Nov 11, 2021
5 min read
How Did I Get Here? Surviving Narcissistic Abuse
Written by: Courtney Johnson MA, LPC, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
“How did I get here?” This question arises after the realization that the person you have spent a substantial amount of time with may be a narcissist.
“How could this happen? How did I not see? How did I allow this for so long?” Do any of these questions sound familiar? They probably do because they are all a part of the beginning process of healing yourself from this trauma.
What I am here to tell you is that toxic and narcissistic people enter our lives because we have unhealed trauma wounds that can be manipulated. These wounds are often unknown to us, but very known to a skilled narcissist. Easily manipulated using their tried and true techniques- love bombing, valuing and devaluing, shelving, gaslighting, stonewalling, etc. I want to make this very clear- this abuse and trauma is NOT YOUR FAULT. You did not ask for this, nor did you actively and consciously invite this into your life. The shadow (unconscious) side of you left a door open that the narcissist found. Trauma presents itself in so many ways, but a major way it presents is in the core beliefs of ourselves and the world around us. Core beliefs are established in childhood and after traumatic events. Trauma can only be characterized by an event(s) that was unsettling and caused maladaptive responses. There is no trauma gatekeeping here – your trauma is valid and true. Narcissistic abuse trauma is complex, in that there is not one singular event that can describe the trauma. This abuse is often covert and hidden behind closed doors, which historically has resulted in survivors not being believed and experiencing ‘secondary gaslighting’. Secondary gaslighting is gaslighting experienced from family, friends and society as a whole. “But he/she/they are so nice”, “I can’t see them doing that”, “There’s no way that was happening. Why didn’t you leave if it was?” Sound eerily familiar? I’m sorry if it does. Let’s go back to core beliefs. Core beliefs are messages that are rooted in who we are as people and we respond to everything based on those beliefs. If you have a core belief of ‘I’m unworthy of love' from childhood trauma, this belief then will affect the people you invite into your life and your ability to understand what healthy love looks like. Narcissist type people use this wound to their advantage and learn how to manipulate you based on that; all while you are completely unaware of this hidden agenda. This wound becomes a chess piece in a highly skilled game of chess- one you did not agree to play. Once an event occurs that shakes us awake and aware of this game of chess, the narcissist type person will up their game in order to maintain control. I often describe the experience of prolonged narcissistic abuse, and the upping of control, as a ‘frog in boiling water’. The abuse is upped ever so slightly, that the abused often doesn’t realize what is happening is abuse until much later. The control is established early in a grooming method to isolate an individual and have them rely almost solely on the narcissist. Whatever the event was that shook you awake, you are now incapable of going back to sleep.
If you are finding yourself ‘awake’ from narcissistic abuse, these are some tools to use to help keep yourself protected from further abuse. I want to preface that it is not always safe to leave your abuser at once, so this information can help those currently leaving, getting ready to leave, or those trying to make it work (some narcissists can change with significant help from trained professionals and a strong desire to change on their behalf).
Observe Don’t Absorb
This method is understanding your trauma wound and seeing the manipulation as a tool to control that part of yourself. This can be achieved through therapy or significant insight into your trauma. Once you can see the manipulation tactics and how they were designed to control you, you no longer absorb them. What I mean by this is- you no longer personalize the words or behaviors of the abuser.
Heal Your Trauma Wounds
These unhealed trauma wounds are a beacon for narcissistic people and will leave you continuously vulnerable to abuse and manipulation if left unhealed. Work with a trauma therapist specialized in narcissistic abuse to help you learn the origins of these wounds and heal them to no longer invite toxic people into your life.
Techniques to reduce trauma responses:
Grounding: I often work with my clients on finding a ‘totem’ to use as a physical grounding tool. This is anything you can have on you at all times (jewelry, hair tie or scrunchie, rock, paper clip, fidget toy, etc) that you feel (what is the weight, cold or hot, smooth or rough?) to keep yourself connected to your body. This helps a lot with dissociation often associated with complex trauma.
Mantra’s: Often the narcissist will have created a narrative in your head of how you view yourself (this was constructed and not created voluntarily). Having a personal saying you can repeat to yourself daily can be a huge help in rewiring your core beliefs.
Thought stopping: If you find yourself repeating old constructed ways of thinking, yell “No!” or “Stop!” in your mind to break the thought loop. This helps in challenging the reinforcement of core beliefs (one’s that were constructed for you, not chosen).
Tapping: Using a technique from EMDR, tapping is a great tool to help you feel grounded and reduce trauma responses. You can tap the tops of your knees (left, right, left, right...) or cross your arms and tap (left, right, left, right...) your shoulders (called the ‘Butterfly Tap’)
Ice Pack: An important tool to help in pulling yourself out of a trauma response, panic attack or dissociative episode. Grab an ice pack or something cold from the freezer and hold it to your sternum. This will help ‘shock’ the nervous system back into its natural rhythm.
Remember these are just a few techniques available to help you not only heal from the trauma but also survive it if you are currently unable to leave or exit this person from your life. You are the creator of your future, your NOW depends on how you begin writing your story.
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Courtney Johnson MA, LPC, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Courtney Johnson, founder and therapist at Onyx Counseling and Wellness Center, is a trauma therapist in Austin, TX specializing in trauma, narcissistic abuse recovery and dissociation. She believes that healing from trauma requires rewiring of the nervous system and mind body connection; trauma cannot be healed if the mind and body are not treated as one interconnected system. She uses an eclectic approach with clients in her clinic to help them heal and emerge as empowered individuals. She is trained in and uses CBT, EMDR, mindfulness, attachment theory and shadow work in her practice.