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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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She Who Destroys the Light: A Poetry Collection for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse, Now Available for Pre-Order

I am excited and honored to announce that my debut poetry collection for survivors of abuse and trauma,  She Who Destroys the Light: Fairy Tales Gone Wrong is now available for pre-order! This is one of the two books being published by Thought Catalog this year and I am SO thrilled to be able to share this collection with you all.

There are currently a limited number of signed copies available for pre-order. Be sure to get your copy today!

The book is available in all three formats (print, PDF, and e-book) here: http://thoughtcatalog.com/book/she-who-destroys-the-light/ 

Get your signed paperback copy here: https://gumroad.com/l/ziZMS

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Pre-order the signed paperback here: https://gumroad.com/l/ziZMS

The PDF version here: https://gumroad.com/l/bKLbg

iBooks version: Thought Catalog Book Site

SHE WHO DESTROYS THE LIGHT: FAIRY TALES GONE WRONG

The best fairy tales are the untold stories, the ones where the powerless take back their power and emerge as the victors, but not before enduring a long, arduous battle with the self and the world. In her debut poetry collection, ‘She Who Destroys The Light: Fairy Tales Gone Wrong,’ Shahida Arabi candidly explores the themes of destruction and resurrection, unraveling the dark realities of abuse, trauma, heartbreak and the survivor’s convoluted journey to freedom, healing, creativity and self-love. This collection provides an uncensored and raw exploration into the complexities of adversity and agency, offering a rare glimpse of what it truly means to survive and rise again from the impact of emotional and psychological violence.

 EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK

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ALSO FROM THE BOOK: Read This During the Worst Moments of Your Life.

About the Author

Shahida Arabi is a graduate of Columbia University graduate school and the bestselling author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care and Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare, a #1 Amazon bestseller. Her work has been featured on The Huffington Post, The National Domestic Violence Hotline, MOGUL and Thought Catalog. Her blog, Self-Care Haven, has reached millions of survivors all over the world and her articles have been endorsed by numerous bestselling authors, mental health professionals and award-winning bloggers.

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. 

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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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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.

This blog post is protected under DMCA against copyright infringement.This entry has been adapted from a chapter of a book and are copyrighted by law.

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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.

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.

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!

stopbullying

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.

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.

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 Smart Girl’s Ten Commandments For Self-Care and Self-Love

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Photo Source: ’83 to Infinity

 The Smart Girl’s Ten Commandments For Self-Care and Self-Love by Shahida Arabi

1. Remove the clutter from your life. This includes physical, emotional, and interpersonal clutter which only serves to detract you from focusing on your personal growth. Self-care and self-love require the space and energy to expand yourself, improve yourself and to reach higher levels of spiritual and psychological well-being. You can’t achieve this by allowing unnecessary excess in your life. Clean the physical spaces where you live, because physical clutter can affect your mindset every day. An organized, tidy living space can do wonders for your mood and help you to complete tasks more quickly because everything has its place. Cut the toxic interactions with people you don’t need in your life which are only bringing you down. Stop allowing negative people to take up the space in your mind, heart and soul – they don’t belong there and the ruminations you’re engaging in over them are virtually useless. Refine your to-do list – stop trying to do a million things every day and instead, prioritize the main tasks which are most important to you and closest to what you value in life. Remember, quality beats quantity when it comes to self-care, so invest only in relationships and friendships that make you happier, pursue only the goals that are true to your deepest desires, and save your energy and talent for those worthy of you.

2. Give yourself unconditional love every day no matter what. Unfortunately, no one can really give this to you except yourself. Human beings, while capable of extraordinary love and compassion for others, still love others conditionally. When I say unconditional love, I truly mean unconditional, unlimited, infinite love. It may seem impossible to achieve, but do the best you can to love yourself regardless of whatever circumstances you may have in your career, relationships, status, power, finances, and so forth. I highly recommend reading the book Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant to understand how to enter into a mindset of self-love with a simple mantra. Loving yourself unconditionally also means loving all of you – your flaws, your strengths, your secrets, your weaknesses. Every part of you is important, unique and worthy of love. When you give yourself unconditional love, you find yourself recognizing people who don’t give you the full acceptance you deserve, which makes it easier to clean out the interpersonal clutter as mentioned above.

3. Take care, holistically. Creating a balance between work and play is essential to maintaining holistic self-care. Don’t focus just on one aspect of your life when it comes to self-care. Energize your body,  nourish your spirit, and enlighten your mind. Meditation is important for your spiritual, emotional and mental well-being. Yoga, pilates, dance cardio, and running are great ways to get into shape and improve your mood. Eating mindfully will also help you to achieve optimal levels of energy and fitness while making your body less vulnerable to disease. Writing, reading and taking classes that interest you will keep your mind sharp, alert and always learning. Don’t forget to maintain an active social life in the form of healthy relationships and friendships, as these are essential psychosocial resources that will serve as a crucial source of support and enhance your enjoyment of life.

4. Have high standards and stick to them. Self-respect is crucial to self-care because it protects you from settling for less when you deserve the best. This is toxic to how you view yourself and how you allow others to treat you, your values and your boundaries. If you allow others to trample over your expectations constantly, you’re debasing your worth and chopping away at your self-esteem. You might be afraid that if you have high standards for yourself, people might perceive you as a high-maintenance person and even abandon you in the process. Let them. It doesn’t matter – in fact, it’s probably a good thing that they do abandon you and reveal their true colors. At the end of the day, your opinion of yourself and what you deserve is all that truly matters in life. Having high standards in your career and relationships protect you in the long-run from scammers, emotional predators, and exploiters from sucking you dry and leaving you drained. Think of things that fall below your standards as a bad business deal. You’re not getting what you need and want out of it, but the person on the other side is. It’s not worth the investment if someone else is benefiting from the positive return. Whatever your standards are, stick to them and don’t let anyone or anything convince you to lower them.

5. Pursue your true passions. Life is too short to waste your energy and allocate resources into goals that are not truly your own. Caring for ourselves means remaining authentic and recognizing our true passions. Don’t be pressured into picking a certain career path just because society says it’s the right one for you; don’t always settle for crappy jobs just because they’ll pay the rent; don’t pursue a major just because of its financial rewards unless it’s something that really interests you. Sometimes you will have to make do with what you have in order to survive, but be sure you’re still looking for ways to improve yourself and progress to something better and something that represents your true calling. For example, if you’re a waiter who dreams of writing the next big screenplay, continue working on it when you have the time. Setting aside time to pursue your dreams is important because these are things no one can take away from you. You own the right to all of your dreams and the ability to make them come to life.

The key is to still be practical, but also to be passionate. You were not meant to live this life doing just what is required to survive; you were meant to live life chasing your dreams. Don’t be afraid of failure, because failure is a learning experience that will strengthen you and prepare you to do better in the future. Would you rather sit around and live in the regret of not knowing what would’ve happened if you had tried, or would you rather lead an exciting life by taking on risks and challenges that will ultimately lead you to what you were meant to do?

It’s okay to explore multiple interests and talents; you don’t have to limit yourself to one pursuit. However, if you do have that one dream that’s been pulling at your heartstrings, start chasing it now. If you want to write a book, start by writing a blog or start writing the chapters to the book. If you want to go back to school, start looking up different programs. Take small steps today to start paving the path to tomorrow. Achieving long-term goals and big dreams are possible so long as you put the effort into making them happen. The most successful people I know are not just passive dreamers; they are active chasers who make an effort every day in order to accomplish their goals.

6. Minimize people-pleasing. Nobody wins when it comes to people-pleasing, except a person on the receiving end that’s out to exploit you. Our tendency to people-please takes away from our authentic self, drains us of our energy, and deprives us of our ability to take care of ourselves in meaningful ways. By creating falsehoods in our relationships and interactions with others, we detract from who we were meant to be and pigeonhole ourselves into being who we’re not just to please others. Be confident that who you are and what you want, feel, and experience are completely valid. You don’t have to change to gain someone else’s approval; if someone disapproves of you, that’s okay. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, rejection is not about your self-worth – it’s about another person’s wants, needs and preferences. Don’t see it as a selfish thing to honor your true self; it’s not selfish, it’s self-care and self-love.

7. Be mindful. Many of us go through life mindlessly and this detracts from our experience of present joy. This mindlessness is exacerbated by our fast-paced, technologically advanced society. We are so absorbed in social media and the buzz of our phone that we forget to appreciate the everyday, simple pleasures that come our way. The humming of the birds, the color of the sky, the beauty of someone’s smile, the colorful and delicious food in front of us – these are all things we should be mindfully enjoying. Being attentive, aware and alert to our surroundings and the present moment is vital to experiencing each moment of life more fully and enhancing its joy. So make sure to take at least a couple of hours each day where you release yourself from the distractions of technology and enjoy nature, be engaged with whomever you’re with, and immerse yourself in the conversation you’re having. If you need help in doing this, start writing in a journal about the various things you observed during the day and how attentive you were to them. It takes practice to be more mindful in everyday life, but it’s a worthy practice since it greatly enhances your experience of life’s everyday moments.

8. Cultivate a lifelong habit of gratitude. Being grateful shouldn’t be set aside for the holidays; it should be a way of life. Think of gratitude as another important component of mindfulness and as a lifelong habit that should be practiced every day.  It teaches you to be mindful of the things you take for granted every day, from basic things like your ability to see and walk to the bigger accomplishments like having a good job, access to education or a supportive network of friends. Whether during times of strife or times of bliss, it’s helpful to write in a gratitude journal and take note of all the things you have in your life – remember, these are the same things that other people may be praying for.

9. Give back to the world you live in. Remember how we talked about your unique talents and goals? This is one of the best incentives for exploring them. You are part of a larger world that needs your help. Whether it’s through volunteering, research, activism, teaching, there are a myriad of ways to give. Find creative and engaging ways to help others whenever possible, whether its sharing resources or investing your time and energy into a cause you care about. You are here for a purpose and that purpose is tied to benefiting this world in positive ways. As you learn to love and care for yourself better, you’ll also have more positive energy, love and compassion to give to those around you. Embrace your destiny and change the world.

10. Honor and validate your feelings. All of them. As someone who would qualify as a HSP (highly sensitive person), I know how tough it can be to honor and validate your feelings in a world that’s becoming highly desensitized to emotions and meaningful relationships. However, this last self-care commandment is perhaps the most important one of all. If you can’t honor and validate your own emotions, you’ll allow others to belittle and invalidate them, which means you’re permit toxic people to enter your life without thinking twice. You’ll make yourself vulnerable to gaslighting, manipulation, coercion and abuse. You’ll settle for less because you believe that your feelings don’t matter. Guess what? They do. You have to live with your emotions every day. That’s why it is so vital that you learn to honor them.

Validate every emotion you have, even if you think it’s inappropriate or “wrong” somehow. Emotions aren’t meant to be rational, by the way. They are meant to be signals that provide information about situations you’re experiencing or thoughts that you’re having. Honoring and validating your emotions means telling yourself, “It’s okay that I have these feelings. It’s valid that I have them. These emotions are telling me something about this experience. Now I have a choice on how to react to them.” You don’t have to make your decisions based on your emotions alone, but you should consider them in the decision-making process when it comes to relationships, friendships and personal goals. Honor your feelings and you’ll honor yourself.

To learn more about self-care, 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.

The content of this blog entry has been adapted from a chapter of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care by Shahida Arabi and is copyrighted by law.

Interested in learning about recovery from emotional abuse and trauma? Pre-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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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.

Author Bio: Shahida Arabi is a graduate student at Columbia University, the former President of NOW-NYU and 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.

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.

A Culture of Narcissism, Part I: #YesAllWomen, Misogyny, Rape Culture

A Culture of Narcissism, Part I: #YesAllWomen, Misogyny, Rape Culture and Elliot Rodger

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As a mental health advocate, a feminist, and as someone who has an avid interest in writing about narcissistic abuse, the Elliot Rodger case made my heart ache and my head spin. This case raised so many key social and political issues it was difficult to keep track of them all: misogyny, mental illness and gun control, to name a few. It led to a mass twitter movement under the hashtag #YesAllWomen, to document the horrific experiences of sexual assault, rape, street harassment and the everyday inequalities women face. It led to articles like this one talking about the importance of improving our mental health system to make sure that disturbed people like Elliot Rodger, who was most likely a narcissistic sociopath (although there is misconception that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s) get diagnosed and get proper treatment or care. It also reawakened an issue that’s been in the media for a while now, the issue of gun control and the failings of laws that facilitate access to weapons to potential perpetrators.

There are arguments on all sides about which “issue” should be prioritized, which issue “caused” this disturbed man to instigate a mass shooting. However, these arguments about which issue is most important is actually detracting from a multifaceted reality we have to face. They are all important (although perhaps not an equal amount) and interconnected. They all need to be examined in order to understand what occurred and why it did.

The Elliot Rodger case is indeed about the misogyny in our society and culture as well as the individual pathology that interacted with it. It is about the fact that women can be maimed, killed, assaulted, and even thrown acid upon because they reject sexual advances or marriage proposals from men. It is about rape culture, a pervasive and problematic set of ideologies, practices and values in our culture that normalize and trivialize sexual violence against women, shifting the blame from perpetrator to victim through mechanisms like slut-shaming, street harassment, and cyberbullying when women dare to speak out against it.

There have been a number of women who are a part of the #YesAllWomen movement who have been unjustifiably harassed, stalked and threatened online due to their tweets. After participating in the #YesAllWomen twitter movement against rape culture with my own tweet, “Because the length of my skirt should not be seen as a measure of my consent #YesAllWomen,” I received a nonsensical tweet from an anonymous person who told me, “Studies prove that women who wear bright colors are looking to have sex. It indicates desire.” And this, my friends, is why we need a movement against rape culture and misogyny, and why these issues cannot be dismissed when speaking about the Elliot Rodger case.

It is clear from the hateful responses of those who wish to demean this movement, and from Elliot Rodger’s own entitled rants, that a sense of ownership over women’s bodies is actually considered normal in today’s culture. With the normalization of these attitudes, Elliot Rodger’s own statements, are, as Jessica Valenti puts it, part of “the norm,” rather than the exclusive rantings of a psychopath. Society and culture owned this sense of entitlement to women’s bodies long before Eliot Rodger’s used it to justify his violence. Trolls may argue that since Elliot Rodgers killed men too that misogyny doesn’t matter, but unfortunately his pathology and motives to kill were inevitably tied with misogynistic idealogies. Misogyny kills men too. Men and women both can suffer because of misogyny, a fact that our society and culture seem to dismiss. Misogyny and the rape culture that accompany it are two issues are still very much alive and were manifested in this case.

This case is also about the failings of the mental health system and the trained officials such as law enforcement and mental health practitioners who failed to identify Elliot Rodger’s pathology even when it was reported to them by his own parents. Although we may never have an official diagnosis, Elliot Rodger appears to be an extremely disturbing example of a narcissistic sociopath. This is demonstrated by his grandiose sense of self, claims about how “awesome,” “magnificent,” “godly,” “beautiful” and “perfectly gentlemanly he is,” coupled with his ridiculous sense of entitlement, violation of the rights of others, lack of empathy as well as arrogant remarks dripping with misogyny and racism (which are part of grandiose sense of self and sense of entitlement). He even liked his own Facebook selfies. Red flag right there.

Narcissists and sociopaths are all around us, and while they don’t always reveal themselves in such extreme ways, they are still malignant and capable of ruining lives. They work at our companies as charming and conniving CEOs. They are the emotional vampires and psychological abusers in our romantic relationships. They are the destructive, malignant politicians. They are the trolls on Twitter and Facebook. They can be anyone. They are the Elliot Rodgers in different forms. We must educate ourselves on this disorder as our culture is also becoming highly narcissistic and providing a conducive environment for this disorder to thrive and be rewarded. The development of psychopathology depends on an interaction between biological predisposition and the external environment, after all.  Social media has become a popular mechanism to strengthen and solidify narcissistic urges, for us to “like” and post self-absorbed statuses, pictures, and videos. Although we are not all sociopaths and narcissists, a culture like this will do nothing to curb the development of such a disorder and its potentially life-threatening effects.

And of course, let’s not forget about gun control. Even in a state with restrictive gun laws, Elliot Rodger, someone who had been struggling with mental health issues, was still able to gain access to a gun. This issue also interacts with a failing of our mental health system to identify, diagnose and treat individuals properly. Without that knowledge, guns can be given to people like Elliot Rodger more easily than therapeutic treatment. Why is that? Why is the importance of being armed and the ability to defend ourselves more important than making sure that weapons don’t get into the hands of the wrong people? Why is it more important and more accessible to have a gun than to have access to effective mental health practitioners and treatment? Why is it more prioritized than say, training law enforcement officials better to recognize the signs of disguised psychopathology – something that could’ve helped prevent Elliot Rodger’s crimes?

What’s narcissism got to do with it? The same thing that misogyny, gun control, and the failings of the mental health system have to do with it. All these issues interact with one another and will continue to feed each other in a vicious cycle if we don’t speak out on their behalf and the victims that suffer at the hands of all of them. None of them can be discounted when discussing this case, although people can argue about which issue should be prioritized. The Elliot Rodger case has erupted in an explosive outpouring that has the potential to highlight social justice and sociocultural issues that need to be addressed. The time for change is now.


NOTE:

This is the first post in a series I’ll be writing called A Culture of Narcissism. In this series, I will explore how narcissism is becoming ingrained and reinforced by new technologies, work cultures and other 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.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

A Culture of Narcissism, Part II: Cyberbullying and Trolling

Shahida Arabi is a graduate student at Columbia University, the former President of NOW-NYU and 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.

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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, 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.

Ten Signs of Toxic Friends: The Smart Girl’s Guide

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If you’ve ever been in an abusive relationship with a narcissist, sociopath, emotionally unavailable person or someone otherwise disordered, you have benefited from learning more about the red flags that toxic people exhibit in romantic relationships. You have used these red flags to protect yourself and recognize abusive behavior the next time you see it.

Yet what we often forget to focus on are the red flags of toxic friends – people with whom we should have mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationships with, people who are supposed to support us and provide a validating environment, yet fail to meet our needs even though we’ve met theirs time and time again. It’s important to cultivate and pursue only healthy friendships as well as healthy relationships, because overall healthy interpersonal habits lead to a strong, viable and reliable support system during hardships.

Note: Sometimes, the pronoun “she” is used to represent the friend, but this article is not meant to be gender-specific and can refer to male or female friends.

The Smart Girl’s Guide to Recognizing Toxic Friends: Top Ten Signs

1. They are not happy for your accomplishments. When you mention your success, your friend’s face goes automatically sour. She may look like she’s eaten an entire lemon as she struggles to say congratulations. Or you receive a totally blank facial expression and no response at all, just a stare. She may even attempt to “one-up” you by mentioning her accomplishments quickly before you’ve even finished your sentence. This is the type of friend who is never happy for anything you do, and is secretly hoping you’ll fail so that she doesn’t have to feel so badly about her own life. This is toxic because real friends celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and even if there is any jealousy involved, they will put it aside in order to congratulate their friends. Instead of feeling despair at their friends’ accomplishments, true friends will be secure in their own accomplishments, and thus feel celebratory, inspired and motivated to better themselves when they hear about the accomplishments of others.

2. They covertly put you down. If you’re happy and cheerful for whatever reason, toxic friends find ways to rain on your parade by introducing little storms and tempests of invalidation, belittlement, and degradation. These are often disguised as “helpful” or “honest” comments that actually have no value at all except to make you feel less proud of yourself. Saying things like, “Oh, anyone could’ve done that,” when you mention something you accomplished or, “That’s not a real major” when you mention your academic concentration. They also seem sadistically happy when you’re failing or when you’re going through a difficult time. This is a sign that something is seriously wrong with them. Real friends don’t attempt to criticize or put down people just for the pleasure of making someone seem small. Only inferior people do that in order to elevate themselves. If you can’t be your greatest, authentic self around your friends without being constantly demeaned by them, then they’re not your true friends. They’re malignant bullies and narcissists. Get it straight and know the difference.

3. They emotionally exhaust you. Have you ever had this experience? You’re on the phone with a friend. You ask your friend how she’s doing, and find yourself being “talked at” rather than “talked to” for hours on end – and this consistently seems to happen all the time. As you finally get your chance to speak, your friend suddenly needs to get off the phone because she is now so tired from all the “talking.”

Sure, we all have to vent sometimes and talk about ourselves. Certain situations warrant this type of behavior such as a break-up, a loss in the family,  or any other traumatic event. However, if this happens quite often and you rarely get a chance to have a reciprocal conversation with a person, you’re acting as their audience to a monologue and not as a friend. You also deserve to be listened to and deserve to talk about any problems in your life. Don’t let these toxic friends convince you otherwise. Stand up for yourself and tell them this is an issue. If they continue to do this despite you establishing that boundary, it’s time to forfeit the friendship altogether.

These toxic friends drain you and your ability to engage in self-care because they are emotional vampires whose only focus is them, their lives, their wants and needs. You don’t exist, or if you do, you only exist in relation to them.  For example,  if a friend hears your traumatic story and uses it to turn the conversation back to her life constantly, this is a red flag for narcissism, so be careful. Real friends would listen to your story and make sure to give you feedback that is helpful to you before turning the conversation back to them. Stay away from any people with whom you don’t feel there is an equal, reciprocal exchange of conversation, validation, compassion, and respect.

4. They are there for your good times, and never for the bad. We mentioned in #1 that you should stay away from people who don’t celebrate your accomplishments. One caveat though: watch out for toxic friends who are only there to piggyback on your success. These friends only appear when you’re doing very well, and rarely show up when you need them during hardships. They use your presence to associate themselves with you, for the sole purpose of seeming more important via affiliation to your success. Or they enjoy your presence only when you’re in a good mood and they need you. Otherwise, when you have a health scare, or someone in your family has an accident, they are nowhere to be found. Real friends help each other through tough times and are there for each other even when times are challenging.

5. Not emotionally responsive, validating or helpful. What is the point of having friends if they can’t even respond to your emotions? If you find yourself dealing with a friend whom you can have great intellectual conversations with, but only  hear the sounds of crickets when you tell them you’ve had a bad day or you just had a breakup, this friendship is a no-go. Feel free to keep those type of people for your LinkedIn, but not for your real life crises. At most, they are a professional or academic connection because all they can do is talk about things related to the mind but not the heart. Sure, some situations lead to a loss for words, but friends should be capable of basic emotional support, even if it’s a hug and the words, “I am here for you.” If your friend happens to be very emotionally invalidating, constantly telling you to “get over it” or gets angry at you expressing your emotions, leave them forever and don’t give them access to your life in any way. They don’t deserve to be your friend. Real friends validate each other’s emotions while still empowering each other’s personal growth.

6. They don’t stand up for you. When an outsider or mutual friend makes a snide or insulting comment about you or does something hostile or horrific to you right in front of these toxic friends, you rarely see these toxic friends jumping to the rescue. They don’t advocate on your behalf even if they are the only ones who can. They don’t support you when you most need it. Real friends come to each others’ aid; they don’t have to “pick sides” in order to point out wrongdoing and consider your feelings. And also, when did we become so resistant to “picking sides”? Why shouldn’t friends advocate for victims or call out inappropriate behavior when they see it? These toxic friends will more likely either stay silent or even participate in the belittling behavior on your behalf. That’s when you know it’s time to stop making excuses and stop defending people who won’t defend you.

7. Their ego is bigger than their bond to you and they attempt to put a shade on your light. These types of friends are extremely narcissistic, jealous and they will do whatever it takes to maintain their delusion of grandeur. For example, they might refuse to compliment you when you’re all dressed up, but compliment someone next to you who is wearing sweats and a t-shirt. They might put up pictures of themselves on social media with other friends, but avoid putting up pictures of you and them together because they think you outshine them in some way. Or they may hide or belittle your accomplishments to others while they brag about their own. These are superficial friends who can’t stand having someone outsmart them or be prettier than them. Real friends appreciate each other’s unique beauty, intelligence and charisma. They don’t attempt to obscure your light in the darkness just because of their own place in the shade.

8. They only communicate through the screen. For this, I am referring only to “offline” friends who you have met face-to-face with. I know there are many online friendships that are built through supportive forums and I don’t mean to diminish the value of those. However, for friendships that developed face-to-face and for friends who live within a reasonable distance of each other, there’s no reason that both people in the friendship would make an effort to see each other in real life occasionally. You know, step away from the messenger and Facebook once in a while to actually make a face-to-face connection when possible. Be very wary of any friends who don’t have time to see you, but seem to have all the time in the world to be wrapped up in their new boyfriend 24/7.

These are not your real friends. These are buddies constantly talking to you through a screen, and electronic communication is often a cop-out for emotionally unavailable people. If these friends emotionally exhaust you as well, they have no place in your real life or even on your messenger list. You might as well be engaging with the wall, although the wall will probably be more sympathetic and won’t hurt your feelings. Think of it this way: you’re wasting energy on these toxic people by constantly engaging with them online because they won’t grace you with their presence offline. They have shown you they don’t have time to do a simple meet and greet by taking a step outside, so why should you hurt your eyes or strain your fingers for them? Real friends make the effort to meet in person; emotional vampires, like real vampires, can’t stand the daylight and prefer the light of the computer screen.

9. Too busy for everything and anything. Related to #8, if your friend is constantly always too busy to see you or make any type of contact, especially in the midst of a crisis, run, don’t walk away from the friendship. Yes, people have jobs, lives, and relationships to deal with. Nobody can always be there for you every time you need it. That’s all fine and dandy, but if a friend rarely even follows up on how you’re doing when you really need them and plays this “too busy” game consistently, this friend needs to get the door slammed in his or her face the next time he or she comes around looking for any attention.

Also, thankfully for technological advancement, social media has made it quite easy to assess whether these friends are truly “busy” or truly bullshitting. If you see your friend claiming to be too busy to call you during a crisis but posting statuses or liking people’s posts on social media all the time, you have further confirmation that this friend is not a real one. Thanks, Facebook and Twitter for the heads-up!

10. Betrayal, breaking boundaries and disrespect. I saved this for last but it’s the most important. If your friend disrespects you by: being flaky, multiple cancellations, chasing after or flirting with your significant other, calling you names, cursing at you, bullying you, coercing you, making you cry during an already rough time by being insensitive, pressuring you to do something, gossiping about you, or treating you with anything less than respect or consideration – it’s time to take your fabulous self out the door. There will be plenty of people in the world who won’t make you feel that way, so why not save your energy and invest in something that will have a positive return?

Life is way too short to waste our energy on toxic people, whether they be friends or romantic partners. Learn to recognize these signs and you will pave a better path to a healthier life, better support system, and more meaningful as well as authentic relationships. Once you’ve experienced an authentic friendship with love, care, compassion and respect, I guarantee you’ll never want to go back to one with the absence of these qualities.

You can see more tips on detaching from toxic people and cultivating your authentic self in 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.

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.