From the outside, narcissistic people look “normal.”
They’re often charming, outgoing and idolized by others simply because they appear so perfect.
But to you, they’re anything but perfect.
You’re never at ease around the narcissistic person, and you can’t pinpoint exactly why. You can’t reconcile the “perfect” image most people have of the narcissistic person with your experiences behind closed doors.
Worst of all, you feel like there’s no one you can talk to about your problem with this person. How can you think such things about a person who’s so admired by others?
Rest assured you’re not alone.
Many others like you suffer in silence and are probably reading content like this right now to reassure themselves that they’re not crazy. (Spoiler alert: You’re not.)
It’s tough to live with a narcissistic person, and it’s even tougher to find a way out of your predicament when no one else realizes you’re in a predicament to begin with.
Luckily, by searching out the common signs of narcissistic abuse, you’ve already taken the first step to healing and liberation.
If you’re not sure whether you live with a narcissist or not, the following points may help clear things up.
Here are 8 signs of narcissistic abuse that you should learn to recognize:
1. You Often Please Others (Especially the Narcissist) at Your Own Expense
You cater to the narcissist’s every whim, regardless of the cost to yourself.
You do everything for this person, short of giving them the moon and the stars. If you dare to do otherwise, the narcissist makes sure you don’t “defy” him or her again.
As a result, you let other people walk all over you as well. People don’t acknowledge you have needs, because you don’t do the same for yourself.
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You’re taken advantage of more often than not, and even if you feel resentful about it, it seems you don’t have the power to break the vicious cycle.
2. You’re an Overachiever
If you had a narcissistic parent, you probably felt the pressure to be the “perfect” child.
You got top grades — not because you wanted to, but because your parent needed to live their dreams through you.
Make one tiny mistake, and you’re a “failure” as far as your parent is concerned.
Because of this upbringing, you’re extremely hard on yourself. You may be a workaholic and/or a perfectionist, and it’s taking a toll on your health, relationships and other aspects of your life.
You keep telling yourself that what you do is for the best, but you sometimes can’t help but wonder “Oh, who am I kidding? My life is a mess!”
3. You’re an Underachiever
On the other hand, your narcissistic parent may not expect anything of you.
In fact, he or she expects so little that they tell you things like “Oh, don’t worry about being a straight-A student like your sister. You’ll never be like her anyway.”
Naturally, having no one else to tell you otherwise, you believe your parents. You internalize the idea that there’s nothing lovable or special about you at all, and it shows in your self-confidence (or lack thereof).
You feel like everything you do is a complete waste of time, and even if you do achieve something noteworthy, you tell yourself it’s all a fluke.
4. You Have a Vague Sense of Self
As much as you resent the narcissist, you also find it difficult to imagine a life without them.
You’ve become so used to being their “extension,” that the idea of breaking free from their shackles is just as scary as — if not more so — than putting up with them on a day-to-day basis.
You subconsciously believe that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.
But oh, the cost of being someone else’s shadow!
Your identity has always been based around the narcissist’s, so when you’re left to your own devices, you feel like one tiny boat in the middle of a raging ocean.
If someone were to ask you who you are, “I don’t know,” is the most honest answer you can come up with.
5. You Feel Excessively Stifled
Whether the narcissist is with you physically or not, you always feel like they’re over your shoulder, watching and judging every move you make.
You can’t talk to the narcissist about your dreams, because they laugh at you.
You can’t show your vulnerability around them, because they use it against you.
You don’t feel free to make your own decisions, because the narcissist prefers to make the decisions for you.
6. You Feel Like You’re Going Crazy
Whenever you try to confront the narcissist, they throw your accusations back at you.
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You hear things like you’re “overreacting,” “over-sensitive” and even “crazy.” You experience gaslighting, where the narcissist makes you question your own sanity by denying the abuse.
Related: 30 Signs of Emotional Abuse
When this goes on for a long time, you begin to wear down. You begin to wonder whether fighting back against the narcissist is worth it.
Worst of all, you begin to think that maybe the narcissist was right, that maybe you were in the wrong all along.
7. You Fear That You’re a Narcissist Yourself
This is probably the most frightening effect of living with a narcissist.
Since you had no one else to model healthy behavior for you, you learned that the best way to survive in the world is to “join them, if you can’t beat them.”
That’s why you find it difficult to empathize with others. You can’t help but talk about yourself in conversations, even when people complain that you’re always making it “all about you.”
You feel superior to everyone else, and yet when you make a mistake or are criticized, no one takes it harder than you do.
You look up the signs and symptoms of narcissism, and you’re horrified to realize that they fit you to a T.
8. You Experience Symptoms of Other Mental Illnesses
Even if you manage not to fall into narcissistic behaviors yourself, you may still experience these other signs of narcissistic abuse:
Anxiety. You’re so used to being in a hypervigilant mode around the narcissist that it’s become your default mode, and you constantly feel a low level anxiety.
Insomnia. You’re so anxious and stressed about your situation, you hardly sleep at night. You have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
Memory Loss/Selective Memory. In order to cope with the suffering you experience at the hands of the narcissist, your brain may lock away some of your more painful memories.
Dissociation. You feel like your “real self” is somewhere else or that you have multiple selves inside you.
Depression. You feel hollowed out and empty inside. You no longer enjoy the activities you used to. Most days, you’d rather stay in bed and never get up.
Suicidal Thoughts. Self-explanatory. If you have these sorts of thoughts, call your nearest suicide hotline ASAP.
What to Do Next
If you suspect you live with a narcissist and experience any of the signs above, the best solution is to find a therapist as soon as you can.
But if seeking treatment isn’t an option for you right now, the steps below can help you cope for the time being.
1. Establish boundaries.
Let the narcissist know what you’re willing and not willing, to do. For example, if they call you foul names over the phone, say “I will not let you talk to me like that anymore. One more offensive word out of your lips, and I’m hanging up.”
This may be hard to do if you’re not used to being assertive, but it’s essential that you know how to set boundaries with a narcissist.
2. Keep your health in top shape
Studies have consistently shown a positive relationship between physical and mental health, so don’t neglect either of them.
Maintain a balanced diet, regular exercise schedule and strong network of friends. The stronger you are inside and out, the easier it’ll be to resist the narcissist’s machinations.
3. Distance yourself.
If possible, find a place to stay where you can be as far away from the narcissist as possible.
This way, you can give yourself breathing room to think about what to do next.
But if you can’t leave them for one reason or another, you’ll have to learn how to deal with narcissists without giving up your personal power.
Dealing with a narcissist can break your spirit and make you question everything about yourself and your ability to have healthy, positive relationships.
Narcissists often operate within societal norms when you first meet them, making them extremely difficult to detect who they really are before you become deeply involved with them.
Recognizing the signs of narcissistic abuse is the first step in reclaiming your power and untangling yourself from the emotional traps set by these difficult people.