Abuse-Can Be Subtle and Deadly

People hear the word “abuse” and assume physical violence, but there are many forms of abuse. There are your run of the mill a-holes, wife beaters and cheaters and then in a class all of their own, are narcissists/psychopaths. Even narcissism has varying levels of abuse and degrees of severity, some narcissists, although cheaters and liars never physically abuse their partner and are able to hold down jobs. At the other end of the spectrum are the narcissists who destroy all who come in contact with them. It has taken me a long time to accept I was involved with a narcissist and even longer to realize and accept how truly evil he was and the danger I was in. One of the most powerful weapons the abuser has to keep the victim in the relationship is the victim’s own denial.

In my quest for answers I came across a couple who claimed he was a narcissist and she, through her love for him discovered how to “cure” him. For anyone to claim they can cure a narcissist is a dangerous game to play. As is typical of the victim, my hope was restored and I clung to any remote chance; I could “cure” JC also. I was quick to grasp at anything that indicated if I tried harder, was more understanding and loved unconditionally I could save the relationship and JC. That was almost 10 years ago, I don’t know if they are still around but you would figure if it was possible to cure a narcissist the internet would be full of testimonial about their discovery. Never think you can love the narcissist well, or if you try just a little harder to please him things will be ok. We are strong women, we tend to think we can give a little more, bend a little farther and then we find ourselves in too deep to extricate ourselves.

I read somewhere that a woman will stay in or go back to an abusive relationship as long as she feels there is something she can do to “fix” it; until she feels she has done everything she can do, she won’t leave on her own. With my experience I can only say that the longer I stayed and the more times I went back the more severe and insidious the abuse got.

With physical abuse there are often signs of abuse, bruising etc and people are much more apt to believe the victim, come to their assistance, and support them emotionally or financially.

Emotional abuse is ambiguous and hard to prove, the victim is less likely to get support and people tend to think they are exaggerating, overly sensitive or antagonizing the abuser. Society in general does not view psychological or emotional abuse as “dangerous” and feel that if the person isn’t treating you the way you would like just leave. They don’t understand the damage done to the emotional state of the victim or the potential danger to the victim.

All abuse stems from the abusers need to control the victim, whether it is physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, or financial abuse.

A narcissist at his worst will use a combination of all the above abuse tactics and can leave the victim paralyzed, unable to make decisions, hopeless, depressed and lacking the self-confidence to help themselves. They no longer feel like themselves, having lost their soul to the narcissist, they don’t even know who they are any more and have lost all trust in a fair and just world.

The most dangerous of all abuse is Ambient Abuse, (and the kind of abuse JC is so adept at) Often called “crazy-making”, or “gas lighting”, it is the stealth, and subtle, underground maltreatment that sometimes goes unnoticed even by the victims themselves until it is too late. It is ambiguous and atmospheric and very hard to pinpoint or prove; hence it’s insidious and deadly effects.

Ambient Abuse is the fostering of an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, instability, unpredictability and irritation. There is no tangible evidence of abuse but the victim constantly senses a bad omen or premonition of impending doom. It is perpetrated by dropping subtle hints, by disorienting, by constant and unnecessary lying, by persistent doubting and demeaning and by inspiring an air of unmitigated gloom and doom. Insisting the victim did not see or hear what they did, hiding personal items of the victim but blaming the victim, insisting the victim said or did certain things that the victim did not do but eventually starts to doubt their own perception of reality.

Over the long-term this environment eats away at the victim’s self esteem and their self-confidence is severely damaged. Many times the victim starts to act paranoid and highly emotional, which makes them look like the mentally unstable one and the abuser is the poor suffering soul. Some examples of ambient abuse would be withholding affection or intimacy, rolling their eyes when you express an opinion or criticizing your actions “for your own good”.
(With JC the rolling of the eyes was SO frustrating, and made me feel my opinions or feelings weren’t of importance).
(For most of our relationship he refused to come to bed, at first he always came to bed then he would stay up until 3 or 4 am, then he was coming to bed just in time to have sex before we had to get up for work, and the last few years he rarely came to bed at all. He said he just didn’t need sleep, but he would fall asleep any where and every where, he could sleep standing he’d be so tired)

There are 5 categories of ambient abuse:

Inducing Disorientation

The abuser causes the victim to lose faith in her ability to manage and cope with the world and its demands. She no longer trusts her instincts, her skills, her strengths, friends, family, or the benevolence and predictability of her environment.

The abuser challenges his target’s perception of the world, right and wrong, her judgment and offers plausible but false alternatives. JC would always say he couldn’t handle my warped perception of reality, until I questioned myself for getting upset he was seeing other women and whether I was actually being abused. By continually criticizes her decisions he makes her doubt her ability to make wise choices. With his pathological lying he blurs the lines between reality and nightmare. He constantly violates her boundaries and disrespects her values, feelings and opinions, “deal breakers” such as drug abuse, infidelity, lying and stealing become common place and she is made to feel she is in the wrong for confronting him on his indiscretions or that some how she is to blame for them.

By overreacting to the slightest mistake on her part and setting her up with demands impossible to meet he intimidates her to the point of paralysis.


The abuser gradually takes control over the victim’s freedom and ability to be self-sufficient (i.e.: their vehicle is never working, they lose their job, loss of friends and support system due to never being able to entertain or attend events because of the N) it is very subtle and done in such a way that the victim doesn’t realize what is happening until it is too late. Then they find themselves isolated from the outer world and a hostage to the goodwill – or ill will of their captor.

The abuser engineers impossible, dangerous, and unpredictable situations where his skills or knowledge is sorely needed. He orchestrates circumstances where his specific skills, connections, or traits are the only ones useful and helpful. In this way he creates his own indispensability; giving him another reason to resent his victim and another excuse to be angry with her for being needy. (JC used to sabotage my vehicle, I would have no choice but to call for his help and he would make me wait hours and make it sound like it was a HUGE inconvenience and effort on his part to help me, but acted like the benevolent rescuer when he got there. He also got me evicted from every place I lived or we lived making us homeless and me dependent on him for everything) Right up to the last day we were together he constantly told me I would never find a man who would rescue me like he always had and I believed him. The truth is, I had many men willing to help me when JC was out of the picture but my vehicle didn’t break down like it did when I was with JC either.

Shared Psychosis

The abuser creates a fantasy world inhabited by the victim and himself besieged by imaginary enemies. The enemies may be people they know, (or totally made up) these people are plotting against them, lying to them or about them, basically “out to get them, and destroy their relationship” and she is expected to stand by him, fight against these enemies, lie, and pretend. She is continually “tested” and must prove her continued affiliation and support of him.

Eventually this constant stress reduces the victim’s resistance and ability to “see straight”. (JC used to watch videos and talk about the “one world power” coming and how we would have to live in the hills, the holocaust that was coming and I became very afraid of the future without him there to protect me. He said “they” had erased files on his computer etc)

Abuse Of Information

From the first moment the abuser meets his victim he is collecting information. He will reveal just enough dirt about his past to put his target at ease so they feel safe opening up about their fears, indiscretions, and weak areas. The more he knows about his potential victim the easier it is for him to coerce, charm, manipulate and extort her. Whereas he was sympathetic when he first meets her once the mask drops he will use any information he has to belittle, criticize, discredit, and embarrass. He has no qualms using information he gleans to achieve his goals or destroy the target.

Control By Proxy

If all else fails the abuser will recruit a third-party to do his bidding. That 3rd party could be family, friends, institutions, teachers, the media, the authorities, and he uses them to cajole, threaten, stalk, harass, communicate, and otherwise manipulate his target. He controls these unaware accomplices exactly as he controls his victim and dumps them unceremoniously when the job is done.

Many narcissists do not physically abuse their victims, they are able to control them through psychological and emotional abuse which is much less likely to be detected and it’s much easier to deny and make the victim look crazy. In JC and my relationship he did strangle me once (and denied it, according to him he didn’t strangle me or choke me, he just had his hands around my neck) and he hit me a handful of times in the 10 yrs we were together. There was no need to hit me, like most women after he hit  me the first time all he had to do was come at me with his fist raised and I would back down, but near the end even backing down didn’t stop him. It was as if he knew it was ending and he had nothing to lose by not holding back.  We went several years without him actually hitting me, but like my son said, that doesn’t mean he’s changed it just means you walk on eggshells.

What we all forget as victims is: IT IS NEVER OK FOR A MAN TO HIT A WOMAN (vise versa) there is absolutely no excuse for hitting a woman unless she was coming at him with a knife. There is nothing a woman can do that justifies getting hit, he can walk away, hit a wall if he has to hit something but she can not MAKE him hit her. Another thing we have to remind ourselves of: He knows exactly what he is doing and that it is wrong, he expects you to lie about it to everyone and if someone came to the door he would stop. If he was so justified in what he was doing there would be no need to lie and IF life with you is so unbearable that he feels he has no choice but to hit you then he needs to leave the relationship, BEFORE he finds your replacement!

Narcissists control by keeping their victim off-balance, another tactic for this is to not respond to something that would normally send them into a rage. They appear unaffected by an argument and act as if nothing happened leaving the victim waiting for the shoe to drop. Have no doubt that the narcissist will get revenge; he is the king of passive aggressive behavior that punishes the victim. He will take or destroy something of value to the victim. It could be weeks or months after the incident when the victim realizes a treasured possession in missing or broken, of course the N will deny knowing anything about it. This is most likely to happen when her focus is shifted on something other than the N, perhaps a child or other family member she is concerned about, anything that takes the attention off the N. (In 10 years I had all my clothes stolen, my photos had anti freeze dumped on them, memento’s were lost, my son’s baby teeth disappeared but the container they were in was in JC’s music room, 3 vehicles were stolen, my vehicles were tampered with, the amount of hours I spent broken down on the side of the road would boggle your mind, almost weekly I would need him to rescue me, he made me miss events that were of immense importance to me, I was unable to finish my college education, every single piece of personal property I had was destroyed or stolen. I do not own anything today that I owed 14 years ago, nothing. Oh sorry, a few Christmas decorations, that is it)

The best indicator that you are a victim of ambient abuse is your gut; throughout the 10 years of my relationship with JC I denied what my gut was telling me. And I wish with all my heart that you believe me when I say; it does not get better, his apologies mean nothing, he is only manipulating you further. Get out!! Before it’s too late.

Link to a post from 2012 one year after JC and I split, You can’t be first but you can be next http://wp.me/p1wKh3-kb


280 thoughts on “Abuse-Can Be Subtle and Deadly

  1. monica

    My daughter was almost killed by her ex husband. Now 5 years later and deprogramming her, she fell in love and is now living with an ambient abuser. It’s so heartbreaking as a parent, I just don’t know what to do or say anymore. I’m just paralyzed by fear!


  2. Emma

    This is my LIFE right now. The more research I do the more I realize how common this situation is. And you are bang on as time goes by it just intensifies!!!!!! Good on you for waking up to your self, I hope you have recovered and you are actually enjoying life again. :) I am taking steps to leave, but it really is not that easy when you both live in the same town and have a child together!!! Arghhhhhh bit thank you for sharing your story, it confirms that I am not the crazy one ( or am going crazy because of his behavior). X


  3. tortured soul

    I’m from South Africa, a country that sidelines things like mental health and depression. my mother is a true narcissistic and I only realised this year after intense research on why my mother was so cold towards.

    the twenty three years I’ve survived in this planet all seem like a waste because I’m an internal mess, I tried speaking out and that is what led my mother cutting me off. I battle to deal with the childhood trauma on my own and speaking out doesn’t really help because people think you are being weak and petty, that no mother would give birth to a child to make it suffer, it must have been my fault.

    I’m tired of seeking help,speaking out only to be told to get over it, other people are going through far worse. I thought moving away from her would somewhat make things better but I don’t know how to act normal”. I’m shunned by disapproving looks by people who don’t want to listen. urgh


    1. Barbara

      God, you remind me of myself all of forty three years ago. It brings back so many memories of just how hard it is during your teens and twenties.

      My father was a N and sexually abusive too. My mother turned a blind eye and as I developed into my teens she became jealous of the ‘unwanted’ attention he paid me. She did everything she could to blacken my name to everyone. When I had children of my own she told them things like, ‘if you can’t get to sleep think of something nice, like your mother being dead’. This was when they were about six years old. She also tried her best to provide my father with my children as more sexual victims. Naturally they did not want anything to do with her, but that did not stop her parking her car on their route back home from school and trying to bribe them in with sweets.

      It took all my emotional strength to keep my children from harms way and all the time my in laws and everyone else kept telling me how cruel I was to keep my children from my parents. I couldn’t win. Nobody would listen or believe me. Eventually, I went to the doctors in the 1980s and I was told to just put it all behind me and get on with life and that if I made my mother face up to her behaviour I could cause HER a complete breakdown! No sympathy for me at all.
      Recently I decided to look at my medical records and have been horrified to read that she had told the doctors I was a drug addict and constantly cheating on my husband. None of which was true.

      Now I wish I had got a court order for her to keep away and stop the nuisance phone calls at all hours. I was too influenced by what other people would think of me for being cruel to her. I wish I had had the confidence to say that she was a poisonous part of my life that I should feel no guilt about cutting out.

      At your age it is so difficult because you are probably not financially independent yet and do not have a friend or confidante strong enough to help you through. Please don’t give up though, because one day you will be free. That day may be a very long time off I know, but it will come. Try again to find a good psycho-therapist to talk to. Plus, would it be possible for you to find a job in another city – or country – where you can live in and keep her away from you?

      Thinking of you.

      Regards Barbara


    2. Carrie Reimer Post author

      Tortured soul, it is very hard to find a sympathetic ear when you try to speak out about abuse of any kind. It actually blew me away after I left my ex, how uncaring people were and how they wanted to blame me for my own abuse or didn’t believe me.
      We believe you! and we are here to offer a shoulder and caring ear.
      You have broken away and that is a good thing, it shows how strong you really are. You are no longer a victim, you are a survivor! \Not knowing how to act “normal” is a very common feeling because a person raised by a narcissist is constantly told they shouldn’t feel what they are feeling or their perception of a situation is wrong, they are too sensitive, paranoid, or whatever.
      I suggest you keep looking for a good therapist who will help you deal with your childhood, it may take many tries but eventually you will find one you can relate to.
      If you need to have a sounding board of caring people where you can be safe to express feelings and talk about the past we are here for you. I had a very domineering and controlling father that I eventually cut out of my life. I was able to do it because of a good counselor who understood what I had been through. It took a long time before I was able to trust my emotions and reactions to every day occurrences and didn’t feel a need to run my reaction by him to make sure I was acting “normal”. Eventually he just said to me, “Carrie, you are ok, you are normal, you don’t need me any more.” I panicked!! I thought I needed him to verify I was thinking and feeling normally. But with time I got better at expressing my feelings and identifying what I was feeling.
      When we are involved with an abusive controlling person we end up “reacting” to life as it happens to us. When our feelings are denied for so long we start to react in inappropriate ways, over react, under react, become people pleasers and ignore our own feelings out of fear of being rejected etc.
      I took a couple of “Relating Effectively” courses at my local community college. It wasn’t anything to do with abuse, not a support group at all; many business people take the course in order to be more effective in the workplace. It really helped me to learn how to express myself in a productive, non aggressive, non passive way.
      We all need to discuss the abuse, have it acknowledged; it is part of the healing process BUT we don’t always get the acknowledgement from the people we think we need it from. Family members my not be able to acknowledge your pain because they are not able to accept their own issues. You have to give up trying to get acknowledgement from people, unable for whatever reason, to give it and keep looking forward to a brighter future of your own making.
      You know what you suffered and you took the necessary steps to end the abuse, be proud of yourself; hold your head up high. I think you are seeking acknowledgement from other people so you feel justified in cutting your mother out of your life. To have them acknowledge it would be giving their approval in a way and you don’t need anyone’s approval to cut toxic people out of your life.
      We care and we are here


  4. Lisa

    I lived with a Narcicist for 7 years. It has taken me 10 years to unwind from the abuse and to trust myself again. Now I have to protect my kid from him too. If you are in this type of relationship GET OUT NOW!


  5. Leticia

    I am involved with a Cancer man and him and I are scheduled to be married, but I have been drained by him. After reading your article he is definitely Narcissistic. He threatened to beat me and I am kind of afraid once we are married he will. I love him very much but I am having second thoughts but I am afraid to tell him. Everything on this page is very true!


  6. Barbara

    Leticia, pack your bags and run!
    If he threatens to beat you now, once you are married things will not just be twice as bad, they will be ten times as bad. The fact that he says it means he really wants to do it. That he hasn’t done it yet means he is resisting the urge until he has you trapped. Why would you want to be married to a man who has you living in fear. Why would you want to inflict him upon your future children. RUN!

    You say you love him very much. I say you think you love him very much. It is just like the Stockholm Syndrome. I bet your love life veers from extreme passion to moments of cold rejection. You are on the roller coaster to hell.

    To pull out of a marriage takes enormous courage. You will be filled with guilt and all of your friends (who he will approach to talk some sense into you) will try to talk you into marrying him. Speak privately to your priest or vicar, and if you have a friend or relative, who you know would treat what you say confidentially, then speak honestly to them. Do not hold back on your fears or gut instinct. You must listen to your gut and head now, not your heart. If it is difficult for you to withstand the pressure everyone will put you under, then arrange to go away for a while until it all blows over. Remove yourself from the pressure of all of them. This is so important as it will set the course of the rest of your life. Call it off by letter if you are in great fear of him.

    What you need to do is extremely difficult, but think how much harder it will be some years down the line when your emotional strength is more drained and you have children to consider and lack of finances to make a move.

    Best wishes and good luck with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tracy

    I was married for almost 28 years and he matches the article almost identically. I have two adult children who I love with all my heart. I left him exactly 2 years ago on Feb 2nd, 2014, I say the first day of the rest of my life. As long as I made him the #1 focus and helped him achieve his goals, I say it was bearable and sometimes fun. It wasn’t until my kids became teenagers that I saw how wrong he was with the kids. The more I stuck up for them…the more abusive he got with me. He struck me for the first time in 2005. I wanted to leave him then and only wished I had the courage to do so. I did leave multiple times but his manipulative tactics and threats prevented me from being successful. The only way I was successful this last time was to completely disconnect and go in hiding. I parked my car in my Dads garage and drove his truck so I would not be identified. He stalked me but I was smarter than him. I filed for divorce immediately…2 days after I left and took basically the shirt off my back, my car, my cat, and 1/2 the savings which wasn’t much due to he lost all of our retirement and most of our saving doing day trading /option trading. He was a big time gambler and always made me feel like I had no right to complain about his losses. He lost $80k in one month…crazy. Our business fell apart and wasn’t allowed to talk to family or friends without being on speaker where he would here. Please do not believe him love bombing you…calling you angel and princess. Do not be drawn into his web. My last 10years was pure hell…and would never want that to happen to anyone. There was no peace, no family vacations, no happy holidays,and in the end…no life. I missed so much of my kids lives but now am very involved. Just in time…I am very close to my kids…my divorce was successful cuz I stuck to what I took and didn’t argue over all the little stuff…6 months and 1 day is what it took. Also, he got a girlfriend immediately and that is when I put the papers in front of him. Much more likely to let me go when he had a woman stroking his ego. Please take my experience as lesson learned…reach out to family and don’t let him control that. You can’t do it alone. I am no longer a victim and am very happy and appreciative about my life.


    1. Carrie Reimer Post author

      Tracy, thank you so much for sharing your story!! I am so happy to hear of another thriver after surviving a narcissist. You are so exactly right on, it only ever gets worse and the victim only ever loses more. So happy you got away and are happy. Once a person gets away they truly appreciate life so much more, the simplest things, freedom, peace. Once you have slept with the devil you realize what is truly important in life.
      Congrats to you


  8. carameleyez

    Thank you Barbara and Tracy. I am in the process of breaking the chains as we speak. I feel he set old be untolereable to my child as well. My child comes first and he’s very jealous of that. Therefore, I’ve called the wedding off. He went berserk!!! Called me all type of names and told me he would get me. I also took out a restraining order because of a lot of threats he’s made against. The mask finally fell completely off! Again, thank you both of you!!! I almost fell victim to more extreme emotional and impending physical abuse!!


    1. Barbara

      Well done. I hope that by actually telling him it has given you loads more strength and confidence to keep going.
      However, still be very careful and keep your guard up. If he gets threatening don’t hesitate to get help from the police or your lawyer. He needs to know that you will not stand for any nonsense and threats, because if he sees any weakness in your resolve he will use it. In my experience of Ns they seem to be very wary of the police. In fact I think it is the only thing that pulls them up.
      Keep strong.


    2. Carrie Reimer Post author

      Carmeleyez, GOOD FOR YOU!! stay strong!! and please stay NO CONTACT!! he will try everything to get you back, promise the world, beg, cry, try to get friends to get you to change your mind. If you are no contact he can not get you to weaken. They do not change and believe me they do not change.
      I have had several women come in here who were convinced by their ex N to meet, with one it was “just to talk”, two others it was to get some of their possessions; they all ended up fighting for their lives. Do not meet him ever!! for any reason!!
      Good luck and please keep in touch.


      1. vrachels

        Carmeleyez- The no contact IS essential, just as Carrie says above. I have two children with my Narc Ex and it’s a constant battle between talking too much or not enough. He will get inside your head if you let him every time! Breaking down, telling you that without you he will die or kill himself and then he may even tell you that it would be your fault as my Ex did. It’s crazy to feel responsible for someone else’s life but you are not! Please take care of yourself and get away! Prayers are coming your way, stay strong!!!! That kind of life is not what you want, it’s NOT love.


  9. Linda Arconge

    Thank you!
    Your explanation of living with a narcissist is exactly describing my former life.
    I’ve struggled to feel normal for 8 years now, after I was helped to leave a narcissistic borderline psychopath I had a relationship with for 7 years. I resently got a ptsd diagnosis, after almost 8 years of therapy, when I went to a new psychiatrist. I’ve read all serious info I’ve found, but your explanation is the most clarifying I’ve stumbled upon!
    I’m lucky to have a new awesome & supporting man in my life & we have a soon to be a five year old daughter. Every bit of info I find, he reads. He handles all my moods & feelings by supporting me to feel better. I’m lucky! But thank you for helping me understand how I ended up a wreck! Everything you wrote IS/WAS ME! & it’s really clear now how the hell it happened!


  10. Angela

    Subtle and deadly cannot be taken lightly! Thankyou again for your support. Ive been a year out but he has been relentless in his pursuit of me. I have a lot of friends in the same circle. I have been strong in not going back but the aftermath has had a great toll on me emotional, mental and confidence in myself has plummet. I will get though but I realise it’s going to take a long time. Do you recommend any books or groups as I’m not comfortable going to the dr. as I’m not sure what sort of response I may get? Thankyou again. Your a guiding light 👼



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