Narcissistic victim syndrome describes the mental, emotional, and other consequences a person may experience due to a relationship with an abusive person with narcissistic personality disorder.
While not a diagnosable condition itself, narcissistic victim syndrome describes the potentially long lasting effects of living with and experiencing abuse from a person with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
Long-term abuse can lead to anxiety, self-doubt, and other mental health-related signs and symptoms.
This article reviews what narcissistic victim syndrome is, what NPD is, and common signs of abuse related to NPD.
Narcissistic victim syndrome describes potentially long lasting mental, emotional, and social effects that have an association with abuse from a person with NPD.
It is not a diagnosable condition. Researchers have also not widely studied it or discussed it in scientific literature.
For example, a 2019 study looked at how seven people who experienced abuse from a person with NPD described their current or former partner. Despite interviewing these people, the aim of the study was to better classify and describe NPD and its relationship to domestic abuse.
NPD is a complex mental health condition. Though it often presents as grandiose, it may also present as vulnerable.
People with NPD
Not everyone with narcissistic personality disorder displays abusive traits.
Manipulation can make a person question their own reality, confuse them, or lower their self-esteem. Some common abusive behaviors a person with NPD may display include:
- Scapegoating: Partners or parents may place all the blame on their partner or one child. This is known as scapegoating.
- Passive aggression: Passive aggressive behaviors may occur if a partner sabotages their partner’s efforts, indirectly shifts blame, or uses sarcasm heavily.
- Gaslighting: This makes a person question their own reality and judgment by questioning their memory and manipulating facts.
- Hoovering: Named after the vacuum brand, this involves a person sucking a victim back into their lives after a breakup.
- Triangulation: Involves bringing a third person into an argument to reinforce their position or opinion.
- Silent treatment: Purposefully ignoring an individual to make them feel isolated or alone.
The following sections describe some potential signs and side effects of NPD-related abuse. Not everyone will experience abuse in the same way. Some behaviors may present more subtly than others.
Dissociation as a survival mechanism
People sometimes use dissociation as a defense mechanism from abuse. Dissociation involves feeling detached from the usual sense of self or surroundings. It may also take the form of amnesia or associating some events as occurring to someone else.
In this case, the brain of a person experiencing abuse or trauma tries to cope with emotional pain and stress by blocking out the pain and escaping current reality. It can look like obsessive behaviors, addictions, or repression.
A person with NPD may appear perfect at first. They may shower a person with gifts, compliments, and other positive interactions that make the other person feel loved and appreciated. This can be known as “love bombing.”
Once the other person falls in love, the individual with NPD may slowly replace adoration and other positive aspects with manipulative behaviors.
A person with NPD typically needs to maintain their perfect appearance to the outside world. Others not in an intimate relationship with the person will often only see this side of the person.
A smear campaign may begin when a partner starts to question their behaviors. The person with NPD may try to get others to criticize their partner as well. If a partner gets angry at the attacks, it can reinforce what the person with NPD is saying about them.
They may also lash out at the person verbally. This may include threats or insults.
Doubt from others
Just as a person with NPD may have hidden their behaviors from their partner at first, they may continue to hide their less favorable actions from friends, coworkers, and others. This can cause other people to question or doubt what the person experiencing abuse says about their partner.
Isolation can occur as low self-esteem and a desire to hide perceived shame from abuse increases. This can make it difficult for a person to reach out to others for help or assistance or lead to additional mental health concerns, such as depression.
Freezing up is a defensive response to a stressful or traumatic event. Freezing up
Difficulty making decisions
Over time, a person may find their self-esteem and confidence begin to decrease. This can make it difficult for them to make decisions because they doubt their own ability to make good choices.
Feeling as though they have done something wrong
Narcissistic victim syndrome may include feelings of always doing something wrong. This may occur due to the person with NPD constantly blaming their partner for things that go wrong or having irrational responses to interactions with their partner.
Unexplained physical symptoms
Over time, a person may develop unusual, unexplained physical symptoms. These may be nonspecific and have no known cause, such as stomach upset, insomnia, or fatigue. A person may also have unexplained aches and pains.
Living with a person with NPD can become unpredictable. They may shower the other person with compliments or gifts or criticize and manipulate them. The unpredictable nature of their attention can lead to feelings of restlessness and unease.
Anxiety and depression
Different forms of abuse may lead to depression or other mental health issues, such as anxiety, according to a
Experiencing abuse can affect a person mentally, emotionally, and physically. Seeking help can be challenging due to self-doubt, belief of deserving abuse, or other barriers.
Help is available locally and nationally.
A person can safely look for help and support using the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website or contacting them at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or texting “SAFE” to 88788.
Healthcare professionals, mental health professionals, social workers, or community groups may also be a good starting point for finding help and support.
If a person believes they are in immediate physical danger, they should call 911.
Narcissistic victim syndrome is not a diagnosable condition. It describes a potential set of experiences and side effects of a person experiencing abusive behaviors from a person with NPD.
Local groups, mental health professionals, support groups, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline can provide help and support for those experiencing any form of abuse.