Coping Styles: Narcissist Abuses "Loved" Ones Despite Abandonment Anxiety

Uploaded 6/11/2016, approx. 9 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

Like borderlines, narcissists have something called abandonment anxiety. They are terrified by the thought of being abandoned. They are like children, who are afraid that their parents, when they are out of the room, will never come back again. They lack object constancy.

In other words, narcissists believe that when people are out of sight, they are also out of mind. They do not believe in permanence, in reliable, long-term relationships, in bonding, in attachment. And they don't believe in these things because they have never experienced them, either as children or as adults.

Okay, so then narcissists have abandonment anxiety.

Then why do they abuse their nearest and dearest, their so-called loved ones? After all, if you abuse somebody, the chances of being abandoned by that person are much higher. If you abuse your wife, she is likely to walk away. If you maltreat your girlfriend, she is likely to find another boyfriend. Why abuse?

Abuse ostensibly and intuitively should increase the chances of abandonment and therefore increase the narcissist's abandonment anxiety.

Yet all narcissists, without a single exception, abuse. Granted, they abuse in different ways. Some of them abuse verbally, some of them use a brutal sense of humor or brutal honesty. There are a million ways to abuse and multifarious forms of aggression. But whatever the narcissist and whoever the narcissist, narcissists always abuse. And especially those, they are supposed to be intimate with.

Well, here's a counterintuitive paradox. Abusing serves to decrease the narcissist's abandonment anxiety. It reduces the anxiety, the mortification, it alleviates.

How come?

Well, first of all, when you abuse someone, when you devalue someone, you feel superior to them. They, the receiving end, the recipients of abuse are inferior to you, the abuser.

Abusers are in position of authority. They dole out abuse. So devaluation leads to a sense of superiority and superiority restores the narcissist's sense of grandiosity, restores the grandiose fantasy, the narrative that underlies the narcissist's inflated sense of self.

But why would the narcissist need to restore his grandiosity? Where did it go? Why, who ruined it?

The abandonment anxiety. The narcissist has abandonment anxiety and superior beings, perfect beings, God-like beings, should not feel anxiety. The very fact that the narcissist feels anxiety undermines his sense of grandiosity and his sense of perfection and superiority and God-like qualities.

So it goes like that. The narcissist feels abandonment anxiety. This challenges his sense of perfection and superiority. He then devalues his spouse or girlfriend or intimate partner or significant other. By abusing and devaluing her, he feels against superior. By feeling superior, he restores his grandiosity. And by restoring his grandiosity, he eliminates or at the very least reduces his anxiety.

Point number one.

But abuse has other functions. For example, preemption. The narcissist assumes that he will always be abandoned. Loss is guaranteed. Things will go badly. Relationships will break up and terminate.

The narcissist assumes that he will be abandoned. Hence his abandonment anxiety.

And so if he is anyhow going to be abandoned, he might as well control the process. He might as well bring about his own abandonment. He might as well precipitate the abandonment, cause it, lead to it, generate it, foster it. If he does, then he is in control. If he were to be abandoned because of his own doing, if the abandonment was of his own making, then he, in his eyes, had initiated his abandonment. He is in control. He is not abandoned. He is simply fulfilling a goal or a target.

So preemption, restoring a sense of control over circumstances and over other people. Inducing abandonment is a way of lying to yourself and saying, well, actually I have not been abandoned. I sought it. I wanted it.

This is called cognitive dissonance.

The third function of abusing others is uncovering the truth. The narcissist assumes that people are faking it, that they are not as good as they were, that there are hidden agendas at play, that his wife or his girlfriend or his intimate partner or his significant other are just pretending to love him, claiming to be loyal, claiming to be supportive.

But when push comes to shove, their true face will be revealed. The mask will fall and they will be uncovered as who they are, disloyal, cheating, unfaithful, unreliable, unpredictable.

So how do you prove this? How do you prove this working hypothesis? By abusing people.

When the narcissist abuses this significant other, he is testing her. He pushes her to the corner and he wants to see how will she react? Will she, for example, abandon him? Will she cheat on him with another man? Will she walk away? Will she counter-attack? He ferrets out information about him, abuses a kind of testing or testing process. It's as though the narcissist had put his significant other in a lab and then he is conducting all kinds of tests, laboratories.

This is a controlled experiment. It's revealing the truth about your intimate partner. Is she as staunch as she claims? Is she as loyal? Will she still be there even if I'm a jerk? Even if I'm abusing her, maltreating her, humiliating her, insulting her, privately and in public, how far can I go? To what extent can I annihilate her? To what extent can I extinguish her as an autonomous entity and steal? She will be around.

So it's a test.

And finally, of course, abuse is a form of behavior modification. Abuse is a signal. It's a communication mode.

By abusing someone, you're telling them that you're unhappy with their behavior and you are signaling to them, sometimes violently and always aggressively, that they should alter their behavior if they want to not be abused.

The thing is that abuse works. Abuse actually works most of the time. Most spouses, intimate partners and significant partners would alter and modify their behavior in order to minimize abuse.

So abuse is an efficacious, efficient method for modifying your partner's behavior. Because it works, it is so commonplace among narcissists and psychopaths.

So how do you deal with it? What are the coping styles which have proven to be efficient with protracted, unlimited abuse?

Abuse as a feature of the relationship, as a fixture, as an attribute of the relationship?

Well, there are five, essentially, coping styles.

The first one is submissiveness. By being submissive, by accepting and adhering to every rule, every capricious move, every arbitrary decision, every criticism, by avoiding disagreement, by being conflict-averse, you can minimize or reduce, at least, the incidence, the frequency and the prevalence of abuse in the relationship.


The second coping style is exactly the opposite. It's conflicting. It is the counterdependent coping style. It is a refusal to accept the abuse, refusal to accept authority, challenging the abuser, arguing, disagreeing, criticizing, provoking fights, raising him. That also works, to some extent, in reducing the abuse.

Ultimately, the abuser would institute a policy of no contact and would go away, would become absent, either physically or emotionally, and definitely conversationally.

If the partner, the intimate partner, causes the abuser pain every time the abuser makes the abuser pay a price for his misconduct, the abuser, very much like a dog in Pavlov's experiments, would learn not to abuse.

But that is, of course, a conflictive stance, which means that nothing much is left of the relationship, except constant conflict, constant warfare, constant fighting.

And then we have mirroring. Mirroring is a third coping style. Mirroring doesn't mean that you do exactly what the abuser does.

He shouts, you shout, he says a word, you repeat it, and so on. That's not mirroring. Mirroring simply means that you hurry back, you throw back at the abuser his verbiage, his sentences, the words he chooses, and so on and so forth. You throw them back at him, rearrange in a way to provoke a certain dynamic.

So, for example, if the abuser says, I would like to go and do something, and you don't want to go and do something. If you say, no, I don't want to go out, you know, if you want to go by yourself or something, you're likely to be abused, criticized. You know, you never do anything with me, you are no longer interested in me, you don't want to be with me, I knew I could not trust you, this relationship is going to help, you are ruining it for both of us, etc., etc.

The well-known refrain. One possibility is mirroring, reflecting these sentences back at the abuser, but in a way which would create in the abuser a dynamic, for example, would create in him abandonment anxiety.

So by saying, well, you may well be right, you know, the relationship is really going to hell, and we seem to disagree on many, many things, and so on, that's precisely why I want to go out. Actually, you're repeating this verbiage, but by repeating it in a certain order, you're provoking abandonment anxiety.

As you're provoking the abuser in negative emotions, such as anxiety, or fear, or depression, and so on, so forth, gradually, the abuse or the incidence of abuse will decline. Mirroring is a very complex coping style, because you need to fully understand the abuser's psychology, and you need to know how to rearrange his abuse, and then reflect the abuse to him in highly precise ways, his precision are.

If you do that, if you're adept at mirroring, you can achieve surprising results, including and up to the point of the abuse disappearing completely.

And then there is collusion. Collusion is actually to amplify the abuse up to the point of caricature.

So if the abuser says, you know, you're so stupid, you don't think about what you're saying, you're always wrong, and so on, so forth. In a collusive or collusion coping style, you would say, you know what, you're right, I'm really very, very stupid, you are so intelligent, you're so decisive, you're so strong, you're always so right, exaggerate, you exaggerate. You will overemphasize his words to the point of rendering them humorous and caricaturistic, to the point of rendering the abuser a cartoon figure.

And this would usually unsettle the abuser, drive him back, he would be able to look to see himself, you would be reflecting him, and he would be able to see himself, and this usually would have positive feedback on his behavior, that you would be creating a feedback loop, which would reduce his abusive behaviors.

reduce his abusive behaviors.

The last coping style, which is not exactly one of my favorites, and should be advised against, except perhaps as the last resort, is displacement. Directing the negative energy of abuse from yourself, it's someone else.

So if your abuser begins to attack you, criticize you, disagree with you vehemently and aggressively, humiliate you, chastise you, etc., you can then direct this negative energy, this rage, this discomfort, you can direct all these negative emotions, it's someone else that you can both denigrate and demean and criticize and so on. Someone you agree on, another schmuck or another victim.

But this is both an immoral choice and could backfire in the sense that you would gradually become an extension of the abuser and an abuser yourself.

So displacement is a kind of shared psychosis, a situation where you and the abuser form a cult, a kind of a cult of abusing other people. It's not recommended, of course, but it's also a coping style I hate to mention. And it does happen more frequently than you know, when an abused spouse teams up with her abuser to abuse third party, abused by a proxy.

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Narcissist's Reactions to Abandonment, Separation, and Divorce

Narcissistic abusers often resort to self-delusion when faced with the dissolution of a meaningful relationship. They may adopt a masochistic avoidance solution, punishing themselves for their failure, or construct a delusional narrative in which they are the hero. Some may become antisocial psychopaths, while others develop persecutory delusions and withdraw completely from social contact, becoming schizoids. Finally, some abusers resort to an aggressive stance, becoming verbally, psychologically, and sometimes physically abusive towards loved ones.

Spot a Narcissist or a Psychopath on Your First Date

There are warning signs to identify abusers and narcissists early on in a relationship. One of the first signs is the abuser's tendency to blame others for their mistakes and failures. Other signs include hypersensitivity, eagerness to commit, controlling behavior, patronizing and condescending manner, and devaluing the partner. Abusers may also idealize their partner, have sadistic sexual fantasies, and switch between abusive and loving behavior. Paying attention to body language can also reveal warning signs.

Body Language of Narcissistic and Psychopathic Abuser

Abusers emit subtle signals in their body language that can be observed and discerned. They adopt a posture of superiority and entitlement, and they idealize or devalue their interlocutors. Abusers are shallow and prefer show-off to substance, and they are serious about themselves. They lack empathy, are sadistic, and have inappropriate affect. They are adept at casting a veil of secrecy over their dysfunction and misbehavior, and they succeed in deceiving the entire world.

Abuser-Victim Bond: Emotional Processing and Object Inconstancy

Victims of narcissistic abuse keep falling for it because they are the spitting image of their abusers in terms of psychodynamic processes. Victims and abusers have unusual ways of processing information, and they share impaired object constancy. Victims and abusers bond via their resonating pathologies, and this bonding is an addiction. Abusers and victims fulfill each other's voids, and traumatic bonding is extremely difficult to break.

Victims Become Narcissists: Contagious Narcissism

Victims of narcissistic abuse can become narcissistic themselves, adopting the role of a professional victim. These individuals become self-centered, abusive, and exploitative, and their existence and identity rest solely on their victimhood. This is known as narcissistic contagion or narcissism by proxy, and it is a danger that should be avoided by every victim and survivor of abuse. Once the victim starts to abuse, they never stop, and their abuse becomes indiscriminate and affects everyone around them.

Narcissist’s Manipulative Weapon: Projective Identification

Narcissists and psychopaths use mind control techniques, such as entraining and projective identification. Entraining involves synchronizing the victim's brainwaves with the abuser's through repetition of phrases and criticisms. Projective identification involves the narcissist projecting rejected traits onto the victim, who then identifies with and adopts these traits. In a world of conflict and uncertainty, it is important to prioritize self-awareness, authenticity, and self-sufficiency, and carefully consider the risks of engaging with others.

N-Magnet: Narcissist's Ideal Victim?

Narcissists are not drawn to empathic, sensitive people, but rather repelled by them. Victims of narcissistic abuse come in all shapes, sizes, professions, genders, and ages, and there is no specific profile. People should not think of themselves as a "narcissist magnet" and instead review their life in detail to see that they have control over their destiny and can learn from their experiences. Bed relationships, no matter how harrowing, are opportunities to learn lessons.

Why Childhood Abuse Victims Hate And Are Hated

Victims of childhood abuse tend to hate themselves and provoke others to hate them as well, as they feel more comfortable when despised and rejected. This self-destructive behavior is influenced by the reactions of adults in their environment, shaping their self-states and molding their brains. Abused children develop trauma and post-traumatic conditions due to the reactions of the adults around them. Narcissists, in particular, love to be hated and hate to be loved, fearing intimacy and seeking punishment through provoking negative reactions from others.

The Abuser's Mind

Abusers suffer from dissociation, a mild form of multiple personality, and often have a dichotomy between their behavior at home and in public. They view their victims as two-dimensional representations, devoid of emotions and needs, and convert them into their own worldview. Abusers are often narcissists with low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence, and abuse is bred by fear of being mocked or betrayed. There are various forms of manipulation that constitute verbal and emotional abuse, including withholding, countering, discounting, blocking, blaming, and accusing.

Contract with Your Abuser - Part II

To negotiate with an abuser, it is best to co-opt their prejudices and pathology by catering to their infantile emotional needs and complying with their wishes, complex rules, and arbitrary rituals. It is useless to confront the abuser head-on to engage in power politics. To move the abuser to attend couple or marital therapy, tell them that you need their help to restore your relationship to its former warmth and intimacy. Gradually, try to free the rigid edges of your sex rules.

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