Validation and narcissistic abuse

"I tried to explain to people what had been going on, but I appreciate that it's difficult for them to believe me when he was showing them a completely different person."


"He could play such a 'nice guy' when it suited him. Some people sort of got it and said things like 'Sounds awful, definitely sounds like abuse,' but it was difficult to explain how awful it was without sounding totally like 'poor me'. I was already trying to climb out of feeling like a victim - I didn't want to be a victim and, for me, it was important that I didn't think of myself as one. But I was victimised and it nearly destroyed me. Then not being believed by some people was tough. Really tough. It brought me further down than I already was - and that was pretty low by then. I barely recognised myself. I was in a mess frankly."

The above is one of the often-made quotes by those targeted for abuse by a narcissist - and I use the word targeted purposefully. Those targeted by narcissists are in their sightline; the bulls-eye. Those out of the sightline and away from the bulls-eye are treated very differently and are shown an entirely different person. Only the ones in the sightline get to see the narcissist's true self and this is why those victimised may not be believed - even sometimes by family and loved ones who may unintentionally further gaslight and invalidate the victim's experience. This is incredibly painful and compounds distress.

So why don't some people see what you are seeing so clearly? The reason behind this is the motivation behind the narcissist's every waking moment.

True self, false self and facade management

For those diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), or those with high, but sub-clinical levels, of narcissism, the entirety of their existence, their every waking moment, is wound up with obtaining external supply to sheer up their false self-image and fragile high self-esteem. Their true self, the true reality of their unstable and imperfect internal being, has to be protected at all times and at all costs. Their every waking moment revolves around gaining supply from others to protect the image of capability, respectability, agreeableness, humbleness and empathy.

Sam Vaknin, a psychologist, visiting professor, expert on narcissism and narcissistic abuse and, himself, diagnosed with NPD, writes in his book Narcissistic Abuse and Narcissism FAQs; 10th edition, 2015; FAQ #14:

The narcissist does nothing and says nothing - or even thinks nothing - without first having assessed the quantity of narcissistic supply his actions, utterances, or thoughts may yield... The narcissist is incessantly engaged in energy draining gauging of other people and their possible reactions to him... His mental energy depleted, the narcissist can hardly empathise with others, love, or experience emotions. 'Conspicuous existence' malignantly substitutes for 'real existence.'

Internalised you

For the outside world, the narcissist needs to project an acceptable false self; however, their true self is constantly threatening to appear. They must hide what they really are, who they really are, how they really feel, and how they secretly abuse their chosen target because they fear rejection if this is viewed. This would have a seriously adverse effect on their ability to gain supply. The constant dichotomy between their false and true self and the hiding of their unacceptable feelings must be incredibly painful for them - so you must feel their pain. You must be the repository for all of their intolerable negative emotions. For them to cope - you need to feel their angst, their inner turmoil, shame and inner hatred.

How are they able to do this, seemingly without guilt? They can do this because they do not see you as a separate individual. Since the initial love bombing phase, you have been internalised by them. You are part of them so, in punishing you, they can punish themselves for their unacceptable feelings without harming their facade of Self. They can justify their malignant actions towards you, make you feel the pain they are feeling, and feel no empathy towards the suffering they cause because you are not a separate individual - you are part of them. 


It is crucial, therefore, that the narcissist does not reveal their true self to everyone, only those targeted. The narcissist needs people to believe that they are good, intelligent, talented, humble, and kind people to gain supply through adoration and false modesty.

You, as the primary target, are there to use and abuse whenever they are not achieving this supply from others, or when they are feeling inadequate, rejected, or being asked for intimacy; in point of fact, whenever they are feeling vulnerable to being exposed to their true self.


For the chosen target, explaining their reality - the reality of having been forced for years, maybe decades, or their entire lives, to be the receptacle for the pain of another who they were led to believe loved them - the feelings of utter betrayal and devastation are indescribable. The devastation is compounded when others do not believe that your experience is real. They have not been made the receptacle for the narcissist's pain and subconscious feelings of inadequacy and will have been shown an entirely different person; it will be hard for them to see it.

So coming to counselling, being heard by a therapist who understands and can validate your confusing and nearly impossible-to-explain experience, is crucial for your healing. A counsellor who is trained in this particular form of emotional abuse can help you find ways to settle your mind and physical responses, cope with the intentional, or unintentional gaslighting of your experience and emotions and return you to yourself so that you can begin to flourish again.

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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Hungerford, Berkshire, RG17
Written by Susie Bowell, BA (Hons), RGN, Cert & Dip in Counselling, BACP reg.
Hungerford, Berkshire, RG17

Susie Bowell
BA (Hons); RGN; Dip. Counselling.
I trained as a Counsellor after many rewarding years as a senior nurse working with those with life-changing and life-limiting conditions. I focus my time on where I feel I can give the most added value to my clients.

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