9 Signs Of Narcissistic Abuse, Explained By A Therapist

These signs say you aren't overreacting — you're a victim of narcissistic abuse.

Woman suffering from narcissistic abuse janiecbros, Karolina Grabowska | Canva 

After yet another high-drama argument with your partner about the same issue, deep down in the pit of your gut, you know something is wrong with this person. 

You don't want to be accused of overreacting, so you hesitate to call what they're doing emotional abuse or allow yourself to think they might be a narcissist.

RELATED: The Scientific Reason So Many Women Stay In Emotionally Abusive Relationships


Here are 9 signs of narcissistic abuse, explained by a therapist:

1. Your partner lacks empathy and is extremely selfish.

If your partner habitually disregards your needs and feelings, there is a good chance they don’t care about you because their only true goal in life is finding out what others can do for them.

Low empathy goes hand-in-hand with the ability to use others for personal gain. If behaving kindly and generously toward you results in some benefit for them, they will do it.

This contradictory behavior undoubtedly leaves you feeling bewildered because you realize that they do know how to behave but are deliberately choosing not to.




2. Your partner is arrogant and egotistical.

If your partner has the expectation they are viewed and treated as superior — with or without accomplishments to back it up — it’s pretty likely there’s something not right there. They might exaggerate their achievements or even make their hero stories up altogether.

Interestingly, they may seek out other people who they believe are equally exceptional because anything less would be unworthy of them and all of their self-aggrandized supremacy, all the while seething with resentment toward them.



3. Your partner has an insatiable need for approval and reverence.

If you notice a pattern of your partner needing you to constantly stroke their ego and tell them they are geniuses, smoking hot, and more talented than everyone else at everything, it’s likely to have made you wonder. Could you remember this ego boost for longer than 20 minutes before you need another compliment?


They might also be fixated on illusions of power, status, authority, intellect, and other externally focused qualities because they need to feed a need for significance.



4. Your partner asserts power and dominance.

Narcissists have a fragile sense of self, and because of these deep-rooted feelings of weakness, they overcompensate by being power/control freaks.

They often seek jobs and relationships where they are in a position of power, where they can justifiably force others to do things their way or have influence over situations to reinforce their continual need to prove their self-importance.


Sadly, they may seek out strong partners, enjoying the challenge of breaking them down.

RELATED: 4 Less Obvious Signs Of Gaslighting That Most People Miss



5. Your partner has an overinflated sense of entitlement.

Does your partner demand and expect they deserve immediate, unquestioning, and automatic compliance? Do they feel slighted if they perceive life as difficult as if they were owed something special? Do they feel entitled to respect, love, and compassion but don’t feel responsible to extend the same courtesy to others?


If this is the case, it’s not just a bad attitude, it’s an attitude that has turned malignant.



6. Your partner feels resentment and envy at the success of other people.

This follows along with their entitled outlook on life. They may see another person’s accomplishment as a threat to their superiority and feel competitive toward them. They are often petty, childish, and jealous because they see people as competition.

Due to this faulty mindset, they also believe others are jealous of them.




7. Your partner is vindictive, aggressive, and moody.

When individuals are resentful, entitled, and have a corresponding immature emotional development, they tend to behave in patterns of unpredictability. Like Jekyll and Hyde, their behavior fluctuates widely (and quickly) between normal and outright reprehensible.

They’re often passive-aggressive, moody, whiny, see themselves as the victim, busy themselves with plotting and exacting revenge on others, and enjoy lashing out.

All of these traits lead your inner voice to scream, "What in the world is wrong?"




8. Your partner is defensive and hypersensitive.

Narcissists are unable to accept criticism and tend to view any feedback as threatening and insulting.

If you notice your partner is overly upset when you offer the slightest suggestion contrary to what they have said, are annoyed if you give them feedback, or even fly into a rage if you outright disagree with them, you are dealing with someone who is undeniably toxic.



9. Your partner has a shifting personality.

This is the basis of a poorly formed sense of self and is usually displayed as overt shows of love and kindness followed by acts of cruelty and shifting opinions.


There is an utter frustration of being with someone who presents themselves as having solid (even over-inflated) opinions that are given as true convictions one minute but state contradicting opinions hours or minutes later. You know this character deficit is extraordinary.

Their chosen persona is often based on the company they are in, their goal (admiration, stirring the pot, or sounding educated), and how they will benefit.

People experiencing narcissistic abuse often feel a gut instinct to run early on but talk themselves into ignoring even the most glaring signs. Unfortunately, continuing to deal with a narcissist for an extended period only leads to more pain.



RELATED: 21 Warning Signs Of Emotional Abuse In Relationships


What is narcissistic abuse?

Only qualified mental health professionals can diagnose someone with NPD (or any mental health condition). Educating yourself about narcissistic abuse can potentially save you or someone you love a tremendous amount of trauma.

Narcissistic abuse is a form of emotional and psychological abuse inflicted by a person with character traits consistent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) or other related personality disorders, such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Antisocial Personality Disorder (i.e., sociopaths or psychopaths).

As Alice Little, author of Narcissistic Abuse Truths, explains, “Narcissists withhold affection to punish you. Withhold attention to get revenge. And withhold an emotional empathetic response to make you feel insecure... Narcissistic abuse is not just that someone dumped you or who you had a little tiff with. NA is psychological abuse and brainwashing using intermittent reward and punishment, coercive control, and withholding normal empathetic, emotional reactions to lower your self-esteem."

So, that deep-seated feeling is your wise inner voice informing you that this relationship isn't normal, this person refuses accountability for their actions — how can you possibly be to blame for everything? — and that you may be a victim of narcissistic abuse.


While the person treating you this way may not meet all of the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of NPD, they may still display several narcissistic traits, and their treatment of you may certainly rise to the level of narcissistic abuse.

What is narcissistic victim syndrome?

If you recognize any of the above signs in your relationship, you could be suffering from narcissistic victim syndrome. Simply put, narcissistic victim syndrome describes the effects of narcissistic abuse, which can be long-lasting and have detrimental effects on the sufferer’s mental health.

These effects on mental health include depression, loneliness, stress, anxiety, fatigue, and many symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- flashbacks to traumatic experiences, intrusive thoughts, and emotional or physical triggers.



How does it feel to live with a narcissist?

Narcissists are unable to feel empathy, meaning they neither care nor understand the feelings of their partner. This makes it hard to deal with them, let alone share the same space. For individuals living with a narcissist, this repeated toxic behavior causes a major blow to self-esteem and self-worth.


Narcissists are bullies who rope people in with their charming demeanor only to create crazy behavior in their relationships. They lie, have no compassion, and gaslight their partners. So, imagine living with this behavior daily, being bullied into feeling worthless, and questioning your sanity in the process.

If your partner possesses these traits, you're in a toxic relationship and are a victim of narcissistic abuse. Listen to the warning bells going off in your head and get out. This is your survival instinct that refuses to allow your self-worth to be shattered. Tell that narcissistic abuser in your life to pound sand before it's too late.



How to Get Help With Narcissistic Abuse

The first step to leaving an abusive relationship or situation is to seek out counseling to rebuild your self-esteem and become strong enough to heal. Abuse leads to significant effects on your health, both emotional and physical; because of this, therapy is an essential part of healing.


Finding the right therapist may require a bit of research, but therapy is beneficial in helping you realize that this isn’t your fault, validating your experiences, providing healthy coping strategies to improve your mental health, and giving you steps for reclaiming your self-worth and learning to trust again.

In addition to therapy, surrounding yourself with a support system of friends and family is helpful to moving forward.

When you’re struggling with feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed due to an abusive situation, the strong support of close loved ones means you have a source of validation, strength, and faith in yourself.



If you think you may be experiencing depression or anxiety as a result of ongoing emotional abuse at the hands of a narcissist, you are not alone.


Domestic abuse can happen to anyone and is not a reflection of who you are or anything you've done wrong.

If you feel as though you may be in danger, there is support available 24/7/365 through the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 1-800-799-7233. If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474.

RELATED: Why Leaving A Narcissist Is So Hard — And How To Get Away In 7 Steps

Joanne Brothwell MSW, RSW, CLC, APE is a therapist, social worker, author, and psychotherapist who specializes in helping survivors of abuse deal with trauma and depression.