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Understanding Terminology as it Relates to Narcissistic Abuse

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

When reading about Narcissistic Personality Disorder there are a number of terms you will hear over and over. Below are definitions of most the terms you will see used in many blogs, podcasts, articles and even used by mental health professionals.

Cluster B personality disorders: A group of disorders listed in the American Psychiatry Association DSM-IV. The four personality disorders in the Cluster B group are: narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder.

Coercive Control: This is a tactic used to gain control over a partner through constant monitoring, isolation from family and friends, the domination of all areas of their life including finances, what they wear and how they talk. A narcissist will usually start by exerting this control under the cover of caring for the victim or being concerned for them. This behavior usually escalates to tracking whereabouts, monitoring phones, forbidding certain friendship or work relationships, all with the goal of having ultimate control over their partner.

Financial Abuse: Financial abuse is just one of the many abuses a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder will exact on their partner. It is a term we are coming to hear more and more with respect to Narcissists. Just another form of manipulation and control, financial abuse can show up as complete control of the finances, keeping their partner in the dark with respect to financial issues, requiring permission before their partner is allowed to buy things, hiding or moving money, not allowing joint checking, savings or credit card accounts, not consulting their partner before making large purchases and dragging out court proceedings to cripple you financially.

Flying Monkeys: This term comes from a scene in The Wizard of Oz. The wicked witch sends her flying monkeys to torment and scare Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. This is representative of one of the narcissists manipulation tactics. A narcissist will recruit others to spy on, slander and lie about the person they are victimizing. They send others to do their dirty work helping them look like the victim.

Gaslighting: This come from the play and movie Gaslight in which a husband manipulates his wife into believing that she is going crazy so that he can have her committed and gain power of attorney to her estate. Set in the late 30’s, one scene shows that the gas lights in the house are dimming. When the wife comments on this, her husband tell her they are not and that she is imagining it. This heartless display of lying and manipulation is one example of gaslighting. Narcissist love to gaslight. It is definitely one of the main weapons in their arsenal.

Gray Rock: This is a method used once a partner has left a narcissist. It is often used in cases where there is divorce but some contact must remain because there are children involved. The partner that left the narcissist has very minimal contact with their abuser. They only respond to emails or texts if absolutely necessary, responding with unemotional short answers. No explaining, or divulging of information to the narcissist. In essence they become completely uninteresting to the abuser like a “gray rock”. The narcissist is not getting the attention they crave so they move on.

Grooming: Grooming involves the point in time when the narcissist begins to mix in the abuse with the good behavior. Because the victim had such an amazing start to this relationship, they often make excuses for the narcissist, “they had a bad day”, “a work partner screwed them over” “their ex is being awful to them”. The partner starts to allow boundaries to be crossed in terms of they way they are treated and there by being groomed to accept more abuse.

Hoovering: If the narcissistic supply attempts to leave their abuser, then hoovering often happens. Once the narcissists prey has escaped they will use any tactic to suck them back into their world hence the reference to the vacuum cleaner “Hoover”. These tactics could include the promise to change their behavior, tempting their victim with money or gifts. Since the narcissist is not capable of change nor has any really intention to, their bad behavior will resume once their supply has returned.

Idealize-Devalue-Discard: As a narcissist wields their emotional abuse, they often operate in a pattern or cycle. The idealize phase includes the love bombing and putting their victim on a pedestal creating an almost intoxicating environment in which the relationship operates. As this phase settles down the devalue phase begins. The narcissist will begin to dish out subtle put-downs, gaslight their victim, withhold affection, give the silent treament, or inexplicably disappear for a short time just to give a few examples. This leaves their partner confused and usually in denial hoping the person they fell in love with will return. Ultimately the victim will be discarded in some form or another. The narcissist may decide the victim has lost their luster and has recruited a new supply. In some relationships this cycle can repeat over and over creating a roller coaster of highs and lows and can actually create a trauma bond between this predator and their prey.

Love Bombing: Narcissists use the beginning of the relationship as a prime opportunity to manipulate their victim. While the romance is new you an expect lavish gifts and extravagant trips that go above and beyond. The narcissist will usually say “I love you” in the early stages of the courtship. There will be constant praise, showers of compliments and introductions to family and friends right away. The goal of the love bombing is clearly to hook the other person fast and furiously and create an emotional high. Narcissists are often highly sexual so the sex in the early stages of the relationship is very frequent and very intense.

Narcissistic Injury: This term describes what happens when a narcissist perceives an attack on their ego. Any criticism of the narcissist can result in a rage because the narcissist is incapable of listening to criticism and implementing self-reflection. Their ego has been damaged and it is very difficult for them to recover from this injury.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Persons with NPD display grandiosity, an excessive need of admiration and lack empathy. They often feel they deserve special treatment and that rules do not apply to them. They usually try to associate with people they deem important in an effort to boost their self-esteem. Criticism of any kind is not well tolerated.

Narcissistic Supply: Narcissists are parasites. They need a host or constant supply of attention and admiration. They also need someone else who has the traits that they do not possess so they can feed off of them and use them as a cover and help make themselves acceptable to society. Narcissists often choose someone happy, intelligent, and forgiving because they do not possess these qualities themselves. People with this demeanor are easier to manipulate because they take advantage of their kindness by testing then trampling their boundaries. Narcissists literally drain their victim to pump up their own self-esteem. A narcissist will almost always have a new supply on hand before they discard the current one which usually means they are cheaters.

Trauma Bonding: You will often see trauma bonding in highly toxic relationships. Abuse mixed in with praise, the unpredictability of anger, and insults which can quickly lead to gifts and compliments. There is a chemical addiction that can happen as the brain is experiencing these low lows then the relief that the abuse is over or back to the high of more love bombing. A trauma bond starts to form between abuser and victim. The longer this cycle repeats the stronger the bond can become and the harder it can be for the victim to leave the relationship.

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