Tag Archives: victim-blaming

Five Ways We Rationalize Abuse And Why We Need To Stop

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By Shahida Arabi

A common abusive tactic is gaslighting the victim into thinking the abuse they are suffering isn’t real. By casting doubt onto the victim’s sanity and perceptions of the abuse, the abuser is then able to distort and manipulate the victim into thinking that the abuse didn’t exist or that it wasn’t abuse at all.

Another painful aspect of this gaslighting effect as well as the effects of trauma is that we begin to rationalize, deny and minimize the impact of the abuse in an effort to survive a hostile, toxic environment. We essentially begin ‘gaslighting’ ourselves and blaming ourselves for the abuse, though certainly not with the same intent or awareness as our abusers.

I want to emphasize that this is not your fault, but rather a common reaction to enduring and having to survive severe trauma. Here are five ways we rationalize abusive behavior that we can all be more mindful of, moving forward. These are not only relevant to survivors of abuse, but also society as a whole to remember, in order to combat victim-blaming.

1. “Well, I am not perfect either.” A popular misconception is that one has to be perfect in order to gain respect and decency. There is no excuse for any form of abuse, period. If you are a non-abusive person who is capable of empathy, there is especially no excuse for a person to verbally, emotionally, or physically violate you in any way, regardless of your flaws.

Many survivors of abuse have been accused of being too sensitive, too clingy, too much of everything – this has caused them to excessively look inward for someone to blame rather than seeing the true culprit. The abuser works very hard to implant false insecurities as well as exaggerate existing ones; they continually blameshift to make everything the victim’s fault. There are plenty of imperfect people in the world who have loving partners, friends and family members. These people don’t have to meet some fictitious criteria for perfection to be worthy of respect and decency. Neither should you.

If you don’t quite believe this yet, think about the most caring, empathic person you know who has ended up in a toxic relationship with an abuser. Didn’t that same abuser still reap the benefits of having such a wonderful partner? Why is it that an abuser gets to be with such a warm, loving person and you, a nonabusive, albeit imperfect person, has to settle for abuse? The truth is, you don’t. No one is perfect – and considering your abuser is probably condescending, filled with rage, contempt and a lack of empathy, he or she is especially not one to talk about imperfection.

2. “Now he/she is being sweet. They’re back to normal.” Don’t mistake saccharine sweetness for authentic change. There is a difference between a non-abusive person taking responsibility and an abusive one who lacks empathy; the latter often takes responsibility without making any concrete changes. If a loved one who has otherwise been respectful has done something wrong that is out of character, has taken responsibility and worked to repair the relationship, this is different than the abuse cycle with an abuser who is unwilling to change.

A person who has empathy and can take accountability for their actions is not normally unpredictable; they are fairly consistent in their behavior. They don’t go out of their way to manipulate, berate and demean you at every and any opportunity. They can place themselves in your shoes and understand the rules of basic decency and respect. Abusers undermine these very rules by acting as if ‘respect’ is a relative term that can be reframed to suit their own agenda.

Consider that the abuser’s ‘normal’ is not the kind, charming person they presented in the beginning of the relationship – the ‘normal’ in an abusive relationship is the unpredictable, hurtful person who leaves you walking on eggshells, has no problem prioritizing their comfort over your pain, and regularly gains pleasure from controlling and demeaning you.

The abuse cycle relies on hot and cold, mean and sweet behavior, which means nice actions after an abusive incident cannot be taken at face value, but rather as embedded in a chronic pattern of behavior. According to domestic violence specialist, Dr. Clare Murphy, ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ abusers deliberately switch masks at the drop of a hat to simultaneously punish and comfort you. This cycle of intermittent emotional battery and resolution keeps us traumatically and biochemically bonded to them.

The abuser knows you will use this rationalization to excuse his or her abusive behavior, so they ensure that their apologies, pity ploys, or their ability to revert back to the false self make you second-guess your perceptions so they can win you over once again. It’s all a ploy to get you back into the abuse cycle so they can mistreat you all over again.  Remember to keep in mind all of the abuser’s actions up until this point, before you begin feeding into false hopes. Documenting and writing down accounts of the abuse can be helpful in keeping you grounded about what has occurred.

3. “They reached out to me after I set boundaries, so that must mean they miss me.” A recent study revealed that narcissistic exes are likely to reconnect with their past partners for convenience and pleasure, not because they miss them or truly want them back in their lives. When an abuser reaches out to a survivor after the relationship has already ended, this is known as “hoovering,” where, like a Hoover vacuum, the abuser attempts to suck the victim back into the traumatic vortex of the relationship. In “The Hoover Maneuver: The Dirty Secret of Emotional Abuse,” therapist Andrea Schneider, LCSW notes that for abusers, hoovering enables the abuser to regain control over the status quo of the relationship.

For malignant narcissists, hoovering is not about the fact that they miss their former victims who they once devalued – it’s about re-idealizing past flames so they can continue to keep them as permanent members of their harem for whenever they’re lacking in narcissistic supply. When you’re being hoovered, you’re essentially being manipulated, not missed or pined for.

4. “They’re just under a lot of stress.” Think about a time when your abuser was very stressed – whether at work or due to other extenuating circumstances. Did they lash out at people like their boss, their harem members or at complete strangers? Did they make a scene in public and humiliate themselves? Did they risk losing their jobs, their public reputation or the shallow friendships with people who believed in their facade due to their seemingly ‘uncontrollable’ rage?

Or did they come home to you and use you as an emotional (or even physical) punching bag behind closed doors? If you were involved with a covert narcissistic abuser, it’s likely that you experienced the latter. See, abusers ‘select’ who they feel safe revealing their abusive behavior to. They know that their loved ones, who are  heavily invested in them and emotionally bonded to them, will be more likely to protect and defend them, even if they are the victims of the abuse, because victims tend to be traumatically bonded to their abusers. They feel a great deal of power and control being able to unleash their fury onto their victims – without as many repercussions.

Keep in mind that survivors of some of the worst traumas, such as domestic violence, undergo a great deal of stress and the traumatic impact of the abuse has a direct impact on their mind, body and spirit. Yet many of them, with the right tools and resources, as well as professional support, manage to not use their trauma as an excuse to abuse others. In fact, their experiences often ensure that they become extra vigilant about their behavior, in an effort to avoid hurting anyone in the way they’ve been hurt.

The bottom line? We all have stress in our lives. Many of us have undergone trauma that is unimaginable, including being children of narcissistic parents. Some of us may act out or lash out occasionally, or still have trouble managing our triggers from time to time. It doesn’t make us abusive, especially if we take accountability and have taken steps to improve our behavior. However, chronic abusers will use their trauma background as an excuse to be abusive, rather than using that energy to improve their behavior. This differentiates the manipulative abuser from the traumatized survivor. At the end of the day, unless we’re experiencing severe psychosis, the choice to abuse is still always a choice and we are still accountable for it.

Abusers who are aware enough to switch from their abusive behavior to their false mask quickly when there is a witness can choose to change their behavior – as evidenced by their false, charming behavior in the early stages of relationships – they simply choose not to.

5. “I found myself reacting to the abuse, so I must have asked for it.” The myth of mutual abuse is one that even the National Domestic Violence Hotline dispels. It is, for the most part, still a myth. There is often a clear power imbalance between victim and abuser. The abuser is the one who erodes the victim’s identity, beliefs, goals, and dreams, while the survivor becomes increasingly diminished and demeaned. Survivors may exhibit maladaptive reactions to the abuse over time, but there are also plenty of ‘normal’ reactions to abuse that are simply symptoms of trauma. Many survivors may feel confused about talking back to their abuser or feeling bouts of rage, but the truth is that when a victim has been chronically traumatized, it is irrational not to assume that this will have an impact on their behavior or emotional well-being.

Know this: if you are being abused, it’s normal to feel angry and hurt. These are normal, human emotions that arise due to being mistreated – and as many have noted, normal reactions to heinously abnormal and dysfunctional behavior. These emotions are signals that tell you that something is very wrong. It’s important that if you are being abused, you release some of the self-blame and refocus on how you can emotionally detach and safely leave your abuser. The abuse was not and never will be your fault. 

This article was first posted on Thought Catalog on December 16, 2016.

Copyright © 2016 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. This article is derived from copyrighted excerpts from my book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying YourselfNo part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. This includes adaptations in all forms of media.

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Healing Our Addiction to the Narcissist: My Interview on Mental Health News Radio

 LISTEN TO THE SHOW!

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 READ THE INTERVIEW!

I want to thank Mental Health News radio show host Kristin Sunanta Walker and therapist Melanie Vann for having me on their recent show to talk about my new book, Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself.

Mental Health News radio is an amazing platform that has reached so many people and has connected intriguing, diverse perspectives on important topics in the mental health community, including narcissistic abuse. It was an honor to be able to contribute to the dialogue on narcissism and narcissistic abuse and join their incredible line-up of speakers, psychologists, authors, survivors and advocates.

You can listen to the show here and read the entire associated blog entry of the interview on their website here.

“We’ve enjoyed reading the Kindle Best Seller, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care by author and advocate Shahida Arabi. Her social media presence and blogs are an informative tribute empowering women of all ages and stages of recovery. Join us for an in-depth conversation about healing our addiction to narcissists. ”

QUESTIONS COVERED IN THE INTERVIEW:

What is your second book on narcissistic abuse about? How will it help victims recognize the signs of narcissistic abuse and heal?

How does a person become narcissistic?

Why do we gravitate towards narcissists? Is there such a thing as chronic victimization – a person who can have relationships with multiple narcissists and be primed to get into yet another one? How do we prevent that pattern?

Why do people stay so long in abusive relationships with narcissistic or antisocial personalities? Are victims to blame for narcissistic abuse?

Is there a difference between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and another cluster B disorder such as Borderline Personality Disorder?

What tools can I use to detach and heal from a narcissist?

Why do Narcissists come back and try to contact you even after the relationship has ended?

What if the narcissist is the one who is “addicted” to something – is there a difference between a substance abuser who is emotionally abusive when using and a narcissistic abuser?

What should survivors do with their experiences of narcissistic abuse?


Questions and answers written by our guest Shahida Arabi:

What is your second book on narcissistic abuse about? How will it help victims recognize the signs of narcissistic abuse and heal?

I am currently working on a second book called Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying YourselfThis book will cover the red flags of narcissistic behavior which can very covert and underhanded, our addiction to the narcissist as well as how to detach and heal from narcissistic abuse, especially if you’ve been involved with more than one narcissist or were raised by a narcissistic parent, which means you were primed for this type of abuse. Narcissistic abuse can be very difficult for people who have never been through it to understand, which is why it’s important to talk about the actual behaviors involved in this type of abuse as well as its effects on the victim.

Full-fledged narcissists, those who meet the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, display arrogant, haughty behaviors and a depraved sense of entitlement. They are highly inter-personally exploitative and manipulative, prone to using people for their own personal gain or agenda. Most importantly, they lack the ability to empathize with others – which make them toxic relationship partners in the long-run.
SelfCareHavenNarcissism-768x432While the DSM-5 has helpful information on the characteristics of a narcissist, it does not explore the actual behaviors that narcissists display within relationships – abusive behaviors such as: being overly critical towards their partners, covertly and overtly putting them down with different forms of verbal abuse, controlling every aspect of their partner’s life, stonewalling their victims into silence, triangulating them with other love interests, gas-lighting them into believing the abuse isn’t real, subjecting their victim to smear campaigns, projecting their malignant traits onto their partners and using a false charismatic self to make their victims look like the “crazy” ones.

This is what narcissistic abuse looks like – and unfortunately, the full extent of narcissistic abuse is not taught in any psychology class or diagnostic manual. I was actually taking a graduate-level Adult Personality and Psychopathology class when I first learned the DSM definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder – yet I still had no idea I was at the time with a narcissistic abuser. It was only by reading more about narcissistic abuse, the literature on it as well as accounts from survivors themselves, that I learned about the complex dynamics involved between abuser and victim.

It is truly a narcissist’s malignant behaviors and how they affect us that are the key to understanding if your partner is a narcissist. The narcissistic abuser can lead survivors to feel depressed, suicidal, anxious, constantly on edge and worthless. If your partner displays these types of toxic behaviors, at the very least, they are emotionally, verbally and psychologically abusive. While malignant narcissists are certainly very dangerous, partners who display even some of these behaviors and refuse to change do not need the diagnosis of NPD in order for victims to recognize they have a toxic relationship partner.

Currently, the best sources of rich information on narcissistic abuse are the voices of survivors as well as mental health professionals who have either experienced narcissistic abuse themselves or who have worked extensively with abuse victims or abusers as clients – these are the people who are on the front line and can better articulate the complex dynamics of this type of relationship as well as the motives of these disordered personalities.

This is why I am currently working on a second book that is specifically about the dynamics of narcissistic abuse that is not taught in classrooms – including the psychological trauma and biochemical bonds we develop with narcissistic abusers and the trauma reenactment that is involved if we grow up with a narcissistic abuser as a parent or family member, conditioned to accept this type of covert abuse.

This book will provide survivors an extensive look into narcissistic abuse, including our addiction to the narcissist and why it is so difficult to extricate yourself from an abusive partner whose methods are often covert and underhanded. It will offer tools to begin to detach and heal from the narcissist or the narcissists we’ve encountered throughout our lifetime, especially if we have a pattern of being with more than one narcissistic partner.

I wanted to write this book to bridge the gap between the scientific research on this disorder and survivor accounts by incorporating the work of psychologists, popular bloggers and authors on the topic of narcissism, my personal experiences as well as thousands of survivor accounts and feedback I’ve gotten from my coaching program, surveys, as well as on my blog and social media platforms. It is my hope that this book will help survivors transcend the abuse they’ve experienced, channel their experiences into the greater good and become advocates for their own self-care.

How does a person become narcissistic?

There are many different theories as to how a person develops this disorder. Some psychologists theorize that the narcissist suffered a severe trauma in childhood – what they call a “narcissistic wound.” This may have been caused by a cold, unempathic parent which caused the narcissist to associate his or her identity with an area of success his or her parents valued such as looks, intellectual ability or another talent, in place of healthy self-esteem and self-acceptance.

Other theories posit that a pattern of overvaluation by a parent leads to arrested emotional development, causing a child to develop a sense of grandiosity that vacillates between feelings of worthlessness and a hyperinflated ego – in other words, narcissism. This is because the narcissistic child is overvalued as “perfect” and this type of feedback is not balanced with realistic feedback.

There is also a biological and neurological standpoint that focuses mainly on how a narcissist’s brain has structural abnormalities related to compassion (Schulze et. al, 2013). Narcissists may have suffered something traumatic when they were a child – perhaps an over-idealization by an adult that made them want to remain like a child forever without any consequences, or devaluation and neglect. They may have even been raised by someone who was narcissistic. Or, they may be born with the disorder.

While each theory is compelling, clinicians are not absolutely certain as to what causes NPD. In my opinion, psychopathology is often caused by an interaction between biological predisposition and environment. There are also multicultural components which can make certain disorders more likely than others in certain countries or manifest differently across various contexts. The interactions between environment and biological predisposition can act as a protective factor orrisk factor to prevent or exacerbate certain disorders in individuals who do have a biological predisposition. Factors such as a strong support network, access to therapy/medication, upbringing, religious beliefs, media, as well as other exacerbating experiences outside of the family unit like bullying, sexual assault, witnessing violence, or other traumas can all interfere or strengthen that predisposition towards pathology.

What survivors can be certain of is that being with a partner with NPD can be extremely dangerous due to their lack of empathy and tendency to be exploitive. If you enter a relationship with a narcissist, beware: the false self is often so charming and so different from the true self that you may fall prey to a vicious cycle of narcissistic abuse that can be very difficult to extricate yourself from. A relationship with a narcissist often contains some degree of psychological, emotional and in some cases, physical and sexual violence depending on where the narcissistic person falls on the spectrum.


Becoming the Narcissist's NightmareWhy do we gravitate towards narcissists? Is there such a thing as chronic victimization – a person who can have relationships with multiple narcissists and be primed to get into yet another one? How do we prevent that pattern?

We are drawn to narcissists because they tend to be charismatic and charming. Their false self is usually constructed of the very traits and characteristics we’ve been longing for – the love, validation and respect we may have longed for in our childhood but never received. A recent study by Haslam and Montrose (2015) showed that women who are looking for a marital partner, even if they had previous experience with narcissistic types, actually preferred narcissistic partners over non-narcissistic ones. Narcissists deliberately mirror and mimic our deepest desires and values, which makes them incredibly convincing and tempting to us. Narcissists also have a devil-may-care attitude that draws us in because they seem unfazed by anything – that’s because they aren’t.

It’s important to remember that their false self is often the self we fall for – the true self of a narcissist does not unravel until they have hooked us into the relationship, so it is very difficult to ascertain that there may be any pathology present until we’ve invested in the relationship. By that time, their hot and cold tactics (also known as intermittent reinforcement) begin to take hold of us, creating psychological and biochemical bonds that inevitably keep us attached.

Unfortunately, many of us can be “primed” for narcissistic abuse due to the subconscious programming instilled in us from childhood – this can cause victimization by multiple narcissists throughout our lifetime, starting with experiencing narcissistic abuse in childhood. Research shows that those who witness domestic violence are more likely to become victims or perpetrators themselves. Dr. Bruce Lipton talks about subconscious programming in his book The Biology of Belief (2007), in which he discusses an incredible study where a fetus on a sonogram began visibly responding to a fight between father and mother. Yes, programming can start as early as in the mother’s womb! Imagine how traumatizing it must be for a child, if the only models of love they receive in their childhood, are models based on codependency (or as Ross Rosenberg calls it, Self-Love Deficit Disorder), abuse and disrespect. Trauma can have a significant impact on early brain development, interpersonal effectiveness and emotional regulation.

A large majority of our behavior is subconsciously driven – which means we ourselves may not even know the reasons for why we’re addicted to the narcissist until we dig deeper into trauma from adolescence, childhood or even adulthood – trauma can happen at any time but most especially, it can rewire our brain significantly in childhood. If we’ve witnessed domestic violence or experienced any type of abuse or bullying that traumatized us, we are more susceptible to becoming attached to narcissistic partners in the attempt to resolve the trauma – this is what Dr. Gary Reece calls “trauma repetition” or “trauma reenactment.”
For those of us who have a pattern of being with multiple narcissistic partners throughout our lifetime, it’s important for us to look at the root of the original trauma – whether it was in childhood, adolescence or even young adulthood. There is something within us that needs to be healed in order to break this reenactment. Being with multiple narcissists is what I call “trauma upon trauma.” We hide one trauma with another – we go from one narcissist straight into the arms of another – which makes it very difficult to step back and break the pattern, because we don’t cease the pattern long enough to reevaluate and disrupt it.

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Why do people stay so long in abusive relationships with narcissistic or antisocial personalities? Are victims to blame for narcissistic abuse?

I talk about this topic at length in my upcoming book on narcissism. Victims are not to blame for staying in abusive relationships. There are many reasons why they stay longer than they should and each victim has his or her own unique circumstances. Contrary to the victim-blaming discourse that dominates our society, recovery from an abusive relationship can be very similar to withdrawal from drug addiction due to the biochemical and psychological bonds we develop with our abusers.

What many people don’t understand is that our own brain chemistry can lock us into this addiction to the narcissistic or sociopathic partner. Dopamine, cortisol, adrenaline and oxytocin are all implicated in what I like to call the “biochemical bond from hell.”

This biochemical bond is even stronger because of the traumatic highs and lows of the relationship. The same neurotransmitter that is responsible for cocaine addiction – dopamine – is the same one responsible for our addiction to dangerous romantic partners.

Imagine this: the intense pleasurable moments of the honeymoon period of a relationship release dopamine and create reward circuits in the brain, essentially telling us to go back to our toxic partners and relive the pleasurable memories. Intermittent reinforcement of positive behaviors dispersed throughout the abuse cycle (e.g. gifts, flowers, compliments, sex) only strengthens this bond. In fact, in “Bad Boys, Bad Brains,” Dr. Susan Carnell notes that intermittent reinforcement of rewards actually enables dopamine to flow more readily, which strengthens the reward circuit associated with this toxic relationship in our brain.

Then we have our sexual relationship with the narcissistic partner, often described by survivors as one of the most intense and sexually charged experiences of their lives. Narcissists mirror our deepest sexual and emotional desires, which makes for an electrifying sexual chemistry with them. Oxytocin is released whenever we physically interact with our abuser, promoting attachment and trust. This is the same “love” hormone that bonds mother and child at birth, ensuring that we “bond” with the abuser even after experiencing incidents of abuse. In fact, narcissistic abusers tend to merge abusive incidents with displays of affection and seduction precisely to create this sort of chaos in our bodies and minds.

At this time, the cortisol levels in our body are going haywire due to the stress from the abuse, trapping chronic stress within our bodies. Yet they are lowered once we are comforted and soothed by our narcissistic partner’s apologies and sweet-talking – which conditions us to go back to our narcissistic partners as a source of healing, even if they are simultaneously the source of the abuse.

Then there’s the adrenaline rush we get from the unpredictability of the narcissist’s intermittent reinforcement and reckless behavior – the positive reinforcement they sneak in periodically throughout the abuse cycle to make us long for the nice, caring person they pretended to be during the idealization phase of the relationship.

In addition, being with any type of abuser creates what Dr. Patrick Carnes (2010) calls “trauma bonds,” a form of Stockholm syndrome in which intense, shared experiences with the predator compel us to bond with them in order to survive. Trauma bonding is a psychological defense mechanism that allows us to withstand severe abuse and reconcile our cognitive dissonance about who the abuser pretended to be in the beginning of the relationship versus who he or she really is.

Furthermore, there are also practical reasons why victims do not leave abusive relationships. Some victims may have a fear of retaliation or harm depending on how malignant and physically or sexually abusive their abuser is; they may be financially dependent on their partners; they may have children or share a business with the narcissist; they may be isolated from their support network by their abuser.

They may also have a poor support network that does not validate the abuse they’ve suffered, including an invalidating psychologist who may not have been trained in treating clients suffering from this type of covert abuse. Insensitive friends and family members may shame abuse victims, asking them why they didn’t leave sooner and inquiring what they did to provoke the abuse.

Those closest to abuse survivors may question the abuse victim’s accounts of the abuse because they only see the false, charming self of the abuser, not realizing that abuse often takes place behind closed doors so that the abuser can escape accountability. This type of emotional invalidation leads the victim to doubt his or her perceptions of the abuse and stay within the relationship to try to make it work. Victims feel so alienated from those who supposedly love and care for them that their sense of learned helplessness is reinforced – they feel as if they are unable to escape the abusive relationship and rebuild a better life because there is no one who understand their situation. This sense of powerlessness and learned helplessness is at the core of all abusive relationships and the way abusers make us feel.

Understanding why we are addicted permits us recognize that our addiction is not about the merits of the narcissist, but rather the nature and severity of the trauma we’ve experienced, as well as the lack of invalidation and support victims are likely to encounter from society, and even those closest to them.

This challenges the victim-blaming discourse in society that prevents many abuse survivors from gaining support and validation for the traumas they’ve experienced – validation that would actually help, not hinder, these survivors from leaving their abusive relationships. That’s why it’s my mission to challenge this victim-blaming discourse in society so we can continue to dismantle the stereotypes and myths about abuse survivors and support them in their journey to healing.

You can listen to the show here and read the entire associated blog entry of the interview on their website here.

Continue reading Healing Our Addiction to the Narcissist: My Interview on Mental Health News Radio

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

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About the Author

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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


About the Author

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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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.

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.