What are the signs of narcissistic abuse and what can you do about it?

Can you see the signs of narcissistic abuse - CALDA Clinic
Author: Claudia M. Elsig, MD

“Narcissists and psychopaths are everywhere. They are hard to detect and harder to cope with.”  These are the words of Sam Vaknin, Professor of psychology, expert on narcissism, and author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, the first-ever book on narcissistic abuse.1

A narcissist could be your neighbour, boss or colleague, or a difficult partner, parent, or child. Perhaps you are dating a narcissist? Whoever the perpetrator is, those on the receiving end of a narcissist, often experience a life of solitude, pain, and fear.

The exclusive CALDA Clinic specializes in personalized rehabilitation programmes for mental health, including treatment for problems that have arisen from narcissistic abuse. This blog explores some of the signs to watch out for and provides guidance on what to do to.

So, how do you know if you have a narcissist in your life?

What is narcissistic behaviour?

The first signs that indicate your partner/boss/friend is a narcissist will likely be subtle. At first, they will shower you with praise, and in the case of romance, love. The relationship may feel almost too perfect. When the first cracks start to appear, behaviour may manifest as an occasional angry outburst, or you may notice that the person is unable to take feedback or criticism of any kind. Or they may begin to comment negatively on your appearance or behaviour.

Narcissists are generally domineering, dictating what you do, where you go, and even what you wear. This will slowly appear as the relationship moves forward. The narcissist in your life will begin to dismiss you and your needs and if you try to reason with them, they will belittle you, saying things such as – “you’re being over dramatic” or “don’t be ridiculous.” Your dreams, ideas and needs don’t register to them at all, because they lack the ability to care and are incapable of feeling empathy for you.

Narcissists have an air of self-importance. They behave with entitlement, expect constant praise, and believe themselves to be superior. They may be boastful and arrogant, expecting people to rally around them. When a narcissistic person doesn’t get what he or she wants, they become impatient, rude and angry. A narcissist feels easily slighted and is often moody. He (or she) will never perceive that there is a problem with their own behaviour – fault always lies with somebody else.

A narcissist has no problem with destroying relationships openly and recklessly.

Why are people narcissistic?

Professor Vaknin describes the narcissist as having an “assemblage of personalities in one body.”2 It is impossible to figure out a narcissist because behaviours flit between two spaces. Although the narcissist can appear to be unpredictable, unfathomable and complex, in reality, Vaknin says, they are actually “a very simple, binary machine” with “the behaviour of a two-year-old.”

This, he explains, stems from parenting that hasn’t allowed the child to separate appropriately from the mother. The child has been unable to take on reality and ‘individualate’. Narcissists develop as such because they have had an emotionally painful, neglectful, or even abusive, childhood.

Narcissists’ relationships are often based on surface attributes, such as beauty, power and wealth. The narcissist wants to surround himself (or herself) with people who align with a grandiose image, so they are often attracted to strong-willed people. At first, the narcissist will idealize their partner, putting them on a pedestal – this is the space of shared fantasy. They are attracted to people who reflect well on themselves, as they like to show off. At the outset, a narcissist will come across as being likeable and charming.

As the relationship develops (when the honeymoon period is over), the narcissist becomes disillusioned, dysregulated, and aggressive. When the behaviour of the narcissist flips, he (or she) will seek to destroy the talents and attributes they at first admired. At this stage, the narcissist is in, what Vaknin describes as, ‘the pathological narcissistic space’. This is when the narcissist will show their true colours. They may become verbally abusive, manipulate, use emotional blackmail, and gaslight. They may withhold money, sex or communication; anything to make their victim feel emotionally unstable.

What is the impact of narcissistic abuse?

Narcissists can be hard to detect; they are manipulative and exploitative, and many won’t display extreme narcissistic behaviour. In other words, many are not ‘textbook’ narcissists. But, as Vaknin reminds us, narcissists are everywhere. They have, Vaknin says, risen to the top in all aspects of life from politics to show business, law enforcement, the media, the judiciary and even the clergy. Everyone knows a narcissist.

The impact of this is huge. There are now many, many victims of narcissistic abuse, including in the higher echelons of society.

So, what is the impact for those on the receiving end?

Narcissistic abuse is largely emotional but can involve physical and sexual abuse too. As in any abusive relationship, the perpetrator wears the victim down. Consistent emotional trauma over a long period of time can cause victims to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Such persistent traumatic stress has been shown to have a real physiological impact on the brain, damaging the ability to think clearly and negatively affecting the capacity for learning.3

The constant devaluation metered out by a narcissist leaves the victim with low confidence and low self-esteem. Imagine how you might feel if you are constantly told that you are wrong.

In the short term, as the body internalizes the stress, it can cause physical symptoms, such as body aches and pains, headaches, and digestive problems.

Long-term symptoms can include cognitive, behavioural and emotional problems. For example, confusion, nightmares, poor thinking, poor attention, poor problem-solving, poor decision-making, poor memory, disorientation, feeling withdrawn, on edge, inability to rest, antisocial, hyperalert, feeling fear, guilt, or shame, feeling irritable, anxious, depressed, angry, or overwhelmed.

What can you do?

First, it is important to understand that the impact of narcissistic abuse is complex and can be deep. But don’t be disheartened, you can thrive after narcissistic abuse, with the right help.

Some narcissistic abuse victims will try to change the person; to help them. But this is futile. Narcissistic types have no desire to change and will constantly react to the world according to their distorted view. They think themselves perfect and can’t understand why others don’t see them as being anything other than fabulous, clever, brilliant, and so on.

For those still in a relationship with a narcissist, it is not easy to disengage. Life in a narcissistic relationship can feel like walking on eggshells! But taking the path of least resistance and remaining in an abusive relationship will eventually take its toll. If you try to leave, they may beg you not to, and shower you with gifts, but know that a narcissist will always go back to their abusive ways.

You can, however, take back control. You will need to confide in trusted friends or family to help you develop an exit plan. When you distance yourself from your abuser, it is best to have no contact at all, though this may not be possible completely if you have children together. In that case, you must keep any conversations limited to what is absolutely necessary and avoid small talk. This is critical if you want to heal from such a toxic relationship.

It is extremely painful to heal from narcissistic abuse. Therapy can help you process and recover from the trauma, teaching you coping skills and enabling you to set boundaries and communicate effectively in the future.

It is important that you choose a therapy clinic/therapist who is experienced in treating this type of trauma.

The CALDA Clinic

The CALDA Clinic is a private Swiss institution specializing in rehabilitation programs for the mental health of VIPs, UHNWIs and prominent figures. The unique CALDA Concept guarantees tailored precision medicine and individual one-to-one premium support, including individual counselling and state-of-the-art psychiatry administered by a highly qualified team and network of experts. The CALDA Concept is highly regarded as an effective treatment for narcissistic abuse.

If you would like to know more about the CALDA Concept, please contact us personally. Absolute discretion, trust and humanity take top priority at CALDA. All clients are self-payers, which ensures that absolute secrecy is possible.

Reference sources

  1. Prof. Sam Vaknin, YouTube,
  2. Prof. Sam Vaknin, 23 Sept 2021, YouTube: Narcissist: From Mommy-Partner to Fantasy World – And Back
  3. Shirley Davis, CPTSD Foundation, 22 Jun 2020: The Neuroscience of Narcissism and Narcissistic Abuse