Tag Archives: agency

20 Diversion Tactics Highly Manipulative Narcissists Use to Silence You

20 Diversion Tactics Highly Manipulative Narcissists, Sociopaths and Psychopaths Use to Silence You by Shahida Arabi via Thought Catalog

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“The difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism is the presence of a personal attack and impossible standards. These so-called “critics” often don’t want to help you improve, they just want to nitpick, pull you down and scapegoat you in any way they can. Abusive narcissists and sociopaths employ a logical fallacy known as “moving the goalposts” in order to ensure that they have every reason to be perpetually dissatisfied with you. This is when, even after you’ve provided all the evidence in the world to validate your argument or taken an action to meet their request, they set up another expectation of you or demand more proof.” Read the rest of the article here.

(1) Gaslighting

(2) Projection

(3) Nonsensical Conversations from Hell

(4) Blanket Statements and Generalizations

(5) Deliberate Misrepresentation

(6) Nitpicking and Moving Goal Posts

(7) Changing the Subject to Escape Accountability

(8) Covert and Overt Threats

(9) Name-Calling

(10) Destructive Conditioning

(11) Smear Campaigns and Stalking

(12) Lovebombing and Devaluation

(13) Preemptive Defense

(14) Triangulation

(15) Bait and Feign Innocence

(16) Boundary Testing and Hoovering

(17) Aggressive Jabs Disguised as Jokes

(18) Condescending Sarcasm and Patronizing Tone

(19) Shaming

(20) Control

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.

This blog and all of its entries are owned by Shahida Arabi and protected under DMCA against copyright infringement.  DMCA.com Protection Status


To learn more about recovering from emotional trauma and staging your victory from abuse, order my #1 Amazon bestselling book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself.

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You can also pre-order my new book, POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse.

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5 Powerful Self-Care Tips for Abuse and Trauma Survivors

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5 Powerful Self-Care Tips for Abuse and Trauma Survivors by Shahida Arabi

I am honored to announce that this article has been featured on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.

Being a trauma survivor is a challenging journey, but it is also an empowering one. Trauma acts as the catalyst for us to learn how to better engage in self-care and introduces us to endless modalities for healing and expressing ourselves, enabling us to channel our crisis into our transformation. Most importantly, it gives us access to connect with other survivors who have been where we are. It is in these validating communities that we tend to find the most healing, even outside of the therapy space. Here are some tips that I’ve lived by that can benefit the healing journey of those who have been through trauma and abuse.

1. Positive affirmations. In order to reprogram our subconscious mind, which has undoubtedly been affected by the abusive words and actions we’ve undergone, we have to literally reprogram our brain and minimize the negative, destructive automatic thoughts that may arise in our day-to-day life.

These thoughts stir self-sabotage and hold us back from embracing all the power and agency we have to rebuild our lives. Many of these thoughts are not even our own, but rather, the voices of our abusers and bullies who continue to taunt us far long after the abuse has ended. When we’ve been abused or bullied in any way, we continue to abuse ourselves with what trauma therapist Pete Walker calls the voice of the “inner critic.”

The most powerful way I’ve reprogrammed my own inner critical voice is through a system of positive affirmations that I engage in on a daily basis. These are positive affirmations that should be tailored to your particular wounds and insecurities. For example, if you have an insecurity about your appearance that your abuser has attempted to instill in you, a positive affirmation can gently interrupt the pattern of ruminating over such harsh comments by replacing the toxic thought with a loving one. A self-sabotaging thought about your appearance suddenly becomes, “I am beautiful, inside and out” whenever the harmful thought or emotion associated with the thought comes up.

One of the most effective techniques in engaging in these positive affirmations aside from saying them aloud is a technique from my larger method of “reverse discourse” which I discuss in my first book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care. Record all of your positive affirmations on a tape recover or a voice recording application and listen to them daily. Hearing your own voice repeating these affirmations daily – “I love myself,” “I am valuable,” “I am worthy,” “I am beautiful” – is a potent way to rewrite the narrative abusers have written for you and banish that browbeating bully inside of your own head.

2. Heal the mind through the body. According to trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score, trauma lives in our bodies as well as our minds. It’s important that we find at least one form of physical outlet for the intense emotions of grief, rage, and hurt we’re bound to feel in the aftermath of abuse and trauma, in order to combat the paralysis that accompanies trauma, leaving us feeling numb and frozen.

I personally love kickboxing, yoga, dance cardio and running while listening to empowering music or listening to positive affirmations. Do something that you’re passionate about and love to do. Don’t force your body into activities that you’re not comfortable with or exhaust yourself. Using physical exercise as an outlet should be an act of self-care, not self-destruction.

 3. Breathe. For abuse survivors who struggle with symptoms of PTSD or complex PTSD, mindful breathing exercises and meditation are especially helpful in managing  what therapist Pete Walker calls our fight, flight, freeze or fawn responses to flashbacks and ruminating thoughts.

Taking time to observe our breath, whether it be for five minutes or an hour, can be immensely helpful to managing our emotions and nonjudgmentally addressing our painful triggers. In addition, meditation literally rewires our brain so that we are able to mindfully approach any maladaptive responses that may keep us locked into the traumatic event. If you have never meditated before and would like to try it, I would highly recommend an app known as Stop, Breathe and Think, recommended for people of all ages.

4. Channel your pain into creativity. Art therapy is especially helpful to survivors of PTSD because it enables survivors to find modes of expression that allows them to create and integrate rather than self-destruct. According to van der Kolk, trauma can affect the Broca’s area of the brain which deals with language. It can shut this area of the brain down, disabling us from expressing what is occurring.

Allowing ourselves to express the trauma in a somatic way is important because trauma and the dissociation that comes with it, can be difficult to process into words. When we are dissociated from the trauma, our brain protects itself from the traumatic event by giving us an outsider perspective to the trauma, disconnecting us from our identity, thoughts, feelings, and memories related to the trauma.

The brain tends to “split” a traumatic event to make it easier to digest. Since trauma can disconnect us from both our minds and bodies through processes of depersonalization, derealization, and even amensia, art can help us reintegrate the trauma where we were previously disconnected from the experience. As Andrea Schneider, LCSW, puts it, expressive arts can be a way of “mastering the trauma” that we’ve experienced.

Whether it’s writing, painting, drawing, making music, doing arts and crafts – it’s important to release the trauma in alternative ways that engage both our mind and body.

When we create something, we can also have the option of sharing our art with the world – whether it’s a beautiful painting or a book, harnessing our pain into creativity can be a life-changing experience – both for ourselves and for others.

5) Asking for help. Contrary to popular opinion, asking for help does not make you helpless or powerless. It is in fact, a strong recognition of your own power to be able to seek help and be open to receiving it. Sharing your story with other survivors can be incredibly healing and cathartic. If you are struggling with the effects of trauma, I highly recommend finding a validating mental health professional who specializes in trauma and understands its symptoms in addition to finding a support group of fellow survivors.

Having the support of a mental health professional throughout the process can ensure that you are able to address your trauma triggers in a safe space. It is important to choose a validating, trauma-informed counselor who can meet your needs and gently guide you with the appropriate therapy that addresses the symptoms and triggers. Some survivors benefit from EMDR therapy, which is a therapy that enables them to process their trauma without being retraumatized in the process. However, a therapy that works for one survivor may not work for another depending on their specific symptoms, the severity of the trauma and the length of time a person has been traumatized. Be sure to discuss with your mental health professional what the right type of therapy is for you.

As a supplement to therapy, you may wish to also consult the resources on this excellent list, which includes free or low-cost mental health resources.

Throughout this journey of healing from trauma and abuse, make sure that you are being self-compassionate towards yourself. A great deal of trauma survivors suffer from toxic shame and self-blame. It’s important that we are gentle towards ourselves during this journey, that we acknowledge that we are doing our very best, and that we ask ourselves every day, “What would be the most loving thing I can do for myself in this moment?” in any circumstance. There is no time limit to learning and healing, there is only the power of transforming our adversity into victory, one small step at a time.

This article has also been published on MOGUL and TheMindsJournal.

If you liked this entry, please consider supporting Self-Care Haven and its associated platforms by making a donation. Your support will help survivors continue to connect with resources that empower them!

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.

Inspired by the post? Instead of reiterating ideas from this post or posting it in its entirety it without permission – please consider doing a WordPress Reblog which condenses the post and links back to the original source.

Interested in learning more about narcissistic abuse? Pre-order my new book on narcissistic abuse, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself. Also be sure to check out my first book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care.

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UntitledShahida Arabi is a graduate of Columbia University graduate school and the author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, a bestselling Kindle book also available in print. She is also the author of Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, which became a #2 Amazon Bestseller upon its pre-order 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. You can check out her new blog, Self-Care Haven, for topics related to mindfulness, mental health, narcissistic abuse and recovery from emotional trauma, like her page on Facebook, and subscribe to her YouTube Channel.

Simultaneous Wounding and Complex PTSD: How Our Past Wounds Can Make us Susceptible to Toxic Narcissists

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Simultaneous Wounding and Complex PTSD: How Our Past Wounds Can Make us Susceptible to Toxic Narcissists and Why We Need to Stop Victim-Blaming by Shahida Arabi

The idea that narcissists only bring up our own wounds falls short of explaining how they also manufacture new ones. This is what I’ve dubbed “simultaneous wounding” – a term that encompasses the complex nature of how narcissists can bring up past wounds, reinforce them and also manufacture new wounds simultaneously.

The oversimplification that toxic partners only bring up what already exists for us internally ignores a great deal of the complexity involved in how toxic partners can weave a manipulative web that connects both past and present experiences. Narcissists and sociopaths not only bring up past wounds – they compound them and add onto them, creating a chronic chain of stressors that can even result in Complex PTSD, the symptoms of which can include the regular symptoms of PTSD as well as toxic shame, emotional flashbacks, and a never-ending inner critic that diminishes us and demeans us.

On my YouTube channel and blog, I discuss how our childhood experiences of not feeling heard, seen, loved and validated can condition us to accept less – while also asking for more. Although anyone can be a victim of lovebombing, the excessive attention a narcissist uses to manipulate us in the idealization phase of a relationship can hook survivors even more strongly when they are being retraumatized. This enables the trauma repetition cycle to become strengthened, so that we are encountering what I call “trauma upon trauma,” making it difficult for survivors of chronic abuse to break the cycle. There are also biochemical and trauma bonds involved that feed the addictive cycle we have to disrupt in order to regain our sense of agency, power and control (see my interview with Mental Health News: Healing Our Addiction to the Narcissist, to learn more).

Due to past experiences of trauma, we can be extra susceptible to the love-bombing and idealization of a narcissist because we have more reason to seek that validation we did not gain in our past experiences. When a toxic person love-bombs us and later devalues us, it results in the reinforcing of those wounds as well as new emotional injuries that maim us. Yet that does not make the abuse our fault – it simply means we have more to heal than survivors who are encountering a narcissistic abuser for the first time.

In addition to the severe pain that survivors experience as a result, toxic shame and self-blame are symptoms of the trauma we’ve experienced. Victims have been led to blame themselves for the abuse and the current victim-blaming stance in society does not help that. This leaves them feeling defective and worthless, and further entrenches the trauma bond, making it difficult to extricate themselves from the very perpetrators who have convinced them it’s their fault. The fact of the matter is, while narcissists prey on the wounds of individuals, they are also very attracted to the strengths of those individuals. They enjoy surrounding themselves with people who are unique and special (in fact, their need to associate with other “special and unique” people can be part of their diagnostic criteria!)

Survivors are not necessarily the meek, codependent personalities society assumes they must be – rather, they can be incredibly driven, independent, and have high compassion and empathy which enables them to stay within these toxic relationships far past the expiration date. It is also necessary to note that their strength or intelligence does not make them immune to trauma bonding or the effects of traumatic childhood programming, which research has shown to have an impact on the early developing brain.

Regardless of what our vulnerabilities and wounds are, we do not deserve to be abused or mistreated. Being a trauma survivor does not mean we deserve extra wounding or that we ask for it – quite the contrary. It makes the person who is attempting to wound us by using our past wounds all the more sick for doing so. Blaming an abuse survivor would be similar to blaming a rape victim for being raped – and due to the nature of the biochemical and trauma bonds that form in an abusive relationship, there are actual changes in the brain and in the body that tether victims to their abusers in an abusive relationship. We do not fall for the narcissist – we fall for the person they pretended to be. There are many survivors who are able to run quickly in the other direction when they interact with overt narcissists, but the problem is that there are many covert narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths who manipulate and deceive individuals very well, deceiving and confusing even the most intelligent and competent mental health professionals and experts.

Another common victim-blaming assertion in the survivor community is the idea that victims must be like narcissists in some way in order to have these toxic people in their lives. What many people forget is that a narcissist could never be with someone like them – they would eventually find it just as despicable and frustrating as we find them. They do not wish to be with someone who displays no emotion or has no empathy like them – that would be no fun for them. They need someone with empathy, with compassion, with insight (so they can manipulate the insight to cater to them – ex. convincing a very introspective individual that the abuse is their fault) and the willingness to see good in others – they are attracted to talent, to strength, to “special and unique” – and simultaneously they are pathologically envious of our amazing qualities – because these are the very qualities they will attempt to destroy throughout the course of an intimate relationship. You cannot seek to destroy what was never there and narcissists seek to destroy these qualities because they do in fact exist.

While I do believe childhood abuse can make us extra susceptible to gravitating towards abusive partners in adulthood, that does not mean victims deserve this abuse or are in any way asking for it. Truly, anyone with empathy can be a victim of narcissistic abuse, especially if they have something special in them which narcissists tend to target. Do not let any ignorant person convince you that you are at fault for abuse. It is the abuser’s fault alone. Even if you have been traumatized in the past and find yourself gravitating towards that type of individual that does NOT make it okay for you to be abused. Instead of focusing on the victim, it’s time to focus on the perpetrator who would actually prey on these types of traumatic wounding to manipulate victims who are already hurting. These are the people who are truly sick, not the person who is seeking to form a loving relationship.

We can own our agency in exploring our relationship patterns without resorting to victim-blaming.  Healing from narcissistic abuse or a lifetime of trauma requires that we unravel and heal both types of wounds layered upon one another – both past and present.

Copyright © 2016 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. This article is a copyrighted excerpt from 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.

Inspired by the post? Instead of reiterating ideas from this post or posting it in its entirety it without permission – please consider doing a WordPress Reblog which condenses the post and links back to the original source.

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

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Why Do We Stay? Dismantling Stereotypes about Abuse Survivors

Why Do We Stay? Dismantling Stereotypes About Abuse Survivors by Shahida Arabi

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To the outside world, abuse survivors appear to face an easy decision: leave or stay in the abusive relationship as soon as they endure an emotionally or physically abusive incident. Internally, however, they struggle with cognitive dissonance, damaging conditioning from intermittent reinforcement, PTSD-like symptoms, trauma bonds,  any previous trauma from past abusive relationships or experiencing abuse in their childhood, Stockholm syndrome, feelings of worthlessness and learned helplessness just to name a few.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, leaving a long-term abusive relationship can actually be even harder than leaving a nourishing, supportive and positive one. This is because narcissistic or antisocial abusers are masters of playing mind games and covert manipulation, are able to deny the abuse through gaslighting and present a false image to the world which supports their denial. Survivors are then subjected to a battle within their own minds about whether the reality they experience is truly abuse – a type of cognitive dissonance that society seems to encourage by engaging in victim-blaming.

Remember that abusers present a false, charming self to the world and their true self is exposed primarily to their victims. In the initial stages of dating or the relationship, abusers are likely to present their best image. It is only after they’ve “hooked” the victim with their covert manipulation tactics such as mirroring and lovebombing, that they begin devaluing, demeaning and hurting the victim. The victim then has to find ways to psychologically process  the trauma of this sudden “turn” in personality – a process that can take months to years depending on the duration of the relationship, the availability of the victim’s own coping resources, as well as the severity and nature of the abuse.

I am a passionate advocate of ending abusive relationships, going No Contact and owning our agency after abuse. However, at the same time that I want to encourage survivors to empower themselves after the abuse, I also want people to understand that the act of leaving such a relationship is rarely as easy as it seems.  Not leaving sooner is not an indication or a measure of a victim’s strength or intelligence. It has more to do with the severity of trauma they have experienced. This false narrative of how easy it is to end an abusive relationship is actually holding us back from creating safer spaces for survivors to feel validated, supported, and being able to speak out about their experiences – this support is essential to any victim in an abusive relationship. This is why I want to dismantle the harmful stereotypes of why abuse survivors stay by offering some insights on why they really do. If you’re not an abuse survivor, the reasons might surprise you.

The reasons survivors stay are complex and tied to the effects of trauma, the ways in which abuse survivors start to see themselves after the abuse, and the ways in which society makes it more difficult for them to speak out about their abuse.

1. In a nourishing, positive relationship, we can love the person enough to let go with a sense of closure. In an abusive one, ending the relationship is a decision filled with fear of retaliation and anxiety. In healthy relationships, there is mutual respect and compassion, something that has existed throughout the course of the relationship despite any obstacles. Even if it is difficult, we trust that the person we are letting go will respect us enough to take time to heal before jumping into another relationship the day after the breakup, will not threaten or stalk us because we left them (only they are allowed to discard us in a narcissist’s mind), will not violently assault us and will not stage a smear campaign against us due to the fact that we discarded them first. Partners who are not narcissists or sociopaths will most likely leave us alone after a breakup and not bother to “hoover” simply because they need supply. They are understanding about boundaries and the need for space after the ending of a relationship.

Due to the potential infidelity, manipulation, put-downs, gaslighting and deception abuse survivors endured throughout their relationships, cognitive dissonance about who the abuser is, as well as a sense of incessant doubt, survivors may lack a sense of closure and certainty about ending an abusive relationship.  Understandably, many abuse victims don’t wish to let their abusers move onto the next victim after terrorizing them, because they fear that the next person might be treated better, thereby confirming their own sense of worthlessness that was instilled by the abuser in the first place. They may also have an unending sense of needing a real “apology”  or seeing karma at work before they feel they can truly let go.

Of course, abuse survivors eventually learn that they can only gain closure from within – after they’ve ended the relationship and begun the work of healing and recovery.  They also realize that the next victim will most likely be subjected to the same abuse, even if it appears otherwise when their abuser treats the next victim to the idealization phase. Apologies from the abuser won’t suffice, as they are recognized for what they truly are: pity ploys or hoovering tactics designed to pull us back into the toxic dynamic rather than signs of genuine remorse. Self-forgiveness, instead, becomes paramount.

2. Abuse survivors start to view themselves through the eyes of their abuser. The belittling, condescending remarks and the physical violence abusers subject their victims to leads to a sense of learned helplessness and self-doubt which make survivors fearful that they really aren’t as worthy as they think they are. Abuse survivors could be the most confident, successful and beautiful people to the outside world, but they are subjected to an internal world of fear, self-doubt and a shaky self-esteem as a result of the traumatic conditioning their abusers have put them through. They have been taught to live on a diet of crumbs (the occasional compliment, some shallow show of attention, perhaps even a showering of gifts and flattery before the abuse cycle begins again) which serves to remind them that they must “work” for a love that will never be unconditional, a love that will never contain real respect or compassion.

As a result, they may compare themselves to people in happier relationships or even to the seemingly idealized way their abusers treated their exes (as narcissists are likely to either place their exes on a pedestal or demean them as crazy) and wonder, why not me? What’s wrong with me? Of course, the problem is not them – it is the abusive relationship which is the source of toxicity in their lives.

The abuser is likely to subject the victim to many comparisons to drive the point home that it is somehow the victim’s fault that he or she is being abused (also known as triangulation). Due to this, survivors have a difficult time accepting the fact that even if they were the most confident, successful, beautiful and charismatic people on earth, they would still be abused by the abuser because that is what abusers do in intimate relationships. They abuse victims because they enjoy the feelings of power and control, not because victims themselves lack merits. In fact, narcissistic abusers feel particular joy at bringing down anyone whose accomplishments and traits they envy to reinforce their false sense of superiority.

Due to the skewed belief system which develops after the abuse, survivors feel that ending it would paradoxically confirm the narcissist’s view of them. They associate the ending of the relationship to a failure on their own part, the inability to win the affections of someone who has made themselves look like a prize by constantly idealizing them then subsequently withdrawing from them. Narcissistic abusers blow hot and cold throughout the course of an intimate relationship to make it seem like you’re the problem and not them. Survivors struggle to win the game of gaining an abuser’s affection, especially if they’re prone to people-pleasing habits and fears of rejection as well as abandonment. The terrible things the abuser has done to us somehow doesn’t compare to the pain of also being abandoned after being abused: it’s almost as if the abandonment would prove our so-called “unworthiness” which has been manufactured by the abuser to make us feel unable to leave.

On the healing journey, survivors rediscover their authentic selves and learn how to depart from toxic people-pleasing habits instilled in them by their abuser as well as in childhood. They begin to reclaim their worth, separate from their social interactions and romantic relationships. It is one of the most freeing, empowering experiences to finally leave an abuser and stick with No Contact. Rebuilding your life after abuse is not easy, but it is an unbelievably transformative experience.

3. Ending the relationship would mean that the survivor has to face the reality of all the traumas they’ve experienced, on their own.

Although this is not always a conscious choice, abuse survivors may feel more comfortable rationalizing the abuse and avoiding the pain of the harsh reality they’re experiencing, which can be quite easy given that the tend to experience abuse amnesia during the good times. They may also experience the defense mechanism of disassociation  which enables them to survive during moments of horrific abuse. Staying in the abusive relationship allows survivors to still engage with the good parts of the relationship while psychologically protecting themselves from having to face the trauma of it.

As narcissists and sociopaths tend to be excellent masters of gaslighting, flattery and even sex, creating certain pleasurable bonds that appear to surpass the pain we experience during the abuse, abuse amnesia becomes a tempting form of psychological protection from their own demons. Abuse amnesia is aided by the abuser’s performances of being apologetic, kind, caring and compassionate during the positive highs of the abuse cycle.  Dissociation, on the other hand, is often not intentional on the survivor’s part – the mechanism of dissociation occurs quite naturally in response to traumatic events.  Of course, the reality is that those bonds we have with our abusers are trauma-based bonds that have little to do with actual fulfillment, love or respect, and everything to do with the illusion of who we believe narcissists are.

Ending the relationship is made even more difficult if trauma from previous relationships or childhood exists. It’s a fact: children who grow up witnessing domestic violence within their own families have been reported to more likely to be victims of abusive relationships themselves.  It may almost seem normalized because of the behaviors we’re unconsciously modelling from our childhood. We might identify with the victimized parent, or may even have promised ourselves we would never be like them, only to have unconsciously chosen a partner that has enabled us to attempt to “fix” our past by attempting to fix our abusive partner. Knowing what we know about the effects of trauma on early adolescent brain development, the idea that someone who grew up witnessing such violence and abuse would not be psychologically affected is dubious. Thinking that someone would not be affected by the same type of trauma in adulthood (especially if they’ve already experienced it in childhood) is even more unlikely.

After the ending of an abusive relationship, survivors have the great privilege of uncovering their past traumas and the trauma they’ve just experienced and begin to work through them. The ending of this relationship is actually a golden opportunity to heal from the wounds that were never healed in the first place. The fear of being left alone with the pain has been overcome – the survivor now has the space and time to independently act, think and feel outside of the toxic dynamics of the previous relationship.

4. Society shames abuse survivors into thinking it’s their fault and this can create barriers to a strong, validating support network. As a result of the stigmas associated with being and staying in an abusive relationship past the first signs of blatant disrespect, many people who have not undergone abusive relationships themselves are prone to pass judgment upon survivors. How could he/she stay? they ask. Why didn’t you leave the first time they hurt you? Are you sure it’s really “abuse”? The victim-blaming, shaming and doubting leaves abuse survivors feeling incredibly isolated in their situation and alienated from their own support networks. This question of “why didn’t you leave?” can further persuade survivors to seek the false comfort of the abusive relationship because they would rather stay than speak out and risk being shamed, stigmatized, judged, questioned by the very people who are supposed to care about them – friends, family, and even the criminal justice system.

Here’s a thought: if society stopped viewing abuse survivors in such a negative, judgmental light, they might actually be more likely to report domestic violence. If friends of abuse survivors adopted a mindset of compassion and understanding, rather than ignorant judgment, they may actually get the support they need to feel like they wouldn’t be alone after the end of the relationship.

The fact of the matter is, if you haven’t been in an abusive relationship, you don’t really know what the experience is like. Furthermore, it’s quite hard to predict what you would do in the same situation. I find that the people most vocal about what they would’ve done in the same situation often have no clue what they are talking about – they have never been in the same situation themselves.

By invalidating the survivor’s experience, these people  are defending an image of themselves that they identify with strength, not realizing that abuse survivors are often the most strongest individuals out there. They’ve been belittled, criticized, demeaned, devalued, and yet they’ve still survived. The judgmental ones often have little to no life experience regarding these situations, yet they feel quite comfortable silencing the voices of people who’ve actually been there.

While being a survivor can sometimes alienate us from society, it can also give us an intense connection with other survivors, in interactions filled with understanding and compassion. We have the ability to offer empathy and insight to others on a level other individuals aren’t capable of. Survivors on the healing journey learn how to use their voices, connect with alternative communities and reach out to those who have been there.

5. They aren’t psychologically ready to leave.  Tony Robbins makes an astute observation in his book, Awaken the Giant Within: we only stop a bad habit or behavior when the pain of it far surpasses any pleasure or reward. While this might be a bit too simplistic of a theory to apply to the complex dynamics of abusive relationships, it often plays true for the moment the survivors finally leave. Considering there are many psychological factors that may be holding abuse survivors back (learned helplessness, Stockholm Syndrome) as well as external barriers such as financial dependence, having children with our abuser, the threat of physical violence or a combination of the reasons above, our readiness to leave just yet is hindered. We may plan when to leave and how to leave, fantasize about that moment, but there are usually a couple of factors that postpone the time of escape.

None of the best advice in the world can convince us until we feel that inner transformation and until we reach that turning point where we say to ourselves, “I’ve had enough. I am enough. And so much better than this.” That moment often comes after an experience of extreme pain – a turning point when we’ve reached our pain threshold, whatever that threshold may be. Unfortunately,  until we’ve made this decision from our own internal compass, there is not much others can do to intervene apart from offering their support. The decision must come from the survivor – and because he or she has been in the abusive relationship for so long, robbed of his or her choices, it may be the first powerful choice they have made in years.

Once the decision has been made and actions have been taken to maintain No Contact, leaving becomes the ultimate victory. The turning point, whatever it was, has made them psychologically ready. Survivors have truly owned their agency and power when they can leave an abuser and never look back. They have learned all they can from being in the relationship and are ready to begin their healing.

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Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication 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 except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.


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Watch the video on why abuse survivors stay here.

Since writing this post in 2014, I’ve started a new monthly online coaching program for survivors and have a new book available for pre-order.

Interested in learning more about narcissistic abuse? Pre-order my new book on narcissistic abuse, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself.

Becoming the Narcissist's Nightmare

I want to hear from you. What made you stay in the relationship with your abuser? What made you finally leave (or if you were discarded, implement No Contact)? Even if you’re still in a relationship with your abuser and in the early stages of developing a plan to leave, feel free to share your story. We need every voice that’s been silenced on this topic. We all have the power to break through and leave our abusers, but we need support in doing so. Let’s break the silence. Let’s fight the stigma. Let’s create a safe space for all survivors on this journey.

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About the Author

UntitledShahida Arabi is a graduate student at Columbia University, the author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, a bestselling Kindle book also available in print. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. You can check out her new blog, Self-Care Haven, for topics related to mindfulness, mental health, narcissistic abuse and recovery from emotional trauma, like her page on Facebook, and subscribe to her YouTube Channel.

To learn more about recovering from emotional trauma and staging your victory from abuse, please see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print.

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Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

Your Crisis is the Key to Your Transformation: Three Spiritual Principles for Abuse Survivors

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Spirituality can be a crucial component of the healing process for many abuse survivors. Our longing to reconnect with the world after it has seemingly torn us apart is a difficult, but rewarding process. We need to rediscover our identities and sense of purpose beyond the carnage of past destructive relationships. We need to understand that we belong in the world and that our existence matters.

I was privileged to be able to see Marianne Williamson, an internationally renowned spiritual guru, speak live at my college recently. I had no idea what to expect – although I knew she was a renowned bestselling author, I had admittedly, not read any of her books aside from excerpts online. What I witnessed empowered and moved me: Marianne had a very clear message about her spiritual framework which invited discussions about our approach to life in political and personal realms.

The content of her speech resonated with me: she spoke about humanity in crisis, about the forces of fear, destruction, and needless competition weighing us down, individually and as a collective. Her spirituality and divine message literally leapt off the stage. She would often walk off the stage just to stand in proximity to whichever audience member was asking questions, to build a closer engagement and connection. At one point, an audience member shared a story of her traumas and Marianne invited those willing in the audience to join in a collective prayer on her behalf.

After attending her life-changing lecture, I bought her book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. As a novice to the Course in Miracles tradition, I was appreciative of her ability to both reiterate and interpret the Course in a way that was accessible yet challenging in a way that it urged me to move beyond my misconceptions, stereotypes and limited thinking patterns. The message that most deeply connected with me was regarding our capacity for transforming suffering into meaningful outlets of personal transformation as well as social change.

Even if the Course in Miracles tradition and Marianne Williamson’s view of life doesn’t align completely with your own perspective, I think some of her spiritual principles can stand on their own in helping to improve and change lives. Regardless of what your spiritual path or beliefs may be, here are three principles from her book and lecture that I think can be adapted to benefit the healing journeys of abuse and trauma survivors.

These three principles include three incredibly powerful shifts in thinking. Having experimented with these shifts myself, I can tell you that if you approach these principles with an open mind and receptive heart, you will see the benefits of using these in your life.

Please note:  I have adapted these principles and added in my own perspective so that they can be useful for survivors of trauma.

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1. From scarcity to abundance, from suffering to meaning.

Abuse survivors are used to crumbs. They’re used to scarcity and suffering. Even after an abusive relationship ends, they have to find ways to remind themselves that they deserve better than what they’ve experienced in the past. They are on the road to healing to embrace all the good that they do deserve.

This involves recognizing the difference between perceived agency and actual agency. Perceived agency is the agency we think we have in the world. Actual agency is the agency we do have. The perceived agency of abuse and trauma survivors is often severely hindered. If you’re used to not being able to escape averse stimuli (as an abuse survivor often isn’t), you can develop a sense of learned helplessness that makes you blind to the opportunities around you. If you’re are not aware of what you already have in your life, you may not feel the full breadth of the agency you have to change it.

Shifting our perceived agency so that it is aligned with our actual agency is essential to taking advantage of the opportunities that await us in this life.

From a sociological and psychological standpoint, this shift involves a perspective of our life-course narrative, how we frame the meaning of our experiences. The approach we take in viewing life’s experiences will shape how we feel about our life, and even how we approach obstacles and opportunities.

Take the fact that studies show that grateful people are happier people. Cultivating a daily habit of gratitude only invites you to be more appreciative of what you have, inviting less expectations and prerequisites for happiness. When you are more appreciative of what you already have, you’re more likely to be receptive to opportunities around you. You are likely to have a higher degree of perceived agency when you come across constraints and obstacles in your path.

Think about it: when you’re feeling lonely, scared and alienated from the world, aren’t you less likely to see opportunities to connect with others? On the other hand, when you’re feeling upbeat, cheerful, and open-minded, you might notice the opportunity to connect with people you might not have otherwise given a second thought to because you were too lost in your own thoughts and emotions.

The key to gaining a higher degree of perceived agency is to develop a mindset that every experience, even the most painful of experiences, can be used to serve you and help others. Suffering can be constructively channeled into productivity and empowerment. That doesn’t justify the fact that you suffered, but it does help you transcend the suffering. As Marianne says, “There’s a difference between denial and transcendence.”

Think of the crisis you’re facing at this moment. You may be used to thinking of it as a limitation. Instead, think of it as a vehicle for opportunity.

How does your crisis help to transform you? What opportunities does it offer? How can you use your crisis to improve the state of your life and refine your self-care? How can you use your crisis to help others?

Let’s say your crisis is the experience of one or more abusive relationships in your past. These experiences may have helped to transform you, or it will, into a stronger, more independent person who now recognizes the signs of abuse and who refuses to settle for it again. This gives you the opportunity to pursue healthier relationships in the future and the opportunity to enhance your quality of life. It also yields the greater freedom to travel, take classes that interest you,  read books that will enrich you, pursue your goals and more time to think about what you truly want from your life and your sense of purpose in it. You can use this trauma to write a book, start a blog, create a support group, volunteer at a domestic violence shelter, or support a friend going through the same trials.

In just this one thought experiment, which you can use for many other crises, you’ve shifted the meaning of this event from something destructive to constructive. As Marianne would say, you’ve turned your focus from the crucifixion to the resurrection. This is a tool you can use for every obstacle that you face in your life.

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2. From fear to love.

Marianne’s A Return to Love offers a spiritual sophistication that is both challenging yet highly rewarding. Shift your perspective from fear to love and you will find yourself at the solution of all of life’s problems. Sounds oversimplified, doesn’t it? Yet it’s one of the most complex and most rewarding challenges she issues throughout her book.

How do you shift your perspective to fear to love when you are on the receiving end of abuse? Abuse survivors are used to the “fear” aspect, certainly. In fact, during the time they were in abusive relationships, they may have mistaken fear for love and taught that fear was an essential part of love. They may have been told they were loved, only to experience chronic distress, shame and fear. “Love” didn’t feel like love – it felt like fear. It felt like rage. It felt like emotional, psychological and physical violence. It didn’t feel safe, nourishing, warm or supportive. It felt callous, hot and cold, inconsistent, conditional and explosive.

As survivors, I recommend that we use this “fear to love” principle to apply this to our shift to self-love. The greatest act of self-love and love in general would be to leave our abusers and pave the path to freedom. In addition, if we believe we love our abusers in any form or fashion, the greatest act of love  would be to no longer to enable their abuse. It’s obviously not that easy – we may have trauma bonds, Stockholm syndrome, codependent habits, the threat of violence, the reality of financial dependence or isolation, addictive patterns, even children with our abusers. However, once we start shifting our framework from fear to self-love, this can often be the first step to our emotional freedom and independence.

It takes a great deal of self-love and self-forgiveness to achieve healing. It takes overcoming the fear of what would happen if we leave. It takes overcoming the fear of loneliness. It takes overcoming the fear of stepping out on our own.

It takes overcoming the fear of embracing and owning our full power.

As Marianne says, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

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3.  From individual to universal.

We hold an  illusion is that the meaning of life is to gain individual power and status. The reality is that we are all interconnected and to serve others ultimately serves our own path to enlightenment, healing and impact. We gain spiritual nourishment from helping others serve their purpose. In fact, this helps our own purpose in life.

Abuse survivors are, justifiably, focused on the individual realm of affairs for some time after the ending of a destructive relationship. The healing journey requires that we look inward and it can be a struggle to reconnect with what is happening outside of us. We may wonder why our abuser is doing so well when we’re not. We may  even unconsciously stage a “competition” in comparing our lives with whomever has hurt us, not recognizing that doing so is hurting our own efforts to heal from the past.

In certain contexts, it is expected we compete, like school and the workplace. Competition can be healthy to some extent, if it helps us to continue on our path and motivates us to get up every day and continue serving humanity in a unique way that no one else can. We all may have a similar purpose, but we all have a very unique set of skills and talents that help bring that purpose to life. If you need some competition to fuel your own goals, that’s understandable and may even be productive.

However, competition shouldn’t be our main approach if we want to live healthy lives. If we view all of life as a competition, we will blind ourselves to the abundance of things we already have, and as previously discussed, this can give us a mindset of scarcity that leads to less perceived agency.

Think of it: what do you really gain from constantly competing with others who have the same goals as you? Or with those who have hurt you? How does resentment help foster your personal growth? It doesn’t. It stunts it and keeps you trapped in the cycle of a “Why not me?” mentality rather than a mindset that says, “I have a greater opportunity to evolve because of this.”

If you find yourself competing against people who have a similar goal of serving humanity and helping it, you’re interfering with the supreme power of collaboration. If you find yourself competing with people who have harmed you in the past, you’re still keeping them in your life and allowing them to rent space in your head.

Instead, let everyone be a source of inspiration and motivation, even the ones who have harmed you. If they are moving forward with their lives, move forward with your own. If they are doing successful things, refocus on your own success. You owe it yourself to live the best version of your life, not ruminate over someone else’s.

Competing with someone else is like saying, they are somehow a threat, they are identical to me or better than me. That is simply not the case. Each of us has something to bring to the table that no one else can. Feeling secure in this fact can enable us to contribute to a collective impact that far supersedes our individual efforts. 

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What this all means:

Shifting our mindset from “What can I get?” to “How can I serve?” can truly change our lives in miraculous ways. When we are focused on how we can serve humanity, rather than what we can “get” from it, we confirm our abundance and the agency we have to change  our lives.

We shift our thinking from fear to love, from scarcity to abundance. We rewrite the narrative of our lives. We open our eyes to obstacles that are actually opportunities in disguise. Opportunities for transformation, beneficial change and healing. We own the amount of agency we really do have, rather than the one others have mislead us into believing we have.

The first step, if you don’t know which way to turn,  is to begin sharing your own story with other survivors. Connecting with those who are in a similar plight will give you a sense of purpose that will shift your mindset from fear to love, from scarcity to abundance, from hurting to healing. You are not alone on this journey – far from it.

Blessings to you on your journey to healing.

Spiritual Resources that May Help You:

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra

An Interview with Marianne Williamson by Marie Forleo

Beginner’s Guide to Meditation by Gabrielle Bernstein

Your Crisis is Your Transformation, Part I and Part II on my YouTube channel, Self-Care Haven.

A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles by Marianne Williamson

Welcome to Your Crisis: How to Use the Power of Crisis to Create the Life You Want by Laura Day

I am interested in hearing your thoughts. What is your spiritual framework? How do you feel about spirituality and/or faith as an abuse survivor? How has your spirituality changed or evolved since the abuse? Are there are other spiritual principles you live by? Comment below and share your story with us.

For more tips on recovering from emotional trauma and self-care, please subscribe to the blog (follow button located on the right sidebar) and join our mailing list by filling out the information below:

To learn more about recovering from emotional trauma and staging your victory from abuse, please see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print.realdealThe ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

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Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

What Abuse Survivors Don’t Know: Ten Life-Changing Truths to Embrace on the Healing Journey

 

Photograph by Anna Gearhart via Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 License.
The journey to healing from emotional and/or physical abuse requires us to revolutionize our thinking about relationships, self-love, self-respect and self-compassion. Abusive relationships often serve as the catalyst for incredible change and have the potential to motivate us towards empowerment and strength, should we take advantage of our new agency. Here are ten life-changing truths abuse survivors can embrace to empower themselves along this journey, though it may appear challenging to do so.

1. It was not your fault. Victim-blaming is rampant both in society and even within the mental landscapes of abuse survivors themselves. Recently, the victim-blaming and the mythical “ease” of leaving an abusive relationship has been challenged in the public discourse. Accepting  that the pathology of another person and the abuse he or she inflicted upon you is not under your control can be quite challenging when you’ve been told otherwise,  by the abuser, the public and even by those close to you who don’t know any better.

Abuse survivors are used to being blamed for not being good enough and the mistreatment they’ve suffered convinces them they are not enough. The truth is, the abuser is the person who is not enough. Only a dysfunctional person would deliberately harm another. You, on the other hand, are enough. Unlike your abuser, you don’t have to abuse anyone else to feel superior or complete. You are already whole, and perfect, in your own imperfect ways.

2. Your love cannot inspire the abuser to change. There was nothing you could have done differently to change the abuser. Repeat this to yourself. Nothing. Abusers have a distorted perspective of the world and their interactions with people are intrinsically disordered. Giving more love and subjugating yourself to the abuser out of fear and out of the hope that he or she would change would’ve only enabled the abuser’s power. You did the right thing (or you will) by stepping away and no longer allowing someone to treat you in such an inhumane manner.

3. Healthy relationships are your birthright and you can achieve them. It is your right to have a healthy, safe, and respectful relationship. It is your right to be free from bodily harm and psychological abuse. It is your right to pursue people who are worthy of your time and energy. Never settle for less than someone who respects you and is considerate towards you. Every human being has this right and you do too. If you are someone who has the ability to respect others and are capable of empathy, you are not any less deserving than anyone else of a relationship that makes you happy.

4. You are not forever damaged by this, even if you feel like you are. Healing and recovery is a challenging process, but it is not an impossible one. You may suffer for a long time from intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and other symptoms as a result of the abuse. You may even enter other unhealthy relationships or reenter the same one. Still, you are not “damaged goods.” You are not forever scarred, although there are scars that may still remain. You are a healer, a warrior, a survivor. You do have choices and agency. You can apply No Contact with your ex-partner, seek counseling, create a stronger support network,  engage in better self-care, and you can have better relationships in the future. All hope is not lost.

5.  You don’t have to justify to anyone the reasons you didn’t leave right away. The fear, isolation and manipulation that the abuser imposed upon us is legitimate and valid. Studies have proven that trauma can produce changes the brain and can also manifest in PTSD or acute stress disorder. Stockholm syndrome is a syndrome that tethers survivors of trauma and abuse to their abusers in order to survive. Trauma bonds, which are bonds that are formed with another person during intense emotional experiences, can leave us paradoxically seeking support from the source of the abuse.

The connection we have to the abuser is like an addiction to the vicious cycle of hot and cold, of sweet talk and apologies, of wounds and harsh words. Our sense of learned helplessness, a feeling that we are unable to escape the situation, is potent in an abusive situation. So is our cognitive dissonance about who the abuser truly is. Due to the shame we feel about the abuse, we may withdraw from our support network altogether or be forced by our abuser to not interact with others.

This can all interfere with our motivation and means to leave the relationship. Therefore, you never have to justify to anyone why you did not leave right away or blame yourself for not doing so. Someone else’s invalidation should not take away your experience of fear, confusion, shame, numbing and hypervigilance that occurred when and after the abuse took place.

6. Forgiveness of the abuser is a personal choice, not a necessity. Some may tell you that you have to forgive the abuser to move on. Truly, that is a personal choice and not a necessity. Trauma therapists such as Antastasia Pollock warn against pressuring a survivor to forgive, especially prematurely, because it can feel like being re-violated. In, “Why I Don’t Use the Word ‘Forgiveness’ in Trauma Therapy,” Pollock suggests using the word ‘unburdening,’ instead, to accurately describe the gradual letting go of feelings of resentment without forcing her clients to feel anything other than what they truly feel.

As trauma therapist and author of the book, Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, Pete Walker, also notes:

“There has been a lot of shaming, dangerous and inaccurate “guidance” put out about forgiveness in the last few years, in both the recovery community and in transpersonal circles. Many survivors of dysfunctional families have been injured by the simplistic, black and white advice that decrees that they must embrace a position of being totally and permanently forgiving in order to recover. Unfortunately, those who have taken the advice to forgive abuses that they have not fully grieved, abuses that are still occurring, and/or abuses so heinous they should and could never be forgiven, often find themselves getting nowhere in their recovery process. In fact, the possibility of attaining real feelings of forgiveness is usually lost when there is a premature, cognitive decision to forgive. This is because premature forgiving intentions mimic the defenses of denial and repression. They keep unprocessed feelings of anger and hurt about childhood unfairnesses out of awareness.” – Trauma Therapist Pete Walker, Forgiveness: Begins With The Self

It is not that forgiveness is not healing – some survivors will indeed find it healing – but only if they come to that path out of their own free will rather than pressures from society. Prematurely forcing yourself to forgive before you are willing or ready can actually lead to increased stress and trauma because you have not done the inner work of grieving and honoring the authentic outrage that can come up after the abuse.

In addition, the word ‘forgiveness’ can in itself have many traumatizing connotations for the abuse survivor, whose abuser may have conflated forgiveness with reconciliation or spiritually abused them by saying that they had to forgive their transgressions in order to be a “good person.” While forgiveness never has to require reconciliation, there is no doubt that these traumatic associations for survivors can remain. Some survivors may feel more empowered using a different word to describe their feelings of letting go, and others may move onto a sense of indifference towards their abusers while still moving forward with their lives.

You might feel forgiveness of the abuser is necessary in order to move forward, but that does not mean you have to. Survivors may have also experienced physical and sexual abuse in addition to the psychological manipulation. You may have gone through so much trauma that it feels impossible to forgive, and that’s okay. Honor wherever you are right now, and don’t force yourself to feel anything for your abuser that you don’t authentically feel. It’s important to acknowledge, validate and honor all of the complex emotions that are sure to arise.

It is not our job to cater to the abuser’s needs or wants or society’s expectations. It’s not our duty to forgive someone who has deliberately and maliciously harmed us. Our duty lies in taking care of ourselves on the road to healing.

7. Compassion towards yourself is necessary to move forward. Self-forgiveness is a different matter. Although you did nothing wrong (anyone can be the victim of abuse), many survivors struggle with self-blame after the ending of an abusive relationship. Even though you don’t have anything technically to ‘forgive’ yourself for (the abuse was the abuser’s fault, not yours), survivors may judge themselves for not leaving sooner or looking out for their best interests during the relationship. It is encouraged to show compassion towards yourself and be gentle with yourself during times of negative self-talk and self-judgment. These are all things survivors tend to struggle with in the aftermath of an abusive relationship and it can take a while to get to this point.

Remember: You didn’t know what you know now about how the abuser would never change. Even if you had, you were in a situation where many psychological factors made it difficult to leave.

8. You are not the crazy one. During the abusive relationship, you were gaslighted and told that you were the pathological one, that your version of events was untrue, that your feelings were invalid, that you were too sensitive when you reacted to his or her mistreatment of you. You may have even endured a vicious smear campaign in which the charming abuser told everyone else you were “losing it.”

Losing it actually meant that you were tired of being kicked around, tired of being cursed at and debased. Losing it actually meant that you were finally starting to stand up for yourself. The abuser saw that you were recognizing the abuse and wanted to keep you in your place by treating you to cold silence, harsh words, and condescending rumor mongering.

It’s time to get back to reality: you were not the unstable one. The unstable one was the person who was constantly belittling you, controlling your every move, subjecting you to angry outbursts, and using you as an emotional (and even physical) punching bag.

Who are you? You were the person who wanted a good relationship. The one who strove to please your abuser, even at the cost of your mental and physical health. You were the one whose boundaries were broken, whose values were ridiculed, whose strengths were made to look like weaknesses. You attempted to teach a grown person how to behave with respect – often fruitlessly. You were the one who deserved so much better.

9. You do deserve better. No matter what the abuser told you about yourself, there are people out there in healthy relationships. These people are cherished, respected and appreciated on a consistent basis. There is trust in the relationship, not toxic triangulation. There are genuine apologies for mistakes, not hoovering for attention or quick reconciliation.

Consider this: aside from the experience of trauma, these people in healthier relationships are not drastically different from you. In many ways, they are just like you – flawed, imperfect, but worthy of love and respect. There are billions of people in this world, and yes, you can bet there are plenty out there who will treat you better than the way you’ve been treated before. There are people out there who will see your wonderful strengths, talents, and who will love your quirks. These people wouldn’t dream of intentionally hurting you or provoking you. You will find these people – in friendships and in future relationships. Perhaps you already have.

10. It may have seemed this relationship was like a “waste of time” but in changing your perspective, it can also be an incredible learning experience. You now have the agency to create stronger boundaries and learn more about your values as a result of this experience. As a survivor, you’ve seen the dark side of humanity and what people are capable of. You’ve recognized the value of using your time wisely after you’ve exhausted it with someone unworthy. With this newfound knowledge, you are no longer naive to the fact that there are emotional predators out there. Most importantly, you can share your story to help and empower other survivors. I know I did, and you can too.

Copyright © 2015 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, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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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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The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.


About the Author

UntitledShahida Arabi is a graduate of Columbia University graduate school, where she studied the effects of bullying on the life-course trajectory. She also graduated summa cum laude from NYU, where she studied Psychology and English Literature as an undergraduate student. She is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of four books, including Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare, which has been s a #1 Amazon Bestseller in personality disorders for 12 consecutive months. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy.

To learn more about recovering from emotional trauma and staging your victory from abuse, order my #1 Amazon bestselling book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself.

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You can also pre-order my new book, POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse:

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Dating Emotional Predators: Signs to Look Out For

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Dating Emotional Predators: Signs to Look Out For by Shahida Arabi

Dating an emotional predator, a narcissist, a sociopath or anyone else who has the potential to be an abusive or toxic influence in your life is a devastating emotional roller coaster of highs and lows. Although many abusers tend to unfold and reveal their true selves long after they’ve already reeled their victims in, there are some key signs to look out for when dating someone that can foreshadow their future behavior.

The great thing about dating is that you are not committing to a relationship, so you can use this process as a way to find out more about a potential partner, and if necessary, cut ties should he or she turn out to have abusive traits without investing further in the relationship.

Here are some signs to look out for.

1) A need for control.  Abusers want to control and manipulate their victims, so they will find covert ways to maintain control over you psychologically. They can maintain this control in a diverse number of ways:

Excessive contact. Although many people don’t realize this, excessive flattery and attention from a charming manipulator is actually a form of control because it keeps you dependent on their praise. If you find yourself being bombarded with text messages, voicemails, calls and e-mails on an hourly basis in the early stages of dating, keep a lookout for other signs.

It might seem incredible that someone is so besotted with you after just one date, but it’s actually a red flag for dubious behavior and unwarranted attachment. It’s not normal to be in contact with someone 24/7 especially if you’ve only gone on a couple of dates with them. No one has the time to “check in” constantly with someone they’re “just” dating.

This form of contact is perfect for abusers to “check in” with you to see what you are up to, to make sure that you are suitably “hooked” to their attention, and is a form of “idealization” which will place you on a pedestal that at first, seems irresistible. Of course, if you’re familiar with the vicious abuse cycle of narcissists which include idealization, devaluation and discard, you’ll know that you’ll soon be thrust off the pedestal.

An unhealthy response to rejection or boundaries. Unlike dating partners who are simply excited to see you again and express their interest with polite enthusiasm, toxic partners will get considerably upset if you choose not to respond to them right away or if you resist their idealization by giving yourself necessary space. They won’t wait for your response, either: they will continue to persist and pursue you with an unhealthy level of attention without knowing much about you. This level of attentiveness is not actually “flattering” even though it may appear so initially – it’s downright creepy and dangerous. It reveals a sense of entitlement to your time and presence without regard for your personal preferences, desires or needs.

When you place boundaries with a potentially toxic partner, they will be sure to step over them. If you say no to coming home with them on a first date, for example, they may still continue pestering you despite knowing your reluctance. When your “no” always seems like a negotiation to someone you’re dating, beware. This means you’re in the presence of someone who does not respect your right to make your own choices and maintain your boundaries or values.

Physical aggression. As perpetual boundary-breakers, abusers can also overstep the physical space of their victims. This type of behavior may not come out until months into a relationship, but sometimes abusers can be physically aggressive with you just a few dates in. Grabbing you too harshly, pushing you during an argument or conflict, violating your personal boundaries in any way, pressuring you for sex, touching you inappropriately without consent is a red flag that must be heeded.  It’s a sign that things will only get worse in the future.

This physical aggression may happen under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, so you’re not quite sure what to make of it except that you feel threatened and unsafe. Don’t attempt to justify this if it happens with or without the involvement of alcohol – alcohol may lower inhibitions, but it doesn’t cause personality transplants. It’s very likely that the abuser is revealing his or her true behavior even while claiming that the “drink” made him or her do it.

Mistreatment of others. Even if the abuser idealizes you quite convincingly in the early stages of dating, you may witness his or her behavior towards others as a red flag of future behavior. For example, is he or she rude to the waiter or waitress on your date? Does he or she get excessively angry if another person flirts with you, talks to you or hits on you in front of them? How about the way they talk about others? If they call their ex a “crazy psychopath” and include a whole range of expletives about their annoying coworker, recognize that these are toxic temper issues which you will eventually be on the receiving end of.

Demonstration of unwarranted anger is an incredibly important tactic that abusers use to 1) preserve their self-image and their ego, 2) project blame onto others, 3) take back control by recreating a “version of events” that makes them look superior and saintly and 4) evoke fear and intimidate others into doing what they want.

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    Photo Credit: Fotolia/Barrington

2) Addicted to provoking you. 

Covert manipulators are quite gifted at provocation. As they learn more about you, they are investigating your weak spots and catering their comments towards what they know will hurt you the most. Knowing you’re triggered by their comments gives them a sadistic sense of satisfaction that alleviates their secret sense of inferiority and strokes their delusions of grandeur, control and aptitude. Having control over your emotions also gives them the power to effectively manipulate you and convince you that you don’t deserve any better.

Debasing comments about your personality, your looks, your line of work, what you should wear, who you should hang out with, are all inappropriate, especially when just getting to know someone. If you find yourself frequently confronted with these so-called “helpful” comments in the first few dates, be wary. Nobody should be trying to “change” you immediately when they’re just getting to know you, and if they are, this is a recipe for chaos.

These provocative comments might be disguised as constructive criticism or “just jokes,” but you can distinguish them because they are often comments laced with condescension rather than compassion and consideration. Harsh teasing that serves no other purpose but to ignite your anger or annoyance, put you down and insult you is different from playful teasing which is used to flirt and build rapport with a partner.

Sarcasm. Beware of the tactics of the covert sarcastic put-down. Sarcasm is one of the mighty weapons in an abuser’s arsenal. Emotional predators enjoy invalidating your thoughts, opinions and emotions by making frequent sarcastic remarks that shame you into never questioning them again. Since sarcasm isn’t often considered “abusive” by society, abusers use it as a way to escape accountability for their harsh, condescending tone and belittling behavior. They become more and more condescending in their approach to sarcasm over the course of the relationship – what was once a “playful” sarcastic comment now becomes frequent emotional terrorism that questions your right to have an opinion that challenges theirs.

Efforts at making you jealous. If your date consistently brings up past romantic partners, looks at other women frequently on your dates (while furtively checking to see if you’re observing them while doing so), and talks about having a romantic “type” that is quite far from your description, run.

A healthy partner will strive to make you feel secure and cherished, not insecure and doubtful. This could be a form of toxic triangulation in which an abusive partner attempts to create an image of desirability while demeaning your merits so that you are encouraged to compete for his or her attention.

The silent treatment. Abusers may retreat into silence if you question their authority or bring up their mistreatment. This may provoke you into pursuing them even more, in order to try to coerce them into “validating” your emotions and admit that they are in the wrong. Unfortunately, you’re only giving them more power by doing this. They will eventually come around, but only after you’ve vented at them and eventually apologized for being too “harsh” even when you have doing nothing wrong but express yourself.

DV-cycle

Image Source: Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney

3) Inconsistent character and behavior.

The most skilled abusers will save the “hot and cold” tactics for when they enter long-term relationships, but other abusers may give you a sample of this even within the first month of dating. They do so by the following:

Projection and Gaslighting. Narcissistic dating partners and other toxic people are also proficient at gaslighting and projection, techniques they use to convince society that their victims are the crazy ones and to convince their victims that their reality is inaccurate. The effects of this type of manipulation are incredibly lethal on victims long-term, so it is important to note signs early on in the dating process so that you can detach more quickly from the different type of reality these toxic partners are likely to impose upon you. Gaslighting and projection are very clever tactics that allow toxic dating partners to simultaneously shift the blame of their own characteristics onto you while also enabling them to escape accountability for their hypocrisy, deceit and otherwise unsavory behavior.

If you find yourself feeling at unease about something a dating partner did or said and later denied, minimized or projected onto you, remember that narcissists enjoy calling others “crazy.” It’s a common word they’ll use to describe any valid emotional reaction victims have to their shady and inconsistent behavior. It is gaslighting in its simplest form but over time becomes a complex type of psychological torture in which the victim starts to mistrust his or her perceptions of the covert abuse and feels unable to trust his or own reality. Stonewalling (shutting down a conversation even before it’s begun), silent treatments  and devaluation soon follows in order to maintain control. Narcissists can easily maintain the illusion of their false self whenever their behavior is called out and discredit their victims so that the covert abuse is never recognized or addressed without the dire consequences of you walking on eggshells.

To understand the difference between a partner who provides you constructive criticism or simply disagrees with you and a partner who routinely projects their own qualities and gaslights you, look closely at their actions rather than their words. Does it appear that the person you are dating often accuses you of the same characteristics, traits or actions that they themselves seem guilty of committing? Do they call you a hypocrite when they are the ones who often contradict their proposed beliefs? When you call them out on being rude, do they bring up something irrelevant you did in response, in order to shift the topic back to you instead?

For example, you may meet narcissistic partners who, in the beginning, are very possessive of you, track where you go and who you are with, seem to check up on you 24/7 and call you out if you ever dare to show signs of flirtation or interacting with another man. Yet the moment you ever call out signs of potential infidelity on their part or question any lies that don’t quite add up, they may unleash their narcissistic rage and gaslight you into thinking you are the jealous, possessive one and tell you that you’re  getting too heavily invested in the relationship too soon – minimizing the fact that they had been putting you under survellience from the very beginning.

Be careful – the projection and gaslighting of narcissists is so adept, so sneaky, so conniving, and so utterly convincing, that you are often led to apologize for being alive at all.

Superficial charm. I cannot count the endless number of abusers I have met who begin their ploys with superficial charm accompanied by self-absorption and an actual lack of empathy or substance. You can begin to spot how superficial their demeanors are once you’ve had some practice in identifying nonverbal gestures, nuances in facial expressions and tone of voice. Skilled predators are quite charming and you can easily learn to see through this by observing the way they exaggerate how they feel about you and their glib ways of showing you that they “care” when they really don’t.

For example, hearing “I’ve never felt this way about anyone else,” on a first or second date is not only premature, it’s most likely a lie to impress you. When this charm is paired with actions that don’t align with the abuser’s words, like the fact that this person never actually asks you about your interests or passions despite being so “enamored” with you, you’ll soon realize these are just shallow ways of getting into your head (and most likely your bed).

Pathological lying. Do you catch the person in frequent lies or stories that simply don’t add up? Do they “drip-feed” you information so that the full story eventually unravels over time? A girl he hung out with was once just a “female friend,” and now suddenly he mentions that he used to date her. A man she sees for Sunday brunch is “just” a colleague, but then you find out that it’s an ex-husband. It’s true that everyone reserves some crucial information on the first few dates for later and everyone makes mistakes or tells “white lies” to preserve their self-image occasionally. However, if these lies seem to be chronically common, it’s not a healthy pattern to start off a relationship with. Disclosure, honesty and open communication are foreign words to the abuser, who lives in a world of falsehoods.

Frequent disappearances. In the beginning, the person you were dating was constantly on top of you, bombarding you with calls and texts. Suddenly, they disappear for days, only to come back again as if nothing ever happened. These disappearances, which are often staged without convincing explanations, are a way of managing your expectations and making you “pine” for contact.

Attitude changes towards you. Abusers engage in “splitting,” emotional polarization in the ways they view you. You’re either “the one” when you’re meeting their needs or you’re suddenly the villain if you disappoint them in any way or threaten their fragile sense of superiority. Beware of this “hot and cold” behavior, because it’s another tactic to manage your expectations and keep you on your toes. Even if you don’t even like the person, if you tend to be the people-pleasing type, you might fall into the trap of attempting to avoid rejection and win their favor. It’s “reverse psychology” at its finest.

Intermittent reinforcement. This is a psychological tactic that provokes you into trying to please them, even if the abuser is mistreating you. The abuser gets to have you on your “best behavior” without changing his or her own behavior. Abusers love giving “crumbs” after they’ve already seduced their victims with the idea of the whole loaf of bread. You might find yourself on the receiving end of praise, flattery, attention one day, only to be given cold silence the day after.  Occasionally you will get the same idealization that you received on the first few dates, but more likely, you will get a mixture of hot and cold, leaving you uncertain about the fate of the relationship.

TIPS FOR DEALING WITH PREDATORS IN DATING: 

If you notice any of these red flags after the first few dates or within the first few months of dating, do not proceed. Since within the first few dates you are usually presented with a person’s best behavior, you can be sure that things will not get any better. You cannot fix this person and you run the risk of emotionally investing in someone who is  out to deliberately harm you.

Be careful: if you choose to reject an abuser outright, it may infuriate them or he or she may use “pity ploys” or angry harassment to convince you should go out with them again. Going No Contact if someone is bothering you, harassing you or making you feel uncomfortable in any way is a better tactic. Block their number and any other means they might use to communicate with you. If they’ve been disrespectful, they don’t deserve a polite response.

Should they continue to harass you, document the evidence and tell them you will take legal action if necessary. If you’re trying online dating, make sure you block the predator from the site you are using after you document their messages by using screenshots.

Tread lightly when you’re dating someone new. Don’t give out personal information like your address, home telephone number or other means of reaching you besides a cell phone number. If possible, use an alternative like a Google Voice number or other text messaging app while still getting to know someone. You must put your safety and privacy first.

Resist projection and gaslighting. Stick to what you know to be true. Do not allow your toxic dating partner to minimize or deny things he or she may have said or done. When a dating partner attempts to gaslight you or project qualities onto you, know that this is a clear red flag of emotional infancy that will not be suitable for a long-term relationship. It is helpful to keep a journal during your dating process to note any inconsistencies, red flags, emotions and/or gut feelings that may arise. You will want to refer to this journal often in order to keep grounded in your own perceptions and inner sense of truth.

Keep your eyes open. Be willing and open to recognizing both the bad and the good. While we all want to see the best in people, it’s important not to also gaslight ourselves into denying or minimizing the signs that someone is not compatible with us. The signs will always be there, and even if they don’t present themselves quite as visibly, your gut instinct will tell you when something is not quite right.

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Have you noticed any of these signs while dating a toxic person? Do you have any other signs that should be added to this list? Comment below and share your thoughts!

Copyright © 2014-2016 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, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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


About the Author

UntitledShahida Arabi is a graduate of Columbia University and the author of three #1 Amazon bestselling books. She graduated summa cum laude from NYU as an undergraduate student, where she studied Psychology and English Literature. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy.

The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

A Culture of Narcissism, Part II: Cyberbullying and Trolling

I am very grateful for all of the feedback I received on my blog post, Five Powerful Ways Abusive Narcissists Get Inside Your Head. As you all know, narcissism and recovery from abuse are topics that are near and dear to my heart, and there is absolutely nothing that compares to the feeling that you’ve helped someone in their healing, even in the smallest of ways. That’s why I’ve decided to continue the series on this blog called A Culture of Narcissism. In this series, I will explore how narcissism is becoming ingrained and reinforced by new technologies and  sociocultural norms.

The reason I am exploring narcissism from this approach is simple: psychopathology often needs a “breeding” environment to thrive and disorders often manifest themselves due to an interaction between biological predisposition and the environment. I believe our culture is providing an environment that is conducive for disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder to thrive.

There are many theories about how narcissism arises in the individual – from a “narcissistic wound” in childhood, to a pattern of idealization and devaluation by the parent or even a neurological standpoint that focuses mainly on how a narcissist’s brain has structural abnormalities related to compassion. I am not claiming that our culture is the primary source of narcissism, but rather, that it does encourage it in those who already have the biological predisposition. That’s why I believe it’s so important to explore this culture and how it’s affecting the way narcissism and narcissistic individuals operate in society.

My first post in this series can be found here: The Narcissism of Elliot Rodger – #YesAllWomen, Misogyny and Rape Culture

Now onto Part II!

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A Culture of Narcissism, Part II: Cyberbullying and Trolling

For this post in the series, I’ll be exploring how technologies like the internet provide narcissists and those who have antisocial traits with easy access to victims and minimal effort. Cyberbullying and trolling are strategic ways for narcissists who lack adequate narcissistic supply or who are experiencing boredom to get a quick “fix” without being held accountable for their abuse. 

In the context of intimate relationships, survivors of narcissistic abuse may be stalked, harassed and cyberbullied for years even after the ending of the relationship, especially if they were the ones to discard the narcissist first. When a narcissist suffers from a narcissistic injury, this can lead to narcissistic rage. This rage is a result of  an injury to their ego when something or someone threatens their delusions of grandeur and “false self.” Since survivors often implement No Contact with their abusers, narcissistic abusers feel a loss of power and attempt to regain that power through tactics like provocation, hoovering and post-breakup triangulation techniques.

On a larger scale, narcissists and those who have antisocial traits employ similar manipulation tactics in cyberspace to provoke and harm complete strangers. A recent study showed that online trolls demonstrated high degrees of sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. This should come to no surprise to anyone who has encountered trolls or cyberbullies – they are notorious for attempting to provoke people in order to derive sick feelings of satisfaction that they apparently can’t get anywhere else.

Bullying in any form, especially anonymous bullying, can lead to devastating results. Research indicates that cyberbullying in schools leads to a higher rate of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in victims of cyberbullying. There have been a number of suicides that were triggered by the words of anonymous sadists – the suicides of many teenagers, for example, were a direct result of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying and trolling leave such a terrible psychological impact that there is even a movement against anonymous comments sections on media outlets. Since there is little accountability for cyberbullies and the laws against it in each state may not protect victims entirely from emotional abuse, it often goes unchecked and unpunished. If cyberbullies are ever reprimanded, it is usually after the fact of a tragic suicide or in the event of publicity.

In the case of the recent death of Robin Williams, for example, people became outraged when they heard that trolls on social media outlets were harassing Robin Williams’ daughter and had caused her distress during a time of intense grief and loss. Usually, however, the sadism of these bullies goes unnoticed except for the people who have to endure the harassment.

THREE WAYS TO DISTINGUISH A SADISTIC CYBERBULLY FROM A PERSON WHO’S PROVIDING CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM

1. Rather than engaging in healthy debate and respectful disagreement, cyberbullies and trolls distinguish themselves from normal people who disagree by staging personal attacks on character instead of providing evidence against the argument that they claim to have problems with. Instead of saying, “Research proves you wrong, here’s the source,” they’re more prone to verbal diarrhea which consists of insults, name-calling, word salad, circular logic and provocative overgeneralizations deliberately aimed to get a rise out of you. They may even bring up personal details or assume things about you that have nothing at all to do with the matter at hand. They are, like many narcissists in intimate relationships, perpetual boundary-breakers.

2. They persist. Some cyberbullies give up eventually if they don’t get the response they were looking for, but others will keep hunting for more of a reaction and provoking you, even on multiple accounts. Like narcissists in intimate relationships, they use the anonymity feature of cyberspace to employ triangulation techniques with their “fake” accounts to show “support” for – who else -themselves.

3.  Stalking. When you do respond in a way they’re not accustomed to, they suffer a kind of narcissistic injury and resort to low blows and attacks. Some cyberbullies are satisfied when you give them a quick ego stroke, like a “You’re right” to their insult and go away. Others are much more malicious. When you give them radio silence or choose to report their harassing behavior, they come after you.

I’ve had cyberbullies follow me all the way onto personal social media accounts in an attempt to silence my voice on important issues or because they suffered a narcissistic injury when I didn’t respond. They weren’t persisting to try to respectfully get me to see their point of view, either – they were outright insulting me and making assumptions about me that had little to do with the topic at hand.

THREE WAYS TO HANDLE CYBERBULLIES AND TROLLS

1. Don’t engage or feed the trolls. Depending on the forum or website that you’re being harassed on, there may be an option for you to report harassment or block the person. This is especially useful for cyberbullies who are attacking you personally and taking a toll on your mental health. This is sort of like going No Contact – except, instead of someone you were in an intimate relationship with, you’re going NC on a stranger out to harm you. Find a way to remove them from your presence with the least amount of effort. They’re simply not worth the time and energy that it takes to stage a rebuttal. Remember: narcissists always need an audience and a source of supply. By removing yourself as a narcissistic source of supply, you refuse to give them the attention they’re looking for. By default, you win.

2. Be strategic about your privacy. Different forums and websites have different policies, so be strategic depending on what platform you’re using. Most social media platforms allow you to block or report anyone who’s harassing you, so take advantage of whatever you can do. Next, explore the privacy settings on whatever platform you’re using. If you feel comfortable and it’s available, take on the option that will enable you to share the least amount of information with the public. This will prevent cyberbullies and trolls on the hunt from finding out the personal details of your life. If you find it feasible, consider limiting the number of social media accounts you have so that you only use the ones you absolutely need for your professional and social life.

If you’re a blogger and are being trolled or cyberbullied, websites like WordPress take it one step further and allow you to see the IP address of the person commenting. This enables you to watch out for multiple “fake” accounts cyberbullies may be using to troll your blog or website and you can block one specific IP address from commenting on your blog altogether and just be done with it.

Should cyberbullies ever threaten you with physical harm, you can use this IP address to find out where the troll or cyberbully resides,  so you can report them with more accurate information. Simply copy/paste the IP address into a geolocation website like this one. This will yield identifying information that you can have in case the cyberbully or troll ever threatens you.

3. Refocus your energies on productive outlets. Trolls and cyberbullies will never have the final say on your self-worth or your abilities. Why? Because they’re literally spending their time trying to tear people down. Don’t you think that if they were fulfilled in their own lives, they’d find better things to do? Thankfully, you do have better things to do than to ruminate over the narcissists and sociopaths in cyberspace. You have a blog to run, a website to manage, a Twitter feed to update, a Facebook page to update, and a story to share.

Continue to use your voice and make it heard. Only engage with respectful people and save the debate for people who can disagree with you in a manner that’s not pathological. Let the cyberbullies motivate you to make waves for social change and to continue to speak out on behalf of the underdogs.

If you’re at any point feeling overwhelmed by these bullies, shut down the computer, unplug the devices, and tell someone, especially if you’re an adolescent reading this post. Stand up for yourself and do not let this go unchecked. Also help others who may be going through similar struggles. The more you spread awareness about this important issue, the more likely change can happen.

Important Note: If the cyberbully is someone you know, like a friend or former romantic partner, make sure you go No Contact with the person immediately, document any text messages or incriminating phone calls and report them to online service providers or law enforcement agencies if they violate your state’s anti-bullying laws. In that scenario, their anonymity no longer protects them from the consequences of their harassment.

Remember: bullies can be adolescents or adults. Though they all share the same mental age of five, they can be dangerous to us at any age group. Let’s take a stand against bullying and harassment in all forms – from text messages to forums, from social media to blogs. We do not deserve to be violated or disrespected – even online.

Stay safe and take care. Here are some additional resources for cyberbullying which may prove helpful to you:

Top Ten Tips for Adults Who Are Being Harassed Online

Top Ten Tips for Teens Who Are Being Harassed Online

Reporting Cyberbullying from StopBullying.gov

How to Spot Blog Trolls and What to Do by Kristen Lamb

How to Stop Caring About Trolls and Get On With Your Life

Do you have any tips on how to handle cyberbullying or a story to share? Comment below and help other victims of abuse. 

For more tips on recovering from emotional trauma and self-care, please subscribe to the blog (follow button located on the right sidebar) and join our mailing list by filling out the information below:

To learn more about recovering from emotional trauma and staging your victory from abuse, please see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print.

The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

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Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

How People-Pleasing Destroys Your Authentic Self

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How People-Pleasing Destroys Your Authentic Self by Shahida Arabi

ARE YOU A PEOPLE-PLEASER?

Symptoms include but are not limited to: saying yes when you really mean no, allowing people to trample all over your boundaries on a weekly basis without asserting yourself, and “performing” character traits or behaviors that do not speak to your authentic self. Can cause high blood pressure and stewing resentment that festers for years until the “last straw,” at which point, sounds of an explosion erupt. You’re so tired of being Jekyll all the time you become the worst version of Hyde possible to let out all the steam that was simmering within all along.

Jokes aside, people-pleasing is becoming a sad epidemic in our lives, and it’s not just restricted to peer pressure among teenagers. We’ve all done it at some point, and some amount of people-pleasing might even be necessary in contexts like the workplace. However, people-pleasing can be a difficult habit to eradicate if being compliant is something we’ve been taught is necessary to avoid conflict.Think of children who grow up in abusive households: if they’re taught that whenever they displease authority figures they will be punished just for being themselves, they may be subconsciously programmed to navigate conflict similarly when it comes to future interpersonal relationships.

PEOPLE-PLEASING, ABUSE AND SELF-CARE

Adults can engage in people-pleasing to an unhealthy extent, to the point where they engage in friendships and relationships that don’t serve their needs, fail to walk away from toxic situations, and put on a “persona” rather than donning their true selves because they are afraid of what people will think of them. This can keep us in overdrive to meet the needs and wants of others, while failing to serve our own needs and wants. People-pleasing essentially deprives of us of the ability and the right to engage in healthy self-care.

People-pleasing of course becomes more complex in the context of abusive relationships where the dynamics are so toxic that it’s difficult for survivors to simply walk away when faced with cognitive dissonance, Stockholm syndrome and gaslighting. At this point, it’s no longer just people-pleasing but the misfortune of being caught in the midst of a vicious abuse cycle.

However, people-pleasing does make it easier to ignore red flags of abusive relationships at the very early stages especially with covert manipulators. We can also become conditioned to continually “please” if we’re used to walking on eggshells around our abuser. This is why knowing our own boundaries and values is extremely important in order to protect ourselves and listen to our intuition, especially when it’s screaming loudly at us. Minimizing people-pleasing is also vital in the process of going No Contact with our abusers.

Part of healing is reframing the way we think about pleasing others versus pleasing ourselves. Here’s a revolutionary thought: what if I told you that your needs and wants were just as important as the people you were desperately trying to please, if not more? What if I claimed that your entire existence – your goals, your dreams, your feelings, your thoughts were in some way valid and needed to be addressed? Just as valid as the friend you’re trying to impress or the parent whose approval you seek?

PEOPLE-PLEASING AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO REJECTION

We all seek approval at times and many of us fear rejection if we dare to show our authentic selves. By trying so hard to avoid rejection, we end up rejecting ourselves. The problem arises when this becomes a consistent habit and leaves us vulnerable to manipulation, exploitation and codependency. When you’re not honoring your authentic self, you’re depriving others of the chance to see the real you, the right to judge you on your own merits and not the persona you perform.

Remember that rule on airplanes about parents putting on their oxygen masks before they put the oxygen mask on their children? Well there’s a simple reason for that – we have to take care of ourselves first before we can take care of others. If we exhaust our own reserves to the point where we have nothing left, we won’t be helping others at all.

The first step to minimize people-pleasing is to radically accept the realities of how inevitable rejection is. We cannot and should not try to please everyone. Some people will like you. Some people will dislike you. Others will outright hate you for their own reasons and preferences. And guess what? That’s okay. You have the right to do it too. You don’t have to like everyone or approve of everyone either. You have your own preferences, judgments, biases, feelings and opinions of others too. Don’t be afraid of that, and don’t fear rejection. Instead, reject the rejecter and move forward with your life.

You cannot let people-pleasing detract from the real you – by working so hard to gain the approval of others, you inevitably risk losing yourself. You become a puppet led by the needs and wants of various puppeteers. In the most extreme cases, people-pleasing can cost you your mental health and years off of your life. So stop cheerleading bad behavior and start cultivating your authentic self!

TOOLS TO MINIMIZE PEOPLE-PLEASING

Start to minimize people-pleasing today by getting together a list of your top boundaries and values which you will not allow anyone to trespass in intimate relationships or friendships.

You can use this boundaries worksheet to write down ways in which your boundaries have been crossed in the past and the actions you can take to protect your boundaries in the future.

Here are also some recommended readings on boundaries, values and people-pleasing which I hope will be useful to you.

21 Tips to Stop Being a People-Pleaser

10 Ways to Say No

12 Core Boundaries to Live By in Dating and Relationships

Five Ways to Build Healthy Boundaries

Different Types of Personal Boundaries

10 Ways to Practice Positive Rebellion

The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care by Shahida Arabi and are copyrighted by law.

Copyright © 2015 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, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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For more tips on recovering from emotional trauma and self-care, please subscribe to the blog (follow button located on the right sidebar) and join our mailing list by filling out the information below:

Creative Commons License
Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

The Distinction Between Victim-Blaming and Owning Our Agency

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Victim-blaming is a touchy subject for many survivors, and rightfully so. Survivors of emotional and/or physical abuse are sickened by victim-blaming. I am, too. Why wouldn’t we be? We have been in relationships where we were constantly gaslighted, mislead, invalidated and mistreated. The last thing we need is the outside world blaming us for not leaving soon enough, or for getting into the relationship in the first place. It’s a whole other degree of invalidation that survivors simply don’t need. It hurts us even more that the world refuses to acknowledge how difficult it is to leave an abusive relationship when you’re in the midst of it, because you’re experiencing so much cognitive dissonance that you don’t even know whether to trust your own perceptions and realities. Abusive relationships severely hinder our perceived agency, overwhelm us with a sense of learned helplessness, and make it difficult for us to navigate the seemingly impossible constraints imposed by these toxic relationships.

I wholeheartedly understand this, and sympathize. However, I want to draw a distinction between victim-blaming versus acknowledging that we do we have the power to change our lives. I feel this gets lost somewhere in our resistance to concepts that may challenge us to evaluate and examine ourselves during the healing process or may appear to be blaming us for the abuse but can actually challenge us to move forward towards self-improvement and fulfillment. I feel, as both victims and survivors, we have a tendency to belittle or demean any concept, idea or helping resource that tells us to also look inward when unraveling our own relationship habits. I understand why this would be the case – we might perceive these resources as being patronizingly ignorant. We might think these resources are telling us that we somehow asked for the abuse, or that we attracted it. Some resources are in fact victim-blaming, but we have to learn to distinguish between what is victim-blaming versus what is encouraging us to own our own agency. Only when we learn this distinction can we also own our “surviving” and thriving status as well as our legitimate victimization by the toxic partner.

I know that there are many survivors out there who had never experienced interacting with a Narcissist or a Sociopath before they had this experience. They feel strongly about the fact that their relationship patterns were healthy before they met the Narc or the Soc. Still, even for those survivors, we can learn a lot about our own strengths (and weaknesses) from this experience. Not because those weaknesses justify the abuse, but because all human beings have imperfections and vulnerabilities, and emotional predators tend to prey on these. If we tend to enjoy flattery and equate it with genuine care or love (which most people do!), we now have the power to change that perspective and acknowledge that the next time someone tries to excessively “lovebomb” us, our experiences have taught us that it is not necessarily equivalent to sincerity, and that it may actually be a red flag. Acknowledging that we have the ability to now see red flags and recognize them, is not victim-blaming, but owning our agency and ability to protect ourselves. It is true that emotionally abusive people can hide behind masks for so long that we may never know we’re with one until years later. However, that is why it is so important to create strong boundaries early on so that no one person can dominate your life. That is why it is so important to spend time alone before you enter new relationships, to get accustomed to enjoying yourself, so that should these red flags come up, you know you have the choice to leave, and the threat of being lonely will not stop you.

 For survivors who do have a pattern of getting involved with pathologically unstable men and remaining with them, I do not believe it is blaming yourself to try to understand yourself better as a result of this. Whether it’s acknowledging that you had an N parent that may have influenced your own relationship with a Narcissist or whether it’s examining how the relationship took a toll on you, it really is beneficial to always reflect upon what happened, how it affected you, how it may have triggered past traumas. This reflection shouldn’t be confused with blaming the victim or saying that the victim “wanted” the abuse – it’s about recognizing the impact of the trauma bonds that kept us tethered to this person while still maintaining our ability to heal ourselves. It’s about recognizing any insecurities or any people-pleasing behavior that may be holding us back from fully healing and owning our full potential while knowing that we were unfairly mistreated. It’s also about acknowledging our strengths – our empathy, compassion, the beautiful qualities of humanity that the Narcissist or Sociopath lacks, and recognizing that these were taken advantage of.

Whether you call the patterns of an emotionally abusive relationship codependency (a controversial term) trauma bonding, Stolkholm Syndrome, in my (humble) opinion, isn’t as important as acknowledging that you cannot change or control the pathology of the other person, but that you can make positive changes in your own life by initiating and maintaining No Contact, engaging in taking care of yourself fully and holistically during the healing process and afterwards, and pursuing your dreams while moving forward. This is about owning our story and owning our agency. This is not saying that anything the Narcissist or Sociopath did to you was your fault; not at all. It is saying that you are STRONGER than what he or she did to you, and that you will use this opportunity to reflect, return any blame to your perpetrator, and acknowledge that in the future, you have the power (and now the resources) to walk away from what no longer serves you.

The reason I am writing this post is because I don’t want our resistance to victim-blaming (a perfectly legitimate protest) to be confused with not acknowledging our remaining agency and power, something we felt was threatened or even lost completely due to the abuser’s control over us. We do not have the power to determine the terrible things people do to us; but we do have the agency and power to turn to constructive outlets for healing. We do not have the power to stop ourselves from being a victim of a crime; but we do have the agency and power to help other survivors by sharing our story.  We do not have the power to change a narcissist or sociopath or control the degree to which they abuse us; but we do have the power to take the time to heal and not enter a new relationship until we’re fully ready to do so. Our choices still exist. We are simultaneously victims and survivors; we have regained our agency and power from the abusive relationship, and this enables us to thrive and heal in ways we must recognize and acknowledge.

Our interactions with Narcissists give us an immense opportunity to look at what needs to be healed within us (whether these wounds were created via the relationship, past traumas or both), what boundaries we need to be more firm about (for example, not letting a partner communicate with us only via text and stay in contact 24/7 can protect us from what is likely the lovebombing from an emotionally unavailable con artist), and what values we hold most dear (if someone doesn’t share our values of loyalty, fidelity, and integrity, we now know these are dealbreakers even if we tried to negotiate this in the past). We may have lost our sense of agency and power when were struggling in a relationship with Narcissists or Sociopaths, but now we can take back the control.

These experiences remind us what is most important: self-love and self-care. It is not victim-blaming to look at what positive changes we can make in our lives to better ourselves, nurture and heal ourselves from the abuse we’ve endured.  Not because we’re “attracting” or “asking” for these people in any way, but because we DID in fact experience harmful relationships with them. We are not perfect, but we did not in any way deserve or invite the abuse. We can improve ourselves without having to blame ourselves. This means that we have to be proactive about healing without victim-blaming. There IS a distinction, and there is power in acknowledging that distinction.

For more tips on recovering from emotional trauma and self-care, please subscribe to the blog (follow button located on the right sidebar) and join our mailing list by filling out the information below:

Please also see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print. The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

This blog entry was featured on Lisa E. Scott’s blog and adapted to a blog entry on Elephant Journal.

Copyright © 2015 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, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

This blog post is protected under DMCA against copyright infringement.

DMCA.com Protection StatusLike this Post? Want to Share? Writers work hard to showcase their unique voice and style in their writing. Unfortunately, I’ve had people post my work and post it without attribution or permission.  If you’re thinking of sharing this post, please share the link via Twitter and Facebook instead. Copy/pasting this blog entry in its entirety anywhere else is not advised; that’s what the “Reblog” button on WordPress, which will provide proper attribution, is for. Thanks for your cooperation!

I will be writing an upcoming book on narcissism. To get an update when this book is released and to keep up with future blog entries, join our mailing list by filling out the information below:


About the Author

UntitledShahida Arabi is a graduate student at Columbia University, the author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, a bestselling Kindle book also available in print. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. You can check out her new blog, Self-Care Haven, for topics related to mindfulness, mental health, narcissistic abuse and recovery from emotional trauma, like her page on Facebook, and subscribe to her YouTube Channel.

To learn more about recovering from emotional trauma and staging your victory from abuse, please see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print.

realdealThe ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

Creative Commons License
Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, please contact me if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.