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

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

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

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Photo Credit: Vortexas32 via Flickr. Creative Commons License.

By Shahida Arabi, M.A., Author

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

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

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

READ THE REST ON THE MEADOWS BLOG.

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20 Diversion Tactics Highly Manipulative Narcissists, Sociopaths And Psychopaths Use To Silence You

20 Diversion Tactics Highly Manipulative Narcissists, Sociopaths And Psychopaths Use To Silence You By Shahida Arabi

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By Shahida Arabi

The following article is copyrighted and may not be posted anywhere without permission from the author.

Toxic people such as malignant narcissists, psychopaths and those with antisocial traits engage in maladaptive behaviors in relationships that ultimately exploit, demean and hurt their intimate partners, family members and friends. They use a plethora of diversionary tactics that distort the reality of their victims and deflect responsibility. Although those who are not narcissistic can employ these tactics as well, abusive narcissists use these to an excessive extent in an effort to escape accountability for their actions.

Here are the 20 diversionary tactics toxic people use to silence and degrade you.

1. Gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic that can be described in different variations of three words: “That didn’t happen,” “You imagined it,” and “Are you crazy?” Gaslighting is perhaps one of the most insidious manipulative tactics out there because it works to distort and erode your sense of reality; it eats away at your ability to trust yourself and inevitably disables you from feeling justified in calling out abuse and mistreatment.

When a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath gaslights you, you may be prone to gaslighting yourself as a way to reconcile the cognitive dissonance that might arise. Two conflicting beliefs battle it out: is this person right or can I trust what I experienced? A manipulative person will convince you that the former is an inevitable truth while the latter is a sign of dysfunction on your end.

In order to resist gaslighting, it’s important to ground yourself in your own reality – sometimes writing things down as they happened, telling a friend or reiterating your experience to a support network can help to counteract the gaslighting effect. The power of having a validating community is that it can redirect you from the distorted reality of a malignant person and back to your own inner guidance.

2. Projection.

One sure sign of toxicity is when a person is chronically unwilling to see his or her own shortcomings and uses everything in their power to avoid being held accountable for them. This is known as projection. Projection is a defense mechanism used to displace responsibility of one’s negative behavior and traits by attributing them to someone else. It ultimately acts as a digression that avoids ownership and accountability.

While we all engage in projection to some extent, according to Narcissistic Personality clinical expert Dr. Martinez-Lewi, the projections of a narcissist are often psychologically abusive. Rather than acknowledge their own flaws, imperfections and wrongdoings, malignant narcissists and sociopaths opt to dump their own traits on their unsuspecting suspects in a way that is painful and excessively cruel. Instead of admitting that self-improvement may be in order, they would prefer that their victims take responsibility for their behavior and feel ashamed of themselves. This is a way for a narcissist to project any toxic shame they have about themselves onto another.

For example, a person who engages in pathological lying may accuse their partner of fibbing; a needy spouse may call their husband “clingy” in an attempt to depict them as the one who is dependent; a rude employee may call their boss ineffective in an effort to escape the truth about their own productivity.

Narcissistic abusers love to play the “blameshifting game.” Objectives of the game: they win, you lose, and you or the world at large is blamed for everything that’s wrong with them. This way, you get to babysit their fragile ego while you’re thrust into a sea of self-doubt. Fun, right?

Solution? Don’t “project” your own sense of compassion or empathy onto a toxic person and don’t own any of the toxic person’s projections either. As manipulation expert and author Dr. George Simon (2010) notes in his book In Sheep’s Clothing, projecting our own conscience and value system onto others has the potential consequence of being met with further exploitation.

Narcissists on the extreme end of the spectrum usually have no interest in self-insight or change. It’s important to cut ties and end interactions with toxic people as soon as possible so you can get centered in your own reality and validate your own identity. You don’t have to live in someone else’s cesspool of dysfunction.

3. Nonsensical conversations from hell.

If you think you’re going to have a thoughtful discussion with someone who is toxic, be prepared for epic mindfuckery rather than conversational mindfulness.

Malignant narcissists and sociopaths use word salad, circular conversations, ad hominem arguments, projection and gaslighting to disorient you and get you off track should you ever disagree with them or challenge them in any way. They do this in order to discredit, confuse and frustrate you, distract you from the main problem and make you feel guilty for being a human being with actual thoughts and feelings that might differ from their own. In their eyes, you are the problem if you happen to exist.

Spend even ten minutes arguing with a toxic narcissist and you’ll find yourself wondering how the argument even began at all. You simply disagreed with them about their absurd claim that the sky is red and now your entire childhood, family, friends, career and lifestyle choices have come under attack. That is because your disagreement picked at their false belief that they are omnipotent and omniscient, resulting in a narcissistic injury.

Remember: toxic people don’t argue with you, they essentially argue with themselves and you become privy to their long, draining monologues. They thrive off the drama and they live for it. Each and every time you attempt to provide a point that counters their ridiculous assertions, you feed them supply. Don’t feed the narcissists supply – rather, supply yourself with the confirmation that their abusive behavior is the problem, not you. Cut the interaction short as soon as you anticipate it escalating and use your energy on some decadent self-care instead.

4. Blanket statements and generalizations.

Malignant narcissists aren’t always intellectual masterminds – many of them are intellectually lazy. Rather than taking the time to carefully consider a different perspective, they generalize anything and everything you say, making blanket statements that don’t acknowledge the nuances in your argument or take into account the multiple perspectives you’ve paid homage to. Better yet, why not put a label on you that dismisses your perspective altogether?

On a larger scale, generalizations and blanket statements invalidate experiences that don’t fit in the unsupported assumptions, schemas and stereotypes of society; they are also used to maintain the status quo. This form of digression exaggerates one perspective to the point where a social justice issue can become completely obscured. For example, rape accusations against well-liked figures are often met with the reminder that there are false reports of rape that occur. While those do occur, they are rare, and in this case, the actions of one become labeled the behavior of the majority while the specific report itself remains unaddressed.

These everyday microaggressions also happen in toxic relationships. If you bring up to a narcissistic abuser that their behavior is unacceptable for example, they will often make blanket generalizations about your hypersensitivity or make a generalization such as, “You are never satisfied,” or “You’re always too sensitive” rather than addressing the real issues at hand. It’s possible that you are oversensitive at times, but it is also possible that the abuser is also insensitive and cruel the majority of the time.

Hold onto your truth and resist generalizing statements by realizing that they are in fact forms of black and white illogical thinking. Toxic people wielding blanket statements do not represent the full richness of experience – they represent the limited one of their singular experience and overinflated sense of self.

5. Deliberately misrepresenting your thoughts and feelings to the point of absurdity.

In the hands of a malignant narcissist or sociopath, your differing opinions, legitimate emotions and lived experiences get translated into character flaws and evidence of your irrationality.

Narcissists weave tall tales to reframe what you’re actually saying as a way to make your opinions look absurd or heinous. Let’s say you bring up the fact that you’re unhappy with the way a toxic friend is speaking to you. In response, he or she may put words in your mouth, saying, “Oh, so now you’re perfect?” or “So I am a bad person, huh?” when you’ve done nothing but express your feelings. This enables them to invalidate your right to have thoughts and emotions about their inappropriate behavior and instills in you a sense of guilt when you attempt to establish boundaries.

This is also a popular form of diversion and cognitive distortion that is known as “mind reading.” Toxic people often presume they know what you’re thinking and feeling. They chronically jump to conclusions based on their own triggers rather than stepping back to evaluate the situation mindfully. They act accordingly based on their own delusions and fallacies and make no apologies for the harm they cause as a result. Notorious for putting words in your mouth, they depict you as having an intention or outlandish viewpoint you didn’t possess. They accuse you of thinking of them as toxic – even before you’ve gotten the chance to call them out on their behavior – and this also serves as a form of preemptive defense.

Simply stating, “I never said that,” and walking away should the person continue to accuse you of doing or saying something you didn’t can help to set a firm boundary in this type of interaction. So long as the toxic person can blameshift and digress from their own behavior, they have succeeded in convincing you that you should be “shamed” for giving them any sort of realistic feedback.

6. Nitpicking and moving the goal posts.

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.

Do you have a successful career? The narcissist will then start to pick on why you aren’t a multi-millionaire yet. Did you already fulfill their need to be excessively catered to? Now it’s time to prove that you can also remain “independent.” The goal posts will perpetually change and may not even be related to each other; they don’t have any other point besides making you vie for the narcissist’s approval and validation.

By raising the expectations higher and higher each time or switching them completely, highly manipulative and toxic people are able to instill in you a pervasive sense of unworthiness and of never feeling quite “enough.” By pointing out one irrelevant fact or one thing you did wrong and developing a hyperfocus on it, narcissists get to divert from your strengths and pull you into obsessing over any flaws or weaknesses instead. They get you thinking about the next expectation of theirs you’re going to have to meet – until eventually you’ve bent over backwards trying to fulfill their every need – only to realize it didn’t change the horrific way they treated you.

Don’t get sucked into nitpicking and changing goal posts – if someone chooses to rehash an irrelevant point over and over again to the point where they aren’t acknowledging the work you’ve done to validate your point or satisfy them, their motive isn’t to better understand. It’s to further provoke you into feeling as if you have to constantly prove yourself. Validate and approve of yourself. Know that you are enough and you don’t have to be made to feel constantly deficient or unworthy in some way.

7. Changing the subject to evade accountability.

This type of tactic is what I like to call the “What about me?” syndrome. It is a literal digression from the actual topic that works to redirect attention to a different issue altogether. Narcissists don’t want you to be on the topic of holding them accountable for anything, so they will reroute discussions to benefit them. Complaining about their neglectful parenting? They’ll point out a mistake you committed seven years ago. This type of diversion has no limits in terms of time or subject content, and often begins with a sentence like “What about the time when…”

On a macrolevel, these diversions work to derail discussions that challenge the status quo. A discussion about gay rights, for example, may be derailed quickly by someone who brings in another social justice issue just to distract people from the main argument.

As Tara Moss, author of Speaking Out: A 21st Century Handbook for Women and Girls, notes, specificity is needed in order to resolve and address issues appropriately – that doesn’t mean that the issues that are being brought up don’t matter, it just means that the specific time and place may not be the best context to discuss them.

Don’t be derailed – if someone pulls a switcheroo on you, you can exercise what I call the “broken record” method and continue stating the facts without giving in to their distractions. Redirect their redirection by saying, “That’s not what I am talking about. Let’s stay focused on the real issue.” If they’re not interested, disengage and spend your energy on something more constructive – like not having a debate with someone who has the mental age of a toddler.

8. Covert and overt threats.

Narcissistic abusers and otherwise toxic people feel very threatened when their excessive sense of entitlement, false sense of superiority and grandiose sense of self are challenged in any way. They are prone to making unreasonable demands on others – while punishing you for not living up to their impossible to reach expectations.

Rather than tackle disagreements or compromises maturely, they set out to divert you from your right to have your own identity and perspective by attempting to instill fear in you about the consequences of disagreeing or complying with their demands. To them, any challenge results in an ultimatum and “do this or I’ll do that” becomes their daily mantra.

If someone’s reaction to you setting boundaries or having a differing opinion from your own is to threaten you into submission, whether it’s a thinly veiled threat or an overt admission of what they plan to do, this is a red flag of someone who has a high degree of entitlement and has no plans of compromising. Take threats seriously and show the narcissist you mean business; document threats and report them whenever possible and legally feasible.

9. Name-calling.

Narcissists preemptively blow anything they perceive as a threat to their superiority out of proportion. In their world, only they can ever be right and anyone who dares to say otherwise creates a narcissistic injury that results in narcissistic rage. As Mark Goulston, M.D. asserts, narcissistic rage does not result from low self-esteem but rather a high sense of entitlement and false sense of superiority.

The lowest of the low resort to narcissistic rage in the form of name-calling when they can’t think of a better way to manipulate your opinion or micromanage your emotions. Name-calling is a quick and easy way to put you down, degrade you and insult your intelligence, appearance or behavior while invalidating your right to be a separate person with a right to his or her perspective.

Name-calling can also be used to criticize your beliefs, opinions and insights. A well-researched perspective or informed opinion suddenly becomes “silly” or “idiotic” in the hands of a malignant narcissist or sociopath who feels threatened by it and cannot make a respectful, convincing rebuttal. Rather than target your argument, they target you as a person and seek to undermine your credibility and intelligence in any way they possibly can. It’s important to end any interaction that consists of name-calling and communicate that you won’t tolerate it. Don’t internalize it: realize that they are resorting to name-calling because they are deficient in higher level methods.

10. Destructive conditioning.

Toxic people condition you to associate your strengths, talents, and happy memories with abuse, frustration and disrespect. They do this by sneaking in covert and overt put-downs about the qualities and traits they once idealized as well as sabotaging your goals, ruining celebrations, vacations and holidays. They may even isolate you from your friends and family and make you financially dependent upon them. Like Pavlov’s dogs, you’re essentially “trained” over time to become afraid of doing the very things that once made your life fulfilling.

Narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths and otherwise toxic people do this because they wish to divert attention back to themselves and how you’re going to please them. If there is anything outside of them that may threaten their control over your life, they seek to destroy it. They need to be the center of attention at all times. In the idealization phase, you were once the center of a narcissist’s world – now the narcissist becomes the center of yours.

Narcissists are also naturally pathologically envious and don’t want anything to come in between them and their influence over you. Your happiness represents everything they feel they cannot have in their emotionally shallow lives. After all, if you learn that you can get validation, respect and love from other sources besides the toxic person, what’s to keep you from leaving them? To toxic people, a little conditioning can go a long way to keep you walking on eggshells and falling just short of your big dreams.

11. Smear campaigns and stalking.

When toxic types can’t control the way you see yourself, they start to control how others see you; they play the martyr while you’re labeled the toxic one. A smear campaign is a preemptive strike to sabotage your reputation and slander your name so that you won’t have a support network to fall back on lest you decide to detach and cut ties with this toxic person. They may even stalk and harass you or the people you know as a way to supposedly “expose” the truth about you; this exposure acts as a way to hide their own abusive behavior while projecting it onto you.

Some smear campaigns can even work to pit two people or two groups against each other. A victim in an abusive relationship with a narcissist often doesn’t know what’s being said about them during the relationship, but they eventually find out the falsehoods shortly after they’ve been discarded.

Toxic people will gossip behind your back (and in front of your face), slander you to your loved ones or their loved ones, create stories that depict you as the aggressor while they play the victim, and claim that you engaged in the same behaviors that they are afraid you will accuse them of engaging in. They will also methodically, covertly and deliberately abuse you so they can use your reactions as a way to prove that they are the so-called “victims” of your abuse.

The best way to handle a smear campaign is to stay mindful of your reactions and stick to the facts. This is especially pertinent for high-conflict divorces with narcissists who may use your reactions to their provocations against you. Document any form of harassment, cyberbullying or stalking incidents and always speak to your narcissist through a lawyer whenever possible. You may wish to take legal action if you feel the stalking and harassment is getting out of control; finding a lawyer who is well-versed in Narcissistic Personality Disorder is crucial if that’s the case. Your character and integrity will speak for itself when the narcissist’s false mask begins to slip.

12. Love-bombing and devaluation.

Toxic people put you through an idealization phase until you’re sufficiently hooked and invested in beginning a friendship or relationship with you. Then, they begin to devalue you while insulting the very things they admired in the first place. Another variation of this is when a toxic individual puts you on a pedestal while aggressively devaluing and attacking someone else who threatens their sense of superiority.

Narcissistic abusers do this all the time – they devalue their exes to their new partners, and eventually the new partner starts to receive the same sort of mistreatment as the narcissist’s ex-partner. Ultimately what will happen is that you will also be on the receiving end of the same abuse. You will one day be the ex-partner they degrade to their new source of supply. You just don’t know it yet. That’s why it’s important to stay mindful of the love-bombing technique whenever you witness behavior that doesn’t align with the saccharine sweetness a narcissist subjects you to.

As life coach Wendy Powell suggests, slowing things down with people you suspect may be toxic is an important way of combating the love-bombing technique. Be wary of the fact that how a person treats or speaks about someone else could potentially translate into the way they will treat you in the future.

13. Preemptive defense.

When someone stresses the fact that they are a “nice guy” or girl, that you should “trust them” right away or emphasizes their credibility without any provocation from you whatsoever, be wary.

Toxic and abusive people overstate their ability to be kind and compassionate. They often tell you that you should “trust” them without first building a solid foundation of trust. They may “perform” a high level of sympathy and empathy at the beginning of your relationship to dupe you, only to unveil their false mask later on. When you see their false mask begins to slip periodically during the devaluation phase of the abuse cycle, the true self is revealed to be terrifyingly cold, callous and contemptuous.

Genuinely nice people rarely have to persistently show off their positive qualities – they exude their warmth more than they talk about it and they know that actions speak volumes more than mere words. They know that trust and respect is a two-way street that requires reciprocity, not repetition.

To counter a preemptive defense, reevaluate why a person may be emphasizing their good qualities. Is it because they think you don’t trust them, or because they know you shouldn’t? Trust actions more than empty words and see how someone’s actions communicate who they are, not who they say they are.

14. Triangulation.

Bringing in the opinion, perspective or suggested threat of another person into the dynamic of an interaction is known as “triangulation.” Often used to validate the toxic person’s abuse while invalidating the victim’s reactions to abuse, triangulation can also work to manufacture love triangles that leave you feeling unhinged and insecure.

Malignant narcissists love to triangulate their significant other with strangers, co-workers, ex-partners, friends and even family members in order to evoke jealousy and uncertainty in you. They also use the opinions of others to validate their point of view.

This is a diversionary tactic meant to pull your attention away from their abusive behavior and into a false image of them as a desirable, sought after person. It also leaves you questioning yourself – if Mary did agree with Tom, doesn’t that mean that you must be wrong? The truth is, narcissists love to “report back” falsehoods about others say about you, when in fact, they are the ones smearing you.

To resist triangulation tactics, realize that whoever the narcissist is triangulating with is also being triangulated by your relationship with the narcissist as well. Everyone is essentially being played by this one person. Reverse “triangulate” the narcissist by gaining support from a third party that is not under the narcissist’s influence – and also by seeking your own validation.

15. Bait and feign innocence.

Toxic individuals lure you into a false sense of security simply to have a platform to showcase their cruelty. Baiting you into a mindless, chaotic argument can escalate into a showdown rather quickly with someone who doesn’t know the meaning of respect. A simple disagreement may bait you into responding politely initially, until it becomes clear that the person has a malicious motive of tearing you down.

By “baiting” you with a seemingly innocuous comment disguised as a rational one, they can then begin to play with you. Remember: narcissistic abusers have learned about your insecurities, the unsettling catchphrases that interrupt your confidence, and the disturbing topics that reenact your wounds – and they use this knowledge maliciously to provoke you. After you’ve fallen for it, hook line and sinker, they’ll stand back and innocently ask whether you’re “okay” and talk about how they didn’t “mean” to agitate you. This faux innocence works to catch you off guard and make you believe that they truly didn’t intend to hurt you, until it happens so often you can’t deny the reality of their malice any longer.

It helps to realize when you’re being baited so you can avoid engaging altogether. Provocative statements, name-calling, hurtful accusations or unsupported generalizations, for example, are common baiting tactics. Your gut instinct can also tell you when you’re being baited – if you feel “off” about a certain comment and continue to feel this way even after it has been expanded on, that’s a sign you may need to take some space to reevaluate the situation before choosing to respond.

16. Boundary testing and hoovering.

Narcissists, sociopaths and otherwise toxic people continually try and test your boundaries to see which ones they can trespass. The more violations they’re able to commit without consequences, the more they’ll push the envelope.
That’s why survivors of emotional as well as physical abuse often experience even more severe incidents of abuse each and every time they go back to their abusers.

Abusers tend to “hoover” their victims back in with sweet promises, fake remorse and empty words of how they are going to change, only to abuse their victims even more horrifically. In the abuser’s sick mind, this boundary testing serves as a punishment for standing up to the abuse and also for being going back to it. When narcissists try to press the emotional reset button, reinforce your boundaries even more strongly rather than backtracking on them.

Remember – highly manipulative people don’t respond to empathy or compassion. They respond to consequences.

17. Aggressive jabs disguised as jokes.

Covert narcissists enjoy making malicious remarks at your expense. These are usually dressed up as “just jokes” so that they can get away with saying appalling things while still maintaining an innocent, cool demeanor. Yet any time you are outraged at an insensitive, harsh remark, you are accused of having no sense of humor. This is a tactic frequently used in verbal abuse.

The contemptuous smirk and sadistic gleam in their eyes gives it away, however – like a predator that plays with its food, a toxic person gains pleasure from hurting you and being able to get away with it. After all, it’s just a joke, right? Wrong. It’s a way to gaslight you into thinking their abuse is a joke – a way to divert from their cruelty and onto your perceived sensitivity. It is important that when this happens, you stand up for yourself and make it clear that you won’t tolerate this type of behavior.

Calling out manipulative people on their covert put-downs may result in further gaslighting from the abuser but maintain your stance that their behavior is not okay and end the interaction immediately if you have to.

18. Condescending sarcasm and patronizing tone.

Belittling and degrading a person is a toxic person’s forte and their tone of voice is only one tool in their toolbox. Sarcasm can be a fun mode of communication when both parties are engaged, but narcissists use it chronically as a way to manipulate you and degrade you. If you in any way react to it, you must be “too sensitive.”

Forget that the toxic person constantly has temper tantrums every time their big bad ego is faced with realistic feedback – the victim is the hypersensitive one, apparently. So long as you’re treated like a child and constantly challenged for expressing yourself, you’ll start to develop a sense of hypervigilance about voicing your thoughts and opinions without reprimand. This self-censorship enables the abuser to put in less work in silencing you, because you begin to silence yourself.

Whenever you are met with a condescending demeanor or tone, call it out firmly and assertively. You don’t deserve to be spoken down to like a child – nor should you ever silence yourself to meet the expectation of someone else’s superiority complex.

19. Shaming.

“You should be ashamed of yourself” is a favorite saying of toxic people. Though it can be used by someone who is non-toxic, in the realm of the narcissist or sociopath, shaming is an effective method that targets any behavior or belief that might challenge a toxic person’s power. It can also be used to destroy and whittle away at a victim’s self-esteem: if a victim dares to be proud of something, shaming the victim for that specific trait, quality or accomplishment can serve to diminish their sense of self and stifle any pride they may have.

Malignant narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths enjoy using your own wounds against you – so they will even shame you about any abuse or injustice you’ve suffered in your lifetime as a way to retraumatize you. Were you a childhood abuse survivor? A malignant narcissist or sociopath will claim that you must’ve done something to deserve it, or brag about their own happy childhood as a way to make you feel deficient and unworthy. What better way to injure you, after all, than to pick at the original wound? As surgeons of madness, they seek to exacerbate wounds, not help heal them.

If you suspect you’re dealing with a toxic person, avoid revealing any of your vulnerabilities or past traumas. Until they’ve proven their character to you, there is no point disclosing information that could be potentially used against you.

20. Control.

Most importantly, toxic abusers love to maintain control in whatever way they can. They isolate you, maintain control over your finances and social networks, and micromanage every facet of your life. Yet the most powerful mechanism they have for control is toying with your emotions.

That’s why abusive narcissists and sociopaths manufacture situations of conflict out of thin air to keep you feeling off center and off balanced. That’s why they chronically engage in disagreements about irrelevant things and rage over perceived slights. That’s why they emotionally withdraw, only to re-idealize you once they start to lose control. That’s why they vacillate between their false self and their true self, so you never get a sense of psychological safety or certainty about who your partner truly is.

The more power they have over your emotions, the less likely you’ll trust your own reality and the truth about the abuse you’re enduring. Knowing the manipulative tactics and how they work to erode your sense of self can arm you with the knowledge of what you’re facing and at the very least, develop a plan to regain control over your own life and away from toxic people.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THOUGHT CATALOG on June 30, 2016.

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.


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 order my new book, POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse.

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POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse

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Pathological mind games. Covert and overt put-downs. Triangulation. Gaslighting. Projection. These are the manipulative tactics survivors of malignant narcissists are unfortunately all too familiar with. As victims of silent crimes where the perpetrators are rarely held accountable, survivors of narcissistic abuse have lived in a war zone of epic proportions, enduring an abuse cycle of love-bombing and devaluation—psychological violence on steroids.

From how to heal our addiction to the narcissist to how to recognize a covert narcissist, Shahida Arabi’s articles on narcissistic abuse have gained renown as some of the most accurate and in-depth depictions of this terrifying trauma, resonating with millions of survivors all over the world and receiving endorsement from numerous mental health professionals.

In this essay compilation, readers can enjoy some of her most popular articles as well as new thought pieces on narcissistic abuse, including what actual therapists have to say about malignant narcissists and how children of narcissistic parents can become trapped in the trauma repetition cycle. Survivors are offered new insights on what it means to be both a survivor and a thriver of covert manipulation and trauma.

POWER teaches us that it is important to not only understand the tactics of toxic personalities but also to recognize and combat the effects of narcissistic abuse; it guides the survivor to learning, growing, healing and most importantly of all—owning their agency to rebuild their lives, and transform their powerlessness into victory.

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About the Author

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

 

EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK

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:

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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.

Healing from Emotional Trauma: Do You Have Enough Time to Fulfill Your Destiny?

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Photo Source: IndieWire

I recently watched the movie Lucy (2014) and the theme of time resonated with me deeply and powerfully. In this movie, the protagonist is able to access the maximum amount of her cerebral capacity and has only a limited period of time to tell the world the crucial information she has learned. The end of the movie raised a poignant question: what do we do with the finite time we have on this earth? Are we spending it wisely? And if not, what changes can we make to do so?

Time is traditionally used to inform us of appointments, allocate hours to work, and track our progress. We use time to remember to go to the doctor, to go to the office at a certain hour, to track our progress at work or school. We can use time for reflection as well as daily tasks: time motivates us meet an important deadline, but it also tells us that we’ve spent several years in a certain relationship, helps us to celebrate one-year anniversaries with significant others, and acts as a marker of investment and energy. If we feel we haven’t spent our time in a productive way, we feel our investment and energy had little return. We feel overwhelmed with regret and a sense of learned helplessness that threatens to disable us from making necessary changes in our lives.

Survivors of abuse and emotional trauma have a special and significant relationship with time. I’ve heard numerous stories that end with, “I can’t believe I wasted this amount of time on this person,” or, “These years of my life have been wasted!” It is a painful realization when we recognize that we’ve given our precious time and energy into something that deeply wounded us.

Sometimes it takes a horrifying diagnosis or the ending of a relationship to force us to reflect on the time we have left, but we can be mindful of the present right now, at this very instant.  Although we cannot go back in time to change the way we’ve spent it, it’s important that we stay mindful of the time that we still possess, in the here and now.

In order to spend our time more constructively, we must do the following:

Allocate more time for healing rather than ruminating. Excessive rumination may be the initial response to the  ending of an abusive relationship or after a significant trauma. Survivors of trauma may suffer from symptoms related to PTSD or acute stress disorder, like numbing, dissociative symptoms, recurrent nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance and intrusive thoughts. While it’s extremely important to be patient with ourselves and not rush the healing process, it’s also necessary to make active changes in our lives in order to make progress.

For the sake of our mental health,  addressing our painful emotions and assessing what happened is necessary to moving forward, and we eventually come to the stage where we have to set aside time for what is necessary to heal ourselves. That means being proactive by seeking out professional help, setting boundaries such as low or No Contact with an abusive ex-partner, maintaining a strong support network and engaging in self-care that nourishes our body, spirit and mind.

CHALLENGE: Set a “time limit” for excessive ruminations. If you find yourself ruminating for three hours a day over a particular situation for example, set the time limit to one hour and then spend the rest of the time doing something else like exercising, working on a project, watching a favorite television show, meeting with a friend to do something fun, or writing a poem.

You may still have distracting thoughts during that time, but at least you will be spending more time doing an activity that benefits you rather than spending more time than is necessary reevaluating scenarios that you’ve revisited too many times. Whenever these intrusive thoughts come up, try not to feed them. Step back, observe, and radically accept them, just as they are. Engage in pleasurable distractions or cross another thing off your to-do list. Allow yourself the right to feel all of your emotions, but do not get stuck and permit them to hold you back from enjoying your life.

It’s inevitable that we will think about the trauma and that we will have strong feelings about it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that – it’s a normal response to trauma. I make this suggestion to end excessive ruminations not to invalidate the legitimate feelings and thoughts about trauma that may surface, but to acknowledge that your time here on earth is precious and finite, and you want to spend it in a balanced way.

If you want to move forward, spending excess time overanalyzing situations rather than actively engaging with your life will only deter you from living your life the way it was meant to be led. You must spend some time assessing your trauma, but don’t forget to spend time healing from it as well. Take breaks to relax, work on your goals and live life. This goes back to maintaining that delicate balance between owning both our status as survivor as well as our agency.

Take the time to pursue your unique destiny. In The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra speaks about the “law of dharma,” which is the unique destiny we’re meant to fulfill. Chopra argues that our “dharma,” our “purpose in life,” manifests best when tied to serving humanity and the larger world around us. We have to ask ourselves, how much time am I spending on cultivating this destiny? What do I do every day to serve humanity? Is my current job fulfilling me? Is there volunteer work or another line of work I can pursue to make better use of my talents? Is there a talent that I am wasting rather than sharing with my current efforts?

CHALLENGE: Write down two or three talents or skills that you feel you haven’t used in a while, or haven’t used at all in public. Next to each one, write at least five things you can do to cultivate that talent. If possible, pay special attention to how that talent may serve others. These things can be big or small in the way they help others.

For example, if one of my hidden talents was photography, I could volunteer as a wedding photographer to capture the meaningful moments in my friends’ wedding or start a project that involves taking photographs for a social cause I care about. If my hidden talent was nutrition and fitness, I could volunteer to teach fitness classes at a local community center or start a YouTube channel to help people to change their diets and lifestyles. If I had a great sense of humor, I might use it to regularly brighten someone’s day or I might join an improv comedy group and participate in shows that entertain hundreds of people in need of their daily escape. If I had a passion for mental health and loved to write, I could start a self-help blog or write a self-help book (sound familiar?)

You get the picture. There are so many creative ways to use our talents and put them into use to serve humanity. In the midst of this exercise, you might even come across what you were meant to do all along. This is a better use of our time and it permits us to change the world rather than to focus on what we can’t change – the past.

Enjoy and be mindful of the present moment. Be grateful for what you still have now in the present moment. From basic things like food, shelter, our vision, our ability to walk, to good friends, a stable job and access to health care and education. Cultivating this habit of lifelong gratitude brings us to a place of mindfulness that is beneficial to our health and appreciation of life. Remember: time spent on remorse detracts from time spent savoring what we still have. Nothing lasts forever, so focus on what is still here.

CHALLENGE: Start to replace unhelpful thoughts and cognitive distortions about the past with positive statements about the present. Whenever judgmental statements like, “I shouldn’t have done this” or “I regret what happened,” arise, replace it with, “I am grateful to have survived and learned from this experience.”

If this is too difficult because of the extent of trauma you’ve endured, try to remind yourself of something you still have despite the trauma, like “I still have my health and that’s what’s most important” or “Now I have the freedom to pursue my dreams without interference.” Not all “alternative thoughts” will work to diffuse ruminations over the past, but making a significant effort towards a more positive attitude about your life experience will help you  become more resilient to obstacles in the long-run.

It is also helpful to keep a gratitude journal to remind yourself of all you have to be thankful for in this life. The more time you spend being grateful, the less time you spend being resentful and the more likely you’ll have an increased sense of perceived agency in your life. You’ll be more likely to see challenges as opportunities for growth rather than as dead ends, and more likely to constructively channel your life circumstances into life-changing awareness.

Put an end to toxic interactions and relationships.  These are the unreciprocral, unfulfilling interactions or relationships that leave you emotionally drained and exhausted. They include:  relationships that are past their expiration date, friendships that leave you feeling terribly about yourself, and other interactions with people who mistreat or disrespect you. This helps us to refocus our time on healthier, fulfilling relationships that will make us happier in the long-run.

Minimize the people-pleasing and cut ties with the people who don’t accept you for who you are and who don’t appreciate what you have to offer. This is necessary in order to make the most of our time and use it wisely.  Should you need to maintain contact for whatever reason (for example, this could be a family member who you’re forced to interact with on a weekly basis) it’s important to at least significantly reduce the time and energy you spend interacting with this person or ruminating over your interactions with them.

CHALLENGE: Think of a person in your life who you’ve spent unnecessary time with and energy on recently. What can you do to reduce or end the interaction? Is there a way you can set a boundary so they don’t contact you as often? Do you need to stand up to them and make it clear that you no longer want them in your life? Whatever you must do, do it now. Save yourself future pain and heartache of having to endure a relationship or friendship that isn’t serving you by ending it now or detaching from it. These unfulfilling interactions only hold us back from the destiny we’re meant to fulfill.

As survivors of trauma, our best bet is to keep moving forward and focus on our self-care and self-love. Only by doing so can we fulfill that destiny. As we learn to make better use of our time, we have to remember that healing is a lifelong journey. We may encounter several traumas on this journey, but recovery can be a productive process in that it makes us mindful of the time we’ve spent and the time we have left.

Every single one of us has something we can do to change the world while changing ourselves for the better. Whatever you may call it – destiny, dharma, mission or fate, start asking yourself today: what’s yours?

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.

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Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry, which is an excerpt from the copyrighted book,The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, 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.

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This blog entry has been adapted from a chapter of this book and is 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, 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.

Five Powerful Ways Abusive Narcissists Get Inside Your Head

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Photograph by  Photographee.eu via Shutterstock.

Five Powerful Ways Abusive Narcissists Get Inside Your Head by Shahida Arabi

In popular culture, the term “narcissistic” is thrown about quite loosely, usually referring to vanity and self-absorption. This reduces narcissism to a common quality that everyone possesses and downplays the symptoms demonstrated by people with the actual disorder. While narcissism does exist on a spectrum, narcissism as a full-fledged personality disorder is quite different.

People who meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder or those who have traits of Antisocial Personality Disorder  can operate in extremely manipulative ways within the context of intimate relationships due to their deceitfulness, lack of empathy and their tendency to be interpersonally exploitative. Although I will be focusing on narcissistic abusers in this post, due to the overlap of symptoms in these two disorders, this post can potentially apply to interactions with those who have ASPD to an extent.

It’s important in any kind of relationship that we learn to identify the red flags when interacting with people who display malignant narcissism and/or antisocial traits, so we can better protect ourselves from exploitation and abuse, set boundaries, and make informed decisions about who we keep in our lives. Understanding the nature of these toxic interactions and how they affect us has an enormous impact on our ability to engage in self-care.

Watch out for the following covert manipulation tactics when you’re dating someone or in a relationship.

1. The Idealization-Devaluation-Discard Phase

Narcissists and those with antisocial traits tend to subject romantic partners through three phases within a relationship. The idealization phase (which often happens most strongly during the early stages of dating or a relationship) consists of putting you on a pedestal, making you the center of his/her world, being in contact with you frequently, and showering you with flattery and praise. You are convinced that the narcissist can’t live without you and that you’ve met your soulmate. Be wary of: constant texting, shallow flattery and wanting to be around you at all times. This is a technique known as “lovebombing” and it is how most victims get sucked in: they are tired of the “games” people play with each other in communication and are flattered by the constant attention they get from the narcissist. You may be fooled into thinking that this means a narcissist is truly interested in you, when in fact, he or she is interested in making you dependent on their constant praise and attention.

The devaluation phase is subsequent to this idealization phase, and this is when you’re left wondering why you were so abruptly thrust off the pedestal. The narcissist will suddenly start to blow hot and cold, criticizing you, covertly and overtly putting you down, comparing you to others, emotionally withdrawing from you and giving you the silent treatment when you’ve failed to meet their “standards.” Since the “hot” aspect of this phase relies on intermittent reinforcement in which the narcissist gives you inconsistent spurts of the idealization phase throughout, you become convinced that perhaps you are at fault and you can “control” the narcissist’s reactions.

Even though the narcissist can be quite possessive and jealous over you, since he or she views you as an object and a source of narcissistic supply, the narcissist is prone to projecting this same behavior onto you. The narcissist makes you seem like the needy one as you react to his or her withdrawal and withholding patterns even though the expectations of frequent contact were established early on in the relationship by the narcissist himself.

You are mislead into thinking that if you just learn not to be so “needy,” “clingy,” or “jealous,”  the narcissist will reward you with the loving behavior he or she demonstrated in the beginning. The narcissist may use these and other similar words to gaslight victims when they react normally to being provoked. It’s a way to maintain control over your legitimate emotional reactions to their stonewalling, emotional withdrawal and inconsistency.

Unfortunately, it is during the devaluation phase that a narcissist’s true self shows itself. You have to understand that the man or woman in the beginning of the relationship never truly existed. The true colors are only now beginning to show, so it will be a struggle as you attempt to reconcile the image that the narcissist presented to you with his or her current behavior.

During the discard phase, the narcissist abandons his or her victim in the most horrific, demeaning way possible to convince the victim that he or she is worthless. This could range from: leaving the victim for another lover, humiliating the victim in public, being physically aggressive and a whole range of other demeaning behaviors to communicate to the victim that he or she is no longer important.

2. Gaslighting.

Most abusive relationships contain a certain amount of gaslighting, a technique narcissists use to convince you that your perception of the abuse is inaccurate. During the devaluation and discard phases, the narcissist will often remark upon your emotional instability, your “issues,” and displace blame of his/her abuse as your fault. Frequent use of phrases such as “You provoked me,” “You’re too sensitive,” “I never said that,” or “You’re taking things too seriously” after the narcissists’ abusive outbursts are common and are used to gaslight you into thinking that the abuse is indeed your fault or that it never even took place.

Narcissists are masters of making you doubt yourself and the abuse. This is why victims so often suffer from ruminations after the ending of a relationship with a narcissist, because the emotional invalidation they received from the narcissist made them feel powerless in their agency and perceptions. This self-doubt enables them to stay within abusive relationships even when it’s clear that the relationship is a toxic one, because they are led to mistrust their own instincts and interpretations of events.

3. Smear campaigns.

Narcissists keep harems because they love to have their egos stroked and they need constant validation from the outside world to feed their need for excessive admiration and confirm their grandiose sense of self-importance. They are clever chameleons who are also people-pleasers, morphing into whatever personality suits them in situations with different types of people. It is no surprise, then, that the narcissist begins a smear campaign against you not too long after the discard phase, in order to paint you as the unstable one, and that this is usually successful with the narcissist’s support network which also tends to consist of other narcissists, people-pleasers, empaths, as well as people who are easily charmed.

This smear campaign accomplishes three things: 1) it depicts you as the abuser or unstable person and deflects your accusations of abuse, 2) it provokes you, thus proving your instability to others when trying to argue his or her depiction of you, and 3) serves as a hoovering technique in which the narcissist seeks to pull you back into the trauma of the relationship as you struggle to reconcile the rumors about you with who you actually are by speaking out against the accusations. The only way to not get pulled into this tactic is by going full No Contact with both the narcissist and his or her harem.

4. Triangulation.

Healthy relationships thrive on security; unhealthy ones are filled with provocation, uncertainty and infidelity. Narcissists like to manufacture love triangles and bring in the opinions of others to validate their point of view. They do this to an excessive extent in order to play puppeteer to your emotions. In the book Psychopath Free by Peace, the method of triangulation is discussed as a popular way the narcissist maintains control over your emotions. Triangulation consists of bringing the presence of another person into the dynamic of the relationship, whether it be an ex-lover, a current mistress, a relative, or a complete stranger.

This triangulation can take place over social media, in person, or even through the narcissist’s own verbal accounts of the other woman or man. The narcissist relies on jealousy as a powerful emotion that can cause you to compete for his or her affections, so provocative statements like “I wish you’d be more like her,” or “He wants me back into his life, I don’t know what to do” are designed to trigger the abuse victim into competing and feeling insecure about his or her position in the narcissist’s life.

Unlike healthy relationships where jealousy is communicated and dealt with in a productive manner, the narcissist will belittle your feelings and continue inappropriate flirtations and affairs without a second thought. Triangulation is the way the narcissist maintains control and keeps you in check – you’re so busy competing for his or her attention that you’re less likely to be focusing on the red flags within the relationship or looking for ways to get out of the relationship.

5. The false self and the true self.

The narcissist hides behind the armor of a “false self,” a construct of qualities and traits that he or she usually presents to the outside world. Due to this armor, you are unlikely to comprehend the full extent of a narcissist’s inhumanity and lack of empathy until you are in the discard phase. This can make it difficult to pinpoint who the narcissistic abuser truly is – the sweet, charming and seemingly remorseful person that appears shortly after the abuse, or the abusive partner who ridicules, invalidates and belittles you on a daily basis? You suffer a great deal of cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile the illusion the narcissist first presented to you with the tormenting behaviors he or she subjects you to. In order to cope with this cognitive dissonance, you might blame yourself for his or her abusive behavior and attempt to “improve” yourself when you have done nothing wrong, just to uphold your belief in the narcissist’s false self during the devaluation phase.

During the discard phase, the narcissist reveals the true self – the genuinely abusive and abrasive personality beneath the shallow veneer rears its ugly head and you get a glimpse of the cruelty that was lurking within all along. You bear witness to his or her cold, callous indifference as you are discarded. You might think this is only a momentary lapse into inhumanity, but actually, it is as close you will ever get to seeing the narcissist’s true self.

The manipulative, conniving charm that existed in the beginning is no more – instead, it is replaced by the genuine contempt that the narcissist felt for you all along. See, narcissists don’t truly feel empathy or love for others – so during the discard phase, they feel absolutely nothing for you except the excitement of having exhausted another source of supply. You were just another source of supply, so do not fool yourself into thinking that the magical connection that existed in the beginning was in any way real. It was an illusion, much like the identity of the narcissist was an illusion.

It is time to pick up the pieces, go No Contact, heal, and move forward. You were not only a victim of narcissistic abuse, but a survivor.  Owning this dual status as both victim and survivor permits you to own your agency after the abuse and to live the life you were meant to lead – one filled with self-care, self-love, respect, and compassion.


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

Available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, NOOK, iBooks and other major online retailers. It is available in paperback, as an e-book and as an Audible book.

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Copyright © 2014, 2015, 2016 by Shahida Arabi. 

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About the Author

UntitledShahida Arabi is a graduate of Columbia University graduate school and the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, which has been a #1 Amazon Bestseller for 12 consecutive months since its release. She is also the bestselling author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care. 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 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.

This blog entry is an excerpt from a chapter of this book and is copyrighted by law. Please ask permission before using any part of this entry on another website and always provide proper credit in the form of my name and a link back to this blog.

The Smart Girl’s Guide to No Contact and Detaching From Toxic Relationships

 

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Photo Credit: RockLove

What No Contact is and what it isn’t

No Contact (NC) is not a game or a ploy to get a person back into our lives; this technique has been misrepresented in many dating books and blogs. We should not desire to have people who have mistreated us back into our lives. On the contrary, No Contact is a way to remove this person’s toxic influence so we can live happier, healthier lives while cultivating our authentic self and minimizing people-pleasing. As shown by the image above, No Contact is the key that locks out that person from ever entering our heart, mind, and spirit in any palpable way again.

Why We Establish No Contact in the Context of Abusive Relationships

We establish No Contact for a number of reasons, including preserving a healthy mind and spirit after the ending of a toxic, unhealthy or abusive relationship or friendship. NC gives trauma bonds, bonds which are created during intense emotional experiences, time to heal from abusive relationships. If we remain in constant contact with the toxic person, we will only reinvigorate these trauma bonds and form new ones. No Contact also gives us time to grieve and heal from the ending of an unhealthy relationship or friendship without reentering it. Most of all, we establish No Contact so that toxic people like Narcissists and Sociopaths can’t use hoovering or post-breakup triangulation techniques to win us back over. By establishing No Contact, we essentially remove ourselves from being a source of supply in what is clearly a non-reciprocal, dysfunctional relationship.

How To  Do No Contact Effectively

Full No Contact requires that we do not interact with this person in any manner or through any medium. This includes in-person and virtual contact. We must thus remove and block the person from all social media networks, because the toxic person is likely to attempt to trigger and provoke us through these mediums by posting updates on their lives post-breakup. We must also block them from messaging or calling us or contacting us via e-mail.  Avoid the temptation to find out about the person’s life via a third party or other indirect way.  Remove triggering photos, gifts and any other reminders from your physical environment and from your computer.

Always refuse any requests to meet up with this person and ignore any places the person frequents. Should the person stalk or harass you by other means and you feel comfortable taking legal action, please do so. Your safety comes first. If you are in a situation where you must remain in contact with an ex-partner for legal issues or because of children, keep in low contact (minimum communication) and use the Grey Rock method of communication if this person has narcissistic (NPD) or antisocial (ASPD) traits.

I also highly recommend cutting contact with the friends of the abusive ex-partner if possible as well by also removing them from your social media sites.  I understand you may have established great friendships with these people during the course of your relationship but if you did date a narcissist or sociopath, he or she has likely staged a smear campaign against you and you will not get any validation or support from these people.

Unfortunately, the narcissistic harem or fan club is ultimately convinced by the illusion and false self of the charming manipulator. Think of your ex-partner’s “friends” (more like supply) as being kept in a perpetual idealization phase with no discard – they are not likely to believe your accounts of the abuse and may even be used by the narcissist or sociopath to hoover, triangulate, trigger or manipulate you in some way. It’s best to cut ties with them completely and create your own support network that is separate from the abuser.

Stick to No Contact

If NC is a struggle for you, there many ways to ensure that you stick to it. Make sure you have a weekly schedule filled with pleasurable, distracting activities, such as spending time with friends, going to a comedy show, getting a massage, taking long walks, and reading helpful books such as The No Contact Rule by Natalie Lue.

Take care of your physical and mental well-being by exercising daily,  establishing a regular sleep schedule to keep your circadian rhythms in balance, doing yoga to help strengthen your body and relieve stress, as well as engaging in a daily meditation practice of your choice.

Use these meditations in order to be mindful of your cravings, which will be an inevitably part of the addiction cycle to this toxic relationship. Remember that we are literally “addicted” to the narcissist via biochemical bonds created by lovebombing, devaluation and trauma. If you have a relapse, the important thing is to radically accept (nonjudgmentally) your fall off the wagon and continue to maintain No Contact. Relapse is inevitable in addiction, but recovery is possible.

Studies show that mindfulness curbs our craving by disconnecting the regions of our brain that create that sense of craving. I offer a Healing Meditation for Emotional Abuse Survivors on my YouTube channel, and Meditation Oasis is also an excellent resource for guided meditations.  You may also experiment with alternative healing methods such as Reiki, acupuncture, or aromatherapy.

Do yourself a favor and look up online forums that relate to unhealthy and toxic relationships; joining such a forum ensures that you have a community and support network that enables you to remain NC and support others who are struggling just like you. It will also help validate some of the experiences that you went through during the friendship or relationship with people who’ve been there.

Do not resist your grief during this process, because you will have to face it at some point. The more you resist negative thoughts and emotions, the more they’ll persist – it’s a fact. Learn how to accept your emotions and accept the grieving process as an inevitable part of the healing journey. I recommend trying the grieving exercises and abiding by the No Contact rules in the book Getting Past Your Breakup, written by certified grief counselor Susan Elliot.

Most of all, develop a healthier relationship with your cravings to break NC by practicing radical acceptance and mindfulness to the present moment. Remember that relapse may be an inevitable part of the addiction cycle and forgive yourself if you do break NC at any point. After practicing this self-compassion and forgiveness, you must get back on the wagon after falling off of it. Track your urges to break NC in a journal to curb acting upon the urges. Make sure that before you act on any urge, you give yourself at least an hour to collect yourself. It will get easier once you realize that breaking NC often bears no rewards, only painful learning experiences.

See my list of 30 Kickass Affirmations for Going No Contact with an Abusive Narcissist.

See my videos for more Tips on Maintaining No Contact and No Contact: Healing From Narcissistic Abuse.

Why We Remain No Contact

The ending of an unhealthy relationship often leaves us reeling and feeling unable to cope. Even though we logically know we did not deserve the abuse or mistreatment, we may be tempted to stray from this when our emotions get a hold of us. Trauma bonds often keep us tethered to the abuser, as well as other factors such as codependency, low self-esteem, feelings of low worth, which may have been instilled in us from the abusive patterns within the relationship or may have kept us in the relationship in the first place.

No Contact is a space for healing and reviving yourself, apart from the belittling influences of your former partner or friend. It is an opportunity for you to detach completely from the toxic person while moving forward with your life and effectively pursuing your goals. It enables you to look at the relationship honestly and productively from the realm of your own intuition, perceptions, emotions and thoughts, apart from the gaslighting or abuse of the former partner.

Remember that anyone who has treated you with anything less than respect does not deserve to be in your life, so NC helps you to resist the temptation to invite them back into your life in any manner or form. Many survivors find it helpful to track their progress on a calendar, blog or journal. You should celebrate and take note of your NC progress, as it is both a challenging and rewarding path to self-empowerment.

By establishing No Contact, you are ultimately staging your own victory and exploring your strengths, talents and new freedom with more ease. I invite you take the first steps to recovery and success by challenging yourself to at least 30 days of NC if you are doing it for the first time. This will provide a detoxifying period where you can start to heal in a protective space of self-care and self-love, enabling your mind and body to repair itself from the abuse. Then, utilize the resources I’ve mentioned here in order to maintain NC and purge your life of the toxic influences you were once tethered to.

Happy healing!


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

Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved, including translation rights. No part of this entry, which is an excerpt from the copyrighted book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, 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.


IF YOU ENJOYED THIS, BE SURE TO ALSO READ: 30 KICKASS AFFIRMATIONS FOR GOING NO CONTACT WITH AN ABUSIVE NARCISSIST


 

 

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.