Tag Archives: power

POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse

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

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

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

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

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FOR A LIMITED TIME, RESERVE YOUR SIGNED COPY OF POWER HERE.

 

About the Author

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

 

EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK

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5 Powerful Self-Care Tips for Abuse and Trauma Survivors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article has also been published on MOGUL and TheMindsJournal.

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

Copyright © 2016 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved.  No part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. This includes adaptations in all forms of media.

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

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

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UntitledShahida Arabi is a graduate of Columbia University graduate school and the author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, a bestselling Kindle book also available in print. She is also the author of Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself, which became a #2 Amazon Bestseller upon its pre-order release. She studied Psychology and English Literature as an undergraduate at NYU, where she graduated summa cum laude. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. You can check out her new blog, Self-Care Haven, for topics related to mindfulness, mental health, narcissistic abuse and recovery from emotional trauma, like her page on Facebook, and subscribe to her YouTube Channel.

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

The Distinction Between Victim-Blaming and Owning Our Agency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

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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.

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

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Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, 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.