Writings from Christine

Identifying Victims of Narcissistic Abuse

by on October 12, 2017

Too much attention is given to narcissistic behavior with little consideration offered to the victims of it. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is clearly defined in the DSM-5. Many subtypes have been offered, books were written and seminars were taught. But what about the abuse some victims have suffered?

Several names have been tossed around to describe what happens to these victims. Some have called it Narcissistic Victim Syndrome (NVS), Trauma-Associated Narcissistic Symptoms (TANS), or Post Traumatic Narcissism Syndrome (PTNS). However, none of these is an official diagnosis. Each of these has a similar list of symptoms:

  • Flashbacks of the behavior and trauma
  • Extreme fear for their personal safety
  • Highly strung or nervous
  • Constantly scanning the environment for potential threats
  • Depression, irritability, and guilt
  • Multiple physical complaints
  • Might engage in self-harm
  • Panic attacks
  • Numbing and shock
  • Impaired concentration and memory
  • Feeling they are going mad
  • Insomnia and nightmares
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors or eating disorders
  • Suppressed anger
  • Might be dissociative
  • Might be suicidal
  • Constantly second-guessing
  • Difficulty making simple decisions

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) does incorporate a limited number of the symptoms; however, it is not in the DSM-5 either. The definition identifies chronic long-term stress resulting from emotional trauma in which the victim has little chance of escape. Some examples consistent with narcissism include continuing experience with:

  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Objectification
  • Gaslighting and false accusations
  • Push-pull or splitting behaviors
  • Alternating raging and hovering behaviors
  • Crisis conditions

C-PSTD clients often feel like they could cry at any moment, they aren’t good enough for others, are fearful of forming relationships, have difficulty performing simple tasks, and are constantly distracted.  Over time, victims may develop eating disorders, obsessive disorders, depression, hypervigilance, substance abuse, or co-dependency.

Unfortunately, the revised definition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the best option for diagnosing victims of narcissistic abuse. Here are the criteria:

  • Traumatic event. Survivors must have been exposed to actual/threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. The exposure can be direct, witnessed, indirect (hearing it from others), or repeated exposure.
  • Intrusion or Re-experiencing. This could look like intrusive thoughts/memories, nightmares, flashbacks, or psychological distress/reactions to reminders of the traumatic event.
  • Avoidant Symptoms. Ways that someone may try to avoid memories of the event. It must include one of the following: avoiding thoughts, feelings, memories, people, places, conversations, or situations connected to the traumatic event.
  • Negative Alterations in Mood or Cognition. A decline in someone’s mood or thought patterns after the event. Includes: inability to remember, negative beliefs or expectations about one’s self or the world, distorted thoughts about the cause/consequence of the event, fear, horror, anger, guilt, shame, diminished interest in activities, feeling detached, feeling estranged, or inability to experience happiness.
  • Increased Arousal Symptoms. Ways that the brain remains “on edge,” wary and watchful of further threats. Symptoms include: irritability, increased temper/anger, reckless, self-destructive behavior, difficulty falling/staying asleep, hypervigilance, difficulty concentrating, or being easily startled.
  • The severity of the symptoms has to have lasted at least a month, seriously affects one’s ability to function, and can’t be due to substance use, medical illness, or anything except the event itself.
  • Subtype: This is set apart from the other symptom clusters. There are several types of dissociation, only two are included here: depersonalization which is feeling disconnected from oneself, and derealization which is a sense that one’s surroundings aren’t real.

The new definition of PTSD clearly incorporates the concepts of NVS, TANS, PTNS, and C-PTSD. However, it does not open the eyes of clinicians to the severity of narcissistic abuse. More education is needed to help identify when a person has been victimized so the right therapy can be utilized.

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

Posted under: Narcissism Personality Disorders Trauma Writings from Christine

6 comment on Identifying Victims of Narcissistic Abuse


    i am currently stuck in a relationship with a covert narcissist. Its been 6yrs. My day revolves around not making him mad. I keep my feelings, thoughts, and words all bottled up inside because I know the consequences of speaking freely..If i dare question him or his actions, or even try to object to something, I will get chewed up, tore down, and shredded to bits. He will pick me apart for just telling him i am lonely. In 2017, he broke my nose and busted my lip open and kicked me out of our home because I caught him in a lie. I have started to get physically sick from the stress and anxiety, i have gained so much weight, and my body is breaking down from all this. I have been mentally beat down by this person whom i thought loved me. I look back at these 6 years and I remember all the selfish, insidious, inhumane things that he has done to me and i realize now that this has always been a one sided relationship. He does not care and has never cared. i pray i find a way out


    So how can you distinguish if some one is a covert narcissist or actually suffering form CPTSD (TANS)? I know someone who has signs of covert narcissism, also signs of cPTSD (hypervigilance, anxiety attacks) and obsessive compulsive disorder (having to control everything in the home).

    Both her parents were wealthy narcissists (one overt and the other covert). She has all the tell-tale signs of narcassism, attention seeking, lack emapthy, controlling, jealous, isolating friends and family, manipulative. She is married to my friend who is very emphatic and codependent


    No one understands.
    No one can help.

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