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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

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6 Secrets The Narcissist Hopes You Never Learn

 

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

By Shahida Arabi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Your indifference is their kryptonite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

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

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

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

Five Ways We Rationalize Abuse And Why We Need To Stop

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By Shahida Arabi

A common abusive tactic is gaslighting the victim into thinking the abuse they are suffering isn’t real. By casting doubt onto the victim’s sanity and perceptions of the abuse, the abuser is then able to distort and manipulate the victim into thinking that the abuse didn’t exist or that it wasn’t abuse at all.

Another painful aspect of this gaslighting effect as well as the effects of trauma is that we begin to rationalize, deny and minimize the impact of the abuse in an effort to survive a hostile, toxic environment. We essentially begin ‘gaslighting’ ourselves and blaming ourselves for the abuse, though certainly not with the same intent or awareness as our abusers.

I want to emphasize that this is not your fault, but rather a common reaction to enduring and having to survive severe trauma. Here are five ways we rationalize abusive behavior that we can all be more mindful of, moving forward. These are not only relevant to survivors of abuse, but also society as a whole to remember, in order to combat victim-blaming.

1. “Well, I am not perfect either.” A popular misconception is that one has to be perfect in order to gain respect and decency. There is no excuse for any form of abuse, period. If you are a non-abusive person who is capable of empathy, there is especially no excuse for a person to verbally, emotionally, or physically violate you in any way, regardless of your flaws.

Many survivors of abuse have been accused of being too sensitive, too clingy, too much of everything – this has caused them to excessively look inward for someone to blame rather than seeing the true culprit. The abuser works very hard to implant false insecurities as well as exaggerate existing ones; they continually blameshift to make everything the victim’s fault. There are plenty of imperfect people in the world who have loving partners, friends and family members. These people don’t have to meet some fictitious criteria for perfection to be worthy of respect and decency. Neither should you.

If you don’t quite believe this yet, think about the most caring, empathic person you know who has ended up in a toxic relationship with an abuser. Didn’t that same abuser still reap the benefits of having such a wonderful partner? Why is it that an abuser gets to be with such a warm, loving person and you, a nonabusive, albeit imperfect person, has to settle for abuse? The truth is, you don’t. No one is perfect – and considering your abuser is probably condescending, filled with rage, contempt and a lack of empathy, he or she is especially not one to talk about imperfection.

2. “Now he/she is being sweet. They’re back to normal.” Don’t mistake saccharine sweetness for authentic change. There is a difference between a non-abusive person taking responsibility and an abusive one who lacks empathy; the latter often takes responsibility without making any concrete changes. If a loved one who has otherwise been respectful has done something wrong that is out of character, has taken responsibility and worked to repair the relationship, this is different than the abuse cycle with an abuser who is unwilling to change.

A person who has empathy and can take accountability for their actions is not normally unpredictable; they are fairly consistent in their behavior. They don’t go out of their way to manipulate, berate and demean you at every and any opportunity. They can place themselves in your shoes and understand the rules of basic decency and respect. Abusers undermine these very rules by acting as if ‘respect’ is a relative term that can be reframed to suit their own agenda.

Consider that the abuser’s ‘normal’ is not the kind, charming person they presented in the beginning of the relationship – the ‘normal’ in an abusive relationship is the unpredictable, hurtful person who leaves you walking on eggshells, has no problem prioritizing their comfort over your pain, and regularly gains pleasure from controlling and demeaning you.

The abuse cycle relies on hot and cold, mean and sweet behavior, which means nice actions after an abusive incident cannot be taken at face value, but rather as embedded in a chronic pattern of behavior. According to domestic violence specialist, Dr. Clare Murphy, ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ abusers deliberately switch masks at the drop of a hat to simultaneously punish and comfort you. This cycle of intermittent emotional battery and resolution keeps us traumatically and biochemically bonded to them.

The abuser knows you will use this rationalization to excuse his or her abusive behavior, so they ensure that their apologies, pity ploys, or their ability to revert back to the false self make you second-guess your perceptions so they can win you over once again. It’s all a ploy to get you back into the abuse cycle so they can mistreat you all over again.  Remember to keep in mind all of the abuser’s actions up until this point, before you begin feeding into false hopes. Documenting and writing down accounts of the abuse can be helpful in keeping you grounded about what has occurred.

3. “They reached out to me after I set boundaries, so that must mean they miss me.” A recent study revealed that narcissistic exes are likely to reconnect with their past partners for convenience and pleasure, not because they miss them or truly want them back in their lives. When an abuser reaches out to a survivor after the relationship has already ended, this is known as “hoovering,” where, like a Hoover vacuum, the abuser attempts to suck the victim back into the traumatic vortex of the relationship. In “The Hoover Maneuver: The Dirty Secret of Emotional Abuse,” therapist Andrea Schneider, LCSW notes that for abusers, hoovering enables the abuser to regain control over the status quo of the relationship.

For malignant narcissists, hoovering is not about the fact that they miss their former victims who they once devalued – it’s about re-idealizing past flames so they can continue to keep them as permanent members of their harem for whenever they’re lacking in narcissistic supply. When you’re being hoovered, you’re essentially being manipulated, not missed or pined for.

4. “They’re just under a lot of stress.” Think about a time when your abuser was very stressed – whether at work or due to other extenuating circumstances. Did they lash out at people like their boss, their harem members or at complete strangers? Did they make a scene in public and humiliate themselves? Did they risk losing their jobs, their public reputation or the shallow friendships with people who believed in their facade due to their seemingly ‘uncontrollable’ rage?

Or did they come home to you and use you as an emotional (or even physical) punching bag behind closed doors? If you were involved with a covert narcissistic abuser, it’s likely that you experienced the latter. See, abusers ‘select’ who they feel safe revealing their abusive behavior to. They know that their loved ones, who are  heavily invested in them and emotionally bonded to them, will be more likely to protect and defend them, even if they are the victims of the abuse, because victims tend to be traumatically bonded to their abusers. They feel a great deal of power and control being able to unleash their fury onto their victims – without as many repercussions.

Keep in mind that survivors of some of the worst traumas, such as domestic violence, undergo a great deal of stress and the traumatic impact of the abuse has a direct impact on their mind, body and spirit. Yet many of them, with the right tools and resources, as well as professional support, manage to not use their trauma as an excuse to abuse others. In fact, their experiences often ensure that they become extra vigilant about their behavior, in an effort to avoid hurting anyone in the way they’ve been hurt.

The bottom line? We all have stress in our lives. Many of us have undergone trauma that is unimaginable, including being children of narcissistic parents. Some of us may act out or lash out occasionally, or still have trouble managing our triggers from time to time. It doesn’t make us abusive, especially if we take accountability and have taken steps to improve our behavior. However, chronic abusers will use their trauma background as an excuse to be abusive, rather than using that energy to improve their behavior. This differentiates the manipulative abuser from the traumatized survivor. At the end of the day, unless we’re experiencing severe psychosis, the choice to abuse is still always a choice and we are still accountable for it.

Abusers who are aware enough to switch from their abusive behavior to their false mask quickly when there is a witness can choose to change their behavior – as evidenced by their false, charming behavior in the early stages of relationships – they simply choose not to.

5. “I found myself reacting to the abuse, so I must have asked for it.” The myth of mutual abuse is one that even the National Domestic Violence Hotline dispels. It is, for the most part, still a myth. There is often a clear power imbalance between victim and abuser. The abuser is the one who erodes the victim’s identity, beliefs, goals, and dreams, while the survivor becomes increasingly diminished and demeaned. Survivors may exhibit maladaptive reactions to the abuse over time, but there are also plenty of ‘normal’ reactions to abuse that are simply symptoms of trauma. Many survivors may feel confused about talking back to their abuser or feeling bouts of rage, but the truth is that when a victim has been chronically traumatized, it is irrational not to assume that this will have an impact on their behavior or emotional well-being.

Know this: if you are being abused, it’s normal to feel angry and hurt. These are normal, human emotions that arise due to being mistreated – and as many have noted, normal reactions to heinously abnormal and dysfunctional behavior. These emotions are signals that tell you that something is very wrong. It’s important that if you are being abused, you release some of the self-blame and refocus on how you can emotionally detach and safely leave your abuser. The abuse was not and never will be your fault. 

This article was first posted on Thought Catalog on December 16, 2016.

Copyright © 2016 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.

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The Complex Trauma Survivor Faces a Lifetime’s Worth of Bullying

I am so honored and excited to have an article featured on The Meadows blog, a trusted name in trauma and addiction recovery. As one of the premier drug rehab and psychological trauma treatment centers in the country, they help change the lives of individuals through The Meadows Model, 12-step practices, and the holistic healing of mind, body and spirit. To read the rest of the article, click here.

The Complex Trauma Survivor Faces a Lifetime’s Worth of Bullying

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Photo Credit: Vortexas32 via Flickr. Creative Commons License.

By Shahida Arabi, M.A., Author

“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 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 is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she reencounters the trauma.”
– Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Violence to Political Terror

Complex trauma survivors face a dilemma that very few can fathom: they are forced to confront present-day stressors while attempting to resolve triggers from the past. These layers upon layers of trauma take courage, support and time to unravel. The healing journey of a complex trauma survivor who has several sources of toxic stress is multifaceted. Their day to day reality is filled with tiny terrors embedded within larger cracks in the psychological war zone that is their psyche.

Survivors of bullying and other traumas face a double bind: not only are they oppressed by their peers, they are often oppressed by family members, authority figures and other life circumstances. When bullying is also supplemented with other microaggressions or tumultuous life events, the trauma is undeniably more forceful in its impact. What happens when the child is bullied at both school and the home, both meant to be safe places? What sort of effects linger far beyond childhood, when not only peers but also parental figures simultaneously terrorize the victim? Or what about the impact of chronic, severe bullying – a form of bullying which occurs for years across the child’s entire school career, rather than short-term?

READ THE REST ON THE MEADOWS BLOG.

Dear Abuser: I am the Revolution You Never Expected

By Shahida Arabi

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Photo Credit: Photo CC-BY Gisela Giardino. Modified.

Who am I?

I’ll tell you who I am.

I am the light you tried to strangle, the light you tried to stifle in your chokehold

but my light bled all over the pages of your book, your preconceived narratives,

your filthy words and your attempts to bring terror

back into the blank space of my eyes.

Who am I?

I’ll tell you who I am.

I birthed revolution in my bones like the many women that came before me

I ignited flames beneath my skin, using the fiery spirits of women who walked beside me

as matches; we breathed fire into each other’s hearts

until the world could see us

and from the ashes we were reborn.

Who am I?

I’ll tell you who I am.

I am the fear in your hatred, the pain that you tried to use to violate my sacred

spaces, rip me apart until I was nothing, but I knew I would always be

something, somebody, and now I am.

I am layers and layers of the love and power that act as your kryptonite,

and with the words and actions of all those who rose with me,

I’ll build an impenetrable wall.

Who am I?

I am the thing that nightmarish people have nightmares about

wake up sweating about, thinking about —

their furrowed brows tense with self-doubt —

wondering if I and the other warriors I march with

could ever come back to life.

Who am I?

I am the restless rebel you tried to bury,

the one you tried to pull out by the root and eradicate

when she began to grow from the seed.

Who am I?

I’ll tell you who I am.

I am the girl you left for dead

thinking she’d always fall and never rise again.

I am the girl you cut with your razorblade wrath,

the girl you thought would never fight back.

I am the girl you underestimated, the woman you tormented, the child whose shackles you tightened.

Who am I?

I think you already know –

I think you understand.

I am the prisoner you tried to cage, the little girl you made afraid –

I am the woman who never gave up, the one who exposed your charade —

who am I? I am everything and anything that you will stand against

to try to regain control.

For every source of darkness, there is a bleeding soul,

one that shines so brightly that the entire war zone

becomes illuminated.

I am the truth, your karma, the revolt —

I am the resistance, the pieces you tried to keep shattered,

coming back together again.

I emerge quietly, but I resound loudly —

reverberate through your skin.

My power was never yours, and it was never yours to take

Who am I?

I am the second coming,

of everything and everyone                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          you tried to break.

Copyright © 2016 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 a signed copy of my new poetry collection for survivors, She Who Destroys the Light: Fairy Tales Gone Wrong, here.

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7 Spiritual Ideas That Enable Abuse and Shame the Victim

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7 Spiritual Ideas That Enable Abuse and Shame the Victim by Shahida Arabi
Spirituality can be a beautiful thing, a healing balm for the hurting trauma survivor. I believe as survivors we all have a right to our unique beliefs and faith. Yet there are some spiritual beliefs and principles that, when taken too far, can be distorted to blame or shame victims of abuse or other forms of trauma, proving harmful and limiting to the healing journey. It’s important to shed light on spiritual frameworks that may hinder or impede a survivor’s journey to authentic healing and can perpetuate a larger victim-shaming discourse in society. Here are seven spiritual philosophies that can be misused to blame the victim and enable abuse.
1. The idea that there is no separation. Spiritual gurus like to promote the idea that we are all “one.” This is true to some extent: we are all humans, having a similar experience of consciousness, living in an interconnected world. What affects one, will inevitably affect another (unless they are protected from the effects by a bubble of privilege). Yet the idea that abuser and victim are “one” tends to minimize and deny the reality of the abuser’s pathological behavior, which makes them far less united with the rest of humanity and society as a whole. The truth is, while we are all interconnected, abusers rarely have any respect for that sacred interconnectedness; they are more prone to being divisive and hateful to bolster their false sense of superiority, their selfish agendas and their lack of empathy or compassion for anyone other than themselves. They pose incredible harm to their loved ones as well as the larger society.
The abuser makes himself or herself distinct and separate from the victim by engaging in horrific acts of emotional, psychological and physical violence. When used to excuse the abuser, this philosophy outright denies the fact that some abusers have no ability to empathize or show remorse for their behavior, which is a large part of what makes us human. This philosophy can be exploited to justify horrific assaults on the victim’s identity and erosion of beliefs, urging him or her to reconcile with the abuser under the idea that we must treat the abuser like everyone else, like ourselves, rather than a perpetrator who needs to be held accountable for their actions.
2. Our pain is an illusion, created by our ‘dysfunctional’ thinking. We’ve all heard this one, especially in new age spiritual frameworks. In this scenario, we are the creators of our own pain due to erroneous thoughts, because “love is all that ever exists.” Yet true love rarely exists within an abusive relationship (unless it’s coming from the victim), and our perceptions of the abuse are not simply due to erroneous thinking – they are due to egregiously damaging acts of mental and physical violence…

READ THE REST ON THOUGHT CATALOG.

Should We ‘Forgive’ Our Abusers?

DANIEL ROCAL VIA FLICKR. Creative Commons License.

“Forgiveness” is a bit of a controversial issue in the abuse survivor community. Some survivors feel that forgiveness is a necessary part of the healing journey, while others adamantly feel that forgiveness should remain a personal choice, not a necessity. By no means am I underplaying the potential benefits of forgiveness, which include health benefits. I am not minimizing or invalidating the fact that forgiveness may serve as a healing balm for some survivors.

What I am countering is this idea that forgiveness is the one and only route of healing for all survivors, in all circumstances. 

The traditional definition of forgiveness is “to give up resentment of,” to “cease to feel resentment against an offender,” or to “grant relief for a debt.” While it may not be healthy to hold onto resentment for long periods of time, it is just as, if not more unhealthy to repress feelings of anger, resentment and outrage – all emotions that arise naturally due to trauma – simply to please other people.

Trauma therapist Pete Walker says that acknowledging and confronting our feelings of anger is actually essential to the healing and grieving process. What complicates this scenario is that the survivor is often asked to “let it go” and “forgive and forget” prematurely – much earlier than they are ready or willing to do either.

Forgiveness – when it genuinely arises, not as a forced, premature act – can provide lovely, healing relief on one’s recovery journey. However, the type of forgiveness that benefits the survivor is usually granted by the survivor’s own free will and usually after processing much trauma. And we cannot deny the fact that some survivors are more empowered by their choice to not forgive, yet move forward regardless. Each journey is unique and different.

FOR SURVIVORS, FORGIVENESS IS OFTEN USED AS A WEAPON AGAINST THEM.

Spiritual philosophies often encourage forgiveness as an act of grace that promotes harmony, yet disregard that for some survivors, it can provide the abuser more relief than the abuse victim. While reconciliation is not a necessary part of forgiveness, there are survivors who do reconcile with their abusers after forgiving them in the abuse cycle. Yet a common refrain from those who push others to forgive prematurely is the idea that, “Forgiveness is not about the other person, it is about you.” If that is the case, survivors should be able to choose whether or not they want to forgive. After all, if it really is about the survivor, why police their journey or assume you know what is the best for them?

What those who preach “forgive and forget” often dismiss is how the concept of forgiveness has been used against abuse victims  throughout the abuse cycle as a weapon to manipulate them into staying in the abusive relationship. They have already been guilted into forgiving the abuser against their will time and time again as they became increasingly traumatized by their abuser. They are then retraumatized by a society that urges them to show “compassion” for their abusers with no acknowledgement of the damaging effects of abuse.

We have to remember that resentment that arises from being mistreated is a legitimate emotion and that emotional flashbacks can retrigger the victim back into the same sense of powerlessness and helplessness they felt from so long ago. Many survivors struggling with PTSD or Complex PTSD are not afforded the choice to simply “let go” of their trauma or genuinely forgive their abusers. For many survivors, “forgiving” their abuser feels wrong and ultimately retraumatizing.

Forgiveness towards a perpetrator who is not remorseful in any way for his or her actions, sometimes even sadistically happy because of them, can also be retraumatizing. People disregard the fact that for some survivors, forgiveness cannot be granted without the other person genuinely expressing remorse for their transgressions and taking actions to actively repair what has occurred, to ensure that this behavior does not occur again. Most abusers, especially those on the malignant end of the spectrum, are not capable of or unwilling to commit to such long-term change.

Some survivors of sexual abuse, for example, benefit from being permitted not to forgive. Forgiveness is the survivor’s choice and should be on their timeline – if and when the survivor chooses to forgive.

FORGIVENESS AND SPIRITUAL FRAMEWORKS

Abusers may use religion and spiritual frameworks against their victims to gaslight them into believing that the abuse needs to be forgiven and that not forgiving the abuser is evidence of the victim’s lack of compassion. Nothing could be further from the truth – in the words of domestic violence survivor Brooke Axtell, if your compassion does not include self-compassion, it is ultimately incomplete. Spiritual abuse can warp our ideas of forgiveness, and get us stuck in FOG (fear, obligation, guilt) about holding our abusers accountable or leaving them for the sake of our own self-care. Abusers learn quickly that if we do believe in forgiveness, we may be more susceptible to allowing them back into our lives after abusive incidents.

Although people may say forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean that we condone the abuser’s actions, that is how abusers will twist forgiveness to fit their agenda, so they will continue to perpetuate the falsehood that forgiving and forgetting is a sign of our character or morality to ensure that the victim is ensnared into the traumatic cycle of abuse once more.

Even if the forgiveness is simply for ourselves, not our abusers, it should still be the survivor’s choice – because that is the point of it, right? To make the journey more liberating for the survivor – yet this form of release and relief cannot come without processing the trauma and it certainly will feel like a prison if it is seen as an obligation, rather than an act of free will. There are some survivors who benefit from forgiving authentically after doing much needed healing work, while other survivors heal without the need to forgive their abusers. Every survivor’s journey is different and should be respected, not policed.

Ultimately what many survivors find is that processing the trauma, with all of its authentic emotions, is far more healing than a fabricated forgiveness that only serves to sweep the trauma under the rug. If a survivor does choose to forgive, it must be by his or her own choice – a choice that is made not due to the scrutiny of a society that prefers abuse victims to remain silent and dissociate from their trauma, but through their own free will, with an understanding of how to actively validate the pain suffered and its effects. 

OUR CHOICES SHOULD BE RESPECTED, NOT JUDGED.

Forgiveness can be a natural part of the healing process for a survivor after they’ve processed their emotions. But, it also doesn’t have to be, as each survivor is different, with different circumstances. And, it doesn’t make one a narcissist or lacking in compassion to not grant forgiveness – even those with great empathy, in horrific circumstances, may choose instead to not forgive, yet move forward peacefully with their lives. Constructive healing does not always have to include forgiveness.

IF WE DO CHOOSE TO FORGIVE, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

If you do choose to forgive, make sure your self-care is still a priority. Although the abuse cycle may have conditioned you to feel otherwise, forgiveness does not require reconciliation with our abusers. In fact, reconciliation along with forgiveness only serves to make survivors feel more powerless and anxious.

Forgiving someone also does not mean we cannot be proactive about gaining justice: it does not mean we cannot take legal action, stand up to our abusers or hold them accountable for their actions. We can’t allow perpetrators to get away with injustice because of a limited perspective of what forgiveness means or entails, as this limited point of view only serves to enable abusers and protect them from the legal consequences of their actions.

FORGIVENESS AND THERAPY

I have heard amazing stories from survivors who’ve had validating, trauma-informed therapists who informed them that forgiveness was their personal choice, not a necessity in the healing journey. However, you may have encountered a few professionals or so-called experts who think forgiveness is the only way to healing and may urge you to “let” your trauma go.

I think therapists who say these things verge on being unprofessional and unethical, as well as ill-informed on the effects of trauma. I find that there are unfortunately some therapists who simply do not get it and unintentionally retraumatize trauma victims in the process. There are even professionals who are narcissistic themselves or identify with the abuser in some way, so they will intentionally invalidate the victim to have more power and control over their clients. They may be projecting their own unprocessed trauma onto other victims, as a way to resolve their own internal chaos.

There are, however, thankfully many validating, trauma-informed professionals out there who do know not to ever compare one person’s journey to another and who know not to force forgiveness onto their clients…and every survivor deserves support such as this.

The bottom line? What is healing for one survivor may not be healing for another. It is everyone’s own journey to take and we should not micromanage another person’s journey. If forgiveness has helped you to move forward, all the more power to you. If forgiveness is not part of your healing journey, that is perfectly okay too. If you’re uncertain, embrace the uncertainty and know that what is important is learning to do what is best for you, while still validating your emotions and the trauma that you endured.

During the abuse cycle, your choices were taken away from you. This time, you get to make the choice – don’t let society, your abuser, or myths about what forgiveness means – take that away from you.


Learn how to empower yourself after narcissistic abuse. Get my #1 Amazon bestselling book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare. Available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, NOOK, iBooks and other major online retailers. It is available in paperback, as an e-book and as an Audible book.

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40 Quotes to Help You Heal from Narcissistic Abuse

Thought.is started a new site all about quotes.  Check out Quote Catalog and my quote collection on narcissistic abuse, 40 Quotes About Dating a Narcissist That Will Help You Heal Your Trauma.

The truth is, a victim of abuse rarely consciously ‘chooses’ to be in an abusive relationship – often, they ‘choose’ a partner who treats them very well in the beginning – the false mask that the abuser portrays. When the victim is sufficiently hooked into the relationship and invested, that is when the tide turns, the false mask slips, and the terror begins. Tiny red flags become tidal waves, inconspicuous molehills become monstrous mountains. The victim’s choice to stay within the relationship may not be a choice led by agency, but by fear, the effects of trauma, by the erosion of their own identity, even by the threat of violence or the presence of children. There are many complicated factors that go into the choice of leaving or staying, and it doesn’t help that survivors struggle to gain support from a society that silences, shames and blames them for being abused in the first place.’

5 Ways We Rationalize Abuse and Why We Need to Stop

Read the rest on Thought Catalog.

Five Ways We Rationalize Abuse and Why We Need to Stop by Shahida Arabi:

A common abusive tactic is gaslighting the victim into thinking the abuse they are suffering isn’t real. By casting doubt onto the victim’s sanity and perceptions of the abuse, the abuser is then able to distort and manipulate the victim into thinking that the abuse didn’t exist or that it wasn’t abuse at all.

Another painful aspect of this gaslighting effect as well as the effects of trauma is that we begin to rationalize, deny and minimize the impact of the abuse in an effort to survive a hostile, toxic environment. We essentially begin ‘gaslighting’ ourselves and blaming ourselves for the abuse, though certainly not with the same intent or awareness as our abusers.

I want to emphasize that this is not your fault, but rather a common reaction to enduring and having to survive severe trauma. Here are five ways we rationalize abusive behavior that we can all be more mindful of, moving forward. These are not only relevant to survivors of abuse, but also society as a whole to remember, in order to combat victim-blaming.

1. “Well, I am not perfect either.” A popular misconception is that one has to be perfect in order to gain respect and decency. There is no excuse for any form of abuse, period. If you are a non-abusive person who is capable of empathy, there is especially no excuse for a person to verbally, emotionally, or physically violate you in any way, regardless of your flaws. Many survivors of abuse have been accused of being too sensitive, too clingy, too much of everything – this has caused them to excessively look inward for someone to blame rather than seeing the true culprit. The abuser works very hard to implant false insecurities as well as exaggerate existing ones; they continually blameshift to make everything the victim’s fault. There are plenty of imperfect people in the world who have loving partners, friends and family members. These people don’t have to meet some fictitious criteria for perfection to be worthy of respect and decency. Neither should you.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare is Now on Audible

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I was very excited  when Audible reached out to me to ask if they could make an audiobook for Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare. Many of my readers suffer from PTSD or Complex PTSD and have told me that reading large blocks of text can be a struggle for them. Now, the Audible version of the book has been released for pre-order. I am even more excited to announce that they chose Julie McKay, who has narrated some of my favorite books, to narrate the book.

I hope that this Audible version helps in making the material much more accessible for users. You can pre-order the Audible version here and I have also attached an audio excerpt to the end of this blog post.

Pre-order the Audible version here.

Get this audiobook free when you try Audible.

**Please note that the beginning quote of the excerpt is from a survivor, and I personally believe we can be both victims and survivors. There is, and never will be, shame in being a victim. We can be victorious without shaming our victimization.

A Letter to Survivors

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While I normally don’t write about politics on this blog, if you have voted for someone who has promised to take away my rights as well as the rights of countless other people, the political becomes personal. The personal is political, and malignant narcissism in politics has never been at such a height as it is now.

I want to extend a message of hope for those of you who are currently struggling with the results of this year’s presidential election. Your race, your religion, your sexuality, your gender, your immigration status, your disability status, your survivor status – all deserve to be respected. You have rights and they deserve to be respected. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that there would have been an “equal” outcome regardless of which presidential candidate was chosen – because we all know there was only one presidential candidate who promoted racism, homophobia, misogyny, sexual assault and xenophobia at such an alarming level, and he has now been elected into office.

Don’t believe me? Read what a licensed therapist who works with survivors of narcissistic abuse has to say about the two candidates in “It’s Not a Democrat or Republican Thing, It’s a Human Rights Thing.”

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I am sorry if any privilege blinds you to the fact that the other candidate, regardless of any flaws or transgressions, would’ve been far better for women of color, Muslims, LGBTW communities, undocumented communities, disabled communities – but those are the facts. If you struggle to see this, please try to acknowledge your privilege and realize that your vote had a devastating impact on those who are already disadvantaged.

During this tumultuous time, I ask that you no longer be silent or ashamed about the facets of your identity that others will want you to eradicate. I ask you to fight, not just for yourself but for others. I ask that you see beyond any privilege you may have to consider the impact of hatred and discrimination upon those who are less privileged. I ask that you continue to build a world that you would feel both your sons and your daughters would feel safe to live in. Because the world America just chose? Is not safe for anyone.

I ask that you remember that the rights of immigrants, LGBTQ communities, Muslims, people of color, disabled people, and survivors of sexual assault all matter too. No matter who you are or where you come from, I ask that you never stop fighting for the rights of others. I ask that you never stop fighting for yourself. Even in the darkest of times, even in the most trying of circumstances, I ask you to not remain silent for the sake of your oppressors. I ask that you not be the oppressor.

I ask that you be the liberator, to lend a hand to the voiceless when they need it, to give strength and comfort to those who are in pain. Our hearts may be breaking but our spirits remain intact. In unity, in respect for diversity, in teaching our children to be proud about who they are and who they may become, to be respectful of the backgrounds of others – that is how we can rise again from the devastation.

Narcissists, whether in relationships or in office, remind us yet again that what we have to fight for. What is important. What we deserve. What we are worthy of. In love and light, I hope today you remember why your rights and the rights of others are so important and why your voice is so needed. Never stop fighting. Never give in. Never give up.

In love and light,

Shahida

Resources for Self-Care Post-Election:

Reeling in the Aftermath of the Election: Self-Care for Emotional Evisceration of the Worst Kind (i.e. Trauma) by Andrea Schneider, LCSW

Self-Care Tips for Those Terrified of Trump’s Presidency by Karen Attiah

20+ Resources to Help You Process The Election by Sandra Kim

How to Cope With Post-Election Stress by Julie Beck

After a Divided Election: The Value and Limits of Mindfulness by Oren J. Sofer

Further Reading to Understand the Impact:

Day 1 in Donald Trump’s America

Countless Acts of Hate Have Been Carried Out Since Trump’s Win

Why We Are Afraid

Today, Some People’s Fear Is More Urgent

What You Can Do:

Sign the Petition to the Electoral College to Make Hillary Clinton President

Organizations You Can Donate To

5 Things You Can Do to Fight Proposed Policy Plans of the President Elect

The Safety Pin Movement

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