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Relationship patterns

& Overcoming

Narcissistic Abuse

“Love doesn’t die a natural death. Love has to be killed, either by neglect or narcissism.” 
– Frank Salvato –

Ah, romantic relationships – the intricate dance of choosing a partner and weathering life's unpredictable twists and turns. It's no secret that love can be a beautifully complex journey.

But have you ever wondered why you make certain choices in relationships? Or why you seem to encounter familiar patterns, both comforting and frustrating? The answers lie in the profound impact of our early experiences on our internal working models of relationships.


Our early relationships serve as a blueprint for how we perceive and engage in relationships throughout our lives. They shape our expectations and behaviors, influencing everything from partner selection to the way we interact with them. We subconsciously seek reflections of our past, even if it means unconsciously gravitating towards partners who fit those patterns.


For example, if we grew up feeling ignored, we may find ourselves in relationships with people who are unavailable, aloof, cold or flat out rejecting. If we felt intruded on as kids, we may choose people who are controlling, jealous or demanding.

What are repetitive patterns?

Repetitive patterns are embedded in the way we function. Though almost all patterns were once useful or adaptive to our needs, some now get in the way. We repeat dysfunctional relationship dynamics because they are familiar. Even when you know something is wrong or unhealthy, it’s hard to change.

What are the effects of parental behaviour?

Family has a significant impact on an individual’s feelings of self-worth, perception of and trust in others, and general world view.


No parent sets out to sabotage their child's development. Sadly, many parents who experienced emotional neglect in their childhood are often burdened with unmet emotional needs. It takes an individual becoming aware of his or her shortcomings and unhealthy behaviours to facilitate change.


We’re all on our own journey through life. It sometimes happens that parents don’t have the resources to raise their children in a healthy way. But once you realise that you have been exposed to unhealthy behaviours, it may be helpful or even liberating to recognise that many behaviours you learned are toxic. You may have viewed damaging experiences you had growing up as, well, normal.


For example, you may have been beaten or abused but pushed it off as being merely spanked. You may have been severely neglected but framed it as your parents being too busy.

Toxic behaviour display some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Self-centered behaviours: Those people people may be emotionally unavailable, narcissistic, or perhaps uncaring.

  • Physical and verbal abuse:  Abuse may not always be hitting, yelling, threats, or something totally obvious either. You may encounter more subtle abuse like name-calling, shifting of blame, silent treatment, or gaslighting.

  • Controlling behaviours: Someone may invade your privacy or not allow you to make your own decisions. Or maybe they’re overly critical and controlling of your decisions, even as an adult. Perhaps his or her voice is often all it takes to either paralyse you or galvanise you into automatic action.

  • Manipulative behaviours: A manipulator may try to control you by using guilt or shame to play with your emotions. 

  • Lack of boundaries: Healthy boundaries often result from healthy attachment in early life. Boundaries are important because they create space for family members to become independent. Perhaps you were discouraged from following your dreams and expected to follow the beliefs of your caregivers? 

  • Constant criticism: As a child, you are likely to have been criticised often and severely. More subtle forms of criticism would include the apparently loving teasing or labeling, such as: "Clever bunt not so good in maths" 

  • Passive aggression: Passive aggression can be defined as, "non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behaviour." This person will not outwardly express  anger or resentment towards you, but might, for instance act morose and sullen towards you for no apparent reason. He or she doesn't respond well to confrontation and tends to avoid emotional intimacy at all costs.

We repeat what we don’t repair.

Unfortunately, dysfunctional relationship patterns are learned and passed from one generation to the next. And we will probably repeat them until we heal the underlying trauma and feel lovable and worthy of being treated with respect and kindness.


Because dysfunction in relationships is related to family trauma, simply acknowledging that a pattern exists is not enough for most people to change their behaviours. This is a deeply ingrained coping strategy that was effective for as a child. It’s persisted this long and takes work and patience to change. 

What is Co–dependency?

Not all unhealthy relationships are co-dependent, but all co-dependent relationships are generally unhealthy.


Do you have a tendency to gravitate toward people who need a lot of help? Do you have a hard time asking your partner for help?


In a healthy relationship, you should feel safe to talk to your partner about your emotions and needs. You should also feel safe to voice an opinion that clashes with your partner’s view and say no to something that conflicts with your own needs.

Co-dependency is, simply speaking, a relationship where one partner needs another partner who wants to be needed in turn. This cyclical relationship is the basis of what experts refer to when describing the "cycle" of co-dependency.


The co-dependent person will feel extreme conflict about separating themselves from the partner, the enabler, because their own identity is centred upon sacrificing themselves for the other. The enabler’s role is also dysfunctional. A person who relies upon a co-dependent does not learn how to have an equal, two-sided relationship and often comes to rely upon another person’s sacrifices and neediness.

Some people in co-dependent households may feel like they are protecting their family by keeping their problems private. But enabling one party’s abuse often causes harm to the other family members. 


While there is plenty of literature discussing the role co-dependency plays for those in relationships with addicts, people with addictions are not the only ones who are attracted to co-dependents or for whom co-dependents sacrifice themselves.


Co-dependents can be targeted by narcissists, and it's hard to leave once hooked.

What is Narcissistic Abuse?

Narcissistic abuse is a particularly insidious form of psychological and sometimes physical abuse – often not recognised for what it is by the victim and partly outside of the conscious awareness of the abuser. These individuals have a tendency – whether conscious or unconscious – to use words and language in manipulative ways to damage, alter, or otherwise control their partner's behaviour.


Abuse may be emotional, mental, physical, financial, spiritual, or sexual. Here are a few examples of abuse you may not have identified:

  • Verbal abuse includes patronising, bullying, condemning, blaming, shaming, demanding, ordering, threatening, criticising, sarcasm, raging, opposing, undermining, interrupting, blocking, and name-calling. Note that many people occasionally make demands, use sarcasm, interrupt, oppose, criticize, blame, or block you. Consider the context, malice, and frequency of the behaviour before labelling it narcissistic abuse.

  • Manipulation is generally an indirect influence on someone to behave in a way that furthers the goals of the manipulator. Often, it expresses covert aggression. Manipulation is defined as any attempt to sway someone's emotions to get them to act or feel a certain way. If you experienced manipulation growing up, you may not recognise it as such.

  • Emotional blackmail describes a style of manipulation that provokes doubt in you. It may include threats, anger, warnings, intimidation, or punishment. You might feel fear, obligation, and or guilt, often referred to as “FOG”.

  • Gaslighting is the practice of brainwashing or convincing a mentally healthy individual that she or he is are going insane, or that their understanding of reality is mistaken or false. An example of gaslighting would be a partner doing something abusive and then denying it happened. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves.

  • Triangulation is one of the most hurtful aspects of narcissistic abuse. After the initial ‘love bombing’ stage, narcissists in relationships will subtly or overtly let their partner know that someone else has their respect and even trust, affection and ‘love’. Over time this can damage self-esteem and exacerbate our human tendency to ‘compare and despair’.

  • Competition and one-upping to always be on top, sometimes through unethical means.

  • Negative contrasting; making comparisons to negatively contrast you with other people.

  • Sabotage through disruptive interference with your endeavours or relationships for the purpose of revenge or personal advantage. You may be experiencing a subtle distancing or even outright hostility from family and friends without knowing why. Narcissists will twist an event or comment into something that makes you look unethical or immoral and will make a point of telling everyone around you. Often their accusations centre around sexual, financial or inheritance issues.

  • Exploitation and objectification through taking advantage of you for personal ends without regard for your feelings or needs.

  • Lying and persistent deception to avoid responsibility or to achieve the narcissist’s own ends.

  • Privacy invasion and ignoring your boundaries by looking through your things, phone, mail; denying your physical privacy or stalking or following you.

  • Spreading malicious gossip or lies about you to other people.

  • Violence, possibly including blocking your movement, pulling hair, throwing things, or destroying your property.

  • Financial abuse might include controlling you through economic domination or draining your finances through extortion, theft, manipulation, or gambling, or by accruing debt in your name or selling your personal property.

  • Isolating you from friends, family, or access to outside services and support through control, manipulation, verbal abuse, character assassination, or other means of abuse.

Signs of Narcissistic Abuse:

Narcissistic abuse by someone close to us can also cause symptoms such as:

  • Guilt, shame and self-blame - a feeling that you are not good enough

  • Feeling isolated and alone, withdrawing from others, losing friends

  • Loss of trust

  • Loss of enjoyment in life

  • Exhaustion

  • A constant feeling of anxiety or “walking on eggshells”

  • Feeling sad or hopeless, like no-one is on your side

  • Self-soothing with alcohol or food

People who are struggling with narcissistic abuse syndrome often doubt their own self-worth or sanity. They are usually very concerned about their flaws, failures, and other shortcomings – regardless of whether or not these issues are real. In many cases, they are simply ideas that were planted in their mind by their narcissistic parent or partner.


Prolonged and systematic abuse can lead to Complex Trauma, including symptoms such as flashbacks and hyper-vigilance.


Healing from Narcissistic Abuse:

If you’re in a relationship with a person with NPD or narcissistic tendencies, it’s important to seek professional help and support to rebuild your confidence and restore your self-esteem. The  constant badgering has probably broken down your self-confidence and made you feel unworthy. You are a victim of abuse! Therapy can help you to heal from narcissistic abuse. Therapy can help you learn to communicate effectively and set boundaries so the abuser can no longer take advantage of you.

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