Narcissistic Abuse – Why Does It Take So Long to Heal?
Psychological trauma is the damage to the psyche that occurs as a result of a severely distressing event like emotional and psychological abuse.
One of the debilitating aspects of this abuse that is so damaging to targets/victims is the trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from being in this relationship! DEFINITION: Trauma means “injured” AND the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds a person’s ability to cope or integrate the emotions involved with that experience. A traumatic event involves one experience, or repeating events with the sense of being overwhelmed that can be delayed by weeks, years, or even decades as the person struggles to cope with the immediate circumstances. Eventually this can lead to serious, long-term negative consequences that can even be overlooked by mental health professionals especially if psychological abuse is at the root of problem but not actualized as trauma inducing.
This is very important for targets/victims of this abuse because if the clinician fails to look through a trauma diagnosis to isolate the problems as they relate to current or past trauma, they may fail to see that trauma victims, young and old, organize much of their lives around repetitive patterns of reliving and warding off traumatic memories, reminders, and affects. This is very true for many targets/victims that have not addressed the trauma correctly and the negative messages and associated trauma becomes imprinted on their minds for many years. The trauma will trigger memories of the abuse and pull the target/victim right back into the debilitating feelings associated with the abuse. This may not always be on a conscious level but in the sub-conscious where it is always available unless we disable it and enable our old and real belief systems that life is good.
Normal bonding is a biological and emotional process that makes people more important to each other over time. Unlike love, trust, or attraction, bonding is not something that can just be lost or abruptly stopped at will. It is cumulative and only grows and increases but rarely decreases. Bonding naturally grows with spending time together, living together, eating together, being physical, having children together, and even during stress or difficulty. Bad times bond people just as strongly as good times, and sometimes more so.
Bonding is in part why it is harder to leave an abusive relationship the longer it continues. The bonding makes it hard to enforce normal and even healthy boundaries, because it is much harder to stay away from people we have strongly bonded with. An important point to understand is that when leaving a long relationship, it is not always useful to base your decision to leave by how hard it is to break this bond, because it will always be hard. This is especially true in an abusive relationship. Secondly with an abusive relationship only YOUR bond was/is real and based solely on the growth through YOUR love for this person. There was no love reciprocated with a Narcissist just a need to use you as supply or objectify you to meet his/her needs. Leaving or moving on for a Narcissist is a simple act once they have found new or better supply!
Moreover, experiencing extreme situations and extreme feelings such as abuse tends to bond people in a different way. ‘Trauma bonding’ is a term that defines this bond when a person has experienced abuse in a seemingly loving relationship like one with a Malignant Narcissist because of the continual shifting to blaming and the devaluation involve. The ‘love bombing’ in reality is ‘love bonding’ that creates the connection to the Narcissist even though it wasn’t real. So unfortunately the target/victim plugs all of their normal AND learned life experiences into this love – TRUST being right on top of the list. With the devaluation, the distorted and negative aspects of this love also bond and this changes the reality to accepting the good, the bad and the ugly or basically submitting to the abuse because of the extreme manipulation and control methods of the Narcissist
A good example of this distorted love is if a child grows up in an unsafe/abusive home. It makes unsafe situations in the future have more holding power and almost acceptable because it is what they know and have accepted as their normal. This example has a basis beyond any cognitive learning and it is neither rational nor irrational. If targets/victims can come to see that part of the attraction or falling in love included this dysfunctional or irrational bonding, while very unwanted and horrendous, it became a natural process or basically surviving because of this distorted love/abuse. Then maybe they will be able to understand the reality of the dysfunction and manage the situation more intentionally with understanding the reality of the situation or the ‘trauma bonding.’ We have to dig down very deeply to break this negative attachment and the distorted messages.
Intense relationships where distorted love is involved tend to hijack all of the target/victims relating capacity and rationale. It is like a continual state of being so worn out, managed down and burnt out AND always feeling a need or in the position to fix the wrongs to make it right again by accepting the blame ALWAYS! You forget what is really right as it concerns you because you are always having to explain, react, and keep a peace to keep your sanity. Becoming attached or falling in love with a very chaotic and inconsistent person makes it simply impossible to form a consistent reality based connection that goes beyond the feelings of fear, loss, the worthlessness that was imposed on you, feelings of blame and shame, or even normal and good memories beyond the trauma that comes with devaluation. When separated from the abusive partner, the urge to make contact is usually intense because it is the chaotic connection that is alive and makes the connection with them (as horrendous as it is) tolerable in any circumstance. In simpler words your normal reality has been manipulated and managed down to accept a role where you operate within the dysfunction because it has desensitized your rationale.
This is the bond with them and in reality it has always been this way with the Narcissist. Love connected you to this first and that love was manipulated in a manner to manage you down and control you completely. This is hideous dehumanization and such an intense betrayal to a normal human being that if not corrected it can diminish and disable the target/victims perspective of the world, people, and love through their entire life. True recovery requires such a deep desire to dig down deep inside and dispel EVERYTHING that this Narcissist has damaged. It is just not falling out of this distorted love.
Some of the signs and symptoms of being stuck with this trauma. The target/victim and survivor can come to find that it is almost impossible to relate to anyone, even family or friends, except superficially. This trauma creates a feeling of being totally alone, and totally empty, and very damaged. Then is seems that going back to the primary abuser will help you overcome it or fixing this to make everything right again AND release from the pain associated with being separated from them. It SEEMS normal in this state of trauma to believe that even though something is so horribly wrong that leaving isn’t an option even though it is real and there is something horribly wrong with staying. Most of the relationship was a huge manipulation that managed you down to accept a submissive role, feel shame, etc., and then processing all of this along with that blame AND real love you believed in. You didn’t outwardly accept this distorted love, you were TRICKED/CONNED into it or psychologically abused. The Narcissist said to you in the beginning “I love you,” he/she didn’t say “I love you and I am going to ABUSE you,” but that was their agenda.
To go a bit further complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common problem for survivors of abusive relationships. The symptoms which are many include a feeling of emotional numbness or feeling like one of the walking dead. You feel like you are completely engulfed and surrounded with this self-protection like the aftermath of a destructive tornado that completely destroyed your entire house. In reality it is despair. You lose faith, hope, joy as well as the love you THOUGHT was real. This was all real to you, the memories, the time together, the emotions and everything else that you were conned into believing. It is a hideous abuse because you gave love, you believed in love, you believed in them, you gave yourself completely to this love because this is what we grew up believing was normal and then this Narcissist destroyed this image of real love and damaged this belief so completely that you are trying to heal from this.
That complete distorted thought process has to be removed from your psyche to rebuild your belief system. It is a matter of realizing now that there are two types of love, ‘real’ and ‘abusive.’ It is compartmentalizing and understanding that real love can and does exist as well as predators and distorted love. It is putting your trust back into yourself so that your new lessons will keep you safe from one of these monsters should you encounter one again. It is also you putting your trust back into yourself so that you can establish a real life that includes REAL love. It is you believing more in yourself than allowing this abuse to define you forever.
Now a little further! There are many obstacles and many distorted messages or the feeling of being in shock. Unfortunately this is a normal part of the process that is directly related to the abuse that requires some time, education, and deep soul searching to correct. Why are we in shock when we had a real sense of this? Well we didn’t want to believe that we were basically with a destructive monster and we were only justifying, apologizing, fixing, and living in the shadow of fear and control. Who wants to believe that the love they invested in is such a total sham or abuse? Who even knows how to believe in a manner that precludes all reality and a belief system we all grew up with that allows people to love normally. It sounds like brain-washing and basically it was. It is necessary to correct this trauma to destroy the negative messages and purge the blame from this Narcissist out of our heads – and it is of vital importance to do this in the beginning or whatever stage you are at now! Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen and many stay locked up in this trauma their entire lives.
If I could give an example of a devastating shooting at a school where lives are lost. What is the first thing that is done after the event? The school provides the surviving students with trauma counselors so that the trauma doesn’t manifest itself in the survivor’s lives forever. Overcoming this hopelessness from the trauma doesn’t happen overnight, it takes intervention, hard work and awareness or defining it for what it is – TRAUMA. No one ever imagines they will be witness to a terrible shooting, nor do we believe we will be in an emotionally/psychologically abusive relationship with a Narcissist, but both are real and both yield trauma. We are aware that these situations can happen, but we don’t have the tools right there with us to recover if we experience such a traumatic event. It also takes a willingness to try, fail and still persisting to get through this. Most importantly, it takes a strong will to have self-compassion to fix yourself to move forward. Another important aspect is realizing that the abusive Narcissist is not part of this equation. They were/are the attacker in this situation that acts out to harm good and unsuspecting people. As personal as this situation was, as well as how this love felt familiar and real, you are still dealing with a highly disordered creature and a predator. This is self-help not yourself and the Narcissist’s help. They will only bring more trauma into your life and pull you back into the abuse.
You CAN be in control of this situation! BUT you will slow your progress to a screeching halt if you go to the trouble of fulfilling the no contact rule and then obsess about making contact. It totally defeats the purpose of no contact if you keep an ongoing dialogue and connection. As they say you can’t see the forest for the trees!
Think about the reason why you may obsess about these monsters and make contact. It is because we want them to validate all of that emotional expenditure that we provided through loving them and NOW the pain and having to grieve the abuse and some sort of closure! It won’t happen because this Narcissist would have NEVER put you in this position in the first place if he/she REALLY knew love or better yet REALLY loved you. REMEMBER they are ABUSERS and they aren’t going to turn around and fix this or you because their agenda was to control, disable and harm you. If you think they are going to suddenly realize your worth, when no other human being in this world has any worth to them beyond an object to use, then you need to do a reality check until you get to the point that you understand that they are destructive and dangerous to you and your life.
Seriously ask yourself if you could imagine your Narcissist saying: “I’ve been emotionally unavailable, I’ve had NUMEROUS affairs, I intentionally manipulated you, gas-lighted you, tried to drive you to the point of insanity, ignored and silenced you, blamed you for everything, projected darkness onto and into you, constantly ignored your needs, used you, extorted and stole from you, and made your life a living hell AND I WAS ABUSIVE. Then imagine them saying that they suddenly realize your worth and how valuable you are to them and they want to be together with you to fix ALL OF THIS. First why would you want a person that has taken you down so far to ever be any part of your life and secondly they are NOT emotionally available for you or anyone and they are off and abusing their next target/victim! They are like criminals living out a life of crime. Don’t forget how they smeared you, your name and then tried to destroy your integrity to avoid exposure and the truth of what they are. How could you forget ANY of this in a manner to accept them back into your life – and then how many times have you accepted them back into your life to end up abused over and over again. You must move TOTALLY on and away from them being anything in your life. Forget them completely so you can start recovering because it is integral in surviving this abuse AND moving forward.
To truly move forward to recovery you can’t make your abuser (the Narcissist) the focal point of your life AND your recovery. They are what they are and you have had personal experience which more than enough defines their character and agenda! You have to make YOU the focal point of YOUR life. This time of grieving, healing, and regrouping with you is an opportunity to get real about the relationship that has just ended and you have to look at you and your relationship with open eyes and the reality that it was abuse. So many times, I have heard targets, victims, and survivors say that they want to be able to get past it all, to move on, and they want it all to just be over with so they can live again. The wanting is only part of the battle, a very important part, but the rest of it takes longer and demands introspection, education, support and the need to accept that this Narcissist was AND always is a potential danger if you let them be any part of your thoughts OR life. There is no magical kiss from the prince/princess Narcissist that will awaken you from this this doom, because they are the one that gave you the apple that poisoned you in the first place! Your own care, love, and self-compassion will awaken you and return you back to a fulfilling and real life!
Now some clinical information about the Common Features of PTSD from emotional/psychological abuse. These are consistent symptoms that identify the abuse as a psychiatric injury and different from a mental illness. That is an important differentiation to make so that you don’t internalize a message that says you cannot overcome the effects of the trauma and live with it as YOU being the sick one. The Narcissist is definitely the dysfunctional person in this equation that disabled you!
• An overwhelming desire for acknowledgement, understanding, recognition and validation of their experience.
• Fatigue with symptoms similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
• Extreme anger from feeling the injustice and almost seeming ‘manic’ instead of motivated for recovery purposes, “obsessive” instead of focused, and “angry” instead of passionate to fix yourself and regain order and reality in life.
• A desire for revenge.
• A tendency to cycle between reconciliation/forgiveness and anger/revenge where objectivity and reality become a causality.
• Feeling extremely fragile, where formerly the person was of a strong, stable character.
• Numbness, both physical and emotional (inability to feel love and joy.)
• Hyperawareness and an acute sense of time passing them by.
• An enhanced and hypersensitive awareness.
• A constant feeling that you have to justify everything you say and do.
• A constant need to prove yourself, even when surrounded by good, positive people.
• An unusually strong sense of vulnerability, victimization or a feeling of persecution!
• Occasional intrusive visualizations connected to an extreme anger.
• Feelings of worthlessness, rejection, a sense of being unwanted, unlikeable and unlovable.
• A feeling of being small, insignificant, and invisible.
• An overwhelming sense of betrayal, and a consequent inability and unwillingness to trust anyone, even those closest to you.
• Depression with occasional sudden bursts of energy accompanied by a feeling of “I’m better!”, only to be followed by a full resurgence of the symptoms a day or two later.
• Excessive guilt about your situation and why you can’t overcome this.
A couple other facts about trauma: Intellectually, you lose from 50 to 90 percent of brain capacity, which is why you should never make a decision and why you feel so lost and empty when you are “in the trauma zone.” Emotionally you don’t feel anything and your spirit is disconnected. Physically all your systems shut down and you run on basics. When your system starts to recover and you can handle a bit more stimulation and energy, THEN real thoughts emerge that will guide you back to reality and help you process the information and start on your road to recovery!
Trauma can be caused by a wide variety of events, but there are common denominators. There is frequently a violation of the person’s familiar ideas (belief system) about the real world and of their human rights, putting the person in a state of extreme confusion and insecurity. Recovering from a traumatic experience requires that the painful emotions be thoroughly processed. Trauma feelings cannot be repressed or forgotten and should be treated immediately or as soon as there is a realization that you are caught up in the trauma. If they are not dealt with either directly or at any other point in your recovery, the distressing feelings and troubling events replay over and over again in the course of a lifetime, creating this condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Every bad moment in your life will connect you with those negative messages that the Narcissist manipulated you into believing and you will feel those old feelings of worthlessness. You will always feel like you are not good enough. Events do not always define you especially negative ones, but sometimes we define ourselves through these events especially after this type of traumatizing abuse. The Narcissist taught us to blame ourselves and if that message is still cycling in our heads from this abuse we will let it define us forever. Whatever inner resources people need to mobilize to achieve recovery, they still should not try to accomplish this task alone. Depression and trauma are ‘disconnective disorders’ and they do not improve in isolation. To fix them you have to be connected to others and accept that there is goodness and real love out there.
Today I can clearly see that early intervention is so vital. Trauma is real and debilitating in situations like this abuse that is born from a hideous betrayal of a person’s spirit and belief system. It can shut you down completely and keep you locked up in isolation because your replaced belief system from the abuse doesn’t trust that there is goodness in life. Sometimes we don’t see this until many years after the fact. This is not recovery, this is living in fear because of a traumatic event and this is what this abuse does and what the Narcissist wants. A Narcissist cannot live or survive on their own, they need us (people) to feel alive and be alive, but they are predator that feed off of people. We don’t need people to survive, we want to enjoy people, like them, and even love them. There should be a sign around a Narcissist’s neck that says ‘danger, do not feed this animal because they will completely devour you!’ The Narcissist has stolen enough from you, so don’t allow them to take anything else from you, especially other people and love. What this Narcissist forced into your head can be desensitized and you CAN recover completely. It all starts with you and a journey away from what they are and what they have done. You deserve the love that you gave so freely and unconditionally. It is still there and with self-compassion you CAN and WILL give it back to yourself. No/minimal contact always!