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 abuser.
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 predator:
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 them.
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.