Narcissists are individuals who require a constant flow of adoration and admiration to prop up what is a very fragile false self. Because they are solely focused on keeping the love flowing to preserve the grandiose identity constructed by the false self, they cannot experience empathy or love in the same way that a healthy person can. Given that, they cannot feel empathy for the people in their lives.
While narcissists are not all physically abusive, the complexities of their mental disorder make it very difficult for them to avoid being emotionally abusive. They cannot feel your pain, and therefore, it is quite common that they will emotionally abuse you even if they don’t mean to do so.
It’s helpful to understand more about the narcissist’s mind to see why they are emotionally abusive and whether they can stop the abuse even if they are unable to fix their own problems.
Why Do Narcissists Abuse Their Victims?
Because narcissists are externally validated, they need the people in their life to provide them with their narcissistic supply. This is an almost constant flow of adoration and admiration that props up the false self they constructed in place of having an actual ego. They do this in the majority of cases because of abuse they suffered that arrested the development of their sense of self.
As a result of never having developed an actual sense of self (ego), narcissists use their external environment which means they merge their inner and outer worlds. People in their outer world, therefore, become mere extensions of the narcissist. They don’t think of them as separate individuals with their own feelings, desires, and dreams.
Instead, the narcissist expects the people around them to be focused solely on his or her needs even at the expense of their own wellbeing. When that doesn’t happen to the narcissist’s satisfaction, they often lash out in emotionally and sometimes physically abusive ways.
What Kind of Emotional Abuse Do Narcissists Employ?
The emotional abuse a narcissist will use against the people around them involves manipulation designed to help them gain control over the actions of their family, friends, and colleagues. They have no problem lying and do so to the extent that it becomes difficult for them to juggle the various lies they have told.
Another favorite technique of the narcissist is something called gaslighting. This is where they make you feel like you’re the crazy one. If you call them on something they have said or done, they will either say it didn’t happen that way or that you’re too sensitive. They may play it off as a joke even though you knew it was serious when they said it. Gaslighting is an effective technique for making you second guess your own interpretations and undermining your confidence.
Narcissists also frequently use triangulation. This is playing one side against the other, and they often use this tactic in the immediate family. They might, for example, play their own children against the other parent or one sibling against another.
This is a very damaging tactic as it changes the family dynamics and often causes rifts between family members. This is not an exhaustive list of the emotionally abusive tactics that narcissists will use, but they can also sometimes be physically abusive.
Is it Common for Narcissists to Be Physically Abusive?
Not all narcissists are physically abusive, but many of them are, particularly when they fear losing their narcissistic supply. It’s definitely possible for them to become quite dangerous to themselves and the people around them when they are faced with the prospect of losing their carefully constructed false self.
Physical abuse can take many forms including physical violence, physical restraint, intimidation, isolation, and even life endangerment.
Research indicates that there is a link between narcissism and different kinds of aggressive behavior including being more hostile, displaying higher frequencies of unprovoked aggressive behavior, and displaying more aggression toward perceived sources of insults or criticism. There is also an established link between intimate partner violence and narcissism.
Dr. Todd Grande explains that the research study linked above has also demonstrated a significant association between covert narcissism and child physical abuse:
He summarizes the findings of that study noting that, “They found that covert narcissism had a significant association with child physical abuse risk meaning as covert narcissistic traits tended to increase — as the levels increased — the levels of child physical abuse risk increased.”
He further states that the research found both a direct and indirect relationship between covert narcissism and child physical abuse. Interestingly, he notes that, “Overt narcissism, however, did not predict increased child physical abuse risk.” He feels this might be due to the fact that covert narcissism has a “stronger association with aggression and anger than overt narcissism.”
It’s easy to see how a narcissistic individual might become both physically and emotionally abusive, but can they ever not be abusive?
Can a Narcissist Ever Not Be Abusive?
The truth is that unless a narcissist is seeking help to change their ways, their behavior will always minimally contain some element of emotional abuse in the form of manipulative behavior. They really can’t do anything different because they are viewing the world through the dark prism of their false self.
Therapy can benefit the narcissist and help them change their behavior, but they must be committed to the process. Unless they are willing to put in the work to change, it’s likely they will never be able to stop abusing the people they love and respect.
Because of the way a narcissist views the world, they are, by nature, abusive. Not all narcissists engage in physical abuse, but there is an association between this personality disorder and intimate partner violence as well as child physical abuse. Given their need to carefully control their external environment as the supplier of their egoic needs, it’s not surprising that this would also involve abusive behavior.
Therapy can help the narcissist become less abusive, but only if they remain committed to the process of healing. It’s a difficult situation all around because the narcissist is constantly tortured by a profound sense of self-loathing which fuels their need for external validation. In turn, they torture those around them with emotional and sometimes physical abuse.
Anyone involved with a narcissist, therefore, needs to recognize the types of abusive behavior a narcissist will utilize to get their needs met, and they need to take the proper steps to protect themselves from narcissistic abuse.
Now that you understand better why the narcissist utilizes abusive techniques to secure their narcissistic supply, you might also be interested in this post that discusses how you can help a narcissistic spouse to heal.
If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel