Six signs that you may be experiencing narcissistic abuse

We are increasingly hearing the word narcissist in our culture and the media, and many of us now have at least some sense of what this word means. However, it can sometimes be a little more tricky to spot when you are experiencing narcissistic abuse.   


As well as being a therapist who helps clients recognise toxic relationships, I also lived with an abusive partner myself for many years. The difficulty with trying to clearly see what is happening when you are living in this dynamic is that you are often told that you are the one who is in the wrong. Narcissistic abuse leaves you confused, frightened and doubting yourself on a daily basis, but it doesn't start off this way. Much like the metaphorical 'frog in a boiling pot', it often creeps up on you so that by the time you start to feel like something might not be right, you are already far into it and disorientated.  

While I mainly refer to romantic relationships in this article, these behaviours can take place in many different forms of relationships. I know first-hand just how tough it is, but there are certain signs to look out for that can help identify if your relationship is abusive.  Not all partners will behave the same, but if you recognise some or all of these six points then it may be time to reach out for support.  

Signs you may be experiencing narcissistic abuse

1. You're questioning your reality

A common behaviour used in emotionally abusive relationships is gaslighting. This technique is designed to leave you questioning your sense of reality. For example, while you might clearly remember an event happening, your partner might tell you that you are making it up.

This isn't just about physical events, your partner may tell you that your emotions are unjustified or inappropriate, when they are the one doing something that has hurt you. A narcissist will also put the blame for everything on you, avoiding any sense of responsibility or accountability by telling you that you are in the wrong. All of this can leave you feeling confused and unable to trust the way you experience and remember things.  

2. Your boundaries are being pushed

At times we can all accidentally step over a person's boundary, but in a healthy relationship, a partner will acknowledge this and make an effort to respect them moving forward. Ultimately we want each other to feel heard and comfortable, so understanding our partners' boundaries is important.

If you notice that somebody is consistently breaking your boundaries or making you feel guilty for having them, then they are prioritising themselves over you. A narcissist will always ensure that they are getting their needs met, even if it is to the detriment of others. We should always be able to say no to a partner without fear of repercussion.  

3. You feel like you are walking on eggshells

You might find that your partner can be very unpredictable and their anger can feel as though it comes out of nowhere. This can leave you nervous and on edge all of the time, not knowing if what you do will be met with praise or punishment. They might also be hyper-critical of you, leaving you feeling as though everything that you do is wrong.

If you find yourself living in fear of your partners' responses, or feeling constantly anxious or criticised around them, then this is a red flag that should not be ignored. We all deserve to feel safe in our relationships.  

4. You are losing touch with friends and family

It might start with your partner speaking badly about the people close to you or encouraging you to spend less time with them. They may make you feel guilty about socialising or wanting to be around other people when you could be with them. They may even set rules or start controlling your phone and social media use. All of this is part of isolating you.

If you are feeling disconnected from your support network, then it can be a sign of a toxic relationship. A narcissistic person can often act jealous and possessive, and demand that you make them the centre of your life. Other people become a threat to the relationship that they have created.  

5. You don't feel like yourself anymore

You may have given up hobbies that you once enjoyed or stopped listening to your music or watching your TV shows. You might have changed the way that you dress, the amount of effort you put into your appearance, or even changed your diet. In a relationship with a narcissist, it will all be about them and so what you like can slowly be erased.

An abusive partner may belittle, humiliate or even ban the things that you enjoy if they don't fit with their needs. They might also start to frame you in a way that does not quite fit with how you see yourself.  For example, you may be told that you are selfish or loud when you have always seen yourself as generous and quiet.

6. Your time isn't yours anymore

The biggest thing that I noticed was happening in my own abusive relationship was how little time I had for myself. As well as constantly being given lists of jobs and chores to do, I had to be constantly available to my partner.

A narcissist is characterised as needing excessive attention, and this can feel as though it creeps into every aspect of life. They may need you to respond quickly to messages or always be ready to answer a call, they may communicate constantly when you are apart or get annoyed if you focus on someone or something else. They may even invade your privacy, or make you stay awake until after they are sleeping. If you suddenly find that you don't have a moment to think, then this might just be deliberate.  

If you do suspect that you are in an abusive relationship, then there are services and therapists who are there to help. Reach out to somebody you trust if you can and know that you do not owe anyone a relationship. There are ways to move forward and people who want to help. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Liverpool L31 & London NW1
Written by Katie Evans, BA(hons), Dip.Psych.
Liverpool L31 & London NW1

Katie Evans is a private practice therapist and public speaker, specialising in gender, sexuality, relationships and abuse. She is also a survivor of narcissistic abuse in a romantic relationship. Her experiences inform her work and her desire to speak out about developing a greater understanding of the trauma caused,

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