It is typically when traumatic memories collide with memories of intimate communion, and there is no rational thread to hold onto that folks desperate for relief will contact me for trauma therapy pertaining to narcissistic abuse. As a licensed and credentialed clinician with over thirty years of clinical experience treating complex trauma and addictive disorders in the public and private sectors of New York City, I can patently attest that the symptoms evidenced by victims of narcissistic abuse are indicative of severe relational trauma requiring comprehensive treatment. Accordingly, the healing process is exceedingly demanding.
Perhaps it’s the devastation of the degrade and discard, or an irreparably damaging smear campaign or an STD incurred from being on the receiving end of chronic infidelity that is the final nail in the coffin. Whatever the reason that leads the victim of narcissistic abuse to escape their tormentor and commence with a path of recovery, one thing is for certain. They are reeling from the reality of what they’ve endured and what was bargained with in the name of ‘love’.
In the aftermath of the discard or when the victim has chosen to flee from the narcissist, psychological shock sets in.
Advised to go ‘no contact’ the victim is challenged to detox from the trauma bond. Undoing the ravages of a trauma bond with a narcissist challenges the victim to embrace instinctual awareness of the unvarnished truth. They are challenged to exhume what has been denied and repressed. This causes profound destabilization and withdrawal.
The duration, intensity, and type of withdrawal symptoms may be so severe that the victim seeks relief through a quick fix. To end the jarring sense of derealization, the humiliation, and the circuitous debilitating obsessions, they may blindly procure this fix from the one who is the source of their pain.
Indeed, a major reason why the victim is at risk for returning to their abuser is due to the excruciating withdrawal that occurs when dismantling a pathological adaptation to a trauma bond.
Accompanying withdrawal is the tenacious grip of dissonance and PTSD. This means that feelings of disorientation, physiological distress, and emotional volatility ranging from severe anxiety to crippling depression are inevitable. Anxious confusion coupled with sympathetic nervous arousal triggering fight, flight and freeze responses catapult the victim into a stateof shattered helplessness.
The victim alternates between instinctual grief and rage and completely doubting their perceptions. It seems inconceivable that the cruelty was calculated, that the intent all along was to glean a continuous source of obedient worship. Yet accompanying the confusion and disbelief are reminders of violent rages, lies, ruthless character assassination, infidelity, gaslighting and abandonment. The extreme vacillations between logical rationalization and abject horror and humiliation incite repetitive, intrusive thoughts known as obsession.
Obsession for the victim of narcissistic abuse is both a locus of control and an anxiety-riddled response to difficult truths. The mind of the victim is desperately trying to map out a cohesive logical explanation for how one went from being a lauded ‘soulmate’ to being discarded like trash. The victim mentally perseverates over the same terrain in an effort to manage the surreal reality of narc abuse. These attempts to discern a ‘rhyme or reason’ are futile.
There is no logic to draw from. Hence, the mind scans through memories, constantly regurgitating the relational dynamics in search of the cardinal sin, the defining moment that led to this place of utter ruin. The truth is too unbearable. It is preferable to blame oneself than to face that one’s utilitarian purpose as primary supply simply ran its course.
Although the humiliation of objectification and exploitation informs the victim that love was illusory, that the whole relationship was merely a deceitful fabrication devised by the narcissist to glean supply, the urgency to believe the love was real causes the victim of narc abuse to resist these painful truths.
The obsessive need for answers becomes analogous to the need for air. Hence, every available moment is spent pouring over books, articles and podcasts about NPD and narcissistic abuse.
Years back when I finally cracked the code and identified how my early childhood grooming set me up as supply and subsequently a narcissist magnet, I spent hours at web forums for survivors of narc abuse. There I formed meaningful connections, that even led to embarking on travels to Belgium and Argentina with two other survivors. Through these connections and the wealth of information gleaned, difficult truths were eventually accepted and hope was proffered.
Remaining steadfast with recovery will one day usher in rebuilding a life free of narcissistic abuse, albeit the hurdles will be extreme and drawn out.
As I wrote in The Pain of Accepting Love Was Not Real With a Narcissist, the turning point in which the victim accepts love with the narcissist was not real, is one of the most shocking and difficult hurdles to navigate. Yet it is a fundamental trajectory towards healing. It is also a critical buffer should the narc employ myriad strategies to reignite a connection. This tactic is known as hoovering,
Not succumbing to hoovering is a critical test. Responding to the narcissist’s unscrupulous ploys can lead to returning to even worse degradation and abuse.
If the victim capitulates, it reinforces the narcissist’s sense of superiority, omnipotence, and entitlement. The narcissist concludes, it is the victim’s weakness that has afforded victory. Caving in reinforces for the narcissist that the victim is malleable supply, easily manipulated, and duped even in the aftermath of lies, infidelity, and emotional and physical violence.
Ideally, when the narcissist knows that in spite of banal taunting, provocations and treacherous smear campaigns, that their target is impervious to their efforts they will fade away. Unfortunately, this is not always the case especially with the most malignant of narcissists, the psychopath.
Should the victim of narcissistic abuse find that dysregulation and emotional pain belies one’s best efforts to heal, then seeking out therapeutic help with a clinician or coach versed in treating narcissistic abuse syndrome may be the way to go. Sometimes human suffering needs to be shared with a trusted witness who can guide one towards insight and healing. Whatever works to ensure that illusions are shattered, so that obsession wanes and acceptance kicks in is what’s warranted.
Along with cultivating an elaborate understanding of narcissistic personality disorder and constructing a cohesive narrative of the traumas incurred with the narcissist, recovery also requires physiological regulation.
Our body is a repository of sensations that convey an array of feelings. I personally had to learn how to even discern what sensations were pervading my being. Having spent much of my life either flooded by emotional stimulation or calcified in dissociative numbness, I had little knowledge of what my visceral sensations were communicating. Through somatic therapy, yoga and kung-fu I learned how to align with my body’s wisdom.
I discovered that breathing from my chest, as opposed to breathing from my diaphragm was actually referred to as ‘traumatic breath’. This form of breathing blocks the spontaneous flow of feelings. Once I was able to breathe deeply and fully, emotions such as fear and sadness became evident. The same held true with interpreting information conveyed through headaches, body tension, clenching hands or feet, or grinding teeth. Identifying what sensations corresponded with specific feelings was an integral part of my recovery process.
Moreover, identifying feelings held in the body was crucial to tapping into my instinctual awareness and aggression.
Likewise, elevating my mood and regulating my parasympathetic nervous system necessitated sundry forms of bodywork, so as to release endorphins and other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. Regulation also entailed grounding techniques. Grounding assists with getting centered, by focusing on safety in the present moment and the force of the sensorial realm (sound, taste, smell, sight and touch).
Additionally, recovery and rebuilding from narc abuse incite a major overhaul of all relationships. Evaluating the give and take and pros and cons of relationships is critical to establishing rules of engagement that engender balance and well-being. New boundaries, conditions and standards ensue, due to a reframing of humanity that incorporates human evil. At this stage, any vestiges of being viewed as potential supply are dismantled. The victim turned survivor is no longer a pushover and is no longer steeped in romantic mythology.
This phase can be a blessing and a curse, as the guardedness that follows narc abuse may initially be fueled by unassimilated rage, resulting in paranoid intolerant posturing. However with time, healing and refinement, the victim turned survivor will come to terms with human fallibility and trust their capacity to reveal their vulnerability while protecting oneself from harm. Ultimately the inherent longing for intimacy will compel the survivor to open up to others and the possibility of love.
As Plato wrote, “Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature.”
For the survivor of narcissistic abuse, embarking on a path of thriving inclusive of healthy romantic companionship can certainly be as Plato suggests, a corrective restorative bond. The survivor, harboring no illusions, knows that this venture necessitates loving oneself first. First and foremost, for the survivor and thriver of narc abuse, this becomes the starting point from which all else follows.