Shahida Arabi

@selfcarehaven | contributor
Bestselling author of four books and a graduate of Columbia University. Healing the Adult Children of Narcissists: Essays on The Invisible War Zone is available for order at adultchildrenofnarcissists.org. Find more about my work at www.shahidaarabi.com and my blog at Psych Central, Recovering From A Narcissist.
Shahida Arabi

Victim-Shaming Myths Which Harm Trauma Survivors

As an author and researcher who has communicated with thousands of trauma and abuse survivors, I’ve become all too familiar with the victim-shaming myths which cause retraumatization in those who have suffered the unimaginable. These myths are often normalized as everyday platitudes that, even when said in well-meaning ways, can pose unnecessary harm to survivors and their healing journeys. Research ha s shown the powerful detrimental effects of victim-blaming and victim-shaming statements.  Studies have confirmed that when victims encounter negative reactions from professionals, family members and friends, this destructively affects the willingness of victims to come forward to disclose their pain and only leads to further self-blame and uncertainty about their experiences. This is a harmful form of secondary gaslighting and victimization which needs to be reexamined and dismantled. Below are some common victim-blaming and victim-shaming myths which need to be exposed, reevaluated and reframed to help, rather than hurt survivors of abuse and trauma. Myth 1. “You are not a victim! Get out of a victim mindset.” Perhaps one of the most frustrating victim-shaming platitudes is the idea we are not victims, encouraged by both misguided coaches and invalidating family members alike. While it’s helpful to evaluate our agency to change our lives and make positive changes, nothing could be more inaccurate than the statement, “You are not a victim. Get out of the victim mindset.” When it comes to having endured horrific violations like chronic emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual assault or other traumas, there is no such thing as a “victim mindset.” You have been a victim, and that is a fact, not a manufactured identity. There is no shame in being a victim and it does not take away our agency to realize we are one or have been one. We can be both victims and survivors. We can make steps toward recovery even while acknowledging and honoring the adversity we have endured. Being the victim of a crime or prolonged violence means we suffer through countless  effects of trauma , including but not limited to depression , anxiety , a diminished sense of self-worth, difficulties with relationships, addiction issues, self-harm and even suicidal ideation. You can certainly choose to identify as a survivor or a thriver as well, but that does not take away the fact you were a victim of a crime — whether it was an emotional, physical or financial crime. Myth 2. “You must forgive an abuser in order to heal. Don’t be bitter or angry.” Forgiveness is a personal journey and skilled trauma therapists understand that forcing premature forgiveness, especially before traumas are processed, can actually hinder the healing journey. As trauma therapist  Anastasia Pollock  writes regarding her experiences with clients, “I work with people who have experienced horrific traumas at the hands of other people. These traumas include acts of sexual abuse, rape, exploitation, and physical and emotional abuse… This is what I tell them: You don’t have to forgive in order to move on. Emotions are important and automatic. When we can acknowledge and appreciate even the darkest, most negative-feeling emotions, they often soften and release. As soon as I say, ‘You don’t have to forgive,’ the person usually breathes a sigh of relief.” When a person is forced to forgive by mental health professionals, loved ones or their perpetrators, however, in order to feel morally righteous or to placate an abuser or society, it only leads to what experts call “ hollow forgiveness. ” Rather, healthily processing anger and honoring it is the way to go. In fact,  researchers suggest that “righteous, empowering anger,” can actually act as a useful tool for self-protection and setting boundaries for those who have been abused.  Verbal ventilation  — the act of expressing one’s anger to a “safe” person — can also act as a key way to process childhood traumas, soften the inner critic, establish intimacy with others and reduce the impact of emotional flashbacks which bring us back to past states of powerlessness. Myth 3. “Abusers just need love, understanding and more hugs.” This victim-shaming myth of holding hands with our abusers and singing kumbaya simply does not cut it when we are dealing with highly manipulative individuals. While we’d all love to live in a world where everyone is capable of change so long as we give them a chance, this belief completely dismisses the reality of predators who never change their ways and actually further exploit us when we continue to let them back in our lives time and time again. Dr. George Simon , an expert on highly manipulative people, notes that our immense level of conscientiousness and agreeableness leave us more vulnerable to further manipulation. As he writes, “Disturbed characters know how to spot the conscientious. And they’re eager to exploit and abuse them. Sadly, sometimes overly conscientious folks delude themselves. They think they can ‘fix’ the morally broken among us.” Encouraging victims of abusers to love their abusers into changing does not work — in fact, it just continues the abuse cycle. It is a victim-shaming practice which gets us to refocus on how we can serve the perpetrator rather than obtain justice and healing for the actual victim. Myth 4. “What about the abuser? They had it so rough! We are all interconnected, so we have to help each other.” There is a prevailing myth that if an abuser had a tumultuous childhood, is struggling in life in some way or has an addiction, a victim should stay in the relationship to “help,” even while enduring terrifying incidents of emotional or physical abuse. According to  relationship experts , it’s not uncommon for domestic violence perpetrators to have narcissistic or even antisocial (sociopathic) personalities. Although this does not automatically make someone an abuser, we have to understand that abusers on the malignant end of the narcissistic spectrum often stage pity ploys to keep us trapped in the abuse cycle and are usually unwilling to get help or be responsive to treatment. Dr. Martha Stout, an expert on sociopathic behavior, asserts in her book “The Sociopath Next Door” that pity ploys, along with continued mistreatment, are a surefire sign of the conscienceless. Love and more compassion cannot change hardwired behavioral patterns which have been present since a young age, nor can they cure a lack of empathy in another person. Regardless of someone’s childhood upbringing, abuse is never justified. Remember: there are many victims who have also had rough childhoods, past traumas and self-esteem issues, but never used that as an excuse to abuse another person. Those who are serious about changing their behaviors make a commitment to create long-term, long-lasting changes on their own without expecting their victims to save them or tolerate their abuse. They do not require another person to help “fix” them. Thus, the most compassionate thing you can do for an abuser is to recognize that their issues are theirs alone to solve — hopefully, with the help of their own therapist. Myth 5. “Everything is a mirror. Send positive energy to this person and situation and it will be reflected back to you!” There are many spiritual ideologies which encourage active denial, minimization, rationalization and self-blame when it comes to abuse and trauma. Our new age society has us attending judgment detox workshops, participating in loving-kindness meditations about our enemies, and viewing our abusers as “karmic” soulmates meant to teach us essential life lessons. Now, there’s nothing wrong with meditating, praying, doing yoga, having an alternative belief system or engaging in meaning-making — when these activities are done to heal ourselves and believe in a bigger picture, they can lead to tremendous recovery and post-traumatic growth. However, when spirituality is misused to blame ourselves, free abusers from accountability and repress our emotions, it can become dangerous to our mental health. Spiritual bypassing of trauma is so common in our society that we’ve normalized the idea that if we don’t wish our abusers well, we are somehow “bitter” or not working hard enough to remain positive. That goes against everything we actually know to be true about trauma recovery from the experts. Psychotherapist  Annie Wright describes spiritual bypassing as a process “where people use spiritual principles or ideas to avoid dealing with their unresolved emotional issues and their strong ‘negative feelings’ and instead sidestep this work through following and espousing ‘more positive feelings’ or concepts.” However, as she goes on to note, spiritually bypassing trauma rarely works, because these negative unprocessed emotions tend to leak out in even more intense and maladaptive ways. It’s much more healthy to process your authentic emotions — not repress them for the sake of seeming mature, spiritually enlightened or morally superior. It’s far more healthy to process your trauma with a trained professional before even thinking about sending love and positivity to anyone who has violated you. Only then will you know it’s coming from an authentic place. Whatever you feel about your abuser and the suffering you endured, you are not wrong. This is your healing journey. No one should police or shame you. You are allowed to feel what you feel. Honoring your true emotions is sacred and a form of spirituality too. Honoring yourself also means honoring your divine right to be treated with respect and kindness. Show yourself love, kindness, positivity and compassion by exiting toxic relationships which no longer serve your highest good. You owe it to yourself to live your best life without the presence of toxic people. A version of this article was previously published on Psych Central .

Shahida Arabi

5 Devastating Lies We Learn From 'Narcissistic' Parents

The effects of childhood trauma, including emotional neglect or abuse in childhood, can have alarmingly potent effects on our psyche as we enter adulthood, even to the extent of rewiring the brain. The children of parents who are narcissistic know this all too well, having been raised by someone with a limited capacity for empathy and an excessive sense of grandiosity, false superiority and entitlement. As someone who was raised by a narcissistic parent and has communicated with hundreds of adult children of narcissists for my upcoming book, I want to share the five devastating lies we often internalize as a result of childhood abuse. It’s important to note that having narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) does not mean you are automatically an abuser; however, those with narcissistic tendencies who do abuse others can inflict a great amount of psychological harm when they do so, because they’re operating from a lack of empathy. When parents with full-fledged NPD or narcissistic tendencies emotionally abuse their children, they can affect the early brain development of their children and affect their life-course trajectories. Adult children of people with narcissistic tendensies can struggle with a wide variety of emotional, physical, behavioral and psychological problems as a result of this form of abuse. Adverse childhood experiences can cause us to be more prone to self-harm and suicidal ideation as adults and heighten the risk that we will struggle with addiction and chronic health problems. Children of narcissistic parents are often programmed at an early age to seek validation where there is none, to believe their worthiness is tied to the reputation of their families and to internalize the message that they can only sustain their value by how well they can “serve” the needs of their parents. They have lived an existence where love was rarely ever unconditional, if given at all. This is not to say that childhood survivors of narcissistic abuse cannot rise above their childhood conditioning; in fact, they can be stronger survivors and thrivers as a result of the resilience they are capable of developing and the ways in which they channel their traumas into transformation. It takes real inner work and bravery to unravel the traumas that we’ve had to endure as children, as well as address any retraumatization as adults. Being able to understand our relationship and behavioral patterns, as well as any negative self-talk that has arisen as a result of the abuse, can be revolutionary in challenging the myths and falsehoods we’ve been fed about our worth and capabilities. As children of narcissistic parents, we often learn the following from a very young age: 1. Your worth is always dependent on conditional circumstances. As the child of a narcissistic parent or parents, you might have been taught that you were not inherently worthy, but rather that your worth depended on what you could do for the narcissistic parent and how compliant you were. The emphasis on appearance, status, reputation is at an all-time high in households with a narcissistic parent. Due to the narcissistic parent’s grandiosity, false mask and need to be the best, you were probably part of a family that was “presented” in the best possible light, with abuse taking place behind closed doors. Within the home was a different story than the one presented to the public: you may have witnessed the horrific dynamics of seeing one parent verbally or even physically abuse the other, been subjected to the abuse yourself and/or experienced both parents working together to undercut you and your siblings. If you ever dared to threaten the perfect false image or did anything to speak out about the abuse, you were most likely punished. The emotional and psychological battery children of narcissistic parents endure when going against the expectations and beliefs of the family can be incredibly damaging and have life-long effects on their self-image, their agency and their faith in themselves. They are taught that they are not independent agents, but rather objects that are here to serve the narcissistic parent’s ego and selfish agendas. 2. You need to be perfect and successful, but you should never be rewarded for it or feel “enough.” People with narcissistic tendencies are often masters of moving the goal posts so that nothing others do is ever enough. As childhood abuse survivors, we are no exception to that rule. Our accomplishments are rarely acknowledged unless they meet an arbitrary criteria for “what looks best to society,” or confirms the narcissistic parent’s own grandiose fantasies. Our abusive parent is never genuinely proud of us unless he or she can claim credit for that particular success. Some narcissistic parents can even envy or look down upon the success of their children, especially if that success enables that child to become independent of their parents, outside of their realm of power and control. It is not uncommon for these types of parents to attempt to sabotage the success and happiness of their children if that success interferes at all with their grandiose self-image, their own ideas of what “happiness” should entail (usually whatever makes them look good rather than what makes their children feel good) or their compulsion to micromanage and control every facet of their children’s lives. In the mind of the narcissistic parent, it would be better if their children did not exist, rather than be unable to do their bidding and “perform” the identity that the parent wishes their children to embody or achieve the exact goals they want their children to achieve. Even if they were the perfect daughters or sons, the goal posts would again shift and their level of perfection would still never be good enough in the eyes of the narcissistic parent. 3. There is always someone better, and you must beat them — starting with your own siblings. Children of narcissistic parents are often turned against their siblings in a competition to vie for the affection and love they always craved but never received. Narcissistic parents are well-known for “triangulating” children against one another as an attempt to unnecessarily compare them, demean them and feed their own sense of power and control over their children. Usually there is a golden child and a scapegoat, and sometimes the roles are reversed depending on what the narcissistic parent needs to meet their agenda Scapegoated rebel children are often truth-seekers who desire an authentic connection with their family members, but fail to remain silent about the abuse that occurs when they do not meet the absurd expectations of their parents. The golden child, on the other hand, is usually lauded as the “standard,” but this too can quickly take a turn should the golden child ever exercise his or her agency and do something outside of the parent’s control. We are taught at a very young age that we will never be good enough, that we must always compare ourselves to others, and fail to acknowledge our inherent worthiness and value. As adults, we learn that we do not have to compete with anyone in order to be worthy or valuable, nor do we have to necessarily be the best at everything. Cultivating a sense of unconditional self-love, as well as an appreciation of our unique skills and abilities, can go a long way in combating these harmful internalizations from abuse and replacing them with a healthy level of pride and self-sufficiency. 4. Contempt is a part of love and “normal” in a relationship. Narcissistic parents can subject their children to periods of idealization when they need them, quickly followed by contempt and terrifying narcissistic rage when they “disobey” and threaten their excessive sense of entitlement. The condescension, contempt and hatred with which a narcissistic parent uses to berate their children is not only immensely hurtful, it retrains the mind into accepting abuse as a new normal. This pattern of idealization and devaluation teaches us that love is unstable, frightening, and ultimately unpredictable. It causes us to walk on eggshells, fearful that we may displease others. It can also desensitize us and makes us tone-deaf to verbal abuse later on in adulthood. Although we may learn to identify emotional and verbal abuse, we will be less likely than someone who had a healthy upbringing to recognize how damaging it can be or how unacceptable it truly is, because it unfortunately is “familiar” to us as the only version of love we’ve been shown. We may become “trauma bonded” to our abusive parents and more prone to bonding with abusive partners in adulthood as a result. We may even go to the other end of the spectrum and shut out anyone who resembles our parents in tone or attitude — some of this may be hypervigilance, but much of it is self-protection and intuition about the behaviors that have traumatized us in the past. Children of narcissistic parents can re-sensitize themselves to the fact that abuse is not a normal or healthy part of any relationship by addressing their people-pleasing habits, doing important boundary work and replacing old narratives of unworthiness with empowering ones about the type of love and respect they truly deserve. They can essentially “reparent” themselves in a safe, protective space. 5. Your emotions are not valid. Narcissistic parents, much like narcissistic abusers in relationships, pathologize and invalidate our emotions to the point where we are left voiceless. We are not allowed to feel, so we end up going to extremes: we either become repressed and numb or we become rebel children who “feel” too much, too soon. Our emotions become overwhelming either way, because our grief is not processed in a healthy way, starting from childhood. In adulthood, we gain the opportunity to validate our own emotions and recognize that what we feel, and have felt all along, is entirely valid. We learn how to process our emotions, our trauma, and the grief of being unloved as children and adolescents. We learn that we have opportunities to detach from our abusive parents, whether it be through Low Contact (minimum contact only when necessary) or No Contact at all. We experiment with using our agency to separate ourselves from the identity erosion that has occurred in our childhoods. We learn to separate the narcissistic parent’s harmful beliefs about us and our own burgeoning faith. Most of all, we learn that it is OK to believe in ourselves and to welcome good things into our lives. We learn that we are deserving of all that is good. It is important to remember that as children of narcissistic parents, we carry the legacy of our wounds, but that these wounds can become portals to deeper and richer healing. We do not have to burden the next generation with our wounding, but rather use it as a way to nurture and validate future generations. We have options as to how we can channel this trauma for our own growth, rather than our destruction. These wounds cannot heal if they are not addressed or if we refuse to be awake; at the same time, our timeline for healing will be unique and our journey cannot be compared to that of others. Self-awareness and self-compassion is needed more than ever. As children of narcissistic parents, we have to learn to protect ourselves from further abuse and set up a plan to better engage in self-care. Falsehoods about parents always being loving and having our best interests at heart simply do not cut it when it comes to manipulative, toxic and abusive parents. These parents are incapable of empathy and are likely to “hoover” you back only when they need to use you as a source of narcissistic supply. We must allow ourselves to grieve for the loss of our childhood and embrace the truth that our parents may have never loved us, or wanted the best for us, but that we can “reparent” ourselves the best ways we know how — through empathy, compassion, self-acceptance and self-love. Make no mistake: when you are the child of a narcissistic parent, the idea that you never deserved this love, is perhaps the biggest lie of all. Find more from Shahida on Self-Care Haven.