What is Narcissistic Abuse? 

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.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

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. 

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.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, MSW

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. 

Medically reviewed by: Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Reviewed On: September 29, 2022