, it is much easier to identify.  They are like the bully in the school playground.  The ruthless CEO types.

Learn more about common traits in the subtypes of Narcissism.  Please note that these lists are NOT complete, but they should give you a good overview to know what kind of narcissism you have been coping with.  Many narcissists will have traits in both main classes.  Narcissism exists on a spectrum, and some traits and behaviors may be milder or less noticeable than others.  So lets get started:

Common Behaviors in Both Main Categories of Narcissism

So both main categories- covert and overt narcissism- will exhibit some or all of these behaviors to varying degrees:

  1. Complete lack of empathy—He is unaware of the feelings, needs and perspective of those around him.  If he is made aware of, for example- hurting someones feelings, he brushes it off  or will himself play the victim.  Alternatively, he will blame the other person for his situation.
  2.  He thinks he is more than he is.  If you or someone else point out ‘he isn’t all that” he will over react in a bitter or angry fashion.  These guys do not do well if their fragile self esteem is threatened.  He won’t take rejection of any kind well, and that includes well meaning constructive criticism.   They will fight to the end to preserve their own image (or imagining) of themselves.  Don’t mention that you don’t like his tie- he may up and burn it, or alternatively light into you about your complete lack of “fashion sense”.
  3. They control others with Manipulation.  Tools of emotional manipulation are: passive- aggressive behavior, threats, lying, drama, withholding information, isolating you from friends and family, gaslighting, verbal abuse, physical aggression, using sex as a power play.  Shaming and degrading a partner is either seen as “fun” or “punishment”. Physical aggression as a manipulation tool like blocking a doorway so you can’t leave a room when being verbally assaulted or hiding your phone, wallet or car keys are also common ploys that I have also experienced.
  4.  He is absolutely intolerant of any criticism.  Even when it is gentle or unintended critique of his behavior.  For example, “Hey, did you forget it is garbage day today?” In response to a perceived critical attack of his ego, the narcissist will either attack or quietly seek revenge.  They will often create false evidence to make the “critical” person look or feel badly.  My ex accused me of being violent, having ptsd and of prostitution when I reported his abuse.  It is classic to try and make the person they feel “wronged” them look like the victimizer by deflecting attention.
  5.  A narcissist will never genuinely apologize (feel remorse for wrongdoing) or take any responsibility for their own actions. They will often say things like “I’m sorry but you really should not be so sensitive” or imply that you “made him” do whatever action he is “apologizing” for.  I will never forget my ex saying “I did not throw the axe AT you, I threw it IN YOUR DIRECTION!”  Or he would deny any wrongdoing entirely when confronted- then claim I was “imagining it” or “over reacting”.  Perhaps his stress or depression was entirely to blame for his reactive anger.  If you get only occasional apologies that never actually feel like the person has remorse- chances are it is narcissism.
  6.  They often lie TO THEMSELVES as well as those around them to keep up their grand self image.
  7. Rationalize their words and actions, no matter how inappropriate, false, rude, or downright cruel.  He would often kick my senior dog who is quite slow to get up from laying down being an elderly great dane, and even when in clear view, deny abusing the animal.  Animal abuse is also very common in narcissists.
  8. Punish others who cross or deprive them of what they believe they deserve.  My ex is trying to use our child as a weapon  in family court to “get back at me”.
  9. Divide and conquer within families.  For example, my ex when very angry once screamed obscene accusations about me at my teen daughter- “see what kind of woman your MOTHER is??”.  It was not his first effort at parental alienation of my eldest or of his other two children from his ex.
  10. Scapegoat and/or idealize people within their influence.  This is common in the children of narcissists- one is the “Golden Child” and the other is a “Screw Up or Scapegoat”.

Understanding Overt Narcissism (common in leaders)

  1.  They love being the centre of attention- be the attention positive or negative.  Think of flashy or wildly inappropriate dress or personal grooming.  That loud obnoxious fellow telling bad jokes wearing the loud tie in the middle of the party.  If he doesn’t like going to birthday parties because he isn’t the focus of the room- he may be a narcissist.
  2. He demands you fawn over him and agree with him about EVERYTHING.  If you don’t admire and praise him constantly or dare disagree with something he says- he will be reactive.   His response will be anger or frustration and impatience.
  3.  When meeting new people or interacting with people he wants to impress- watch the sticky sweet, charming, super nice persona mask come out!  Everyone on the outside thinks you are lucky to be with SUCH a nice guy.  When you do leave the relationship he will bad mouth you or act bewildered because ‘there was nothing wrong in the relationship”.  This is when you find out how your real friends are- if they buy his “you are crazy to leave him” schtick- you really don’t need them as friends.
  4.  When in a meeting or at a party, a narcissist will work the room and ask many questions.  He is looking for the most vulnerable targets he can “get something from” or looking to attack like a peacock fanning out his feathers.
  5.  Narcissists are often arrogant snobs.  If he is rude to waiters, handymen, other service people or those he views as inferior underlings- chances are he is a narc.
  6.  If he has a Jekyll and Hyde personality- and flies into a blind rage at the drop of a pin, or gets very angry and physically aggressive/violent he is likely narcissistic.  These guys can change personalities like the shifting of the wind.
  7.  Everything is a competition.  For example we both have daughters from previous relationships about the same age.  At report card or school test time, he would continually compare the two girls like the number on the paper meant something about how “his kid was better”.  No matter that they were at different schools, different grades and different streams! I care that my child is LEARNING at school not that she got 95% instead of 97% like his daughter!
  8.  Tease, mock, cajole, make fun of and put down others in constant one upmanship “games”.  See everything is a competition, above.  Just don’t be surprised if he is unkind or pushing you into his “I am better than you” games. You go on a diet?  So will he.  Then if you don’t lose as much weight as him this week (because you are a WOMAN and most of us lose weight at half the rate of men) watch how he gloats!
  9. He acts entitled and expects to be special.  Waiting in lines, being in a traffic jam or being on hold?  Intolerable for a narcissists ego!   My ex would drive on the shoulder if the traffic was heavy.  Rule of law be damned!
  10.  He will wear a different “mask” (persona) at will, depending on the situation and his motives.  Charming, attentive and a great conversationalist with his work colleagues, curt and rude with the janifor.  Sweet as pie when taking you out to dinner, stomping around and angry if when you get home you won’t perform the lude sexual favours he believes he “deserves”.

Understanding Covert Narcissism (Hardest to spot and work with)

My ex is a covert narcissist.  Unfortunately, he exhibited all behaviors on this list.

  1.  Anything to get his way- passive aggressive, cajoling, lying- whatever it took to get what he wanted.  Only when after weeks of me refusing a request- like for example providing my government id to one of his dubious “business opportunities” would he get physically abusive before finally giving up on his demands.  He has been bullying and manipulating to get his own way for 56 years.  It appears I was the first person to ever call him on his nonsense and refuse to buy into his scams.
  2. Ever feel you are not being listened to or heard?  He is smug, insensitive and tends to withhold information or emotion.  If you feel completely alone in a relationship, or like the guy you dated for the first 6 months or so up and vanished- he may be a narcissist.
  3.  He seeks out caretaker personality types to exploit, like health professionals, teachers, people of faith or strong moral values (I am a christian and a nurse).  He still has the emotional spectrum of a three year old in an adult body, so he needs a compassionate, empathetic mommy to look after his every need.  Oh and he needs advice and instruction on EVERYTHING.  Narcissists are frequently very codependent in relationships and seek out good intentioned, unsuspecting enablers.
  4. He can cry on cue and manipulate through self-pitying performances -see below, victim of everything
  5. He has delusions of victimization and persecution (my ex was the victim of EVERYTHING- everyone was wrong, incapable or incompetent except him.  I remember him calling his former employer, a friend of mine a “slave driving, disorganized witch” (witch  being the polite term)-when she asked him to return to a worksite to pick up equipment he forgot behind.  Of course, he did not “forget it”- the “slave driving witch” – did not give him a packing list!  Never mind that most people remember to bring back what they took with them!  Logic never works with a narcissist- you simply can NOT argue with crazy!
  6. Invention of an overdramatic crisis to gain attention.  I never could figure out if it was purposeful or not.  Anytime my ex had an appointment or had to be somewhere he never could find his keys, socks, cellphone, wallet, hat etc. If everyone did not drop everything (like trying to get out the door to work and school) and help him look on demand, despite having their own things to do- it was like welcoming WWIII.  How dare everyone in the house not jump to his aid, HE has to GO!  Never mind he has had days or weeks to prepare for his appointment.
  7. Your narcissist is sick with a simple head cold?  He expects you to wait on him head and foot and won’t get out of bed for days.  You don’t want to give him a backrub because you have to change the crying baby who just woke from her nap, make dinner, take your eldest to band practice and walk the dogs?  You horrible excuse for a partner! I am so happy to be free of him!
  8. He has a long personal history of depression and anxiety.  Chances are he did not seek treatment.  Mine actually told me and others he was depressed and needed help-yup yup.  But to actually go to a psychiatrist or therapist for help?  That would make it official there is something “wrong” or “less then” about him so he never sought treatment.  His excuse was he did not have a health card.  He did not have one, because he never applied for one!
  9. Habitually drain their partner/family emotionally and often monetarily- mine has used his family and lovers for most of his life, and is unable/unwilling to hold a regular job.  When he does find employment, he complains constantly about it and gets laid off as soon as he can obtain EI.  After all he is a tax paying, natural born citizen, he is ENTITLED to “free money”.  The rest of us plain joes can work to support him while he is “busy” getting up at 3pm to “work” his latest “online investment business”.
  10. All his problems and shortcomings are because of “unfair” people, government policy, institutions, and circumstances- see above, everything is always someone else’s fault- work mates, ex partner, me, the covid crisis, his ex, his mother, his father, his siblings, his boss, his bank, my children, the dog.  Every one of his litany of constant complains and troubles was someone else’s fault.
  11. Excessive or Addictive use of Pornography- which shows they objectify and disrespect women.  Mine spent days at a time smoking dope and watching internet porn often featuring very very young women.  In any part of the house that suited him, regardless of presence of children.
  12. Self medicating with drugs and/or alcohol.  Mine is a pretty much daily pot smoker, and if there is any alcohol around he drinks it.  No matter what- tequila mixed with coke and cranberry juice, anyone?
  13. Will retaliate in a vicious, vengeful and often concealed way when “called out” or exposed.  Remember how he said I am a violent whore with ptsd?
  14.  They tend to follow or stalk people who they feel crossed them.  It is a fear tactic and a threat.  Any information they can learn from your behaviors and habits they will tend to twist and misrepresent to make you look bad.  My ex stalked my workplace and would follow me around town, thinking I did not know he had changed vehicles.  This is why I have a complete security system installed in and around my home.
  15. They tend to be either slobs or neat freaks.  My ex is a very disorganized slob and packrat.  He  has yet unpacked boxes that have been moved since the 1980s! Dozens of boxes are stuffed and stored with random items and garbage.  For example, a half eaten bag of potato chips, one random shoe and a few long dried up markers without caps packed with assorted dishes, books and various nick nacks.  I never could figure out if it was “beneath” him to keep the house clean, functional and sanitary or if he knew making a mess right after I did my weekly deep clean was another way to frustrate and antagonize me to feed his narcissistic supply.  When he has passengers for his car, it has to be dredged out of piles of random stuff.  And forget trying to put groceries in the trunk!  However, if someone “important” was coming for a visit, it was like presto magic, house and car were suddenly functional!

NPD vs Narcissistic Behavior


There are people who do not meet the criteria for NPD.  They simply have narcissistic behaviors, but they are not mentally ill because they do not meet enough criteria or have strong and frequent enough behaviors for the personality disorder.  These people still suck when you get to know them.  Talk about one sided friendships!  Narcissistic personalities are often obnoxious to be around, and think they are in some way “superior”.

They never think there is anything wrong!  Very often, the narcissist will have little to no empathy for the feelings, circumstances, health conditions or plight of others.  You have a wicked stomach flu and have been vomiting for hours- what do you MEAN you are not cooking dinner!

This is the guy who feels he deserves the best of everything, but he will look down his nose at people who show him respect and admiration. If this guy is in a leadership role, he is likely a very unpopular manager.  He also has zero difficulty or second thoughts about using others to get ahead.  Ever had someone take credit for your work or ideas who was a manager or supervisor? S/he went about exploiting others in order to get what they want?

What Jesus said is true about a trait narcissist- he knows not what he does.  The result?  Absolutely no remorse for exploiting others to get his way.  No guilt, no shame, absolutely no apology.  If you call this person out, expect to have an invisible target on your back for the indefinite future.  Narcissists feed on retaliation and revenge.  YOU have to suffer so THEY feel better and bolster their fragile egos.

It’s important to remember that the major distinction between the narcissist and the narcissistic personality disorder is that the narcissist is NOT mentally ill, and does not have a personality disorder.  Unfortunately, personality disorder or not, a person with narcissistic tendencies is extremely unlikely to ever change. What a narc is after is power, money and prestige. 

In todays self absorbed consumerist culture, far too many narcissists succeed at their selfish goals. They MUST succeed, as they MUST to feed their fragile egos.   Success is literally part of their ID.   These guys have  massively inflated egos and underlying very low self esteem.  So up the corporate or social ladder they go, and never mind who they stomp on as they claw their way to the top.

How and Why Narcissists “select” Partners

Narcissists are predators.  These men find empathetic people very attractive because they feed their fragile self esteem.  Because they know they can control you and override your boundaries they will pursue you romantically.  Victims of  narcissistic abuse commonly feel silly, guilty, blind or “stupid” for being with such a toxic person.  I have news for you- it was your STRENGTHS that he found attractive!  Most narcissistic men find women attractive who:

  1.  Are physically attractive.  If you eat well, work out, and generally pay attention to your appearance- you are a target.  You make HIM look good!  After the love bombing phase (fairytale honeymoon beginning) of the relationship ends, it is not surprising that he derails your personal care routine.  Narcissists feed on bringing others down.  He may complain that you are going to the gym instead of spending time with him, or eat your weekly supply of pre-portioned lunches “by mistake”.  He may bring home greasy takeout and ice cream for dinner . Yes,  he knows you are eating healthy!  But watch him act grossly offended if you refuse to eat it.  Next, he will guilt or cajole you until you eat the food you don’t want and are not hungry for just to make him leave you alone.  Later on, he may criticize you for being weak and breaking your commitment to your health. I’ve been there!  No lady, it was him and not you!
  2. You are close to your friends and/or family.  Initially he may be really enthusiastic (my ex was) and want to meet everyone you know.  Mostly for what he can “get from them”.  In my case, my ex tried to “sponsor” everyone I knew into his scam online business “opportunities”.  Naturally, I stopped introducing him to people I knew he would target for “networking”.  Thank goodness I did!  True to his narcissistic personality- he started complaining when I was talking to or visiting people.  Heaven forbid I go to work, out of the house and away from his constant pestering and verbal, emotional, physical and sexal abuse.   In order to further manipulate and exert control, he told me to stop speaking to my friends and family- because “they were starting to be more important than OUR “relationship”” and “So and so causes us to fight” or “that person is not good enough for you.”  Isolating you from friends and family is classic narcissism. He made it clear he would be angry if I went to visit friends, and made a point of listening in on every phone call, with many questions afterwards. Next, he would try to pick fights about my conversations or visits.  Every kind of excuse to get me to stay home and focus only on HIM.
  3. You are successful in your career or have assets.  If he thinks you are moving up the corporate ladder or you make a good living-Cha ching!  You are his next meal ticket!  As the relationship moves forward it is not  unusual for narcissists to try to erode or destroy your finances or career.  My ex claimed he wanted me to be a “stay at home mom” when he had no reliable income source.  Next,  he was very angry because I insisted I had to return to work to pay the bills.   He wanted me to return to the high income work I stopped doing when my first daughter arrived. Then he refused to understand my reasoning about not wanting that lifestyle with children.  The story changed to I was the one to put “us” in that position!   Yet he tried everything to have me lose my job- which he claimed was “beneath me”.  He did not care that I loved my work, only that I was bringing home far less income.  He would attempt to sabotage my work, even by trying to keep me from getting to work on time!  I learned to tell him I had to leave for work half and hour before I really needed to.  When his silly games, and sometimes violence- because I would eventually be frustrated with yet another last minute urgent “before you go” request intended to make me late did not stress me out and I got to work on time.  Not to mention the guilt he piled on me for leaving the children so I could buy groceries.
  4. You are a loving, kind, empathetic kind of gal.  You have good values- he feels you are unlikely to leave him. Especially if you have kids by him AND a good relationship with your father.  My late father was a truly wonderful human being who I adored.
  5. You are responsible and dependable, real salt of the earth- he is not.  Its like he believes that having you on his arm makes your good qualities “rub off” onto him.  He sure likes to show you off to who you may discover are his few friends and family members.  I don’t think my ex even had friends!  He certainly never talked to or invited over any friends in 4 years.  No wonder narcissists have a hard time hanging onto relationships outside of acquaintances.  This relationship is all about HIM.  No wonder that you find it exhausting!

Sadly, there is a stigma that women who are in abusive relationships are weak and fragile.   The truth is that narcissists prey on smart, strong, successful and savvy women.   A narcissist needs to “up” his classically low self esteem with a praise worthy woman.  It is also part of his controlling and manipulative game.  Yes, it is sick, but he enjoys the challenge of making you “fall”.

Conclusion on Understanding Narcissism & Abusive Relationships – Prevent Abuse

So now you understand what narcissism is.  You can recognize some common behaviors  of narcissists. Now, you also understand which type of narcissistic predator you were hoodwinked into loving.  You also should have a good understanding of WHY he targeted you for a relationship. 

The most important thing to remember is that it is not you or something you did wrong! You have no reason to feel guilty for getting into or out of this relationship!  There is something missing and broken in a narcissist.  Nothing you can ever do can “fix” him.  So STOP trying!  Minimize contact as much as possible with your ex, and start taking back YOU!  Now that you know the signs, you can hit the “delete” button in your brain when your  narcissist starts his schtick!  




  1. Co Parenting with a Narcissist - Single Mom Justified - […] Understanding Narcissism- Prevent abuse […]

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