If you take a look at the dynamics of the narcissistic abuse cycle, it appears that the narcissist has an overwhelming amount of control. It’s usually the victim who falls head over heels for the narcissist. Then it’s the narcissist who begins to devalue and manipulate the victim. And finally, It’s the narcissist who usually discards the victim whenever the narcissistic supply gets stale. If they have so much control, how do narcissists react when their victim moves on? 

When a victim of narcissistic abuse moves from a narcissistic relationship, the narcissist feels an overwhelming loss of control, and it causes narcissistic injury. For narcissists, relationships are purely transactional. They’re merely a source of validation, admiration, power, and control which is also known as narcissistic supply. When a victim of narcissistic abuse moves on, it means that they’ve lost their narcissistic supply, which is vital to both their internal and external stability. 

Narcissists Are Vulnerable to Feelings of Abandonment 

It sounds ridiculous that a narcissist could have an underlying fear of abandonment, but it’s true. A portion of their underlying fear of abandonment originates from the realm of the Attachment Theory, which suggests people with narcissistic personalities most likely have attachment styles characterized as anxious, disorganized, or avoidant patterns.  

Attachment Styles

Because of these characteristics shown above, narcissists have a very difficult time maintaining a healthy relationship with other people. So, if a victim of narcissistic abuse were to move on from the relationship, they’d trigger all of the characteristics shown in the photo above. And because of a narcissist’s inability to regulate their emotions, abandonment is catastrophic for their internal and external stability of a narcissist. 

Study Pertaining to a Narcissist’s Fear of Abandonment

When we did a documentary on Brie Robertson, a woman from Canada who survived 17 years of domestic violence, she told us a story about her narcissistic ex husband jumping on her car to try to prevent her from leaving the house.

At the time, all it was to us was a crazy story about a crazy abuser. However, knowing what we know now about a narcissist’s underlying fear of abandonment, his “crazy” response looks more like a manifestation of his fear of abandonment and the attachment styles characteristics we mentioned above. 

For this article, we conducted a study where we asked 36 of survivors of narcissistic abuse the following:

Some researchers believe that narcissists have an underlying fear of abandonment, caused by attachment styles along with other psychological issues. This belief suggests that your abuser would become extremely agitated when you’re separated and angry/distant when you’d reunite. Did you experience these behavioral patterns? If you’re unsure, read the quote below to get a better sense of what the patterns would look like. 

“The days before I’d go visit my friends without my husband, he would get so angry over the smallest things. We fought a lot but whenever we were about to be separated, it was ten times worse. When I came back home, he would ignore me, be passive aggressive, and start senseless arguments. I would try to fix everything by showing a ton of affection, but he would just push me away” – Cassandra 

The correlation between our study and the attachment theory is uncanny. The fear of abandonment is woven into the psyche of a narcissist. 

What Can Victims of Narcissistic Abuse Expect When They Move On? 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, just because someone has escaped the narcissistic relationship, doesn’t mean that they’ve escaped the abusive cycle. Narcissists have an arsenal of manipulative tactics designed to make life after abuse as confusing, isolating, and traumatizing as possible. 

Flying Monkeys

When a narcissist is on the verge of being exposed, they will begin to enlist flying monkeys, people they trick into manipulating the victim, to preserve their superficial image and devalue the victim’s credibility. 

Sadly, flying monkeys, in intimate relationships or a family setting, tend to be close friends and family members of the victim. The narcissist will enlist flying monkeys by spreading incriminating gossip and lies about the victim. 

Example

Mike is very abusive to his wife Amy. It’s been three years but Amy can’t take the abuse any longer. She summons up the courage to leave Mike for good. Because Mike is a narcissist, Amy deciding to leave triggers his primitive fears of abandonment and causes narcissistic injury. Through a combination of rage, insecurity, and an inability to regulate his own emotions he tells mutual friends and family that Amy has been really abusive lately, drinking a lot, and he doesn’t know what to do. 

Keep in mind, narcissists are very charming, charismatic, and intelligent. Their behavioral patterns are designed to make them appear as outstanding individuals to those who don’t look deep enough. It’s very possible for the friends and family of the victim to only see a charming version of the abuser. Which is why flying monkeys are so common in the narcissistic realm. 

When Amy’s family hears this, they’re appalled. They fall for Mike’s story immediately because they have no reason not to. He’s paid for vacations, bought Amy’s sister a new car, even bought Amy’s mother an apartment when she was going through a divorce. In their eyes, he’s a fantastic guy.

So when Amy comes to confide in her family about the abuse she’s been suffering, they approach the situation like she’s the perpetrator instead of the victim. 

Flying Monkeys

Flying monkeys can be detrimental to the emotional stability of a victim of abuse. They way they tend to gaslight and minimize the victims reality causes an enormous amount of confusion, guilt, and shame within the victim, pushing them back into the arms of their abuser. 

Gaslighting 

The complexity of narcissism, from the victim’s point of view, is deeply rooted in gaslighting. Gaslighting is when a narcissist will doubt and deny the victims reality so frequently, that the victim becomes consumed with self doubt and can’t trust their own perception of reality. 

This could manifest in the abuser minimizing the severity of the situation, shaming the victim for feeling the way they do, denying the obvious, and even go as far as telling the victim that they are the narcissist, not them.  

gaslighting

Gaslighting may not seem like a big deal, but it is. The level of manipulation victims of narcissistic abuse endure for months, years, and even decades destroys their confidence crippling them with self doubt.

It’s also very important that readers are aware that you don’t have to be narcissistic to gaslight someone. And because of how unbelievable narcissistic abuse can be, non-narcissistic people gaslight victims of narcissistic abuse all the time. 

For those who want to become resistant to gaslighting, following these four pieces of advice from Ariel Leve is a fantastic place to start. 

Hoovering 

Hoovering is a manipulative tactic narcissists use to drag their victims back into the relationship. For victims of narcissistic abuse who are still confused, in denial, and/or ruminating about the abuse they experienced, hoovering is especially dangerous. 

What Does Hoovering Look Like? 

  • I miss you so much, I keep scrolling through our photo books. 
  • I can’t live without you
  • Nobody will ever love you like I love you. 
  • Your abuser stays in contact with your parents and tells them how much he/she misses you. 
  • Your abuser takes to social media and makes depressing posts designed to evoke pity & guilt. 

Leaving a narcissistic relationship takes so much courage and strength, oftentimes the victim of narcissistic abuse is barely holding on. This confusion makes the victim very vulnerable to flying monkeys and enablers.

Enablers are people who don’t understand narcissism, so they approach the situation as they would a healthy relationship. 

Common Gaslighting Phrases Enablers Say

  • It can’t possibly be that bad. I’m sure you’ll work it out. 
  • Just give him another chance, I’ve known him a long time, he’d never really mean to hurt you. 
  • Are you sure it happened like that? 
  • I can talk to them for you. 

For a complete guide to narcissist enablers read What Are Narcissist Enablers?

For those who are in the position to support a victim of narcissistic abuse, check out How to Support Someone In a Narcissistic Relationship to ensure you don’t become an enabler yourself. 

Shame-Rage Spiral 

The underlying fear of abandonment that I mentioned earlier also creates something known as the shame-rage spiral. The grandiosity of a narcissist creates an extremely superficial reality that they hold dearly. 

Whatever their superficial reality may be, it leaves narcissists under the impression that they’re entitled to an unlimited supply of validation and admiration, as if they can do no wrong. 

So, when a victim of narcissistic abuse leaves their abuser, it smashes the narcissist’s grandiose perception of themselves. They go from being head honcho to the manipulative, insecure, emotionally unstable person that they really are. 

Victims of narcissistic abuse who escape the relationship, symbolize rejection in the narcissistic realm and it terrifies them. In the narcissistic realm, being rejected, essentially labeled not good enough, is a precursor to shame.

Remember, a narcissist can’t regulate their own emotions, so the feeling of shame that inevitably comes from being outed as an abuser, rejected, and discarded is too much to handle. So through narcissistic rage they project their shame onto others. 

Anger is a normal emotion that every human being has, but generally speaking, rage is not accepted in society today. Because of society’s rejection of rage, narcissists will immediately feel shame again because they’ve embarrassed themselves by raging. 

Example

Michelle decides to divorce her narcissistic husband of four years. She’s been on the fence for a while now but has finally summoned up the courage to leave for good. 

Her husband, Rob, is furious and shows up to Michelle‘s parents house uninvited. He’s terrified of the feeling of rejection and being discarded but it manifests in a frightening rage. 

He is yelling at Michelle, in a frantic attempt to hoover her back into the relationship. He even topples over a table on the lawn. 

His behavior is met with more rejection, at this point Michelle‘s father is outside demanding he leave. Michelle‘s mother is looking on with horror and disgust. And Michelle’s siblings look terrified. 

The shame of Rob’s true colors finally showing through is unbearable. His inability to process his own emotions causes him to be engulfed with rage, which he takes out on Michelle‘s car. 

Which is met with even more rejection and disgust, which sets off the shame rage spiral once again. 

We covered a narcissist’s reaction to shame in Do Narcissists Ever Feel Ashamed?, and our findings were fascinating because a narcissist’s projection of shame through rage, isn’t the usual form of projection seen in the narcissistic realm.

Projection is one of ten defense mechanisms outlined by the research of Sigmund Freud and his daughter, Anna Freud, that all use. With that being said, a narcissist’s inability to regulate their own emotions cause them to over rely on defense mechanisms, making it a very unhealthy behavior.

Projecten manifests in an individual projecting their unwanted attributes onto others. For example, a narcissist is disgusted with himself that he cheated on his wife, so he relentlessly accuses her of cheating. 

However, when it comes to the shame rage spiral, projection is merely a way for the narcissist to avoid the discomfort that comes from shame.

shame-rage spiral

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

Narcissism is a very complicated form of abuse to overcome. Readers who’ve suffered narcissistic abuse themselves and haven’t been able to process and heal, shouldn’t care about how their abuser felt when they summoned up the courage and strength it takes to leave the relationship. 

Caring would be a form of rumination, which I covered in Why Do I Keep Thinking About My Narcissistic Ex?. Rumination is when someone obsessively ponders the same thoughts over and over again. 

This is very common among victims of narcissistic abuse because for them, the relationship was real. They spent months, years, even decades trying to figure out how to fix the relationship, while enduring the horrific responsibilities of a scapegoat.

Rebuilding their self-esteem will take time, therapeutic guidance, and a fantastic support group. They can start by becoming indifferent to narcissistic abuse and all that it entails. 


All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

The Relationships Between Attachment Styles and Narcissism among Students of Shahid Chamran University in Iran

Krizan, Z., & Johar, O. (2015). Narcissistic rage revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(5), 784–801. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000013

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