Let’s face it there are many people that at one time or another have found themselves in an unhealthy or dysfunctional relationship. It’s likewise just as easy to find yourself in a relationship with someone who places their needs above yours or that of the relationship. But this does not equate to narcissistic abuse. Finding yourself in let alone leaving an abusive relationship with a narcissist is a soul destroying, terrifying and earth shattering experience that pales in comparison to any other heart ache.
So why discuss Narcissistic Abuse? According to an article written by Bree Bonchay Narcissistic Abuse affects 158 million people in the US alone. Read it here. To those with little experience even the phrase Narcissistic Abuse sounds a little dramatic. To those who have lived it it’s a mere drop in the ocean of pain these abusers thrive in.
Reality #1 They are masters of disguise
Whilst overt narcissists are pretty easy to spot like this guy….
We even think they might look like this….
But the reality is they look like this …
They are the person sitting next to you at work, the boy next door, the soccer coach, your GP or the person who delivers meals on wheels. The scariest thing about a narcissist is that you can be in a relationship with them for years and never know the truth of who they are. Upon being discovered they flip faster than a gymnast on a trampoline. This Jekyll and Hyde component to their personality means that they are experts at disguising their true nature to anyone other than their chosen victims.
When you discover the narcissist in your life it is akin to having psychological whiplash
It’s hard to believe that the person that you have trusted, respected and loved so deeply could be so ruthlessly, calculatingly cruel. It is not uncommon for a narcissist to maintain a convincing facade for a years even decades. Once you discover their duplicitous nature it is staggering to realize how vast the split is between the act and their true nature.
And if you can’t believe it why would anyone else.
In the beginning narcissists are charming, kind, almost too good to be true. Over time the lies, affairs, justification, diminishment, chaos and brutality escalates. A bit like a boiled frog the victims rarely realize the extent of the abuse until they are entrapped and enmeshed making escape an incredibly difficult task emotionally, physically and financially.
Reality # 2 They are Master Manipulators
They often have a convincing story. They will cultivate a plausible story using elements of truth to distort reality and position themselves as either the victim or even the rescuer when in reality they are the perpetrator. When questioned directly about themselves they slither around the truth, deflecting, denying and diminishing others to solidify their story and position.
The narcissist has no internal moral compass, they will stop at nothing to cover their tracks, obfuscate the truth and destroy anyone who dares to challenge their destructive behavior
Because their behaviour is so unbelievably callous and cruel yet the face they show the world is affable and even kind they perpetrate their abusive behaviour in the clear light of day and get great satisfaction from it.
Reality # 3 Pain is their Cocaine
A growing body of research is discovering what we have suspected all along. That toxic people derive pleasure from seeing sadness and pain on other peoples faces.
Initially when you meet a narcissist they go over and above to be the dream worker, lover, friend even parent. This idealization phase ensures a precious supply of adoration and as long as you don’t question or threaten the fabric of their patchwork quilt of manipulation you are maintained in the safe zone.
Over time however patterns and cycles start to appear and anyone close enough to the narcissist bears witness to their devolution. Short lived relationships, inability to sustain employment, conflict, controversy and chaos all start to coalesce.
To a narcissist your initial admiration is only an appetizer for the banquet of pain and despair that they are about to unleash
When you at first, innocently, start to inquire about the commonality of threads concerns are discounted or discredited. This is when the devaluation phase starts and unwittingly you find yourself on a one way path to hell of a magnitude that you could never imagine. From this point on they will seek to create and feed off creating pain, conflict and chaos for the remainder of your relationship.
Reality # 4 Getting away is not as easy as you think
“Why doesn’t she/he just leave?” If I had a dollar for every time I have seen this online or have heard it stated by a well meaning loved one of those stuck in a narcissistic relationship I would be a billionaire.
The first key element considered when leaving is bare basic resources. Simply put by the time you are ready to leave you are so depleted physically, emotionally and financially that the effort of wrenching your life out of the grips of the abuser is a super human effort.
The second key element is that the abuse escalates when you leave. Leslie Morgan Steiner, a survivor of domestic abuse, talks about this in her TED talk. Some narcissists are physically violent but many are not and whilst I would never downplay the life threatening seriousness of physical injuries I would insist that psychological abuse in many instances is just as life threatening.
The third element at play when leaving is that if you are still connected by familial ties, by financial investment or you if have children with a narcissist the abuse does not simply end when you leave. It changes in dynamics. The legal system is a narcissists’ playground and lawful abuse is an incredibly prevalent, expensive and stressful means for a narcissist to extenuate their campaign of terror upon their victim’s.
Reality # 5 You have to learn how to heal in a warzone
The metaphor I often use to describe this process is like trying to heal from a broken leg when you are getting hit with a baseball bat everyday such is the constancy and intensity of narcissistic abuse.
Many therapists recommend no contact or the grey rock technique to minimise the opportunities for blows to be inflicted.
This is where my specialty in the nervous system integrates with the psycho-therapeutic approach. You see in the wild a predator’s nervous system is excited by prey that is trying desperately to fight or flee. When we are a victim of abuse our nervous system makes the decision, beyond our conscious decision making process, to go into the activation of fight/flight or freeze. In my experience it is incredibly common for victims to live in functional freeze, interspersed with periods of fight/flight.
Functional freeze is basically no contact and grey rock, essentially it is minimal interaction so as not to incite further attack.
As a short term solution it is useful however even if you can be successful at no contact victims are left with a highly charged nervous system leading to anxiety, depression, PTSD, sleep disturbances and more.
Most of the therapies I have come across that seek to support victims of narcissistic abuse completely overlook the integral role of the nervous system in recovery. For me this is a foundation key to not only addressing but recovering and thriving beyond narcissistic abuse.
If this subject interests you stay tuned for my next blog that explores why a nurtured nervous system is essential to healing and thriving after narcissistic abuse.
Emiline is a counsellor, bodyworker, TRE provider and writer. With over 20 years of working with people to release pain, tension and anxiety she believes that healing was meant to be mostly fun and easy. Whether you are wanting to find greater success in life, let go of the past or find your way through a difficult time I am here to support you. Call me for a free 15 minute consultation to discuss the ways in which I can help. Finding greater ease than ever before is often simpler than we think. So give me a call on 0419 101 665 or send me at email firstname.lastname@example.org