Sociopaths — meaning people who have antisocial, narcissistic, borderline, histrionic or psychopathic personality disorder — manipulate and exploit the other people in their lives. Their actions are almost impossible for regular, empathetic folks to understand. Suffice it to say that manipulation, exploitation and abuse are simply normal behaviors for them.
If you are, or were, in a relationship with a sociopath — as a romantic partner, family member, work colleague or neighbor — you have probably been damaged in some way.
Sociopaths typically engage in what has come to be known as “narcissistic abuse.” There is no official or concise definition of narcissistic abuse. One rather circular explanation is that narcissistic abuse is abuse perpetrated by narcissists. Other experts point out that multiple types of disordered individuals — such as antisocials and borderlines — perpetrate narcissistic abuse, not just narcissists.
Reference sources typically describe narcissistic abuse as a pattern of behavior that may include verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, financial and/or spiritual abuse. Usually, narcissistic abuse is illustrated by examples of specific behaviors.
Examples of narcissistic abuse
Narcissistic abuse is a course of conduct, not a single event. It happens time and time again. The perpetrator may engage in any of the following behaviors.
- Manipulating your emotions
- Saying you are unattractive
- Flirting with others and cheating
- Silent treatment
- Changing what he/she wants
- Refusing to offer support when you need it
- Trying to convince others that you are crazy
- Humiliating you
- Minimizing hurtful behavior
- Revealing private information about you
- Threatening suicide
- Intentionally scaring you
- Saying no one else will want you
- Saying things to hurt you, then claiming it never happened
- Gaslighting you, making you doubt your own perceptions
- Eroding your independence
- Playing family members against each other
- Pushing or shoving
- Scratching or biting
- Hitting, punching or kicking
- Choking or strangling
- Restraining you
- Throwing things
- Reckless driving
- Demanding sex when you do not want to participate
- Making you participate in activities you consider degrading
- Any sexual act without your consent
- Demanding money or your paycheck
- Controlling family finances
- Running up credit card debt
- Forging your signature on loan applications
- Failing to pay expenses and lying about it
- Withholding money for necessities
- Forcing you to participate in religious activities
- Using scripture or spiritual teachings to justify abuse
- Demanding to be forgiven
- Demanding obedience because of religious authority
- Accusing you of sins
Classic explanation of narcissistic abuse
Some elements of the narcissistic abuse concept date back to the famous psychologist, Sigmund Freud. He coined the term, “narcissistic injury,” which he described a perceived threat to a narcissist’s ego or self-esteem. When the narcissist feels the criticism, exposure or threat, it could lead to narcissistic rage — anything from the silent treatment to a verbal tirade to violence.
Narcissistic abuse is described as a defense mechanism. In order to protect their egos, narcissists go on the offensive to hurt, attack or diminish someone else.
Remember, narcissists aren’t the only ones who engage in narcissistic abuse. It’s a standard tactic employed by all sociopaths.
Narcissistic abuse in many types of relationships
Sociopaths, including narcissists, typically abuse, exploit or manipulate all significant people in their lives. Therefore, you could experience narcissistic abuse from a romantic partner, boss or work colleague, or a family member.
Narcissistic abuse is particularly damaging in families. In her Lovefraud webinar, Understanding Narcissistic Abuse, Tiffany Kettermann, LPC, CADCI, explains:
Narcissistic parents may speak of “maintaining the family image,” or “making mom or dad proud,” and may reject their children for showing “weakness,” “being too dramatic,” or not meeting the standard of “what is expected.” As a result, children of narcissists learn to “play their part” and to “perform their special skill,” especially in public or for others.
Children in these situations become extremely sensitive to their parents, giving up their own needs and wants in order to serve the parents’ need for self-esteem. When these children grow up, the pattern can continue — as adults, they continue to put everyone else before themselves.
If you have endured narcissistic abuse as a child or later in your life, you may be carrying deep internal wounds from the experience. These wounds make you vulnerable to sociopaths.
Therefore, it is absolutely essential for you to take steps to heal your wounds.
Click the “Next” link below and on the following pages. Or, jump right to a particular topic in the index.
Index of information on recovery from a sociopath
- 10 terms to describe your experience with a sociopath
- Why you feel an addiction to a sociopath
- How long does it take to recover from a sociopath?
- Recovery from a sociopath – give yourself time and distance