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Survivors of intimate relationships with malignant narcissists are often put through the psychological wringer. This
is not surprising, as they have been chronically mistreated, demeaned and diminished by character-disordered
individuals who are masters of interpersonal exploitation and who show severe deficiencies in their ability to
empathize. Dr. George Simon asserts that grandiose, malignant narcissists feel entitled to abuse and exploit
empathic individuals for their own gain because they truly believe in the delusion of their own superiority.

Abusive narcissists are contemptuous, haughty, condescending and cruel beyond words. They are also insatiable
attention-seekers, constantly looking for validation from the outside world to bolster their grandiose egos.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Never trust the date that is rude to the waiter,” but what about the partner who is
overly flirtatious with the waitress, each and every time? Survivors of intimate relationships with narcissists can
attest to the insatiable attention-seeking that a narcissistic abuser exhibits as he or she tries to gain narcissistic
supply (ex. attention, praise, admiration, sex, status, etc.) from anyone and everyone they meet.


This leads us to talk about one of the common ways malignant narcissists demean their victims and retain
narcissistic supply: triangulation. Triangulation in the context of narcissistic abuse is the act of bringing another
person or a group of people into the dynamic of a relationship or interaction to belittle the victim and make the
victim “vie” for the attention of the narcissist.

This method is often used to create love triangles among the people that the narcissistic abuser depends on for his
or her daily “fix” of attention. Triangulation is one of the most insidious, heartbreaking tools malignant narcissists
use to manipulate their former partners, their current partners, their harem members as well as their new sources of

Narcissists enjoy using triangulation as a mind game that enables them to gain a sense of power and control over
multiple people simultaneously. It confirms to them their own grandiosity – after all, aren’t they superior if they
have all these people competing for their approval and validation? They certainly think so.

The ways narcissists triangulate include but are certainly not limited to: flirting with others in front of their
partners, emotional and physical infidelity, as well as comparing their partners to others as a way to manufacture
insecurities in them. They may also report back falsehoods about what one person is saying about another, in order
to pit their victims against each other so that neither one of them approaches the other about the abuse taking place.

This form of triangulation can enables victims to doubt the reality of the abuse (ex. “My ex never had this problem
with me!”) and serves to make the victim feel unworthy and doubtful of their own experiences. As survivors who
have met the ex-partners of their narcissistic abusers and have had honest conversations with them can testify,
these claims are far from the truth. You will find that malignant narcissists deplete and drain each and every one of
their victims, who all have similar horror stories about the relationship.

Triangulation also has the added “reward” of allowing narcissists access to resources from each and every victim –
whether that resource be wealth, status or simply the delicious compassion of an unsuspecting empath. The need
for narcissistic supply can be almost gratifyingly sadistic – a way to punish victims for seeking to be independent
agents and to keep them reliant on the narcissist’s approval.

You may be wondering: why would anyone fall into this trap? It’s because triangulation can happen in covert,
underhanded ways meant to subtly make victims question themselves. The narcissist’s false mask helps to
reinforce his or her charming presence, which lures both potential victims as well previous partners into a horrific
abuse cycle filled with love-bombing idealization, cruel and callous devaluation and a comfort-punishment
dynamic that creates trauma bonding between victim and predator.

What survivors must understand is that triangulation is not an indication of anyone’s worth or desirability. Nor are
the narcissist’s new victims immune to encountering this tactic. It is ammunition and leverage to devalue former
victims to new partners (ex. “My ex was so crazy!”) or re-idealize old partners while devaluing new ones (ex. “My
last girlfriend/boyfriend got my jokes, why can’t you?”). It is also used to annihilate a former partner’s sense of
self by flaunting the new source of supply shortly after a discard.
This is something narcissists are prone to doing publicly post-breakup, especially if you discarded them first. It is
done in order to regain power over your emotions, hoover you back into the abuse cycle or provoke you into
breaking No Contact.

How to Heal from Triangulation

There are many excellent resources in the survivor community about the methods of triangulation and its effects.
What is lacking are more tips on how to best address the wounding that can result from triangulation and how to
begin healing from it. Rejection on its own is hurtful enough, but manipulative, deliberately damaging
comparisons set up by an emotional terrorist is quite another affair.

This can be a complex and daunting undertaking, as narcissists not only trigger old wounds, they also manufacture
new ones – creating what I like to call “simultaneous wounding.” It is important that in resisting triangulation,
one minimizes as much contact as possible with the narcissistic abuser (even in a co-parenting situation where
Low Contact is more appropriate). This entails blocking the abuser on all social media platforms, cutting off
contact with the abuser’s harem members to ensure peace of mind as well as taking any steps you can to legally
protect yourself from potential stalking and harassment after the break-up.

Healing from the effects of toxic triangulation is not an easy task, but gaining self-mastery, self-confidence and
learning how to self-validate is essential to the recovery journey. You may also require professional support to
address any symptoms of trauma in addition to these methods, as well as any other traditional or alternative
healing modalities that can assist you in the healing journey.

Here are three powerful ways survivors of abuse can begin to heal from the impact of toxic triangulation
and rise in their authentic, glorious selves:

1. Know that you are irreplaceable and learn exactly why.

Toxic partners work hard to instill in us a belief that we can be easily replaced with another source of supply. This
is why survivors of narcissistic abuse can be so devastated after they’ve been abused, devalued, discarded and not
too soon after, seemingly replaced by a shiny new target. They reminisce about the ways their narcissistic partners
treated them in the idealization phase, wondering if the new person in the abuser’s life is being treated better.

We all know logically that narcissists put each and every partner through this cycle of abuse regardless of who that
person is. The fantasy relationship they display on Facebook or in public spaces is an illusion – you know that for
a fact because they concocted the same fantasy with you, posting happy images on social media or bragging about
you to their friends even when they began abusing you behind closed doors.

The abuser’s lack of empathy and sense of entitlement carries forward in every relationship – even the person they
eventually seem to ‘settle down’ with (and let’s all say a collective prayer for this person). Yet on a subconscious
level, we may still be plagued by victim-shaming ideas cultivated by the blameshifting, projection and gaslighting
that we endured throughout the relationship.

Our abusers, after all, have brainwashed and conditioned us over time into believing that we were the problem, and
this is an ingrained belief system that needs to be addressed at its core in order for healing to take place.

It is this belief that arises not only during toxic triangulation in the relationship, but after the ending of it. Not only
do trauma bonds with the narcissist need to be severed, our cognitive distortions need to be replaced with healthier,
more realistic beliefs about the toxic nature of the narcissistic ex-partner, the reality of the abuse we experienced as
well as the integrity of our identity that the abuser attempted to erode, erase and diminish.

That’s where the power of self-appreciation and self-validation come in. Combating triangulation requires
knowing that you are truly irreplaceable and why. I am sure you’ve heard it before, but the fact of the matter is,
your particular “package” cannot be replicated. The dynamic combination of your unique inner and outer beauty,
success, talents, skills, can never be found in another.

Remember also that narcissists see their victims as objects, not as individual beings, making them unlikely
to even appreciate the complexity of the various identities they work hard to erase. Additionally, you as a
person can never be ‘copied.’
It is interesting to note that narcissistic abusers may also triangulate their victims with targets that are “surprising”
to say the least – people that victims did not realize the narcissist would ever have an interest in due to the
narcissist’s so-called “preferences.” This can get us wondering whether the narcissist even liked our “type.” The
truth is – the narcissist’s preferences quickly go out the window because they are overridden by the need for
supply. It is just further evidence that narcissists don’t discriminate when they need sources of supply after the
ending of a significant relationship…they’ll gain attention, praise, adulation and validation from whoever offers it
to them.

The fact that the abuser has seemingly ‘replaced’ you only means that they have replaced you with who they
see as yet another object to cater to their needs. They do not see their new sources of supply as human
beings nor do they truly appreciate the intricacies of who they are beyond a shallow representation.

The narcissistic abuser is so self-absorbed that they rarely ‘know’ the true personalities of their victims – only the
aspects that can be used to serve them and their image. They may know that their partner Sally is a talented,
good-looking musician, but they don’t truly ‘know’ Sally as a person. You’ll discover that even after a long-term
relationship, asking a narcissist what they liked about their ex-partner will elicit only baffled looks. Even asking a
narcissist what they like about you while in the idealization phase will only result in shallow responses. That’s
because throughout the abuse cycle, the narcissistic abuser focuses on the traits of the victim that could be used to
prop up the narcissist’s ego – not on the deeper qualities that defined who they were. Therefore, it is a waste of
time to ever compare yourself to a narcissist’s old or new sources of supply or their harem members.

This can be difficult to accept when the narcissist is pulling out all stops to create a happy public image of his or
her new or old relationship – but remember that appreciating what makes you who you are can act as an antidote to
their poisonous efforts to diminish you.


When a narcissistic abuser moves onto a new target, survivors may begin to ‘idealize’ the target! They may begin
to compare themselves unfavorably with the new source of supply, nullifying who they are in the process. They
forget that they can never truly be replaced – with anyone. Sure, narcissistic Brad can date new target Melissa who
is attractive and sporty, but they can’t get you. Not only are you attractive, you may also be intellectual, have a
successful career, a passion for helping others, a quirky sense of humor, and a penchant for making the best dirty
jokes. You could be a head-turner on the dance floor, be financially stable, deeply spiritual and have an active
lifestyle. What are the cool and interesting things you’re forgetting about yourself? There are so many incredible
things about you and your life that you tend to dismiss or minimize because you’re so busy focusing on the new

You have all sorts of quirky facets to your identity that fit together in a scrumptious way that frankly, no
one could mirror even if they tried. Maybe I am drawn to Cory with the six-pack and smooth pick-up lines, but
at the end of the day it might be Zach with the sweet smile, who is not only smooth but also emotionally validating,
empathic, mature beyond his years and has a deep voice that would probably make me melt in the long run.

Attractiveness is not a one-dimensional thing: it is a kaleidoscope of factors.

It is not just one or two qualities that define us and make us desirable to people: it is a whole spectrum of
tiny and big things that are stirred to make the magical potion that is your essence. Everything from your
intelligence, passions, hobbies, interests to the twinkle in your eye – beautiful qualities and attributes that
anyone who is not a narcissist will be sure to cherish about you. So ask yourself: what is the potent cocktail
of qualities that make you extra delicious and irreplaceable?

I am serious – there is something absolutely yummy about your particular mind, body and spirit – about your soul.
There are parts of us – sometimes even the very ones we’d rather hide from society – that make us unique in ways
people wouldn’t expect. Maybe the way you laugh is captivating; there might be something about your energy that
is magnetic or your strong stride that catches the eye of everyone in the room. People pick up on those things about
you because they’re seeing you with fresh eyes – and now it’s time for you to value these things in yourself too.

Remember, this rule of people being multifaceted applies to your abuser too, but in a way that gives survivors the
advantage in moving forward. The once appealing and charming narcissist gets pretty boring in the long run when
we factor in the attributes of their true selves – their flat affect, their inability to be happy for others, their cruelty,
their pathological envy and a number of other undesirable traits. Who are they to compare or triangulate your
badass self to anyone? No one.

I want you to take the time to acknowledge those parts of yourself – both light and dark, that
make up the sum of the complex, nuanced and multidimensional human being you are. That is the
magic key to unlocking the safe to your sense of security – knowing who you are and owning all
of it.

That is why it helps, after we’ve addressed any wounds left behind by blameshifting, to cultivate and reinforce our
own strengths rather than needlessly emphasizing any perceived weaknesses, flaws or deficiencies that the abuser
has pushed us to internalize. It is a waste of your beautiful, divine self to diminish or nullify your qualities just
because of the petty and immature games that narcissists play. I find that when survivors of narcissistic abuse
begin to compare themselves to new targets or old ones, they begin to feed right into the narcissist’s desire to see
their survivors sabotage themselves. It’s emotional rape and murder without a trace – and it’s done by your own

Here are some ideas on how to embrace our irreplaceability and celebrate ourselves:

 Make an epic “love list” and refer to it daily. This will get you in the habit of waking up in the
morning with an attitude of being grateful for all that you are and have, rather than feeling lacking in
any way. What sort of miracles in your life, in your personality and in your abilities could you be
missing out on as you waste time comparing yourself to another person? This is all about moving
forward with the determination to refocus on what you do well and to celebrate the most attractive
and desirable qualities about yourself. Every day, honor the qualities, traits and attributes that you are
proud of – even if the narcissist put them down.

What successes did they downplay? Reminisce lovingly about them, knowing that the reason they were diminished
in the first place were because they evoked the narcissist’s pathological envy. What intellectual, spiritual,
emotional and physical attributes do you find people most notice about you and are captivated by? Your abuser
probably tried to idealize you with them, only to later devalue them so that you wouldn’t feel as confident about
yourself or your ability to get a better partner. Now it’s your turn to see these qualities again with fresh eyes. What
do you see within yourself that you know makes you special and unique? Make an entire list if you have to, about
the things you like and love about yourself and your life. Also make another list for your goals, dreams and
anything you want to enhance in your life and brainstorm the steps to do so (such as your existing financial success
or good health).

 Tackle things that you need to breed more confidence in head-on. Use whatever the narcissist
diminished you in as motivation or fuel to celebrate, improve or enhance loving that specific part of
yourself. If you have insecurities about your appearance, do some heavy-duty mirror work each
morning and night before going to sleep. Find joy in the various characteristics that make you beautiful
and breed acceptance for any perceived flaws. What you might see as a flaw, another person might see
as a treasured part of you. If you find this exercise difficult, start with staring into your own eyes in the
mirror and saying, “I love you and I care about you, and goddamnit, I am going to fight for you. You are
THAT worth it.” If you struggle with harmful messages about your body, do some yoga to increase
appreciation for what your body is capable of rather than engaging in judgments about what it looks
like. You will find that when you focus more on appreciating and honoring your body, you’ll also begin
to treat it more mindfully and everything else you want will fall into place naturally. According to
research, yoga is also helpful for releasing trauma from the body – it’s a win-win! You may also want to
engage in daily exercise to release endorphins and increase an overall sense of joy and well-being –
meeting your fitness goals will just be the icing on the (gluten-free?) cake. If your narcissistic abuser
insulted your intuition or intelligence, get mindful and attend a meditation workshop to reconnect with
your sacred inner guidance or pursue any academic goals you put on the back burner – ones
that reconnect you with your brilliance. Those are just some ideas for how to use the bullying messages
of your abuser to get you moving in a positive direction.
 Don’t hold back on loving yourself – even if the voices of society, your abuser or your own inner critic
seems to interfere. If you normally shy away from complimenting yourself, it’s time to heap on some
healthy self-appreciation and self-praise. If you’re one to belittle or judge everything you do or say, it’s
time to take a step back and observe the inner critic without engaging the negative self-talk or feeding
into it. You may think that I am asking you to get somewhat “narcissistic” in the process of loving
yourself – but don’t worry, this is not about being cocky, shallow or self-aggrandizing like the narcissist
is prone to being. It’s about appreciating yourself more fully and increasing your sense of self-efficacy,
power and agency. It’s about recognizing your own desirability (inside and out) and foregoing the dark
voices of your abusers and bullies saying otherwise. It’s about owning your strength and your ability to
validate who you really are, not what the abuser tried to make you out to be. If the voice of your
abuser arises and tries to squash your burgeoning confidence, learn how to distinguish that voice from
those who truly love and care about you. Check in with yourself and say explicitly, “That’s not what I
truly think and feel. That’s what the abuser tried to make me believe about myself.” Do something to
‘interrupt’ the pattern of negative self-talk and get yourself back into the habit of nourishing yourself
with empowering affirmations.Think of hypercritical feedback from the narcissist as criticism from an
angry, jealous toddler – it is not valid nor has it been given to you with the best intentions. It is a
pathological defense mechanism and has very little to do with your worth or value. Realize that
feedback from grounded, emotionally stable individuals as well as your own inner voice are the anchors
and true testaments to your character and potential.This is all about getting the focus off of the
narcissist and onto the magic that is within you.
 Pull in some healthy external feedback when you need to and distinguish it from the harsh words of
your abuser. These exercises are all about what you enjoy in yourself, but don’t be afraid to also pull
in positive feedback from healthier past partners, friends, family members, co-workers and
acquaintances about what they cherish and positively regard about you as well. Keep a running
document of any and all compliments you’ve ever received in your life that you can refer to whenever
you’re feeling especially low or find yourself getting into a space of self-doubt.

2. Eradicate subconscious wounding that says you’re not enough and cultivate new seeds of

Many (but not all) survivors who have been in unhealthy, abusive relationships in adulthood also come from
unhealthy family dynamics. Childhood is where many survivors first learn to dim their own light.

Survivors of childhood abuse by narcissistic parents may have been pitted against a sibling or a group of siblings
growing up. Your parents may have tried to “bury” your gifts because they were abusive narcissists and wanted to
see you fail. They knew your potential, but they worked hard to stifle it to meet their own selfish agendas.

That being said, there are a variety of circumstances that can lead to a child growing up believing that he or she is
not meant to shine. Maybe you always had a more athletic brother or a “prettier” sister (at least from society’s
perspective). Perhaps you had a best friend that tended to outshine you in social circles. It’s possible you were
bullied or were made to feel invisible by toxic teachers who paid more attention to their favorite students. You
may have also endured complex trauma and were the victim of all of these scenarios and more.

Whatever your situation was growing up, even if it was a healthy and happy childhood where you were nourished
and supported, there may still be beliefs lingering about not being good enough – whether it is from the influence
of society, culture or childhood programming. Identifying these experiences and the associated beliefs that came
with them can go a long way in tackling any wounding that is being reinforced when triangulation is used as a
method to provoke or further diminish you.

Ask yourself: in what ways have I been made to feel invisible throughout my life? Know that what
you experienced was not okay: no child deserves to feel unseen, unheard or unwanted – and frankly,
no adult does either. You deserved to be visible, you deserved to shine and you deserve to embrace
all of the amazing qualities that make you stand out.

After you’ve identified the ways in which you have been brought down in the past, ask yourself the
following questions and explore:

 In what ways can I embrace my visibility? For example, is there a dream you’ve been holding off on
pursuing due to self-doubt or sabotage from your abusive partner? Now is the time to start working on
or rebuilding that dream to make it come to life, bigger and brighter than ever – it represents an
authentic desire you’re meant to fulfill.
 What parts of myself and what gifts have I resisted showcasing as a way to hide myself the way I’ve
been taught to hide? We were taught to minimize our talents and desirable traits due to the
pathological envy of the narcissist and their put-downs, as well as any childhood programming. Perhaps
you’re an incredible artist and your abuser told you negative things about your potential for achieving
your dreams because it took the spotlight off of them. Now it’s time to embrace those again and
remember the gifts that made us who we truly were before the abusive relationship.
 What ways has being invisible protected me from what I’ve been taught to fear (such as criticism)
and how can I cultivate the type of confidence that allows me to overcome those fears? Childhood
abuse survivors can learn to fear success of any kind due to being punished for daring to succeed by
their their abusive caretakers. Similarly, survivors of narcissistic abuse in adulthood can be taught that
with success comes punishment via the callous put-downs of their intimate partners whenever they
were daring to achieve something that enabled them to become independent of the narcissist. You
may have developed an extreme fear of ‘displaying’ who you are as a person and the things that make
you truly special. Beneath this fear is an underlying need to protect yourself. Perhaps your five year-old
self still fears being noticed by others because your abusive mother taught you weren’t worthy of being
acknowledged or instilled a deep fear in you about the dangers of being too pretty or smart. Or maybe
your 23-year-old self is still reeling from that abusive ex who told you that you were too ‘damaged’ to
find anyone better – this is a common fear these toxic types try to convince their partners of in order to
hold them back from pursuing healthier relationships. Suppressing or acting on these fears might have
been a go-to coping mechanism for you, but now it’s time to unravel these fears and invite curiosity
about what they are protecting you from as well as what they’re preventing you from obtaining. These
lingering fears may come with protective intentions, but they are ultimately holding you back from
what is meant to flourish within you.
 How can I rise above the people who tried to keep me behind the curtain, when I really deserved my
chance at the spotlight too? If you find yourself fearing criticism or envy from others as a result of
outshining them, remember that everyone deserves recognition – and that there’s plenty of it to go
around. Unlike predatory narcissists, survivors of abuse know deep down that they don’t ever have to
rob someone else of their light in order to be seen. We can celebrate the accomplishments of others as
well as our own – in fact, we take special joy in it. So why not extend that same courtesy of being happy
for others to ourselves? We don’t have to be made to feel ashamed or guilty about being proud of who
we are. What are more ways you can allow yourself to be in the spotlight and truly enjoy yourself? For
example, your abuser may have pushed you to be quiet in social groups whenever you were with them
so you wouldn’t get attention from anyone else – now is the perfect time to relearn how to speak out
and show off your personality.

Here’s a truth-bomb for the people-pleasers out there: you’re allowed to take up space and own that space
without apologies. You’re allowed to speak your voice. You’re allowed to be beautiful (or handsome) inside and
out, brilliant, worthy, valuable, seen and heard. You’re allowed to be successful and be proud of yourself in a
healthy way. You’re allowed to accept compliments. You’re allowed to compliment yourself. You’re allowed to
set boundaries and say “no” when you mean no and say “yes” to the things your heart and soul say “hell yes” to.
You’re allowed to realize that the narcissistic abuser who put you through this mess is just another incredibly
flawed (and dysfunctional) human being who has no say on your worth or abilities. You’re allowed to see the new
source of supply as also another flawed human being who is not worth any of your time, energy or competition.

Yep, you heard me. You never have to compete with anyone – and a healthy partner would never want
anyone who they truly love and cherish to feel like they’re competing with anybody anyway. Narcissists want
us to compete for their love and attention but what we’re pulled in to fight for is ultimately meaningless, as
narcissists don’t even have the capacity to love anyone in a healthy manner.

Let the new source of supply get the consolatory prize: the abusive narcissist who will make them compete with
others too – while you move onto bigger and better things. Your biggest prize is your new life of freedom and a
path back to your true, authentic self – and, if you’re looking for it, an open space for true, authentic love to enter
your life – the kind with empathy, compassion and respect. The kind that is so deliciously appreciative of
everything that makes you so beautiful and worthy.

3. Minimize unnecessary comparisons and reprogram negative self-talk.

One of the most damaging lies we can learn from narcissistic parents or partners is that we have to compete with
others in order to prove our worth. Whether it be the golden child or the new source of supply, victims of
narcissistic abuse are made to feel deficient and worthless by the toxic, destructive conditioning of the relationship.
They begin to compare themselves to others as a form of self-sabotage, continuing the abuse even after the
relationship has ended.

If we spent our lives comparing ourselves to every person we came across, we would drive ourselves certifiably
insane. Similarly, the last thing we want to be doing on our journey to healing is to make unnecessary comparisons
to someone a toxic person has triangulated us with.

Narcissistic abusers are masters of triangulating us with people who may be very different from us – this is done
intentionally to provoke a sense of unease and self-questioning about qualities we may “lack.” Yet what you have
to remember is that down the line, your narcissistic ex-partner will start to compare their new supply to you
– talking nonsense about how their ex (you) did this or that and suddenly putting you back on the pedestal.

They don’t discriminate on who they criticize and for what – they’re looking to feed off of the emotional reactions
they get with all of their sources of supply and they will continue the same cycle of triangulation with their new
partners as well.

The truth is that we are not lacking in any shape, way or form. We are “full” of the very things we need. We are
absolutely sufficient in what we have now, because within that unique brand of quirks, flaws, strengths – is exactly
who we are and who we need to be. We are already whole and we need to work on the negative self-talk and inner
critic that may pounce to detract from our own wholeness.

There are many ways to reprogram this negative voice in your head. Some ideas might be:

 Engaging in a daily habit of positive affirmations customized to your unique needs and triggers. This
is especially helpful when your abuser’s voice comes up. You may want to record these affirmations in
your own voice and play them back (or have a trusted, loving friend do these for you). If you have
severe anxiety over hardcore affirmations, start small. Maybe you don’t start with “I am beautiful,” but
begin with “Everyone has beauty and I have beauty in me too.” instead. Do whatever it takes to make
the affirmation believable to you before moving onto bigger and better confirmations of your value.
 A weekly meditation practice (best to do this on a day you are most vulnerable to cravings to break
No Contact) to help you to listen and observe your train of thoughts rather than become
increasingly reactive to them. Mindfully approaching these cravings or ruminations can help to ease
the ‘addictive’ pull we often develop to keeping tabs on an abusive ex. This addiction is formed by the
trauma bond and needs time, space, effort and practice in order to heal.
 Emotional Freedom Technique, EMDR and/or hypnotherapy to clear negative thought patterns and
target subconscious beliefs from the trauma that we may not even be aware of that are holding us

Breaking the triangle and integrating wholeness.

You might be catching on that this part of the journey is not about the love triangle itself but what the triangle
represents, the core wounds it reveals and learning how to navigate the pathway to deeper, richer self-love. Don’t
get me wrong – triangulation hurts no matter what sort of wounding you may have, because no matter what
insecurities you have, triangulation is still abuse. It is a form of devaluation from a toxic partner that no one should
ever have to go through. Narcissistic abuse erodes our identity, our self-esteem and threatens to destroy the dreams
we’re meant to fulfill. As survivors heal, triangulation comes up as a common way they’ve been dehumanized and

However, as you begin to work on core wounds, self-sabotaging beliefs and any issues with self-confidence in
conjunction with No Contact, you’ll find that your emotional resonance with the narcissist’s ploys is not as
heightened as before. You’re able to move on a bit more quickly rather than tethering yourself to comparisons or
creating new ones in your mind. On some level, even subconsciously, we feel trapped to remain within the toxic
triangle because we have forgotten to honor our wholeness and we’re still attached to the abuser through traumatic
Regardless of whichever context you might be facing triangulation, it’s important to remember and honor that
wholeness. Comparing ourselves is a dishonor to the very things that make us who we are. If you have a need to
constantly compare yourself to the people your abuser pitted you against, why not compare yourself to who you
used to be in the abusive relationship or to a healthy role model that you aspire to be more like?

Now that you’ve paved the path to freedom, you’re probably stronger, more resilient, and more determined to
succeed. You’ve grown a great deal since the abuse. You’ve survived the worst moments of your life and are now
on your way to thriving. Don’t allow the narcissist’s attempts to make you feel less than detract you from the
independence you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Post-breakup triangulation is deliberately staged to get you off of
your journey to freedom and right back into the narcissist’s trap. Instead, “reverse triangulate” the narcissist with a
new support network, a new flourishing life and a new sense of confidence that births your revolution and victory
after abuse.

11 Devastating Signs You’ve Been Abused By A Malignant Narcissist

Imagine this: your entire reality has been warped and distorted. You have been mercilessly violated, manipulated,
lied to, ridiculed, demeaned and gaslighted into believing that you are imagining things. The person you thought
you knew and the life you built together have been shattered into a million little fragments.

Your sense of self has been eroded, diminished. You were idealized, devalued, then shoved off the pedestal.
Perhaps you were even replaced and discarded multiple times, only to be ‘hoovered’ and lured back into an abuse
cycle even more torturous than before. Maybe you were relentlessly stalked, harassed and bullied to stay with your

This was no normal break-up or relationship: this was a set-up for covert and insidious murder of your psyche and
sense of safety in the world. Yet there may not be visible scars to tell the tale; all you have are broken pieces,
fractured memories and internal battle wounds.

This is what narcissistic abuse looks like.

Psychological violence by malignant narcissists can include verbal and emotional abuse, toxic
projection, stonewalling, sabotage, smear campaigns, triangulation along with a plethora of other
forms of coercion and control. This is imposed by someone who lacks empathy, demonstrates an
excessive sense of entitlement and engages in interpersonal exploitation to meet their own needs
at the expense of the rights of others.

As a result of chronic abuse, victims may struggle with symptoms of PTSD, Complex PTSD if they had additional
traumas like being abused by narcissistic parents or even what is known as “Narcissistic Victim Syndrome”
(Cannonville, 2015; Staggs 2016). The aftermath of narcissistic abuse can include depression, anxiety,
hypervigilance, a pervasive sense of toxic shame, emotional flashbacks that regress the victim back to the abusive
incidents, and overwhelming feelings of helplessness and worthlessness.

When we are in the midst of an ongoing abuse cycle, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what we are
experiencing because abusers are able to twist and turn reality to suit their own needs, engage in intense
love-bombing after abusive incidents and convince their victims that they are the ones who are abusers.

If you find yourself experiencing the eleven symptoms below and you are or have been in a toxic relationship with
a partner that disrespects, invalidates and mistreats you, you may just have been terrorized by an emotional

1. You experience dissociation as a survival mechanism.

You feel emotionally or even physically detached from your environment, experiencing disruptions in your
memory, perceptions, consciousness and sense of self. As Dr. Van der Kolk (2015) writes in his book, The Body
Keeps the Score, “Dissociation is the essence of trauma. The overwhelming experience is split off and fragmented,
so that the emotions, sounds, images, thoughts and physical sensations take on a life of their own.”
Dissociation can lead to emotional numbing in the face of horrific circumstances. Mind-numbing activities,
obsessions, addictions and repression may become a way of life because they give you an escape from your current
reality. Your brain finds ways to emotionally block out the impact of your pain so you do not have to deal with the
full terror of your circumstances.

You may also develop traumatized ‘inner parts’ that become disjointed from the personality you inhabit with your
abuser or loved ones (Johnston, 2017). These inner parts can include the inner child parts that were never nurtured,
the true anger and disgust you feel towards your abuser or parts of yourselves you feel you cannot express around

According to therapist Rev. Sheri Heller (2015), “Integrating and reclaiming dissociated and disowned aspects of
the personality is largely dependent on constructing a cohesive narrative, which allows for the assimilation of
emotional, cognitive, and physiological realities.” This inner integration is best done with the help of a
trauma-informed therapist.

2. You walk on eggshells.

A common symptom of trauma is avoiding anything that represents reliving the trauma – whether it be people,
places or activities that pose that threat. Whether it be your friend, your partner, your family member, co-worker or
boss, you find yourself constantly watching what you say or do around this person lest you incur their wrath,
punishment or become the object of their envy.

However, you find that this does not work and you still become the abuser’s target whenever he or she feels
entitled to use you as an emotional punching bag. You become perpetually anxious about ‘provoking’ your abuser
in any way and may avoid confrontation or setting boundaries as a result.

You may also extend your people-pleasing behavior outside of the abusive relationship, losing your ability to be
spontaneous or assertive while navigating the outside world, especially with people who resemble or are associated
with your abuser and the abuse.

3. You put aside your basic needs and desires, sacrificing your emotional and even your physical
safety to please the abuser.

You may have once been full of life, goal-driven and dream-oriented. Now you feel as if you are living just to
fulfill the needs and agendas of another person. Once, the narcissist’s entire life seemed to revolve around you;
now your entire life revolves around them.

You may have placed your goals, hobbies, friendships and personal safety on the back burner just to ensure that
your abuser feels ‘satisfied’ in the relationship. Of course, you soon realize that he or she will never truly be
satisfied regardless of what you do or don’t do.

4. You are struggling with health issues and somatic symptoms that represent your psychological

You may have gained or lost a significant amount of weight, developed serious health issues that did not exist
prior and experienced physical symptoms of premature aging. The stress of chronic abuse has sent your cortisol
levels into overdrive and your immune system has taken a severe hit, leaving you vulnerable to physical ailments
and disease (Bergland, 2013).

You find yourself unable to sleep or experiencing terrifying nightmares when you do, reliving the trauma through
emotional or visual flashbacks that bring you back to the site of the original wounds (Walker, 2013).

5. You develop a pervasive sense of mistrust.

Every person now represents a threat and you find yourself becoming anxious about the intentions of others,
especially having experienced the malicious actions of someone you once trusted. Your usual caution becomes
hypervigilance. Since the narcissistic abuser has worked hard to gaslight you into believing that your experiences
are invalid, you have a hard time trusting anyone, including yourself.
6. You experience suicidal ideation or self-harming tendencies.

Along with depression and anxiety may come an increased sense of hopelessness. Your circumstances feel
unbearable, as if you cannot escape, even if you wanted to. You develop a sense of learned helplessness that makes
you feel as if you don’t wish to survive another day. You may even engage in self-harm as a way to cope.

As Dr. McKeon (2014), chief of the suicide prevention branch at SAMHSA notes, victims of intimate partner
violence are twice as likely to attempt suicide multiple times. This is the way abusers essentially commit murder
without a trace.

7. You self-isolate.

Many abusers isolate their victims, but victims also isolate themselves because they feel ashamed about the abuse
they’re experiencing. Given the victim-blaming and misconceptions about emotional and psychological violence in
society, victims may even be retraumatized by law enforcement, family members, friends and the harem members
of the narcissist who might invalidate their perceptions of the abuse.

They fear no one will understand or believe them, so instead of reaching out for help, they decide to withdraw
from others as a way to avoid judgment and retaliation from their abuser.

8. You find yourself comparing yourself to others, often to the extent of blaming yourself for
the abuse.

A narcissistic abuser is highly skilled at manufacturing love triangles or bringing another person into the dynamic
of the relationship to further terrorize the victim. As a result, victims of narcissistic abuse internalize the fear that
they are not enough and may constantly strive to ‘compete’ for the abuser’s attention and approval.

Victims may also compare themselves to others in happier, healthier relationships or find themselves wondering
why their abuser appears to treat complete strangers with more respect. This can send them down the trapdoor of
wondering, “why me?” and stuck in an abyss of self-blame. The truth is, the abuser is the person who should be
blamed – you are in no way responsible for being abused.

9. You self-sabotage and self-destruct.

Victims often find themselves ruminating over the abuse and hearing the abuser’s voice in their minds, amplifying
their negative self-talk and tendency towards self-sabotage. Malignant narcissists ‘program’ and condition their
victims to self-destruct – sometimes even to the point of driving them to suicide.

Due to the narcissist’s covert and overt put-downs, verbal abuse and hypercriticism, victims develop a tendency to
punish themselves because they carry such toxic shame. They may sabotage their goals, dreams and academic
pursuits. The abuser has instilled in them a sense of worthlessness and they begin to believe that they are
undeserving of good things.

10. You fear doing what you love and achieving success.

Since many pathological predators are envious of their victims, they punish them for succeeding. This conditions
their victims to associate their joys, interests, talents and areas of success with cruel and callous treatment. This
conditioning gets their victims to fear success lest they be met with reprisal and reprimand.

As a result, victims become depressed, anxious, lack confidence and they may hide from the spotlight and allow
their abusers to ‘steal’ the show again and again. Realize that your abuser is not undercutting your gifts because
they truly believe you are inferior; it is because those gifts threaten their control over you.

11. You protect your abuser and even ‘gaslight’ yourself.

Rationalizing, minimizing and denying the abuse are often survival mechanisms for victims in an abusive
relationship. In order to reduce the cognitive dissonance that erupts when the person who claims to love you
mistreats you, victims of abuse convince themselves that the abuser is really not ‘all that bad’ or that they must
have done something to ‘provoke’ the abuse.

It is important to reduce this cognitive dissonance in the other direction by reading up on the narcissistic
personality and abuse tactics; this way, you are able to reconcile your current reality with the narcissist’s false self
by recognizing that the abusive personality, not the charming facade, is their true self.

Remember that an intense trauma bond is often formed between victim and abuser because the victim is ‘trained’
to rely on the abuser for his or her survival (Carnes, 2015). Victims may protect their abusers from legal
consequences, portray a happy image of the relationship on social media or overcompensate by ‘sharing the blame’
of the abuse.

I’ve been narcissistically abused. Now what?

If you are currently in an abusive relationship of any kind, know that you are not alone even if you feel like you
are. There are millions of survivors all over the world who have experienced what you have. This form of
psychological torment is not exclusive to any gender, culture, social class or religion. The first step is becoming
aware of the reality of your situation and validating it – even if your abuser attempts to gaslight you into believing

If you can, journal about the experiences you have been going through to begin acknowledging the realities of the
abuse. Share the truth with a trusted mental health professional, domestic violence advocates, family members,
friends or fellow survivors. Begin to ‘heal’ your body through modalities like trauma-focused yoga and
mindfulness meditation, two practices that target the same parts of the brain often affected by trauma (van der
Kolk, 2015).

Reach out for help if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, especially suicidal ideation. Consult a
trauma-informed counselor who understands and can help guide you through the symptoms of trauma. Make a
safety plan if you have concerns about your abuser getting violent.

It is not easy to leave an abusive relationship due to the intense trauma bonds that can develop, the effects of
trauma and the pervasive sense of helplessness and hopelessness that can form as a result of the abuse. Yet you
have to know that it is in fact possible to leave and to begin the journey to No Contact or Low Contact in the cases
of co-parenting. Recovery from this form of abuse is challenging, but it is well worth paving the path back to
freedom and putting the pieces back together.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, be sure to call the National Suicide Prevention
Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.

Works Cited

Bergland, C. (2013, January 22). Cortisol: Why “The Stress Hormone” is public enemy no.
1. Retrieved August 21, 2017.

Clay, R. A. (2014). Suicide and intimate partner violence. Monitor on Psychology, 45(10), 30.
Retrieved here.

Canonville, C. L. (2015). Narcissistic Victim Syndrome: What the heck is that? Retrieved August
18, 2017.

Carnes, P. (2015). Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships . Health

Communications, Incorporated.

Heller, S. (2015, February 18). Complex PTSD and the realm of dissociation. Retrieved August
21, 2017.

Johnston, M. (2017, April 05). Working with our inner parts. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
Staggs, S. (2016). Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on August
21, 2017.

Staggs, S. (2016). Symptoms & Diagnosis of PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2017.

Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation
of trauma. London: Penguin Books.

Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving . Lafayette, CA: Azure Coyote.

This article originally appeared on Psych Central as 11 Signs You’re the Victim of Narcissistic Abuse on August
21, 2017.

This Powerful Manipulation Method Keeps You Bonded To Your Abuser

Flowers after days of the silent treatment. Crocodile tears after weeks of brutal insults. An unexpected extravagant
gift after a rage attack. A sudden moment of tenderness after hours of critical remarks. What do these all have in
common? In the context of an abusive relationship, they are all demonstrations of intermittent reinforcement – a
dangerous manipulation tactic used to keep you bonded to your abuser.

Psychologist B.F. Skinner (1956) discovered that while behavior is often influenced by rewards or punishment,
there is a specific way rewards are doled out that can cause that behavior to persist over long periods of time,
causing that behavior to become less vulnerable to extinction. Consistent rewards for a certain behavior actually
produce less of that behavior over time than an inconsistent schedule of rewards. He discovered that rats pressed a
lever for food more steadily when they did not know when the next food pellet was coming than when they always
received the pellet after pressing (known as continuous reinforcement).

In laymen’s terms, when we know to expect the reward after taking a certain action, we tend to work less for it.
Yet when the timing of the reward or the certainty that we’ll get it at all is unpredictable, we tend to repeat that
behavior with even more enthusiasm, in hope for the end result. We relish the joy of a “hard-earned” reward that
much more.

Abuse and Intermittent Reinforcement

There is almost always intermittent reinforcement at work in a relationship with a malignant narcissist or
manipulator because abuse is usually mixed in with periodic affection at unpredictable moments. Intermittent
reinforcement works precisely because our “rewards” (which could be anything from the fleeting normalcy of
affection to a display of the abuser’s remorse) are given to us sporadically throughout the abuse cycle. This causes
us to work harder to sustain the toxic relationship because we desperately want to go back to the “honeymoon
phase” of the abuse cycle.

Intermittent reinforcement along with the effects of trauma ensure that we become “addicted” to the hope of
reaping our “reward” despite evidence that we’re risking our own safety and well-being.

The instability of the abuser ironically drives their victims to become a source of constant
stability to them.

This same phenomenon (albeit much more simplistically) is displayed in the behavior of gamblers at slot machines.
Despite the low chance of winning, gamblers become “addicted” to investing their hard-earned money just for the
chance of a pay-off.

It bears repeating that while this behavior may seem nonsensical on the surface, it’s because humans feel far less
incentive to perform a certain behavior when they know it will always yield a reward. An inconsistent,
unpredictable cycle of rewards, however, causes them to invest more in the hope for that ever elusive “win.”
Intermittent Reinforcement Literally Causes An Addiction to the Unpredictability of the Abuse

This effect even works on a biochemical level; when pleasurable moments are few and far in between, merged
with cruelty, the reward circuits associated with a toxic relationship actually become strengthened. When pleasure
is predictable, our reward circuits become accustomed to it and our brain actually releases less dopamine over time
when with a consistently good partner. It could be argued that in many cases, rejection and chaos by a toxic partner
creates an addiction that is far more long-lasting than the predictable quality of “stable” love.

“Most relevant to our story, activity in several of these brain regions has been
correlated with the craving of cocaine addicts and other drugs. In short, as our
brain scanning data show, these discarded lovers are still madly in love with
and deeply attached to their rejecting partner. They are in physical and mental
pain. Like a mouse on a treadmill, they are obsessively ruminating on what they’
ve lost. And they are craving reunion with their rejecting beloved—addiction.”
Dr. Helen Fisher, Love is Like Cocaine

Dopamine is a powerful “messenger” that tells us what feels pleasurable but also alerts us to what is important for
survival; it is the same neurotransmitter that causes the brains of those in love (especially in adversity-ridden
relationships) to resemble the brains of cocaine addicts (Smithstein 2010, Fisher, 2016). As Dr. Susan
Carnell, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University,
writes in her article, “Bad Boys, Bad Brains”:

“What’s more, if the reward always follows the conditioned cue, then the cue can also become
less dopamine—inducing—what’s the point of wasting all that precious motivation potion
telling you to pursue a reward when, likely as not, it/he will show up anyway? Dopamine
actually flows much more readily when the rewards are intermittent, e.g. you don’t get to eat a
cookie every time you see one; or when you see Edward he’s nice to you sometimes…but not
always… their sheer unreliability sets off your dopamine neurons.”

The Small Kindness Perception and Why We Stay

We literally become “addicted” to the unpredictability of the abuse cycle (or even just a toxic relationship in
general), as well as the severe highs and lows. What’s more, the abuser’s sporadic acts of kindness cause us to
mistrust our own gut instincts about their true character and compel us to give more weight to their sob stories
after abusive incidents or surprise displays of gentleness. Clinical psychologist Dr. Joe Carver calls this
phenomenon “the small kindness perception.”

“When an abuser/controller shows the victim some small kindness, even though
it is to the abusers benefit as well, the victim interprets that small kindness
as a positive trait of the captor…Abusers and controllers are often given
positive credit for not abusing their partner, when the partner would have
normally been subjected to verbal or physical abuse in a certain situation…
Sympathy may develop toward the abuser and we often hear the victim of Stockholm
Syndrome defending their abuser with ‘I know he fractured my jaw and ribs…but
he’s troubled. He had a rough childhood!’ Losers and abusers may admit they
need psychiatric help or acknowledge they are mentally disturbed, however, it’
s almost always after they have already abused or intimidated the victim.” –
Dr. Joe Carver, Love and Stockholm Syndrome

As Dr. Joe Carver reminds us, abusers are able to use periodic affection or small acts of kindness to their
advantage. By employing pity ploys or giving their victims some affection, a gift, or just the absence of their abuse
from time to time, their positive behavior becomes amplified in the eyes of their victims.

Their victims hang onto the hope that these small acts of kindness are evidence of the abuser’s ability to change or
at the very least, justification for their malicious behavior. However, Carver is clear that these are excuses and
diversions, not signs of redemption. These intermittent periods of kindness rarely last. They are embedded in the
abuse cycle as a way to further exploit abuse victims and to manipulate them into staying.

Severing the Trauma Bond

Whether the abuse is primarily physical or psychological, the power of intermittent reinforcement lies in the
power of uncertainty. The abuse victim in question is thrown into self-doubt about the abuse because there are
usually shows of affection, apologies and faux remorse involved.

Abusers can deliberately harm you just to seemingly come to your rescue. They act as both the predator and the
hero because it causes their victims to become dependent on them after horrific incidents of cruelty.

Intermittent reinforcement is used to strengthen the trauma bond – a bond created by the intense emotional
experience of the victim fighting for survival and seeking validation from the abuser (Carnes, 2015).

Trauma bonds keep victims attached to their abusers through even the most horrendous acts of psychological or
physical violence, because the victim is diminished, isolated and programmed to rely on the abuser for their sense
of self-worth.

Victims are then conditioned to seek their abusers for comfort – a form of medicine that is
simultaneously the source of the poison.

In order to sever the trauma bond, it is essential that the victim of abuse seek support and get space away from the
abuser, whether that come in the form of No Contact or Low Contact in the cases of co-parenting.

The most powerful way to heal from the uncertainty created from intermittent reinforcement is
to meet it with the certainty that you’re dealing with a manipulator.

Survivors can benefit from working with a trauma-informed professional to safely get in touch with their authentic
anger and outrage at being abused, which will enable them to remain detached from their abuser and grounded in
the reality of the abuse they’re experiencing. Learning to identify and “track” the pattern can help to disrupt the
vicious cycle before it begins again.

Only when survivors allow themselves the complexity of their emotions towards the abusers can they fully
recognize that their investment in their toxic partners has little to no positive return – it is, in fact, a gamble that is
far too risky to take in the long run.

Works Cited

Carnes, P. (2015). Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships . Health

Communications, Incorporated.

Carnell, S. (2012, May 14). Bad Boys, Bad Brains. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 16, 2017.

Carver, J. (2006, March 6). Love and Stockholm Syndrome. Retrieved November 16, 2017.

Fisher, H. (2016, February 04). Love Is Like Cocaine – Issue 33: Attraction. Retrieved November
16, 2017.

Skinner, B. F. (1956). A case history in scientific method. American Psychologist, 11(5),

221-233. Retrieved here.

Smithstein, S. (2010, August 20). Dopamine: Why It’s So Hard to “Just Say No”. Psychology
Today. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
5 Powerful Self-Care Practices That Can Save Your Life After Emotional Abuse

When survivors of emotional abuse leave the toxic relationship, the journey to healing is just beginning. Victims of
psychological violence are likely to still be reeling from the symptoms of trauma, including but not limited to:
reoccurring flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, dissociation, depression and pervasive feelings of low self-worth.
They may even have urges to check up on or reconnect with their abuser due to the intense trauma bonds that
developed during the abuse cycle.

Along with support from a trauma-informed counselor, ongoing practices of self-care to supplement therapy are
powerful ways to begin tending to the mind, body and spirit after abuse.

While not every healing modality will work for every survivor, experimenting with these practices and finding the
ones that suit your journey can be extremely beneficial. The following practices can potentially save your life on
the journey to recovery:

1. Meditation.

When we’ve been traumatized, the areas of our brain related to executive functioning, learning, memory, planning,
emotion regulation and focus become disrupted (Shin et. al 2006). Meditation has been scientifically proven
to benefit some of the same areas of the brain that trauma affects – such as the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala and
the hippocampus (Lazar, 2005; Creswell, 2015; Schulte, 2015).

Meditation places survivors back in the driver’s seat of their own psyche. It enables the survivor
to reclaim their reality, heal their brain and act from a place of empowerment rather than their

A daily meditation practice helps to strengthen neural pathways in positive ways, increases grey matter density in
areas of the brain related to emotion regulation and mitigates our automatic reactions to the fight or flight response
which tends to go haywire after trauma (Lazar et. al, 2005; Hölzel et. al, 2011). Meditation also enables you to
become more mindful of your emotions in general and aware of your cravings to break No Contact with your
abuser. This allows you the space to consider alternatives before acting impulsively on your urges to go back to
your toxic relationship.

2. Yoga.

If the effects of trauma live in the body, it makes sense that an activity that combines both mindfulness and
physical activity can help to restore balance and bring empowerment. Yoga has been proven by research to help
ease depression and anxiety; it has also been shown to improve body image, expand emotion regulation skills,
increase resilience, bolster self-esteem for high-risk populations and improve symptoms of PTSD in domestic
violence victims (Clark et. al, 2014; Van der Kolk, 2015; Epstein, 2017).

Yoga allows survivors of abuse to counter the powerlessness of the trauma that is stored in the
body by reengaging in powerful movement.

According to researcher Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, yoga provides self-mastery that helps traumatized populations
regain ownership over their own bodies. It allows trauma survivors to rebuild a sense of safety in their bodies that
trauma often robs them of. It can help to curb disassociation by reconnecting us with our bodily sensations.

“I’d say the majority of the people we treat at the trauma center and in my
practice {have} cut off relationships to their bodies. They may not feel what’
s happening in their bodies. They may not register what goes on with them. And
so what became very clear is that we needed to help people for them to feel safe
feeling the sensations in their bodies… yoga turned out to be a very wonderful
method for traumatized people…something that engages your body in a very mindful
and purposeful way — with a lot of attention to breathing in particular —
resets some critical brain areas that get very disturbed by trauma.” Bessel Van
der Kolk, Restoring the Body: Yoga, EMDR and Treating Trauma
3. Reality check anchoring.

Survivors of emotional abuse are likely to have been gaslighted to believe that the abuse they endured wasn’t real.
It’s important that they begin to “anchor” themselves back into the reality of the abuse rather than re-idealizing the
relationship they just left. This is extremely helpful for when survivors begin to question the reality of the abuse, or
when they struggle with mixed emotions towards their abusers, who periodically showed affection towards them to
keep them in the abuse cycle. Many victims of abuse still have positive associations with their abusers due to
techniques like love bombing and intermittent reinforcement; others associate them with survival, especially if the
abuse threatened their sense of emotional or physical safety.

Anchoring creates a habit of reconnecting with the reality the abuser sought to erode. It validates
the survivor and reduces cognitive dissonance about who the abuser truly is.

Survivors are particularly vulnerable after they leave their abusers; their abusers often try to manipulate them into
coming back and revert back to their sweet, false persona in doing so. That’s why it’s necessary to not only block
texts and phone calls from your abuser but remove any connection with them and enablers on social media.
This removes temptation and information about them altogether from your healing journey. It gives you a clean
slate to reconnect to what truly happened and how you felt – rather than the ways in which the abuser will try to
distort the situation post-breakup.

To begin anchoring yourself, keep a list of at least ten of the most major abusive incidents that occurred in your
relationship with the narcissistic abuser or at the very least, ten ways in which you felt degraded. This will come in
handy when you’re tempted to reach out to them, to look them up on social media or respond to their attempts to
ensnare you back into the abuse cycle.

It is best to work with a trauma-informed counselor to create this list so you can address any triggers that may
arise when anchoring yourself back to the reality of the abuse. If you have abusive incidents you find massively
triggering, it may be best to choose incidents that are not as triggering until you find healthy ways of managing
your emotions.

Even making general statements such as, “My abuser disrespected me on a daily basis” or “I was made to feel
small every time I succeeded” can be helpful to remember when you’re tempted to rationalize, minimize or deny
the impact of the abuse. While it can be jarring to redirect your focus to the abusive aspects of the relationship, it
helps to reduce cognitive dissonance about your abuser. Reducing this cognitive dissonance is fundamental to your
commitment to recovery.

4. Self-soothing and inner child work.

Although you were traumatized by your abuser, there may have been other traumas that were brought to the
surface due to the abusive relationship. You could have a wounded inner child that also needs to be soothed by
your adult self when you’re feeling particularly emotional. Your unmet needs in childhood were likely
compounded by this experience, so self-compassion is needed during this time.

Survivors struggle with toxic shame and self-blame when they’ve been abused. Even though they know logically
that the abuse was not their fault, the abuse itself has the power to bring up old wounds that were never healed. It
can speak to a larger pattern of never feeling quite good enough. Changing the course of your negative self-talk is
vital when you’re healing, because it tackles old narratives that were likely cemented due to the new trauma.

Being gentle with yourself is essential after abuse. Sometimes, the most powerful form of
compassion is self-compassion.

When these ancient, deep-seated emotions come up, soothe yourself as if you were speaking to someone you
genuinely love and want the best for. Write down some positive affirmations you can say whenever you are
grieving, such as, “I am worthy of true love and respect,” or “I have a right to all of my feelings. I deserve peace.”
This will train you over time to exhibit sensitivity and understanding towards yourself that will curb self-judgment
and self-blame that abuse survivors are prone to. This self-compassion will extend to maintaining No Contact as
Remember, when you are judging or blaming yourself, you’re more likely to engage in self-sabotage because you
don’t feel worthy of peace, stability and joy. When you accept and show compassion towards yourself, you remind
yourself that you are worthy of your own care and kindness.

5. Exercise.

A daily exercise regimen can save your life after abuse. Whether it be running on the treadmill, going to dance
cardio classes or going for long walks in nature (which has also been proven to have its own health benefits),
commit to a practice that you really enjoy. If you’re lacking motivation, start small. For example, commit to thirty
minutes of walking each day rather than an hour. Exercise releases endorphins and lowers cortisol levels,
potentially replacing the biochemical addiction we develop with our abusers with a healthier outlet (Harvard
Health, 2013).

Exercise allows you to embody your increasing resilience and strength after leaving your abuser.
It battles the biochemical addiction your body developed to the chaos of the abuse.

This addiction is formed through chemicals like dopamine, cortisol, adrenaline and serotonin which exacerbate the
bond with our abusers through the highs and lows of the abuse cycle (Carnell, 2012). Exercise can also begin
to counter the physical side effects of the abuse such as weight gain, premature aging, sleep problems and illness
caused by an immune system overwhelmed by trauma.

There is a victorious and empowering life ahead of you after emotional abuse. You can survive and thrive – but
you must be committed to your self-care in the process.


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D. (2014). Trauma-sensitive yoga as an adjunct mental health treatment in group therapy for
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Creswell, J. D., Taren, A. A., Lindsay, E. K., Greco, C. M., Gianaros, P. J., Fairgrieve, A., . . .
Ferris, J. L. (2016). Alterations in Resting-State Functional Connectivity Link Mindfulness
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This article has been adapted and originally appeared on Psych Central as These 5 Self-Care
Practices Can Save Your Life After Emotional Abuse.

Love-Bombing Is Crack Cocaine: The Addictive Cycle Of Narcissistic Abuse

Idealization and love-bombing

Highly skilled manipulators know how to seduce their prey – even without ever touching them. They are skilled
wordsmiths and psychological puppeteers, pulling the strings each step of the way. They learn your love language
and they know how to appeal to what you want to hear. They open doors, they take you out on extravagant
dates, they take their time with foreplay – both verbal and physical. Their initial chivalry masks their cruelty.
Their tenderness is a very convincing façade for their chilly interior.

The idealization phase can only be described as pure, unadulterated ecstasy – both for the victim and the
predator. Love-bombing – the excessive praise and flattery the predator showers on the prey – might as well be
crack cocaine. It is a common manipulation used by cults to control their members – and in a relationship with a
narcissist, you become a one-man cult. Your devotion to them becomes servile, disturbingly teetering on the
edge of worship. And it’s usually because you’re following their lead.

The target is groomed to become addicted to the narcissist’s loving words and caring actions – not knowing they
are hollow. We begin to invest in the predator as they seem to invest in us. They mirror our deepest needs and
desires; they even mirror our interests, hobbies, and viewpoints. They tantalize us with the promise of a brighter
future, a relationship where we are deeply validated and taken care of. We get used to the daily praise and
laser-focused attention. Sex with the narcissist during the idealization phase is explosive – filled with just the
right amount of tenderness and aggression – the narcissist knows exactly how to bring us to greater heights. It’s
because they’ve studied what we like and have learned to mimic it. Little do we know, sex will later be used as

During idealization and love-bombing, our place on the pedestal is secure and complete. We become the center
of the narcissist’s world – or so we think. Really, they become the center of ours as we strive to measure up to
the ideal image they have of us. They make us feel like God, only to cater to their own God complex.

Along the way, we deepen our investment because the bond feels so special and unique. We feel we’ve met our
soulmate, our other half, our “twin flame.” What we’ve really met is someone who would burn us to ashes
without a second glance if it meant getting what they wanted. This connection is heightened in a way that
demands our attention on a physical, spiritual and even biochemical level – and before we know it, we begin to
rely on this new person for survival. And that is when the danger begins.

Within even the most perfect period of idealization, there are tiny moments of recognition and fleeting red flags.
Predators will always ‘test’ the boundaries of their victims early on – with provocative comments designed to
make the victim doubt their perceptions. There will always be slippings of the mask where we get a terrifying
view of the true self.

Yet these are so scarce during this phase that we are led to doubt whether we’ve seen anything at all. During
love-bombing, the luckiest of survivors pick up on the cracks in the narcissist’s mask and see the empty shell
beneath – and they do not attempt to rationalize or fix the fractured pieces. They are able to depart with their
savings and sanity intact – they are able to leave, still whole. The rest move onto the devaluation phase, to be
tattered and broken.


An adept emotional predator knows how to exploit a target’s strengths as well as his or her weaknesses. From
the very beginning of the relationship, they’re taking an inventory of the qualities you possess that would enable
them to exploit you. That means that they’re not only zooming in on your vulnerability, they’re also preying on
your resilience and empathy – your ability to bounce back and your capacity to sympathize with their excuses for
bad behavior.

When devaluation begins, it’s not always sudden. In fact, it can be like a gunshot in the dark or a quiet murmur in
the corner. You just ‘feel’ that something has shifted, but you’re not sure why, how, where, or when. Your lover
stops taking your calls. They withdraw without an explanation. You see them interacting with others in a playful,
flirtatious way – in the same way they used to act with you. They praise others the way they used to praise you.
The once coveted partnership you two used to share seems to have been displaced onto another replacement
target (or multiple targets) – someone who is now on the receiving end of the flattery and attention you once

Meanwhile, you seem to be on the receiving end of their criticism, their harsh insults, their never-ending rage
attacks. The number of disappearances, discrepancies and marked evidence of infidelity start to climb. When
they pull away, they pull away with full force – and they enjoy seeing your humiliation when you pine for them.
They enjoy actively provoking you to respond, making you out to be the crazy one. And they love bringing in
others into the dynamic of the relationship – whether they be friend, foe, ex, or stranger.

Then there is the stone-cold silence after stonewalling you during arguments. The narcissist’s silent treatment is
deafening – and it hurts, literally. You feel an invisible, solid wall placed between you two – it’s an inexplicable
feeling of being trapped yet tethered. You ache for the person you had constructed in your mind – a person he or
she was all too happy to portray for a short period of time.

But the man or woman you love does not exist. And this is a painful reality for anyone – let alone someone who
has a high level of investment in the relationship – to swallow.

Targets who are devalued are torn to shreds by the verbal and emotional battery inflicted by their narcissistic
partners. Their psyche is infiltrated with disempowering belief systems and messages about their worthiness.
They live day-to-day in a perpetual battle – a power struggle that never seems to end. They try not to internalize
the criticism and blame, but they feel ashamed about being treated so viciously. This is not a shame that is theirs
to carry – it belongs to their perpetrators. Yet they feel it deep down to their bones. It burdens them on sleepless
nights and through countless weary days. Throughout the vicious cycle, pain is periodically mixed with pleasure.
Victims are overjoyed at receiving crumbs of attention from their abusers – only to be devastated by blow after

Those who are able to survive the devaluation phase unfortunately move onto the final phase (although, to be
fair, there is no such thing as a ‘final’ phase to a narcissist, who never seems to let his or her victims go).


Those who are able to escape and ‘discard’ the perpetrator first do not really escape, as they tend to be stalked
and harassed even years later by the vindictive narcissist.

Those who are discarded suffer a horrific trauma as well – they are pummeled by the narcissist’s cruel and
callous indifference as they are seemingly rejected and disposed of by someone who they thought loved them.
After having their body, mind and soul violated, used, destroyed, they are then subjected to the ultimate betrayal.
They are left in a way that leaves no closure. The discard is staged in a way that is excessively painful and
humiliating for the victim. Perhaps it occurs in public, or happens shortly after the narcissist has galivanted off
with their new victim. Maybe it is accompanied by a sickening twist of events, an unraveling of shocking truths
about the extent of the narcissist’s betrayals or an especially violent rage attack. However it happens, it is
merciless and calculated to destroy.

Victims of narcissistic abuse are often brought to their knees and left blindsided by the narcissist’s departure.
They are depleted, drained, belittled, diminished. They are left with more questions than answers, more doubt
than certainty. Many fall into depression, spells of anxiety, and suffer the symptoms of trauma. Some even
commit suicide or get close to the precipice of death. If they are not familiar with or well-versed about the cycle
of abuse, they have a tendency to blame themselves for being abused, not realizing that this malignant predator
has just sucked them dry.

If the victim survives the discard, the only path left is the long road to healing. That is, unless they become
entangled in the narcissist’s games once more and sucked back into the traumatic vortex of the relationship. If so,
the cycle just begins again.

5 Signs You’re Dealing With A Dangerous Female Narcissist

By Shahida Arabi, 5 hours ago

It is quite easy to overlook female narcissists and their even more ruthless cousins, sociopaths. Since female
narcissists engage in the same type of relational aggression that teenage girls do, they can easily fly under the
radar as the “mean girl” motif coming to life in high definition – something we all assume they will eventually
grow out of.
Yet research indicates that adolescent girls who use high levels of relational aggression also demonstrate low
levels of empathy and caring towards others (Centifanti, et. al 2015). This suggests that the behaviors of
gossiping, exclusion and sabotaging relationships may actually be more common among those with existing
narcissistic and antisocial traits.

The problem is, the malignant female narcissist rarely outgrows her excessive sense of entitlement, lack of
empathy and thirst for interpersonal exploitation – she merely adjusts these traits to her changing environment.
The female malignant narcissist is not just vain and self-absorbed. She is also a covert bully who ensnares fellow
female friends, relationship partners and family members into her toxic web.

The female narcissist (or sociopath) is just as dangerous as her male counterpart and yet she is protected by
prevailing stereotypes of the “gentle young girl,” the “maternal mother,” the “sweet old grandmother,” or
minimized by archetypes like the “catty best friend.” No one suspects the older woman, assumed to be nurturing
and sweet, to be vindictive, cruel and ruthless. Nor do they expect mothers to abandon, neglect or abuse their

Yet what happens when the demented narcissistic mother drives her adult children to suicide after years of
chronic childhood abuse? Or when the catty best friend from middle school becomes the conniving co-worker in
the corporate world, employing underhanded tactics to sabotage her colleagues? Or when the malignant
narcissistic girlfriend uses her harem of male admirers to terrorize her significant other?

Female narcissists do not “grow out” of their childhood aggression; eerily enough, they evolve into even more
effective aggressive behaviors in adulthood, using their manipulative tactics to serve their selfish agendas and to
exploit others.

While it has been estimated that 75% of narcissists are male, this may be due to a bias of women being more
likely to be labeled as borderline or histrionic; it may also be due to confusion resulting from differing
presentations of certain disorders due to gendered socialization (Sansone & Sansone, 2011). It’s becoming
clearer from survivor stories, however, that there are a far greater number of female narcissists than one would

Female narcissists, especially if they also possess antisocial traits, can cause just as much psychological harm as
male malignant narcissists. Here are the top five traits and behaviors to watch out for if you suspect someone
might be a malignant narcissist and some tips on how to cope:

1. A sadistic sense of pleasure at someone else’s pain.

Perhaps one of the most understated qualities of the female malignant narcissist is the pleasure and joy she
takes in bringing down others. She enjoys making covert jabs and watching gleefully as the formerly confident
victim looks crestfallen, shocked and offended. She displays a lack of empathy when the conversation turns to
more serious emotional matters, engaging in shallow responses or cruel reprimands that invalidate her victim’s

She is ruthless in her ability to first idealize, then devalue and discard her victims without a second thought. She
cannot engage in healthy, emotionally fulfilling relationships, so she enjoys sabotaging the relationships and
friendships of others for her own personal entertainment.

2. An insatiable sense of competitiveness, due to pathological envy and the need to be the center of attention.
Relational aggression is thought to be a more common method of bullying among girls, who are socialized to be
less physically expressive in their aggression than their male counterparts. The female malignant narcissist is no
different; in fact, perhaps some of her most abusive tactics are deployed in the realm of female friendships.

In her group of female friends, the female malignant narcissist scopes out who is a threat and who is a blind
follower. Those who threaten the female narcissist in any way (whether it be through their success, appearance,
personality, resources, status, desirability or all of the above) must be extinguished, while those who are
obedient will be kept around until their resources have been sufficiently depleted.

Those who present a threat are initially placed on a pedestal to keep up appearances in the social circle, but later
set up to fail and promptly thrust off. The malignant female narcissist’s starry-eyed admiration of her target is
soon revealed to bear an undercurrent of contempt, envy and rage.

As psychotherapist Christine Louis de Canonville puts it, “When it comes to envy, there is no one more envious
than the narcissistic woman.”

3. She sabotages your friendships and relationships, stirring chaos within social groups.

The female narcissist may use her affiliation with her target to gain access to resources or status, but as soon as
the idealization phase is over, the devaluation and discard follows. She then engages in rumor-mongering, smear
campaigns and creates ‘triangles’ where she feeds others false or humiliating information about the victim. She
may pit her friends against each other by claiming that they are gossiping about one another, when in fact, it is
her falsehoods that are actually manufacturing conflict within the group. By subjecting her victims to covert and
overt put-downs, she is able to then confirm her own false sense of superiority.

You are probably dealing with a female narcissist or sociopath in your group of female friends if:

You notice an uncomfortable silence, a covert exchange of looks or odd energy when you enter the room.
The friend who is overly friendly in contrast, happens to be the very person who is speaking about you behind
your back.

You are idealized by your female friend, sweet-talked, admired, praised and shown off in the beginning of
the friendship. You might have found yourself sharing your most intimate secrets early on, due to her disarmingly
sweet and trustworthy demeanor. Later, you find yourself being excluded by them in group conversations, social
events or invites. You hear about your deepest secrets being spoken about with derision among the group or
rumors based on vulnerabilities and fears you confided in your friend about. You also notice a chilling smugness
when your female friend talks down to you or as she devalues your accomplishments.

You bear witness to the narcissistic female friend frequently speaking ill of your other friends in an
excessively contemptuous tone, while appearing friendly and engaging with them in public. This is evidence of
her duplicity and ability to deceive. An authentic person might vent about others occasionally in the event of
stress or conflict, but would not engage in excessive gossip or indiscriminate character assassination. He or she
would be more likely to cut ties with those they thought were toxic or address it to them directly rather than
bashing them unnecessarily. Make no mistake, the way they’re speaking about others is the way they’ll
eventually speak about you.

4. She has an obsession with her appearance as well as a high level of materialism and superficiality.
This could also translate into a haughty sense of intellectual superiority, if the narcissist in question is more
cerebral than somatic (focused more on her mind rather than her body).

As Christine Hammond, LMHC (2015), notes in her article, The Difference Between Male and Female Narcissists,
the female narcissist “battles with other females for dominance” and while male narcissists use their charm along
with their appearance to achieve their goals, “females use it to gain superiority.”

Female narcissists fit the ‘femme fatale’ stereotype quite well. Many of them are conventionally attractive and,
much like the male somatic narcissist, use their sexuality to their advantage. Since females in our society are also
socialized to objectify themselves, the female narcissist follows this social norm to use whatever physical assets
she has to assert her power.

Hammond (2015) also observes that while males are more likely to obtain money, female narcissists tend to
excessively spend it. This may result in a highly materialistic female narcissist who enjoys adorning herself with
the best designer clothing, indulging in luxuries at the expense of her loved ones or allowing herself to be
excessively catered to by a wealthy significant other. Female narcissists can also accumulate their own wealth
and use it as an indication of her superiority as well.

For the more cerebral narcissist, the female in question might use her accumulation of credentials, degrees, and
accomplishments to control and terrorize others. For example, a narcissistic female professor may routinely
subject her students to hypercriticism, bullying and cruel taunts under the guise of “constructive criticism,”
usually targeting her most talented and brilliant female students in the classroom. This is because, despite her
own expertise and position of power, she is still threatened by any other female whose intellect might surpass

5. A blatant disregard for the boundaries of intimate relationships, including her own.

In keeping with typical narcissistic behavior regardless of gender, the female narcissist is likely to have a harem of
admirers – consisting of exes that never seem to go away, admirers who always seem to lurk in the background
and complete strangers she ensnares into her web to evoke jealousy in her romantic partner. She frequently
creates love triangles with her significant other and other males (or females, depending on her sexual
orientation). She rejoices in male attention and boasts about being the object of desire. She engages in
emotional and/or physical infidelity, usually without remorse and with plenty of gaslighting and deception
directed at her partner, who usually dotes on her and spoils her, unaware of the extent of her disloyalty.

She also crosses the boundaries of her female friendships by attempting to “make a move” on the partners of her
friends. She is disappointed and envious when her “seduction” falls flat or when her friends enjoy more attention
from their partners than she does. To a baffled outsider, a female narcissist’s betrayal is incredibly hurtful and
traumatizing – but to the observant eye, it is a clear sign of how far the female narcissist’s pathological sense of
entitlement goes.

I suspect I am dealing with a female narcissist. Now what?

If you are dealing with a female malignant narcissist in a friendship, relationship or in a formal or professional
setting, be on guard. Remember that they can “turn” at any moment, so don’t be fooled into thinking you will
ever be the exception to their interpersonal exploitation. If you are dealing with one in a professional context,
stick to e-mail or small talk that can be easily documented. Do not reveal personal information in the early stages
of a budding relationship that can later be used against you.
If a female narcissist wants to spend all her time with you and is pressuring you to spend time with them
constantly, minimize communication and slow things down. According to life coach Wendy Powell (2015), this
can be an excellent way to discourage narcissists from dating you as well. In addition, it can reveal her ‘true self’
more quickly, whether in a relationship or friendship.

A female narcissist’s response to your boundaries will tell you all that you need to know. Most narcissists cannot
stand to be ignored; they feel entitled to your constant attention, so they will continue to make persistent efforts
until they get it or attempt to sabotage you if they fail.

If you notice that a female friend of yours tends to spread rumors or engages in malicious gossip, try to cut the
interaction short and excuse yourself – remember that the toxic person will try to convince others that you are
the one speaking ill of them, so anything you say in agreement can and will be used against you.

Stay calm whenever a female narcissist tries to provoke you; your indifference and courage in the face of their
threats or insults is actually your greatest ‘tool’ against their tactics. It unsettles them when a target is not so
easily rattled, because that means there is something more powerful about their victim than they expected.

If you’re being smeared by a female narcissist, calmly state the facts of the situation to your friends and take
note as to who stands up for you and who believes in the female narcissist.

Remember that in the presence of a persuasive narcissist or sociopath, there will always be a few people who are
fooled. Do not waste your energy on trying to convince them; if they are that easily fooled by someone else’s
claims rather than your track record of loyalty and support, they do not deserve your friendship. You’ll find that
they will uncover the truth for themselves eventually – and even if they continue to enable the narcissist’s
behavior, they still get the short end of the stick because they chose the fake friend who can turn on them at any

Detach from the narcissist’s harem and stick with the people who do support and defend you. Do not be swayed
by flattery or charm in the early stages of any interaction – if it is genuine, it will be given as positive feedback
throughout your friendship or relationship and you will not be blindsided by a sudden personality transplant.

Remember that a narcissist’s greatest fears are exposure and a victim that they cannot control. So long as you
are deeply grounded in your own self-validation, any narcissist – whether male or female – cannot truly use the
threat of tarnishing your reputation or friendships against you, because they know you will see any loss of such
disloyal friends as a gain. They also know that deep down, while they will spend their entire lives trying to protect
their false image, your own integrity will continue to speak for itself. TC mark


Bressert, S. (2016). Antisocial Personality Disorder Symptoms. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 18, 2017.

Centifanti, L. C. M., Fanti, K. A., Thomson, N. D., Demetriou, V., & Anastassiou-Hadjicharalambous, X. (2015).
Types of Relational Aggression in Girls Are Differentiated by Callous-Unemotional Traits, Peers and Parental
Overcontrol. Behavioral Sciences, 5(4), 518–536.

De Canonville, C. L. (2014, November 10). The typical narcissistic woman as friend. Retrieved July 24, 2017.

Hammond, C. (2015, July 2). The difference between male and female narcissists. Retrieved July 24, 2017.

Lancer, D. (2016, November 10). Are you dealing with a sociopath or a narcissist? Retrieved July 24, 2017.
Powell, W. (2015, February 3). 10 ways to discourage narcissists from dating you. Retrieved July 24, 2017.

Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2011). Gender Patterns in Borderline Personality Disorder. Innovations in Clinical
Neuroscience, 8(5), 16–20.

This was first published on Psych Central as The Female Malignant Narcissist Is Just As Dangerous As Her Male

Shahida Arabi

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is the author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and the poetry book She Who
Destroys the Light. She is a staff writer at Thought Catalog.

Read Quotes from Shahida

Write with Shahida

Are you a victim of narcissistic abuse?

Are you a victim of narcissistic abuse?

Pathological mind games. Covert and overt put-downs. Triangulation. Gaslighting. Projection. These are the
manipulative tactics survivors of malignant narcissists are unfortunately all too familiar with. As victims of silent
crimes where the perpetrators are rarely held accountable, survivors of narcissistic abuse have lived in a war
zone of epic proportions, enduring an abuse cycle of love-bombing and devaluation—psychological violence on

You will not be ready when the love of your life comes along. You also probably won’t be ready when you see the
listing for your dream job or to buy a house or maybe have a kid or maybe quit that job and try to write the book
you keep thinking about or get sick or lose a relative or die yourself. If you wait on the feeling of ‘readiness’ you’ll
be waiting forever and worse, you’ll miss the best of what’s in front of you.

“These essays are slowly changing my life, as the title promises. As my friends’ birthday come along, they will all
be receiving a copy of this wonderful book.” – Janie

The Invisible War Zone: 5 Ways Children Of Narcissistic Parents Self-Destruct In

By Shahida Arabi, November 29th 2017
“Adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation
today.” – Dr. Robert Block, MD, former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics

God & Man

Much of society associates the terms “trauma” and “PTSD” with war veterans. Yet we forget about the children
who grow up in war zones at home, who suffer psychological scarring at vulnerable developmental stages of their
lives. Neglect, mistreatment, abandonment and/or any form of sexual, emotional and physical abuse (such as the
type imposed by toxic, narcissistic parents) have been proven by research such as the Adverse Childhood
Experiences study to leave an impact that is destructive and long-lasting.

As trauma expert Bessel van Der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score notes, our brains can literally be
rewired for fear when it comes to childhood abuse. Studies have confirmed that parental verbal aggression has
an impact on key areas of the brain related to learning, memory, decision-making and emotional regulation (Choi
et. al, 2009; Teicher, 2009). Childhood trauma can affect our impulse control, increase our likelihood of substance
abuse, shape the way we examine our environment for threats, and leaves us exposed to a plethora of health
problems in adulthood (Bremner, 2006; Shin et. al, 2006).

According to researchers, early childhood trauma can affect our brains in the following ways:

Our amygdala, which controls our fight/flight response, emotional regulation, and our moods, becomes
hyperactive and enlarged as a result of trauma. We can become extremely emotionally responsive and
hypervigilant to potential threats in our environment due to trauma.

Our hippocampus, the part of our brain that deals with learning and memory, shrinks. This makes
integrating traumatic memories a lot less effective. The traumatic impact of those memories remain a great deal
more impactful.

Trauma can inhibit the prefrontal cortex, the center of our executive functioning, decision making and
judgment. This can affect our ability to regulate our emotional responses as well as plan, focus and organize.

The good news is, healing can help to mitigate some of these effects. Brains can also be rewired in the other
direction – meditation, for example, has been shown by studies to produce the opposite effects in the same
areas of the brain that trauma affects. Yet the brains and psyches of children are so malleable that the effects of
chronic emotional/verbal abuse, let alone physical abuse, leaves a frightening mark beyond childhood. It creates
the potential for complex trauma to develop, especially when one is later re-violated in adulthood.

Without proper intervention, support, validation and protective factors, this form of violence has the potential to
shift the course of one’s life-course trajectory.

Here are five ways having toxic parents can shape you as an adult:

1. Your life resembles a reenactment of old traumas.

Freud dubbed it “repetition compulsion,” psychologists refer to it as the effects of childhood “conditioning” or
“trauma reenactment” and survivors call it, “Oh God, not this again.” The trauma repetition cycle is real. It’s
destructive. And it’s birthed in the ashes of a violent childhood.
Ever wonder why some people always seem to be drawn to toxic people, yet perceive more stable individuals as
“boring”? They may have a history of childhood trauma.

For childhood abuse survivors, chaos becomes a new “normal” as they become accustomed to highly stimulating
environments which shape their nervous system and their psyche. Their fight for survival in childhood leaves a
void in adulthood that is often filled with similar struggles.

Chaos becomes our new normal.

What we have to remember is that narcissistic parents aren’t all that different from narcissistic abusers in
relationships. They love-bomb (excessively flatter and praise) their children when they need something from
them, they triangulate them with other siblings by pitting them against each other and they devalue them with
hypercriticism, rage attacks, verbal and emotional abuse.

They engage in intermittent reinforcement as well – withdrawing affection at critical periods while also giving
their children crumbs to make them hope that they’ll receive the love they always desired.

As children, our bodies become so addicted to the crazymaking effects of emotional abuse that we find
ourselves more intensely attached to partners who tend to replicate a similar chaotic effect on our bodies as our
narcissistic parents.

We feel biochemically attracted to those who resemble our early childhood predators because they mirror the
severe highs and lows our bodies went through in childhood. When love-bombing turns into devaluation, our
body becomes biochemically bonded to our abusers.

This biochemical addiction leaves us reeling.

In the realm of relationships in adulthood, there are all sorts of chemicals being released when we’re in a bond
with a predator. They create a very powerful attachment that’s actually strengthened by intermittent cruelty and
affection, pleasure and punishment.

Dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, cortisol and our serotonin levels are being affected; these are involved in
attachment, trust, fear, and stress. In fact, children who have endured maltreatment tend to have lower oxytocin
levels due to the abuse, which leads to a greater number of indiscriminate relationships in adulthood (Bellis and
Zisk, 2014).

There’s also a psychological component to this addiction.

When we are the children of narcissistic parents, emotionally abusive people fit the profile of what our
subconscious has been primed to seek. Yet they often come disguised as our saviors.

Complex trauma survivors, as trauma expert Dr. Judith Herman notes, are in a ‘repeated search for a rescuer.’
“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality
formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with
fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She {or he} approaches the task of early
adulthood―establishing independence and intimacy―burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition
and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships. She {or he} is still a prisoner of
childhood; attempting to create a new life, she re-encounters the trauma.”

Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political

Love-Bombing Pulls Us In And Keeps Us Trapped In Loveless Relationships

The children of narcissists are drawn to narcissists in adulthood to fill a void. They are looking for the validation
they never received in childhood and narcissists, on the onset, present us with a lot of it in the love-bombing
stage when they are “grooming” us into believing that we’re the perfect partners for them. We crave their
excessive praise because we lacked the unconditional positive regard we deserved in childhood but never

As children, we learned to associate betrayal with love, and were conditioned to see mistreatment as a form of
connection. In fact, it was the only form of connection offered to us. Survivors of narcissistic parents have an
extra layer of healing to undergo. Not only do we have to unlearn all of the unhealthy belief systems, we also
have to clear our bodies and our minds of its familiarity with toxicity.

When the fears from our childhood are finally removed, we meet peace and stability with resistance; our bodies
and our minds have to readjust to baseline levels of safety and security before we find healthy relationships

“The drive to complete and heal trauma is as powerful and tenacious as the symptoms it creates. The urge
to resolve trauma through re-enactment can be severe and compulsive. We are inextricably drawn into situations
that replicate the original trauma in both obvious and nonobvious ways…Re-enactments may be acted out in
intimate relationships, work situations…adults, on a larger developmental scale, will re-enact traumas in our daily

Peter A. Levine, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma

For example, a daughter who is unloved by her abusive father may end up with emotionally unavailable – or even
sociopathic – partners in adulthood due to an instilled sense of unworthiness. To her, cruelty is all too familiar
and abusers feed on her resilience and ability to ‘bounce back’ from abusive incidents. She is used to taking a
caretaking role – catering to someone else’s needs while neglecting her own. She has been subconsciously
“programmed” to seek dangerous people because they are the “normal” that causes her to associate
relationships with torment.

Survivors who are abused as children can later get married to and have children with abusive partners as adults,
investing time, energy and resources into people who ultimately seek to destroy them. I have read countless
letters from survivors who have been raised by toxic parents and ended up in long-term abusive marriages.

If these wounds are not addressed and the cycle is never disrupted, the first eighteen years of life can literally
affect the rest of your life.
2. Verbal and emotional abuse has conditioned you towards self-destruction and self-sabotage.

Narcissistic parents subject their children to hypercriticism, cruel punishment and a callous disregard for their
basic needs as human beings. In order to survive, children of narcissists have to depend on their caretakers for
food and shelter – which means they have to play by the rules of their toxic parents if they want to live. This
creates what Dr. Seltzer calls maladaptive “survival programs” that we carry onto adulthood – habits like
people-pleasing, sacrificing one’s needs to take care of others, feeling “selfish” when pursuing our goals and
dimming our light so we don’t become noticeable enough to be targeted.

“You may have internalized early in your life that your needs were not as important as others’ needs were.
Lack of empathy from a parent or caretaker, neglect, blame, criticism, failure to accept you as you are and
appreciate your qualities and other such experiences have shaped your belief that others’ needs should come
before your own.”

Nina W. Brown, Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents

A lack of safety and security in the crucial developmental stages of life can create destructive, insecure
attachment styles when we are adults, causing us to gravitate towards people who will fail to meet our needs
and disappoint us, time and time again.

It can also drive children of narcissists to sabotage themselves, due to the put-downs experienced during a time
when the brain is highly susceptible to the harmful effects of trauma. In response to psychological violence,
children of narcissistic parents develop a sense of toxic shame, self-blame and an unyielding inner critic that
makes them feel as if they’re not worthy of the amazing things life has to offer.

Children of narcissists may be convinced they’re not good enough, or they may go in the other direction: they
may become overachieving perfectionists in an effort to prove themselves. Either way, they are lacking
self-validation and an internal sense of stability that can only come from healthy self-love.

3. Addictions and dissociation become default coping mechanisms.

Trauma can affect the reward centers of our brain, making us more susceptible to substance abuse or other
addictions (Bellis and Zisk, 2014). When we’ve been traumatized at such a young age, dissociation, a survival
mechanism which detaches us from our experiences, our bodies and the world – can become a way of life.
Depending on the severity of the trauma, survivors of childhood abuse may also struggle with addictive behavior
as adults.

“The human brain is a social organ that is shaped by experience, and that is shaped in order to respond to
the experience that you’re having. So particularly earlier in life, if you’re in a constant state of terror; your brain is
shaped to be on alert for danger, and to try to make those terrible feelings go away. The brain gets very confused.
And that leads to problems with excessive anger, excessive shutting down, and doing things like taking drugs to
make yourself feel better.

These things are almost always the result of having a brain that is set to feel in danger and fear. As you
grow up an get a more stable brain, these early traumatic events can still cause changes that make you
hyper-alert to danger, and hypo-alert to the pleasures of everyday life…
If you’re an adult and life’s been good to you, and then something bad happens, that sort of injures a little
piece of the whole structure. But toxic stress in childhood from abandonment or chronic violence has pervasive
effects on the capacity to pay attention, to learn, to see where other people are coming from, and it really
creates havoc with the whole social environment.

And it leads to criminality, and drug addiction, and chronic illness, and people going to prison, and repetition
of the trauma on the next generation.”

Dr. Van der Kolk, Childhood Trauma Leads to Brains Wired for Fear

This addictive behavior is not just limited to alcohol or hard drugs; it can range from gambling to sex addiction to
unhealthy relationships or even self-harm. Survivors of toxic parents can overeat or undereat as a way to regain
control and agency over their bodies; they may develop eating disorders, a penchant for risky sexual behavior or
other compulsive behaviors to soothe their unresolved grief.

It’s not necessarily about the specific addiction, but the fact that the addiction provides a convenient escape
from the day-to-day realities of immense pain, depression, anxiety and rage that often lie in the aftermath of
unresolved childhood wounding.

4. Suicidal ideation is devastatingly common and pervasive among childhood abuse survivors.

Suicidality increases as ACEs score (Adverse Childhood Experiences score) increases and so does the risk of
developing chronic health problems in adulthood.

When one has been traumatized as a child and then later re-victimized multiple times in adulthood, a pervasive
sense of hopelessness and perceived burdensomeness can result. Survivors of chronic, complex trauma are
especially at risk for suicidal ideation and self-harm as adults, because they have witnessed time and time again
the cycle repeating itself. In fact, survivors who have four or more adverse childhood experiences are twelve
times more likely to be suicidal.

This learned helplessness lends itself to belief systems that cause survivors to feel as if nothing will change. They
may feel “defective” or different from others because of the immense adversity they experienced. The future
may look bleak if a survivor has not been properly validated or gotten the professional support needed in order
to heal.

5. There are disparate inner parts that develop which seem out of alignment with your adult self.

While many people have heard of the “inner child,” fewer people address the fact that there can be multiple
inner parts that can develop as a result of chronic abuse. Some of these parts are those we’ve hidden, sublimated
or minimized in an attempt to mitigate the risk of being abused – for example, when victims of abuse shy away
from the limelight to avoid being punished or criticized for their success.

Then there are “parts” which are defensive responses to the trauma itself. These parts manifest in
self-sabotaging ways, but they are actually misguided attempts to protect us. Complex trauma survivors may be
so protective of sharing who they really are with the world that they close themselves off from the people who
might really “see” and appreciate them. This ruins the possibility of authentic connection or vulnerability with
others. This defensive strategy may have been a survival mechanism they developed when younger to avoid the
threat of being harmed by a violent parent. It served them as helpless children, but it can cause them to shut out
the possibility of intimacy with others as adults.
That being said, there are many ways in which self-sabotage can present itself depending on context and even
the type of abuse endured. For example, a male complex trauma survivor may find himself developing a
hypermasculine side to himself to ward off memories of sexual abuse. The daughter of a hypercritical narcissistic
mother may develop an inner part that is overly angry and defensive to criticism, whether constructive or

Whether they stemmed from childhood or adult traumas, these ‘parts’ have much to tell us. Silencing or
repressing them only makes them stronger in their resolve to protect us – so instead, we have to listen to what
they want us to know. Integrating these parts in a healthy manner requires that we learn what they are trying to
protect us from and find alternative ways to create a sense of safety in the world moving forward.

Cutting the Emotional Umbilical Cord

The children of narcissistic parents can begin their healing journey by working with a trauma-informed
professional to navigate their triggers, process their traumas and learn more about healthier boundaries. Using
mind-body healing techniques can also be helpful to supplement therapy; trauma-focused yoga and meditation
have been scientifically proven to help heal parts of the brain affected by early childhood trauma. A daily exercise
regimen is also a great way to replace the unhealthy biochemical addiction we developed to toxicity. It’s a natural
way to release endorphins and gives us that “rush” of feel-good chemicals without inviting toxic people into our

There are tremendous benefits from going No Contact or Low Contact with toxic parents as we heal. Minimum
contact with a narcissistic parent along with strong boundaries can help us to detox from the effects of their
cruelty and in essence learn how to breathe fresher air. Grieving our complex emotions is also necessary to
recovery, as we are likely to feel a very powerful bond to our parents despite the abuse (and in fact due to the
abuse) we endured. Seek positive role models, especially of the gender of your toxic parent, that can help
remodel what you are looking for in an intimate relationship.

Address subconscious behavior patterns by bringing the true beliefs underlying them to the surface. Many
children of narcissistic parents are trained to believe in their unworthiness; it’s time to start rewriting these
narratives. Use positive affirmations, journaling, and speak directly to any repressed inner parts that may be
sabotaging your success. It is only when you feel truly worthy of respectful, compassionate love on a
subconscious level, that you will be able to run in the other direction when you encounter toxicity.

Despite the challenges on their journey, childhood abuse survivors of narcissistic parents have incredible
potential to lead victorious lives. They can channel their adversity into freedom, peace, and joy. They have
tremendous resilience, an extraordinary ability to adapt and a knowledge of coping mechanisms that will serve
them well as they begin to heal. TC mark

To learn more about narcissistic abuse and the effects of childhood trauma, be sure to also read:

Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker

Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers By Karyl McBride
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk

The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitative Relationships by Patrick Carnes

Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt by Peg Streep

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Forward and Craig Buick

Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents by Nina W. Brown


Bremner, J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 8(4), 445–461.

Bellis, M. D., & Zisk, A. (2014). The Biological Effects of Childhood Trauma. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics
of North America, 23(2), 185-222. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2014.01.002

Brown, N. W. (2008). Children of the self-absorbed: A grown-up’s guide to getting over narcissistic parents.
Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Choi, J., Jeong, B., Rohan, M. L., Polcari, A. M., & Teicher, M. H. (2009). Preliminary Evidence for White Matter
Tract Abnormalities in Young Adults Exposed to Parental Verbal Abuse. Biological Psychiatry, 65(3), 227-234.

Harris, N. B. (2014, September). How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Retrieved November 15,

Herman, Judith Lewis. Trauma and Recovery: the aftermath of abuse – from domestic violence to political terror.
Basic Books, 1997.

Levine, P. A. (1997). Waking the tiger: Healing trauma. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., . . . Fischl, B. (2005).
Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport, 16(17), 1893-1897.

Schulte, B. (2015, May 26). Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes
your brain. The Washington Post. Retrieved September 5, 2017.

Shin, L. M., Rauch, S. L., & Pittman, R. K. (2006). Amygdala, Medial Prefrontal Cortex, and Hippocampal Function
in PTSD. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1071(1), 67-79. doi:10.1196/annals.1364.007

Seltzer, L. F. (2011, January 07). The “Programming” of Self-Sabotage (Pt 3 of 5). Retrieved November 15, 2017.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017, September 5). Adverse Childhood
Experiences. Retrieved October 10, 2017.

Teicher, M. (2006). Sticks, Stones, and Hurtful Words: Relative Effects of Various Forms of Childhood
Maltreatment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(6), 993. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.6.993

Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. NY, NY:
Penguin Books.

Van der Kolk, Bessel. Childhood Trauma Leads to Brains Wired for Fear. 3 Feb. 2015. Accessed 15 Nov. 2017

Shahida Arabi

Shahida Arabi
Shahida is the author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and the poetry book She Who
Destroys the Light. She is a staff writer at Thought Catalog.

Read Quotes from Shahida

Write with Shahida

Are you a victim of narcissistic abuse?

Are you a victim of narcissistic abuse?

Pathological mind games. Covert and overt put-downs. Triangulation. Gaslighting. Projection. These are the
manipulative tactics survivors of malignant narcissists are unfortunately all too familiar with. As victims of silent
crimes where the perpetrators are rarely held accountable, survivors of narcissistic abuse have lived in a war
zone of epic proportions, enduring an abuse cycle of love-bombing and devaluation—psychological violence on

“Shahida Arabi’s book is an absolutely outstanding, insightful and, indeed, powerful examination of power: how
narcissistic abusers use it to harm and even destroy their targets and how victims can access their inner power
not only to heal, but to thrive and become more of who they are meant to be...” —Cathy


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