Simultaneous Wounding and Complex PTSD: How Our Past Wounds Can Make us Susceptible to Toxic Narcissists and Why We Need to Stop Victim-Blaming by Shahida Arabi
The idea that narcissists only bring up our own wounds falls short of explaining how they also manufacture new ones. This is what I’ve dubbed “simultaneous wounding” – a term that encompasses the complex nature of how narcissists can bring up past wounds, reinforce them and also manufacture new wounds simultaneously.
The oversimplification that toxic partners only bring up what already exists for us internally ignores a great deal of the complexity involved in how toxic partners can weave a manipulative web that connects both past and present experiences. Narcissists and sociopaths not only bring up past wounds – they compound them and add onto them, creating a chronic chain of stressors that can even result in Complex PTSD, the symptoms of which can include the regular symptoms of PTSD as well as toxic shame, emotional flashbacks, and a never-ending inner critic that diminishes us and demeans us.
On my YouTube channel and blog, I discuss how our childhood experiences of not feeling heard, seen, loved and validated can condition us to accept less – while also asking for more. Although anyone can be a victim of lovebombing, the excessive attention a narcissist uses to manipulate us in the idealization phase of a relationship can hook survivors even more strongly when they are being retraumatized. This enables the trauma repetition cycle to become strengthened, so that we are encountering what I call “trauma upon trauma,” making it difficult for survivors of chronic abuse to break the cycle. There are also biochemical and trauma bonds involved that feed the addictive cycle we have to disrupt in order to regain our sense of agency, power and control (see my interview with Mental Health News: Healing Our Addiction to the Narcissist, to learn more).
Due to past experiences of trauma, we can be extra susceptible to the love-bombing and idealization of a narcissist because we have more reason to seek that validation we did not gain in our past experiences. When a toxic person love-bombs us and later devalues us, it results in the reinforcing of those wounds as well as new emotional injuries that maim us. Yet that does not make the abuse our fault – it simply means we have more to heal than survivors who are encountering a narcissistic abuser for the first time.
In addition to the severe pain that survivors experience as a result, toxic shame and self-blame are symptoms of the trauma we’ve experienced. Victims have been led to blame themselves for the abuse and the current victim-blaming stance in society does not help that. This leaves them feeling defective and worthless, and further entrenches the trauma bond, making it difficult to extricate themselves from the very perpetrators who have convinced them it’s their fault. The fact of the matter is, while narcissists prey on the wounds of individuals, they are also very attracted to the strengths of those individuals. They enjoy surrounding themselves with people who are unique and special (in fact, their need to associate with other “special and unique” people can be part of their diagnostic criteria!)
Survivors are not necessarily the meek, codependent personalities society assumes they must be – rather, they can be incredibly driven, independent, and have high compassion and empathy which enables them to stay within these toxic relationships far past the expiration date. It is also necessary to note that their strength or intelligence does not make them immune to trauma bonding or the effects of traumatic childhood programming, which research has shown to have an impact on the early developing brain.
Regardless of what our vulnerabilities and wounds are, we do not deserve to be abused or mistreated. Being a trauma survivor does not mean we deserve extra wounding or that we ask for it – quite the contrary. It makes the person who is attempting to wound us by using our past wounds all the more sick for doing so. Blaming an abuse survivor would be similar to blaming a rape victim for being raped – and due to the nature of the biochemical and trauma bonds that form in an abusive relationship, there are actual changes in the brain and in the body that tether victims to their abusers in an abusive relationship. We do not fall for the narcissist – we fall for the person they pretended to be. There are many survivors who are able to run quickly in the other direction when they interact with overt narcissists, but the problem is that there are many covert narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths who manipulate and deceive individuals very well, deceiving and confusing even the most intelligent and competent mental health professionals and experts.
Another common victim-blaming assertion in the survivor community is the idea that victims must be like narcissists in some way in order to have these toxic people in their lives. What many people forget is that a narcissist could never be with someone like them – they would eventually find it just as despicable and frustrating as we find them. They do not wish to be with someone who displays no emotion or has no empathy like them – that would be no fun for them. They need someone with empathy, with compassion, with insight (so they can manipulate the insight to cater to them – ex. convincing a very introspective individual that the abuse is their fault) and the willingness to see good in others – they are attracted to talent, to strength, to “special and unique” – and simultaneously they are pathologically envious of our amazing qualities – because these are the very qualities they will attempt to destroy throughout the course of an intimate relationship. You cannot seek to destroy what was never there and narcissists seek to destroy these qualities because they do in fact exist.
While I do believe childhood abuse can make us extra susceptible to gravitating towards abusive partners in adulthood, that does not mean victims deserve this abuse or are in any way asking for it. Truly, anyone with empathy can be a victim of narcissistic abuse, especially if they have something special in them which narcissists tend to target. Do not let any ignorant person convince you that you are at fault for abuse. It is the abuser’s fault alone. Even if you have been traumatized in the past and find yourself gravitating towards that type of individual that does NOT make it okay for you to be abused. Instead of focusing on the victim, it’s time to focus on the perpetrator who would actually prey on these types of traumatic wounding to manipulate victims who are already hurting. These are the people who are truly sick, not the person who is seeking to form a loving relationship.
We can own our agency in exploring our relationship patterns without resorting to victim-blaming. Healing from narcissistic abuse or a lifetime of trauma requires that we unravel and heal both types of wounds layered upon one another – both past and present.
Copyright © 2016 by Shahida Arabi.
All rights reserved. This article is a copyrighted excerpt from Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself. No part of this entry 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. This includes adaptations in all forms of media.
We live in a society where a victim of abuse is blamed for not feeling compassion for his or her abuser. This has got to stop. @HealingCPTSD
— Shahida Arabi, MA (@selfcarehaven) March 11, 2016
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— Shahida Arabi, MA (@selfcarehaven) February 29, 2016