Tag Archives: abusive relationships

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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Breaking the Codependency Myth: The Power of the Trauma Bond

Breaking the Codependency Myth: The Power of The Trauma Bond by Shahida Arabi

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“Free” by Alice Popkorn via Flickr. Creative Commons License.
Ever had a victim-blamer claim you were “codependent”? That you in some way deserved the abuse, or that it was your fault? Let them know: codependency was a term historically used to describe interactions between addicts and their loved ones, not victims and abusers. Dr. Clare Murphy asserts that abuse victims can actually exhibit codependent traits as a result of trauma, not because they are codependent.
Contrary to popular myth, anyone can be victimized by an abuser – even one with strong boundaries initially, because covert abuse is insidious and unbelievably traumatic, resulting in symptoms of PTSD, Complex PTSD or, if they were abused by a malignant narcissist, what is known as Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. Remember that abuse involves a slow erosion of boundaries over time. The abuser first idealizes the victim, then begins to test and push the boundaries of the victim once he or she has already been conned into the sham of a relationship. Meanwhile, the survivor of abuse is like a frog in slowly boiling water, gaslit into believing that it is all their fault, not knowing the danger they’re in until it’s too late.

In some contexts, it may be helpful to pinpoint codependent traits and behaviors, but when the label codependent is used to shame, stigmatize or blame abuse survivors, it becomes very problematic and harmful. We need to be able to take into account the idea that emotional and psychological abuse, much like assault or any other form of physical violence, is not our fault. We can own our agency and heal without having to blame ourselves in the process. The fault lies with the perpetrator, not with the victim.

It is not the victim’s fault for ‘choosing’ the abuser either, because victims rarely consciously choose an abuser.  They choose someone who appears rather kind, caring and compassionate at the onset. The victim falls in love and invests in the false mask an abuser portrays, and rarely the true self. It is only when they are invested in the relationship that the mask begins to slip and the terror begins.

Once someone has been traumatized, again and again by someone who claimed to love them, once an abuser has warped the victim’s reality and caused him or to mistrust their perceptions through gaslighting, once a victim has been made to believe he or she is worthless, they are already traumatically bonded to their abusers. It takes a great deal of professional support, validation and resources in order for victims to detach from their abusers and begin to heal.

There is only one person who can “control” the abuse, and that is the abuser alone. There is a great deal of variety within the survivor group and we have to acknowledge that there are many survivors who come into the abusive relationship very independent, strong-willed, and empathic, but their strengths are exploited, manipulated and slowly broken down by the abuser over time. It doesn’t matter how codependent or how independent we are, because abusers will abuse their victims regardless – that is their nature. In fact, they would probably enjoy the challenge if a victim was independent, as sick as they are.

When it comes to living in a perpetual war zone of intermittent kindness and chronic cruelty, there is no ‘enabling’ of the abuse, merely a need to survive in a hostile environment. There is a clear power imbalance between abuser and victim as the abuser ‘manages down’ the victim’s expectations, threatens, controls, coerces, blameshifts and projects onto the victim his or her own vile attributes. As the victim is verbally abused, psychologically terrorized and emotionally assaulted, he or she has to find ways to minimize, rationalize, deny and ‘bond’ with the abuser in an effort to survive.

This is a survival mechanism known as ‘trauma bonding,’ and victim-blamers ought to educate themselves on it, because anyone can be made to ‘act’ or ‘appear’ codependent simply by being traumatized in the first place. As you learned in my article, Your Brain on Love, Sex and the Narcissist as well as my book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare, abuse has traumatic effects on the brain, tying us psychologically, biochemically and psychologically with our abusers.  This bond has very little to do with codependency, and everything to do with the traumatic effects of abuse. Even a highly independent victim who is strong-willed at the beginning of the relationship can begin to demonstrate symptoms of the trauma bond, PTSD or Complex PTSD – because it doesn’t have anything to do with the traits of the victim when it comes to trauma. No one is immune to the effects of severe, life-changing trauma and chronic abuse – no one.

Even if you feel you have codependent traits or were ‘primed’ by childhood abuse, the abuse you’ve experienced in any stage of your life is still not your fault.  You are not an “enabler” of the abuser. You are a victim who has been traumatically bonded to an abuser as an effort to survive. Understand the trauma bond, and you will understand how it is different from your actual feelings of disgust, anger and pain towards your abuser. Your authentic feelings about your abuser are buried beneath the apparently inextricable bond. In order to extricate yourself, you must develop a separation between the bond and your actual reality of the abuse. Write about the abuse when you feel safe to do so; consult a trauma-informed, validating mental health professional; speak with other survivors to validate the manipulation and mistreatment you’ve endured.

Holding onto the reality of the abuse, as well as your true feelings about it, is one of the most important things you can do in order to resist the gaslighting effect, release self-blame and begin to break the chains of the trauma bond. The bond may keep you attached to your abuser, but it is possible to sever it and regain your power.

CROSS-POSTED AT THE HUFFINGTON POST.

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.


Interested in learning more about narcissistic abuse? Order my #1 Amazon bestselling book on narcissistic abuse, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself

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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NEW BOOK – POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse

Learn more about trauma bonding and narcissistic abuse in my #1 Amazon bestselling book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare, and be sure to reserve a signed copy of my new book, POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse.

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About the Author

Shahida Arabi is a 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 The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care and  Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue, and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, featured as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in three categories and in personality disorders for six consecutive months after its release. She studied Psychology and English Literature as an undergraduate at NYU, where she graduated summa cum laude. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. Her writing has been featured on The Huffington Post, MOGUL, Thought Catalog, and Harvard-trained psychologist Dr. Monica O’Neal’s website. Her blog, Self-Care Haven, has had millions of views from all over the world and her work has been shared by numerous mental health professionals, award-winning bloggers and bestselling authors.

The Love Story of a Narcissist and His Victim

The Love Story of a Narcissist and His Victim by Shahida Arabi

“Once upon a time, his tenderness wrapped around you and his fingers traced the outline of your tattoo as his lips brushed against your ear. Most love stories begin with a kiss; this one begins with a well-constructed mask and premeditated murder. A first meeting where the conversation is sex itself; language becomes a weapon and a medicine, a healing balm for your wounds and a sick game of Russian roulette.
He ties his words around you like a corset, fashioning you into his soulmate. Fast-forwarding intimacy on all levels, he plays the victim, weaving a sad story about betrayal by his previous partner who you will later come to learn is also a victim.”

Read more at Thought Catalog.