Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Smart Girl’s Guide to No Contact and Detaching From Toxic Relationships

 

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Photo Credit: RockLove

What No Contact is and what it isn’t

No Contact (NC) is not a game or a ploy to get a person back into our lives; this technique has been misrepresented in many dating books and blogs. We should not desire to have people who have mistreated us back into our lives. On the contrary, No Contact is a way to remove this person’s toxic influence so we can live happier, healthier lives while cultivating our authentic self and minimizing people-pleasing. As shown by the image above, No Contact is the key that locks out that person from ever entering our heart, mind, and spirit in any palpable way again.

Why We Establish No Contact in the Context of Abusive Relationships

We establish No Contact for a number of reasons, including preserving a healthy mind and spirit after the ending of a toxic, unhealthy or abusive relationship or friendship. NC gives trauma bonds, bonds which are created during intense emotional experiences, time to heal from abusive relationships. If we remain in constant contact with the toxic person, we will only reinvigorate these trauma bonds and form new ones. No Contact also gives us time to grieve and heal from the ending of an unhealthy relationship or friendship without reentering it. Most of all, we establish No Contact so that toxic people like Narcissists and Sociopaths can’t use hoovering or post-breakup triangulation techniques to win us back over. By establishing No Contact, we essentially remove ourselves from being a source of supply in what is clearly a non-reciprocal, dysfunctional relationship.

How To  Do No Contact Effectively

Full No Contact requires that we do not interact with this person in any manner or through any medium. This includes in-person and virtual contact. We must thus remove and block the person from all social media networks, because the toxic person is likely to attempt to trigger and provoke us through these mediums by posting updates on their lives post-breakup. We must also block them from messaging or calling us or contacting us via e-mail.  Avoid the temptation to find out about the person’s life via a third party or other indirect way.  Remove triggering photos, gifts and any other reminders from your physical environment and from your computer.

Always refuse any requests to meet up with this person and ignore any places the person frequents. Should the person stalk or harass you by other means and you feel comfortable taking legal action, please do so. Your safety comes first. If you are in a situation where you must remain in contact with an ex-partner for legal issues or because of children, keep in low contact (minimum communication) and use the Grey Rock method of communication if this person has narcissistic (NPD) or antisocial (ASPD) traits.

I also highly recommend cutting contact with the friends of the abusive ex-partner if possible as well by also removing them from your social media sites.  I understand you may have established great friendships with these people during the course of your relationship but if you did date a narcissist or sociopath, he or she has likely staged a smear campaign against you and you will not get any validation or support from these people.

Unfortunately, the narcissistic harem or fan club is ultimately convinced by the illusion and false self of the charming manipulator. Think of your ex-partner’s “friends” (more like supply) as being kept in a perpetual idealization phase with no discard – they are not likely to believe your accounts of the abuse and may even be used by the narcissist or sociopath to hoover, triangulate, trigger or manipulate you in some way. It’s best to cut ties with them completely and create your own support network that is separate from the abuser.

Stick to No Contact

If NC is a struggle for you, there many ways to ensure that you stick to it. Make sure you have a weekly schedule filled with pleasurable, distracting activities, such as spending time with friends, going to a comedy show, getting a massage, taking long walks, and reading helpful books such as The No Contact Rule by Natalie Lue.

Take care of your physical and mental well-being by exercising daily,  establishing a regular sleep schedule to keep your circadian rhythms in balance, doing yoga to help strengthen your body and relieve stress, as well as engaging in a daily meditation practice of your choice.

Use these meditations in order to be mindful of your cravings, which will be an inevitably part of the addiction cycle to this toxic relationship. Remember that we are literally “addicted” to the narcissist via biochemical bonds created by lovebombing, devaluation and trauma. If you have a relapse, the important thing is to radically accept (nonjudgmentally) your fall off the wagon and continue to maintain No Contact. Relapse is inevitable in addiction, but recovery is possible.

Studies show that mindfulness curbs our craving by disconnecting the regions of our brain that create that sense of craving. I offer a Healing Meditation for Emotional Abuse Survivors on my YouTube channel, and Meditation Oasis is also an excellent resource for guided meditations.  You may also experiment with alternative healing methods such as Reiki, acupuncture, or aromatherapy.

Do yourself a favor and look up online forums that relate to unhealthy and toxic relationships; joining such a forum ensures that you have a community and support network that enables you to remain NC and support others who are struggling just like you. It will also help validate some of the experiences that you went through during the friendship or relationship with people who’ve been there.

Do not resist your grief during this process, because you will have to face it at some point. The more you resist negative thoughts and emotions, the more they’ll persist – it’s a fact. Learn how to accept your emotions and accept the grieving process as an inevitable part of the healing journey. I recommend trying the grieving exercises and abiding by the No Contact rules in the book Getting Past Your Breakup, written by certified grief counselor Susan Elliot.

Most of all, develop a healthier relationship with your cravings to break NC by practicing radical acceptance and mindfulness to the present moment. Remember that relapse may be an inevitable part of the addiction cycle and forgive yourself if you do break NC at any point. After practicing this self-compassion and forgiveness, you must get back on the wagon after falling off of it. Track your urges to break NC in a journal to curb acting upon the urges. Make sure that before you act on any urge, you give yourself at least an hour to collect yourself. It will get easier once you realize that breaking NC often bears no rewards, only painful learning experiences.

See my list of 30 Kickass Affirmations for Going No Contact with an Abusive Narcissist.

See my videos for more Tips on Maintaining No Contact and No Contact: Healing From Narcissistic Abuse.

Why We Remain No Contact

The ending of an unhealthy relationship often leaves us reeling and feeling unable to cope. Even though we logically know we did not deserve the abuse or mistreatment, we may be tempted to stray from this when our emotions get a hold of us. Trauma bonds often keep us tethered to the abuser, as well as other factors such as codependency, low self-esteem, feelings of low worth, which may have been instilled in us from the abusive patterns within the relationship or may have kept us in the relationship in the first place.

No Contact is a space for healing and reviving yourself, apart from the belittling influences of your former partner or friend. It is an opportunity for you to detach completely from the toxic person while moving forward with your life and effectively pursuing your goals. It enables you to look at the relationship honestly and productively from the realm of your own intuition, perceptions, emotions and thoughts, apart from the gaslighting or abuse of the former partner.

Remember that anyone who has treated you with anything less than respect does not deserve to be in your life, so NC helps you to resist the temptation to invite them back into your life in any manner or form. Many survivors find it helpful to track their progress on a calendar, blog or journal. You should celebrate and take note of your NC progress, as it is both a challenging and rewarding path to self-empowerment.

By establishing No Contact, you are ultimately staging your own victory and exploring your strengths, talents and new freedom with more ease. I invite you take the first steps to recovery and success by challenging yourself to at least 30 days of NC if you are doing it for the first time. This will provide a detoxifying period where you can start to heal in a protective space of self-care and self-love, enabling your mind and body to repair itself from the abuse. Then, utilize the resources I’ve mentioned here in order to maintain NC and purge your life of the toxic influences you were once tethered to.

Happy healing!


Since writing this post in 2014, I’ve started a new monthly online coaching program for survivors and have a new book available for pre-order.

Interested in learning more about narcissistic abuse? Order my new book on narcissistic abuse, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself.

Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved, including translation rights. No part of this entry, which is an excerpt from the copyrighted book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author.


IF YOU ENJOYED THIS, BE SURE TO ALSO READ: 30 KICKASS AFFIRMATIONS FOR GOING NO CONTACT WITH AN ABUSIVE NARCISSIST


 

 

The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

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Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

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The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care

Available in Kindle and Print editions.

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The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care tackles the common problems of effective self-care with practical suggestions for practices that will create a sustainable, lifelong self-care routine. For those who are beginners to concepts like mindfulness, meditation, opposite action, positive rebellion, positive affirmations and radical acceptance, this book will provide a useful and comprehensive introduction. For those struggling from the trauma of emotionally abusive relationships, this book will guide you in recognizing the signs of abuse, creating a reverse discourse that challenges ruminations over the abuse, moving forward successfully after a break-up using no contact, and offer techniques on coping with trauma in constructive and meaningful ways. Each chapter of this book also provides a list of supplemental resources as well as a recommended reading list to guide you on this journey to greater self-love and self-care.

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A Culture of Narcissism, Part I: #YesAllWomen, Misogyny, Rape Culture

A Culture of Narcissism, Part I: #YesAllWomen, Misogyny, Rape Culture and Elliot Rodger

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As a mental health advocate, a feminist, and as someone who has an avid interest in writing about narcissistic abuse, the Elliot Rodger case made my heart ache and my head spin. This case raised so many key social and political issues it was difficult to keep track of them all: misogyny, mental illness and gun control, to name a few. It led to a mass twitter movement under the hashtag #YesAllWomen, to document the horrific experiences of sexual assault, rape, street harassment and the everyday inequalities women face. It led to articles like this one talking about the importance of improving our mental health system to make sure that disturbed people like Elliot Rodger, who was most likely a narcissistic sociopath (although there is misconception that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s) get diagnosed and get proper treatment or care. It also reawakened an issue that’s been in the media for a while now, the issue of gun control and the failings of laws that facilitate access to weapons to potential perpetrators.

There are arguments on all sides about which “issue” should be prioritized, which issue “caused” this disturbed man to instigate a mass shooting. However, these arguments about which issue is most important is actually detracting from a multifaceted reality we have to face. They are all important (although perhaps not an equal amount) and interconnected. They all need to be examined in order to understand what occurred and why it did.

The Elliot Rodger case is indeed about the misogyny in our society and culture as well as the individual pathology that interacted with it. It is about the fact that women can be maimed, killed, assaulted, and even thrown acid upon because they reject sexual advances or marriage proposals from men. It is about rape culture, a pervasive and problematic set of ideologies, practices and values in our culture that normalize and trivialize sexual violence against women, shifting the blame from perpetrator to victim through mechanisms like slut-shaming, street harassment, and cyberbullying when women dare to speak out against it.

There have been a number of women who are a part of the #YesAllWomen movement who have been unjustifiably harassed, stalked and threatened online due to their tweets. After participating in the #YesAllWomen twitter movement against rape culture with my own tweet, “Because the length of my skirt should not be seen as a measure of my consent #YesAllWomen,” I received a nonsensical tweet from an anonymous person who told me, “Studies prove that women who wear bright colors are looking to have sex. It indicates desire.” And this, my friends, is why we need a movement against rape culture and misogyny, and why these issues cannot be dismissed when speaking about the Elliot Rodger case.

It is clear from the hateful responses of those who wish to demean this movement, and from Elliot Rodger’s own entitled rants, that a sense of ownership over women’s bodies is actually considered normal in today’s culture. With the normalization of these attitudes, Elliot Rodger’s own statements, are, as Jessica Valenti puts it, part of “the norm,” rather than the exclusive rantings of a psychopath. Society and culture owned this sense of entitlement to women’s bodies long before Eliot Rodger’s used it to justify his violence. Trolls may argue that since Elliot Rodgers killed men too that misogyny doesn’t matter, but unfortunately his pathology and motives to kill were inevitably tied with misogynistic idealogies. Misogyny kills men too. Men and women both can suffer because of misogyny, a fact that our society and culture seem to dismiss. Misogyny and the rape culture that accompany it are two issues are still very much alive and were manifested in this case.

This case is also about the failings of the mental health system and the trained officials such as law enforcement and mental health practitioners who failed to identify Elliot Rodger’s pathology even when it was reported to them by his own parents. Although we may never have an official diagnosis, Elliot Rodger appears to be an extremely disturbing example of a narcissistic sociopath. This is demonstrated by his grandiose sense of self, claims about how “awesome,” “magnificent,” “godly,” “beautiful” and “perfectly gentlemanly he is,” coupled with his ridiculous sense of entitlement, violation of the rights of others, lack of empathy as well as arrogant remarks dripping with misogyny and racism (which are part of grandiose sense of self and sense of entitlement). He even liked his own Facebook selfies. Red flag right there.

Narcissists and sociopaths are all around us, and while they don’t always reveal themselves in such extreme ways, they are still malignant and capable of ruining lives. They work at our companies as charming and conniving CEOs. They are the emotional vampires and psychological abusers in our romantic relationships. They are the destructive, malignant politicians. They are the trolls on Twitter and Facebook. They can be anyone. They are the Elliot Rodgers in different forms. We must educate ourselves on this disorder as our culture is also becoming highly narcissistic and providing a conducive environment for this disorder to thrive and be rewarded. The development of psychopathology depends on an interaction between biological predisposition and the external environment, after all.  Social media has become a popular mechanism to strengthen and solidify narcissistic urges, for us to “like” and post self-absorbed statuses, pictures, and videos. Although we are not all sociopaths and narcissists, a culture like this will do nothing to curb the development of such a disorder and its potentially life-threatening effects.

And of course, let’s not forget about gun control. Even in a state with restrictive gun laws, Elliot Rodger, someone who had been struggling with mental health issues, was still able to gain access to a gun. This issue also interacts with a failing of our mental health system to identify, diagnose and treat individuals properly. Without that knowledge, guns can be given to people like Elliot Rodger more easily than therapeutic treatment. Why is that? Why is the importance of being armed and the ability to defend ourselves more important than making sure that weapons don’t get into the hands of the wrong people? Why is it more important and more accessible to have a gun than to have access to effective mental health practitioners and treatment? Why is it more prioritized than say, training law enforcement officials better to recognize the signs of disguised psychopathology – something that could’ve helped prevent Elliot Rodger’s crimes?

What’s narcissism got to do with it? The same thing that misogyny, gun control, and the failings of the mental health system have to do with it. All these issues interact with one another and will continue to feed each other in a vicious cycle if we don’t speak out on their behalf and the victims that suffer at the hands of all of them. None of them can be discounted when discussing this case, although people can argue about which issue should be prioritized. The Elliot Rodger case has erupted in an explosive outpouring that has the potential to highlight social justice and sociocultural issues that need to be addressed. The time for change is now.


NOTE:

This is the first post in a series I’ll be writing called A Culture of Narcissism. In this series, I will explore how narcissism is becoming ingrained and reinforced by new technologies, work cultures and other sociocultural norms.

The reason I am exploring narcissism from this approach is simple: psychopathology often needs a “breeding” environment to thrive and disorders often manifest themselves due to an interaction between biological predisposition and the environment. I believe our culture is providing an environment that is conducive for disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder to thrive.

There are many theories about how narcissism arises in the individual – from a “narcissistic wound” in childhood, to a pattern of idealization and devaluation by the parent or even a neurological standpoint that focuses mainly on how a narcissist’s brain has structural abnormalities related to compassion. I am not claiming that our culture is the primary source of narcissism, but rather, that it does encourage it in those who already have the biological predisposition. That’s why I believe it’s so important to explore this culture and how it’s affecting the way narcissism and narcissistic individuals operate in society.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

A Culture of Narcissism, Part II: Cyberbullying and Trolling

Shahida Arabi is a graduate student at Columbia University, the former President of NOW-NYU and the author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, a bestselling Kindle book also available in print. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. You can check out her new blog, Self-Care Haven, for topics related to mindfulness, mental health, narcissistic abuse and recovery from emotional trauma.

Creative Commons License
Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, please contact me if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

Ten Signs of Toxic Friends: The Smart Girl’s Guide

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If you’ve ever been in an abusive relationship with a narcissist, sociopath, emotionally unavailable person or someone otherwise disordered, you have benefited from learning more about the red flags that toxic people exhibit in romantic relationships. You have used these red flags to protect yourself and recognize abusive behavior the next time you see it.

Yet what we often forget to focus on are the red flags of toxic friends – people with whom we should have mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationships with, people who are supposed to support us and provide a validating environment, yet fail to meet our needs even though we’ve met theirs time and time again. It’s important to cultivate and pursue only healthy friendships as well as healthy relationships, because overall healthy interpersonal habits lead to a strong, viable and reliable support system during hardships.

Note: Sometimes, the pronoun “she” is used to represent the friend, but this article is not meant to be gender-specific and can refer to male or female friends.

The Smart Girl’s Guide to Recognizing Toxic Friends: Top Ten Signs

1. They are not happy for your accomplishments. When you mention your success, your friend’s face goes automatically sour. She may look like she’s eaten an entire lemon as she struggles to say congratulations. Or you receive a totally blank facial expression and no response at all, just a stare. She may even attempt to “one-up” you by mentioning her accomplishments quickly before you’ve even finished your sentence. This is the type of friend who is never happy for anything you do, and is secretly hoping you’ll fail so that she doesn’t have to feel so badly about her own life. This is toxic because real friends celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and even if there is any jealousy involved, they will put it aside in order to congratulate their friends. Instead of feeling despair at their friends’ accomplishments, true friends will be secure in their own accomplishments, and thus feel celebratory, inspired and motivated to better themselves when they hear about the accomplishments of others.

2. They covertly put you down. If you’re happy and cheerful for whatever reason, toxic friends find ways to rain on your parade by introducing little storms and tempests of invalidation, belittlement, and degradation. These are often disguised as “helpful” or “honest” comments that actually have no value at all except to make you feel less proud of yourself. Saying things like, “Oh, anyone could’ve done that,” when you mention something you accomplished or, “That’s not a real major” when you mention your academic concentration. They also seem sadistically happy when you’re failing or when you’re going through a difficult time. This is a sign that something is seriously wrong with them. Real friends don’t attempt to criticize or put down people just for the pleasure of making someone seem small. Only inferior people do that in order to elevate themselves. If you can’t be your greatest, authentic self around your friends without being constantly demeaned by them, then they’re not your true friends. They’re malignant bullies and narcissists. Get it straight and know the difference.

3. They emotionally exhaust you. Have you ever had this experience? You’re on the phone with a friend. You ask your friend how she’s doing, and find yourself being “talked at” rather than “talked to” for hours on end – and this consistently seems to happen all the time. As you finally get your chance to speak, your friend suddenly needs to get off the phone because she is now so tired from all the “talking.”

Sure, we all have to vent sometimes and talk about ourselves. Certain situations warrant this type of behavior such as a break-up, a loss in the family,  or any other traumatic event. However, if this happens quite often and you rarely get a chance to have a reciprocal conversation with a person, you’re acting as their audience to a monologue and not as a friend. You also deserve to be listened to and deserve to talk about any problems in your life. Don’t let these toxic friends convince you otherwise. Stand up for yourself and tell them this is an issue. If they continue to do this despite you establishing that boundary, it’s time to forfeit the friendship altogether.

These toxic friends drain you and your ability to engage in self-care because they are emotional vampires whose only focus is them, their lives, their wants and needs. You don’t exist, or if you do, you only exist in relation to them.  For example,  if a friend hears your traumatic story and uses it to turn the conversation back to her life constantly, this is a red flag for narcissism, so be careful. Real friends would listen to your story and make sure to give you feedback that is helpful to you before turning the conversation back to them. Stay away from any people with whom you don’t feel there is an equal, reciprocal exchange of conversation, validation, compassion, and respect.

4. They are there for your good times, and never for the bad. We mentioned in #1 that you should stay away from people who don’t celebrate your accomplishments. One caveat though: watch out for toxic friends who are only there to piggyback on your success. These friends only appear when you’re doing very well, and rarely show up when you need them during hardships. They use your presence to associate themselves with you, for the sole purpose of seeming more important via affiliation to your success. Or they enjoy your presence only when you’re in a good mood and they need you. Otherwise, when you have a health scare, or someone in your family has an accident, they are nowhere to be found. Real friends help each other through tough times and are there for each other even when times are challenging.

5. Not emotionally responsive, validating or helpful. What is the point of having friends if they can’t even respond to your emotions? If you find yourself dealing with a friend whom you can have great intellectual conversations with, but only  hear the sounds of crickets when you tell them you’ve had a bad day or you just had a breakup, this friendship is a no-go. Feel free to keep those type of people for your LinkedIn, but not for your real life crises. At most, they are a professional or academic connection because all they can do is talk about things related to the mind but not the heart. Sure, some situations lead to a loss for words, but friends should be capable of basic emotional support, even if it’s a hug and the words, “I am here for you.” If your friend happens to be very emotionally invalidating, constantly telling you to “get over it” or gets angry at you expressing your emotions, leave them forever and don’t give them access to your life in any way. They don’t deserve to be your friend. Real friends validate each other’s emotions while still empowering each other’s personal growth.

6. They don’t stand up for you. When an outsider or mutual friend makes a snide or insulting comment about you or does something hostile or horrific to you right in front of these toxic friends, you rarely see these toxic friends jumping to the rescue. They don’t advocate on your behalf even if they are the only ones who can. They don’t support you when you most need it. Real friends come to each others’ aid; they don’t have to “pick sides” in order to point out wrongdoing and consider your feelings. And also, when did we become so resistant to “picking sides”? Why shouldn’t friends advocate for victims or call out inappropriate behavior when they see it? These toxic friends will more likely either stay silent or even participate in the belittling behavior on your behalf. That’s when you know it’s time to stop making excuses and stop defending people who won’t defend you.

7. Their ego is bigger than their bond to you and they attempt to put a shade on your light. These types of friends are extremely narcissistic, jealous and they will do whatever it takes to maintain their delusion of grandeur. For example, they might refuse to compliment you when you’re all dressed up, but compliment someone next to you who is wearing sweats and a t-shirt. They might put up pictures of themselves on social media with other friends, but avoid putting up pictures of you and them together because they think you outshine them in some way. Or they may hide or belittle your accomplishments to others while they brag about their own. These are superficial friends who can’t stand having someone outsmart them or be prettier than them. Real friends appreciate each other’s unique beauty, intelligence and charisma. They don’t attempt to obscure your light in the darkness just because of their own place in the shade.

8. They only communicate through the screen. For this, I am referring only to “offline” friends who you have met face-to-face with. I know there are many online friendships that are built through supportive forums and I don’t mean to diminish the value of those. However, for friendships that developed face-to-face and for friends who live within a reasonable distance of each other, there’s no reason that both people in the friendship would make an effort to see each other in real life occasionally. You know, step away from the messenger and Facebook once in a while to actually make a face-to-face connection when possible. Be very wary of any friends who don’t have time to see you, but seem to have all the time in the world to be wrapped up in their new boyfriend 24/7.

These are not your real friends. These are buddies constantly talking to you through a screen, and electronic communication is often a cop-out for emotionally unavailable people. If these friends emotionally exhaust you as well, they have no place in your real life or even on your messenger list. You might as well be engaging with the wall, although the wall will probably be more sympathetic and won’t hurt your feelings. Think of it this way: you’re wasting energy on these toxic people by constantly engaging with them online because they won’t grace you with their presence offline. They have shown you they don’t have time to do a simple meet and greet by taking a step outside, so why should you hurt your eyes or strain your fingers for them? Real friends make the effort to meet in person; emotional vampires, like real vampires, can’t stand the daylight and prefer the light of the computer screen.

9. Too busy for everything and anything. Related to #8, if your friend is constantly always too busy to see you or make any type of contact, especially in the midst of a crisis, run, don’t walk away from the friendship. Yes, people have jobs, lives, and relationships to deal with. Nobody can always be there for you every time you need it. That’s all fine and dandy, but if a friend rarely even follows up on how you’re doing when you really need them and plays this “too busy” game consistently, this friend needs to get the door slammed in his or her face the next time he or she comes around looking for any attention.

Also, thankfully for technological advancement, social media has made it quite easy to assess whether these friends are truly “busy” or truly bullshitting. If you see your friend claiming to be too busy to call you during a crisis but posting statuses or liking people’s posts on social media all the time, you have further confirmation that this friend is not a real one. Thanks, Facebook and Twitter for the heads-up!

10. Betrayal, breaking boundaries and disrespect. I saved this for last but it’s the most important. If your friend disrespects you by: being flaky, multiple cancellations, chasing after or flirting with your significant other, calling you names, cursing at you, bullying you, coercing you, making you cry during an already rough time by being insensitive, pressuring you to do something, gossiping about you, or treating you with anything less than respect or consideration – it’s time to take your fabulous self out the door. There will be plenty of people in the world who won’t make you feel that way, so why not save your energy and invest in something that will have a positive return?

Life is way too short to waste our energy on toxic people, whether they be friends or romantic partners. Learn to recognize these signs and you will pave a better path to a healthier life, better support system, and more meaningful as well as authentic relationships. Once you’ve experienced an authentic friendship with love, care, compassion and respect, I guarantee you’ll never want to go back to one with the absence of these qualities.

You can see more tips on detaching from toxic people and cultivating your authentic self in my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, available in Kindle  and in Print. The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

Creative Commons License
Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, please contact me if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit.

The Distinction Between Victim-Blaming and Owning Our Agency

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Victim-blaming is a touchy subject for many survivors, and rightfully so. Survivors of emotional and/or physical abuse are sickened by victim-blaming. I am, too. Why wouldn’t we be? We have been in relationships where we were constantly gaslighted, mislead, invalidated and mistreated. The last thing we need is the outside world blaming us for not leaving soon enough, or for getting into the relationship in the first place. It’s a whole other degree of invalidation that survivors simply don’t need. It hurts us even more that the world refuses to acknowledge how difficult it is to leave an abusive relationship when you’re in the midst of it, because you’re experiencing so much cognitive dissonance that you don’t even know whether to trust your own perceptions and realities. Abusive relationships severely hinder our perceived agency, overwhelm us with a sense of learned helplessness, and make it difficult for us to navigate the seemingly impossible constraints imposed by these toxic relationships.

I wholeheartedly understand this, and sympathize. However, I want to draw a distinction between victim-blaming versus acknowledging that we do we have the power to change our lives. I feel this gets lost somewhere in our resistance to concepts that may challenge us to evaluate and examine ourselves during the healing process or may appear to be blaming us for the abuse but can actually challenge us to move forward towards self-improvement and fulfillment. I feel, as both victims and survivors, we have a tendency to belittle or demean any concept, idea or helping resource that tells us to also look inward when unraveling our own relationship habits. I understand why this would be the case – we might perceive these resources as being patronizingly ignorant. We might think these resources are telling us that we somehow asked for the abuse, or that we attracted it. Some resources are in fact victim-blaming, but we have to learn to distinguish between what is victim-blaming versus what is encouraging us to own our own agency. Only when we learn this distinction can we also own our “surviving” and thriving status as well as our legitimate victimization by the toxic partner.

I know that there are many survivors out there who had never experienced interacting with a Narcissist or a Sociopath before they had this experience. They feel strongly about the fact that their relationship patterns were healthy before they met the Narc or the Soc. Still, even for those survivors, we can learn a lot about our own strengths (and weaknesses) from this experience. Not because those weaknesses justify the abuse, but because all human beings have imperfections and vulnerabilities, and emotional predators tend to prey on these. If we tend to enjoy flattery and equate it with genuine care or love (which most people do!), we now have the power to change that perspective and acknowledge that the next time someone tries to excessively “lovebomb” us, our experiences have taught us that it is not necessarily equivalent to sincerity, and that it may actually be a red flag. Acknowledging that we have the ability to now see red flags and recognize them, is not victim-blaming, but owning our agency and ability to protect ourselves. It is true that emotionally abusive people can hide behind masks for so long that we may never know we’re with one until years later. However, that is why it is so important to create strong boundaries early on so that no one person can dominate your life. That is why it is so important to spend time alone before you enter new relationships, to get accustomed to enjoying yourself, so that should these red flags come up, you know you have the choice to leave, and the threat of being lonely will not stop you.

 For survivors who do have a pattern of getting involved with pathologically unstable men and remaining with them, I do not believe it is blaming yourself to try to understand yourself better as a result of this. Whether it’s acknowledging that you had an N parent that may have influenced your own relationship with a Narcissist or whether it’s examining how the relationship took a toll on you, it really is beneficial to always reflect upon what happened, how it affected you, how it may have triggered past traumas. This reflection shouldn’t be confused with blaming the victim or saying that the victim “wanted” the abuse – it’s about recognizing the impact of the trauma bonds that kept us tethered to this person while still maintaining our ability to heal ourselves. It’s about recognizing any insecurities or any people-pleasing behavior that may be holding us back from fully healing and owning our full potential while knowing that we were unfairly mistreated. It’s also about acknowledging our strengths – our empathy, compassion, the beautiful qualities of humanity that the Narcissist or Sociopath lacks, and recognizing that these were taken advantage of.

Whether you call the patterns of an emotionally abusive relationship codependency (a controversial term) trauma bonding, Stolkholm Syndrome, in my (humble) opinion, isn’t as important as acknowledging that you cannot change or control the pathology of the other person, but that you can make positive changes in your own life by initiating and maintaining No Contact, engaging in taking care of yourself fully and holistically during the healing process and afterwards, and pursuing your dreams while moving forward. This is about owning our story and owning our agency. This is not saying that anything the Narcissist or Sociopath did to you was your fault; not at all. It is saying that you are STRONGER than what he or she did to you, and that you will use this opportunity to reflect, return any blame to your perpetrator, and acknowledge that in the future, you have the power (and now the resources) to walk away from what no longer serves you.

The reason I am writing this post is because I don’t want our resistance to victim-blaming (a perfectly legitimate protest) to be confused with not acknowledging our remaining agency and power, something we felt was threatened or even lost completely due to the abuser’s control over us. We do not have the power to determine the terrible things people do to us; but we do have the agency and power to turn to constructive outlets for healing. We do not have the power to stop ourselves from being a victim of a crime; but we do have the agency and power to help other survivors by sharing our story.  We do not have the power to change a narcissist or sociopath or control the degree to which they abuse us; but we do have the power to take the time to heal and not enter a new relationship until we’re fully ready to do so. Our choices still exist. We are simultaneously victims and survivors; we have regained our agency and power from the abusive relationship, and this enables us to thrive and heal in ways we must recognize and acknowledge.

Our interactions with Narcissists give us an immense opportunity to look at what needs to be healed within us (whether these wounds were created via the relationship, past traumas or both), what boundaries we need to be more firm about (for example, not letting a partner communicate with us only via text and stay in contact 24/7 can protect us from what is likely the lovebombing from an emotionally unavailable con artist), and what values we hold most dear (if someone doesn’t share our values of loyalty, fidelity, and integrity, we now know these are dealbreakers even if we tried to negotiate this in the past). We may have lost our sense of agency and power when were struggling in a relationship with Narcissists or Sociopaths, but now we can take back the control.

These experiences remind us what is most important: self-love and self-care. It is not victim-blaming to look at what positive changes we can make in our lives to better ourselves, nurture and heal ourselves from the abuse we’ve endured.  Not because we’re “attracting” or “asking” for these people in any way, but because we DID in fact experience harmful relationships with them. We are not perfect, but we did not in any way deserve or invite the abuse. We can improve ourselves without having to blame ourselves. This means that we have to be proactive about healing without victim-blaming. There IS a distinction, and there is power in acknowledging that distinction.

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This blog entry was featured on Lisa E. Scott’s blog and adapted to a blog entry on Elephant Journal.

Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

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About the Author

UntitledShahida Arabi is a graduate student at Columbia University, the author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, a bestselling Kindle book also available in print. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. You can check out her new blog, Self-Care Haven, for topics related to mindfulness, mental health, narcissistic abuse and recovery from emotional trauma, like her page on Facebook, and subscribe to her YouTube Channel.

To learn more about recovering from emotional trauma and staging your victory from abuse, please see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print.

realdealThe ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

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Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, please contact me if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.