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About selfcarehaven

Shahida Arabi is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University graduate school and a four-time bestselling author, including The Smart Girl's Guide to Self-Care and Becoming the Narcissist's Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a a #1 Amazon Bestseller for 12 consecutive months after its release, and POWER: Surviving and Thriving, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in Applied Psychology. Her writing has been featured on Psych Central, The Huffington Post, The National Domestic Violence Hotline, MOGUL, Yoganonymous, Elephant Journal, Dollhouse Magazine, The West 4th Street Review, Thought Catalog, the Feministing Community blog, and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O'Neal's website. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. She studied English Literature and Psychology as an undergraduate student at NYU, where she graduated summa cum laude and was President of its National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter. Her viral blog entry, "Five Powerful Ways Abusive Narcissists Get Inside Your Head," has been shared worldwide and her work has been endorsed and shared by numerous clinical psychologists, mental health practitioners, bestselling authors, and award-winning bloggers.

50 Devious Tactics of Highly Toxic Narcissists

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Photo by Thought Catalog.

These fifty tactics are sure to be seen in the playbook of many toxic people and malignant narcissists.

READ: 50 Devious Habits of Highly Toxic Narcissists (And Why They Do What They Do)

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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.

All rights reserved. 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.

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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 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.

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

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.

Read the Article Here: 12 Things Narcissists Say And What They REALLY Mean

Featured Image Credit: Ángela Burón

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

Survivor Poetry: Invisible Girls Will Inherit The Earth

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.

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.

–Shahida Arabi

READ THE FULL POEM: This Is For The Invisible Girls

Featured Image Source: Zulmaury Saavedra 

6 Secrets The Narcissist Hopes You Never Learn

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Image Source: Caleb Betts

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.

Read The Article Here: 6 Secrets The Narcissist Hopes You Never Learn.

This Powerful Manipulative Tactic Makes It Hard to Leave A Toxic Relationship

This powerful manipulation method causes survivors to seek their abusers for comfort – a form of medicine that is simultaneously the source of the poison. Learn how it is used to ensnare victims in a vicious abuse cycle – and how to set yourself free.

Read: This Powerful Manipulation Method Keeps You Bonded To Your Abuser

Photo by Roksolana Zasiadko

Are You Being Gaslighted By An Abuser?

50 Shades Of Gaslighting: Disturbing Signs An Abuser Is Twisting Your Reality

“Gaslighting is essentially psychological warfare, causing the victims of malignant narcissists to question their own reality. By playing puppeteer to the survivor’s perceptions, the manipulator is able to pull the strings in every context where his or her target feels powerless, confused, disoriented and on edge, perpetually walking on eggshells to keep the peace. Malignant narcissists take it one step further when it comes to their victims; they engage in concrete actions that pathologize and discredit their partners. They play the smirking “doctors” in their intimate relationships, diagnosing their victims like “unruly patients,” all while downplaying their own pathological behavior. While they can also do this through a smear campaign, the most covert predators tend to use more underhanded methods to come out on top. A victim whose credibility is weakened serves as ammunition for an abuser, because the abuser is able to evade accountability for his or her actions by claiming that the victim is unhinged, unstable, and pursuing some form of vendetta against the abuser.” – Shahida Arabi

My new article on Thought Catalog provides a comprehensive guide to identifying and healing from the gaslighting of malignant narcissists. You won’t want to miss this one!

Read it here:

https://thoughtcatalog.com/shahida-arabi/2017/11/50-shades-of-gaslighting-the-disturbing-signs-an-abuser-is-twisting-your-reality/

Why the Women Society Calls “Damaged” Are the Most Powerful

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By Shahida Arabi

Originally published on WITCH magazine. 

Here is a truth you often don’t hear: traumatized women have the potential to become the most powerful people in this world.

The most ignorant members of society call this type of woman “damaged.” But she is the most powerful type of woman there is.

What they forget is that survivors have the most dangerous advantage of all: resilience.

When you try and you try but you can never bring a woman down, you’ll know there is no going back. Don’t fool yourself. You could never defeat her. You never will.

This is the woman who will always rise from the dead; Lady Lazarus, after going through hell and back.

This is the woman who has burned her feet in the flames time and time again and always lives to tell another tale – even if she has to crawl back to life.

She was never given love or approval on a silver platter, so in order to survive, she had to love herself in a way others could only dream of. She fought tooth and nail for her own self-acceptance.

No one coddled her as a child or told her pretty things; she had to fend for herself each step of the way. She knows she can survive because she already has and will again.

When someone tells her, “You can’t do it,” she says, “Watch me.”

She is fiery light birthed out of wintery darkness. Brought into the underworld by Hades, Persephone brings forth spring and rebirth when she reemerges finally from the cold.

She owns her shadows and seamlessly weaves them into the fabric of her freedom, creativity, imagination and independence.

All of her life, she was given every evidence of human cruelty and the evil people were capable of. She understood early on that the monsters people dreamed of existed in human skin.

She lived all of her nightmares in high definition. She was given every reason to give up, handed every justification to never believe in herself or anyone.

But there is raw magic in the ways in which she cultivates a faith in herself, to manifest the dreams that her soul was meant to bring forth. Despite it all, she still conquers.

She still survives and thrives.

The “damaged” woman is capable of immense manifestation not just in spite of, but because of the traumas she has gone through.

There is no one more motivated than a woman who has constantly been told what she cannot do or who she cannot be throughout her lifetime.

There is no one more determined to succeed than someone who has nothing left to lose.

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image source

The “damaged” woman doesn’t sign up for the hardships of her journey – but she plays the hell out of the cards she’s been dealt.

The “damaged” woman is not damaged at all – she is wounded, and in channeling and healing her wounds, she becomes the source of incredible energy, the site of unbelievable potential for abundance and change.

She possesses the power to use her wounds for the greater good and her highest good.

She builds her own success and becomes her own rugged hero; tends to her own scraped knees.

She uses every stone thrown at her to build the foundation for her empire.

Brick by brick she builds – and despite every attempt to tear her walls down, she rescues herself again and again.

Despite it all, this type of survivor may still face hatred, envy, greed from those around her. They try to tell her she is too damaged to soar.

See, when the women society call too “damaged” perform better than those who never were, it tends to upset the status quo.

As a result, she becomes the survivor of countless witch hunts, the target of many persecutors. Yet when they try to burn her at the stake, she does what comes naturally: she resurrects herself.

After all, nobody suspects that it is the wounded woman who has more power inside of her than the bullies who appear to overpower her.

They laugh and ridicule the mute warrior, the one who seems to never fight back.

But here’s the thing about this type of woman: she observes.

She learns how to pick and fight her own battles. Her spirit may be broken, but it is relentless. She perseveres, bit by bit. She takes it all in.

Perhaps she stays voiceless for years. For her soul, it may seem like for centuries. This is an ancient wound, one that seems to follow her from generation to generation.

Yet at some point, it comes time for her soul to fight back in order to survive. It comes time for her to rise.

She stays silent for so long that when she finally speaks, the world erupts and cracks wide open.

Her pent-up magnificent energy, born and bred in the pressure cooker that she calls life – is that of lightning.

Where once hopelessness was her default, now abundance becomes her birthright.

Where once she was timid, she now unleashes thunder in every action and word that she wields like a sword – and with it, she always brings a storm.

Now when she creates, she creates new worlds and transforms and manifests on a level that cannot be recreated by someone who never had to struggle to survive.

When you hear the voice of a powerful survivor and the will of a warrior  – there is nothing you can do but to stop and listen.

image source

She is the voice of a million lifetimes lived.

She is the voice of the hopeless and the powerless when the fire is brought back to their eyes. She is the harbinger of the justice that the voiceless have longed to hear and feel and touch.

Regardless of how much you try and how it may seem, you can never truly bring a survivor like this to her knees; she already knows the value her scars bring.

She knows how to fill the cracks between her wounds with gold.

She knows how to transform each bitter word cast upon her into an iron-clad will that will set her and other caged birds free.

You can’t ever defeat a “damaged” woman, because she knows exactly how to save herself.

Copyright © 2017 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. 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.

Featured image source.


Get my  poetry collection for survivors, She Who Destroys the Light: Fairy Tales Gone Wronghere.

Learn more about my books on narcissistic abuse here.

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30 Badass Affirmations for Going No Contact With An Abusive Narcissist

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By Shahida Arabi

Previously titled “30 Kickass Affirmations for Going No Contact with an Abusive Narcissist”

No Contact from a narcissistic or otherwise abusive, toxic ex-partner can be a rewarding and challenging time. Survivors of emotional and/or physical abuse are not only paving a new path to freedom and rebirth, they may also be struggling with the effects of cognitive dissonance, fear, obligation and guilt (FOG), as well as the traumatic effects of the abuse on their minds, bodies and spirits. They may also encounter stalking or harassment from their abusive partners in their attempts to detach from them, especially if they ‘dared’ to leave those partners first.

Due to biochemical and trauma bonding with their abusers, survivors may also struggle to not contact their ex-partner or check up on them due to being conditioned to rely upon their abuser’s approval and validation during the abuse cycle as a survival mechanism.

Considering the fact that detoxing from an abusive relationship is very much like recovering from an addiction, ‘rehab’ from this type of toxicity needs to be addressed in a way that is both compassionate and empowering.

These positive affirmations can help you reconnect back to your sense of reality when you may be plagued by emotional flashbacks, triggers or cravings to reconnect with an abusive partner. I’ve also included brief explanations of each affirmation, in case any of them need further clarification in order to better appreciate the underlying meaning for each.

For those who may have implemented Low Contact due to co-parenting with an abuser, you can feel free to customize these various phrases to best suit your situation. You may also want to brainstorm your own affirmations that are best tailored to your unique needs and desires.

1. Every act of silence is a protection against psychological violence.

Every time you choose not to check up on, respond or reach out to an abusive ex-partner, you demonstrate that you value yourself, you value your time, your new life and your right not to be subjected to abuse or mistreatment. You protect yourself from traumatizing information or emotional violence that could further retraumatize you and ensnare you back into an abuse cycle. A cycle that can only expose you to more pain, heartache and a pervasive sense of hopelessness. You have escaped from the abuse – don’t let yourself reenter the cycle right back into a seemingly inescapable situation again. It can get more and more difficult to leave each time you do.

2. I have a right to be free from abuse. Every human being has that right and I do, too.

We have to remember that we are just like any other human being – including those who have never been in an abusive relationship or those who have never tolerated any form of abuse if they encountered it. They had the right not to be abused and we do too. This is not to blame or shame anyone who has stayed in an abusive relationship; there are many reasons why abuse survivors stay well beyond the first incident of abuse, including the trauma repetition cycle that arises due to subconscious wounding from childhood. This is simply a reminder that there are many people who are in healthy relationships – and as a human being, you are so worthy of the same.

3. No one can take away the power I have within me.

It may come as a surprise to you, but narcissistic abusers don’t actually hold any authentic inner power – they take away power from others because they have none within themselves. They have no sense of core identity – they need us more than we need them (even if it feels otherwise). They leech off of our light – we are their life source, their narcissistic supply and they are the energetic vampires who live off our resources, our talents, and our empathy and compassion.

4. My will is stronger than an abuser’s attempts to bully me.

If you’re suffering from PTSD or Complex PTSD and you’re hearing your abuser’s voice and/or are being met with hoovering attempts to shame you back into the abuse cycle, you’re not alone. Many survivors of abuse are left reeling from the bullying behavior of their ex-partner. They cannot understand why their abusive ex-partner refuses to leave them alone, stalks or harasses them, or even goes so far as to flaunt their new source of supply to them as a way to provoke them.

Remember: the abuser’s tactics cannot work on you as effectively if you are willing to prioritize your freedom over their attempts to bully you. The bullying may hurt and you will have to address it as you process the trauma, but where there is a strong will, there is an even stronger survivor who can meet any challenge along the way.

5. I am stronger than empty threats.

Abusive ex-partners may smear you, slander you or even threaten to release personal information about you, especially if you ‘discard’ them first due to narcissistic rage and injury. They want to regain power and control to put you through an even worse discard and essentially ‘win’ the break-up or save face after the ending of the relationship. Much of these are empty threats.

It’s true that more dangerous narcissists may follow through with their threats, but the point is that you can choose how you respond to their threats. You have choices and options to protect yourself and document those threats in case you need to ever take legal action. You can go to law enforcement if you have to (and feel safe doing so). You can also seek support from a lawyer and/or counselor who can offer you insights into your particular situation. What you don’t have to do is give into the threats of emotional blackmail and go back into an abusive relationship only to be terrorized in an even worse fashion than before. Who wants to be in a relationship where you are coerced back in?

6. I will defend and protect myself, no matter what.

Whether that means getting a restraining order, changing your number or blocking them from all social media platforms, do whatever you need to do to protect yourself from the narcissist’s manipulation and abuse on your journey to No Contact (or Low Contact if co-parenting). You don’t deserve to be retraumatized, in any shape, way or form. Seek support from your local domestic violence shelter (yes, emotional abuse is still violence), find a trauma-informed therapist, research local support groups, Meetups or group therapy focused on trauma recovery and support.

Find any and all support you can to help build and reinforce the fortress of protection around you. The more quality support you have, the more confident you’ll be in moving forward without your toxic ex-partner.

7. I never give up; I keep going.

No matter how difficult it becomes, you never give up. Even if you make a mistake, all is not lost. How do you beat an addiction? You don’t let imperfection impede you from progressing on your path. You keep going. If you fell off the wagon and broke No Contact (whether by checking up on the narcissist or responding to them), don’t judge yourself too harshly. Self-judgment leads to the same sense of unworthiness that leads you back into looking for validation from toxic people. Instead, get back on the wagon and commit yourself to the journey even more fully.

Practice mindfulness and radical acceptance of any urges you might have without acting upon them and participating in more self-sabotage. Know that every setback is simply bringing up the core wounds you need to heal in order to move forward with even more strength and determination than before. Understand the triggers that led to your decision to break No Contact to mitigate them in the future and grieve for the illusion the narcissistic abuser presented to you (the ‘false mask’ they presented). Know that this person never truly existed and that the promise of a relationship that was fabricated in the idealization phase led you to an investment that ultimately led to more loss than gain.

8. My life is worth more than empty promises.

When a narcissistic abuser is hoovering you, they are re-idealizing you and making the same promises they made in the beginning of the relationship. They promised to change, to love and care for you, to always support you and be there for you. Yet they invalidated, belittled and degraded you instead. These empty promises are just another way to control and coerce you back into the abuse cycle. Don’t feed into the illusion of what the relationship could have been. Instead, acknowledge it for what it was: moments of terror merged with false promises that were never carried out. You deserve more than empty promises: you deserve the real thing. The true promise of a new and healthier life awaits you: make a promise to yourself that you will pursue that new reality instead.

9. This is life or death and I choose life. Every time.

Many abuse survivors have a high level of resilience as well as a pain threshold that could rival a sumo wrestler or someone walking on hot coals without so much as a grimace. Even if you feel like you can ‘deal with’ further abuse even after the break-up, consider that this is truly a life or death situation. If you are escaping from a physical abuser, this affirmation hits home. Yet even if you’re coming out of an emotionally abusive relationship, it also holds weight.

I know many might not think of emotional violence as a life or death situation, but considering the suicides that occur from bullying and domestic violence and the fact that domestic violence survivors are actually at a higher risk of committing suicide, it is truer than we think. Each time we sacrifice our peace of mind for one more ‘hit’ of the abuse rather than detoxing from the relationship, we also belittle, demean and abuse ourselves.

These incidents build up collectively to reenact the same sense of hopelessness we had during the abusive relationship and can pose severe harm to our psyche over time due to the cumulative impact of traumatic and retraumatizing experiences. By breaking No Contact, we convince ourselves that we are unworthy of something more than being with a toxic person. In the case of life or death, be sure to choose your new life without your abuser…each and every time.

10. Loneliness is infinitely better than any form of abuse.

After an abusive relationship, we may begin to romanticize our ex-partner in times of loneliness. We might even wonder if it was ‘worth’ leaving the abuse since we now feel so alone. We may have mixed emotions about our abuser as the “good times” come flooding back in the absence of our abuser.

Remember: you were the only one truly invested in the good times. For your abuser, those good times were simply a form of periodic love-bombing, a form of intermittent reinforcement that kept you under their control while feeding you crumbs.

The ‘good memories’ we had with our abuser never justify the abuse or make up for them. Loneliness can be a sign that you are working through and processing the trauma. It’s a sign that you may need to be more present with yourself and surround yourself with better support networks. It’s also a sign that you are in dire need of learning to enjoy your own company. Acknowledge and validate the loneliness, but don’t resist it by pursuing more toxic people or going back to the same toxic relationship.

Survivors often need a period of self-isolation to reflect and recover from the trauma before they date or pursue new friendships. Take this time to heal and don’t rush the process: it’s very much needed in order for you to be in an optimal state of mental health. The more healed you are, the better the quality of your future relationships will be, whether with new friends and/or partners.

11. I deserve so much more than to be an emotional punching bag.

When you’re in an abusive relationship, you are not in a healthy, reciprocal relationship. You are an emotional punching bag for an immature and unstable person. They get to take all of their flaws, their insecurities, their internal garbage and spew it onto you. Throughout the relationship, you were trained by your abuser to ‘take it’ as a natural part of being in a relationship with them. No more. You deserve more than to be someone’s emotional punching bag. You deserve a mutually respectful relationship where love and compassion are the default.

12. I can communicate my feelings to people who deserve to hear my voice.

We don’t have to use our voice with people who are committed to misunderstanding, invalidating and mistreating us. We can reserve our energy and time for people who are willing to see our beautiful qualities and celebrate them. We can use our voice for people who truly want to help us, who appreciate our help and reciprocate our efforts. Instead of wasting your precious voice on people who will always be intent on silencing you, why not use it to help those who really need it, to comfort someone who is just as empathic and compassionate as you are, to receive insights from a trusted professional or to share your story and change the world? I guarantee you that helping people who are actually able to evolve (and this includes yourself!) is a much better use of your voice than trying to convince a person without empathy to treat you well. It’s more likely to be effective, too!

13. My mental health is my number one priority.

Make sure you’re engaging in extreme self-care during the No Contact journey. This means checking with yourself every moment of the day to ensure that you are thinking healthy thoughts, taking advantage of the diverse healing modalities available to you, and addressing any symptoms of trauma that may be interfering with your ability to function in day-to-day life. If your mental health is suffering, all other aspects of your life will also feel the impact. So take care of yourself – and don’t be afraid to seek professional support if you need it. No one should have to go through this turmoil alone.

14. Staying sane is more important than being validated by an abuser.

Often when we have been devalued by an abuser, we become controlled by the need to be validated by them as ‘worthy.’ This need becomes especially amplified when we see that the abuser seems to have moved on with a new victim. This is because the abuser was the source of our pervasive sense of unworthiness throughout the abuse cycle and we now feel as if we need confirmation that we were not the problem.

Unfortunately, the reality is that narcissistic abuse will inevitably leave us without any closure from the toxic ex-partner. Narcissists are masters of impression management and they rarely expose what is actually happening behind closed doors – so all you are likely to see is them idealizing their victims for the public, just like they did with you. That’s why you must prioritize your own sanity by accepting that while you may never get closure or confirmation of your worth from the narcissist, you can find ways of cultivating your own belief in your self-worth. This means stepping away from the narcissist’s public façade and investing in living your own best life.

15, 16, and 17. I trust my own reality. I know and trust what I experienced and felt. I validate myself.

These are a set of affirmations that can help you to resist the gaslighting attempts of your ex-partner or their harem.

I don’t care how many harem members love the narcissistic abuser. I don’t care if the narcissist is on the cover of Time Magazine for Person of the Year. Their popularity with others or public façade doesn’t make them immune to being abusive. In fact, many malignant narcissists disguise themselves as charitable, loving people. That is the nature of their false mask: they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

This affirmation is here to remind you that despite the amount of people your abuser may have fooled, no one has the right to take away the reality of the abuse that you endured. You know what you experienced – you know how valid it was and the impact that it left upon you.

It doesn’t matter how charming the narcissistic abuser is or who chooses to believe them; let their harem members learn at their own pace who the narcissist is. You’re not here to convince anyone. You’re here to validate yourself and resist the gaslighting attempts to distort your reality and that of the abuse. Don’t feel obligated to protect your abuser, minimize, rationalize or deny the abuse you endured. Honor and acknowledge your authentic emotions as well as depth of trauma you experienced.

18. I am worthy, I am beautiful (or handsome), I am brave, I am strong, I am fearless.

These are another set of positive affirmations that can help remind you of how worthy and courageous you truly are, with or without a partner. It conditions you into believing good things about yourself, especially if you’re used to hearing harsh words from your abuser. I recommend recording these into a tape recorder or voice recording application on your phone and listening to them on a daily basis just to get yourself used to hearing them. Repetition is essential to deprogramming the harmful messages your abuser instilled in you and reprogramming your mind for future success.

19. Each second, each minute, each hour, each day, each month, each year, I am getting stronger.

While you may have moments of powerlessness and hopelessness from time to time, rest assured that as you move forward with No Contact, you will gain more and more strength and resilience than you ever knew was possible. As more time passes and as more trauma is processed and addressed, the more space you’ll carve out to become the person you were meant to be. You’ll eventually reach a point in your healing journey where the strong attachment to the abusive person has ‘dulled’ in its emotional potency.

20. Leaving (or being left) was the best thing that ever happened to me. I made that happen.

It was your agency and your powerful light that got you through the worst moments of your life so never underestimate your ability to survive after the abuse. There are so many victims still in abusive relationships – including the new source of supply. You’ve awakened and you’ve taken back control over your life. This is a blessing that should not be taken for granted. Instead of focusing on the ways you still feel trapped, validate your grief while allowing yourself to celebrate the ways you’ve been freed.

21. I am a motherf*cking badass. I can survive anything. And I will thrive.

For those who need that extra punch (and dose of profanity along with their reality check), this affirmation can charge you with the determination and badassery needed to rise above the pain and channel it into something greater. Remember: for every crucifixion, there is an even greater possibility for resurrection. Transform all the grief and outrage you feel into your greater good: use it to fuel you to reach greater heights, achieve your goals and kick some serious butt in all facets of your life.

22. Do no harm; take no shit.                                                                                                                          

We don’t have to be vindictive or retaliate against our ex-partners in order to take care of ourselves, set boundaries or to lead victorious lives. At the same time, we don’t have to internalize anyone else’s garbage. You can empower yourself by establishing what your boundaries are and following through with them – each and every time. Whether it be with your abusive ex-partner or a new acquaintance, the healing journey is all about learning how to implement healthier boundaries and becoming more assertive in our authentic truth.

23. My success is their karma. Karma can answer him or her – I am too busy.

Live your life and try to minimize your focus on what the narcissist is doing, who he or she is seeing or what they are getting away with. Let the narcissist learn at his or her own pace what life is all about; you don’t need to educate a grown ass human being on how to be a decent person. You don’t need to give karma a ‘push’ either – let it unravel and unfold organically, if at all.

The best karma a narcissist can receive is actually the weight of your indifference and success after you leave them.

24. I am the life source. I am the Light. Without me, there is nothing to feed on.

These are emotional vampires we’re dealing with; it’s up to you to make sure that they don’t leave nourished on your supply while you’re left malnourished, drained and underfed after an interaction with them. Without their sources of supply, narcissists live in the darkness of their own emotional void. Don’t let your mind, your body and your soul be part of their feeding queue. Remove yourself completely from the equation altogether. If they don’t get to feast upon your emotions, your commitment or your investment, you get to nourish yourself with a healthy mind and life.

25. They don’t miss me as a person – they miss controlling and mistreating me.

Narcissistic ex-partners only try to play the ‘let’s be friends’ card because they miss what you provide for them. They miss putting you down. They don’t miss you or any other victim as a person because they truly cannot even wrap their heads around people as individual human beings. To them, supply is supply and they rarely ‘know’ their sources of supply beyond a shallow impression of them as objects to control and misuse for their own gain. Remember that when a narcissistic abuser tries to hoover you, saying they miss you, what they’re reallysaying is that they miss the power and control they felt when they were able to provoke your emotions.

26. They don’t love or care about me – they care about fulfilling their own needs.

Normal partners would leave their ex-partners alone and move forward especially after they realized that their ex-partners were not the one for them. Narcissists don’t care what is best for their ex-partners; they don’t care if they’re potentially retraumatizing them by reaching out to them or flaunting new supply. They want to fulfill their own needs and it doesn’t matter who they hurt in the process. Give yourself this reality check each and every time you find yourself romanticizing the abuser: they do not love or care about you, at all. If they did, they would have made the effort to treat you better. Love is expressed in actions, not empty words.

27. Each time I don’t respond or set a boundary, I remind myself of what I am worth.

You are truly worthy, warrior, and you don’t need anybody else to validate your worth to you. You are precious, valuable and enough. Know it and own it; don’t let anyone take away your divine self-worth from you. Each time that you permit yourself to stick to No Contact, you communicate to yourself that you are worthy of a better life. Continue to tell yourself that you are whole just as you are and so very deserving of the best life possible. Treat yourself as if you were already whole and one day you will realize you’ve internalized this belief. Feeling and knowing that you are enough goes beyond just an affirmation; it can lead to success beyond your wildest dreams. You just have to be willing to be receptive to this belief. Gently invite it into your life and find ways to cultivate it every day until it is so fully rooted in your psyche that it has no choice other than to blossom.

28. I care about and love myself.

Be gentle with yourself during this time. Treat yourself as you would a dear friend or a wounded baby bird. How would you take care of yourself? What would you tell someone you love who is hurting? How would you treat someone who you wanted the best for? Treat yourself that exact way – you deserve all the care, compassion and validation that you tried to give to the narcissist.

29. I am my own best friend. I am my own best advocate.

You can have a nourishing support network, but at the end of the day, you are the only one who can advocate for yourself and your healing. You are the only person who can act on your own behalf and make the right choices for your recovery process. Nobody can do it for you. So advocate for yourself, each and every day: turn off the phone, the computer and any form of communication with the narcissistic abuser and walk away from temptation. You are worth so much more than this toxic person could ever give you.

30. I love myself. Truly and always, I love myself. And for the first time in a long time, I am putting myself first.

The journey to healing is about you. Not your ex-partner, your friends, your family, or society. You may have placed your mental health and basic needs on the back burner for a long time when you were in this abusive relationship. Now it’s finally time to prioritize you, your needs, your dreams, your desires and what you personally want to manifest in your life. Take this valuable time to really get to know yourself and honor your goals. You deserve to make all your dreams come to life. It’s time for you to shine – and no one is ever going to get to dim your light ever again.

This article was first published on Thought Catalog on May 1st, 2017.

Image by By El Nariz. Standard License via Shutterstock.

Copyright © 2017 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. 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.

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, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.

This is What Happens When You ‘Discard’ an Abusive Narcissist First

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By Shahida Arabi

This article was first posted on Thought Catalog on March 28th, 2017.

Many books, articles and online platforms for abuse survivors often focus on what happens when a narcissistic abuser ‘devalues’ and ‘discards’ their victims.  Yet what happens when survivors are lucky enough to identify the abuse that is occurring to them and with the right support and resources, are able to leave their abusers first?

Unfortunately, what would otherwise be a path to freedom can be complicated by the predatory nature of malignant narcissists, whose severe sense of entitlement combined with an unnerving lack of empathy are intrinsic to their disorder. This is a dangerous combination that can result in the abuser sustaining what is known as a narcissistic injury (a threat to the narcissist’s sense of power and control) and subsequently, narcissistic rage.

This type of injury and rage manifests in different ways. According to Dr. Sarkis, narcissistic abusers are likely to do everything possible to win back their victims if they suspect they are on the verge of leaving. Yet this also applies to after their victims leave, as well. To explore what can happen when a survivor leaves his or her narcissistic abuser first and how survivors of narcissistic abuse can protect themselves in this vulnerable stage of their healing journey, I’ve listed the four main ways in which narcissists can act out their “injury” and pose potential harm to their victims, as well as some ways you can empower yourself during this precarious time.

1. Stalking and harassment.

Unless the narcissistic abuser had other sources of narcissistic supply (people who provided them a steady stream of attention, praise, admiration, resources, etc.) they were already grooming by the time you left, chances are that he or she was left blindsided by your departure – especially if you planned your departure quietly and safely. A normal partner may be understandably hurt by a break-up that was sudden and not mutual, but eventually, that partner would understand if you needed to end a relationship because it was causing you much more pain than happiness. At the very least, that partner would find some way to move forward with his or her life, knowing that you were not the one for them.

An abusive narcissist? He or she will fly off the handle when they realize that you’ve ‘one-upped’ them somehow and “beaten them” to the discard. Despite the fact that you were obviously in severe emotional and/or physical danger, the narcissist will perceive your escape as an abandonment, rather than a way to secure your safety and sanity from their psychological violence.

See, abusive relationships with a narcissist rely on an idealization-devaluation-discard cycle which enables the narcissist to degrade their victims and discard their victims without any accountability whatsoever. This cycle confirms the narcissist’s distorted sense of being superior to their victims. If the victim ‘discards’ the narcissist first, he or she upsets the power dynamic that bolsters the abuser’s desire for power and validation.

Remember: even if you left the relationship for legitimate reasons – such as for your own emotional and physical safety, your abuser still views the relationship as a competition. For you, the seemingly helpless and powerless victim, to leave first, sends them into a tailspin of fury and devastation. After all, how dare their victims forge the path to freedom, when they essentially ‘belong’ to the narcissist? That is how the narcissist thinks and believes: they truly see their victims as objects to be owned, controlled, mistreated and used as emotional punching bags, not as independent agents with free will.

Make no mistake: you deserve to live a life free of abuse. You have rights. You have boundaries. You have limits. The narcissistic abuser works to erode those boundaries and rights throughout the abusive relationship and sustain a parasitic connection with their victims; they leech off their victim’s resources, empathy, compassion and compliance. By leaving the narcissist first, you threaten their sense of ownership over you and their excessive need to control and gain from you what they cannot find in themselves.

That is why the devastation they feel at the loss of supply is not due to the loss of the survivor, but rather, the loss of power they once held over the survivor. Narcissists rely on narcissistic supply (anything in the form of praise, money, gifts, sex, attention, etc.) to survive their daily experience. They are “addicts” that zoom in on vulnerable targets – anyone they perceive to have high degrees of empathy and compassion – and exploit those targets for all they’re worth, sucking them dry emotionally, physically, and spiritually. They use their victims as trophies to give themselves access to the victim’s resources – status, wealth, the reputation of being with someone attractive and/or successful, as well as social proof of their normalcy.

When their victims are able to escape their grasp without all of their resources being fully exhausted, or right around the time when the narcissist is depending on another devaluation phase to feed himself or herself that daily high – they become inexplicably enraged.

It is no wonder, then, that narcissistic abusers are known to stalk their former victims months, sometimes even years, after the ending of the relationship, especially if their victims discarded them first. They might harass and stalk you in person, through e-mail, texting, phone calls, voicemails, or third-party contact. They may stalk you on your social media platforms and even engage in cyberbullying or threats. Their messages can range from threatening to love-bombing, and may vacillate between rage and tenderness, causing a confusing cocktail of emotions for their victims who simultaneously may want to be left alone but may also be concerned about whether the narcissist’s performances of remorse, pity ploys, or apologies are in any way authentic attempts at accountability.

The usual advice given to the survivor is to go No Contact with his or her abuser – but the sneakiest of narcissists will find their way around the barriers you place. It is actually very common for an abusive ex to linger far beyond the expiration date of the relationship, because abuse is all about power and control. In more extreme scenarios, an abusive partner may hack into your computer or phone and install spyware; they may obtain a plethora of fake IP addresses or fake accounts to cyberbully you on different social media platforms without it being traced; they may threaten you “anonymously” through different e-mail addresses or texts with messages that are meaningful to you but confusing to outsiders, in order to evade suspicion from law enforcement.

Narcissists can even use various phone apps to mask their numbers and use multiple numbers to harass you all day long or bombard you with an excessive amount of messages per day. This leaves you with the rather dreary choices of blocking each and every number while a new one pops up, or changing your number altogether.

When stalking and harassment takes a severe emotional toll and you feel you are being retraumatized, unable to move forward in your journey to healing, it may be time to consider taking legal action (if, and only if, you feel safe doing so) whether by reporting the harassment to the police and/or filing for an order of protection or restraining order.

Some survivors may not feel comfortable with this, as it has the potential of making their abusers even more vindictive and it may be even more traumatizing should the case proceed to court. Others may feel empowered by receiving legal documentation that will often make more cowardly narcissists back out of their schemes as soon as they realize they may face legal consequences for their actions.

Research the laws in your state about how to best protect yourself, understand which laws support you in documenting and recording the various forms of abuse and remember to also consult the National Domestic Violence Hotline if you have any questions about how to proceed in your specific situation.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you’re taking some steps to document the harassment and stalking in case you ever need proof of it. Let those you trust know about what is occurring as well as your whereabouts. At this time, for your own safety, you need to be able to seek support and ‘check in’ with those who can help you – whether it be with a trusted friend, family member, therapist or all of the above.

Never forget: the time when an abuse victim is leaving an abusive relationship can be one of the most dangerous points in the abuse cycle. Please take care of yourself and do what you feel is most emotionally and physically safe as well as practical for you.  Don’t discount your intuition, either – it can save your life.

2. Devaluation and Jekyll and Hyde hoovering. 

After the breakup, the character of the narcissistic abuser can become disturbingly clear – and dangerous. Malignant narcissists will usually attempt to sweet-talk you back into the relationship with promises of change, faux remorse for their misdeeds, and feigned accountability for their actions. They may romanticize the relationship and re-idealize you, taking back all their hurtful words and actions in one fell swoop (or cleverly constructed text message). This is known as hoovering, and it is when, like a Hoover vacuum, the abuser attempts to “suck” their victim back into the abuse cycle.

Yet when you fail to comply with their demands to meet up, reconcile, remain friends or you resist the idealization in any way, abusive narcissists revert back to their true, vindictive selves. Pulling the signature Jekyll and Hyde moves they subjected you to during the relationship, they devalue you all over again, engaging in name-calling, cruel insults and demeaning remarks about your personality, your lifestyle, appearance, talents, career – anything and everything they can pull in to make you feel small, undesirable and unworthy.

For you to say “no” (even politely) and set boundaries is akin to setting off an atomic bomb in the narcissist’s eyes. It sends them into a frightening rage as they realize they can no longer control you and that you are actively resisting their hoovering attempts. Even if you are not verbally expressing anything, you are essentially saying “no” firmly through your actions, your silence and by refusing to get ensnared once more into the traumatic vortex of the relationship.

Your abuser had, after all, hoped that you would react just as you had all the other times you had reconciled with them after incidents of abuse – denying, minimizing or rationalizing the abuse while accepting the crumbs of their love-bombing efforts. Instead, they are left with a void in which they must try to secure other supply, lest they have to confront any need for possible self-evaluation.

Even if they are securing other supply after the break-up, it doesn’t mean they are done with you yet – they may still continue to harass and stalk you, taunting you and debasing you in order to regain a sense of power and control. They may text or call you while they’re with their new partners, to further minimize, provoke and compare you. They may swoop periodically in and out of your life through these hoovering tactics, so they can gain supply in the form of your emotional reactions.

3. Post-breakup triangulation. 

Once the narcissist has secured new supply, they’ll want you to know about it. That is why, on the No Contact journey, I always recommend that survivors block their narcissistic abusers as well as their harem members on all social media platforms, because even just one accidental look into their Facebook or Instagram can send you back into a downward spiral of self-doubt and self-blame if a new victim pops up shortly after the breakup.

Survivors who “discarded” the narcissist first may have an emotional advantage, in that they may be more fully connected to the reality of who the abuser is. These survivors may have resolved some of the cognitive dissonance that arose during the relationship, and successfully battled the fear, obligation and guilt (FOG) that occurs due to the traumatic nature of this form of relationship. They know why no new victim should ever be envied, as these new victims too will also go through the same horrific cycle.

Still, any survivor is still vulnerable to post-breakup triangulation (the deliberate manufacturing of love triangles to control and devalue you) whether online or in real life because survivors are still in the process of healing from their “addiction” and trauma bond to the narcissist. This leaves them susceptible to further emotional manipulation, unnecessary comparisons and excessive gloating from their abusive ex-partner. To avoid this, be gentle with yourself and very firm with your boundaries so that you can remove temptation or the risk of encountering the abuser altogether.

Ensure that you are avoiding places that you know the narcissistic abuser frequents; remove any form of contact with their harem members; be mindful of any urges to ever reach out to or reestablish contact with a narcissistic partner, as they may be prone to using those instances to brag about their new supply.

4. Smear campaigns and threats.

If you discarded the narcissist first without warning, they are sure to be desperate to reframe the narrative about you as soon as possible. This is because in breaking up with them first, you unintentionally ‘exposed’ who they truly were as well as the hidden nature of the abusive relationship – and exposure is one of the narcissist’s greatest fears. Breaking up with a narcissist threatens their very sense of security because it could potentially rip off their false mask and reveal the true self to their harem members.

Many narcissists begin the smear campaign even before any devaluation begins by sneaking in hints to their family members or friends about your shortcomings or projected abusive traits (which are in fact their own) and provoking you publicly throughout your relationship. Smear campaigns are often staged successfully when the narcissistic abuser has access to both his or her harem group as well as your social network. However, if you never introduced the narcissist to your friends or your family, and if you are able to gain validation from within after the break-up, the smear campaign might be less effective.

The narcissist may still find other ways of slandering you – shortly after you leave them, they may threaten to release your personal information, such as private photos, text messages, videos or otherwise confidential discussions; they may stalk and harass you online; they may contact others who know you as a way to gain information about you. The means in which they can desperately try to regain a sense of control over your life are endless – but the portal to inner peace is not as impossible to reach as you may think.

Remember: all smear campaigns rely on the idea that the abuse victim is unable to self-validate and cope without the approval of others. The truth is, there may be legal ways to protect yourself against slander or the release of private information depending on the state you live in; you can still report the narcissist for harassment if they try to reach you via a third party; you can get professional support that helps to validate your experiences of the abuse and regain a sense of emotional freedom and security within yourself. As survivors, we still have choices, even if those choices primarily lie within doing what we can to seek out resources and help.

Undoubtedly, this can be a difficult time, but all we can control is how we approach the situation and empower ourselves. Research what you can do legally to protect yourself. Build support networks that help to validate your experiences and strengthen your resolve to detach from the toxicity and focus on your own inner peace.

Explore alternative and traditional healing modalities that can reconnect you with a healthier mind, body and spirit. Find assistance anywhere and everywhere – through domestic violence hotlines, lawyers, support groups, therapists, life coaches, books, articles – you name it, it can all be used to propel yourself towards healing and a brighter future.

Envision yourself being in a better place than the situation you’re currently in. Know your own worth and celebrate being finally free at last from your abuser. In knowing your inner power and trusting in your ability to survive seemingly insurmountable odds, you’ll realize that you are much more powerful than you might think. You were powerful enough to leave your abuser and survive the abuse – don’t underestimate how powerful you can be in thriving after it.

Copyright © 2017 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. 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.

Image by InnervisionArt. License via Shutterstock.

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, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.

3 Sneaky Techniques Covert Narcissists Use to Disarm and Demean You

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We’re all familiar with loud, bold, and overly confident overt narcissists. These types of narcissists are visibly grandiose, aggressively posturing their superiority for all to see. They may be vain and somatic, overly focused on their appearance, or they may be on the more cerebral end, contemptuously putting down anyone and everyone who threatens their so-called intellectual superiority.

Fortunately, overt narcissists are usually easy to spot and hopefully easier to avoid investing in. Covert narcissists, on the other hand, present new challenges; they can appear meek, innocent, charitable, even humble at first glance. They can be disarmingly seductive, even loving, personable and gracious.

Yet beneath their quieter nature and seemingly sensitive façade lurks a contempt and sense of entitlement that is ultimately even more harmful simply because it is so startling and traumatizing to the victims who bear witness to it. Their tactics work to diminish, demean and sabotage their victims behind the scenes – which is why their manipulation and exploitation can leave their loved ones blindsided and reeling from the unexpected psychological violence they subject them to. Here are three manipulation techniques that covert narcissists use and tips on how to stay grounded if you encounter one:

1. Mixed put-downs, double meanings and coded language.

A mixed put-down occurs when a covert narcissist is threatened by someone else’s intelligence, accomplishments, status, appearance or any other resources he or she may covet. It involves throwing the victim off the pedestal while also offering potential for getting back on it. In order to put their victims down while still evading accountability, the covert narcissist will first provide a sweet compliment, followed by a backhanded “slap” of sorts (ex. “Wow Mary, you’ve really lost weight! Too bad about the sagging skin, huh?”).

This can also occur vice versa – the narcissist may first attack with an overly critical stance, only to seemingly ‘soften’ the blow with a crumb of a compliment to create confusion in the victim (ex. “You do know you’re completely wrong about that, right? Well, you’re hardworking, at least, I’ll give you that.”). This will allow their put-down to appear more like a legitimate critique rather than an excuse to tear you down unnecessarily. It “trains” and conditions the victim over time to seek the narcissist’s approval and validation.

Covert narcissists can even get creative and send a mixed message by contradicting their seemingly innocuous words with a devious undercurrent. For example, this may include giving you a compliment with a condescending tone of voice, relaying a humorous “joke” at your expense with a contemptuous look, using a startling gesture or provocative facial expression or saying something that can easily have two meanings (one innocent, and the other, abusive). Of course, they will do everything possible to convince you that they never “meant” to communicate the more malicious meaning, but the underlying undercurrent of something deeper is always present in such an interaction.

They may also engage in what I like to call “coded” language. This can involve putting you down in front of others by poking fun at something they know you’re sensitive about, but others may not realize is a vulnerability of yours. Much like an inside joke, the knowledge of how this comment affects you is shared between you both, but unlike an inside joke, it is meant to undermine you rather than build rapport. It also serves to evoke reactions in you that may seem excessive to any outsider looking in. This is a way for them to get away with their abusive behavior and provoke the victim to react in public. They then use their victim’s reactions to prove the victim’s “instability” while casting themselves as the innocent party.

To understand why covert narcissists employ these methods, remember that their ability to prey upon a victim’s uncertainty allows them to create a sophisticated “Gaslighting Effect.” In her article, “Effects of Gaslighting in Narcissistic Victim Syndrome,”psychotherapist Christine Louis de Canonville describes how this effect is amplified over time:

“The gaslighting, as a harassment technique, starts with a series of subtle mind games that intentionally preys on the gaslightee’s limited ability to tolerate ambiguity or uncertainty. This is done in order to undercut the victim’s trust in their own reality and sense of self. Even when the victim is bewildered and left wondering, “What just happened there?”, there is reluctance to see the gaslighter for what they are…it is this denial that is the cornerstone of the gaslighting relationship.”

Essentially, the victim reduces his or her own cognitive dissonance and confusion by choosing to “believe” in the abuser’s version of events. Slowly but surely, these covert put-downs, coded messages and ambiguous comments become integrated into a warped reality that the covert manipulator creates for his or her victim. 

Tip: When encountering a put-down like this, avoid reacting to the narcissist’s hypercriticism as much as possible. Instead, validate your own accomplishments and leave the conversation as soon as possible. The more emotionally reactive you are to a put-down, the more likely the covert narcissist will store that information and use the same exact tactic again in order to provoke you. If you react to their hurtful tactics and coded language in public, rest assured they will use your reactions as “proof” that you are somehow unstable. Keep your cool in public whenever possible and if possible, address it to them in private (though, it is likely they will never own up to it) if you have to.

If you are feeling baffled as to whether or not you’ve experienced a covert put-down, compare the way the narcissist has reacted to your success to the way other, healthier people in your life have. Chances are, the healthy people in your life congratulated and celebrated you in whatever arena the narcissist is currently putting you down in. This is a sign that the narcissist’s criticism stems not from helpfulness, but rather from their pathological envy.

2. The great diversion.

The covert narcissist does whatever is possible to distract you from the fact that they are putting you down in the first place. That means that they will create all sorts of diversions to get you from staying grounded in your own sense of what has just happened. This serves to disguise their malicious intent to gain control and power over you by keeping you in a state of perpetually walking on eggshells. Instead of focusing on holding them accountable for their behavior, they get you to refocus on your own behavior, personality, or fabricated flaws.

One second, they may be making a harsh, cruel comment about your body, and the next second, they’re being disarmingly sweet and complimentary about how slender you are, as well as how you “read too deeply into things” when you express your confusion about the sudden “switch.” Another minute, they’re planning a romantic evening out with you, and the next, they’re blaming you for expecting that of them in the first place – even if it was their idea to treat you in the first place. By intermittently switching from pain to pleasure, from dissatisfaction to loving admiration, they are able to hide the fact that they’re constantly shifting blame onto you.

This is how they “divert” from the fact that they’re putting you down and setting you up for failure by constantly shifting the goal posts. It is also how they change the subject rapidly when they are confronted on their shady behavior. Phrases such as, “I am not going to argue with you,” or “This isn’t worth pursuing” is common when they are called out on their insidious tactics.  No matter what you do or don’t do, the narcissist will rarely be satisfied and you will never be satisfied by their inability to ever take responsibility.

Tip: Stay true to what you experienced and observe the long-term patterns of behavior rather than what the narcissist claims to be doing or not doing. A narcissist’s longer-term predatory behavior will tell you far more than their contradictory words ever will. When a narcissist tries to “divert” you from the main topic by pointing out something irrelevant you did or said, or tries to stonewall you by ending the conversation even before it’s had a chance to begin, repeat the facts, stay focused on the issue and end the interaction without giving into their gaslighting attempts.

3. Tunnel vision minimization.

This is when the narcissist develops “tunnel vision” by hyperfocusing on something irrelevant or unrelated to minimize something you’ve accomplished, are proud of or something they know is considered an asset of yours. If you’ve graduated with a Master’s, the covert narcissist might start demanding to know when you plan to get your Ph.D; if you recently signed the lease on your dream apartment, they might change the subject to something in your neighborhood that seems unsavory or mundane. To a narcissist, there is always a way to get under your skin and inside of your head.

The presence of minimization can usually help you identify who the narcissist is in a group setting; while others are congratulating you on a job well done, the narcissist is often lurking in the corner, sulking and ready to burst your bubble like a needle to a balloon with a backhanded compliment, excessive critique or a “helpful” obnoxious reminder of something they perceive you’re lacking.

Remember: when a covert narcissist causes you to feel insecure, uncertain and unbalanced, it is often because they don’t want to deal with their own emotional issues and the fact that they may not be as special or unique as they desperately want to believe. This is what narcissism expert Dr. Craig Malkin (2015) calls playing “emotional hot potato,” where the narcissist continually passes off any unwanted feelings onto their victims. Minimization and projection act as self-serving tactics for the narcissist to avoid the discrepancy between the grandiose, false self and the true self.

Tip: Resist the minimization and maximize your self-validation. Instead of focusing on the narcissist’s envious attempts to minimize you, refocus on the people who are celebrating you. Realize that in the narcissist’s minimization is a secret confession of their own sense of ineptitude and entitlement; they want to be exactly where you are and have what you have but they know they never will. You really are that threatening to their false sense of superiority.

Most importantly, celebrate yourself. Self-validation and self-love are two of the most powerful tools you can have when conquering the sabotage of a covert narcissist.

References

De Canonville, C. L. (2016, October). The effects of gaslighting in Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://www.narcissisticbehavior.net/the-effects-of-gaslighting-in-narcissistic-victim-syndrome/

De Canonville, C. L. (2016, September). Revealing the two faces of narcissism: Overt and covert narcissism. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://www.narcissisticbehavior.net/revealing-the-two-faces-of-narcissism-overt-and-covert-narcissism/

Hammond, C. (2016, September 06). How to Identify a Covert Narcissist. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://www.pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2016/09/how-to-identify-a-covert-narcissist/

Malkin, C. (2015, November). Rethinking Narcissism (Episode 4) [Audio blog post]. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://www.drcraigmalkin.com/podcast/DCM-Podcast-Episode-4.pdf

Photograph by Sergey Nivens. Standard License via Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared on Psych Central as 3 Sneaky Techniques Covert Narcissists Use to Disarm and Demean You on July 17, 2017.

Copyright © 2017 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. 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.

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, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.

11 Signs You’re the Victim of Narcissistic Abuse

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By Shahida Arabi

Imagine this: your entire reality has been warped and distorted. You have been mercilessly violated, manipulated, lied to, ridiculed, demeaned and gaslighted into believing that you are imagining things.  The person you thought you knew and the life you built together have been shattered into a million little fragments.

Your sense of self has been eroded, diminished. You were idealized, devalued, then shoved off the pedestal. Perhaps you were even replaced and discarded multiple times, only to be ‘hoovered’ and lured back into an abuse cycle even more torturous than before. Maybe you were relentlessly stalked, harassed and bullied to stay with your abuser.

This was no normal break-up or relationship: this was a set-up for covert and insidious murder of your psyche and sense of safety in the world. Yet there may not be visible scars to tell the tale; all you have are broken pieces, fractured memories and internal battle wounds.

This is what narcissistic abuse looks like.

Psychological violence by malignant narcissists can include verbal and emotional abuse, toxic projection, stonewalling, sabotage, smear campaigns, triangulation along with a plethora of other forms of coercion and control. This is imposed by someone who lacks empathy, demonstrates an excessive sense of entitlement and engages in interpersonal exploitation to meet their own needs at the expense of the rights of others.

As a result of chronic abuse, victims may struggle with symptoms of PTSDComplex PTSD if they had additional traumas like being abused by narcissistic parents or even what is known as “Narcissistic Victim Syndrome” (Cannonville, 2015; Staggs 2016). The aftermath of narcissistic abuse can include depression, anxiety, hypervigilance, a pervasive sense of  toxic shame, emotional flashbacks that regress the victim back to the abusive incidents, and overwhelming feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.

When we are in the midst of an ongoing abuse cycle, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what we are experiencing because abusers are able to twist and turn reality to suit their own needs, engage in intense love-bombing after abusive incidents and convince their victims that they are the ones who are abusers.

If you find yourself experiencing the eleven symptoms below and you are or have been in a toxic relationship with a partner that disrespects, invalidates and mistreats you, you may just have been terrorized by an emotional predator:

1. You experience dissociation as a survival mechanism.

You feel emotionally or even physically detached from your environment, experiencing disruptions in your memory, perceptions, consciousness and sense of self. As Dr. Van der Kolk (2015) writes in his book, The Body Keeps the Score, “Dissociation is the essence of trauma. The overwhelming experience is split off and fragmented, so that the emotions, sounds, images, thoughts and physical sensations take on a life of their own.”

Dissociation can lead to emotional numbing in the face of horrific circumstances. Mind-numbing activities, obsessions, addictions and repression may become a way of life because they give you an escape from your current reality. Your brain finds ways to emotionally block out the impact of your pain so you do not have to deal with the full terror of your circumstances.

You may also develop traumatized ‘inner parts’ that become disjointed from the personality you inhabit with your abuser or loved ones (Johnston, 2017). These inner parts can include the inner child parts that were never nurtured, the true anger and disgust you feel towards your abuser or parts of yourselves you feel you cannot express around them.

According to therapist Rev. Sheri Heller (2015), “Integrating and reclaiming dissociated and disowned aspects of the personality is largely dependent on constructing a cohesive narrative, which allows for the assimilation of emotional, cognitive, and physiological realities.” This inner integration is best done with the help of a trauma-informed therapist.

2. You walk on eggshells.

A common symptom of trauma is avoiding anything that represents reliving the trauma – whether it be people, places or activities that pose that threat. Whether it be your friend, your partner, your family member, co-worker or boss, you find yourself constantly watching what you say or do around this person lest you incur their wrath, punishment or become the object of their envy.

However, you find that this does not work and you still become the abuser’s target whenever he or she feels entitled to use you as an emotional punching bag. You become perpetually anxious about ‘provoking’ your abuser in any way and may avoid confrontation or setting boundaries as a result. You may also extend your people-pleasing behavior outside of the abusive relationship, losing your ability to be spontaneous or assertive while navigating the outside world, especially with people who resemble or are associated with your abuser and the abuse.

3. You put aside your basic needs and desires, sacrificing your emotional and even your physical safety to please the abuser.

You may have once been full of life, goal-driven and dream-oriented. Now you feel as if you are living just to fulfill the needs and agendas of another person. Once, the narcissist’s entire life seemed to revolve around you; now your entire life revolves around them. You may have placed your goals, hobbies, friendships and personal safety on the back burner just to ensure that your abuser feels ‘satisfied’ in the relationship. Of course, you soon realize that he or she will never truly be satisfied regardless of what you do or don’t do.

4. You are struggling with health issues and somatic symptoms that represent your psychological turmoil.

You may have gained or lost a significant amount of weight, developed serious health issues that did not exist prior and experienced physical symptoms of premature aging. The stress of chronic abuse has sent your cortisol levels into overdrive and your immune system has taken a severe hit, leaving you vulnerable to physical ailments and disease (Bergland, 2013). You find yourself unable to sleep or experiencing terrifying nightmares when you do, reliving the trauma through emotional or visual flashbacks that bring you back to the site of the original wounds (Walker, 2013).

5. You develop a pervasive sense of mistrust.

Every person now represents a threat and you find yourself becoming anxious about the intentions of others, especially having experienced the malicious actions of someone you once trusted. Your usual caution becomes hypervigilance. Since the narcissistic abuser has worked hard to gaslight you into believing that your experiences are invalid, you have a hard time trusting anyone, including yourself.

6. You experience suicidal ideation or self-harming tendencies.

Along with depression and anxiety may come an increased sense of hopelessness. Your circumstances feel unbearable, as if you cannot escape, even if you wanted to. You develop a sense of learned helplessness that makes you feel as if you don’t wish to survive another day. You may even engage in self-harm as a way to cope. As Dr. McKeon (2014), chief of the suicide prevention branch at SAMHSA notes, victims of intimate partner violence are twice as likely to attempt suicide multiple times. This is the way abusers essentially commit murder without a trace.

7. You self-isolate.

Many abusers isolate their victims, but victims also isolate themselves because they feel ashamed about the abuse they’re experiencing. Given the victim-blaming and misconceptions about emotional and psychological violence in society, victims may even be retraumatized by law enforcement, family members, friends and the harem members of the narcissist who might invalidate their perceptions of the abuse. They fear no one will understand or believe them, so instead of reaching out for help, they decide to withdraw from others as a way to avoid judgment and retaliation from their abuser.

8. You find yourself comparing yourself to others, often to the extent of blaming yourself for the abuse.

A narcissistic abuser is highly skilled at manufacturing love triangles or bringing another person into the dynamic of the relationship to further terrorize the victim. As a result, victims of narcissistic abuse internalize the fear that they are not enough and may constantly strive to ‘compete’ for the abuser’s attention and approval.

Victims may also compare themselves to others in happier, healthier relationships or find themselves wondering why their abuser appears to treat complete strangers with more respect. This can send them down the trapdoor of wondering, “why me?” and stuck in an abyss of self-blame. The truth is, the abuser is the person who should be blamed – you are in no way responsible for being abused.

9. You self-sabotage and self-destruct.

Victims often find themselves ruminating over the abuse and hearing the abuser’s voice in their minds, amplifying their negative self-talk and tendency towards self-sabotage. Malignant narcissists ‘program’ and condition their victims to self-destruct – sometimes even to the point of driving them to suicide.

Due to the narcissist’s covert and overt put-downs, verbal abuse and hypercriticism, victims develop a tendency to punish themselves because they carry such toxic shame. They may sabotage their goals, dreams and academic pursuits. The abuser has instilled in them a sense of worthlessness and they begin to believe that they are undeserving of good things.

10. You fear doing what you love and achieving success.

Since many pathological predators are envious of their victims, they punish them for succeeding. This conditions their victims to associate their joys, interests, talents and areas of success with cruel and callous treatment. This conditioning gets their victims to fear success lest they be met with reprisal and reprimand.

As a result, victims become depressed, anxious, lack confidence and they may hide from the spotlight and allow their abusers to ‘steal’ the show again and again. Realize that your abuser is not undercutting your gifts because they truly believe you are inferior; it is because those gifts threaten their control over you.

11. You protect your abuser and even ‘gaslight’ yourself.

Rationalizing, minimizing and denying the abuse are often survival mechanisms for victims in an abusive relationship. In order to reduce the cognitive dissonance that erupts when the person who claims to love you mistreats you, victims of abuse convince themselves that the abuser is really not ‘all that bad’ or that they must have done something to ‘provoke’ the abuse.

It is important to reduce this cognitive dissonance in the other direction by reading up on the narcissistic personality and abuse tactics; this way, you are able to reconcile your current reality with the narcissist’s false self by recognizing that the abusive personality, not the charming facade, is their true self.

Remember that an intense trauma bond is often formed between victim and abuser because the victim is ‘trained’ to rely on the abuser for his or her survival (Carnes, 2015). Victims may protect their abusers from legal consequences, portray a happy image of the relationship on social media or overcompensate by ‘sharing the blame’ of the abuse.

I’ve been narcissistically abused. Now what?

If you are currently in an abusive relationship of any kind, know that you are not alone even if you feel like you are. There are millions of survivors all over the world who have experienced what you have.  This form of psychological torment is not exclusive to any gender, culture, social class or religion. The first step is becoming aware of the reality of your situation and validating it – even if your abuser attempts to gaslight you into believing otherwise.

If you can, journal about the experiences you have been going through to begin acknowledging the realities of the abuse. Share the truth with a trusted mental health professional, domestic violence advocates, family members, friends or fellow survivors. Begin to ‘heal’ your body through modalities like trauma-focused yoga and mindfulness meditation, two practices that target the same parts of the brain often affected by trauma (van der Kolk, 2015).

Reach out for help if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, especially suicidal ideation. Consult a trauma-informed counselor who understands and can help guide you through the symptoms of trauma. Make a safety plan if you have concerns about your abuser getting violent.

It is not easy to leave an abusive relationship due to the intense trauma bonds that can develop, the effects of trauma and the pervasive sense of helplessness and hopelessness that can form as a result of the abuse. Yet you have to know that it is in fact possible to leave and to begin the journey to No Contact or Low Contact in the cases of co-parenting. Recovery from this form of abuse is challenging, but it is well worth paving the path back to freedom and putting the pieces back together.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, be sure to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at  1−800−799−7233.

References

Bergland, C. (2013, January 22). Cortisol: Why “The Stress Hormone” is public enemy no. 1. Retrieved August 21, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1

Clay, R. A. (2014). Suicide and intimate partner violence. Monitor on Psychology, 45(10), 30. Retrieved August 21, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/11/suicide-violence.aspx

Canonville, C. L. (2015). Narcissistic Victim Syndrome: What the heck is that? Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://narcissisticbehavior.net/the-effects-of-gaslighting-in-narcissistic-victim-syndrome/

Carnes, P. (2015). Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships. Health Communications, Incorporated.

Heller, S. (2015, February 18). Complex PTSD and the realm of dissociation. Retrieved August 21, 2017, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/complex-ptsd-and-the-realm-of-dissociation/006907.html

Johnston, M. (2017, April 05). Working with our inner Parts. Retrieved August 21, 2017, from https://majohnston.wordpress.com/working-with-our-inner-parts/

Staggs, S. (2016). Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/complex-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/

Staggs, S. (2016). Symptoms & Diagnosis of PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-and-diagnosis-of-ptsd/

Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. London: Penguin Books.

Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving. Lafayette, CA: Azure Coyote.

Image by lpedan. Licensed via Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared on Psych Central as 11 Signs You’re the Victim of Narcissistic Abuse on August 21, 2017.

Copyright © 2017 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. 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.

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, The Huffington Post, MOGUL, The Meadows, Thought Catalog and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website.

5 Powerful Reality Checks for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse

Read on Thought Catalog: 5 Powerful Reality Checks for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse

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Photo Credit: Hammonton Photography. Creative Commons License via Flickr.

In my new article, I tackle five myths that survivors of narcissistic abuse are likely to encounter on their healing journey. These include:

1. The idea that malignant narcissists can change and that couples therapy can help them.
2.  The illusion of the narcissist ‘changing’ with the new victim.
3. The myth that all narcissists suffer from low self-esteem and do not know what they’re doing.
4. The harmful advice to prematurely forgive before one is ready or willing.
5. The myth that we can spiritually bypass our emotions on the road to healing.

You can read the full article on Thought Catalog. 

I hope you find these five reality checks helpful and validating. Remember to trust yourself during this process and extend your compassion to yourselves.

Copyright © 2017 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. This article is derived from copyrighted excerpts from my book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying YourselfNo 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.

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