An important question popped up from our community: “Why do narcissists abuse their partners?” I did some digging. Here’s what I learned.

To put it simply, narcissists abuse their partners because they lack empathy, have a fear of abandonment, want to feel powerful and in control, and because they have a superiority complex.

In this article, I’ll guide you through each one of these reasons to help you understand why narcissists are often so abusive towards their partners.

1.) They Want to Control the Relationship

Generally speaking, narcissists need to have some sort of power to feel stable. This need stems from their deep-seated insecurities1 and desire to feel superior.

Unfortunately, one of the ways that they put themselves in a position of power is by maintaining control of their relationships. 

This control can, and often does, manifest in various ways, including emotional, financial, and physical abuse.

For example, imagine you’re in a relationship with a narcissist. You’ve just received a promotion at work and are excited to share the news.

Someone excited about a promotion they received at work.

Instead of celebrating your achievement, your narcissistic partner belittles it and criticizes you for not spending enough time at home. 

This reaction is an emotionally abusive tactic to undermine your success and assert control by making you feel guilty and inferior.

Related: 10 Tactics Narcissists Use to Make You Feel Guilty

2.) They Lack Empathy

A core characteristic of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a lack of empathy.2

Because of this, it is difficult for narcissists to understand or care about the feelings of others. 

This lack of empathy is often a key reason they engage in abusive behavior, as they don’t fully grasp the pain and suffering their actions cause.

For instance, imagine you’re feeling down because of a family issue and seek comfort from your narcissistic partner. 

But instead of offering support, their lack of empathy causes them to dismiss your feelings, accusing you of being too sensitive or overreacting.

This type of behavior, especially in narcissistic relationships, is a form of emotional abuse and will likely leave you feeling isolated and invalidated.

3.) They Have a Fear of Abandonment

Ironically, despite their outward appearance of confidence, narcissists often harbor a deep fear of abandonment.3 

It is common for them to engage in abusive behaviors as a way to keep their partner dependent and unlikely to leave. 

This can include tactics like guilt-tripping, where they try to induce feelings of guilt within you to control or influence your behavior.

A narcissist trying to guilt trip someone.

Or physical intimidation, where they use their physical presence, actions, or gestures to make you feel scared, threatened, or uncomfortable. 

For example, let’s say whenever you make plans to spend time with friends or family, your partner accuses you of not caring about the relationship. 

They even go as far as to smash objects or distort facts to make you feel fearful or guilty for wanting to spend time away from them. 

This manipulation can make you doubt your decisions and cause you to develop an unhealthy dependence on their approval and company.

Related: 7 Things Narcissists Fear the Most

4.) They Want to Feel Powerful

Narcissists want to feel powerful because it gives them narcissistic supply.

If you didn’t know this already, narcissistic supply is validation, admiration, reassurance, power, and control narcissists use to feel emotionally stable.4

Unfortunately, the largest, most reliable sources of power narcissists have access to are often their romantic relationships.

Because of this, when narcissists feel like they’re losing power over their partners, it is common for them to use abusive behaviors to regain it.

For example, say you decide to spend an evening out with friends, something you haven’t done in a while, due to your narcissistic partner’s dislike of you going out.

A narcissist trying to control her husband.

Despite their protests, you go, needing some time away and space for yourself. Of course, you are well within your rights to make this decision.

But it does make the narcissist feel like they’re losing power in the relationship.

So, upon your return, your partner’s demeanor is cold and accusatory, questioning why you stayed out “so late” and implying you don’t prioritize the relationship.

Suddenly, the situation escalates and takes a darker turn.

The narcissist grabs your arm tightly, causing pain, and pushes you against the wall, insisting that you never go out without their permission again.

This is an example of a narcissist using abuse to regain power in their relationship. I hope it helps you understand why narcissists can be abusive toward their partners.

Related: What Happens When a Narcissist Loses Their Supply?

5.) They Have a Superiority Complex

Narcissists often possess a superiority complex, believing they are inherently better than others, including their partners. 

When their partner does not affirm this inflated self-image, it can cause them to be abusive in an attempt to reinforce their supposed superiority.

For example, imagine you’re excitedly preparing for a job interview for a position you’ve been wanting for months. 

It’s a significant step up in your career, and you’ve spent evenings preparing, sometimes discussing your progress with your partner. 

However, as the interview day approaches, your partner begins to mock your efforts. 

“Do you really think you’re qualified for that? You’re not even good at handling stress,” they say with a laugh. 

A narcissist devaluing his wife.

The night before your interview, they escalate their behavior—purposely starting an argument to rattle you, commenting:

“See, you can’t even handle a simple disagreement. How are you supposed to manage more responsibilities?”

This deliberate action—picking a fight to undermine your confidence—is a clear example of abusive behavior stemming from their superiority complex. 

By attempting to shake your self-esteem right before a critical moment, they aim to prove their perceived superiority. 

This emotionally abusive action is not just about causing doubt.

It’s a calculated move to ensure you remain emotionally dependent on their approval, reinforcing their dominant position in the relationship.

For more helpful information like this, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse today.

What Should You Take Away from This Article?

So, to wrap this article up, here are the five reasons narcissists abuse their partners:

  • They want to control the relationship.
  • They lack empathy.
  • They have a fear of abandoment.
  • They want to feel powerful.
  • They have a superiority complex.

Thank you for taking the time to read this piece! If you have something to say, please leave a comment below. I’d love to engage with you and hear your thoughts.

And if you are curious about romantic narcissistic relationships, check out our latest articles. They explain things in an easy-to-understand way.

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About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.

Unfilteredd has strict sourcing guidelines and only uses high-quality sources to support the facts within our content. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, actionable, inclusive, and trustworthy by reading our editorial process.

  1. Kowalchyk, Mary, et al. “Narcissism through the lens of performative self-elevation.” Personality and Individual Differences 177 (2021): 110780. ↩︎
  2. di Giacomo, E., Andreini, E., Lorusso, O., & Clerici, M. (2023). “The dark side of empathy in narcissistic personality disorder.” Frontiers in psychiatry14, 1074558. ↩︎
  3. Vaknin, Sam. Malignant self love: Narcissism revisited. Narcissus Publishing, 2007. ↩︎
  4. MacDonald, Pat. “Narcissism in the modern world.” Psychodynamic practice 20.2 (2014): 144-153. ↩︎

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