Loss of Identity

Loss of Identity: Examples of Perspecticide from Narcissistic Abuse

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Loss of identity is unavoidable after being in an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship.

I often hear people compare living with a narcissistic partner to living in a cult – but with even more isolation.

In a cult, you have fellow comrades sharing the same abusive experience. With narcissistic abuse, however, you’re totally alone.

Just like living in a cult, it’s difficult to understand the full range of perspecticide aka an intense loss of identity until after you’ve left the narcissistic abuse for good.

The narcissist’s control over their target’s thoughts is sometimes so subtle, severe, and deeply ingrained that the survivor struggles to manage life on their own after they begin to recover.

I’ve put together some identity crisis examples to help you figure out if you’re experiencing perspecticide so you can start to dig yourself out.

You deserve to have your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

It might seem like an impossible feat right now, but you’ll come out the other end stronger, more assertive, and with a better perception of yourself than ever before.

Understanding how the identity crisis symptoms affect you and how the narcissist uses these symptoms to their advantage are the first steps.

Perspecticide: An External Force Causes Your Loss of Identity

Evan Stark, an award-winning researcher and professor at Rutgers is credited as first coining the term “perspecticide” in his 2007 book, Coercive Control. Perspecticide is the incapacity to know what you know, as a result of abuse. 

With perspecticide, the abuser slowly chips away at your perspective until you have no thoughts of your own. Perspecticide was first used as a psychological manipulation tactic on prisoners of war and later by cult leaders, topics I’ve written about before.

The goal is to achieve a total loss of identity in the intended target.

After all, it’s much easier to control a person when they have no thoughts, opinions, and feelings of their own.

It’s important to remember that when we talk about perspecticide we aren’t just referencing staunch political beliefs or major convictions (although those views certainly aren’t spared).

But perspecticide goes much deeper than that. It refers to extreme gaslighting and control where the abuser controls just about every thought that enters the target’s head – even if the target doesn’t realize it.

How Narcissists Use Perspecticide and Loss of Identity to Manipulate and Control You

So, how can you tell the difference between healthy influence and psychological manipulation? Well, it isn’t usually obvious.

When it comes to narcissists, perspecticide is always the end goal: narcissists don’t want you to think for yourself, they want you to think for them.

The narcissist has several resources in their toolbox for achieving this goal.

  • Trauma Bonding: Rollercoasters of chronic fighting (you’re always the bad guy, of course) and fleeting moments of artificial compassion to solidify a bond based on trauma. Other than responsibilities like children and bills, these brief moments of seeming love are what keep you from leaving.
  • Cognitive Empathy: Objectively empathizing with you for the sole purpose of manipulating your thoughts. This empathy without compassion is a prerequisite for torture.
  • Imposing Guilt and Worthlessness: When you attempt to state an opinion – even on benign things like clothing – you’re wrong. And even if you’re not wrong, the mere act of having an opinion will offend the narcissist. This leads you to believe your thoughts are wrong and you must listen to the narcissist for guidance.

A total loss of identity doesn’t happen overnight. But over time, the narcissist gradually implements these tactics to slowly chip away at both your perception of self and the world around you.

7 Identity Crisis Symptoms that Indicate You’re Suffering from Perspecticide at the Hands of a Narcissist

A narcissist will do everything they can to remove every opinion, every viewpoint, every thought you have until you’ve reached a complete loss of identity. You become an extension of them.

These identity crisis symptoms can help you identify if you’re facing perspecticide at the hands of a narcissist.

  1. You struggle to talk about yourself outside the superficial labels applied to you by the narcissist.
  2. You feel like your life lacks a real purpose or motivation – but you don’t believe you deserve such things.
  3. Before making any decision, you wonder what the narcissist would say or want you to say.
  4. You feel panicked or uncomfortable when you’re away from the narcissist – what if you do or say something wrong?
  5. You feel like you’re living on autopilot. You’ve become a passive bystander in your own life.
  6. You don’t think of yourself as a changed person but literally a completely different You don’t recognize the person you were and you may feel ashamed of your old “freer” self.
  7. You focus heavily on your appearance because the narcissist forces you to and/or it’s the only tangible part of yourself you can know exists without a doubt.

4 Identity Crisis Examples to Understand the Full Impact

It isn’t enough to understand the identity crisis symptoms or those of perspecticide. 

I see it all the time: survivors don’t realize just how deeply the narcissist inflicted a loss of identity onto them until the survivor remove themselves from the situation.

When we’re suffering from perspecticide, we can’t see it that way because the narcissist has led us to believe that our perspective is wrong. These identity crisis examples can help you understand the full range of impact from narcissistic abuse.

Andrew stopped going out with his pals a long time ago because it made his partner, Jennifer, afraid and uncomfortable – even if the group just sat around playing video games. Jennifer would imply that these activities were worthless anyway and Andrew ultimately started to agree. Now he spends his weekends at home fighting (and always apologizing) to Jennifer for having thoughts of his own.

As a child, Emma’s mother picked hobbies for her like dancing – Emma’s choices like skateboarding were always wrong. As a teenager, Emma’s mother dictated an “appropriate” wardrobe for her. Later, Emma’s mother discouraged every career path Emma chose – suggesting that Emma would never be good enough to fill these roles. When Emma finally had the courage to move away for school, she didn’t know how to make decisions on her own.

Kylie used to love spending her time off from work doing gymnastics and volunteering at a local homeless shelter. That is, until her partner Jordan pointed out that she’ll never solve world poverty and she’ll never make a living as a gymnast – so why bother? Kylie later believed this to be true and gave up her hobbies. Now, when people ask Kylie about herself, she lists off her job title and looks back on her naïve self with shame.

Sarah’s husband Rob ran the house – but he meant well, right? Rob helped Sarah pick out clothes, made makeup suggestions, and peered over her shoulder offering healthy suggestions in the grocery aisle. Rob also made sure he and Sarah regularly went through each other’s phones and coerced Sarah into leaving the bathroom door open. He said this was a sign of intimacy other couples simply couldn’t match. When Rob got a DUI and had to spend time away from home, Sarah realized she hadn’t made a decision for herself in months and needed to relearn everything.

Those are just a few identity crisis examples that show you how the narcissist slowly but surely infiltrates your sense of self and kills your sense of perspective.

Most narcissists won’t come out and say, “I’m not allowing you to leave the house.” No, they’re subtler than that. A narcissist will make you think it’s in your best interest to stay home – and they will consider your leaving the house a personal attack on them.

They will use gentle implications of guilt and worthlessness to make you completely dependent on them for all of your thoughts and actions. This is what leads to a loss of identity or perspecticide.

What Can You Do If These Identity Crisis Examples and Symptoms Hit too Close to Home?

Removing yourself from the situation isn’t easy. After all, narcissists are our husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, coworkers and brothers. They’re the mothers and fathers of our children.

Still, going No Contact is the only way to rid yourself of the narcissist’s abuse and their imposed loss of identity – for good.

You do deserve to have your own thoughts and opinions and you deserve to make your own choices. Those choices are completely valid – no matter how much the narcissist made you believe otherwise.

You’re not worthless. You can and will build a new – stronger – sense of identity.

Surrounding yourself with support and removing yourself from the situation is the only way out.

Recovery from Loss of Identity and Narcissistic Abuse Starts Now

You don’t have to do No Contact alone – even if the narcissist has forced you to push your closest friends and confidants away.

You deserve a strong sense of self and supportive relationships.

Don’t let a loss of identity and feelings of worthlessness from narcissistic abuse hold you back. If you’re experiencing any identity crisis symptoms, learn how to start your recovery from narcissistic abuse.

Today is the day you say “no more.”

Consulting and Coaching with Kim Saeed, B. Ed.

Kim helps individuals with toxic relationship issues via telephone or Zoom. For over a decade, she has specialized in helping targets of emotional abuse and manipulation to break free of abusive relationships and heal from the trauma. She combines practical advice with emotional support. If you’d like to work with Kim, please visit her Schedule a Session page.

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Leave a Comment:

Tracey Alex says January 5, 2023

I can certainly agree with the sentence about not knowing how deep your loss of identity has become until you remove yourself from the situation. It’s about even the smallest things. For example, when I was shopping I would automatically reach for my husband’s favorite brands, and only those. It was months after we split up before I even realized that I was doing that. Many such small matters, as well as much more important ones, had been made so automatically in his favor for years. I considered it a victory the day I bought some Neapolitan ice cream (which he always thought childish) and Ate It Out Of The Wrong Bowl.

Amanda says April 4, 2022

You understand completely. Right down to the “personal attacks,” it seems like nobody else understands how hard it is to be a person after not being one for so long. Finding the motivation is hard enough. I’m content with dissociating until I decompose. Lucky for me, my friends won’t let me. It’s been 2 weeks but it feels like 2 months since I have spoken w him.

Anonymous says December 1, 2021

No degree but stay at home mom. Now mid divorce and basically homeless. They are evil. I know God is on my side and with him I will prevail.

Jelena says December 1, 2021

Thank you for a very insightful article.
Both of my parents treated me as you’ve described. I couldn’t make a decision on my own.
I failed in life miserably. I have a master degree, but am a stay-at-home mom.

Pasha says June 13, 2021

This arguably is the most sinister dimension of the abuse – the slow, subtle, nearly unnoticeable invalidation, erasure and overwriting of all thoughts, inclinations, experiences, choices and volitions in virtue of which one registers h’self as someone, as I. This deserves classification as a crime against humanity. It is also incredibly hard to overcome.

Anonymous says February 23, 2021

I too would like to read more about the impact narcissistic abuse has on a chikd from birth to adulthood. I lived this abuse for 30 years and watched my son be tormented by this narc. I finally left and been divorced for a year. I have no idea who i am. My son and I both blame ourselves. I do because i stayed and allowed this to happen to my son. He is a nervous wreck. I numbed myself to the point i feel nothing but hate, anger, resentment, self blame, loss of identity. It literally just kills my soul knowing what my son was put through. Now my son is a father himself, his narc father still comes around my son and grandson. Abuses our adult son still. My grandson sees this. My son jist can not seem to break the ties. Hes tried and about the time he seems to be living again, right back to the same way. Hes convinced he cannot do anything or succeed without his narc father. It took me 30 yrs to leave and I have no idea how long it will take to find me again and feel independently human. I would give all this up if it would save my son.

8 Things You Need From a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program - Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program says September 29, 2019

[…] time, your identity disappears and you exist solely to please the narcissist. Your opinions, goals, interests, and sense of self […]

tortured soul says September 24, 2019

Have lost my identity to the narcissist…………am in danger of going back and alienating my entire family………trauma bonded to the max…can’t seem to move in right direction…really scared!

    Kathy says June 12, 2021

    I completely understand where you are. I was pressured (guilted) into partnering in a country property with my creep. Of course he played it up referencing the great future we’d have there when I retire. Only after I moved in did I fully realize the level of substance abuse, his hair trigger temper (vocal), and demanding ways. The checklist of things to avoid saying and doing grew daily. You’ll come to a point when it will be crystal clear you’d be better without them than with them. You need to confide in your family and friends and ask them to support you and help you. It will be hard and painful but it has to be done. I’m still struggling and I left 5 mos. ago. Counseling is key to work out your shame, depression and fear. You can do it!

The Scary Truth Between Toxic Home Environments and Adverse Childhood Experiences - Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program says July 7, 2019

[…] rigidity can be detrimental to identity formation. Children can experience an immense sense of shame and low self-esteem. The child may grow up […]

The Janne Robinson Timeline/ Reclaiming My Identity and Art – Naked and Exploited: Honora Bowen's Blog says March 29, 2019

[…] attorney called Janne’s response the “most narcissistic letter [she’d] ever received from an opposing party,” [paraphrased] and I have to say […]

anon says December 27, 2018


Once I met my narc wife 22 years ago, she never would call me by my name. I would ask her to do it and she found it strange that I would be offended. I can count on both hands the number of times she has called me by my name. She never did it because she knew it bothered me. Isolation, control, gaslighting, word salad. I have lived the dream with this monster. I am now a few months away from divorce from this demon and thank you for your website and all the other material. I have a long road ahead.

    Kim Saeed says December 31, 2018

    So happy to know you’ve carved a path to freedom, Anon. Wishing you all the best.


Anonymous says December 22, 2018

Yes covert narc and their subtle integration into ur being. Where is it about, you think, and bfr you know nothing of yourself is left.
And the examples are so evident next to your intuition! But you yourself find all excuses to protect him instead of yourself.
And before yourealize, you are a wreck.
I was that for 2 years.
Extreme gaslighting by the nicest most lovely kindest guy who is known as always wanting to help others!?!

The worst is that you do not trust anyone anymore.
A very good movie in a super brittish humoristic and tragic way is : the death of Stalin.

If you want confirmation of all Kims teachings, you will find it in this movie. And the ridiculousness if putting ourselves away.

Stop Focusing On Narcissist Types and Start Investigating These Toxic Red Flags - Kim Saeed: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery & Personal Growth says December 13, 2018

[…] time, this can result in a loss of identity. You continue to disregard your own needs or preferences to avoid your partner’s […]

Tine Birgitte Søndergaard Nielsen says December 6, 2018

Dearest Kim.. (please excuse me my spelling, I`m from Denmark)
I joined your couses ect a while ago. You have kept me on the path of detachment towards healing and freedom even though I haven`t been able to participate as “a good student” should. Fx It was only yesterday morning I was able to fill the form about Why, what, where, the future etc.. And guess what: later yesterday afternoon I went out and got my self an affordable apartment right in the town center 2 minuts from my tiny shop.. WAUW.. I`m gonna live on my own for the first time in 8 almost 9 years and no longer have to axiuosly worry about where evil and kaos will come from to day… I`m so greatfull that a friend of mine where persistent and begged me to read an article about psycological violence that led to YouTube an your videoes Kim Saeed.. I will continue my journey with you and hopefully be joining the suppport group very soon, but right now I have to raise a lot of money.. love to you Kim and everyone here trying to find a way to a better life.. Tine from Denmark

Michelle says November 24, 2018

This is bad enough if happening in an adult relationship, but what if this happens to a child, from when they’re born throughout their whole childhood??? Excellent points made here but I’d like to see more about the impact of this abuse on 18 years of childhood by the parent/s

jess says October 26, 2018

what if u had a baby with a narc who also suffers from schizophrenia and was takin from u basically putting everything on hold until released from prison which could happen soon. ive had to move leaving my comfort zone ive been in my new house for over a yr and i still cant leave my home anxiety and paranoia have taken over my life 10 pounds of make up cant make me feel good can u imagine how i feel without it everyday is a strugglee i am a mother of 3 i honestly dont know how ive made it this far can u actually heal from all this idk who i am at all i miss me everyday

Anonymous says October 13, 2018

“You feel panicked or uncomfortable when you’re away from the narcissist”. That was the one that hit the nail on the head for me. There was always an uneasiness wherever I was, what sort of mood would I be met with if I was out. I’m old enough to have known what I was doing and he was younger than me by 14 years. To be fair, I wasn’t looking at him as a long term partner (and this produced guilt in me – completed wasted guilt of course as he played me like a fiddle) but boy did he bring hell down on me and it lasted for years more than it should have (complicated situation). I’m nearly three years into recovery and it has been very difficult, my anger knew no bounds for a long time but I have started to smile at strangers again and they smile back (my friends have been great although I have lost some through seeing them through a different lens) and its the beginning of liking the human race again. I’ve certainly come out alot stronger and have some boundaries finally. My love and support to all of you, it is an incredible journey and you have to claw your way back but the sunlight is starting to appear again and I’m returning very slowly to the optimistic person I once was. When I finally realised that they they are mentally ill and nothing will change them, I managed to put a wall up. He does a once yearly appearance outside my house making a noise which I ignore.
When I was diagnosed with an under active thyroid from all the stress I assume, I knew I had to fight for my health. Kim has always been a rational voice and her emails always arrive just when they need to. Many thanks.

Phoenix says August 29, 2018

My husband is one of those covert narcissists that actually won’t let me leave the house. I can’t spend time with my son alone either, because I might “run off” with him. *Sigh.* I see myself too much in the loss of identity. I’m a writer who can’t write because of it. I’m a type-A kind of person who wants to get up at 5:30 am and work on stuff and isn’t “allowed” to. I can’t wait to get out and reclaim myself and my life!

mother of 1 says August 20, 2018

I like the idea of No Contact, but when you have a child with someone and the court has stipulated twice a week visits for them with your child at your home (bc the abuser does not have a stable home or address) then how can no contact happen? What’s the solution to this?

    Kim Saeed says August 20, 2018

    Hi Mother of 1, in this case, I would see if there is a friend or family member who can stand in for you when your ex is there for visitation. Also, many localities have establishments especially for non-custodial parents to have visitation with their children. You can see if there are any near you by Googling “supervised visitation providers” in your area. Then, if there are some near you, try to have the custody order modified to have the visitations take place there instead of your home.

    Galina says July 11, 2019

    We use the local Safe Harbor ordered by the court, the father pays for visitation.

Kristin says August 18, 2018

this is my first day away from my narc partner. i left home when he was away w his live in girlfriend and he is now giving me the silent treatment. its the loudest silence ive ever heard. i hope it lasts a very long time! i feel like ive jumped off a cliff and also hope God gives me wings. im so lost and found at the same time. nice to breathe again

Shirley Akpelu says August 18, 2018

Yeah, I suffered from identity crisis. I identified with the narc’s culture and abandoned my own. Two can become one but they should both maintain their personality and culture and values. The narc believed he was better than me because of his paternalistic culture. I disagreed and kept some of my strong opinions and I guess that it why I was discarded after a while. I could no longer go along with the program. HalleluYah I have been set free. If that was love and marriage, may I never love or marry again!

Sue says August 17, 2018

A really constructive comment!

Jeanie says August 16, 2018

Its so Frightening & Amazing how you are right on point with my 32 year marriage..I have been 5 years no contact and still working on myself…

    Kim Saeed says August 17, 2018

    Hi Jeanie,

    Healing from this does take time. I hope you are working with a specialist. It’s also helpful to join a program to keep you on track in between sessions.

    Wishing you all the best as you continue to heal.

    Kim XoXo

    Sandy says August 17, 2018

    I feel the same, married for 30 years, and I’ve been separated for almost 4 years. I finally feel like I’m now concentrating on me, and getting to know who I am.

Robin Watton Stevens says August 16, 2018

Thanks for the info. My experience has been slightly different, as mine is a covert narc. You would never imagine this “sweet, innocent and docile” guy doing lots of gaslighting, minimizing your opinions and demeaning you as an individual. Still, even though I now realize that I’m too smart for this anymore and he no longer controls me like a puppet, a lot of damage has already been done, very much like what is described here. I am getting myself back, but I’m much older now and it’s going more slowly. I won’t give up, though. One foot in front of the other…

Joyce Short says August 15, 2018

How true!

Initially in a relationship, a Narcissist will make you feel they’re your soulmate. They’ll build your trust to a level that they can manipulate you. We all like to feel bonded, it’s human nature. Narcissists will misuse our trust to take control.

Stepping away from the relationship, possibly by taking a solo vacation or one with selected friends, can give you the emotional separation to to see the forest for the trees.

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