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This article is purely for educational purposes only and is not designed to diagnose anybody with Narcissistic Victim Syndrome or to suggest that that these signs means that however you have had in your life who made you feel like this, is a narcissistic. If you feel like you have been a victim, talk to a professional such as a GP or somebody you trust in order to try and access support.
Narcissistic Victim Syndrome is a term which collectively describes specific and often severe side effects of narcissistic abuse. Many experts acknowledge narcissistic abuse can have a serious, long lasting impact on emotional health (Raypole, 2020) although out is not recognised as a mental health condition.
As a result of chronic abuse, victims may struggle with symptoms of PTSD or complex PTSD if they had additional traumas like being abused by narcissistic parents or even what is known as “Narcissistic Victim Syndrome” (Cannonville, 2015; Staggs 2016 cited in Arabi, 2017).
People will choose to abuse and manipulate others and it is possible for people to live with traits of narcissism without any kind of abusive behaviour in their lives.
With that in mind, here are 10 signs that might suggest you have narcissistic victim syndrome.
- You felt like that you had the perfect relationship with that person…in the beginning.
In a romantic relationship, research from 2019 suggests, this abuse typically begins slowly, after you’ve fallen hard and fast (Howard, 2019). In the early stages of the relationship, this is when the ‘Love Bombing’ usually occurs; they may shower you with gifts and affections and it can feel very intense. Then slowly, manipulative tactics start to invade the relationship and replace the ‘Love Bombing’.
In the case of narcissistic parents; they might also offer love, adoration, praise, and financial support until you do something to displease them and lose their favour (Raypole, 2020). Tactics like such as gaslighting and silent treatment occur which can leave you questioning your own sanity and this is something which sticks with you, even after the relationship with the individual has ended.
2. You feel like you are walking on eggshells
A common symptom of trauma is avoiding anything that represents reliving the trauma – whether it be people, places or activities that pose that threat (Arabi, 2017). You may feel like you are constantly worrying and being careful about what you say or do around people because that is how you used to behave when you were around the individual in question. You may present as anxious and introverted especially in the presence of other people through fear that they may judge you.
3. You may have experienced ‘smear campaigns’ once the relationship ended.
When break ups happen, it is not uncommon that some people will take sides with opposite parties and support them. This is no different with narcissistic abuse. Often they will twist your words and tell their version of the story to others to try and get them to feel sorry for them. They can often win support from your loved ones (who haven’t seen through the facade) by insisting they only have your best interests at heart. Then, when you try explaining the abuse, your loved ones might side with them (Raypole, 2020. This can cause barriers between you and your closest support networks and can leave you feeling isolated.
4. You feel isolated and vulnerable.
This next point goes hand in hand with the previous point. When your loved ones don’t or won’t listen to you and your concerns, this can leave you feeling very much alone. When you feel alone, this leaves you vulnerable to further manipulation from the abuser. They may pull you back in with kindness, by fake apologies or by pretending the abuse never happened! This tactic, known as hoovering ((12 Signs You’re Being Hoovered By a Narcissist, 2019) works better when you lack support as you are more likely to doubt your perceptions of the abuse when you can’t talk to anyone about it.
5. You have developed a pervasive sense of mistrust.
You may have noticed that you have become hyper vigilant; in other words, any person represents a threat to you and you find yourself becoming anxious about the intentions of others (Arabi, 2017). The gaslighting techniques used by the narcissistic abuser may have contributed to how you view the world and you may find that you have a hard time trusting anyone, including yourself.
6. You may engage in self sabotaging and self-destructive behaviour.
Victims often find themselves ruminating over the abuse. This can enhance the frequency of negative self-talk and tendency towards self-sabotage (Arabi, 2017). Malignant narcissists will tend to ‘program’ and condition their victims to self-destruct and this could potentially lead you to engage in risky behaviour such as self-harm or even suicidal ideation.
As narcissists can present as covert or overt in their verbal put-downs and hypercriticism, victims can develop a tendency to punish themselves because they carry such toxic shame (Arabi, 2017). If you feel like you have stopped pursuing your dreams and goals, then this could be a result of narcissistic abuse, especially if the abuser has instilled a sense of worthlessness inside of you.
7. You may experience unexplained physical symptoms.
Narcissistic abuse can trigger anxious and nervous feelings that sometimes lead to physical symptoms (Pietrangelo, 2017). The stress of chronic abuse may send your cortisol levels into overdrive and as a result your immune system may take a severe hit, leaving you vulnerable to physical ailments and disease (Bergland, 2013). You may notice symptoms such as appetite changes, nausea, stomach pain, muscle aches and pains, insomnia and fatigue.
8. You may have issues setting boundaries.
The experience of narcissistic abuse can often leave you with little respect for boundaries. This may be because when you tried to set boundaries in the past, you may have been met with challenges from the abuser who will give you silent treatment until you do what they want. Once you end the relationship or get distance from a narcissistic parent, you promise yourself you won’t answer their calls and texts or see them at all (Raypole, 2020).
However, even when this has ended, they know that they will eventually wear you down because you have set aside your boundaries so many times before. If you’ve experienced narcissistic abuse, you might also have trouble setting healthy boundaries in your relationships with others in the future.
9. You may question your own identity.
When facing abuse, many people eventually adjust their self-identity to accommodate an abusive partner (Raypole, 2020). You probably stopped doing the things you enjoyed and spending time with friends and family in order to appease your abuser.
These changes can often lead to a loss of identity during and after the abuse. It is not uncommon for victims of narcissistic abuse to experience disassociation and detachment from the physical world. Dr. Van der Kolk (2015) writes in his book, The Body Keeps the Score, “Dissociation is the essence of trauma. The overwhelming experience is split off and fragmented, so that the emotions, sounds, images, thoughts and physical sensations take on a life of their own” (cited in Arabi, 2017).
10. You may find it hard to make decisions.
A pattern of devaluation and criticism can leave you with very little self-esteem and confidence (How to Stop Being Insecure and Build Self-Esteem, 2019. Narcissistic abuse often involves statements that imply that you are unable to make good decisions. Abusive partners may even called you stupid or ignorant directly or might have insulted you with a false and affectionate tone. Gaslighting tactics can also make you doubt your decision-making abilities (Gaslighting: Signs and Tips for Seeking Help, 2017). If someone has spent time manipulating you into believing you imagined things that actually took place, then this may have an effect on your perception of future events and decisions.
It is important to keep in mind that not all abuse is linked to narcissism and that not all people with a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) will engage in abusive behaviour. Likewise, many people who engage in abuse, don’t have NPD.
However, if you are reading this and are experiencing any of these symptoms or know somebody who is, try to reach out to somebody to talk about how you are feeling. If you are experiencing suicidal ideation, contact a crisis line or seek professional help as soon as you can so they can help support you to make a safety plan. It is not easy to leave an abusive relationship due to the intense trauma bonds that can develop and it can still affect you even after the relationships have ended. You may be signposted to a trauma-informed counsellor who understands and can help guide you through the symptoms of trauma.
I hope you found this article useful. It is understandable that this may be a triggering topic for some, so if you have been affected by the content, please reach out to somebody you trust. As always, if you have any feedback or comments regarding to the article, please leave a comment in the box below. We love hearing back from out readers at Psych2Go as we continue to work towards our mission to make psychology and mental health content accessible for everyone.
12 Signs You’re Being Hoovered By a Narcissist. (2019, December 17). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/hoovering
Arabi, S., & read, B. A. L. updated: 21 A. 2017 ~ 9 min. (2017, August 21). 11 Signs You’re the Victim of Narcissistic Abuse. Psych Central.com. https://blogs.psychcentral.com/recovering-narcissist/2017/08/11-signs-youre-the-victim-of-narcissistic-abuse/
Bergland, C. (2013, January 22). Cortisol: Why “The Stress Hormone” is public enemy no. 1. Retrieved August 21, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1
Gaslighting: Signs and Tips for Seeking Help. (2017). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/gaslighting
Howard, V. (2019). Recognising Narcissistic Abuse and the Implications for Mental Health Nursing Practice. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1080/01612840.2019.1590485
How to Stop Being Insecure and Build Self-Esteem. (2019). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-stop-being-insecure
Pietrangelo, A. (2017). The Effects of Stress on Your Body. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#1
Raypole, C. (2020) 12 Signs You Might Have Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. (2020, July 27). Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/narcissistic-victim-syndrome
Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. London: Penguin Books.