How to Recognize Narcissistic Abuse

How to Recognize Narcissistic Abuse in Your Relationship and Build the Courage to Leave

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Does your partner emotionally abuse you? Emotional abuse is often a sign of narcissistic abuse and can be subtle and difficult to recognize. But this type of abuse can erode your feelings of self-worth and chip away at the happiness you deserve. How can you recognize the signs of narcissistic abuse so you can take steps to protect yourself?

Threatening Behavior 

An abusive person shows their tendency for violence in many ways. They may punch walls, kick the dog, break down doors, or show other violent behavior. Some forms of violence, however, are less obvious. Emotional violence can be just as dangerous and destructive.  Below are some basic indicators of narcissistic and emotional abuse.

How to Recognize Narcissistic Abuse

Emotional and narcissistic abuse often manifest in these ways:

1 – Isolation. Sometimes, a person in a relationship can become possessive. A possessive person tells you they care about your safety, and that their possessive behavior proves that they love you. Taken to the extreme, possessiveness causes you to isolate yourself from the people you know and love. The goal of isolation is to control you by breaking down your emotional will to resist.

Isolation is employed by cult leaders to prevent their followers from having contact with outsiders, including their family and friends.  Similarly, narcissists try to isolate their partners in order to deprive them of social support, thereby weakening their defenses and making them more dependent on the narcissist.

Additionally, the desire to isolate could be caused by a partner’s insecurity. They may project that insecurity onto you by trying to control everything you do, who you meet, and where you go. They may try to make you feel guilty for enjoying yourself or making friends. However, it’s important to remember not to cater to this excessive insecurity because it’s dysfunctional and you will lose yourself in the process.  

2 – Verbal abuse. Regular verbal attacks on your character and value destroys your self-esteem. Continuous verbal assaults may cause you to put aside your most important ideals and beliefs. 

Verbal abuse is characterized by critical or humiliating remarks about you as a person. If your partner continuously puts you down and makes you feel unworthy of self-respect, this is a warning sign that something is definitely wrong. Verbal abuse may escalate into sexual or physical abuse if you avoid taking action to protect yourself.

It’s also one of the biggest indicators of narcissistic abuse. When a narcissist becomes abusive, it’s likely you will start having errors in thinking because of the constant verbal abuse.

You might never feel like you can get a word in and that you’re never really heard. Your comments are likely to be ignored or invalidated.

3 – Financial abuse. Unless you’re financially independent, you don’t want to leave your finances vulnerable to a partner with abusive tendencies. They may deny you access to funds, refuse to allow you to work outside the home or spend money irresponsibly and blame the financial struggles on you.   

What to Do 

If you’re the victim of continuous emotional abuse within your relationship, the most important steps are to recognize the abuse and know that it is wrong. This can be a challenge for anyone who has been emotionally bullied over a period of time.

You are worthy of respect, and you can live a life that is free from the emotional abuse of your partner. Think honestly about your relationship and ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your partner show, by their words and actions, that they love you and value you? Not to schmooze you over after they’ve betrayed you in some way, but on a regular basis?
  • Do they seek your opinion as someone who has much to contribute?
  • Do they raise their voice and criticize you often, while hardly ever providing words of affirmation that lift you up? 

If you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship, take steps to change your circumstances. Seek friends who build you up and affirm that you’re valuable, and spend time with those friends. Whatever you do, don’t try to do it alone.  You will need ongoing support, a coach, and a healing program to keep you on track.

Protect Yourself

If you decide to leave an emotionally abusive relationship, it’s important to take precautions to protect yourself. If you choose to walk away, remember that the abuse may continue.

Take these necessary steps to protect yourself:

  1. Contact law enforcement officials and inform them about your situation. Request a restraining order or other protection against attacks from your partner.
  2. Set up a security system in your new home.
  3. Advise your neighbors of your current situation, and enlist their help in watching out for signs of trouble.

Remember that you are valuable. Anyone who makes you feel otherwise can only do so if you fail to put a stop to it. Enlist the help of emotionally strong, positive friends. Take action. Protect yourself. Replace emotional abuse with strength and confidence in your self-worth.

Nothing will change in our lives until we change our own behavior. Insight won’t do it. Understanding why we do the self-defeating things we do won’t make us stop doing them. Nagging and pleading with the other person to change won’t do it. We have to act. We have to take the first step down a new road.”

― Susan Forward, Emotional Blackmail

Building the Courage to Leave

When you’re in an abusive relationship, it can be difficult to see the way out. However, you don’t have to be trapped in a relationship with an abusive partner.  People leave their abusive partners and start their healed lives every day. 

Discover how to separate yourself from them in a safe way by using these strategies:

  1. Understand why you stay. You can’t gain the courage to leave until you understand why you’re staying. Are these reasons preventing you from leaving?
  • Perhaps you’re staying out of fear.
  • In other cases, you may feel stuck in the relationship because it’s the only thing you have right now. Despite the issues, it’s a familiar place. You may even feel secure in the familiarity.
  • You might even stay because you feel that you deserve to be punished. You’re worried that you won’t be able to find someone else who is better. And, because of the abuse, you may feel responsible for the situation.
  • In addition, perhaps you believe that you can fix the issues. You may think that if you love your partner enough, then they will stop being abusive.
  1. Strengthen your self-esteem. Low self-esteem is at the root of many abusive relationships. Increasing your confidence and self-esteem will help you gain the courage to leave the abuser. You can start by acknowledging that your self-esteem needs work.
  • Look for causes for your low self-esteem. Were your parents perfectionists who expected too much from you? Did you feel inadequate growing up or at work? Once you have the answers, you can work to resolve your feelings about your past. You can put the past in the past and ensure that these negative feelings don’t affect who you are today.
  • To raise your self-esteem, do a nice thing for yourself each day. Pay attention to what others say about you that is positive. Journal about it or take notes, so you always have a reminder of your positive aspects.
  1. Get outside help. It may benefit you to get help from friends, family, or others. You may need to turn to therapy or a doctor. In some cases, outside help is needed to leave an abusive relationship.
  • Your friends, family, coworkers, or others may be able to assist you so you won’t be alone and can develop the courage to leave. There may also be community resources, nonprofits, and organizations that can help.
  1. Figure out your finances. Are you scared to leave your partner because you depend on them financially? If you know that you’re financially secure, then it’s easier to leave.
  • When you have a job, set money aside that your abuser can’t access. You can also ask friends or family to contribute to your savings.
  • When you don’t have a job, you have to be more creative. You may be able to save money from the stipends you receive. You may be able to sell some items. Perhaps you can start a store on Etsy or offer freelance services.
  • Even if you’re not certain about your finances, you can make plans for the future. Prepare for a job that can support you after this relationship ends.

5. Go with the flow of the healing process. Don’t rush yourself or be hard on yourself when you feel doubt creeping in.

You don’t have to stay with an abusive partner out of fear. Relationships can be difficult to end, but it’s not impossible. Figure out a way to escape and leave them, even if you need someone to help you do it. There are resources and people who can help you get out of your abusive situation and get started on a healthier life.

Need further clarification on whether you’re with an emotionally abusive narcissist?  Sign up for your free action guide belowHandling Verbal & Emotional Abuse From Your Partner – A Case Study.

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[…] What that might look like in practical measures is if someone has repeatedly lied to you, if someone has been unfaithful to you numerous times, and they keep making promises that they’re going to stop and then you find out they never stopped, or maybe they’re extremely verbally and emotionally abusive and they particularly do this when it’s just the two of you alone together. […]

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[…] Narcissistic abuse is an emotional trauma.  It targets your primal abandonment wound.  When you feel betrayed, rejected, and abandoned by the Narcissist, your amygdala hijacks your rational thinking and sends you into fight-or-flight mode.  You have a thought (I’ve been rejected because I’m not good enough), you experience an emotion from that thought (panic, sadness, depression), and then you run with it like a Running Back on crack with blinders on. […]

Heather Fitz says June 18, 2019

Thank you!
Because of your articles I was able to leave an abusive narcissist relationship, and survive the “flying monkeys” attacks. I’m still shaky being on my own and I hope he never knows how close I’ve come a thousand times to throwing myself back into his arms and begging him to take me back. I will persevere and become whole again. Thank you for letting me know what to expect and how to counter these feelings of needing him or that relationship.

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Stacy says December 27, 2018

… Thank you so much for this! This describes my life for the past 7 years in this current relationship BUT I’ve been dealing with this my whole life due to an extremely narcissistic father.
I just had a beautiful baby girl with my (separated BUT still not divorced) covert narcissistic fiance. She’s 3 & 1/2 months old & her name is Adrianna Marie. She’s the love of my life & the reason I keep going. BUT, my fiance is having difficulty understanding that he no longer comes first. Example…. SEX. He wants it like I’m a “little whore” & says the most disgusting things to me during sex. He only knows how to f*ck. Please excuse my language. And during this session, he wants me to tell him about my past sex life bcuz it “turns him on that I’m his little slut”, as he puts it. After he finished, doesn’t matter if I finish btw, he uses whatever I said against me. Just last week I had sex with him & 2 hours later he started a fight with me while he was at work bcuz he saw a memory on Facebook, of a time when I had left him & had dated someone else, & he lied to me about it saying that other people were calling him questioning what that was about. Unbeknownst to him, my profile is completely private & unless you’re friends with me, you can’t see anything on my page. So, he got caught in the lie & only apologized bcuz I refused to talk to him, made up some bullshit excuse that I upset him with that there (btw, I didn’t even put it there. Facebook randomly rearranges things & I don’t go on that much bcuz I’m taking care of Adrianna. He however is on 24/7) Then we were to never discuss it again. Anything he does wrong I am not allowed to ever bring up BUT he brings up things from years ago all the time. He’s very slick in how he breaks me or at least tries to bcuz I won’t allow it anymore for the sake of my daughter. I watched my Ma go through it with my father, still to this very day, & I refuse to continue the cycle.
Financially, I’m not allowed to work. Never was allowed to work unless it was porn at his hands, making videos & taking pictures to put on the internet for money. Now, he uses Adrianna for the reason I can’t work. Which I somewhat agree. BUT, he will constantly blame me for any money problems. I’m afraid to ask for tampons, shampoo, conditioner, body wash or any other necessities! Btw, my family had bought pretty much EVERYTHING for our daughter. He only had to buy diapers, wipes, formula & a couple outfits for her! My Ma spent so much money it’s ridiculous! Yet, expected by him. His family gave nothing! I mean nothing for our daughter! His mom even calls her “the baby”, not her granddaughter!
If he doesn’t like my friends, they’re out of my life immediately, no questions asked. That was one of the conditions I had to follow in order to live with him again. I got away for a few months BUT was living with my parents. Not much difference between the 2 households. So I went back. Sex whenever he wants it was the other condition. Cameras in the house to watch me was another. I could keep going BUT I think you get what I’m saying. I’m not sure if it’s me or him honestly. He’s 49 years old & I’m 30 years old. We started dating when I was 22 years old & he was 41 years old. He lied to me about his age, where he lived (which was with his wife & 2 sons, that are not that much younger than me), and his marital status right from the start! I didn’t find out until I was with him for 6 months. He’s extremely charming and noone outside the relationship would ever believe that he was the way he is. They see a side of him I never see & vice versa. He claims he needs me, yet my feelings are not important at all. I try to talk to him & he literally ignores me unless I’m “attacking” him by telling him that he had hurt my feelings. It’s crazy. He denies that he does things when I know that he did. I keep a record of it to make sure that I’m not going crazy.
My fear is that he won’t work on himself like he keeps promising me & will continue this type of behavior and it’ll eventually effect our daughter. All I care about is her mental and emotional health. She’s all I have and between her & my pet therapy rescue toy poodle, Faith Marie, are the only 2 things that came from this relationship that, in my opinion, are perfect & worth it!

    Kim Saeed says December 31, 2018

    I’m sorry for what you’ve gone through. I would not hold my breath waiting for him to change. If I were in your shoes, I would find a way to leave at the earliest opportunity. If you stay, his behaviors will definitely affect her.

    Wishing you the best.


Shirley Akpelu says August 18, 2018

Thank you for this blog. I am going on three years of No contact. I am healing. I am learning from my mistakes and seeing how my abusive childhood set me up for the abusive marriage. I repented of allowing the abuse and my narc radar is working better.

Dana says August 16, 2018

Kim everything you stated in this article was true to life for me. I am married to a pilot which made it even easier to explain away his behavior for him. I was always doubting my intuition and forever wanting to believe in him. His parents (true to parents of a narcissist – as they cultivated his personality conflict) were playing the “supportive” role behind closed doors yet punishing me behind closed doors for speaking up. The double whammy of betrayal is all consuming and I found myself doubting my reality. Thank you for providing me with a reality check stronger than their web of lies. It’s truly like “Rosemary’s Baby”, everyone around you agrees with them so you begin to question your own mind. Please keep up your work, it saves lives and women’s sanity!

Tanja says August 14, 2018

I meant you doing wonderful things here (site). Typing to fast when you full of joy.

Anonymous says August 14, 2018

I meant you are doing wonderful things on here (site). Typing fast when you full of joy.

Tanja says August 14, 2018

Kim, you tell the truth about the things we couldn’t control and things we were able to control and I’m thankful that I had choose to take back my power and to control the things that I know I can control and leaving the Narc was the major first step that I took 2 years ago. Your newsletters and wonderful articles help me to achieve the starting point in my life 2 years ago and I’m grateful and thankful. My thing now is when people show you who they are, believe them. Don’t waste precious time on trying to figure them out or the situation that always have an excuse, to many excuses turn into lies Keep posting Kim, you is a wonderful thing here. Thank you

Helena says June 15, 2018

Thank you for this article and for all of your work. It truly has helped me tremendously. Everything you write about Narcissists describe my ex EXACTLY. He was the most charming and perfect partner (better than you can imagine!)…except when he wasn’t. He was extremely controlling, manipulative, verbally and emotionally abusive and on top of that was having an affair with our close family friend, while I was 6 months pregnant with his baby. He denied the affair until my friend finally confided in me, and then he gave the excuse that he thought we were in an “open relationship”. He is a master lier, con-artist and scarily enough, he works as a minister of a church where he is praised and adored. I left him 7.5 months ago and still do not feel healed. I think about him daily and hold a huge amount of anger and resentment towards him . The day I left him was the same day I found out I was pregnant with our second child together. He went into a rage and was physically violent, literally forcing me to call 911 and get out. I have a restraining order against him so we haven’t been in touch at all, and he has no visiting rights whatsoever with our first child. My second baby is due in less than 3 weeks and I keep having thoughts like, “Wouldn’t it be so nice to have a reconciliation with him and invite him to the birth?” But then I remember how much he hurt me and completely turned my life upside down. Even with all this time passed, I still go through a love/hate cycle with him from day to day. I would love some guidance on how to finally release him, stop being in love with him, and heal my heart. Although my head understands that he’s a complete Narcissist and not going to change, my heart is still in love and heartbroken. With baby #2 coming so soon, I would really love to know how I can heal…

June says June 14, 2018

Thank you Kim Saeed. Your support is invaluable. I ve been in the grips of it for thirty years, but didn’t know what it was, even though I knew that something wasn’t right. This “just enough to keep her there”was the real hinge in identifying the problem. Being “nice” just enough. And she knew what “just enough” was. In terms of my own thoughts on this, I thought it was bullying. Like what is commonly seen in the 11-12 y/o age group. If somebody doesn’t stop them, they become very skilled at it as adults. It looks as though those bullies turned into narcissists as adults. Bullying is the closest thing or synonymous with narcissism than anything I have ever seen.
I am so glad that I found your site as it was a way of dealing with it in a civil towards myself kind of way. That I can be objective and throw the emotion to the side of the road. And, without emotion, I can see and understand the situation. Screaming and yelling, blaming, crying and cursing isn’t going to make any headway. But dealing with it in an adult and objective way brings results. Severing contact is very important. And my birthday card still lays on the porch outside my door. Not because I’m even curious about what’s in it, but to remind me to leave it alone. I don’t want to know what’s in it and it will stay there for the mean time..perhaps out of spite. Then perhaps the wind will come up and blow it away. June

Anonymous says February 3, 2018

Hi Kim,

I just wanted to say I am thrilled to have come across your website. Finding a therapist that specializes in narcissistic relationships are not easy to come across.

First off I want to start off by saying that I believe I am in a situation with a narcissistic sociopathic person and by reading this article along with others on your site, I feel like it’s confirmed that. I knew what was happening at the time didn’t seem right.. or okay for that matter, but from what was going on in my partners life (huge stressors), I made excuses for it, or should i say he did and so i was just manipulated in believing that it was normal to be happening. However some days I would think I had never dealt with this in past relationships so something is off.

We ended up deciding to get pregnant. As much as i did want the baby i think back, And I’ve discussed this with my mother, if I was manipulated into having a baby, because my spouse would always say I don’t wear condoms and would put such a wonderful picture in my head of us being a family. He knew family was important to me. He was also amazing to me in the beginning, and i was also pretty independent, until h convinced me to quit my job and move in with him into a city 3 hours away from where i was living. I ended finding a job shortly after however I was already pregnant at the time.. and found myself feeling quite depressed and wasn’t sure why. And then it all started…

My partner confronted me and explained about a traumatic childhood experience that involved him being molested as a child, on top of a broken family childhood, and being abandoned by his biological father and raised by his stepdad (who he ultimately calls his dad).

Shortly after i got pregnant the going out every weekend and not coming home until the next day started happening. Partaking is drugs and alcohol and would come home demanding sex while still intoxicated and would basically throw adult tantrums if he didn’t get his way. I look back so angry at myself knowing I should have left especially because i was pregnant and i loved that little baby more than anything. On top of them he was spending money left right and centre and was making excuses for it meanwhile he was in a financial situation where he shouldn’t have been. He owned companies and was losing them and it was starting to happen before i even met him. I was doing the finances for the company.

This going out and not coming home till the next morning continued for a few months and during those times he became violent in the home (he would throw things and punch walls). After that if i knew he would be going out and not coming back i would stay the night at his dads because i was pregnant at the time. He would make excuses and to be honest I was scared to leave and the judgement of being a single mother truly got to me.. I confronted him several times saying he needed help and would just talk and wouldn’t do. He eventually lost his companies but in the midst of that my parents (i think concerned for my safety) ending up lending him money (on a legal document). Which I feel so sick to my stomach horrible about but my parents said they gave that money knowing they might not get it back and that they cared more about me. He then started hanging around a biker gang. I’m sure you know which one comes to mind, and the going out every weekend got worse. While all this was happening i was back and forth on business trips for work while pregnant to get training done and take courses for the job i was working. After all of this we moved into our new house and was expecting the baby in a few months which at this point n top of how i was treated (being ditched on weekends for friends, being called every name in the book, being treated completely opposite of how i was treated when we first started dating) I found out he had cheated on me behind my back from girls coming forward to me and also seeing inappropriate emails on his work email that had the dates and everything sent to a past girl he used to date. I confronted him. And told him to leave the house he denied everything even though i had proof and was being rude and calling me names. The period from that point on got even worse. He was posting pictures with woman online even though everyone knew we were expecting a baby and hanging around that biker gang. I was left paying the rent myself along with working full time around 6 months pregnant. He got very nasty and was still denying everything and i was manipulated into somehow apologizing to him for believing these things. He made me feel crazy and the hormones from being pregnant i just figured i was being just that.. He would say things like “well you dumped me” or “you’re overreacting by kicking me out when I didn’t even do these things”. Until Imade it public and call him out for what he was doing because he was going to everyone and saying I was crazy. I posted online proof of what he did and what he was doing while expecting a baby. And as much as he just laughed about it i had numerous people have my back and even friends of his tell me he’s been unfaithful behind my back. That drew the line for me and I ended up moving back home with my parents going on sick leave from work due to the stress while pregnant and being across the country from him. Me leaving to him didn’t mean we were done with he relationship. I had the baby and she is th best thing to have come into my life and has made me open my eyes because I want what’s best for her and for me to be healthy for her. I’m undecided whether i think its best to have him in my daughters life as I know how he was while I was pregnant. He is no longer drinking or doing drugs .. currently looking for a job but making side money somehow.. he is trying to become a full fledged member of this bike gang…while I’m on mat leave opening up savings accounts for our daughter and I’ve received 400 dollars from him and she’s 4 month old. I paid for everything for her. After she was born he wanted to work on things and at that time i just said ok because I wasn’t living with him and i wasn’t even seeing him as i was across the country with my parents on maternity leave. But now reading your articles i can honestly map out his cycles.. his excuses were literally spot on with what you’ve said and honestly i did lose myself in the middle of that relationship and im just finding it again and it literally makes me want nothing to do with him.. but he’s the father of my child . I feel like if i stay with him I wont be able to trust him, whether it be with him being faithful or not having situations like what i had to deal with when pregnant (him going out) he still says love you and i honestly just say it back because I’m scared to pull the plug..i feel like he’ll go off the deep end because he thinks me breaking up is taking his child away but now i see that it is his own actions that would cause his child to be taken away. Iobviusly want my daughter to have a dad but a fit parent dad,, I’m just reaching out because I feel like because There’s a child involved its a far more serious situation and i need to make the right one for her and i. Reading this furthermore confirms that he wont change… as he is back in the treat me well stage but I know it will go away. I’m reaching out to you Kim because from a professional stand point I’m wondering if i should just pull the plug even if he may freak out because he thinks ill keep his daughter from him or just continue to be civil..


Janny says November 30, 2017

Thank you for your email. I already knew he was a narcissist from all of the studying I’ve done on this. But “you” put the stamp on it, and ‘nailed’ him to the letter!!
I couldn’t believe it when I read your letter and clicked on the link you provided, and read that!!
This man I married has been doing, literally, every single thing you listed as a symptom of a narcissist for the entire 14 years we’ve been married!
And of course…he made all of the right ‘storybook moves’ to make me fall ‘so’ in love with him that I’d just die without him!
I really do love him, but I hate him just as much, if that makes any sense.
Sorry for the ramble. Just wanted to thank you for validating what I believed to be true. Janny

    Kim Saeed says November 30, 2017

    Hi Janny,

    Thank you for your kind praise regarding my newsletter. I am sorry for your struggles and can relate to how difficult it is. I know how you feel when you say you love/hate him. This is actually a large indicator of trauma-bonding. I felt the same way and I thought I was deeply in love, but after years of research, I’ve learned it’s really a part of the psychological conditioning…

    Thanks for following me…wishing you all the best! XoXo


      Janny says December 1, 2017

      Thank you so much for responding to my comment, Kim. I will be following your news letters, you can count on it. What I read just last night gave me alot of insight. Thanks again! Janny

tanja says November 29, 2017

Thank you Kim for your newsletter they help me to leave a narcissist a year ago and 4 months. I am so much better without him in my life. He did try to come backand there was no way in hell I was going to let him back in. Once I closed my heart and open my eyes, my world open up. Thank you!

    Kim Saeed says November 30, 2017

    Hi Tanja! I am so happy to know my newsletters helped you build a wall against further abuse and to get moving toward your new life! This makes my day 🙂

    Wishing you all the best in your healing journey!

    Kim XoXo

Anonymous says November 28, 2017

Thank you for sharing this with me.

    Kim Saeed says November 29, 2017

    You’re so very welcome, Anon! XoXo

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