Spotting Narcissistic Abuse: The Toxic Cycle & Other Signs

by | Dec 20, 2023

Narcissistic abuse is a devious type of emotional and mental manipulation that can leave deep emotional scars. It happens when someone with a big ego, known as a narcissist, tries to control, dominate, and belittle their target. To protect yourself, it’s crucial to recognize the signs of narcissistic abuse. 

In this article, we’ll explore how to spot these signs and offer guidance on how to deal with this harmful behavior.

Getting to Know Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Before we dive into recognizing narcissistic abuse, it’s essential to grasp what narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is. Narcissistic folks often act very grandiose, lack empathy, and crave constant attention. Not every narcissist is abusive, but the ones who engage in narcissistic abuse typically take these traits to the extreme.

Remember, NPD is a mental disorder diagnosed by a licensed medical professional. While some people may display narcissistic behaviors, this alone does not necessarily mean they have NPD. Some individuals may show narcissistic traits but not have NPD. Others may have unconsciously adopted these traits due to their upbringing. They might not realize it or know how to change. Therapy can help if they acknowledge the harm and want to change these learned behaviors.

However, if you or someone you know is experiencing repeated patterns of the signs listed below, it is crucial for your well-being to break free from a narcissist’s grip.

Signs of Narcissistic Abuse

Detecting narcissistic abuse isn’t easy because it usually happens subtly and chips away at your self-esteem over time. Here are some common signs to watch for:

  • Showering You with Love, Then Putting You Down: At the start of a relationship, narcissists often smother their victims with excessive affection (love-bombing). However, this is often followed by putting you down, criticizing, or making fun of you to keep you feeling off-balance.
  • Keeping You Away from Others: Narcissists may want you all to themselves and try to isolate you from friends and family, so you have nowhere else to turn for support.
  • A Lack of Empathy: Narcissists struggle to understand or prioritize your feelings and needs. They’re mainly focused on themselves. When you are in need of care while sick or experiencing the loss of a loved one, do not expect them to show up for you.
  • Blaming You for Their Faults: Instead of admitting their mistakes, narcissists often accuse you of things they’re actually guilty of. They will always shift the blame away from themselves. Additionally, they unconsciously start projecting their own flaws onto you. If they are liars, cheaters, and lazy, they will label you with those traits. It is important that you do not accept this behavior.
  • Hurting You Emotionally and Verbally: This might involve saying hurtful things, yelling, humiliating, or constantly criticizing you, all with the intention of making you feel bad about yourself. This behavior may become more pronounced, especially if they notice you adopting healthy habits (such as eating well, exercising, or going back to school).
  • Messing with Your Mind: Narcissists often engage in gaslighting, where they deny or twist the truth to make you question your own reality and sanity. They will say you did not see what you saw, hear what you heard, or begin to call you “crazy” or mentally ill.
  • Deregulating Your Physical Health: Narcissists may cunningly prevent you from sleeping, which keeps your mind foggy and your nervous system shaken. When the nervous system is constantly on high alert, victims may experience extreme weight loss or gain, premature aging, and regularly getting sick from a suppressed immune system.

The Toxic Cycle

Narcissistic abuse often follows a repeating pattern, making it harder to spot. This pattern usually goes through these phases:

  1.  Loving You Too Much: The narcissist starts by putting you on a pedestal, making you feel incredibly special and loved (love-bombing). 
  2. Turning Cold: Over time, they start treating you poorly. Offering less and less (breadcrumbing). They will begin using emotional and verbal abuse to destabilize your self-esteem (devaluing).
  3. Breaking Up & Ghosting: Sometimes, the narcissist might end the relationship abruptly and disappear (discarding). This can leave you feeling worthless and confused. The silence will leave you filling in the gaps with your imagination.   
  4. Reeling You Back In: After a breakup, a narcissist may surprisingly reappear and try to suck you back in (hoovering). They will act as if the past never happened and make sweet empty promises (building illusions). If they offer an apology it is a vague one, not addressing specifics, which means they did not self-reflect. If they are asked what the apology is for, most likely you will be somehow blamed for their behavior.

Looking Within and Seeking Help

Recognizing narcissistic abuse is the first step, but it’s not enough. Often, victims blame themselves or stay in the abusive relationship due to fear or manipulation. Seeking support from friends, family, or a therapist is crucial. A therapist can offer guidance, understanding, and strategies to help you break free from the abuse cycle.

To protect yourself from narcissistic abuse, you must set and enforce boundaries. This might mean limiting or cutting off contact with the narcissist, seeking legal help if needed, and focusing on self-care to rebuild your self-esteem and emotional health.


Spotting narcissistic abuse is crucial for regaining control over your life and healing. By understanding the signs, reaching out for support, and taking care of yourself, you can escape the grip of narcissistic abuse and work towards a happier, healthier life. Remember, you deserve love, respect, and a nurturing relationship free from manipulation and mistreatment. 

If you come to realize you are married to a narcissist, your best option is ending the marriage. Considering divorce may be crucial for your healing. At Klein Law Group, our family law attorneys are empathetic and understand what is happening to you and are here to help you start anew. Call us today at 561.323.2800 to schedule a FREE consultation.

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