Narcissistic spouses will blame others for their abusive behavior. “You made me upset,” “If you won’t say this (or act that way), then I won’t have to get so forceful,” or “It is because of you that I’m like this” are all typical remarks. Usually, these statements are sandwiched between half-hearted apologies (if lucky enough to get one). The bottom line is by the end of the rant their violent response was because of others, not them.
There are many forms of physical abuse. Just because a mark was not left on a body, does not mean that there wasn’t cruelty, violence, neglect or exploitation. Here is the progression of physical abuse:
- Intimidation – The narcissistic spouse becomes a bully by standing over their prey, looking down or getting “in your face” and then refusing to back off. They may even throw things, break things, or punch walls and doors dangerously close by. This is a scare tactic designed to frighten into submission by letting their spouse know that they are capable of physical harm. While there is no actual physical contact, the threat of bodily harm is every bit as real as if it had already occurred.
- Isolation – The narcissist substantially limits their spouse’s ability to escape especially in dangerous situations. For instance, they might drive recklessly with no escape out of the car. They might expose others to severe weather or environmental conditions. They might take their spouse to stranded locations. When others are injured, they might prevent the seeking of medical care by minimizing and name calling. They might destroy important personal items calling them insignificant. All of this is done to force the spouse to rely solely on them and trust only their judgment.
- Restraint – Physical contact begins in the form of holding a person back. The narcissist will confine their spouse by blocking a doorway, grabbing when trying to leave, locking doors with no key, or tying the person up. This causes a feeling of entrapment or imprisonment without any way to escape. Because they have already demonstrated through isolation their ability to cut a person off, physical restraint becomes a promise of additional aggression. When this begins to happen, it is a warning sign to get out immediately. The next two steps are not that far behind.
- Aggression – It is important to remember that any physical force which results in pain, discomfort or injury is completely unacceptable in a marriage relationship. There are many types of aggression such as: hitting, kicking, punching, arm twisting, pushing, beating, shoving, biting, slapping, striking with an object, shaking, pinching, choking, hair pulling, dragging, burning, cutting, stabbing, strangling, and force-feeding (including overdose or misuse of drugs). Because the narcissist will blame their spouse for their violent behavior, they will not stop using force once it is started. They will instead find more reasons to justify their brutality.
- Endangerment – This is the most dangerous stage because life is in jeopardy. The intimidation and isolation become so ordinary that the spouse is numb to the effects. Restraint becomes a waiting game that the spouse has mastered. Aggression is expected and no longer shocks them. The narcissist then realizes they are no longer commanding the same level of fear, so they escalate the attacks. Verbal threats of killing their spouse, family members or themselves are mixed with physical violence and use of weapons. Do not stay. Get out immediately.
Not all narcissists resort to physical abuse, some never escalate beyond intimidation. Not all physical abusers are narcissists, some have other mental illnesses. But a narcissistic physical abuser is not someone to take lightly. No matter what they say, you cannot make them better. This is a decision they need to make for themselves and is best done away from anyone they have harmed in the past.