Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Surviving Emotional Abuse

Whatever kind of abuse, whether physical, or persistent, insidious psychological and emotional abuse, you are not to blame! ~Invicta, MA, 09/02

SHRAPNEL

By Lily DeVilliers



One of the real problems that I have with the current societal view of abuse survivors is the heavy emphasis on self-help-centered 'healing' and 'recovery' from the abuse.

Domestic violence falls under the category of 'traumatic shock' - any event that destroys the internalized set of assumptions, patterns and understandings that we all use to operate in the world every day. Along with combat veterans, earthquake victims, hostages and prisoners of war, survivors of spousal abuse have to tear down their entire understanding of the world, people and love, and rebuild the whole system from the ground up to incorporate the new information that the people closest to you can actually be the most dangerous.

The problem with self-help overall in this context - the 12-step programs, soul-soothing books, meditation and general emphasis on moving on, moving forward and leaving behind - is that it may be working directly against the best interests of anyone suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Self-help seems to assume what the name already implies: that the source of the problem is in the victim's perception of her own self, not of the external world, and can be fixed or addressed by applying personal change. For a survivor who has already had her world-view profoundly altered by domestic abuse, forcing a re-assessment of the self before the world-view is reintegrated may appear to produce good results, but in many cases it may be working against permanent long-term recovery.

Self-help urges several things that make sense individually, but which add up to a tangle of contradictions when taken together. The survivor is variously urged to 'move on at once' but also not to 'repeat patterns'; to 'learn from the experience' but not to 'blame others'; to 'empower herself' so as to avoid further abuse and at the same time to 'accept responsibility' for her part in it. She's to 'examine what happened' but not to 'brood' or to 'dwell'. None of these directives makes sense.

Traumatic shock and the genuine need to rebuild a new world view make these conflicting instructions seem reasonable, but overall they add up to greater confusion and psychic splitting rather than less. If a survivor is to figure out what was missing from her reality before the abuse, but she's not allowed to be 'overly negative' or 'play the victim' by blaming anyone else, then the only person she can end up finding responsible is herself. And yet being 'empowered' is supposedly the key to avoiding further abuse. So does that mean a survivor who takes responsibility for being abused the first time is sending a firm message to future abusers? And if it happens again, is it her fault again for not being 'empowered' enough to avoid it?

It makes a great deal more sense to just allow the survivor to speak clearly about the abuser: what he appeared to be, what she sees him as now, and what actions, issues and behaviours from him might account for the difference, rather than turning her eyes in towards her own self. It makes more sense to allow her to compare that difference to what she's previously believed to be true about men, and then to expand that knowledge to include pathologies like battering, rather than insisting that she just change the view of herself. It would make more sense to allow her to develop anger and force and clarity, rather than urging transcendence and imposed serenities.

The trouble with the self-help approach for spousal abuse is that in this context, responsibility does belong elsewhere than the victim. And learning from the experience does inevitably involve increased negativity about human nature. These are the real tools that will allow survivors to rise again with increased strength, not hamper them.

Source

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is the first thing I have ever read on this subject that has made sense! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I am in the middle of this right now and I am in so much pain... thank you for helping me understand, I thought I was going crazy.

Matt Bentley said...

I'm sorry, but why are you assuming the abuser is male? When it comes to emotional abuse, women are just as bad as men. Physical abuse, no, men do more of that.

Anonymous said...

True, Matt, my narcissist is a woman

Anonymous said...

Regardless of a male or female abuser this article is correct. I am also going through this right now in my life and although yes I am trying to learn to recognize in myself that ability to deny what is right in front of my face, it IS the other person who is responsible for thier own actions towards me. The blame DOES rest on their shoulders. THEY abused ME. I didn't do it. THEY did. My only fault was believing in and loving this person and having hope.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this terrific blog. I'm also a male, whose narcissistic wife left me this fall after she apparently felt that she got out of me all that she could (if it was possible, I did it for her -- my mistake), so she's moved on and found other people to sponge off of. Yes, she is the bad person and has treated me like an object to be used all these years without giving anything back unless absolutely necessary to continue the illusion. Yet, I still think there is a need for me to look at myself to see what I did wrong. I and others I know could see all the warning signs, but she would not listen to anything I had to say about this, so I just "hung in there" hoping it would just somehow all work out even though I intellectually know it really wouldn't. I was denying reality too. I'd appreciate any advice on moving forward and how I can prevent this from happening again and improve my own self to help make sure I'm narcissist-proof.

cathy said...

40 years, 3 grown children with 4 kidney transplants, a farm, a photography busines... often too busy, too broken, to be able to get out. I'm trying to get out,

Anonymous said...

Easier said than done.
Denial is a very strong force.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. I have been trying to get some help and information that is not all about the spirit and soul. Abuse is terrible and I need to know how to fix my head and my heart not my internal spirit.

Anonymous said...

I could totally relate to the part about contrdictions. I will grow spiritually as I re-ground. I feel much better already without that horrid dissonance caused by trying to believe his elaborate and changable lies. I'm happier than I've been in a long time.

Sarah said...

So how can we educate people around us about the destructiveness of making it about the prey and holding her or him 50% responsible?

For most of my adult life I have escaped predatorial types who are NPD, BPD, or APD. However, I fell into 3 situations over the last 2 years where I was prey to this--ONLY because of financial instability.

In each of those 3 times I clearly saw the red flags but made a calculated choice (based on desperation) to have those people in my life. None of these were intimate relationships btw--and in each case the abuse lasted 7-8 months. That seems to be my threshold.

But relating my experience to the point made here: I'm getting all sorts of smug, self-righteous albeit well intended lectures about looking at some huge flaw in myself that got me into these messes.

What I'm trying to explain to people is--getting into the clutches of a narcissist can happen to anybody if something in your normal life changes. Sometimes it happens to people who aren't even vulnerable! These folks are allowed to roam freely amongst us--and while they might be small in numbers...all it takes is one experience to mess up your psyche.

People would rather blame the victim than do anything substantial to confront these monsters and make them outcasts.

I feel I have better served myself--particularly this last time where I'm not living under the same roof as the NPD--by educating myself on what this disease is and seeing exactly what is done to manipulate me. It's become an entertaining lab experiment.

The other contradiction in society is that no one wants to believe anyone can be this sinister--and yet they blame the victim for not believing anybody can be this sinister and not avoiding a bad situation. I see society at large playing an enabling role here.

Anonymous said...

I Was married to my N for almost seven years. Since our divorce, less than a year ago, I have been in therapy for several months now, and I actually feel like my therapist wants me to blame myself. She continually asks me about abuse as a child and what had me set up for a predator to target. There is nothing to it. I was a fairly normal child, and grew to be a fairly well rounded adult. I recognise I have my issues, but the only thing I can see in myself that made me a target is my desire to be a nice person. My philosophy in life has been leading by example and making others lives easier. I niavely hoped that I would recieve similar treatment in return. She calls me a repeat victim. I am not, and take offense at being labeled a victim. I was targeted, victimized, and abused, but I will not wear the victim label. This is the closest thing to therapeutic advice I have encountered. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I just can=me across this. having suffered both emotional and physical abuse on separate occasions I know first hand how it feels. Blaming someone else just means you hold onto the hurt longer whereas letting go, gives up any attachment. My preference is to give up any attachment. Self help does work. It makes you focus on you rather than the abuser. It doesn't take away the blame from the abuser at all, it just lets you understand how to identify and deal with it if you come across it again. You cant avoid abusers, they live and breath among us. What you can do is focus on being the best you can be, take your attention from them, don't give them any power over your life. Their opinion of you is not important The only important opinion about you and of you is your own opinion. Dont let anyone else define you. It does get better, absolutely it does :)

Anonymous said...

I recently have been entangled with someone I believe has strong narcissistic traits. It was a worldwind romance, purposed within months, moved into my life immediatly and married within a year... yes there were many red flags that I chose to ignore, because I have never felt so loved, I was his everything, and as a person who has spent my life putting everyone else first, it was refreshing to have someone put me first... I saw the changes slowly, but I have to admit, I believed he tried very hard to change who he is, but in the end, he couldn't... three years of marriage and so many put downs, demands, parinoia, lack of trust ~I seemed to always be apologizing for my feelings.. I had no idea what npd was... I had no idea that expressing my feelings to the person who was my life partner would be twisted in his head... durning our very quick divorce, there was so much projection, mirroring... I thought I was crazy, I was to blame for everything missrable in his life, that I was a bad person... thanks to his ex wife I learned about npd... six months after the divorce we reconciled, it was clear to me he is a textbook n... only a month into it he has abandoned me again (my curtain call) ~ and again I feel so guily. so while within days he is out and searching for his next love, I am again tormented in my own mind, reliving every word and what I could have done or said differently. He was very good at always having a snitch of trutth to his words, which cut to the core.... I don't expect to ever hear from him again, both times ended badly with me trying to defend myself from his wild accusations... how does one let go and heal and move forward? I feel like an empty shell and no one seems to understand that... I have no faith in love anymore and before I met him I was so full of life... I know rationally this is what is best for me, but my heart misses him, wantss to please him, wants the person I fell in love with..... does it get better? Will I actually someday let him go and live a happy fulfilling life? It doesn't feel like it today :(

Anonymous said...

Give yourself time. I was in a 7 year relationship(married for 5) to a narcissistic sex addict. It was so bad that he would even manipulate his therapist. It got violent to the point that my life was in danger. Not every person who has been in a relationship with an N has the same experience but from what I've learned, narcissists make you believe that you need them, that you are worthless without them. Go through the grieving, but do things for yourself that is positive. Help others. This has helped me to at least not focus on my own pain all the time. Little by little you will start to see love and recognize who you can trust.

Anonymous said...

My brother is married to a female narcissist. He has gone from a very strong individual to being almost an empty shell of himself. They have 2 kids together. She has convinced him that they cannot separate because it would be giving up on their family (he has very strong moral values). Our family has done all that we can to protect him and we have pushed him to get a little distance for the sake of their marriage, but she has now convinced him that we are simply judgmental of her and that we do not see his flaws as well (he told us this). She recently cheated on him in a public setting around friends and family (yes, true story). Rather than reacting in anger, she convinced him that it was HIS fault that he doesn't give her the affection that she needs.

As a family, we're at a loss of what we can do and how we can help. I can see my brother falling deeper into depression and pushing our family away from any involvement with them. I would really appreciate any advice/insight from someone who's been through this.

Anonymous said...

This is THE best website on this topic. Hands down. I'm so grateful for your work and that you opened this forum.

I am going through a split with my husband - an uber narcissist frankly. All along I just found him to have a big and charming (albeit fully selfish and self-centered) personality. After courting me relentlessly for 4 years - we got married and started a family. The second I was pregnant he left me 2-3 weeks out of every month to follow his career path that took him on constant international travel. I went from being a passionate and ambitious woman to a fried, exhausted mess juggling the challenges of running a house, 2 kids and a career all virtually alone. Fast forward 12 years, 2 children, a home and a 'life'... I (eventually) found out that he has had an endless string of affairs on top of it all and I lost it. I left him immediately, pulled up roots, got a lawyer, moved into a new house... It was a whirlwind firestorm. I'm 3 weeks in the new house with the children, and I'm now feeling the backlash of all the years of emotional trauma and the most recent months of a destruction of a life I thought I had and the loss of a man I thought I knew. I do read self help books and have a strong sense of spirituality - but the approach of just "fixing myself" leaves me even more confused and tired. I'd do anything just to 'move on' but I am missing the part that is most important that this site helps bring to light: there is actually NOTHING wrong with me, I was in a relationship with a severely dysfunctional and emotionally abusive man. So I have to heal from it by clearing out the left over madness and move on. Now, if I could speed that process up it'd be great, but I have to respect that with some attention and patience (and a whole lot of chutzpa) I'll be back up again. Right? XOXO to everyone going through this - my prayers are with you too.

VEvil said...

To July 4th,2012
The way you let go is to understand that he will do to his next victim exactly what he did to you. He will make her feel exactly the way he made you feel in the beginning. He will make her feel special, cared for, wonderful and loved as never before. Then, just like you he will rip her to shreads, and she will feel just like you. Repeat this in your mind and you will believe it. I know, I just left a guy with a graveyard full of rings and I knew the ring I left behind was with all the others:)

Anonymous said...

I am in your EXACT position. I found out a year ago (2 days prior to our 10th anniversary) that my "husband" had as he admitted an emotional affair with a high school ex girl friend. It turns out, it was much more. I left with our two children, one being a daughter just months old, and have spent the year revealing his lies, one by one. His mistress's husband provided emails that revealed the most of his flawed character. Truly disturbing, without a conscience, perverted, calculating, manipulative to say the least of what I learned of him. I am going through the discovery period in the divorce, and it is comforting, strangely that my attorney agrees with the same conclusions about his narcissism. My biggest struggle is the kids. I know I he is the only father they have, but I'm not going to lie and paint a picture of a good man. If he was a good man, we would be together. It has got to be confusing to my son. My poor daughter doesn't even know the difference. They deserve such a better life. I do too. I grew up in such a good family, But since he didn't, it doesn't seem to bother him!

Anonymous said...

I am at a critical point in my relation with a narcissistic husband. Now discouraged to a point where I have no more energy to apply survial tactics I find a hint of hope by reading your articles and comments that remind me that I am not alone. The few loved ones that remain by my side, unfortunately do not understand the deviousness a narcissist is capable of. They stand beside me, not because they comprehend my ramblings after being kicked while I am down, once again but because of an unwavering duty to stand by those they love. I question my worth or capacity to be grateful by saying this, but, I sometimes feel they are like those who dutifully visit their insane loved one in an asylum and nod in accordance to all their nonsense.

Anonymous said...

I'm in this now but I'm not weak I let it all go over my head and have enough rest to fight on, he is 13 years older than me and military and very good at this he makes me feel so worthless at times. With but my son makes me feel amazing as that is pure love in his eyes for me I'm a loyal and respectful and tried to do the right thing on telling him I'm leaving and got brain washed with female physio moments and why would I do that to my son...... Will keep going that strength will come back but I'll disappear no word just gone sad but only way he will let it be will arrange through family only to see his boy will never stop that unless my son asks