It seems like everybody is talking about narcissism these days. Does social media breed it? Are we raising a generation of overpraised narcissistic kids? Is your boss, your new flirtation, or your president one? Questions and theories abound. But if you’re dealing with a true nightmare with a narcissist, the hardcore personality disordered variety, you probably find yourself feeling acutely alone with the terrible isolation of narcissistic abuse.

The Isolation of Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissists have an arsenal of abuses, but isolation is one of their foremost weapons. Isolating his targeted victims enables the narcissist to better manipulate and control them. When it comes to his partner and children, he isolates them from the outside world, from one another, and even from their own sense of reality. To make matters worse, very few people truly understand narcissism, isolating sufferers even further.

1.  Narcissistic Abuse Isolates You from the Outside World

Seeking continuously (as in every hour of every day) to convince others, and perhaps even more themselves, that their false mask of superiority is real, narcissists isolate those close to them to control what “their loved ones” reflect and reveal about them. The narcissist typically most isolates her family members, because she has easiest access to them and because they pose the biggest threat of revealing things about herself that she does not want known. She keeps careful watch over what family information and images are exposed to the outside world.

2.  Narcissistic Abuse Isolates You from Family Members

Another go-to tactic of the narcissist is to divide and conquer. Within families, the narcissist ruthlessly sets members against another. One method he uses is to treat children inequitably, favoring one and targeting others. He also creates a competitive and threatening atmosphere that keeps family members vying for approval and/or a reprieve from attack. Attack can take many forms, including rage, ridicule, and blame. The narcissist typically isolates his partner with a host of abuse, from criticism to projection, bullying to violent outbursts. The partner may enable the narcissist’s isolating tactics by supporting divisions within the family.

3.  Narcissistic Abuse Isolates You from Yourself 

The ultimate puppeteer, the narcissist regularly gaslights (leads others to question their judgment and sanity) family members, denies their reality, and projects her own abuse and corrupt agenda onto them. The narcissist continuously creates in others the experience of cognitive dissonance—a conflict between what you feel/see to be true and what she tells you is happening. Cognitive dissonance undermines the intrinsic connection between your feelings and your sense of reality. Cognitive dissonance in essence separates you from you—drilling a schism through your core, whereby you come to fundamentally doubt yourself.

4.  Narcissistic Abuse Is Not Understood

Jazz great Louis Armstrong famously said, “There’s some folks, that, if they don’t know, you can’t tell ’em.” Many people lack the imagination to understand things beyond their immediate experience. But, to add insult to horrible injury, narcissistic personality disorder is so particularly complex, insidious, ruthless, and destructive that it is virtually impossible to comprehend unless you’ve lived it (or something like it) first hand. Even if they know something about the disorder, most people have no idea what narcissistic abuse really entails, and they are unaware of its profound and lasting emotional and physiological damage.

Even once they are away from the narcissist, survivors themselves struggle to understand what they have been through and heal from it. Tragically, when survivors reach out for support, their friends, relatives, pastors, and even most therapists often dismiss their experience, further isolating and confusing the survivor. Such people may give dangerous advice such as to reconcile with an abusive spouse or parent.

How to Find Support

Survivors of narcissistic abuse often try to go it alone. Fortunately these days there are many resources about narcissism and its related trauma. Books, blogs, websites, online forums, and YouTube videos, often created by survivors themselves, are now widely available. But they don’t replace personal support. There are many people experiencing what you are going through. Seek them out through your network of friends, support groups, and online forums. If you have a loving partner, educate him/her about what you’ve been through. Find a therapist who is trained in narcissistic abuse recovery. Don’t let the narcissist continue to isolate you even after he is out of your life.

Julie L. Hall’s articles on narcissism regularly appear in The Huffington Post and PsychCentral. She is the author of a forthcoming memoir about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissistic family (read excerpts). 

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Photo courtesy of Hendrik Dacquin, Creative Commons.