The Psychological War Zone: The Children of Narcissists Face These 5 Consequences In Adulthood

Photograph by Annie Spratt

By Shahida Arabi

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

Much of society associates the terms “trauma” and “PTSD” with war veterans. Yet we forget about the children who grow up in war zones at home, who suffer psychological scarring at vulnerable developmental stages of their lives. Neglect, mistreatment, abandonment and/or any form of sexual, emotional and physical abuse (such as the type imposed by toxic, narcissistic parents) have been proven by research such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences study to leave an impact that is destructive and long-lasting.

As trauma expert Bessel van Der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score notes, our brains can literally be rewired for fear when it comes to childhood abuse. Studies have confirmed that parental verbal aggression has an impact on key areas of the brain related to learning, memory, decision-making and emotional regulation (Choi et. al, 2009; Teicher, 2009). Childhood trauma can affect our impulse control, increase our likelihood of substance abuse, shape the way we examine our environment for threats, and leaves us exposed to a plethora of health problems in adulthood (Bremner, 2006; Shin et. al, 2006).

According to researchers, early childhood trauma can affect our brains in the following ways:

  • Our amygdala, which controls our fight/flight response, emotional regulation, and our moods, becomes hyperactive and enlarged as a result of trauma. We can become extremely emotionally responsive and hypervigilant to potential threats in our environment due to trauma.
  • Our hippocampus, the part of our brain that deals with learning and memory, shrinks. This makes integrating traumatic memories a lot less effective. The traumatic impact of those memories remain a great deal more impactful.
  • Trauma can inhibit the prefrontal cortex, the center of our executive functioning, decision making and judgment. This can affect our ability to regulate our emotional responses as well as plan, focus and organize.

The good news is, healing can help to mitigate some of these effects. Brains can also be rewired in the other direction – meditation, for example, has been shown by studies to produce the opposite effects in the same areas of the brain that trauma affects. Yet the brains and psyches of children are so malleable that the effects of chronic emotional/verbal abuse, let alone physical abuse, leaves a frightening mark beyond childhood. It creates the potential for complex trauma to develop, especially when one is later re-violated in adulthood.

Without proper intervention, support, validation and protective factors, this form of violence has the potential to shift the course of one’s life-course trajectory.

Here are five ways having toxic parents can shape you as an adult:

1. Your life resembles a reenactment of old traumas.

Freud dubbed it “repetition compulsion,” psychologists refer to it as the effects of childhood “conditioning” or “trauma reenactment” and survivors call it, “Oh God, not this again.” The trauma repetition cycle is real. It’s destructive. And it’s birthed in the ashes of a violent childhood.

Ever wonder why some people always seem to be drawn to toxic people, yet perceive more stable individuals as “boring”? They may have a history of childhood trauma.

For childhood abuse survivors, chaos becomes a new “normal” as they become accustomed to highly stimulating environments which shape their nervous system and their psyche. Their fight for survival in childhood leaves a void in adulthood that is often filled with similar struggles.

Chaos becomes our new normal.

What we have to remember is that narcissistic parents aren’t all that different from narcissistic abusers in relationships. They love-bomb (excessively flatter and praise) their children when they need something from them, they triangulate them with other siblings by pitting them against each other and they devalue them with hypercriticism, rage attacks, verbal and emotional abuse.

They engage in intermittent reinforcement as well – withdrawing affection at critical periods while also giving their children crumbs to make them hope that they’ll receive the love they always desired.

As children, our bodies become so addicted to the crazymaking effects of emotional abuse that we find ourselves more intensely attached to partners who tend to replicate a similar chaotic effect on our bodies as our narcissistic parents.

We feel biochemically attracted to those who resemble our early childhood predators because they mirror the severe highs and lows our bodies went through in childhood. When love-bombing turns into devaluation, our body becomes biochemically bonded to our abusers.

This biochemical addiction leaves us reeling.

In the realm of relationships in adulthood, there are all sorts of chemicals being released when we’re in a bond with a predator. They create a very powerful attachment that’s actually strengthened by intermittent cruelty and affection, pleasure and punishment.

Dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, cortisol and our serotonin levels are being affected; these are involved in attachment, trust, fear, and stress. In fact, children who have endured maltreatment tend to have lower oxytocin levels due to the abuse, which leads to a greater number of indiscriminate relationships in adulthood (Bellis and Zisk, 2014).

There’s also a psychological component to this addiction.

When we are the children of narcissistic parents, emotionally abusive people fit the profile of what our subconscious has been primed to seek. Yet they often come disguised as our saviors.

Complex trauma survivors, as trauma expert Dr. Judith Herman notes, are in a ‘repeated search for a rescuer.’

“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She {or he} approaches the task of early adulthood―establishing independence and intimacy―burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships. She {or he} is still a prisoner of childhood; attempting to create a new life, she re-encounters the trauma.” – Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

Love-Bombing Pulls Us In And Keeps Us Trapped In Loveless Relationships

The children of narcissists are drawn to narcissists in adulthood to fill a void. They are looking for the validation they never received in childhood and narcissists, on the onset, present us with a lot of it in the love-bombing stage when they are “grooming” us into believing that we’re the perfect partners for them. We crave their excessive praise because we lacked the unconditional positive regard we deserved in childhood but never received.

As children, we learned to associate betrayal with love, and were conditioned to see mistreatment as a form of connection. In fact, it was the only form of connection offered to us. Survivors of narcissistic parents have an extra layer of healing to undergo. Not only do we have to unlearn all of the unhealthy belief systems, we also have to clear our bodies and our minds of its familiarity with toxicity.

When the fears from our childhood are finally removed, we meet peace and stability with resistance; our bodies and our minds have to readjust to baseline levels of safety and security before we find healthy relationships appealing.

“The drive to complete and heal trauma is as powerful and tenacious as the symptoms it creates. The urge to resolve trauma through re-enactment can be severe and compulsive. We are inextricably drawn into situations that replicate the original trauma in both obvious and nonobvious ways…Re-enactments may be acted out in intimate relationships, work situations…adults, on a larger developmental scale, will re-enact traumas in our daily lives.” – Peter A. Levine, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma

For example, a daughter who is unloved by her abusive father may end up with emotionally unavailable – or even sociopathic – partners in adulthood due to an instilled sense of unworthiness. To her, cruelty is all too familiar and abusers feed on her resilience and ability to ‘bounce back’ from abusive incidents. She is used to taking a caretaking role – catering to someone else’s needs while neglecting her own. She has been subconsciously “programmed” to seek dangerous people because they are the “normal” that causes her to associate relationships with torment. Survivors who are abused as children can later get married to and have children with abusive partners as adults, investing time, energy and resources into people who ultimately seek to destroy them. I have read countless letters from survivors who have been raised by toxic parents and ended up in long-term abusive marriages.

If these wounds are not addressed and the cycle is never disrupted, the first eighteen years of life can literally affect the rest of your life.

2. Verbal and emotional abuse has conditioned you towards self-destruction and self-sabotage.

Narcissistic parents subject their children to hypercriticism, cruel punishment and a callous disregard for their basic needs as human beings. In order to survive, children of narcissists have to depend on their caretakers for food and shelter – which means they have to play by the rules of their toxic parents if they want to live. This creates what Dr. Seltzer calls maladaptive “survival programs” that we carry onto adulthood – habits like people-pleasing, sacrificing one’s needs to take care of others, feeling “selfish” when pursuing our goals and dimming our light so we don’t become noticeable enough to be targeted.

“You may have internalized early in your life that your needs were not as important as others’ needs were. Lack of empathy from a parent or caretaker, neglect, blame, criticism, failure to accept you as you are and appreciate your qualities and other such experiences have shaped your belief that others’ needs should come before your own.” – Nina W. Brown, Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents

A lack of safety and security in the crucial developmental stages of life can create destructive, insecure attachment styles when we are adults, causing us to gravitate towards people who will fail to meet our needs and disappoint us, time and time again.

It can also drive children of narcissists to sabotage themselves, due to the put-downs experienced during a time when the brain is highly susceptible to the harmful effects of trauma. In response to psychological violence, children of narcissistic parents develop a sense of toxic shame, self-blame and an unyielding inner critic that makes them feel as if they’re not worthy of the amazing things life has to offer.

Children of narcissists may be convinced they’re not good enough, or they may go in the other direction: they may become overachieving perfectionists in an effort to prove themselves. Either way, they are lacking self-validation and an internal sense of stability that can only come from healthy self-love.

3. Addictions and dissociation become default coping mechanisms.

Trauma can affect the reward centers of our brain, making us more susceptible to substance abuse or other addictions (Bellis and Zisk, 2014). When we’ve been traumatized at such a young age, dissociation, a survival mechanism which detaches us from our experiences, our bodies and the world – can become a way of life. Depending on the severity of the trauma, survivors of childhood abuse may also struggle with addictive behavior as adults.

“The human brain is a social organ that is shaped by experience, and that is shaped in order to respond to the experience that you’re having. So particularly earlier in life, if you’re in a constant state of terror; your brain is shaped to be on alert for danger, and to try to make those terrible feelings go away. The brain gets very confused. And that leads to problems with excessive anger, excessive shutting down, and doing things like taking drugs to make yourself feel better. These things are almost always the result of having a brain that is set to feel in danger and fear.  As you grow up an get a more stable brain, these early traumatic events can still cause changes that make you hyper-alert to danger, and hypo-alert to the pleasures of everyday life…
If you’re an adult and life’s been good to you, and then something bad happens, that sort of injures a little piece of the whole structure. But toxic stress in childhood from abandonment or chronic violence has pervasive effects on the capacity to pay attention, to learn, to see where other people are coming from, and it really creates havoc with the whole social environment. And it leads to criminality, and drug addiction, and chronic illness, and people going to prison, and repetition of the trauma on the next generation.”  – Dr. Van der Kolk, Childhood Trauma Leads to Brains Wired for Fear

This addictive behavior is not just limited to alcohol or hard drugs; it can range from gambling to sex addiction to unhealthy relationships or even self-harm. Survivors of toxic parents can overeat or undereat as a way to regain control and agency over their bodies; they may develop eating disorders, a penchant for risky sexual behavior or other compulsive behaviors to soothe their unresolved grief.

It’s not necessarily about the specific addiction, but the fact that the addiction provides a convenient escape from the day-to-day realities of immense pain, depression, anxiety and rage that often lie in the aftermath of unresolved childhood wounding.

4. Suicidal ideation is devastatingly common and pervasive among childhood abuse survivors.

Suicidality increases as ACEs score (Adverse Childhood Experiences score) increases and so does the risk of developing chronic health problems in adulthood.

When one has been traumatized as a child and then later re-victimized multiple times in adulthood, a pervasive sense of hopelessness and perceived burdensomeness can result. Survivors of chronic, complex trauma are especially at risk for suicidal ideation and self-harm as adults, because they have witnessed time and time again the cycle repeating itself. In fact, survivors who have four or more adverse childhood experiences are twelve times more likely to be suicidal.

This learned helplessness lends itself to belief systems that cause survivors to feel as if nothing will change. They may feel “defective” or different from others because of the immense adversity they experienced. The future may look bleak if a survivor has not been properly validated or gotten the professional support needed in order to heal.

5. There are disparate inner parts that develop which seem out of alignment with your adult self.

While many people have heard of the “inner child,” fewer people address the fact that there can be multiple inner parts that can develop as a result of chronic abuse. Some of these parts are those we’ve hidden, sublimated or minimized in an attempt to mitigate the risk of being abused – for example, when victims of abuse shy away from the limelight to avoid being punished or criticized for their success.

Then there are “parts” which are defensive responses to the trauma itself. These parts manifest in self-sabotaging ways, but they are actually misguided attempts to protect us. Complex trauma survivors may be so protective of sharing who they really are with the world that they close themselves off from the people who might really “see” and appreciate them. This ruins the possibility of authentic connection or vulnerability with others. This defensive strategy may have been a survival mechanism they developed when younger to avoid the threat of being harmed by a violent parent. It served them as helpless children, but it can cause them to shut out the possibility of intimacy with others as adults.

That being said, there are many ways in which self-sabotage can present itself depending on context and even the type of abuse endured. For example, a male complex trauma survivor may find himself developing a hypermasculine side to himself to ward off memories of sexual abuse. The daughter of a hypercritical narcissistic mother may develop an inner part that is overly angry and defensive to criticism, whether constructive or destructive.

Whether they stemmed from childhood or adult traumas, these ‘parts’ have much to tell us. Silencing or repressing them only makes them stronger in their resolve to protect us – so instead, we have to listen to what they want us to know. Integrating these parts in a healthy manner requires that we learn what they are trying to protect us from and find alternative ways to create a sense of safety in the world moving forward.

Cutting the Emotional Umbilical Cord

The children of narcissistic parents can begin their healing journey by working with a trauma-informed professional to navigate their triggers, process their traumas and learn more about healthier boundaries. Using mind-body healing techniques can also be helpful to supplement therapy; trauma-focused yoga and meditation have been scientifically proven to help heal parts of the brain affected by early childhood trauma. A daily exercise regimen is also a great way to replace the unhealthy biochemical addiction we developed to toxicity. It’s a natural way to release endorphins and gives us that “rush” of feel-good chemicals without inviting toxic people into our lives.

There are tremendous benefits from going No Contact or Low Contact with toxic parents as we heal. Minimum contact with a narcissistic parent along with strong boundaries can help us to detox from the effects of their cruelty and in essence learn how to breathe fresher air. Grieving our complex emotions is also necessary to recovery, as we are likely to feel a very powerful bond to our parents despite the abuse (and in fact due to the abuse) we endured. Seek positive role models, especially of the gender of your toxic parent, that can help remodel what you are looking for in an intimate relationship.

Address subconscious behavior patterns by bringing the true beliefs underlying them to the surface. Many children of narcissistic parents are trained to believe in their unworthiness; it’s time to start rewriting these narratives. Use positive affirmations, journaling, and speak directly to any repressed inner parts that may be sabotaging your success. It is only when you feel truly worthy of respectful, compassionate love on a subconscious level, that you will be able to run in the other direction when you encounter toxicity.

Despite the challenges on their journey, childhood abuse survivors of narcissistic parents have incredible potential to lead victorious lives. They can channel their adversity into freedom, peace, and joy. They have tremendous resilience, an extraordinary ability to adapt and a knowledge of coping mechanisms that will serve them well as they begin to heal.

To learn more about narcissistic abuse and the effects of childhood trauma, be sure to also read:
Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker
Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers By Karyl McBride
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk
The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitative Relationships by Patrick Carnes
Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt by Peg Streep
Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward and Craig Buick
Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents by Nina W. Brown
References
Bremner, J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 8(4), 445–461.
Bellis, M. D., & Zisk, A. (2014). The Biological Effects of Childhood Trauma. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 23(2), 185-222. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2014.01.002
Brown, N. W. (2008). Children of the self-absorbed: A grown-up’s guide to getting over narcissistic parents. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Choi, J., Jeong, B., Rohan, M. L., Polcari, A. M., & Teicher, M. H. (2009). Preliminary Evidence for White Matter Tract Abnormalities in Young Adults Exposed to Parental Verbal Abuse. Biological Psychiatry, 65(3), 227-234. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.06.022
Harris, N. B. (2014, September). How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Retrieved November 15, 2017.
Herman, Judith Lewis. Trauma and Recovery: the aftermath of abuse – from domestic violence to political terror. Basic Books, 1997.
Levine, P. A. (1997). Waking the tiger: Healing trauma. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., . . . Fischl, B. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport, 16(17), 1893-1897. doi:10.1097/01.wnr.0000186598.66243.19
Schulte, B. (2015, May 26). Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain. The Washington Post. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
Shin, L. M., Rauch, S. L., & Pittman, R. K. (2006). Amygdala, Medial Prefrontal Cortex, and Hippocampal Function in PTSD. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1071(1), 67-79. doi:10.1196/annals.1364.007
Seltzer, L. F. (2011, January 07). The “Programming” of Self-Sabotage (Pt 3 of 5). Retrieved November 15, 2017.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017, September 5). Adverse Childhood Experiences. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
Teicher, M. (2006). Sticks, Stones, and Hurtful Words: Relative Effects of Various Forms of Childhood Maltreatment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(6), 993. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.6.993
Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. NY, NY: Penguin Books.
Van der Kolk, Bessel. Childhood Trauma Leads to Brains Wired for Fear. 3 Feb. 2015. Accessed 15 Nov. 2017

Copyright © 2017 by Shahida Arabi. This post was originally published on Thought Catalog as The Invisible War Zone: 5 Ways Children of Narcissistic Parents Self-Destruct in Childhood.

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About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent book, POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology.

She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.

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Survivor Poetry: Invisible Girls Will Inherit The Earth

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This Is For The Invisible Girls By Shahida Arabi

This is for the invisible girls
The ones society sought to erase
From their narratives.
Invisible girls who bloom into magnificence
where no one can see them.
Their petals reach far and wide beyond man-made fences,
yearning to be held
But meet only the thorns
Of creeping hands and lecherous gazes,
Envy and disdain, indifference and blame.

They wrap invisible girls in black curtains,
Shut the windows around their bodies,
Press their fingers against their lips
Pay for their silence.
Keep quiet, they say.
Your body is a loaded gun,
We need no triggers here.

Sometimes the problem is that invisible girls
Are too visible, too powerful, too fierce.
The world likes to box them in to contain them.
Your beauty is a silhouette, they lie,
to manage their storm.
We crown only suns.

Your soul is a maze, easy to get lost in, we can’t keep track
of what you call home. We don’t know where your beauty belongs.
Glorious and unusual, but you are not welcome,
They whisper. It’s not like the beauty we’re used to,
we cannot accept you.
But there’s a tremor in their voices,
an uncertainty in their gaze,
as if to turn their eyes away
from the eclipse.

The beauty of invisible girls
is treated like a crooked house, filled with only lanterns and tiny flames
Lighting the way, but no one dares to climb the darkness
Fifty stories high just for the splendor of the view.
Invisible girls
are either too much or not enough
so they melt their words into wax,
blowing them out like candles before they’ve even begun to ignite,
treating their thoughts like black holes rather than stardust.

Invisible girls are so larger than life
they are taught to hide themselves,
trained to become the shadows lurking on the walls.

Invisible girls cradle unspoken truths in their mouths,
Choke back the broken promises
In the back of their throats

As they watch their more esteemed sisters become
Homecoming queens, as they swallow the lies they are fed
About their worthiness, equating their beauty to their value
and their womanhood to weakness.
As they learn to smile through infinite violations and transgressions,
invisible girls shrink, dim their light, play small,
learn the art of biting their tongues.

They forget they are the ones who bring forth powerful verses
Create new worlds with just their hands.
But for years, they watched others star in the stories they’ve written –
using their scars for their own gain.
Invisible girls are the bearer of secrets
Ones that could expose everything –
How the hierarchy is built on glass houses
Just waiting to be shattered by their footfall.

But you have to know this.
Invisible girls eventually awaken from their deep slumber.
One day, they will all dare to take up space.

They will learn how to crawl out of the tombs
they’ve been buried in
They will learn how to walk on fire,
they will learn how to tread water,
With no more stones in their pockets weighing them down.

Invisible girls will rewrite the stories others have written for them —
Transform the rage buried in their throats
Into gold.
They will leave the cages that were forged for them
So their bodies can finally dance
in the spaces they were once shunned.

One day their uncommon beauty will be allowed to grow, tangled like vines
Feasting on the very walls that once contained them.
Their strength will be unyielding,
When they realize the world turns for them too.

One day they will flee
Into the forests where they were birthed,
Reclaim their abundance.
Breathing in the light for the first time, they will soak up the moon
Greeting them through the gaps between wild trees.
They will bathe in the water that was always theirs,
Drink in their reflection,
Finally quenching their own thirst
Rather than catering to everyone else’s hunger.

For so long, invisible girls have felt the fire in their bones
watered down by the disappointment of knowing their gifts were not seen,
their voices were not heard, their stories not read.
They bore witness in silence, watched as others who met some arbitrary ideal
were chosen to represent what beauty and power meant.
Now it is their turn. It is time for invisible girls to inherit the earth.

One day, they will howl at the full moon,
unearth their crowns
dethrone their oppressors and
finally see themselves in the stars.

When the revolution comes,
Invisible girls will learn to melt fire in their palms
Learn to tame the rivers with their fingertips
Learn to call forth the rain with their lips.
With their voices,
Invisible girls will bring the wind
And the earthquakes.

Invisible girls will learn when they are no longer imprisoned
That the bars surrounding them
were never meant to trap what no one wanted to see.
Rather, they contained the light everyone was fearful of.

The world made cages out of their spirits, their hearts, their bodies —
So that invisible girls could never learn the power of their visibility.

There is raw magic when
Invisible girls finally get their reckoning.
When they are seen, when they are heard,
When their stories are finally told —
Their minds bear a universe
No man can hold.

–Shahida Arabi

Featured Image Source: Zulmaury Saavedra 

Dating and Being Single After Narcissistic Abuse

I am always asked about dating after narcissistic abuse. How long should one remain single? How can one protect oneself in the modern dating world, where narcissists and sociopaths are likely lurking? Healing is a process that should be honored and it’s important to be single for a period of time after abuse. Here are some articles of mine that may help:

temptingnarrative

READ: The Powerful Truth About Dating After Narcissistic Abuse Every Survivor Needs To Know

ALSO READ Online Dating Is A Hunting Ground For Narcissists And Sociopaths: Protecting Yourself In The Modern Dating Age

AND Single Women Are Happier Than Society Thinks They Are – According To Research

 

12 Things Narcissists Say And What They REALLY Mean

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This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

If you’ve read my book Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare, you know I have a whole section in it dedicated to translating commonly used phrases that are essentially used as weapons in the hands of an emotional predator.

I’ve created a list of these to give you the shorter version. Spoiler alert: it’s not pretty. But it is useful to decoding the language of a manipulator – and hopefully learning to trust their actions more than their words.

12 Things Narcissists Say And What They REALLY Mean


Anyone who has ever been in a relationship with a malignant narcissist or otherwise manipulative, toxic person is well acquainted with how they use language differently.

The phrases that most people use in everyday conversations bear a far different meaning in the context of an abusive relationship with a narcissist.  As Carrie Barron M.D. notes, “Current thought challenges the notion that narcissists secretly suffer from low self-esteem or insecurity.  Or that they suffer as much as we thought in the ways that we thought. Recent findings indicate they take pleasure in successful manipulations. Putting down unsuspecting, soft-hearted souls in their midst is a sport. They truly believe in their superiority even if objective evidence does not back it up.”

When you’re dealing with an empathy-deficient individual with a high sense of entitlement and a sadistic need to bring others down, conversations become crazymaking minefields meant to psychologically terrorize and divert you. In fact, to decode a narcissist’s language requires listening more to their actions than their words.

When a narcissist’s words are translated into their actual meaning, the results are frankly disturbing. Here are twelve common phrases narcissists use and what they actually mean:

1. I love you. 

Translation: I love owning you. I love controlling you. I love using you. It feels so good to love-bomb you, to sweet-talk you, to pull you in and to discard you whenever I please. When I flatter you, I can have anything I want. You trust me. You open up so easily, even after you’ve already been mistreated. Once you’re hooked and invested, I’ll pull the rug beneath your feet just to watch you fall.

2. I am sorry you feel that way.

Translation: Sorry, not sorry. Let’s get this argument over with already so I can continue my abusive behavior in peace. I am not sorry that I did what I did, I am sorry I got caught. I am sorry you’re calling me out. I am sorry that I am being held accountable. I am sorry you have the emotions that you do. To me, they’re not valid because I am entitled to have everything I want – regardless of how you feel about it.

3. You’re oversensitive/overreacting.

Translation: You’re having a perfectly normal reaction to an immense amount of bullshit, but all I see is that you’re catching on. Let me gaslight you some more so you second-guess yourself. Emotionally invalidating you is the key to keeping you compliant. So long as you don’t trust yourself, you’ll work that much harder to rationalize, minimize and deny my abuse. While you’re working so hard to please me, I am reaping all the benefits without any consequences for my behavior.

4. You’re crazy.

Translation: I am a master of creating chaos to provoke you. I love it when you react. That way, I can point the finger and say you’re the crazy one. After all, no one would listen to what you say about me if they thought you were just bitter or unstable. Forget the fact that I am the one who’s truly rageful and irrational, lashing out anything that threatens my sense of superiority.

5. My exes are crazy.

Translation: I made my exes crazy. It was so fun! All I had to do was provoke, poke and prod until I got a reaction. Finally when I did, I used those reactions against them to show everyone how unhinged they are. Soon, you’ll be the “crazy ex” too.

6. She/he is just a friend.

Translation: I keep this person as a backup for whenever I get bored. They may replace you if you leave. In fact, they may already be acting as a valuable side piece. If you complain about my shady behavior with this person, I’ll make sure you seem like the controlling one.

7. You’re so jealous and insecure.

Translation: God, this love triangle is fun. I love the way you compete for my attention. Makes me feel so desirable and powerful when I flirt with others in front of you. Gets you riled up. It’s especially entertaining to manufacture insecurities in you by pointing out flaws that don’t exist or to pick at the wounds that already do. The more diminished you feel, the less likely you’ll try to escape my grasp. The truth is, everything you suspect about my flirtations and affairs is grounded in reality. But let me remind you: I am entitled to everything. That includes the attention of other romantic prospects.

8. You have trust issues.

Translation: I am an untrustworthy person, which I’ve shown time and time again by betraying you. Your gut is right, but it’ll be a cold day in hell if I ever admit it. The best thing you could probably do is trust yourself and run in the other direction – but of course, that would be far less fun for me.

9. It’s not all about you.

Translation: It’s really all about me, me, me. If you ever turn the attention back to your own needs, I’ll make sure to project my own self-centeredness onto you. I’ll make you feel guilty and ashamed of having these needs in the first place, because I’ll never be able to fulfill them. I just don’t have the emotional equipment to do so – nor do I want to, because it takes the focus away from the person who’s really important. Me!

10. Why can’t we remain friends?

Translation: I really don’t like losing members of my personal harem. I’d prefer to keep you on the back burner in case I need to use you in the future. Plus, collecting exes is a hobby of mine. It’s so convenient to be able to reach out to one whenever I am feeling especially bored. Who knew being friends could be such a great way to prevent losing valuable sources of supply so easily?

11. No one would believe you.

Translation: I’ve isolated you to the point where you feel you have no support. I’ve smeared your name to others ahead of time so people already suspect the lies I’ve told about you. So yes, some people may not believe you – especially the ones who still think I am an amazing person. Especially the people who continue to enable me.

There are still others who might believe you, though, and I can’t risk being caught. Making you feel alienated and alone is the best way for me to protect my image. It’s the best way to convince you to remain silent and never speak the truth about who I really am.

12. You’ll never find someone else like me.

Translation: If you never find someone else like me, that’s a good thing. There are empathic people out there who will treat you far better than I ever did. But I’d never want you to find them or discover your true worth. I’d prefer you to keep pining after me.

Get my #1 Amazon Bestselling Book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare.how-to-devalue-and-discard-the-narcissist-r2-ebook-cover-3

About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent bookPOWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology.

She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline,  Salon, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.

The Psychological War Zone: 5 Ways Children of Narcissistic Parents Self-Destruct In Adulthood

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                                                                                                                                                                Photo by Sarah Diniz Outeiro

Much of society associates the terms “trauma” and “PTSD” with war veterans. Yet we forget about the children who grow up in war zones at home, who suffer psychological scarring at vulnerable developmental stages of their lives. The effects of verbal and emotional abuse at such a young age leaves a devastating mark in adulthood. The children of narcissistic parents are especially susceptible to these effects.

This is one of the most important articles I’ve written about the impact of having narcissistic parents. It addresses the five lifelong consequences we can suffer when we’ve been terrorized in childhood and steps on how to start healing – including how to cut the emotional umbilical cord with our abusive parents.

READ THE ARTICLE: The Invisible War Zone: 5 Ways Children Of Narcissistic Parents Self-Destruct In Adulthood

6 Secrets The Narcissist Hopes You Never Learn

 

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Image by Caleb Betts. This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

By Shahida Arabi

We all know that that malignant narcissists (narcissists who also have antisocial traits) are manipulative and can even fool experts, psychiatrists and the most experienced of law enforcement officials. Yet there are six crucial truths about these types of manipulators that can come in handy when it comes to resisting their tactics. Use this information wisely and you can find yourself cutting the cord to a toxic relationship with one that much more safely:

1. They will unmask themselves much more quickly when they think you’re not aware of who they truly are.

Direct confrontation of their narcissism will result in further manipulation and narcissistic rage, which can cause you to remain entrenched in the cycle of abuse.

If you suspect you’re with a narcissist, the better route might be to prepare mentally on how to leave while collecting more information about their characterWatch out for the red flags and when you see them, self-validate without relying on the narcissist’s counter-explanation (which is likely to be filled with a whole lot of gaslighting, projection and half-truths). Their actions and pattern of behavior will tell you far more than their words ever will.

Pretend to be the naïve lamb rather than the wise lion and you’ll get yourself a manipulator who won’t work as hard to conceal their contempt, their malice and their joy at bringing others down. Their mask will slip all the more frequently because they don’t feel as invested in managing their image around you. They will assume you’re gullible enough to believe in their façade, which satisfies their need to feel grandiose and superior to you.

This will also give you the ability to observe their behavior more carefully because it will be less filtered by their attempts to charm you. By the time your abuser has realized that you’ve caught on, you’ll be well on your way out the door. That is why I always recommend that when victims recognize that they are dealing with a narcissistic partner, to never confront them using the term “narcissist.” It will only cause narcissistic rage and backlash that can convince you to retreat.

“Hell hath no fury or contempt as a narcissist you dare to disagree with, tell they’re wrong, or embarrass… What is really at the core of narcissists is an instability in their ability to feel and sustain feeling bigger, larger, smarter and more successful than everyone else which they need to feel stable.  Narcissistic rage occurs when that core instability is threatened and furthermore threatened to destabilize them even further.” – Mark Goulston, M.D., Rage – Coming Soon From A Narcissist Near You

Rage isn’t the only response narcissists have to your awakening of the truth. In response to your public acknowledgement of their narcissism, some narcissists will work that much harder to groom you and re-idealize you, thus making you more confused about the nature of their true character.

They will do everything possible to punish you or coerce you into staying – including love-bombing you again to make you remember the good times. During the same time they’re throwing in crumbs of affection, they’re also plotting on how to best covet what resources of yours they can get before the relationship is over.

As you prepare your exit as quietly as possible (preferably with the help of a good lawyer and a safety plan) – you have a better chance of departing safely with your sanity and your finances still intact. Sure, they may think you’re a fool for the time being, but once they realize you secretly had the upper hand all along, they’ll be outraged for completely different reasons – namely, due to the loss of control.

2. One of their biggest fears is being caught and held accountable – so always document their abuse whenever possible.

Recently we’ve had a string of predators being exposed for sexual assault and harassment. It is no coincidence that many of these predators finally ‘fessed up because of being held accountable on a much larger scale this time around. Perhaps the cultural climate protected them decades ago, but when an NYTimes exposé shares the stories of numerous victims stepping forward, it’s a lot more difficult to gaslight everyone you’ve victimized into thinking they’re “crazy” or “oversensitive.” Not only do victims have more evidence, they also realize they’re not alone.

You can use this knowledge of a covert predator’s fear of exposure to your advantage. Document all incidents of abuse so that you have it on hand should you ever need to go to court, take legal action, or for the purpose of getting a restraining order.

Narcissists care deeply about their status and reputation, so if they feel they may be exposed as culpable for their crimes, they’ll scurry quickly because they will consider you a “high-risk” victim. They’re paranoid about being caught – so even just dropping a subtle hint that you mean business (for example, noting that you’ve been speaking to someone else about what’s been happening – preferably someone they can’t manipulate) can cause them to flee quicker than you can say “gaslighting.”

On documenting abuse that is not physical, Heather Debreceni, former sheriff and professional divorce coach advises:

“The best way to protect yourself: writing or journaling as much as you possibly can…download your text messages and keep them in a file. Keep your messages brief and factual, and avoid emotion, whatever you do. Emotion can’t be proved in court, but facts can. Some states also allow you to record phone conversations, so you can record threats from your abuser.”

As Debreceni notes, it is important to stay calm yourself whenever reacting to a narcissist’s provocations through text, phone calls or e-mails because the narcissist is also trying to ensure that they also have you on the record – whether they’re trying to depict you as an unfit parent or a crazy ex (while they’re the ones stalking you), remember to always appear stoic and stick to the facts when communicating with them.

Whether it be photographing injuries or stalking behavior, taking screenshots of online messages, recording phone conversations (if permitted by law in your state), saving text messages, and voicemails and/or keeping a journal of abusive incidents, it can all serve you in the future should you ever want to take legal action or even if you just want to reconnect to the reality of what you experienced.

3. Your indifference is their kryptonite.

Forget any type of petty revenge you may be plotting; malignant narcissists see all of your emotional responses to them (whether positive or negative) as attention, and they live for that shit. Instead, refocus on yourself and on rebuilding a better life (not for the narcissist, but for you). It won’t be long until you’re moving forward, kicking some serious ass and thinking less and less of the person who once terrorized you.

If you do you choose to grant them access to your emotional responses, rest assured they will use it to bolster themselves and feed off of your energy. As narcissism expert and author Dr. Martinez-Lewi puts it:

“When we live with a narcissist – mother, father, spouse, sibling or are involved with them, our psychological energy is continually sapped. Some victims of narcissists describe this process as trying to destroy and annihilate them, taking what is most precious inside away with their cruelties, chronic deceptions, hidden agendas, humiliations, threats and ambushes.”

That’s why it’s so important to go No Contact (or Low Contact if co-parenting) to prevent their parasitic ways of feasting on your empathy. By that time, you simply won’t care what they’re up to or who they’re with because you’ll know for a fact that they’re repeating a similar abuse cycle with their newest victim. And ironically, it is in that state of utter indifference that the narcissist becomes most powerless, because they know they are no longer able to control you.

4. They’re not hoping you’ll come back to them so they can give you the good relationship you truly deserve. They hope you’ll come back to them just so they can have the final say and re-traumatize you further.

Narcissists hate being “discarded” first because it represents a loss of power and a threat to their perceived superiority. After all, if you were the one who initiated the breakup, it means they didn’t get to have the complete emotional control they feel entitled to in their relationships. They need to have the last word; they need to feel like they’ve terrorized you to such an extent that you would be unable to move forward after being in a relationship with them.

So that’s why they really come crawling back and ask for a second, third and fiftieth chance. It’s not because they miss you. It’s because they miss feeling like they own you.

“When the narcissist senses that you are leaving the relationship, they will try to suck you back in…  This is a common pattern in abusive relationships.  There’s an abusive episode, then a reconciliation phase, then a buildup of tension, then another abusive episode.  The cycle doesn’t end.  With a narcissist, the blowup gets worse each time you reconcile.  And that blowup is coming.” –  Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, So You’re In A Relationship With A Narcissist, Now What?

 5. You’re not inferior in any way to their other victims or new targets.

Remember that narcissists don’t see their relationship partners as people – they see them as objects, as sources of what psychologists call “narcissistic supply.”

However, they’d like you to believe that the reason they’re picking on you is because you’re more disposable, less than or somehow defective. That’s why they’ll compare you to their exes or their new targets. In order to resist this form of crazymaking triangulation, remember how the narcissist talked about their ex in the beginning of your relationship, in the early stages of idealizing you.

Chances are, they called their ex-partner “crazy” along with a whole other plethora of disparaging narratives – which is what they’re probably now doing to you as they relay their distortions to their latest target.

Narcissistic supply is the form of exchange that a narcissist will accept from those he is in a relationship with to gratify his insatiable needs; but this supply is not love, because narcissists are rarely capable of receiving love.  – Shari Stines, Psy.D, Love and the Narcissist

They always repeat the cycle with others.  To them, you are no different, even if they’d like you to think otherwise.

6. They’re not really that humble or remorseful – and pity is one of their greatest ploys.

Narcissists project an image of themselves as very charitable and humble human beings in the beginning of every relationship. It’s what makes them so compelling and charismatic to society. It’s what disarms law enforcement and their harem, allowing them to skirt the law with a slap on the wrist and no more than a dent in their reputations.

Even the most hardened police officers can witness an impressive performance of faux remorse from a narcissist they’re meeting for the first time and find themselves thinking, “Aww, how noble.” You look at the same performance after years of being with them and see a snake attempting to put on a furry dog costume.  

Don’t get me wrong: some people truly are modest and humble, which can be wonderful traits. Narcissists, on the other hand, use the image of modesty to mask their true haughty interiors. A narcissist who is truly arrogant and contemptuous may hide it well during the first few months of a relationship (though there may be tiny tells through their facial expressions, covert put-downs and so on) but their belief that they are inherently superior will eventually reveal itself.

Another tactic narcissists bank on when manipulating you involves the art of the pity ploy. Narcissists will try to latch onto your sympathy when they see no other recourse or even as a primary tool to sweep you off of your feet.

That’s why they give you half-assed “apologies” without a concrete change in their behaviors or a true acknowledgement of the harm you must have suffered. That’s also why they present you with sob stories from the onset of the relationship so you’re inclined to see them as victims rather than the true perpetrators.

It’s why they these types of manipulators can even be self-deprecating as a way to pull off their “little boy” or “little girl” act. Seemingly defenseless people are always more appealing to our natural compassion, after all – and so their crocodile tears and pity ploys work – and they work really, really well.

Dr. Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, notes that an appeal to your sympathy is actually one of the most powerful ways a manipulator with antisocial traits gets away with his or her abusive behavior. As she writes:

“If, instead, you find yourself often pitying someone who consistently hurts you or other people, and who actively campaigns for your sympathy, the chances are close to 100 percent that you are dealing with a sociopath… I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him.”

In order to be a strategic survivor, you have to be able to recognize a manipulator’s pity ploys immediately and resist, especially when there is no actual change in their harmful behavior when they’re called out.

When you start to see how fake their so-called remorse truly is, you’ll find you have much less sympathy for their excuses for horrendous behavior. This will bring you farther away from your idealized notions of their fabricated conscience and that much closer to forging your freedom from the narcissist.

Works Cited


Barron, C. (2014, August 24). If You Are the Target of Narcissistic Abuse. Retrieved November 20, 2017.


DomesticShelters.org. (2015, October 5). How to Prove Nonphysical Abuse in Court. Retrieved November 20, 2017.

Goulston, M. (2012, February 09). Rage-Coming Soon From a Narcissist Near You. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 20, 2017.

Martinez-Lewi, L. (2014, March 12). Narcissists Psychologically Feed Off of Your Life – Protect Yourself! Retrieved November 20, 2017.

Sarkis, S. (2015, December 29). So You’re In a Relationship with a Narcissist, Now What? Retrieved November 20, 2017.

Stines, S. (2017, March 12). Love and the Narcissist. Psych Central. Retrieved November 20, 2017.

Stout, M. (2006). The sociopath next door: The ruthless versus the rest of us. New York: Broadway Books.

Get my #1 Amazon Bestselling Book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare.how-to-devalue-and-discard-the-narcissist-r2-ebook-cover-3

About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying across the life-course trajectory. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of three books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and as a #1 Amazon bestseller in personality disorders for twelve consecutive months after its release. Her most recent bookPOWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, was also featured as a #1 Amazon best seller in Applied Psychology.

She is the founder of the popular blog for abuse survivors, Self-Care Haven, which has millions of views from all over the world. Her work has been shared and endorsed by numerous clinicians, mental health advocates, mental health professionals and bestselling authors. For her undergraduate education, Shahida graduated summa cum laude from NYU where she studied English Literature and Psychology. She is passionate about using her knowledge base in psychology, sociology, gender studies and mental health to help survivors empower themselves after emotional abuse and trauma. Her writing has been featured on The National Domestic Violence Hotline,  Salon, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.