Reactive abuse is a psychological event in relationships where a narcissist abuses one person. It involves the abuse victim’s aggressive or combative behavior as a response to the manipulative and controlling tactics used by the abuser. I want to talk about reactive abuse, help you identify it in yourself and others, and discuss helpful treatment and recovery methods.

Understanding Reactive Abuse

Reactive abuse occurs when someone is put through narcissistic abuse and begins to show negative behaviors as a reaction to the emotional distress caused by the abuser. The abuser, usually someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), manipulates, gaslights, and emotionally exploits the victim to maintain control over them. As a result, the victim may react with anger, aggression, or hostility to defend themselves or regain control over their emotions.

The cycle of reactive abuse can harm the victim’s mental health and self-esteem. The narcissistic abuser may use the victim’s reactions to justify their abusive behavior. This can make the victim feel confused, guilty, or trapped in a toxic relationship.

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There were so many times when I was married that I often felt like a crazy person. He would push me to the end of my rope, and I would snap. He would then turn it around on me and say that I was unstable, I needed help, or that there was no reason to react or respond like that. He was gaslighting me for reacting to the unreasonable amount of stuff he would put me through. I honestly had no idea it was a reaction to how he treated me.

Identifying Reactive Abuse in Yourself and Others

Recognizing the signs of reactive abuse is important to help break the cycle and seek help for both the victim and the abuser. Here are some signs that may point to reactive abuse:

Uncharacteristic aggression or hostility: If you or someone you know starts displaying aggressive behavior that is out of character, it may be a sign of reactive abuse. The individual might lash out verbally or physically when triggered by the narcissistic abuser, even though they were typically calm and collected before entering the relationship.

Reactive Abuse: They call you abusive for reacting!

Emotional exhaustion

Reactive abuse can leave the victim feeling drained and exhausted, as they are constantly battling the manipulative tactics used by their abuser. This emotional fatigue can manifest as a lack of motivation, irritability, and feeling overwhelmed.

Self-blame and guilt

Victims of reactive abuse often internalize the blame for their negative reactions, feeling guilty or believing they are the reason for the dysfunction in the relationship. They may also doubt their perception of reality due to the gaslighting and manipulation they experience.

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Unhealthy coping mechanisms

In response to the emotional distress caused by reactive abuse, individuals may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse or self-harm, to escape or numb the pain.

Changes in social behavior

Victims of reactive abuse may become withdrawn or isolated from friends and family due to the abuser’s control or their feelings of shame about their behavior.

Anxiety and depression

The ongoing stress and emotional turmoil caused by reactive abuse can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression, affecting the victim’s overall well-being.

I feel that I went through all of this. While I am a bit more introverted, I can look back and see how I withdrew from my friends and family. My anxiety while I was with him was so high. Yet, I didn’t know what it was, and when I would share with him how I was feeling, I was gaslighted even more and told there was no reason for it, or I was overreacting. And, of course, I blamed myself for everything in our relationship, but I now also see that it is because that’s what he wanted.

Successful Treatment and Recovery Methods

Breaking free from the cycle of reactive abuse requires the victim and the abuser to seek help and work towards healing. Of course, when dealing with a narcissist getting them to work towards anything healing is challenging. They don’t want to change, they want you to continue to control and abuse you.

The following are some effective treatment and recovery methods:

Professional therapy

Engaging in individual or group therapy can benefit victims of reactive abuse. A mental health professional can help the victim process their emotions, understand the dynamics of the abusive relationship, and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Education and Awareness

Learning about narcissistic and reactive abuse can empower victims to recognize the patterns of manipulation and control in their relationships. Understanding the dynamics at play can help them break free from the cycle and make informed decisions about their well-being.

As a divorce coach, I can help you with this! It doesn’t matter if you are married, dating, or whatever the relationship is; I can help you recognize the patterns. I also offer a support group where you can spend time with other victims that can understand what you have been thought

Establishing boundaries

Setting clear boundaries with the narcissistic abuser is important for victims to regain control over their lives. They should learn to assert their needs and communicate their limits assertively and consistently.

Building a support network

Victims of reactive abuse need a strong support system to help them navigate the healing process. Reconnecting with friends and family or joining support groups for survivors of narcissistic abuse can provide emotional reassurance and practical guidance.


Prioritizing self-care is crucial for individuals recovering from reactive abuse. This includes eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and engaging in joy and relaxation activities.

Learning to put yourself first and self-care can be one of the hardest things as an abuse survivor. I encourage my clients to get a pedicure, manicure, or walk on the beach. They are little things that don’t cost much money but are important to rebuild yourself after abuse.

Forgiveness and self-compassion

Victims of reactive abuse should learn to forgive themselves for their reactions and understand that they were a response to an unhealthy and manipulative dynamic. Practicing self-compassion can help them heal and rebuild their self-esteem.

Treatment for the abuser

While focusing on the victims of reactive abuse, it is important to note that the narcissistic abuser also needs help. They may benefit from therapy designed for individuals with NPD, which can help them develop empathy, self-awareness, and healthier interpersonal skills.

Reactive abuse is a complex phenomenon that arises in the context of narcissistic abuse. By recognizing the signs and understanding the underlying dynamics, victims can begin the journey toward healing and recovery. Seeking professional help, educating yourself about the abuse, establishing boundaries, building a support network, prioritizing self-care, practicing forgiveness and self-compassion, and encouraging treatment for the abuser are all essential steps toward breaking free from the cycle of reactive abuse and reclaiming a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Healing from Reactive Abuse

Victims of reactive abuse can certainly heal and move on from the impact of their previous abusers. However, the healing process requires time, self-awareness, and effort to address the emotional and psychological effects of the abusive relationship. Successfully healing from reactive abuse involves breaking the cycle of unhealthy behaviors and developing new patterns of communication and interaction in relationships.

Suppose the victim does not address the underlying issues and learn healthy coping mechanisms. In that case, they may inadvertently carry the emotional baggage from their previous abusive relationship into future relationships. This could manifest as trust issues, heightened sensitivity to perceived manipulation or control, or even falling into similar reactive behavior patterns.

To minimize the impact of previous abusers on future relationships, victims should consider the following:

Engaging in therapy

Professional help can be invaluable in addressing the emotional scars left by reactive abuse. A therapist can guide you through processing past trauma, developing healthy coping strategies, and building a strong foundation for future relationships.

Building self-awareness

Understanding one’s emotions, triggers, and behavior patterns can help victims recognize and address issues before they escalate in future relationships. This self-awareness can be developed through reflection, journaling, or mindfulness practices.

Fostering healthy communication

Learning to communicate openly and honestly about one’s feelings, needs, and boundaries is essential for building healthy relationships. Victims should work on developing assertive communication skills and recognizing when they may fall into old reactive behavior patterns.

Taking time to heal

Rushing into new relationships before fully healing from past abuse can hinder personal growth and perpetuate unhealthy patterns. Victims need to give themselves the necessary time and space to heal and grow emotionally before entering new relationships. This is so important!

Establishing boundaries

Creating and maintaining clear boundaries in relationships is crucial for ensuring mutual respect and preventing the recurrence of abusive dynamics. Victims should learn to assert their boundaries and be mindful of red flags indicating potential manipulation or control.

Building a support network

Surrounding oneself with supportive friends and family can provide a safety net and promote healing. Engaging with others who have experienced similar situations, such as through support groups or online forums, can also provide valuable insight and encouragement.

Focusing on self-care and personal growth

Prioritizing self-care and personal growth can help victims of reactive abuse build resilience, self-esteem, and emotional stability. Engaging in activities encouraging self-improvement, relaxation, and joy can contribute to overall well-being and better equip individuals to form healthy relationships.

Reactive Abuse: My experience.  The Narcissist would poke and poke and poke.  Then the one time I would react would be when others would be around and take notice, and the narc would play the victim.  They remained calm while I looked like the crazy one.

It is important to remember that healing from reactive abuse is a journey. There may be setbacks along the way, but with dedication, self-awareness, and the right support, victims of reactive abuse can overcome the impact of their past abusers and build healthy, fulfilling relationships in the future.

Healing from reactive abuse is a process that requires patience, perseverance, and support from both the victim and their loved ones. With the right resources and guidance, individuals can overcome the negative impact of reactive abuse and rebuild their self-esteem, emotional well-being, and interpersonal relationships.

Reactive abuse reveals the emotional anxiety experienced by victims of narcissistic abuse. By recognizing the signs in oneself and others and seeking appropriate treatment and recovery methods, individuals can break free from the destructive cycle and regain control over their lives. Awareness, understanding, and support are key to overcoming reactive abuse and fostering healthier, more resilient relationships.

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