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

Photograph by Annie Spratt

By Shahida Arabi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Your life resembles a reenactment of old traumas.

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

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

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

Chaos becomes our new normal.

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

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

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

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

This biochemical addiction leaves us reeling.

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

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

There’s also a psychological component to this addiction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Addictions and dissociation become default coping mechanisms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cutting the Emotional Umbilical Cord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

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

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

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12 Things Narcissists Say And What They REALLY Mean

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

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

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

12 Things Narcissists Say And What They REALLY Mean


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

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

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

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

1. I love you. 

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

2. I am sorry you feel that way.

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

3. You’re oversensitive/overreacting.

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

4. You’re crazy.

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

5. My exes are crazy.

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

6. She/he is just a friend.

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

7. You’re so jealous and insecure.

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

8. You have trust issues.

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

9. It’s not all about you.

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

10. Why can’t we remain friends?

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

11. No one would believe you.

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

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

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

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

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

About Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author

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

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

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

I want to challenge a common myth about abuse survivors: that they are all codependent. Some survivors find the idea of codependency helpful in better understanding their behaviors in the abuse cycle, and indeed some survivors do resonate with codependency as something that is part of their behavioral patterns. If healing codependency is something that speaks to you and your personal journey, all the more power to you and you should do what you think is most beneficial for you.

I don’t want to dismiss codependency as a valid concept, but rather suggest that there are often other factors at work in an abusive relationship. Sometimes the idea of codependency is touted as the primary reason for a survivor staying in the abusive relationship when in reality, it is what Dr. Patrick Carnes calls trauma bonding (intense bonds formed from emotional experiences) that is responsible.

What one has to understand is that abuse is a power dynamic where the abuser holds much of the power. It includes the perpetrator slowly but surely eroding the victim’s reality, diminishing their strength and independence over time.  No matter how independent or codependent a survivor is in the beginning of the relationship, no one is truly immune to the traumatic effects of abuse.

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.

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 Abuse 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.

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.

As mentioned before, this is a survival mechanism known as ‘trauma bonding,’ and  anyone can be made to ‘act’ or ‘appear’ codependent simply by being traumatized in the first place. 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. 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.


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


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.