The Most Tell-Tale Sign of Narcissistic Abuse ~ When Saving Face Matters Most

Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. 12/10/2020

We often hear about the signs of domestic abuse as though these were specific behaviors and traits of individuals who get their way through overpowering their partner. These tell-tale signs are indicators that lead us to see a larger picture of the danger inherent in abusive relationships.

To me, the most glaring of these signs can be noted in confronting the actual abusive behavior itself. For example, take a look at Suzette and Robert. (As usual, Suzette could be Robert and Robert could be Suzette.)

Confronting an Abusive Behavior Pattern

They are in a relatively new relationship of less than a year. And with each passing month, more and more narcissistic abuse signs rear their ugly head.

Suzette reaches a point in which she will no longer take Robert’s abusive controlling damands. Without and before even giving the dynamics a name, she points out Robert’s behavior that she cannot and will not subject herself to in her relationship with him.

The red flag sign is in his reaction. Watch this…

Suzette sends Robert an email essentially saying the following. I do not feel safe in this relationship with you as it is now. The reason is because you force your agenda on me until you bend my will, even when doing so puts me in harm’s way.

Essentially, she is saying that he doesn’t allow her to say “no,” because it does not stop there. He will go on and on until he gets his way, irrespective of the consequences to his partner. And this refers to both the consequences of the “ask,” as well as the consequences of the “asking” process.

The Flip, Saving Face and Lack of Accountability, All in One

In their next face-to-face encounter following this email, Robert declares that he—now—is the “victim” in their relationship. There is absolutely no sensitivity to the impact of his relentless pressure and coercive control so chronically employed to get his way.

Instead, he wants her to know that he is the endangered party. He is the vulnerable person, because his transgressions during the course of the relationship are now “threatening to him.” Eventually, he wants her to know that if she attempts to charge him with criminal activity that she could be counter sued for attempting to hold him accountable for a specific named transgression.

Is Robert’s reaction more about his unwillingness to be held accountable for his offensive and toxic behavior? Or, is he having a knee jerk response to potentially being exposed…to being seen as the opposite of what he must have others believe?

Saving face is the key element here. If assuming responsibility for specific behaviors and/or patterns of behavior places one at risk, then see their vulnerability for what it truly is. Their endangerment is more about losing their mask. Period.

If you recognize this ever so glaring sign of narcissistic abuse, understand the larger dynamics before they spiral out of control.

For more information on narcissistic abuse dynamics, visit  Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. helps people worldwide recognize, end and heal from domestic abuse.

©Dr Jeanne King — Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention

7 responses to “The Most Tell-Tale Sign of Narcissistic Abuse ~ When Saving Face Matters Most”

  1. Sarah Griph says:

    Spot on!

  2. Dr. Jeanne King PhD says:

    Thank you!


    I am in an abusive relationship psychologically by my husband. but I don’t have the nerve to leave because I don’t know how I will survive without him. This is my 2nd marriage and I am so scared to be seen as failing again. I am depressed. Moreso, I love him, even as he constantly tells me I mean nothing to him. If he does anything wrong and i dare to raise it, the next thing he says is that he wants a divorce. How can one be addicted to pain and hurt?

    • Dr. Jeanne King PhD says:

      You are not addicted to pain and hurt. You are entangled and enmeshed in an abusive relationship. Blessings to you.

  4. Linda Love says:

    Olufunke, Let me first say that you are a beautiful, special lady. You do not deserve what you are getting now. I didn’t either, but I stayed in the relationship until……the day came when he lost all control of himself in a fit of rage and hit and shook me. This was because I had been told he was trying to catch a very young girl 50 years younger. When I simply asked him about it, he flew into a fit of rage, shaking and jerking me all around. I had to file charges, am ok today, but I stayed as you say you are and this is what happened. This event totally ended everything with my Narc, but I was scared, also of not making it on my own. And I, too, didn’t want to fail again, either. Yes, it has not been the easiest road to freedom, but my friends don’t see me as a 2nd time failure, they see me as a survivor !!! They see me and help me find resource after resource to sustain me right now. Sometimes I feel lonely and even miss him, but I quickly dismiss the thought reminding myself that I am surviving, I am a somebody that means a lot to alot of people, just not the one that tore me down every day. Narcissists are sick people. And will not change because they cannot see the evil within themselves. So it is us that must finally say enough is enough. I don’t deserve to be told I mean nothing to him. Depression will get stronger the longer you stay, as mine did. He has said he has no feelings for the marriage and hints of divorce, so find yourself a support group of family and friends, do what you need to do to get rid of that pain, It is very hard to do, but to feel safe again, whole again, loved again, you got to take care of you.

    • Dr. Jeanne King PhD says:

      Just as this came in I was getting “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” ready to go out tomorrow. On some level, I must have been writing it for you. Blessings to you in 2021 and all the years ahead of you. Thank you for sharing. Dr. King

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