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"Narcissistic Abuse" is a Harmful Phrase: 4 Reasons Why

By: Logan Cohen, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, AAMFT Clinical Supervisor, Founder of New Leaf Counseling Group I Charlotte, NC

Narcissistic Abuse
The phrase "Narcissistic Abuse" attempts to replace the word "abuser" with "Narcissist", which confuses the general public and obscures treatment for all parties - even mental health providers who usually have limited training in working with domestic violence.

The phrase "Narcissistic Abuse" is a popular one these days that has been recently used to describe abusive and manipulative behavior associated with domestic violence, not including physical aggression.


This is certainly a very popular phrase, but would it surprise you to hear that the phrase "Narcissistic Abuse"has not been validated or deemed reliable by the research required for it to be used with clients seeking active relief from mental health issues?


Narcissistic Abuse

In fact, the phrase "Narcissistic Abuse" can be downright misleading - even unethical....


Learn more in the following video of a recorded conversation between our founder Logan Cohen and Bea Cote, a dually licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Clinical Social Worker who has been a long-time violence prevention advocate and interventionist with her program Impact: Abuse Intervention of Charlotte.




Didn't find what you were looking for about the phrase "Narcissistic Abuse" in the video above?


If that is the case, you can learn more in the article below.


"Narcissistic Abuse" is a harmful phrase: 4 Reasons Why

#1 Reason the phrase "Narcissistic Abuse" is Harmful - Blurring the Lines


First, the phrase "Narcissistic Abuse" attempts to replace the word "abuser" with "Narcissist", which confuses the general public, people seeking treatment, and even mental health providers who usually have limited training in working with domestic violence.


The phrase "Narcissistic Abuse" is incorrectly used to describe the manipulative tactics of "power and control" that are unfairly used as an abuse of power in personal relationships.


You can find a collection of these behaviors described below in the following "Power and Control Wheel."



The error in thought that all coercive behavior is an indication of "Narcissistic Abuse" creates a false assumption that every abuser has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which creates yet another unique set of barriers for the abuser to get adequate treatment.


With consistent use, the above-mentioned tactics are psychologically abusive and create similar negative impacts for emotional and cognitive functioning similar as what would be expected from "post-traumatic stress disorder," or PTSD.


To learn more about the impacts of psychological abuse and whether your relationship is abusive, you can learn more here.


While these behaviors are indications of domestic violence with no physical aggression, this does not mean that the individual behaving abusively is indeed "a Narcissist."


Narcissistic Abuse
The phrase "Narcissistic Abuse" is incorrectly used to describe the manipulative tactics of "power and control" that allow unfair coercion, and is generally understood as an abuse of power in personal relationships.

While roughly 75% percent of those diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are male, most men who are abusers do not meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.


Instead it is much more common for abusers - both male and female - to struggle with their own untreated mental health issues like depression, anxiety, addiction and untreated trauma.


Unlike these other mental health issues noted above, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is generally understood to be untreatable.


This mislabeling of all coercive behavior as an indication of "Narcissistic Abuse" creates a false assumption that every abuser has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which creates yet another unique set of barriers for the abuser & the victim to adequately heal their wounds.


If you want to know more about how these differences in symptoms, origin and/or treatment, you can read more here.


"Narcissistic Abuse" is a harmful phrase: 4 Reasons Why

#2 Reason the phrase "Narcissistic Abuse" is Harmful - Stuck in Anger


Since the phrase "Narcissistic Abuse" carries with it an assumption of Narcissistic Personality Disorder for the abuser, this often feels helpful to a victim in the short-term.


Calling those horrible experiences "Narcissistic Abuse" allows a victim to label the abuser "a Narcissist", a human who is incapable of feeling empathy or compassion for nobody.


This tends to buy the victim a bit of room on the front end to set some much needed limits because seeing the abuser as incapable of compassion allows the victim to do the same.


This assumption of Narcissistic Personality Disorder also tends to come with a lot of anger on the part of the victim, which is a healthy and natural part of personal loss and healthy boundary setting - both of which would be expected in this situation.


The relative sense of power and willingness to place blame on the abuser can be very welcomed for a victim after being disempowered for so long, but this tends to do very few favors for a victim's long-term healing.


Even though the anger feels invigorating, it is oftentimes so powerful that a victim who only recently escaped their abuser becomes easily seduced by the sheer sense of potency and control from using it - and like the abuser that hurt them - learns to channel their unresolved wounds through a desire to control others with abusive driven by this infected wound.


In order to heal from the victimization and move towards thriving, a survivor must learn to set healthy boundaries based on their own personal integrity, rather than an assumption of what is driving their abuser.


"Narcissistic Abuse" is a harmful phrase: 4 Reasons Why

#3 Reason the phrase "Narcissistic Abuse" is Harmful - Unreliable & Maybe Unethical...


All of the coercive tactics that have been co-opted into the misnomer of "Narcissistic Abuse" have been discussed in more detail and with greater reliability over the last few decades of domestic violence and violence prevention research.


There have been great strides in recognizing the abusive behavior outside of physical violence. These behaviors have recently been characterized in popular psychology as "Narcissistic Abuse."


Narcissistic Abuse
This mislabeling of all coercive behavior as an indication of "Narcissistic Abuse" creates a false assumption that every abuser has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which creates yet another unique set of barriers for the abuser to get adequate treatment.

In many circles of academics and sound clinical research, this would be considered an example of plagiarism, defined by Webster's Dictionary as, "to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source."


At the least, the behaviors often discussed as "Narcissistic Abuse" have been taken out of their original & intended context, where they were proven through rigorous academic study to be scientifically reliable and valid.


As used by those touting the phrase "Narcissistic Abuse", the once valuable information is fairly useless without the required context of the original research from where it was taken.

Narcissistic Abuse
When we dehumanize other people - even those behaving abusively - this only plays into the cycle of violence. This cannot happen though a love of power and control - including the mislabeling of all coercive behavior as "Narcissistic Abuse."

"Narcissistic Abuse" is a harmful phrase: 4 Reasons Why

#4 Reason the phrase "Narcissistic Abuse" is Harmful - Continues Cycle of Violence


It was noted earlier that roughly 75% percent of those diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are male, but that most men who are abusers do not actually meet the required criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.


Men are more commonly diagnosed with "externalizing disorders"- including addiction, behavioral compulsions, criminal behavior and of course, Narcissistic Personality Disorder. On the other hand, women are much more likely to be diagnosed with "internalizing disorders” - like anxiety and depression.


With this said, men are 4 times more likely to complete suicide and in those cases of suicide, 70% of the people have untreated depression.

Why are so many men dying by suicide with underlying depression, yet they are not being appropriately diagnosed and treated for these mental health issues?


When we dehumanize other people - even those behaving abusively - this only plays into the cycle of violence.


This cannot happen through a love of power and control - including the mislabeling of all coercive behavior as "Narcissistic Abuse."


Care to learn more about how a Professional Couples Counselor or Relationship Therapist can help you in Charlotte, NC?

New Leaf Counseling Group specializes in treating individuals, couples and families who are ready to heal from old unresolved wounds with a down-to-earth approach.


IMPACT Abuse Intervention Services is run and operated by Bea Cote, and offers abuser intervention services in the Charlotte area.


5 comments

5 commentaires


Amanda Douglas
Amanda Douglas
14 sept. 2023

I am a little put off by this article wanting almost compassion for the abuser! Who cares if they are narcissistic or not they are abusive and I don't care if they have unresolved issues like depression and childhood trauma! I have those things and I don't abuse people. Abuse is abuse no matter what their diagnosis is. You want to offer help then do it for the victims not the abuser.

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