What is Narcissistic Victim Syndrome?
I think we can safely say that any person who has experienced narcissistic abuse who has been harmed, injured, and in some cases, even killed as result of the narcissist's behaviour is indeed a victim.
When working with individuals who are displaying symptoms of narcissistic victim syndrome, the thing that I notice most of all is that the person feels so torn because they don’t understand what has happened to them. Before they can begin to put themselves back together, I believe that it is vital that the therapist must, through the process of the therapeutic work in progress, educate the individual in the area of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (the What, the When, the How, and the Why of the abuse etc) so that they can begin to make sense of what was really happening as their story unfolds. Without such information it is virtually impossible to build up their self-esteem to healthy levels, thus leaving them vulnerable to further re-victimization, and future entrapment with other narcissists.
Once a person has become a victim of a narcissist (whether it happened in childhood or later on in life), the victims are already unconsciously primed to enter the narcissist’s “convoluted dance” that opens them up to further abuse. It is necessary for the therapist to gently shine a light on what they are doing in the dance that makes them a victim. Once again, a “Narcissistic Victim” is any person who is harmed, injured or killed by a person who displays pathological narcissism (which can occur on a spectrum of severity).
The victim needs to understand that this “dance” of codependency requires two people: the pleaser/fixer (victim), and the taker/controller (narcissist/addict), together both partners dance beautifully in perfect step, and the madness begins. The consequences for the victim not understanding the intricacy of the dance, is that, no matter how often they try to avoid “unhealthy” partners, they will find themselves habitually returning to the same dance floor; the only thing that will change is that they will find themselves dancing to a different tune, but always the personality of the dance partner remains the same.
Therapists need to be seriously aware that narcissism is a very complex disorder that creates a lot of suffering, both to the person who has the disorder, and to those people who have to live with the disordered narcissistic behavior on a daily basis. When I speak of narcissistic abuse, (abuse that can lead to Narcissistic Victim Syndrome), I am speaking about a form of abuse that is very insidious. What I mean by insidious is that the abuse is covert, cunning and often indirect. This form of abuse is often carried out in a subtly and clandestine manner, because narcissists go to great pains to avoid being observed publicly as being abusive. This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde behaviour of the narcissist (loving one minute and totally enraged the next) can inflict great harm on the victim. Understandably, the fear, distress, confusion, inner turmoil, and chaos that they experience leaves them “walking on eggshells” in order to avoid further conflict with the narcissist. The effect on the victim over time can be very crippling indeed. I liken narcissism to a parasitic worm that manages to penetrate under the skin, where it is out of the sight of witnessing eyes, but is free to injure or consume its host slowly, leaving trauma or disease in its wake. By the way, the narcissist can manage to live on inside the victim even after they manage to escape; it is as if their “seed” goes on.
However, when we speak of Narcissistic Victim Abuse, we are speaking of an abuse that has been caused by someone with a personality disorder, and more often than not, their personality disorder has not been medically diagnosed, therefore the narcissistic individual goes undetected in society (i.e. in the home, the work-place, in organizations, in social settings etc.). It is vital to understand that narcissistic personality disorder is a serious mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, and a deep need for attention and admiration. The narcissist believes that they are superior to others, and have little regard for other people’s feelings, regardless of who they are. Other people are merely objects there to serve their every need as narcissistic supply, and they will use every form of abuse, without guilt, empathy or conscience, in order to make sure that their needs are served.
What do victims of Narcissistic Victim Syndrome look like?
Are these clients likely to come into the therapy room and say “I am the victim of narcissistic abuse”? The answer is, absolutely not. They will look like any other client coming into your therapy room for the very first time. They are probably most likely to bring in an issue that is quite mundane and recognizable; such as, they are feeling depressed, having panic attacks, or the feeling that they cannot cope. They have no idea that they have been living in a “war zone” with a narcissistic personality in command (either in the past or in the present). However, you, as the therapist, do not need to be afraid that you will not be able to cope with this syndrome. If you have completed your training, then you should have all the skills necessary to work with this syndrome. Armed with knowledge of narcissistic abuse, and practical skills of working with trauma, you will become a life-line to any victim of narcissistic abuse.
Like all clients coming into therapy, they have a story to tell; therefore they need someone to become an active listener, and to validate what has happened to them. To my mind, it is the validation of the person’s experience that is vital from the very beginning. These clients are not mad, however, frequently they appear highly strung or nervous, and their levels of fear may be high, while their level of self-esteem is low. Often they present with obsessive compulsive behaviours, phobias, panic attacks, so at times they may actually feel that they are going mad. They may experience insomnia, and may have underlying eating disorders, so you may notice they are either under weight (as a means of having some control), or overweight (as a result of eating to self-comfort).
You will find yourself working with emotions involving shock, anger, fear, and guilt. Often the victim will be suffering from PostTraumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD), or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; Symptoms of PTSD are often grouped into three main categories: Re-living (flashbacks, hallucinations, nightmares etc), Avoiding (people, places, thoughts, loss of interest etc), and Increased Arousal (excessive emotions, problems relating, difficulty in sleeping and concentration, outbursts of anger, anxiousness, panic attacks etc). You may also notice that your client is inclined to “dissociate” while you are talking to them. That is, it seems as if the client is tending to “compartmentalize their experience.”; in so doing, they may appear to be detached from their emotions, body, or immediate surroundings, this experience is called derealization.
-from The Roadshow for Therapists
Check out this book on recovering from this kind of relationship: