If you have tangled with anyone who has an exploitative and manipulative personality disorder, you have endured narcissistic abuse. What, exactly, does that mean?
Good question. “Narcissistic abuse” is not an official term listed in the bible of mental health, which is the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association). If you Google the term, you’ll find the circular definition that narcissistic abuse is abuse inflicted by a narcissist.
Mental health officialdom does not seem to have a good understanding of how these disordered individuals behave in romantic, family or other relationships. So looking for answers, we, the targets, have turned to the Internet.
In websites and online forums, narcissistic abuse has come to describe any of the bad behavior perpetrated by disordered individuals, including lies, gaslighting, rage, disparagement, the silent treatment, triangulation, blaming, passive-aggressiveness, projection, all manner of abuse, sometimes violence, and more.
You know this — after all, you’ve been living it. Your objective now is to figure out how to recover from it. Lovefraud can help you with our webinar, Self-Care for Survivors.
Here are three self-care steps towards emotional and psychological recovery from narcissistic abuse:
Step 1 — Recognize that sociopaths exist
We are not taught that there are evil people in the world. We are not taught that some people have no heart, no conscience and no remorse. Consequently, when sociopaths plow through our lives, reducing us to rubble, we have no idea what hit us.
All sociopaths, not just narcissists, engage in narcissistic abuse. At Lovefraud, the word “sociopath” is an umbrella term for all of the exploiters — people who could be diagnosed with antisocial, narcissistic, borderline, histrionic or psychopathic personality disorders. These disordered individuals make up about 12% of the population. That means more than 30 million adults in the United States are sociopaths. They are everywhere.
We didn’t know this. In fact, we probably bought into the cultural myths that human beings are all basically the same, we all want to be loved and everybody has good inside. These ideas were the foundation of how we understood the world.
So when we learned through the hard experience of narcissistic abuse by sociopaths, not only were our lives shattered, but our entire understanding of how the world works was shattered. That’s why we feel so unmoored.
Recognizing that sociopaths exist may go against everything we ever thought we knew about humanity. But it also provides a rational explanation for the narcissistic abuse that we have endured — an explanation that helps us make sense of what happened.
Step 2 — Accept that sociopaths are users and will not change
Among the feel-good bromides we learned all our lives is the idea that “love conquers all.” Love is certainly a healing balm for normal, feeling people who are facing difficulties. But love has absolutely no effect on a sociopath.
This may be especially difficult for some to understand, especially the empaths among us. Empaths are highly sensitive to other people’s emotions, and feel compelled to help anyone who seems to be in need. That’s why empaths are such juicy targets for sociopaths. Disordered individuals start their “poor me” routine, and empaths simply must respond.
Understand this: Sociopaths live their lives by using the rest of us. They are black holes of need, and will drain us until there is nothing left.
Even worse, they will not change.
Once sociopaths are adults, there is no real recovery from the personality disorders. Yes, they can control their antisocial behavior when it suits their interests. Yes, they can pretend to be caring and trustworthy, for a while. But sociopaths will never become loving, compassionate human beings.
You cannot love and support a sociopath into good health. If you continue to try, you only deplete yourself. Therefore, you must put yourself first and end any involvement with a sociopath.
Step 3 — Taking care of yourself
Now you know what you are dealing with. Now you know why you feel crushed. Now you know that the sociopath in your life will continue to engage in narcissistic abuse and drain you as long as you allow it.
Now it’s time to do something about it.
But what? And how? Perhaps the sociopath affected your health, drained your finances, ruined your reputation, cost you your job, alienated your kids and crushed your self-esteem. It may all seem so insurmountable.
In order to move forward, you need to be functional. You need to be able to show up, listen and respond, make decisions and find solutions to the practical issues that you face. You need to reclaim your “agency,” which is your ability to run your own life.
Where do you start? By taking care of yourself.
You need to do the basics — eat right, avoid drugs or alcohol, exercise, get enough sleep.
You need to be able to set your priorities, and say “no” to requests or obligations that do not support your priorities.
You need to find ways to cut down on the stress in your life.
This may require a total mind-shift. You may have been brought up to put others’ needs before your own — that’s the type of person sociopaths tend to target. Now it’s time to do what is best for you.
Lovefraud has a terrific webinar that tells you how to get started, called Self-Care for Survivors. It’s presented by Mandy Friedman, LPCC, CCDVC. Mandy, herself, is a survivor, so unlike many mental health professionals, she knows exactly what you are facing. She knows how to overcome narcissistic abuse, because she’s done it. In this webinar, Mandy shares her wisdom with you. Click the link below to learn more: