Narcissistic abuse: who is the real victim?


Narcissistic abusers are great at charming people they want to impress, or those people they want to get on their side. When they have targeted an individual for abuse, they will stop at nothing to turn their friends, colleagues, even their families against them–and it’s not at all uncommon for them to claim that THEY are the ones being abused.   The process of using malicious gossip and lies to turn people against the victim is called triangulation and is well known in the narcissistic abuse community. Most of us who have been targeted by narcissistic abusers know all too well about triangulation and its close cousin, gaslighting. Both will be used in conjunction with each other to turn the victim’s potential allies against them, effectively isolating them and ripping away any support systems they could use later.

Those who have been turned against the victim by the narcissist are called flying monkeys. They may or may not be narcissists themselves, but they are duped and misled by the narcissist’s convincing lies and charm into believing the narcissist is the real victim and that the victim is the abuser. You can’t really blame them for siding with the abuser, since the abuser can be so convincing and often has a glibness that the real victim lacks. Complicating the situation further is the likelihood that the real victim indeed acts “crazier” or more irrationally than the abuser, usually because they have been driven half-mad by the abuse, which can be so easily hidden, even from those who are witnesses to it.

The good news is, there is a way the real victim can be discerned in an abuse situation, even if the narcissist complains loudly about how THEY are being abused. This isn’t something I thought of myself; it’s been described already by other writers and bloggers. Still, I think it’s something that isn’t given a lot of attention, so I want to describe in detail how this works because it may be the only way you can extract the truth in the evil mental clusterf*ck set up by a narcissistic abuser.

Isolating the victim.

In any abuse situation, there is almost always more than just two people involved. At the core are the victim and the abuser, of course, but chances are good the abuser has convinced other people–including friends and family members of the victim–that the victim is the real abuser, and recruited others as flying monkeys that collectively condemn and mob the victim. The abuser may have even convinced a mental health professional or pastor (or anyone else who works closely with a family) that the real victim is the real abuser, effectively turning everyone against the victim, so only the narcissist appears to have allies and the victim has no one.

This happened to me, when I was still married to my sociopathic MN ex. My ex was always more socially adept than me. He was always better at making friends and giving a good first impression than I was. He was very glib and could spread the lies on as thick and convincingly as a trial lawyer. In fact, I used to joke that he should have been a lawyer (no offense to any lawyers who may be reading this!)


It wasn’t a joke anymore when he decided I was an easy target for abuse. We had several friends–mostly other couples–who suddenly seemed to want nothing to do with me, but still talked to him and seemed to like him. When I questioned my ex about why all our friends had cooled toward me, he said things like, “So-and-so doesn’t like you; I really don’t know why!” or “The Joneses told me they think you act kind of crazy and they don’t feel comfortable around you.”  I was even told our friends were “afraid of me.”  Even our children–who were middle schoolers at the time–had turned chilly toward me, as had several other family members. (It turned out later he was telling the kids I didn’t love them and wished they’d go away–of course, this was an utter lie). Meanwhile he had convinced our friends I was insane. If I questioned him about his treatment or if I seemed to be getting at the truth, suddenly I was called paranoid or too sensitive or even crazy. Or I’d get a non-answer like, “No wonder no one likes you. You’re so selfish. Everything is always about YOU.” He was projecting his own narcissism onto me, but I didn’t know it back then. I began to think there must be something very wrong with me that everyone else could see but I couldn’t.

The real abuser may act more sane.

It didn’t help any that my behavior around this time did in fact appear more insane than his did. I always seemed to be the one to act out or lose my cool, while he always appeared completely rational, cool and collected. Of course our kids were more likely to take his side–they looked at their dad and saw a calm, rational person who wasn’t raising his voice and who was telling them their mom was both insane and didn’t love them. They looked at me and saw a frazzled, half-mad, emotionally unstable woman who was always yelling, crying or locking herself in her room–and on two occasions had to be hospitalized. Why wouldn’t they believe him? What they–and everyone else–didn’t know was that his crazymaking behavior was driving me insane and I was already suffering PTSD due to the mental and emotional abuse. He always treated me well whenever anyone else was present, so no one would suspect what he was actually doing. If I tried to call him out on his abuse, I was gaslighted: “stop making things up,” or “that just proves how insane and self centered you are.” Everyone we knew believed him and I found myself all alone, with no one I could trust or confide in. He was able to use confirmation bias to his advantage–thereafter, anything I did became “proof” of my “craziness” or “unfitness” or “selfishness” and the more abused I was, the “crazier” I got.

At one point we began to see a marriage counselor at my insistence. My behavior in counseling was more volatile than his, and my ex also began to see the counselor in private. He was able to convince this therapist that I was the problem in the marriage and the less fit parent. Here was one more person who could have been a potential ally, but due to her ignorance of narcissistic abuse (and his attorney-like glibness and charm), became another flying monkey he could use in his smear campaign against me.

Click chart to enlarge.

I have read and heard about many similar situations described by numerous narc-abuse survivors, whether the narcissist was a parent who turned all their siblings and other relatives against them, or a spouse who turned all their mutual friends against them. It happens in the work world too, and online, and in schools, and anywhere where bullying can take place. In any bullying or abuse situation, there is one ringleader (or main narcissist) who has successfully used triangulation, gaslighting and projection to turn others against the abused person. The real abuse victim, who may lack the charm and glibness and manipulativeness of the abuser, has usually been isolated by the narcissist from anyone who could have been of support.

Identifying the real victim.

It doesn’t matter if the real victim seems “crazier” or more emotionally unstable or even more “abusive” than the abuser; they have become that way due to the abuse.   They may have a history of previous victimization which rendered them vulnerable to becoming an abuser’s prey and they may have pre-existing PTSD.   The real clue here is which person seems to have no one on their side? Which one has no friends or allies?  Who seems to be fighting a losing battle?  Who seems to have more “mental problems?” That person is almost always going to be the actual victim, no matter how much “evidence” the alleged “victim” claims to have.

If you are currently being victimized by an abuser, this knowledge may be the only way to be able to tell that you are actually the abuse victim and not the perpetrator, since chances are, your abuser has convinced everyone (including you!) that you are the one at fault. Hold onto this knowledge and remind yourself of it as you begin to disengage. Hopefully, knowing that you are NOT at fault and the narcissist is just a convincing liar will give you the motivation you need to get away. Or, if you are a bystander witnessing abuse, you may be able to help the real victim by keeping in mind that the one who seems to have no one on their side is the one you should be helping. Don’t let the narcissist’s convincing lies sway you over to their side.

43 thoughts on “Narcissistic abuse: who is the real victim?

  1. Doesn’t it say in The Bible something like, In the end one is pointing the finger at the other(good and evil). And then it makes you wonder how you can tell which is which and that one is the great impersonator(evil). That saying sounds familiar to me and it seems to be what you’re talking about above.

    I’ve been triangulated against real bad and am pretty much alone right now. What I don’t get is how my friends can think I’m the sick one because the person telling them these things isn’t really THEIR friend but rather someone I know(am related to). They really have no business talking with them. Don’t they see that? Don’t they ask themselves, Well whose friend am I really in the first place?

    I am guilty of triangulation in the far past but I didn’t realize that I was doing so, it must have been a learned behavior from having grown up in an N environment(fleas). But never did I want to make a person completely friendless, that is going too far. Everybody needs a few friends, allies. You just don’t do that to somebody(contacting EVERYBODY the person knows about them). That’s just not right.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I wasn’t thinking about the Bible when I wrote this, but you are right–the Bible does talk about this. Jesus wasn’t “popular” and many people sided against him, thinking that he was a heretic himself because the Pharisees convinced them that he was. He was put to death because of narcissistic Pharisees and their followers who couldn’t see the truth (or refused to see it, wanting to go with what was popular or “PC). Jesus wasn’t PC and the humble “sinners” were his friends and allies–not the holier than thou Pharisees who thought they were “above” sin.

      Liked by 3 people

    • You’re right. It’s not right. But remember, the narcissist is after supply–any type of attention, and a sympathetic listener is a big boost to them. Like you, I have a problem with our “friends” that actually listen to these psychopaths and then turn on us. I’m still dumbfounded as to what makes them do this and not even tell us about it. We are left to figure it out for ourselves.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Try as I might, I can’t ever “understand” what makes a malignant narc tick. I know they do all this for attention and supply, it makes them feel better about themselves (because they really do hate themselves). A person with true self esteem has no use for such underhanded shenanigans. But why hurting someone else makes them feel better about themselves is something I can’t emotionally comprehend, even if I can intellectually comprehend it.

        As for why they tend to be more popular, well, people are sheep and go along with the person who seems more “cool” or has their sh*t together and who other people like. They tend to avoid people who are “different” or seem less popular. You’d think adults would outgrow that crap after high school but alas, such is not the case.

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        • Why narcs feel better after hurting someone else? I’ve thought about that and I think if they are projecting so much all of the time, when they ‘beat you up,’ in a way, they are beating up themselves. After all, you are them(I don’t know if I’m making sense?)

          Liked by 2 people

          • Yes, exactly. “You” are not a person to them, you are just a mirror. Projection also means that the abuse they heap on you they are really heaping on themselves–they can’t own their own faults, they have to project them onto someone else and then punish them for it. They choose victims who seem like they could be easy prey (usually meaning already beaten down and abused by others). Beyond that, they choose people who scare them–those that seem to be truth-tellers and they relentlessly attempt to disable them so they can do no more “harm” and possibly expose them. They hate and fear exposure–and those who can see the truth.


            • As a truthteller, but now I’m more wise, I don’t always speak…it can be smarter not to, but when I was a naive truthteller a few years back, I was the type who would tell on myself. So I guess the N’s then know if you would tell on yourself, you would definitely tell on them and like you said, they fear exposure.

              Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes, yes, you said it! It took forever for me to realize that conversations were being had(I figured it out), that I knew nothing about. And why would these two people be talking in the first place? My N mo had a habit of ‘gifting’ my friends. Instead of giving the gifts or $ to her own family(me her dau), she gives it to my friends. Then I’m automatically bumped to bottom ranking. Now they’re HER friends. My friends were always getting richer while I was getting poorer. They have my $.

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  2. The scenarios described in this post sounds so much like me and my ex that’s it’s scary. While my ex acted as though everything was okay at home, he was building a case against with friends and family. One minute, I was the next best thing to rice and gravy, and the next minute his family and our mutual friends were pulling away from me. I had no idea what was going on. Only when he told me one day, I’m not the one that’s crazy,” did I realize that he was insinuating that I was crazy and was probably telling others the same. That was five years ago. I’ve learned a lot since then. Thank you for sharing this post.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The other thing is people’s tendency to do ‘the popular thing.’ If two or more people are ganging up on one person, it’s the ‘popular’ thing to join the crowd. People need to stand up for what’s right not become part of a crowd or something.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I agree completely. It’s tempting to want to side with the “popular” one–after all, we want to believe most people do the right thing and will be drawn to the one who is “right.” Unfortunately, this is not always (or even usually) the case. People aren’t drawn to what’s right–they are drawn to who seems to be more popular or act less “crazy.” Those aren’t good indicators of rightness.


  4. What an excellent post. The power of sharing these stories is that mutual truth telling in an environment where victims are believed is the anti-dote to isolation. The isolation tactic that has been so effective and pervasive in our lives,is undone as we say “you too-I’m not alone” Reading it in print to makes the reader think what a ghastly monster about the person we were habituated to think maybe just didn’t understand us or could be rehabilitated.

    The percentage of time the narc is believed and the victim is not, is stunning but then it has to do with the narc craftily laying ground work long before the crises they cause in their victims life occurs. They are preparing the way to make us invisible, disbelieved and isolated. A wise person I knew used to say upon hearing some story about the impossible relative the gossiper wanted committed to a mental hospital ” I wonder what the back story is”. I now ask internally when I hear some awful comment about an adult child “why are you telling me this, what is your motive?”

    Narcs and their allies can absolutely destroy reputations and businesses or relatives that they choose to victimize. I notice in Trump that he seems constantly on the prowl for someone to insult, victimize, or destroy in someway. Those that like him are suspect to me as people “of the lie” to quote Scott Peck.

    Liked by 4 people

    • That wise person you knew had some very wise words–next time someone tells me about how awful their adult child is, I think I might react the same way, instead of with the usual sympathetic responses (which is what they want). In fact, anyone who speaks badly of anyone else. Gossip is so damaging and soul killing anyway. Nothing good ever comes from it.
      Oh, I agree with you about Trump and the people who support him. I don’t suspect them all of being narcs, but those that aren’t I suspect of being typical brainwashed sheep, which, I hate to say it, most people today seem to be (especially in America).

      Liked by 2 people

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  6. This sounds so much like my mother. She does all of this to me and to my brother but at different times. J and I always joke (half-heartedly) that she only ever has one “good” child at a time. But, during the time you are in her favor she is turning you against the other sibling. So, we don’t have a great relationship.
    We are beginning to figure it out (partially with your articles, partially from other bloggers), but it’s also something that, beyond repairing a relationship with my brother, I don’t even want to deal with. My parents are getting old, so of course now we’re being told that we’re killing someone. It’s not worth it at this point. The last episode broke my boundaries to the ground and I’m still working on putting them back up.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Art by Rob Goldstein and commented:
    This following point also applies in spades if the narcissist is trolling social media for prey: “In any abuse situation, there is almost always more than just two people involved. At the core are the victim and the abuser, of course, but chances are good the abuser has convinced other people–including friends and family members of the victim–that the victim is the real abuser…”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, absolutely! In fact, I was thinking of the recent “situation” I was in while I wrote this, but didn’t want to bring it up again, so I used the example of my ex instead (also a good example, but not the one that was on my mind). Thanks for reblogging.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I am sorry this stuff happened to you. We need more people to defend the absent like Dr. Wayne Dyer suggested. I used to work with a narcissist, so I knew that the person being trashed was the victim, not the culprit. This guy reminds me a lot of one of our presidential candidates.

    Did you take note over his interview response to Meghan Kelly saying if someone criticizes me, he would come back at them tenfold. The mentality is if I defeat you, then your argument is poor. That is not how it works. It just means the narcissist is shallow and cannot take criticism,

    Liked by 1 person

    • That candidate you are talking about is very dangerous. I read that a German magazine wrote an article reminding us of what happened in Germany when Hitler rose to power. He was elected too. He seemed to be everything the German people wanted, and then he pulled a bait and switch. I think we have forgotten, but Germany has not.

      Liked by 1 person

      • He is not as bad as Hitler, but everything we need to know about his lack of veracity as a candidate is in his history and it is not hard to find. Plus, his thin skin is not a good mix with the demands of the presidency.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: How Narcissistic Abusers Convince Friends and Family that the Victim is to Blame – A Blog About Healing From PTSD

  10. This post is FANTASTIC. Wow, Lauren, sometimes when I read your blog it’s hard to believe you don’t have a PhD in psychology!

    What you wrote here reminded me of a situation I was in years ago when my new narc boyfriend, who was still love-bombing me at the time, forgot to turn off his phone after he called me and left a syrupy sweet message. So I got to be like the fly on the wall and hear all the sh*t he was telling our friends about me behind my back!

    I tried to reblog this post with my story about the two-faced narc boyfriend in the comment box, but my story was just too long to fit in that box. So I turned it into a post, with a link back here to your awesome post.

    Here is my story:

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks so much for writing this Lauren. I never really got to thinking about it before today but two of my previous abusive partners were very much like this – the second made his family believe I was this horrible person, and he was a saint. He’d painted his ex wife as a monster and I only found out by accident after some digging that he was in court for assault, accused of throwing his ex wife down some stairs. It’s terrible how I suffered in silence but everything I did just seemed to confirm that I was this person he said I was and I had grown o reliant on him so scared to leave. Thanks so much for sharing. It’s also made me think more about how we ought to be careful with just taking another person’s side, one never knows if the victim is really who we think it is. hugs x

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Wow, Lauren, just reading this post gave me palpitations!! It is so my family and what I just relived with them after no contact for 15 years. They picked up right where they left off with the narcissistic abuse. It was this time around with them that I learned their were narcissists and about no contact and it made everything they did to me make sense. My family is church-going-bible-thumping people but also very cruel narcissists. I kept giving them the benefit of the doubt because they were Christians but I have since learned that many Christians are narcissists so now, I do like Dr. Phil says and listen to my gut and like your article is pointing out, if a person is showing you “bad fruits” bad acts like gossiping about someone or doing something like putting you down those acts are what they are and there is something wrong and off about someone who would behave in cruel ways about others or to your yourself. Thanks for this special article!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad you liked the article and it hit a nerve. 🙂 (I mean that in the best possible way of course). Yes, I agree there are narcissistic churchgoing Christians. Religion is never a good indicator of whether someone is a good person or not. There are good people and bad people of every religion, and good people and bad people who are atheists too. I think what’s important (besides what you said), is how does that person make you feel? I have learned to stay far away from anyone who just makes me feel uncomfortable or self conscious. My intuition is almost always right. I should listen to it more. I might write an article about listening to your intuition, because I think we already know plenty about someone we just met — but tend to dismiss our gut feelings.

      Liked by 1 person

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