Differentiating Abused from Abuser

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Differentiating between narcopath and victim, abuser and abused, fact from lies, and smear from justified allegation is extremely difficult for witnesses to splits between partners in which a narcissist lurks.


Mutual Attack, or Assault and Defence?

To the outside world and casual onlooker, a toxic divorce or split is likely to appear as an indiscreet airing of dirty laundry that elicits comments such as “they’re both as bad as each other”, “six of one and half a dozen of the other”, “they both need to grow up and put the children first”, “it’s all very immature”.

What on the face of it appears as a 50/50 “slogging it out” hides a very different reality behind the scenes, however. If the victim has worked out that the root of the problem lies with NPD, the narc is embarking on a formidable campaign of abuse on many levels. Whilst the real victim is beginning to understand the full horrors of the situation, researching like crazy, and following the advice of going No Contact and imposing strict boundaries and defence strategies, the Narc is in overdrive with their offensive.

The original tragedy is amplified severalfold when the target – the innocent victim in it all – is tarnished as part of the smear campaign, isolated from friends and family, and alienated from their kids as the Narc launches assault after assault on their victim’s new, hastily-erected defences.



Early Warning Signs – the Smear Campaign

In the run up to the discard, and in anticipation of it, the narcissist will begin to undermine the reputation of their partner. Normally this is done very subtly, with passive-aggressive comments that paint their partners as crazy and abusive. The Smear Campaign serves a number of purposes:

  • To start the process of isolating the victim from their potential support base of friends and family
  • To establish the grounds for playing the victim
  • To open the door for the new supply to come in as saviour
  • To act as distraction from all of the evil deeds they are up to
  • To work out who’s who in their list of trusty disciples. Those who buy the smear campaign hook, line and sinker are in. These loyal disciples are recruited as Flying Monkeys and Enablers. Those who demonstrate that they might question the narcissist’s version of events or voice sympathy for the real victim prove themselves to be unreliable, and will be treated accordingly.



To reinforce the Smear Campaign, the narc will do all they can to wind-up their victim in private in order to provoke them to explode in public – or at least in a way that the narc can twist reality in order to underpin their litany of lies. Manipulative to the core, their skill lies in sprinkling enough truth in with their lies to ensure they are believable. And if the truth doesn’t occur naturally, they create it artificially.



Narcissists don’t like being without a loyal and bountiful provider of Narcissistic Supply. As a result there is a very good chance that they have lined up and secured their next victim before discarding their existing one. So a dead giveaway that is a very strong differentiator between abuser and victim is the presence of a third party in the mix. The abuser moves on quickly – the victim is left distraught and struggling to make sense of it all.

Moreover, abusers don’t transfer their affections to another quietly and respectfully, seeking to cause as little heartache to their ex as possible. The opposite is the case – they’ll seek to play the old off against the new is a painful exercise of triangulation, deriving narcissistic supply from the drama induced in each party.


Victim Narrative

Narcopaths are driven to play the Victim Narrative – doing so results in the sympathy and attention they desperately crave. It also reinforces their ego, reassuring them of their ability to manipulate and hoodwink. So in the run up to discard, and for some time after it, expect that narcissist and his/her flying monkeys to deliver a good series of sob-stories. They are the classic fire-starter who then pleads burns victim. Their victim narrative serves several aims:

  • It’s a veritable land grab for sympathy, itself a form of narcissistic supply, which also deprives their victim of their justifiable right to it.
  • To denigrate and punish the innocent victim, causing further heartache as part of their mission to destroy their ex.
  • To isolate victim from support group that includes friends and family.
  • To undermine the credibility of the victim in the eyes of judge and jury – the myriad of stakeholders to their relationship and more distant bystanders who may otherwise see through the narcissist’s antics and sway opinion against them.


Polarised Friendships

The Crazy-Making, Smear Campaign, and Victim Narrative all require an audience – a pool of people who validate the narcissist’s false and twisted perspective of reality. Narcissists desperately need this external validation which must be won despite the questions and suspicions of more critical thinkers. Keeping a large pool of disciples onside soaks up resources and is exhausting for the narcissist. Expect them instead to surround themselves with a few staunch allies with whom they are very close and on whom they are very reliant for moral support and endorsement.

These allies may well fall into either camp:

  • Flying Monkeys, in which case they are just as toxic and will carry out the smear campaign themselves, thereby leaving the narc’s hands clean;
  • Enablers – fundamentally decent people who are thoroughly naïve and do not stop to question either the actions of the narc or their own blind faith in the narc.

Presented with evidence of the narc’s treachery, Flying Monkeys won’t care – they are already on the dark side. If, however, Enablers are made aware of the narcissist’s toxic behaviour but still choose to be loyal, know that they are very toxic too. To quote Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”


Parental Alienation

Parental Alienation is a very common by-product of NPD discard. Unable to love anyone including their kids, the narcissist instead uses them in their war against their ex. In a syndrome called Pathogenic Parenting, the kids are encouraged to be hostile towards, and turn their back on, their normal range, loving parent. This is achieved by a range of ploys that extends from very subtle passive-aggressive means to all-out forced prevention of contact. How can kids be turned in this way? It’s a defence mechanism – they do so because to defy their narcissistic parent will incur such terrible consequences that they choose keep the peace. They know that the love of the targeted parent is healthy and unconditional. By contrast, the perceived “love” of their NPD parent is entirely conditional on their absolute obedience and submission. They choose the path of least resistance.

Being the child of a pathogenic parent is very tough on the children however. Unlike healthy childhoods that seeks to boost confidence and autonomy, their development is modelled on ongoing reliance on and obedience towards the NPD parent.

The sharp onlooker may notice some key signs in kids – unnatural and unbalanced relationships towards each parent, a lack of confidence, eating disorders, irritability and explosions of rage etc.


Campaign of Abuse

Whilst the campaign of abuse during the devaluation phase of a relationship with a narcissist may be insidious and difficult to spot, post-discard the victim will be subjected to an explosion of covert but more definite abuse. This may include any combination of: physical, financial, emotional, legal and process abuse, ghosting, smear and abuse aimed at trashing personal and professional reputation etc. Antics are wide and varied – often in isolation they amount to little, but the combined mindfuckery is as bewildering as it is exhausting. The narc will try and do all of this very discreetly, employing their flying monkeys where possible. But any casual onlooker with sufficient critical thinking should be able to uncover enough evidence – if they are so minded to investigate a little.


Mission to Destroy

Narcopaths are on a mission to destroy their ex’s – especially those who have worked out that NPD is the likely issue at play. Sadly without support many victims resort to suicide.


Passing Judgement

Rather than pass judgement, and take the easy way out by labelling both party as bad as each other etc, pause for thought. If you were under such intense and enduring psychological and emotional assault, extreme enough to result in suicide, what would you do?

I suggest that those with the courage and determination to resist warrant much more than such a label.


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External Links

13 Essential Tips if You’re Divorcing a Narcissist | Psychology Today

Are you a Target of Blame by the Narcissist? | Psychology Today