The emotionally abusive relationship

How narcissists control you

The emotionally abusive relationship is all about control.

Narcissists can be charismatic and persuasive people.

They can be the life of the party – your charismatic boss or your charming neighbour.

They aren’t always abusive in relationships.

I’m going to talk here only about the ones who are.

The emotionally abusive relationship and how narcissists control you

Control is a narcissist's modus operandi. Click To Tweet

A narcissist needs total control. This is how they feed their inflated ego and sense of entitlement.

They use manipulative tactics to do this.


Gaslighting is one of the most deceitful manipulative tactics of all.  Its whole purpose is to distort your sense of reality.

It stops you from questioning a narcissist’s abusive behaviour, by eating away at your ability to trust your gut.

The word Gaslighting comes from a 1930s play about a husband who set out to convince his wife she is crazy.

He turned the gas lamps down and whenever she commented on it, he told her she was imagining it and losing her mind.

This is exactly what narcissists do when they’re gaslighting us in relationships.

If we question their behaviour, they dismiss it.  They tell us we’re too sensitive or we are exaggerating what happened.

You imagined it.  You exaggerated it.  That didn’t happen. 

Gaslighting takes us through three stages:


Up until now you’ve only seen the charismatic, charming side. Out of the blue, you now get a glimpse of the darker person lying within.

It’s so quick at first – a flash of anger, a push or a shove – and then it’s over.   You think:

Did I just imagine that?

It’s easy to doubt yourself, especially as now they’re all charming again. They’re convincing you whatever it was they did wasn’t as bad as you thought.

So you’re in this questioning stage of disbelief:

Did that happen the way I thought it did? 

You start to think you must have caused it and as a result you change your behaviour instead.


Next, you try to defend yourself.

They’re telling you you’re imagining it or exaggerating.  You know what you’ve just seen and that you’re not too sensitive, so you try to defend yourself.

The narcissist continues to try to convince you you’re to blame for it.  You keep adapting your behaviour, in the hope the abuse will stop.

Despite the fact your gut instincts were telling you the truth all along, you begin to mistrust them.

Everything the narcissist does is to make you distrust your gut Click To Tweet

The more they keep telling you you’ve imagined it, the more you start to question your instincts.   You then start to think:

Maybe I am wrong 

You feel the need to prove you’re worthy of them and that you’re not who they say you are.

They begin to have control over you.


You start to lose the sense of who you are, you don’t recognize yourself anymore.

They strip away your self-esteem.  You’re bending over backwards, doing everything you can  to make them happy again.  To prove you’re worthy of them.

That’s how manipulative gaslighting is.

The emotionally abusive relationship


This is when they project their negative and toxic behavior on to you.

They’ll say you’re the one who’s fibbing when they’re lying through their teeth.

They’ll accuse you of having affairs when it’s they who are being unfaithful to you.

It’s another way to shift the blame for their behavior, onto you.

Circular conversations

They drag you into these insane circular conversations.

If you raise something you’re unhappy with, they’ll start crazy line of argument.

What starts as a benign comment will turn into a personal attack on you, your friends or family; your entire belief system.

If you are able to call them up on a certain point, they’ll then lead you down another crazy line of reasoning.

I remember thinking I was going insane when I was in those conversations with my ex.  I couldn’t make sense of them.

You can’t defend or argue against a madman and that’s what it’s like. There is no logic to it.

Circular conversations are yet another way for them to blame you. It’s a smokescreen, they let off this smoke bomb.

You’ll get so far away from the original comment, which was you drawing attention to their bad behaviour, it gets lost in the wash.

Blanket statements

They also make blanket statements. My ex told me:

You’re a spoilt brat. You grew up with a silver spoon in your mouth.

You may hear:

You’re impossible to please

They’ll put words in your mouth

They’ll put words in your mouth, saying things like:

So, you’re saying you’re the perfect one now

They make blanket statements, put words in your mouth words.

They’re showing you they can smash through any argument you can come up with.  They can counter them, rather than put the blame where it belongs, onto them.

Shifting the goal posts

Narcissists set these unwritten rules for you that they don’t have to abide by.   You can never live up to them.

Just when you think you understand what the rule is, they’ll lift the bar higher and shift the goalposts.

It’s about attacking your weakness, one perceived by them, not praising your strengths.  By keeping you on the back foot, they remain in control.

It’s designed to encourage and instil in you the sense you are unworthy.


They may threaten to cut off any finances or threaten you with violence.  They may even threaten to kill themselves if you leave them.

If you’ve ever heard them say:

If I can’t have you, no-one can

They are broadcasting to you they are capable of killing you.   If they threaten suicide, they may kill you and then themselves.   I’d take serious, any threats like these.

Negative brainwashing

Narcissists will brainwash you into associating your strengths, talents and positive memories with abuse and frustration.

They shift goal posts as a way to highlight your supposed weaknesses, not strengths.

They’ll take your positive memories like Christmases, birthdays or going out with your friends and sabotage them.  They do this by causing a massive argument or scene.

They’ll say you’re selfish, for spending a weekend with relatives, not them.

This is their way of isolating you from family and friends.  Anyone who may be a safety net for you and tell you you deserve better than them.

Smear campaigns

They may wage a smear campaign against you.  Especially, if they sense they’re losing control over you or over how you see yourself.

If they see you’re getting what they’re saying about you is wrong, they’ll turn to others to back them up.  Convince them they’re the victim and you’re the crazy one, not them.


They’ll bring others into the equation to put you off balance.   The hint of someone they might have an affair with,  to instill fear in you that they might leave you.   Or someone that they can use to say to you:

You see, (that person) agrees with me you’re crazy

Intimacy as a weapon

They’ll use intimacy as a weapon against you.

What you share with them when they’re all loving and kind, they’ll throw back at you later, to hurt you.

Being vulnerable with each other is the only way to build trust.  In a healthy relationship you can do this.    But a narcissist will use this information as a barb to weaken you.  You’ll find healthy relationships activity here.  

Test your boundaries

Narcissists will test the waters over what boundaries you have and whether they are strong or weak. They will push.

In the beginning phase, they love-bomb you and suck you into the relationship with their charisma.

Once they feel they have you, they’ll test your boundaries.

You see a glimpse of anger.   My ex pushed me hard against a wall, but it was so quick and then it was over.

I didn’t walk away.   I believed him when he said he was sorry, forgave him and accepted that first sign of violence.

Without realising, I was giving him permission to push my boundaries again.  He did and the abuse got worse.


This word is so apt.  After any sign of abuse, a narcissist will suck you back in, especially if you go to leave them.

They’ll cry and promise to change.  They tell you:

No-one will ever love you as much as I do

It’s so convincing, as you also get that beautiful loving side of them again.  It’s difficult to remain angry, so you forgive them.

All this is manipulation. It’s not love, but about control.

These tactics will confuse you and destabilize you.  They’ll lead you to mistrust your gut instincts and crush your self-esteem.

If you recognize any of these in your relationship I would urge you to get help and support.  I have listed helplines here.

The emotionally abusive relationship is coercive control.

A narcissist will pull you into a cycle of abuse that will only get worse.

Recovering from emotional abuse

Is not easy.  But you can do it.  I did this, found success and long term healthy love you.  I will support you and show you how –  find out more here. 

Are your relationships – past or present – good enough for you?  Do you deserve better?  Try my FREE QUIZ to find out!

Written by Vivian McGrath

Vivian McGrath is a TV Executive Producer who makes documentaries for major US, UK and Australian broadcasters.  She is also a survivor of domestic violence.  Her book ‘Unbeatable (How I Left a Violent Man)’ – her story of surviving abuse to finding success in love and life – will be published soon.  She hopes this blog will help others to become strong, fearless and successful too.  Find out more about Vivian Here.

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