Loss of Identity: Examples of Perspecticide from Narcissistic Abuse
Loss of identity is unavoidable after being in an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship.
I often hear people compare living with a narcissistic partner to living in a cult – but with even more isolation.
In a cult, you have fellow comrades sharing the same abusive experience. With narcissistic abuse, however, you’re totally alone.
Just like living in a cult, it’s difficult to understand the full range of perspecticide aka an intense loss of identity until after you’ve left the narcissistic abuse for good.
The narcissist’s control over their target’s thoughts is sometimes so subtle, severe, and deeply ingrained that the survivor struggles to manage life on their own after they begin to recover.
I’ve put together some identity crisis examples to help you figure out if you’re experiencing perspecticide so you can start to dig yourself out.
You deserve to have your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
It might seem like an impossible feat right now, but you’ll come out the other end stronger, more assertive, and with a better perception of yourself than ever before.
Understanding how the identity crisis symptoms affect you and how the narcissist uses these symptoms to their advantage are the first steps.
Perspecticide: An External Force Causes Your Loss of Identity
Evan Stark, an award-winning researcher and professor at Rutgers is credited as first coining the term “perspecticide” in his 2007 book, Coercive Control. Perspecticide is the incapacity to know what you know, as a result of abuse.
With perspecticide, the abuser slowly chips away at your perspective until you have no thoughts of your own. Perspecticide was first used as a psychological manipulation tactic on prisoners of war and later by cult leaders, topics I’ve written about before.
The goal is to achieve a total loss of identity in the intended target.
After all, it’s much easier to control a person when they have no thoughts, opinions, and feelings of their own.
It’s important to remember that when we talk about perspecticide we aren’t just referencing staunch political beliefs or major convictions (although those views certainly aren’t spared).
But perspecticide goes much deeper than that. It refers to extreme gaslighting and control where the abuser controls just about every thought that enters the target’s head – even if the target doesn’t realize it.
How Narcissists Use Perspecticide and Loss of Identity to Manipulate and Control You
So, how can you tell the difference between healthy influence and psychological manipulation? Well, it isn’t usually obvious.
When it comes to narcissists, perspecticide is always the end goal: narcissists don’t want you to think for yourself, they want you to think for them.
The narcissist has several resources in their toolbox for achieving this goal.
- Trauma Bonding: Rollercoasters of chronic fighting (you’re always the bad guy, of course) and fleeting moments of artificial compassion to solidify a bond based on trauma. Other than responsibilities like children and bills, these brief moments of seeming love are what keep you from leaving.
- Cognitive Empathy: Objectively empathizing with you for the sole purpose of manipulating your thoughts. This empathy without compassion is a prerequisite for torture.
- Imposing Guilt and Worthlessness: When you attempt to state an opinion – even on benign things like clothing – you’re wrong. And even if you’re not wrong, the mere act of having an opinion will offend the narcissist. This leads you to believe your thoughts are wrong and you must listen to the narcissist for guidance.
A total loss of identity doesn’t happen overnight. But over time, the narcissist gradually implements these tactics to slowly chip away at both your perception of self and the world around you.
7 Identity Crisis Symptoms that Indicate You’re Suffering from Perspecticide at the Hands of a Narcissist
A narcissist will do everything they can to remove every opinion, every viewpoint, every thought you have until you’ve reached a complete loss of identity. You become an extension of them.
These identity crisis symptoms can help you identify if you’re facing perspecticide at the hands of a narcissist.
- You struggle to talk about yourself outside the superficial labels applied to you by the narcissist.
- You feel like your life lacks a real purpose or motivation – but you don’t believe you deserve such things.
- Before making any decision, you wonder what the narcissist would say or want you to say.
- You feel panicked or uncomfortable when you’re away from the narcissist – what if you do or say something wrong?
- You feel like you’re living on autopilot. You’ve become a passive bystander in your own life.
- You don’t think of yourself as a changed person but literally a completely different You don’t recognize the person you were and you may feel ashamed of your old “freer” self.
- You focus heavily on your appearance because the narcissist forces you to and/or it’s the only tangible part of yourself you can know exists without a doubt.
4 Identity Crisis Examples to Understand the Full Impact
It isn’t enough to understand the identity crisis symptoms or those of perspecticide.
I see it all the time: survivors don’t realize just how deeply the narcissist inflicted a loss of identity onto them until the survivor remove themselves from the situation.
When we’re suffering from perspecticide, we can’t see it that way because the narcissist has led us to believe that our perspective is wrong. These identity crisis examples can help you understand the full range of impact from narcissistic abuse.
Andrew stopped going out with his pals a long time ago because it made his partner, Jennifer, afraid and uncomfortable – even if the group just sat around playing video games. Jennifer would imply that these activities were worthless anyway and Andrew ultimately started to agree. Now he spends his weekends at home fighting (and always apologizing) to Jennifer for having thoughts of his own.
As a child, Emma’s mother picked hobbies for her like dancing – Emma’s choices like skateboarding were always wrong. As a teenager, Emma’s mother dictated an “appropriate” wardrobe for her. Later, Emma’s mother discouraged every career path Emma chose – suggesting that Emma would never be good enough to fill these roles. When Emma finally had the courage to move away for school, she didn’t know how to make decisions on her own.
Kylie used to love spending her time off from work doing gymnastics and volunteering at a local homeless shelter. That is, until her partner Jordan pointed out that she’ll never solve world poverty and she’ll never make a living as a gymnast – so why bother? Kylie later believed this to be true and gave up her hobbies. Now, when people ask Kylie about herself, she lists off her job title and looks back on her naïve self with shame.
Sarah’s husband Rob ran the house – but he meant well, right? Rob helped Sarah pick out clothes, made makeup suggestions, and peered over her shoulder offering healthy suggestions in the grocery aisle. Rob also made sure he and Sarah regularly went through each other’s phones and coerced Sarah into leaving the bathroom door open. He said this was a sign of intimacy other couples simply couldn’t match. When Rob got a DUI and had to spend time away from home, Sarah realized she hadn’t made a decision for herself in months and needed to relearn everything.
Those are just a few identity crisis examples that show you how the narcissist slowly but surely infiltrates your sense of self and kills your sense of perspective.
Most narcissists won’t come out and say, “I’m not allowing you to leave the house.” No, they’re subtler than that. A narcissist will make you think it’s in your best interest to stay home – and they will consider your leaving the house a personal attack on them.
They will use gentle implications of guilt and worthlessness to make you completely dependent on them for all of your thoughts and actions. This is what leads to a loss of identity or perspecticide.
What Can You Do If These Identity Crisis Examples and Symptoms Hit too Close to Home?
Removing yourself from the situation isn’t easy. After all, narcissists are our husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, coworkers and brothers. They’re the mothers and fathers of our children.
Still, going No Contact is the only way to rid yourself of the narcissist’s abuse and their imposed loss of identity – for good.
You do deserve to have your own thoughts and opinions and you deserve to make your own choices. Those choices are completely valid – no matter how much the narcissist made you believe otherwise.
You’re not worthless. You can and will build a new – stronger – sense of identity.
Surrounding yourself with support and removing yourself from the situation is the only way out.
Recovery from Loss of Identity and Narcissistic Abuse Starts Now
You don’t have to do No Contact alone – even if the narcissist has forced you to push your closest friends and confidants away.
You deserve a strong sense of self and supportive relationships.
Don’t let a loss of identity and feelings of worthlessness from narcissistic abuse hold you back. If you’re experiencing any identity crisis symptoms, learn how to start your recovery from narcissistic abuse.
Today is the day you say “no more.”