As the saying goes, we often hurt the ones we love, but narcissists torture others deliberately and with little to no restraint.
Merriam-Webster defines torture as “the infliction of “intense pain to coerce, punish, or afford sadistic pleasure” and “anguish of body or mind.” Anyone who has had the misfortune of being targeted by a narcissist knows very well that torture is in fact precisely the word for the experience. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is by nature an abusive disorder because of the narcissist’s deficient development of ego and empathy, which leads him/her to compensate with a false vainglorious omnipotent persona in the absence of a moderating conscience.
Those closest to people with NPD, such as a partner/spouse and children, are at most risk of torturous behavior. It can range from psycho-emotional to physical and sexual, but it is inevitable because narcissists don’t care if they hurt others while at the same time are always attempting to exert control.
“Coercion” is the first part of the dictionary definition of torture. Narcissists coerce others, especially their family, to uphold the manufactured identity they create for themselves in place of the emptiness they actually feel beneath their assertions of superiority. They continuously work to convince themselves that their invented self is real and true, and they resort to all means of coercion to exact cooperation from those around them to support their sham reality.
Here are common coercive tactics narcissists use to gain compliance from others.
- Isolation removing the target’s independence, such as by restricting contact with friends, outside family, and social connections; constraining physical freedom; and limiting financial resources
- Removal of Free Will destabilizing the target’s fundamental sense of self, reality, and worldview through persistent questioning, and negative judgment
- Instilled Powerlessness undermining the target’s confidence in his/her thoughts, feelings, and perceptions through distortions of reality, gaslighting, and dismissing and denying truths and facts to cause self-doubt and cognitive dissonance
- Thought Control controlling acceptable opinion and expression in the target through judgment, intimidation, silent treatment, rejection, and unspoken “rules of engagement”
- Terror controlling the target’s words, actions, and thoughts through implied, threatened, or real verbal, physical, and/or sexual violence, sometimes combined with intermittent repentance, promises of change, and/or rewards to keep the target “in the game” and holding out hope for change
“Punishment” is the second part of our dictionary definition of torture. Narcissists are not capable of sustained genuine love, loyalty, or respect for others, even and often especially those who in fact love and are loyal and respectful to them. Anyone who triggers, usually inadvertently, their profound insecurity, or narcissistic injury (that early childhood psycho-emotional wound that never heals), is fair game for a host of punishments. Narcissists punish for numerous reasons, and they do it without remorse believing others deserve it and would do the same to them if they were clever enough and/or given the chance.
Reasons for Punishment
- to control
- to get revenge
- to demonstrate their powers of influence
- to obtain/regain compliance
- to vent their rage
- to assert their entitlement
- to shut down potential or actual threats
- to defeat “competition”
- to display their dominance
- to get “respect”
- to create fear
- to derive sadistic pleasure
Here we come to the third part of our dictionary definition of torture: “sadistic pleasure” in pursuit of causing “anguish of body or mind.” Some narcissists are malignant, meaning their primary means of exerting control over their environment is through serial aggression, dominance, and abuse. Many malignant narcissists are also sadistic, experiencing pleasure, often sexual, through torturing others. They aren’t hurting others just because they lack a conscience and are trying to moderate their self-esteem. They are doing it also because they enjoy and even delight in humiliating, dominating, defiling, and dehumanizing others. People with NPD are not necessarily sadistic, but the ones who are make monstrous abusers who will torment those, in a parallel universe, they are meant to love.
Thank you to The Neurotypical Site for insights into psychological coercion based on Amnesty International definitions, adapted here.
Related Articles by Julie L. Hall
- The Narcissist’s Disrespect, Envy, and Contempt
- Why and How Narcissists Play the Shame Game
- Narcissistic Crimes and Misdemeanors: Real-Life Examples
- Waking Up to Narcissistic Abuse: ‘Our Parents Are the Last People We Can Trust’
- Big Sissies: How and Why Narcissists Get Worse with Age
- How and Why Narcissists Are Highly Skilled Abusers
- The Narcissist Parent’s Psychological Warfare: Parentifying, Idealizing, and Scapegoating
- The Narcissism Mystique: Facts and Fictions You Need to Know
- 7 Defining Traits of the Narcissist
- Raised by a Narcissist? 11 Healing Things to Do for Yourself Right Now
- The Paradox of the Narcissist’s Unrequited Self-Love
- It’s You and Me Baby: Narcissist Head Games
- 7 Things a Narcissist Will Never Do
- The Narcissist as Human Parasite: Are You a Host?
- 4 Insidious Ways That Narcissistic Abuse Isolates the Victim
- Behind the Narcissist Mask: The Bully, Coward, Liar and Fraud
- How to Protect Your Child from Your Narcissist Spouse
- The Challenge of Setting Boundaries with Narcissist Parents
- Understanding Narcissistic Rage and Why It Is Not Your Fault
- The Strength of the Scapegoat in the Narcissist Family
- Adult Children of Narcissists Face Trauma-Induced Health Risks
- Seven Sure Ways to Spot a Narcissist
- What Raging Narcissists Break: A Damage List
- More Horrid and Shocking Things Narcissists Say and Do
- Horrid and Shocking Things Narcissists Say and Do
- Narcissist Crimes and Misdemeanors: Real-Life Stories
- The Dos and Don’ts of CoParenting with a Narcissist
- What the Narcissist Fears Most