Narcissistic personality disorderNarcissistic personality disorder A mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. Also see Narcissistic abuse. is one of the four Cluster-B personality disorders listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and defined as follows:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance
  • A preoccupation with perfection or fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the perfect love
  • Believes he/she is special and unique, and can only be understood by or should associate himself/herself with other special or high-status people or institutions
  • A need for excessive admiration from close friends and relatives as well as complete strangers
  • A sense of entitlement to goods and services
  • Exploitive behavior in interpersonal relationships (including private and professional relationships)
  • A lack of empathy
  • Envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • A demonstration of arrogance in behaviors or attitudes

To diagnose NPD, a person must show a pattern that reflects at least 5 out of the 9 traits above.
Furthermore, the DSM-5 lists an alternative model that describes a limitation of the following:

  • Identity
  • Self-direction
  • Empathy
  • Intimacy

However, one of the most important traits the DSM-5 is failing to make aware of is the distinction between overt and covert narcissismNarcissism Narcissism is characterized by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy.. While the above traits are often quickly ascribed to overt narcissism, they can also be observed in covert narcissism over time. Covert narcissismCovert narcissism Narcissistic traits and behavior that are not immediately recognizable as such; the opposite of overt narcissism. Covert narcissists engage in high levels of impression management and/or often pretend to be the victim in order to save face. is the most dangerous because covert abusers operate like the Trojan horse; they hide their toxic traits from their targets in the beginning to not only gain access but also power and control over their victims through strategic and insidious manipulationManipulation An often insidious and strategic action of making someone to do something in favor of the manipulator. tactics, leading to what we describe as narcissistic abuse.

Narcissistic abuse in intimate relationships is the systematic destruction of a narcissist’s target or partner for his/her personal gain of narcissistic supplyNarcissistic supply A narcissist is in a constant need for narcissistic supply which can be anything that makes the narcissist feel valuable, important, and happy.. Victims supply narcissists in various ways, e.g. attention, housing, transportation, money, sex, food, status, jobs, etc.

Narcissistic abuse follows a universally recognizable pattern divided in the four phases:

  • IdealizationIdealization In the course of idealization and beginning stages of narcissistic abuse, an unsuspecting victim is made to feel desired by a narcissist to quickly build a shallow attraction between them. The narcissist puts the victim on a figurative pedestal, bombarding him/her with admiration. Recurring phases of idealization during the devaluation, discard, or hoovering phase are known as re-idealization. (Also see love-bombing) or Love-bombingLove-bombing A narcissist's shallow showering of a victim with love and affection in the first stage of narcissistic abuse (also see idealization).
  • DevaluationDevaluation The second and often longest stage of narcissistic abuse in which a victim is being devalued and abused by a narcissist.
  • DiscardDiscard The third stage of narcissistic abuse. A narcissist's abrupt or drawn-out process of leaving a victim. Victims often feel used and 'discarded' should they not be the one leaving/escaping first. or Escape
  • HooveringHoovering A narcissist's attempt to lure (hoover) a former victim back into the cycle of abuse. Also known as the fourth stage of narcissistic abuse.

Through various groomingGrooming Grooming is the manipulative act of building trust and an emotional connection to someone so the person can be exploited and abused. and manipulation techniques in the early stage of a relationship, a narcissist makes a usually vulnerable and thoroughly selected target dependent on him/her (most of all emotionally). The target will be idealized and bombarded with attention, affection, and artificial love, which he/she believes to be authentic, often, due to a lack of self-love and an inability to recognize or interpret true love.

Once the (now) victim shows his/her commitment to a narcissist, the devaluation process begins. In most cases, a narcissist has isolated a victim from a valuable support systemSupport system A supportive group or network of people aiding a victim. by that time to execute complete power and control over him/her.

During the devaluation phase, the victim may experience various types of abuse such as emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or spiritual abuse, leading to his/her mental and physical depletion, and in some cases even death.

Over time, a narcissist deems his/her victim useless, as he/she becomes more and more unable to cater to his/her ever-changing demands and insatiable needs, leading to a rapid discard and replacement of a victim with another target, who will soon become the next victim. Some victims manage to escape the devaluation phase before narcissists are able to discard them; a dangerous time in which they may try everything to re-gain power and control over their victims, engage in stalking, and monitor their victims’ every move.

Once, a victim has been discarded or escaped, he/she enters the final stage of narcissistic abuse, hoovering. The term is named after the Hoover vacuum cleaner and just like it, a narcissist tries to suck a former victim back into a toxic dynamic with him/her to repeat this vicious cycle.

Victims of narcissistic abuse often receive stern looks and harsh criticism for staying, returning to, or getting involved with their abusive partners in the first place. What outsiders do not understand is that due to the ups-and-downs of idealization and devaluation, victims develop a so-called trauma bond (commonly known as Stockholm Syndrome) – a deep psychological and emotional connection (or addiction), keeping them hooked and dependent on their abusers’ validation. It is, therefore, even more important that survivors of narcissistic abuse find and validate each other.

Since narcissistic abuse is insidious, invisible, and personalized, one must have experienced it in order to fully understand the effects of it.

Narcissistic abuse is not only a problem within intimate relationships. It can also occur within family dynamics, among friends, or at the workplace.