Writings from Christine

How Narcissists Use Emotion to Abuse

by on April 7, 2015

The conversation with your narcissistic spouse starts with good intentions over some issue needing to be addressed. Knowing the propensity of overreaction, you gently proceed. At first, your spouse takes everything in stride so you relax. You let your guard down. Then it happens.

An insignificant comment (not the main point) suddenly ignites a firestorm. Instantly, you are being accused of things far out of your scheme. You become emotional and react.

Your spouse, in turn, uses your emotional reaction to justify further control, power, dominance, and superiority. It is emotional blackmail. However, they take no responsibility for igniting the flame. You are to blame.

This is emotionally abusive behavior. But just how does a narcissist use your emotions to gain further control? Besides each emotion is an example of how that emotional reaction can trap you into a cycle of abuse.

Nitpicked: If it feels like you are being picked apart bit by bit, most likely you are. Narcissists say your feelings are wrong, your behavior is inappropriate, or you are too sensitive. Whatever is important to you is minimized in comparison to their own agenda.

Surprised: You are surprised by their behavior in treating one child as a favorite while discounting the others. You are shocked that they accuse you of things they are guilty of. And you are stunned when they sabotage a calm atmosphere with unnecessary conflict in order to get attention.

Embarrassed: Narcissists detest being embarrassed but they love to embarrass you. They do this by sharing your private information without consent, treating you like a child in front of others, or exposing some shameful event.

Anxiety: It is easy to become anxious when you are questioned about your every move, motive, or aptitude. Yet, their poor behavior or your important conversations are conveniently forgotten leaving you to question yourself. To top it off, their insecurity demands that you prove your love or commitment over and over.

Overwhelmed: You feel overwhelmed by the excessive responsibility a narcissist dumps on you. A narcissist expects you to drop everything to “cheer them up” when they are depressed, angry, or anxious. You are frequently blamed for their problems or unhappiness as they bombard you with unnecessary and irrelevant information.

Ridiculed: A narcissist belittles your accomplishments, aspirations, or personality in front of others. They minimize their words by saying, “It was only a joke.” Teasing or sarcasm is commonly used to degrade and mock you.

Guilt: As soon as you try to do something positive in your life, a narcissist stops you through the use of guilt. They claim that they should be the most important person in your life, you owe them your unwavering loyalty, or you are being selfish for taking care of yourself.

Insecurity: First the narcissist holds you to an unrealistic, unattainable, or unsustainable standard. Then when you fail, you are treated as inferior. Your thoughts, beliefs or values become insignificant, incorrect, or worthless. They may even become verbally abusive at this point.

Confused: A narcissist confuses you by treating you as an extension of themselves, not as a separate person. This becomes a justification for their acquired “mind-reading” skills and general over-reaction to nearly everything you say and do. Your words become twisted into something you never meant. The narcissist uses these incidents as a rationale for withdrawing from you, chronically sabotaging, and then re-establishing closeness.

Shame: When manipulated right, shame is a powerful motivator. A narcissist shames you by constantly reminding you of your shortcomings, often in a passive-aggressive way. Or they complain about how badly you treat them compared to “great” they treat you.

Alienated: A narcissist has a better chance of power and control if other people aren’t influencing you. So they belittle your friends and family and make your social engagements a nightmare (by contrast, they will be amazingly charming at their social engagements). They also restrict your normal communication by interfering in your relationships unnecessarily.

Scared: A narcissist uses intimidation to scare you into compliance. You become so frightened of what they have threatened to do that you choose the path of least resistance. This is often a reluctant agreement to a lesser issue to avoid the larger threat.

Anger: A narcissist generates an angry response by acting immature and selfish but accusing you of behaving that way. Then, they divert the discussion thereby preventing any real resolution, especially anything involving action on their part. Finally, you are set up with only you lose-they win options. Your anger is a response to feeling like you are fighting a no-win battle all the time.

Hostility: It’s difficult to think of your home as a hostile place but a narcissist sometimes creates that atmosphere. For instance, they constantly interrupt while you are talking so you feel unheard. Or they stalk you both at home and away from home. Or they restrict your sleep cycle so you are increasingly tired and frustrated.

Rejected: If you hate to feel rejection, a narcissist will prey on you. They begin by denying the relevance of your point of view. Then they refuse to acknowledge your worth even withholding love or intimacy to prove their point. Finally, they threaten to abandon you when you refuse to comply.

Fear: It can be a powerful motivator or a terrorizing experience. A narcissist will use intimidation, threats, frightening behavior, or destruction of your treasured possessions to incite fear. You become paralyzed, feel hopeless, and therefore rely (without questioning any further) on whatever they say.

Don’t let these emotionally abusive tactics get the best of you. Instead, learn to recognize them at the moment so you can keep your emotions in check. The best way to stop emotionally abusive behavior is to not let it get to you in the first place.

To get your copy of the book, Abuse Exposed, click here.

Posted under: Narcissism Writings from Christine

14 comment on How Narcissists Use Emotion to Abuse


    Outstanding! Articulated perfectly!


    I know it;s too late for me, but is there something I can do,or say for my daughter? When I figured out what this all was, I found a website for children but my daughter is over that age. Thank You


    Great.yet scary as to defend my self I have used some of those tactics then hated myself for doing so


    This was my life for the 6 years of my marriage. Insane. Now going through divorce, and finding out on top of the emotional and verbal abuse, there was also substantial financial abuse. He’s angry that I’m finding out all about his deception, and blames me (naturally). Even though I still have to fight through the divorce, and we have to co-parent – every day I’m thankful I was able to leave. Your articles are awesome, informative, and affirming. I added your page to my bookmarks. Thank you!


    I am pregnant with 2 preschoolers already. My narrsasisist abandoned us for 3 weeks then showed back up out of nowhere. It has been hell. He takes no responsibility. He really hurt my little girls by walking out without a word and not contacting them. Now he seems to be using that threatening to leave while they sleep ect. I legally can’t make him leave. I have to evict him. But the last 4 days since he came back has been utter hell. I didn’t want him back. We were healing. I barely sleep my kids are on edge. He has anger and accusations out of nowhere. Most unstable I have ever seen. I have even tried to convince him to go back to the woman he stayed with out of state. I can’t last like this. My parents passed away and have little support. Please help me. Nataliefrizzell@gmail.com


    I don’t think keeping the narcissist is a good idea but your article implies that. A wound that keeps being reopened never heals.


    This is me in my marriage of 16 years. My narcissistic husband and I are also in “recovery” after the discovery (2 years ago) of a decade of emotional affairs with at least 2 different women. We have 2 boys, age 12 and 8, and have always been isolated from friends and family. Although he has admitted a lot and changed a lot since dday, I still can’t believe anything he says and some of the behaviors you talk about are still happening. We have had counseling and a marriage intensive with Dr. David Hawkins in Seattle. My husbamd lied to both of us until Dr. Hawkins suggested a lie detector test. I really want to continue working on our marriage somehow, but we are out of counseling now and completely stalled. Can I talk to you?

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