Dealing with ‘narc abuse’ – the beginning of the discussion

Leaving the ‘narc paradigm’ behind

Probably the best way of starting off this whole megillah of how to deal with extricating our souls out of the ‘narc paradigm’ that most of us are dealing with, from the very moment we’re born, is to walk through some real examples.

One of my readers just sent me this, and with their permission, I am sharing it here on the blog, with my response.

Here’s what they emailed me:

My soon to be ex has been out of the house and I am no contact since [date].

Although I have been doing many things to bring healing, I still struggle with depression, and feelings of numbness. I have lost myself and have little left of the natural joy of my personality. I actually feel a bit like a zombie, just going thru the paces, the process of living but with no life.

I have probably searched the web for “healing from narcissistic abuse” a hundred times over the past 6 months, not counting the books I have read about the subject. I have done my best to follow the advice, but the difficulties remain.

Any information you can provide regarding healing from this type of abuse and healing the self will be very appreciated.


First, let’s give a bit more background to the story.

After quite a few years of a difficult marriage (with no kids), my correspondent realised some time last year that her ex was actually not just ‘difficult’, as so many of us can be occasionally.

He was actually a narc.

What’s the tell-tale sign that you’re dealing with a narc?

They never, ever apologise for anything they’ve done to hurt you, and whenever you try to bring up some ‘issue’ with them, depending on what type of narc they are, they will either totally ignore it (and you….) or, they will attack.


We all make mistakes.

We all do and say things that hurt other people, at least occasionally, even with the best will in the world.

God created us all with yetzers, and none of us are fully in control of our yetzers, even with all the work and the effort, ad 120.

So, the point is not that ‘if I hurt someone else, occasionally, I must be a narc’.

Not at all.

The point is, if I pretend to myself that I never hurt anyone else with my bad middot, and that I’m ALWAYS the victim, the ‘wronged one’, in every interaction – then, this is a key ‘narc’ trait.


Another important point, before we continue this discussion of ‘how to heal from narc abuse’, is this:

Our whole society, our whole world, is currently operating on a ‘narc’ model of gaslighting, control and manipulation.

When a person grows up in a world like this, it’s almost inevitable that we’ll pick up with Light’s House once called ‘narcissistic fleas’.

That means that we become conditioned to act and react ‘like a narc’, without really being a narc.

To put this another way, anyone who starts reading these things and then starts worrying that maybe, I’m also a narc?!?!? Usually has nothing to worry about.

A true narc would never believe this about themselves.

But it is probably the case, for all of us, that we have some bad ‘narc’ traits and bad middot, that we need to start recognising, praying about, and uprooting.


OK, so let’s continue defining what we’re talking about.

What is ‘narc abuse’? What does that actually mean, what does it really encompass?

That’s a question that I could write 15 books to answer.

But my forte is kind of ‘cutting to the core’ of what is going on, so let’s see if we can do that with this, too.

Essentially, narcs create a version of ‘reality’ – their reality – that no-one else can challenge, or change. If you are hanging out with a narc, you pick up the ‘vibe’, subconsciously, that if you don’t keep this person ‘happy’, something really bad is going to happen.

On the topics that a narc doesn’t really care about, you can argue and disagree, at least in some limited amount (unless you are dealing with a super-narc, who expects obedience 100%).

But the real problems show up when who you are, what you think, what you want, what you believe clashes with the narc’s version of reality.

If you don’t give in or conform or ‘toe the line’ at that point, you are heading for car crash of enormous proportions.


This is why so many people stay stuck in abusive relationships for so long – precisely because they know, subconsciously, that they are dealing with a dangerous person, who will become even more dangerous, when they try to pull away from being controlled and manipulated by the narc.

I’m not talking about actual violence, or actual physical abuse, God forbid.

It’s much more subtle than that. And that’s part of what makes ‘narc abuse’ so very headwrecking, hard to acknowledge, and hard to heal from.


So, to break it down even more, I would define not-violent ‘narc abuse’ as a situation where you find yourself permanently stuck in a version of ‘reality’ that is not yours, and is false.

You literally have to submerge what you think, what you feel, what you experience, who you really are, 100% into the narc’s ‘version of reality’, in order to avoid the inevitable car crash, explosion, attack, drama that happens if a narc’s version of reality is challenged.

And if you do that too much, then you literally lose touch with who you really are, what you really think, what you really feel.

And that is the perfect breeding ground for a whole bunch of mental and emotional difficulties, including deep feelings of ‘depression’ and being an unfeeling zombie.



Depression and ‘zombie-ness’ are actually very normal reactions to being stuck in a situation where it’s ‘dangerous’ to be your real self.

And where you tread on eggshells the whole time, in case you say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing, or – gasp! – have the temerity of actually making some sort of mistake, or error.


Depression is essentially a chemical cascade process within the body that could also be called the FREEZE stress response.

FREEZE happens when FIGHT (getting angry) didn’t work, and when FLIGHT (running away from the danger) is impossible.

So then, the next stress response along is FREEZE – aka ‘playing dead’, until the danger passes.

This is the basis of ‘clinical depression’, where the body is literally flooded with the chemicals that weigh a person down, and make them feel totally dead and like they’ve been hit by a truck.

And, it takes a while for those chemicals to ‘clear out the system’, naturally.

But they do.

If the person is no longer in a situation where they need to ‘play dead’ just to survive.

But with abusive narcs…. That time seems to never really come – especially if the narc is still  operating under the radar, and the person hasn’t yet consciously understood the real dynamics underpinning their relationship.


There is another stress response after FIGHT, FLIGHT, FREEZE – and that’s called ‘FLATTER’.

That’s when people totally lose the connection with their true self, and become a pliable, totally superficial ‘people pleaser’.

This is also very common.

And this is the basis of ‘feeling like an emotional zombie’.

Again, it’s a stress response.

When a person is in a situation where it’s ‘safe’ to feel what they feel, and to believe what they believe, and to experience what they really are experiencing, there is no need for any of these ‘stress responses’ to continue.


The problem with living with narcs at close quarters, is that the stress continues 24/7.

Because you have to live in ‘their reality’ all the time, or face the consequences.

And probably the hardest ‘consequence’ (when you’re not dealing with the fear of physical abuse) is the never-ending criticism, and being made to feel like you just aren’t good enough, no matter what you do.

The topic of ‘criticism’ is so very important, I want to devote a whole post to it, BH.


OK, so how does a person start to heal from all of this, tachlis?

Pretty much every ‘secular’ book out there will tell you: cut the narcs out of your life as much possible.

As a starting point, it’s decent advice.

The less time you spend around bitter, critical, angry, controlling, judgmental and ‘fake’ people, the less ‘stress’ you’ll experience – and the happier you for sure will be.


(Social media is packed full of these types of people, and also encourages this type of awful middot to flourish. So getting off social media is also a very big part of healing from narc abuse.)


So if the narc is someone you can kind of ‘float away’ from, great.

(It’s always best to play the ‘fake’ game when disengaging from narcs to minimise the fall-out. There is no point tackling the real issues head on, you’ll just provoke a massive ‘attack’ that is awful for everyone involved. Just blame work commitments, tiredness, whatever, to dodge hanging out with them.)

But what happens when the ‘narc’ is a parent? Or a spouse? Or a kid?


That’s where the spiritual dimension, specifically the advice from the Torah and from our True Tzaddikim comes into the picture.

Because a person can’t just ‘cut off’ from a parent, or a kid – they are literally flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone.

That doesn’t mean that we have to just put up with being abused and criticised 24/7. Not at all.

The same advice of ‘minimising the time spent’ still applies, as does the advice of keeping things as fake and superficial as possible, to fit in with the ‘narc’s version of reality’.

But a person can’t just totally cut a parent or child out of their life, unless they are literally endangering their lives, physically, and there is no other way of managing it.

I’ll come back to this subject more in a future post. All these things are very big, delicate topics, and can’t be dealt with in a superficial way.

What I’m writing here is very general, just to begin the conversation, set out the basic problem and identify the main challenges.


With a spouse, it seems like it should be easier to ‘break away’, at least in theory.

If there are no kids involved, and the person you are married to is making you physically ill, or making you feel suicidal all the time, then getting divorced might be a suitable option.

(But divorce is never an ‘easy’ option, nevertheless. I have seen so many people get divorced, and I would say a large majority of them are actually no happier, and in so many cases, the divorce just led to even more complications and heartache, especially if there are kids in the picture.)


If there are kids in the picture?

You owe it to your kids to try and stay married and to try and work things through.

At the end of the day, it’s God who decides who we marry, and if we end up with a narc, then that is because on some level of the soul, that’s who we need to be with, for our tikkun.


People don’t just ‘marry a narc’ out of nowhere.

Usually, they are coming from a dysfunctional family themselves with at least one major ‘narc’ (parent…) in the picture.

When you grow up in an atmosphere shaped by anger, harsh judgement, phoniness, criticism, extreme materialism, competition and a massive lack of empathy, then until you do the work of recognising what is really going on, and how bad it actually is – you’ll be drawn to someone who will ‘recreate’ what you are used to.


Again, I’m just hitting the ‘top notes’ in this post.

Literally every paragraph deserves it’s own ‘deep dive’.

But a big part of why it’s so challenging to start healing from ‘narc abuse’ is because it’s very rarely ever the case that a person has just one ‘major narc’ in their life.

When you start trying to unwind all this properly, that’s when you start to realise that wow, so many of my close friends…. So many of my family members…. So many of my work colleagues…. – they are narcs, too.

Or at the least, they have narc ‘fleas’, because our whole society has been shaped to encourage the bad middot that we associate with narcissism.

Especially, online.


So, one very important way of starting to heal from ‘narc abuse’ is to identify what the character traits and bad middot are, that have been making you suffer so much, emotionally.

And then, to start the work of adopting a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to these bad middot.

Starting with yourself.

You are the only person who you can really change, after all.


In the next post, I am going to start listing what these main bad ‘narc’ middot are, and how we can start to get them out of our system.

Like attracts like.

The more we clean up the ‘fleas’ in ourselves, the less we’ll have to deal with them from others.

That’s really how it works.


OK, let’s sum up where we got to in this post:

In order to heal from ‘narc abuse’, the issue has to be addressed across all three levels of:





BODY – because narc abuse causes a person tremendous stress, and that stress is a physical phenomenon, not just a mental one.

ANGER, FEAR / ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, SUPERFICIAL-ZOMBIE-NESS – these are physical stress responses involving chemical cascades in the body.

And the physical trauma need to be addressed at the physical level.

That means spending more time in a ‘safe space’, free of criticism etc.

And it also means working with things like ‘One Brain’, or ‘Body Spin’, or other types of ‘body work’ therapies, to ‘release’ the trauma buttons that have been embedded viscerally, in the body.

(Personally, I now use tuning forks…. I will write more about that another time. Remind me.)


MIND – because narc abuse revolves around a specific set of very bad middot, with criticism, anger, selfishness and phoniness at their core.

And these bad middot have to acknowledged and uprooted – especially, in ourselves.

The more we adopt a ‘zero tolerance’ approach for these bad middot in our lives, the less ‘narc abuse’ we’ll have to endure – because the whole world is really just a mirror.


SOUL – is the recognition that whatever our circumstances are, it’s from God.

God made the commandment to ‘honor and respect your parents’ not just to torture us.

God gives us a tikkun where we end up attracting ‘difficult people’ into our lives.

And God has to be a very deep part of the ‘solution’ to whatever the problems are, that we are facing.


These are big words.

I’m not minimising how hard it is to deal with severe narc abuse.

I know, it can be totally soul-destroying.

But, there is a path out of the darkness.

And it starts with taking responsibility for ourselves, and our experience of life.

And accepting that our circumstances were designed for us 100% by God – to bring out the best in us! And to refine our souls!

That’s the whole point of being alive.


Lastly, Rebbe Nachman’s practical ‘advice’ is the key to being able to reclaim your soul, and your life, and to starting to feel happy again – even within difficult circumstances.

So going forward, I’ll also start to bring a lot more of what he teaches, and also, more of the stuff that the Rav emphasises about the middot to work on – because it’s all connected to breaking the ‘narc paradigm’.


In the next post, we’ll start to break down the ‘bad middot of a typical narc’.

It’s the starting point on this journey of leaving ‘narc abuse’ behind.

See you then.


PS: BH, I want to make what I’m writing as helpful and practical as possible. So, if there are specific stuff you want me to cover more, or to elaborate on, email me or leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to respond as we go along.

5 replies
  1. Yossi
    Yossi says:

    The two greatest pieces of advice I received when getting married have given me, according to my wife too not just me, the best marriage ever. 33 years and counting. Never had a fight.

    Advice 1: Always ask “why do you feel that way”, before responding to anything. Understand her before you react.

    Advice 2: It’s actually a story that stuck with me from a marriage counselor friend. A husband said that his wife was always argumentative, dismissive, and other bad things. The counselor asked him why he would marry such an awful woman. He replied, “well, she wasn’t like that when we got married.” The counselor then pointed out, “then you made her that way!”

    That story has never left my mind, and I’ve seen over decades that we build into our spouses. We reap what we sow. And I don’t care if it’s sexist, it is us men that bear that responsibility.

    • JA
      JA says:

      Thanks for sharing these great tips! I agree with you, Yossi.

      Hence, the Ketuvah only sets the responsibilities of the husband. It seems one-sided unless we accept that so long as a man fulfills his part as a husband, his wife will definitely fulfill her part.

      An incredibly helpful post, Rivka! I would love more on this series, particularly on if/how/when to practise Azamra with narcissists, where the line between “accepting rebuke with love” ends and verbal/emotional abuse begins, if/when we can spot signs/opportunities to help narcissists (particularly loved ones), and perhaps the psychological roots of narcissism itself.

      Can’t wait to see the rest of this series!

  2. Talia
    Talia says:

    SPOT ON RIVKA!!!! THANK YOU FROM THE DEPTHS OF MY SOUL FOR ADDRESSING THIS ISSUE OF NARCISSM….your post on the subject could not have come in better time! Only recently did I begin to understand this unhealthy dynamic in my environment…hashfacha pratit moment for me that you decided to write more about it…I appreciate it & just want to say I LOVE YOU NESHAMA 💜 TEHORA…please DO continue your exposes…its exactly as you describe that we are immersed in society with many narcs…its hard to believe that perhaps we were the narcs in prior reincarnation & now Hashem wants us to fix it within ourselves (even if its a “dusting” of narc) & especially for the people in our environment who are over the too NARCS i.e. family, work charity org.
    Etc…In some instances they are truely NOT aware “its my way or the highway” because its natural, its normal from their childhoods until now!

    • Rivka Levy
      Rivka Levy says:

      I also had quite a ‘dusting of narc’ (nice phrasing!) for quite a long time, until about 10 years ago, when I read Rav Arush’s book on ‘Parenting with Love’ – and suddenly, I started to understand that so much of how I was acting, thinking and talking, especially with my children, was not correct.

      At all!

      A whole bunch of pennies dropped at once around the same time – and we were then on the ‘journey of discovery’ of a lifetime, trying to figure out what on earth was going on, and what ‘version of reality’ was actually real.

      Narc-issism is v potent brainwashing.

      A person is gaslit from the moment they are born, that ‘criticism’ is healthy, and ‘guilt’ is only right, and to be expected, and that our own true feelings don’t really matter and should be ‘papered over’ instead of recognised and dealt with appropriately….

      But that – and so much more – of the ‘narc paradigm’ is not true, and actually the very opposite of what Rabbenu teaches.

      Thanks for your encouragement, Talia…. I have a lot to share about this subject, and BH, I really hope it will be helpful.


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