Narcissistic abuse: 10 subtle signs it’s happening to you

It’s hard to stop a problem when it’s sneaky and hard to spot.

That’s the big issue with narcissistic abuse.

So, what is it? The simple explanation is that narcissistic abuse is when someone who clings to a falsely inflated version of themselves undercuts and emotionally exploits and hurts you in various ways.

They blame you for things that aren’t your fault and saddle you with their issues, dragging you down constantly. The narcissist never takes responsibility or blame, they only put it on you no matter what.

It’s not pleasant, that’s for sure, but it’s surprisingly common, especially in today’s self-absorbed world.

Watching Rudá Iandê’s free masterclass on finding true love and intimacy is actually one of the things that opened my eyes about how narcissistic abuse works and how much better things can be once we bring all this crap out in the open and confront it directly.

We all deserve much more than to be trapped in unhappy relationships or be codependent and the masterclass really helped show me that all the ways that self-honesty and living our truth can overcome problems like this.

Here are warning signs to find out if a narcissist (or covert narcissist) is emotionally abusing you.

1) You give your abuser a free pass

One of the saddest things about being in a relationship with a narcissist is that the victim often won’t admit they’re a victim.

They try to adapt to a “new normal” and avoid the ugly truth. Especially when you have feelings for someone it can be devastating to face up to the fact that they’re manipulating and hurting you on purpose.

If you’re in a troubled relationship but you find you’re always coming up with excuses and reasons why your partner blames, scolds and criticizes you then you may well be dealing with a narcissistic abuse situation.

2) You’re confused and broken about who you are

When you’re facing narcissistic abuse you can lose your sense of who you are. You will often feel deeply confused about your own ambitions, identity and values.

The narcissistic abuser feeds on your own self-doubt and desire to fall in line and will undercut your dreams and beliefs by making you feel that you are unreasonable, unrealistic or misguided in what you want to do.

Narcissistic abusers are professional gaslighters. They constantly make you think you’re to blame.

The bottom line is that when someone is constantly making it clear you’re not good enough and there’s something wrong with you sometimes you start to believe them.

3) Your life goes in a downward spiral

When a narcissistic abuser takes their toll, the victim’s own life will often go in a downward spiral of self-destruction.

The negative words and actions of the abuser become the negative self-talk in your head. As Rudá Iandê teaches, our own anxieties and dependency on someone else can create a codependent cycle where we put up with being treated very negatively and start to fall into a savior-victim complex.

That’s a place you don’t want to be, because it’s a one way ticket to burning out mentally and emotionally.

4) You think almost everything is your fault even when it’s not

Sensitive and caring people often blame themselves for things that aren’t their fault. That is particularly true of those who are dealing with narcissistic abuse.

Narcissistic abusers are often compensating for their own low inner feelings of self-worth and shame by building up an idealized picture of themselves and tearing others down.

Unfortunately they most often tear down those closest to them, finding ways to always gaslight them into taking the blame.

The narcissistic abuser will often behave very negatively to you but pleasantly to others, increasing feelings that you’re to blame for his or her anger and judgments. “Why can’t I be as smart as X,” you might think, “then I would make my partner happier, I just know it.”

The thing is that even if you jump through the endless series of hoops it will never be good enough. The narcissistic abuser will always find a way to make you blame yourself because they are feeding off your own self-blame and self-doubt and you’re not really the problem in the first place.

5) You self-isolate

Narcissistic abuse comes in many forms, but one of its most common characteristics is that it causes shame and fear.

The recipient of the abuse doesn’t want other people to find out. You may find yourself thinking “well, maybe it isn’t really that bad,” or finding other ways to keep things to yourself. You may downplay your narcissistic abuser’s behavior and think you deserve it.

As a result self-isolation can take place. You think nobody else “gets” it and only you really understand the narcissistic abuser and his or her motivations and true personality.

You stop wanting to go out with friends as much and stay in. You apologize to your abuser for things that aren’t your fault and participate in a never-ending cycle of trying to make them happy.

6) You’re full of fear and hyper-vigilance

Those who’ve faced narcissistic abuse walk around on eggshells. They don’t want to set anyone off or experience even more reasons why they’re supposedly bad, wrong or stupid.

If you’re a victim of narcissistic abuse you may find yourself self-monitoring your speech, actions and daily behavior to an unreasonable agree.

You doubt every second thing you do even something as simple as buying a certain product at the grocery store may trigger anxiety in you that it won’t be the right brand or taste.

The underlying negative emotion here is: I’m not good enough and I have to be careful that I don’t make even more people angry at me and get more of the angry response that I deserve.

7) Your emotional problems spread and become physical

The price of dealing with narcissistic abuse over the long-term can be high. It will often include serious depression, anxiety and deeply negative thought patterns and self-limiting beliefs.

If you’re facing narcissistic abuse your emotional problems can also spread and become physical. Eating disorders are particularly common as a form of self-punishment and self-denial, literally expressing the toxic and false belief that you are not good enough or there is something bad about you.

In addition, physical symptoms of stress and anxiety from heart palpitations to tension headaches, body aches, digestive problems and sleep difficulty are all very common for those dealing with narcissistic abuse.

8) You give up your dreams and put yourself second 

People with narcissistic personality types always put themselves first. They are the one who is important: you as the other piece of the equation are only there to serve and please them.

A narcissistic abuser will make you believe that you are being unreasonable if you try to put your own plans first or stick to your ambitions. You find yourself deferring future plans or even changing them completely just to satisfy the narcissistic abuser.

But if you doubt or disagree with the narcissist’s dreams you will be called out and put down as disloyal, negative and weak.

There’s never room for compromise in narcissistic abuse. It’s always the abuser’s way or the highway.

9) You can have dissociation and depersonalization

When we experience intense or repeated trauma our mind can often “split” off partly from our body in a psychological sense. This can create feelings of dissociation and depersonalization where we don’t really feel like we are ourselves.

This is made even worse by the negative reinforcement of the narcissistic abuser telling us all the ways we aren’t satisfactory, which is deeply damaging to our psyche.

It’s an awful and scary feeling that can cause extremely bad anxiety and lead to all sorts of worries. Dissociation is something you may be feeling if you’re dealing with narcissistic abuse.

10) You lose your own feelings of self-worth

When you’re trapped in narcissistic abuse you may come to fundamentally doubt your own self-worth. No matter how much people tell you that you are a great person you will tend to believe your abuser.

This decrease in self-worth can hit many areas of your life from your job to friendships and even family relationships.

Self-worth is key to standing up for ourselves which is why narcissistic abusers try their best to undermine it and get you fully serving and putting up with their constant egotism and self-focus.

How to stop narcissistic abuse before it spins out of control

If you’re in a relationship with a toxic narcissist there are steps you can take to solve and improve it before it becomes truly out of control.

1) Take a close, hard look at the narcissist

Take a close and objective look at the narcissist who is causing you pain. What is their story? What are the “scripts” they say to you?

You may be surprised to find that under the blame and toxic emotions is an insecure person trying to boost themselves up at your expense.

Learn to identify the narcissistic abuser’s key patterns and core issues and you will have completed the first and most important step of removing yourself from their grip: the realization that they are playing out their own power trip and emotional issues on you and that it was never your fault to begin with.

2) Look how they react when you stand up for yourself

It’s important to stand up for yourself if you’re trapped in a situation of narcissistic abuse. Watch what happens when you do.

If you are dealing with a very deeply-habituated narcissistic abuser they will flip out when things don’t go their way.

Even if you simply refuse to start arguing and say something mild like “well, I did my best,” watch how they flare out of control.

If the narcissistic abuser still has some self-discipline and objectivity left they may pause and rethink it or even begin to change, but if not it is time to seriously think about step three.

3) Know when to walk away

If your narcissistic abuser is in your family or friends and is not romantic this can be even harder to do, but sometimes it is simply absolutely necessary to walk away.

If you are facing emotional, physical or even sexual abuse it is time to close the door and leave. There is only so much you can do for someone and so many times you can be there for them until it becomes self-punishment.

You need to accept the truth: that you have been the victim of unacceptable behavior. Don’t let it be repressed down anymore.

You can do better. You are better. You deserve better.


As Ruda says in his free masterclass on love and intimacy, if we want to find the lasting love we truly deserve we need to think of all the ways we wish a partner would treat us and make us feel and then treat ourselves that way first.

You are worthy of respect and love, always remember that.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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