Narcissistic Abuse Vocabulary
Give Language to Your Experience -- Break through the Fog of Abuse and the Veil of Denial
The practice of a Narcissist changing their vernacular, behavior, or treatment of their Target in public or in front of those he/she wants to impress to appear kind, supportive, and loving. This Code-Switching confuses the Target and causes Cognitive Dissonance because the “public” behavior mirrors the Grooming (Love Bombing) treatment and is what they’ve wanted to return to stabilize the relationship.
A survival adaptation instinctively employed by the Target of psychological, emotional and/or physical abuse. They are always on guard, “walking on egg-shells,” seeking to anticipate and potentially avoid the Narcissist’s next attack. Hypervigilance is emotionally and physiologically debilitating because it drains the body’s natural defense system by constantly overloading it. Hypervigilance often leads to Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), and physical or mental illness. Narcissists themselves are hypervigilant to anything that might trigger their Narcissistic Injury.
Narcissists see the world and others in binary terms—good or bad, black or white, “with me or against me.” The person targeted by the Narcissist as a potential mate is seen as “perfect” – showered with special treatment, affection, and attention, and put on a pedestal; also called “love-bombing.” The target might feel as if they are living a Disney fairy tale. But when the target proves to be imperfect, the Narcissist cannot see them realistically – as a human being, with a mixture of strengths and flaws.
The Jekyll and Hyde Flip
A term to describe how the Narcissist will seemly switch “personalities” in front of their Target in private, often suddenly and without provocation. The Dr. Jekyll persona is loving and attentive while the Mr. Hyde persona is cold, vengeful, and full of rage.
Narcissist / A Narcissistically Abusive Person
An abusive, Unsafe Person in a Target's life who displays extreme traits of Narcissism, but who might or might not meet the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Narcissism exists on a continuum: on the one end is "healthy narcissism" related to a positive sense of self-worth; the other end is Malignant Narcissism which may also include sociopathic or psychopathic traits. A person who is on the extreme end of the scale employs abusive tactics and manipulation in all, or nearly all, of their relationships. More than just an occasional moment of self-absorption or lack of empathy, a Narcissist chooses these predatory and exploitive behavior patterns consistently. It is a lifestyle. Calculating and intentional -- Narcissists know exactly what they are doing. Narcissistic abuse is primarily psychological and emotional (though Targets may suffer physical abuse as well). Because of the false persona they present to the outside world – a charming mask that hides their cruelty – these perpetrators’ very covert and insidious methods of abuse escape notice. Targets spend much of the Devalue/Devastate Stage constantly on their toes lest they incur the wrath of their Narcissist. Yet this effort is fruitless, as the Narcissist can and will use anything and everything (real or fabricated) as a weapon against their Target.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
A name for a group of coping strategies that began as a childhood adaptation to developmental trauma that left the person with unstable self-esteem, the inability to regulate their self-esteem without external validation, and low empathy. This is a Cluster B personality disorder characterized by the following impairments: overreliance on others for self-definition; overreliance on others for regulation of self-esteem; lack of empathy; exploitative of others; grandiose delusions; exaggerated entitlement; excessive attention-seeking; and excessive admiration seeking. People with NPD also lack Whole Object Relations and Object Constancy.
Narcissistic personalities often react with rage when their underlying feelings of vulnerability and shame are triggered. The smallest of slights are seen as intensely humiliating. Feeling deeply threatened, they explode in a wild rage response. Narcissistic rage is terrifying (sometimes physically violent) and far beyond normal anger. It is emotionally and physically traumatizing for those on the receiving end.
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder or strong narcissistic traits, depend emotionally on others to sustain their sense of identity and regulate their self-esteem. They get their Narcissistic Supply from the attention and admiration from others, or by asserting their superiority. Any Target is a potential source of supply. Without suppliers, Narcissists are empty, soul-less shells. If a source of Supply pulls away, they may attempt to Hoover them back and/or look for other sources of Supply.
No Contact (NC)
People who have been abused by a Narcissist, or by a person with strong narcissistic traits, may choose to cut all ties with that person. This choice is often made after a pattern of abuse prevails and their boundaries have been traumatically violated. As a last-ditch measure to gain distance and separation, the target goes “No Contact.” This action is seen as a challenge to the Narcissist, who reacts with Hoovering or leads them to Discard the Target and move on to new sources of Narcissistic Supply.
Projection is attributing one’s own feelings, actions, or traits to someone else. Through projection, Narcissists blame their Target and deny accountability for the abuse. If they lie, you are the liar; if they are childish, you are immature; if they insult you, you are critical; if they demand reassurance, you are insecure. When a Narcissist accuses makes these kinds of accusations, they are, often ironically, admitting to their own behavior.
Target (of the Narcissist)
Any person the Narcissist gains interest in as an available source of Narcissistic Supply. Can be a romantic partner, business associate, friend, child, etc.
When faced with long-term, repeated abuse, our brains are chemically wired to focus on getting to the “other side,” to relieve the pain. In Narcissistic Abuse, the brain latches on to the positive experience (Idealization & Love-Bombing) rather than the negative impact of the Devalue and Devastation. During the body’s threat response (fight, flight, freeze, fawn), the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking shuts down. Ironically, in the nervous system of the Narcissist’s target, their abuser is “mapped” as a source of safety and “love.” Trauma-bonding has a hormonal attachment component, creating a chemical dependence in the target. The imprint of the love-bombing is so embedded in the nervous system and brain of the target that they are extremely vulnerable to the repeating cycle, always clinging to the hope that the narcissist will go back to being loving and attentive once and for all. This type of conditioning is exploited by narcissists, giving rise to the description of “abuse by mind control and chemical dependence.”
Whole Object Relations and Object Constancy
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder lack Object Constancy and Whole Object Relations. Whole Object Relations is the capacity to see oneself and others in a stable and integrated way that acknowledges both the person’s good and bad qualities. Object Constancy refers to the ability to maintain, in real-time, a positive emotional connection to someone (partner, friend, etc) while you are feeling anger, hurt or disappointed by them. Because they lack these two very important traits, Narcissists can only see themselves and their Targets in one of two ways: either they are special, unique, and perfect (High Status); or they are defective and worthless (Low Status). This means that the Narcissist cannot hold onto their positive regard for their Target once they notice, inevitably, the Target is a Human Being, with all of the normal strengths and flaws. The Target goes from being special and put on a pedestal to being devalued as “garbage.” Narcissists often see-saw back and forth between these two as they intermittently reinforce their Idealization.
**Content adapted in part from "Narcissism 101: A Glossary of Terms for Understanding the Madness" by Kimberly Weeks