Narcissists employ a variety of techniques to abuse their victims in order to control them. For that is the purpose of abuse- to control the other person. A narcissist may use emotional abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse, or physical abuse. Verbal and physical abuses are straightforward-they are verbal and physical aggression directed at another person. Mental and emotional abuse is discussed as one and the same (often lumped together as “psychological abuse”) in many articles, but mental abuse is different from emotional abuse.
Mental abuse refers to the abuse of mental processes. Mental abuse is sometimes called “crazy making”. For example, when a narcissist tries to make their partner feel they are ‘crazy’ to cover their own guilt about something they want to hide. If they succeed in making their partner feel irrational and over-emotional, they may also lead other people in the family or community to believe their partner is unbalanced or ‘crazy’ too. The narcissist may do this to gain sympathy while hiding his or her own bad behavior. Instead of admitting responsibility for his or her failings, the mental abuser will attempt to put the blame on someone else.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is a form of abuse that affects the victim’s emotions; it is characterized by a person subjecting another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, poor self-esteem or post-traumatic stress disorder. Such abuse is often associated with situations of power imbalance such as in abusive relationships, bullying, and abuse in the workplace. Dominating behaviors are emotionally abusive (e.g., preventing someone from having contact with their family or jealous behaviors such as accusing a partner of maintaining other parallel relations). Another emotionally abusive trait includes causing fear by: intimidation, threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends, destruction of pets and property, forcing isolation from family, friends, or school or work. Rejecting, terrorizing, isolating, corrupting/exploiting and ignoring/silent treatment are also characteristics of emotional abuse.
A narcissist responds to their partner’s emotions in inappropriate ways. They may get grouchy when their partner is happy or they may act happy (or ignore them) when their partner feels angry, depressed or upset. They may even become aggressive and nasty when their significant other feels vulnerable, hurt or sad.
Another form of emotional abuse occurs when narcissists use their emotions to try and force their will on another person, e.g., insisting their partner obey them because they are angry, or expecting them to drop everything and ‘cheer them up’ if they are depressed, angry, sad or upset.
Emotionally Abusive Behaviors
The following are all behaviors a partner may experience from an emotionally abusive partner:
Withholding - Withholding love, affection, empathy, and intimacy
Countering – This is when the partner expresses a thought and the abuser immediately counters that view with his/her own without really listening to or considering it.
Discounting - When the abuser discounts the partner’s views or thoughts, tells the partner those ideas are insignificant, incorrect, or stupid. The abuser may even discount the partner’s memory about the abuse itself.
Blocking and diverting - When the partner wants to discuss a concern, the abuser changes the subject and prevents any discussion and resolution.
Accusing and blaming - The abuser will accuse the partner of some offense. The abuser may well know the partner is innocent of the supposed offense, but this tactic serves the purpose of putting the partner on the defensive rather than seeing clearly the behavior of the abuser.
Judging and criticizing - This serves to weaken the partner’s self-esteem and increases their looking to the abuser for validation.
Trivializing – This is when the abuser minimizes something that is important to the partner, such as a concern about something the abuser has done.
Undermining – When the partner wants to do something positive in her/his life, the abuser becomes threatened and tries to stop the partner. It may be an overt command, or it may be trying to subtly convince the partner why it’s a bad idea.
Threatening - This can include threats of divorce, of leaving, of abuse, or other threats of actions that would hurt (not necessarily physically) the partner or someone the partner cares about.
Forgetting - This includes the abuser ‘forgetting’ about incidents of abuse, which undermines the partner’s reality. The abuser may also ‘forget’ about things that they know are very important to their partner.
Ordering - Treating the partner as a child or a slave; denying the independence of the partner.
Denial – Similar to discounting, although here the abuser outright denies his/her actions. This discounts the reality of a partner.
Abusive Anger - When the abuser becomes enraged to the point of frightening the partner. This rage often is caused by incidents that a non-abuser would consider insignificant.
No matter which of the forms the narcissist uses, they are all abusive. Whether one labels what a narcissist does as verbal abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or economic abuse- some or all of these tactics are used to diminish their partner in order to keep them under his or her control.
Indeed, sometimes it is difficult to delineate what specific behaviors should be labeled what. How do you differentiate verbal abuse from emotional abuse when the abusive partner uses words to create the emotional pain? Labels don’t matter –not when you get right down to it. When you’re dealing with a narcissist, and you know his or her behavior has resulted in an abusive relationship, labeling each behavior he or she engages in isn’t important. What is important is that the narcissist is an abusive man or woman and that abuse is harming their partner.
*Emotional abuse can be just as (if not more) damaging as physical abuse.*