Vision Counselling & Consulting Offers Therapy For Overcoming Narcissistic Abuse
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Support for Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse
Discovering that you may have been in a relationship with a person with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) traits can bring relief while also leaving you with a lot of questions. Survivors of narcissistic abuse are often left with feelings of anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, shame, self blame, emptiness, and anger without any sense of where to begin in understanding their experience and taking steps towards healing. Plagued with questions about the validity of your experience, the reason you were chosen, and what you could have done differently, it can become difficult to trust others and your own decision making. The strategies employed by perpetrators of narcissistic abuse are often subtle, while the resulting impact is often devastating.
Signs of Narcissistic Abuse
Narcissistic abuse can occur within families, romantic relationships, friendships, working relationships (e.g. bosses, coworkers), and societies. Some common indicators include:
Love bombing/ idealization – In the case of romantic partners, your relationship with him/her likely began with love bombing. This is a period in which he/she idealized you by showering you with affection, attention, and the sense that you were the most important person in his/her world. Periods of love bombing often occur throughout the relationship, but typically in lower levels of intensity. It is often reignited when he/she senses you may be pulling away (before he/she is ready to discard you). Many of us are not used to this level of attention from others and the experience of feeling truly seen, appreciated, and admired by another person can be intoxicating. Love bombing serves the purpose of entangling you to him/her through obligation and/or dependency (e.g., emotional, financial, social, etc.). Idealization also occurs in cases of narcissistic family, friend, and working relationships, but the pattern and presentation may differ.
Devaluation – Periods of idealization are often followed by seemingly abrupt periods of devaluation, where you are taken off of the pedestal of admiration. You are no longer viewed as the solution to your abuser’s happiness, but rather the source of their misery. He/she now withholds all of the affection and attention they once gave in abundance, while you do all you can to regain their favour and approval. The perpetual cycle of approval seeking is common within romantic, family, and work relationships marked by narcissistic abuse. As the vision you held for your future and the fantasy of the quality of your relationship begins to crumble, you are spun into a cycle of damage control.
Gaslighting & Projection – This commonly used manipulation strategy causes the unsuspecting victim to question their own sanity. This often occurs when your abuser feels challenged or criticized. He/ she will then engage in blatant dishonesty (even in face of overwhelming evidence), labelling you as the guilty party engaged in the same behaviours you are now confronting them about, and dismissing and minimizing your concerns often by raising questions about your character or mental health (e.g. labeling you as “crazy”, “sensitive”, or “dramatic”). Gaslighting and projection serve the purpose of conditioning you to believe that your reaction to the abuse is the issue, while the abuse itself is either imagined or insignificant. Ultimately, you are left questioning your sense of self and reality.
Double standards/ hypocrisy – Similar to gaslighting and projection is the double standards and hypocrisy that mark narcissistic abuse. Your abuser likely holds high expectations of honesty, fidelity, loyalty, and respect from you, but does not seem to experience feelings of remorse when he/she withholds these from you. These same values they claim to hold in high regard seem to shift in definition in contexts that are most favourable to them. This behaviour is also very common in narcissistic abuse occurring within families, societies, and workplaces. The rules imposed by your abuser are often arbitrary enough to allow him/her to disregard it, while expecting strict adherence from you.
Patterned disregard for others/ demonstrated lack of empathy –Perpetrators of narcissistic abuse often do not acknowledge the impact of their behaviour on others. Outside of the love bombing phase, any attempts you have made to share past or present experiences of emotional distress (even those unrelated to him/ her) are often met with a dismissive or invalidating response. Direct requests for support of any kind (that do not fit his/her needs) often go unmet and at times are followed by excuses for his/her unreliability, and a lack of genuine remorse. No matter how many times and how many ways you employ to explain your feelings of hurt, he/she seems incapable of understanding your perspective. When he/she verbally expresses understanding, it is not followed by sustained efforts towards change.
Self centred behaviour – Your abuser’s actions and expressed thoughts consistently demonstrates the belief that he/she believes the world revolves around them. They engage in unreasonable expectations and demands, and disregard the needs and circumstances of others. He/ she regularly expects others to read his/her mind, pay close attention to how he/she may be feeling, and check in on him/her frequently. Any past attempts you have made at offering attention, validation, and support are forgotten. No amount of attention is ever enough to satiate his/ her ego.
Frequent patterns of dishonesty – Whether in minor or significant matters, your experience with your abuser has likely been that he/she lies frequently. At first, you may have thought he/she was an honest person, likely because of how vehemently they extol the importance of honesty and perhaps because he/she is quite good at it, or at the very least appears unwavering when confronted with facts. Perpetrators of narcissistic abuse often double down when confronted with evidence or challenges against their versions of truth.
Frequent boundary violations – One of the key features of narcissistic abuse is repeated boundary violations. In the beginning of a romantic relationship, you may have even perceived it as exciting or an indicator of their deep desire for you. However, boundary violations are a reliable indicator of impending abuse. In the idealization phase they may have even expressed ignorance, remorse, and a willingness to change when confronted. In the devaluation phase, any attempts to confront their behaviours that violate your expressed boundaries are often met with reasons you should feel guilty or irrational for having held such boundaries, gave them no choice but to violate your boundaries, or even outright denials that a boundary violation has occurred.
Feeling like you are walking on egg shells – Whether because he/she is prone to outbursts of anger, or criticism while maintaining a calm demeanour, you have become hyper aware that anything you do, can and will be used against you. Outside of idealization periods, you are often left emotionally depleted following interactions with him/her.
Behaviour behind closed doors that is highly incongruent with public persona – This is one of the major reasons victims often find themselves questioning their experience of abuse and often take a long time to even recognize their experience as abuse. Perpetrators of narcissistic abuse often possess superficial charm and are well aware of socially acceptable behaviour. They engage in just enough public acts of kindness and virtue signaling to surround themselves with supporters and public adoration. This incongruence between their level of kindness towards others and disregard or abuse towards you, often leaves victims blaming themselves for their abuser’s behaviour.
Manipulative behaviour designed to evoke guilt and/or jealousy – They intentionally construct situations to elicit feelings of jealousy or competition and call you jealous and unreasonable for feeling these emotions. Even when you do not feel these emotions, you will still be accused of such if you question their actions. They will often share stories of your irrational behaviour with others to garner support, as part of the grooming process for future targets, and/or to isolate you further. In periods of devaluation, it is common for abusive romantic partners, parents, and bosses to draw comparisons between you and others that always seem to characterize you as inadequate and inferior. They manufacture events of victimization whether at your hands or that of others and list the many reasons it is your responsibility to resolve their distress. They may even go as far as to threaten suicide, self harm, or acts of harm towards your loved ones. In romantic relationships once he/she has discarded you, they often flaunt their new relationship that seems to have none of the issues that characterized their relationship with you. In narcissistic families, they often flaunt how much fun they are having and how well they are getting along once you have made the decision to distance yourself.
Exploitive behaviour – Whether stirring division and strife amongst others or aligning themselves with the genuine experiences of hurt or victimization of others, nothing is off limits to him/her if it allows them to maintain an appearance of superiority, virtue, or to create the narrative of their intended target as a scapegoat. Exploitative behaviour also occurs when he/ she uses your resources or vulnerabilities to achieve their aims at your expense.
Perpetual victimhood – Your abuser likely engages in virtue signaling while bemoaning the frequent experiences of abuse they have suffered at the hands of former romantic partners, family members, friends, peers, and eventually you. He/she may seek validation through social media and/ or other social contexts to rally supporters to his/her side, leaving you or their accused feeling isolated and helpless. Whether real or manufactured, his/her expressed experiences of trauma are shared with others for the purposes of manipulation and not with the purpose of healing. Sharing past traumas is among the abuser’s most effective strategies for entangling his/ her intended target(s), which are almost always those that are high in empathy. He/ she often attributes any disapproval or disagreement with their perspective as inherent character flaws in others. If you don’t agree with all of their actions, thoughts, and choices you are automatically labelled as a villain.
While these experiences are often termed narcissistic abuse, it is important to note that your abuser may be living with a different personality disorder e.g. borderline personality disorder. While the two conditions are different with overlapping traits, the impact remains the same.
The Vision Counselling & Consulting Approach
Our approach begins with offering you a safe space with therapists who specialize in the effective treatment of narcissistic abuse. We’ll help you unpack and process your experience through psychoeducation on the narcissistic abuse cycle, the nature of your abuser, and the intended purpose of their behaviours. This understanding often helps to lessen feelings of shame, self blame, and confusion. We will also help you regain your sense of self and the ability to identify and trust your intuition, which is often lost or significantly eroded following abuse. Developing a healthy relationship with your intuition is crucial, as survivors often attract multiple unhealthy relationships/ interactions with persons living with NPD, BPD, and other DSM V Cluster B personality disorder based traits. Abusers are highly skilled in detecting traits within their potential targets that leave them less equipped to recognize the signs of abuse. In many cases it is the same traits that are your personal strengths, an abuser may exploit to inflict their abuse. One of the most common traits is empathy, and the ability and desire to understand the perspectives of others. Other points of vulnerability include unresolved childhood trauma and/or adverse experiences, present stressors (e.g. health concerns, housing or financial insecurity, social isolation, recent major loss, etc.), and flexible boundaries. Our compassionate therapists will support you in non-judgementally identifying these points of vulnerability. The knowledge gained can then act as an effective protective shield that will empower you in navigating similar interactions going forward.
Our approach centres on helping you develop a healthy relationship with intuition, building self esteem, and developing healthy boundaries, effective communication skills, and psychological techniques that can act as armor in future situations. Whether you choose to cease all contact with you abuser or are presently unable to for a variety of reasons, our therapists can offer you meaningful support. In cases where you are presently unable to cease contact with your abuser, our therapists can provide you with highly effective tools to manage interactions with him/her and lessen the personal impact of his/ her behaviours.
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