When it comes to learning about narcissism, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the information floating around in books, podcasts, articles, and other sources.
In efforts to help support you on your journey to healing from narcissistic abuse, I thought it might be useful for you to have a go-to source where key terms related to narcissism and narcissistic abuse are listed in one place.
This list is an evolving list, one which I will regularly update should I think of more words that would be useful to include. Feel free to share it far and wide so together we can help shine a light on narcissistic abuse and help bring survivors together in their journey to recovery.
Of course, if you think of any other words you think would be helpful for others to know about feel free to leave me a comment at the bottom of the article and I’ll add them in!
Ok, here we go, it’s a long read so grab a cuppa!
*Note: Whilst narcissism can be seen in both males and females, my counselling work is done exclusively with women so I write from the perspective of female clients with male abusers.
Narcissists are addicted to supply (see ‘supply’) and will stop at nothing to find it. Also, survivors can become addicted to their abuser through trauma bonding (see ‘trauma bonding’).
The extreme and unrelenting need narcissists have to be liked, respected, adored and put on a pedestal above all others. Without the admiration of others, narcissists become lost, hopeless, and often dangerous as they are forced to confront the reality of their low self-worth.
Narcissists don’t apologise, they ‘faux’ apologise simply to get what they want when they want. Narcissists don’t believe they do anything wrong so apologies are not forthcoming, at worst, and not genuine, at best.
For people who apparently can do no wrong, blame shifting is a narcissist’s go-to survival strategy. Why accept responsibility when it’s easier to blame someone else… right? That is blame shifting. Shifting the blame from themselves to you.
Put simply, narcissists have none. They don’t care what your limits are or if something makes you unhappy or unsafe. They do as they please and take pleasure in crossing every line your draw in the sand.
Narcissists are charming. They are smooth-operators who lure you in with all sorts of behaviours, right before they commence their pre-determined program of attack and start ruining you and your life.
A whole bunch of academic studies have been done (check Google Scholar) to better understand narcissism and its root causes. Although a lot is still to be understood, it is now widely believed that narcissism develops in childhood as a direct result of over-parenting (you my kid are a god!) or under-parenting (you my kid are a speck of dirt on the ground that isn’t worth my time).
Most people know about verbal and physical abuse, but coercive control is less understood. This behaviour is strategic and is used to oppress and instil fear in a victim. Coercive control can include gaslighting, isolation tactics, tracking and monitoring, sabotaging relationships, using threats, controlling a victim’s body and sexual activity, jealousy, and other behaviours. Coercive control can occur with or without the addition of physical and verbal abuse.
At the root of all narcissism is the narcissist’s desire to have control over you – what you do, what you wear, who you hang out with, what you do for work, where you go for fun… all of it! Narcissists are powerless in their own lives and seek to feel powerful by psychologically (and sometimes physically) torturing their victims.
Covert narcissists are those who appear ‘normal’ to others. Those who master the art of mask wearing. Those who people say “…but they are so nice… surely they couldn’t have done that?” about. Covert narcissists hide their behaviours from the rest of the world, saving them just for their target. This type of narcissist is passive-aggressive and regularly plays the victim card.
Ironically, narcissists are great at dishing out the harshest criticism but they cannot tolerate it in return. Narcissists are highly sensitive to criticism as it triggers their vulnerable inner child. Narcissists often lash out or rage as a result of the slightest perceived criticism.
This one is essentially about rocking the boat… making you lose your emotional balance. Narcissists enjoy using all sorts of manipulation tactics that result in you doubting your own memory, being confused, and ending up overwhelmed.
Devalue and Discard
Heard of the narcissistic cycle of abuse… idealise, devalue, and discard? Devaluing is the act of abusing you and watching you fall to your own personal rock bottom. Discarding is not something done by all narcissists but essentially it is the part of the cycle where they throw you out or dump you. The part where they toss you aside because they have no further need for you.
Narcissists are like magicians, they have bags of tricks to use in their efforts to exploit and abuse you. Think gaslighting, blame shifting, word salad, threats, projections, triangulation, and love-bombing (all these terms are explained within this article). All these tricks are used to deflect responsibility.
Think I, my, mine. Self-interest and self-centredness abound with narcissists. You do not matter. Never have. Never will. It’s a sad reality really.
Name calling, shaming, threatening, swearing, belittling, and humiliating you, gaslighting, constantly rejecting you. Consider this psychological warfare.
Don’t expect a warm, close, loving connection with a narcissist. These people lack the most basic of social skills that allow for genuine human connection. Narcissists are unable to form close emotional bonds.
Narcissists feel sorry for, or relate to, no one but themselves. As for you… suffering? They don’t care. Exhausted? They don’t care. Pregnant? They don’t care. Sick? They don’t care. Crying? They don’t care.
An enabler is someone who allows the abuser’s behaviours to continue. Someone who encourages the narcissist to continue their toxic behaviour. Someone who knows exactly what the narcissist is up to but does nothing to stop it.
What’s mine is mine and what is yours… is also mine! This is how a narcissist thinks. They will have what they want when they want and why they want. At any and all costs. They fundamentally believe they are entitled to everything they desire.
Narcissists are programmed to take. And they are good at it. Whether it’s money, sex, friendships, assets, love… whatever it is… they will use you for their own personal gain. No holds barred.
Many narcissists have fantasies of grandiosity and heroism. Dreams where they save the day. Dreams where they are superior to all. They live in a made-up land of power and influence where they play out everything they long for in reality.
Flying monkeys are people who have also been manipulated by the abusive narcissist but who join their team and take sides with them, for countless reasons.
A form of emotional abuse, gaslighting involves extreme psychological manipulation that results in you doubting your own memory or recollection of events. For example… “I never said that!” or “You’re the crazy one, that never happened”.
Many narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self, believe they are far more powerful than they are and have delusions of immortality. Grandiose behaviours are all about domination.
Grey rocking is a technique you want to use if you are being abused by a narcissist. Essentially grey rocking is a de-escalation strategy you can use to help slow or stop abuse at any particular moment. It involves being unresponsive, or passive, in your interactions with the narcissist. It could be shrugging, nodding, avoiding the use of eye contact or even using silence to stop the narcissist raging. Also known as the ‘extinction effect’.
Haughtiness is about being arrogant, superior, and unreasonably and unabashedly proud of oneself… and that is exactly what a narcissist is.
This is the act of sucking you back into the relationship, either after a fight or at the point you decide to leave the relationship. Hoovering can involve promises of changed behaviours, excessive gift giving or things like intense make-up sex where finally they focus on you. All these behaviours are attempts to lure you back in so they can continue exploiting you for their own gain.
As mentioned earlier, idealise is part of the narcissistic cycle of abuse where the abuser idealises you before devaluing and discarding you. The idealise stage is where they work the hardest to lock you into the relationship. This is the time you see their best behaviour… where they make the most effort to make the relationship work. Where they put you on a pedestal and tell you all the things they know you’ll love to hear.
Narcissists are deeply insecure, despite their external behaviours. Remember, misery enjoys company so they love the challenge of turning a happy, confident person into a shell of their former selves. Everything you see is a mask that hides their true self-loathing.
Narcissists are jealous people. Let me say that again. Narcissists are jealous people. They’re jealous of your strengths because they remind them of their weaknesses. They want you, because they want you, and because if they can’t have you then no one can have you. This is why many women end up murdered at the hands of their current or ex-partner.
Everything is a joke to a narcissist. Everything. One of their classic lines … “You’re so serious, relax, it was just a joke!”. Narcissists use jokes to justify personal attacks on you that they expect you to just laugh off.
This usually happens at the start of a relationship with a narcissist, during the exciting honeymoon/idealise period where connection is buzzing and romance is blooming. Love bombing involves showering the victim with praise, gifts, loving words and otherwise excessive or over the top acts aimed at getting you to take the ‘bait’… hook, line, and sinker.
Narcissists love lying like kids love lollies. Lying is their go-to for seeking admiration, blame shifting, hiding their flaws, and protecting their insecure sense of self.
These narcissists are reckless, unhinged, and dangerous. Malignant narcissists often have strong anti-social traits or a diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder and are usually the type to kill their current or former partner.
Narcissists use a variety of tactics to manipulate and wear down their victim. Whatever their strategy, the aim of manipulation is to see them get what they want and it is driven by complete and utter selfishness and desire for power and control.
Mirroring involves copying and acting. As narcissists lack social and relational skills, they offer study their victims and look for clues for how to act ‘normally’, how to fit in. This is how many narcissists go un-noticed by those other than their partner. Mirroring allows them to behave in ways that ‘most’ people do so they can avoid being called out for their behaviour.
Narcissists have several versions of themselves who show differently depending on who they are with. This is why their friends see one version of them, but you see a totally different version of them behind closed doors. Narcissists know exactly which ‘mask’ to wear based on who they are with and what they are wanting.
No contact is a form of self-preservation. A way to set and enforce strict boundaries in order to begin healing from prolonged, and often extreme, abuse. No contact means not allowing any contact with the narcissist. This may involve deleting and blocking their phone number, blocking emails from them, and refusing to respond to any contact attempts.
Overt narcissists are loud and proud, the ones who openly and unashamedly use and abuse others in order to advance themselves. These narcissists are aggressive and in your face.
Projection involves the narcissist shifting their unwanted ‘stuff’ onto you. It may be the traits they don’t like about themselves, their shortcomings, or their flaws. Their aim is to blame you for everything they hate about themselves because they haven’t got the capacity to sit in their own ‘stuff’. So, if they are lying, they’ll call you a liar. If they say you’re jealous of them, it’s because they are jealous of you.
Narcissistic rage is scary and unpredictable. They fly off the handle, often at the smallest of things which wouldn’t worry most people. Perceived threats to their self-worth or self-esteem often trigger their rage which can intensify when they are called out for their behaviour or when the victim tries to leave and expose them for who they really are. Narcissists rage like toddlers throw tantrums… because they haven’t the skills to process their emotions.
In my opinion, not enough is known about reactive abuse, yet another weapon used by the narcissist to isolate and shame victims. Reactive abuse is when you have a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, likely after years and years of prolonged abuse. For example, when you finally let go and lash out or scream at an abuser, they use your reaction as proof that you are in fact the abuser. Reactive abuse is understandable, but it can see people get in serious trouble with the law if the narcissist reports it to police, so therefore it is essential that you remove yourself from the relationship asap.
Usually only seen in retrospect, once the abuse has already commenced, seeing the red flags is often the saddest moment of awakening for a victim. Red flags are warning signs that something isn’t right, and often even if they are seen early in the relationship, people downplay them because they believe they are in love. Classic narcissistic red flags are an overinflated sense of self, lying, saying ‘I love you’ way to soon, love bombing, arrogance, lack of respect for your boundaries etc.
Smear campaigns launched by a narcissist can be devastating. They will lie about you and spread all sorts of untruths about you to those closest to you in order to have people see their version of events or their ‘truth’. This behaviour is used to essentially ‘get in first’ so they can shut people up and convince them that you are a terrible person who is in fact abusing them. Smear campaigns are intentional and systematic.
Stonewalling can happen in any relationship but in a relationship with a narcissist it takes on a whole new meaning. In simple terms, stonewalling is the act of refusing to communicate with someone. It could be the use of the silent treatment, using excuses to avoid communicating or outright refusing to listen to your needs.
Narcissists thrive on supply. Without it they cannot function. Supply is about the constant need for admiration and attention but also relates to the victim and what they can ‘offer’ the abuser in more general terms. When you supply a narcissist with praise, love, sex, money, a place to live or other such things, they happily drain you of these things to advance themselves.
Just one tool in the narcissist’s toolbox. Threats can be made to further manipulate and control the victim to have them do what the narcissist wants them to do. Often used to have a victim obey or agree with them, threats can be made against the victim, their pets, their family etc.
Ever wondered why you feel ‘addicted’ to your ex? Or why it takes so many times to leave them? Trauma bonding is why! Trauma bonding is a complex concept to explain in just a few short sentences but it involves the bio-chemical bonds developed during traumatic experiences shared with others. In the context of narcissistic abuse, trauma bonding explains the victim making excuses for the abuser, downplaying their abuse, or covering their tracks. Trauma bonding involves dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, oxytocin and cortisol, all of which play their part in keeping a victim connected to their abuser.
Triangulation involves the use of a third person to further destabilise you. Narcissists love comparing you to others to make you do something they want you to do or to remain in control of you. A classic example of triangulation is comparing you to their ex to make you feel inferior and ultimately to have you do the thing you are reluctant to do or uncomfortable about doing.
Narcissists have an obsessive need for validation and admiration that they use to strengthen their fragile sense of sense. Narcissists never validate the suffering of their victims because, in their eyes, everything is your problem, not theirs.
When it comes to ‘emotional vampires’, people who suck you dry of everything you once were, narcissists take the cake. These people will twist and turn and manipulate and screw you for everything before leaving you to wallow in what they would call self-pity.
Abuse you as they do, narcissists love playing the victim card. This is because they cannot tolerate the reality of the truth you confront them with as it misaligns with their fantasy land version of themselves. Narcissists use this strategy to gain sympathy from those who they can play and manipulate later on.
Narcissists can, and often do, use violence against their victim to further isolate them and bring on shame and other heavy feelings that keep people stuck in toxic relationships. Many narcissists are paranoid and extremely vindictive, so their violence comes from a place of protecting their ego and sense of entitlement.
You know those deep, private secrets or insecurities you shared with a narc at the start of your relationship when you were falling in love? Prepare for them all to be used against you later. Narcissists have no shame in throwing your normal, human insecurities in your face in efforts to make you hate yourself so that you are further destabilised and therefore, settle for further abuse. This is an ultimate power trip for a narcissist.
Ever walked away from a conversation with a narcissist thinking “What the heck was THAT?”. Conversations with narcissists are never ‘normal’. They go round and round, back and forth and in every other direction you can imagine. The ‘word salad’ concept relates to their ability to take a bit of this and a bit of that before throwing it all together, mixing it up and tossing it at you. You cannot make sense of nonsense and narcissists love watching their victim struggle to understand them as it shifts the focus of the conversation away from them.
So there you have it, Narcissism Terminology: Your A – Z Guide.
I hope you found this article helpful! Don’t forget to leave a comment if you can think of other words I should include.
Before you go, you may like to check out some of my other articles on narcissism.
If you’d like support on your journey to recovery from narcissistic abuse, my counselling services are available Australia wide. Feel free to reach out to me to see how I might be able to support you.
Until next time,
Yours in better mental health,