Death by A Thousand Cuts: Narcissistic Abuse and Coercive Control

Recently I saw a young woman, mother of two, who unquestionably has been, and via the children still is, a victim of coercive control. She has been through all the usual interviews with various agencies and legal professionals, culminating in a hearing in court. I am shocked but not at all surprised by the sheer lack of awareness of all the professionals involved. I am disturbed by the damaging impact I see on this young woman and saddened that nothing much has changed since I started out in Social Work 4 decades ago.

So the main point I want to get across in this post is about how crucial it is for Therapists and Legal Professionals to learn about and understand the prevalence and covert nature of Narcissistic Abuse (NA). I can only touch on here, the nature of Narcissistic behaviour, Narcissistic Abuse, its prevalence, the difficulties of evidencing it in court, and the profound impact it has on legal decisions regarding child contact and residence. What I most want to emphasise is the importance of all professionals comprehending the subtleties of this abuse and explore how they can provide much-needed help and support to the victims who may show up as clients.

This insidious form of abuse, which often involves coercive control, has been recognized as a crime in the UK since 2015. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness of the dynamics of Narcissistic Abuse, particularly, in the helping and legal professions, can create immense challenges for victims, who may not even realise themselves that they are being abused, because they may never have been hit or subjected to violence. Narcissistic Abuse can be described as more like psychological terrorism.

Understanding the Covert Nature and Prevalence of Narcissistic Abuse

Any client coming through your door ostensibly suffering from stress and anxiety may in fact be a victim of this form of covert abuse since Narcissistic Abuse operates beneath the surface, disguised in subtle manipulations and emotional exploitation.

Victims are often left in a state of confusion, self-doubt, and psychological turmoil, making it challenging for them to recognize the abusive nature of the relationship in which they are trapped. The abuser skilfully employs gaslighting, belittling, emotional withdrawal, and many other tactics to gain power and control over their victim’s life.

The covert nature of Narcissistic Abuse makes it pervasive and difficult to detect, leading many victims to suffer in silence, unaware of the abuse they are enduring.

Coercive Control as a Crime in the UK

In 2015, the UK recognized coercive control as a criminal offence, acknowledging the long-term and severe harm it inflicts on victims. It involves a pattern of intimidating and controlling behaviours that restrict the victim’s freedom and autonomy, leaving them emotionally and psychologically trapped. This includes isolating the victim from friends and family, controlling finances, constant surveillance, and inducing fear through intimidation.

While this legal recognition was a significant step forward, evidencing coercive control in court remains a challenging and difficult task, mostly in my view because of the lack of awareness of professionals involved.

The Difficulty of Evidencing Narcissistic Abuse in Court

Narcissists are master manipulators who excel at presenting a facade of charm and normalcy to the outside world, making it difficult for victims to gather tangible evidence of their abuse. In court proceedings, victims may struggle to provide the concrete evidence required to prove the covert nature of the abuse.

This challenge is exacerbated when professionals, including therapists and legal experts, lack awareness of the dynamics of Narcissistic Abuse. The judicial process, including the time constraints and costs, don’t allow victims to communicate the sheer volume and relentlessness of seemingly petty incidents. As a result, victims are often disbelieved, and considered petty, not least of all because they are traumatised, further exacerbating their distress and isolation.

Misunderstanding Leads to Erroneous Decisions Regarding Safeguarding Children

One of the most heart-wrenching consequences of misunderstanding Narcissistic Abuse is the impact on children involved in these relationships. Residence and contact decisions may be made without fully understanding the abusive dynamics at play, putting children at risk of further harm.

Narcissistic abusers may use their children as pawns to continue exerting control over the victim, causing emotional damage and distress to the innocent parties involved. Often the innocent victim is vilified and made out to be crazy, which of course they have come to feel.

The Importance of Professional Understanding and Support

It is imperative for Therapists and Solicitors to familiarise themselves with the subtleties of Narcissistic Abuse and its devastating effects. By being well-informed, professionals can provide a safe and supportive environment for victims to share their experiences, without judgment or dismissal. Validating the victim’s feelings and experiences can help empower them to recognise the abuse and take steps towards healing and safety.

How Professionals Can Help

  • Pursue continuous education and training on Narcissistic Abuse and coercive control to enhance understanding and intervention strategies.
  • Adopt a client-centred approach that promotes a sense of well-being and safety.
  • Be aware of your legal responsibility regarding safeguarding and where necessary communicate with legal professionals, child protection agencies, and other relevant entities to ensure comprehensive support for victims and their children.
  • Encourage victims to keep a journal or record incidents of abuse, as this documentation can be valuable in legal proceedings.
  • Provide trauma-informed care to help victims rebuild their self-esteem and regain control over their lives.
  • Refer on where necessary for more experienced/trained support.

Narcissistic Abuse is a deeply troubling and prevalent issue that affects countless individuals, mostly women and children, often in ways they may not fully comprehend. As therapists and legal professionals, it is incumbent upon us to become well-versed in the subtleties of this abuse to provide effective support and prevent further harm. This may even be referring them to a more experienced professional. By educating ourselves, collaborating with relevant parties, and adopting a victim-cantered approach, we can play a pivotal role in empowering victims of Narcissistic Abuse to reclaim their lives and protect their children from the cycle of abuse. Together, let us be agents of change and create a safer, more understanding world for those who need it most.