Tangled: Rapunzel's 5-Story Tower of Narcissistic Abuse

How and why Rapunzel got in the tower of abuse? Answer: Wasn't her fault. Pt 3

Posted Oct 05, 2019

As a rule, if someone has been a target of narcissistic abuse, the first thing they and Rapunzel need to know is this: Being targeted isn’t their fault (Moulton-Sarkis, 2018). They didn’t go looking for abuse. 

Whether encountering a narcissist mother, lover or a boss/co-worker, they were targeted, love-bombed, and played by the narcissistic abuser for any or all of five reasons: They passed the 1) empathy test 2) non-violence test, 3) non-report test, 4) admirable traits test, or 5) the narcissist has legitimate authority over the target. 

Moreover, in an interview with Chief Assistant Prosecutor Paul Walton of Oakland County, Michigan, he draws an interesting parallel between narcissistic abuse and pedophilia

With pedophiles, this preparation process is called “grooming.” Said one victim, “Part of his grooming was about making me feel good about myself, that I was talented. I was the perfect target for a pedophile.” (McConnell, M. 2019). Narcissists also "groom" their targets by testing and gaslighting them in the first phase called love bombing (Ni, 2017). Then comes the abuse followed by discard.

So the narcissist's grooming process starts with the empathy test.  A common approach of narcissistic abusers with new targets is to be unusually self-disclosing, and, therefore appear to be vulnerable and trusting of their targets. This false self-disclosure makes the empathetic target want to respond with trust. 

For example, in some cases, abusers tell the target a sob story (sad childhood, lover-done-me-wrong, bad previous boss, etc.) in an attempt to elicit an empathetic response. Getting the empathy response is the go-ahead signal for the narcissist to begin the gaslighting process. Further, narcissists can be great actors. They know how to act empathically, especially during the love-bombing stage to draw in the abused. In fact, narcissists may very well have empathy in a twisted sense. Lamia (2010) makes the point that "descriptions of empathy, have included the notion that empathy can be used for destructive purposes." 

Second, non-violence of the abused is important information for the narcissist. Will the target strike back verbally, physically, or legally? People who defend themselves are not preferred targets for RNAs (Raging Narcissistic Abusers) and SNAs (Serial Narcissistic Abusers). Abused people who are non-violent are more likely to be retained as a target.

Just to be clear, all healthy human beings have genuine empathy. RNAs and SNAs typically don’t (there may be exceptions). This lack is not fixable by any amount of love or understanding on the target’s part. A common misconception that causes targets to remain in abusive relationships is the belief that their love and empathy can reform the abuser. However, remember that the abused is psychologically and biochemically addicted to the abuser, making it difficult to engage in clear critical thinking.

Non-Reporting, Admirable Qualities, and Legitimate Power

Third, will the target report the abuse? If no, the grooming process continues. Generally, the target is either fearful of retaliation or hopes the abuse will just go away. It doesn't. We will discuss the importance of reporting abuse more in Tangled 4. Suffice it to say for now, if you are being abused, you need to report it to authorities immediately. Abusers rarely stop their behavior without intervention.

Fourth, abusers may be attracted to their targets because the abused possesses admirable qualities that the abuser may lack. The abuser loves to hate these qualities in the target. The abuser sets out to diminish those attractive qualities (beauty, talent, wealth, intelligence, kindness).  Further, some targets report that their abuser successfully drove them to abandoning their own good values. Because of verbal and physical abuse, targets often turn to alcohol and drugs. 

One young target indicated that s/he did things with the abuser that ruined his/her own morals, health, self-esteem, confidence and even got them into legal trouble. Often, the abuser’s goal is to devalue or even to corrupt the target against her/his own values. The shame and guilt that the abused feels about their own "corruption" is used by the abuser during the discard and hoovering stages to keep control of target. This shame is yet another reason that the targets do not report the abuse. 

Fifth, an abuser may have legitimate power over others as a parent or employer. In one case, a verbally and physically abusive supervisor drove many of the company’s best workers to leave.  The unfortunate ones who stayed at the company endured the abuse but kept their jobs — a difficult trade-off.  Workplace abuse happens in every industry, even in professional environments.  Consequently, workplace bullying has become a topic of both research and media attention (Hodgins & Mannix McNamara, 2017).

The Narcissist’s Harems

Adding to the entanglement, abusers and, especially RNAs and SNAs, are known to form at least three types of harems of deceived targets or supporters (Arabi, 2017). For example, in romantic relationships, the first harem is a string of primary lovers. SNAs may also have many other side lovers all of whom they play for their purposes. Infidelity is a common theme among “romantic” abusers. The SNA can use second-string “lovers” to physically assault the primary lover — to establish fear, power, and control. Fear is another reason why targets do not report abuse.

The second harem is the narcissistic abuser’s own family and friends. Each friend or relative receives customized love-bombing and then misinformation about the abused target. The narcissist’s personal harem is easily convinced that the narcissist’s target is “crazy." This harem can be extremely loyal and often cannot be persuaded that the narcissist is, well… a narcissist. 

The third harem is the target’s own friends. “S/he is becoming friends with everyone I know and telling them I am crazy.” One of the major goals of the narcissist is to smear the target's reputation, then isolate them from the support of their own family and friends. This gaslighting causes the target to lose confidence, hope, and perspective (Ni, 2017). With no one to support the target, this deception prevents her/him from having resources to deal with the abuse and it makes it easy for the gaslighter to carry out their abuse unchecked.

Next, we talk about how to escape the tower of narcissistic abuse. It’s definitely going to get better. 


Moulton-Sarkis, 2018.  Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People—and Break Free.

Lamia, M.C. (2010).  Do Bullies Actual Lack Empathy?

Hodgins, M., MacCurtain, S., & Mannix McNamara, P. (2014) Workplace bullying and incivility: a systematic review of interventions.


Arabi, S. (2017).  Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself

Ni, P. (2017). 7 Stages of Gaslighting in a Relationship: How gaslighters emotionally manipulate, traumatize, and exploit victims.

Walton, P. (Personal Communication, 2019). Chief Assistant Prosecutor, Oakland County, Michigan.

McConnell, M. (January 30, 2019). Accused Clawson molester got plea deal in previous sex assault charges as Birmingham teacher.