Leading Authority in Treatment of Narcissism and Emotional Abuse

Difference Between Narcissism and Emotional Abuse

The Difference Between Narcissism and Emotional Abuse Explained

If you’ve watched our videos, you’ve heard us use the term narcissism and emotional abuse, and you might be wondering why we almost always use those two terms simultaneously.

They are not the same thing, but there are many overlapping characteristics, and many of the people we work with here at the Marriage Recovery Center have both narcissistic traits and emotionally abusive traits. Dr. Hawkins explains the difference between narcissism and emotional abuse.

The Difference Between Narcissism and Emotional Abuse Explained

In the world of psychology and personal relationships, terms like narcissism and emotional abuse often get thrown around, sometimes interchangeably. However, it’s essential to distinguish between these two concepts as they have similarities but are not one and the same.

Dr. David Hawkins, the director of the Marriage Recovery Center and the Emotional Abuse Institute, sheds light on the crucial differences and similarities between narcissism and emotional abuse.

Are All Emotional Abusers Narcissists?

The first question we need to address is whether all emotional abusers are narcissists. Dr. Hawkins provides a clear answer: “No, they’re not.” While there can be overlap between the two, it’s important to understand that not every person who engages in emotional abuse exhibits narcissistic traits.

Are All Narcissists Emotional Abusers?

On the flip side, Dr. Hawkins also explores whether all narcissists are emotional abusers. He suggests, “I would say so, all right now.” However, this statement requires further examination to truly understand where narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) ends and emotional abuse begins. Let’s delve into the differences and similarities between these two concepts.

Difference Between Narcissism and Emotional Abuse

Exploring the Similarities

  1. Sense of Superiority: Both narcissists and emotional abusers exhibit a sense of superiority. They believe themselves to be above others, but the way they express this trait differs.
  2. Taking Advantage of Others: Narcissists and emotional abusers take advantage of others, although narcissists tend to leave a visible trail of victims, while emotional abusers often operate more covertly within the confines of their intimate relationships.
  3. Preoccupation with Fantasies of Success: NPD often includes a preoccupation with fantasies of success, whereas emotional abusers may not necessarily share this preoccupation.
  4. Childhood Wounding and Learning Behavior: Narcissism is often rooted in childhood wounds, whereas emotional abuse can stem from learning harmful behavior from others of the same gender or from societal misogyny.
  5. Unwillingness to Recognize the Needs of Others: Both narcissists and many emotional abusers display an unwillingness to recognize the needs of others, particularly within their primary relationships.
  6. Arrogant Behavior: Behaving in an arrogant manner is a trait that can be found in both narcissists and some emotional abusers.

Key Differences

  1. Visibility: Narcissists are often seen and heard by everyone, making their behavior more noticeable, while emotional abusers tend to keep their abusive behavior private within their intimate relationships.
  2. Expecting Special Privileges: Narcissists frequently expect special privileges, while emotional abusers may not exhibit this trait as prominently.
  3. Insisting on Having the Best of Everything: Insisting on having the best of everything is a hallmark of NPD but not emotional abuse.
  4. Exaggerating Achievements: Exaggerating achievements and bragging is more common in narcissists than in emotional abusers.


In summary, while there are certainly similarities between narcissism and emotional abuse, it’s essential to recognize that they are distinct concepts. Not all emotional abusers are narcissists, and not all narcissists are emotional abusers.

Understanding these differences and similarities can help us communicate more accurately when discussing these complex issues. Both narcissism and emotional abuse can have profoundly negative impacts on individuals and relationships, making it vital to address and seek support for these issues when they arise.

To learn how we can help, reach out to us at (206) 219-0145 or info@marriagerecoverycenter.com to speak with a Client Care Specialist

Also read: How to Tell if Someone is a Narcissist

About Dr. Hawkins:

The internet is inundated with hyperbole and misinformation about narcissism, leaving many people confused and hopeless. Get the facts on narcissism and emotional abuse from someone who has been researching, writing about and treating narcissism and emotional abuse for over a decade.

Dr. Hawkins is a best-selling author and clinical psychologist with over three decades of experience helping people break unhealthy patterns and build healthier relationships.

He is the founder and director of the Marriage Recovery Center and the Emotional Abuse Institute which offers education, training and counseling for people who want to break free of, and heal from, emotional abuse. Whether the perpetrator of the abuse is your spouse, partner, parent, boss, friend or family member, we offer practical advice for anyone trapped in a toxic, destructive relationship.

In addition to narcissism & emotional abuse, you’ll learn about the lesser known forms of abuse, including covert abuse, reactive abuse, spiritual abuse, secondary abuse, relationship trauma and much more.


Sign up our newsletter to get updated information, promo or insight for free.

Latest Post


Need Help?
Get The Support You Need From One Of Our Therapists