Skip to main content

healing from abuse I: realizing the situation is hopeless and saying no to any more abuse

Healing Victory by Lise Winne
(art available for sale HERE)

Healing from abuse is extremely challenging. Most people have PTSD and/or C-PTSD if the abuse went on for a long period of time or started in childhood or was brutal or severe in some way. So, there are two things to heal from: the abuse itself and the trauma-related emotional injuries that manifest as PTSD and/or C-PTSD. Note: C-PTSD can also effect the brain, especially if you grew up with child abuse or child neglect.

Some alcoholics can be become abusive under the influence of alcohol, and I will get to that shortly. However, this post primarily focuses on abusers who have Cluster B personality disorders.

One thing about abusers with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder (who are the Cluster Bs most likely to abuse) is that they are fairly predictable across the board. They are known to practice several types of abuse all at once. It is like they are given a formula to gaslight you, erroneously blame you, rewrite history (including determining how you think, feel and experience events without conferring with you about accuracy -- called perspecticide), expect perfectionism from you (in facial expressions, deeds and motives), punish you for not doing what they want at all times, punish you for not seeing them in an idealized way, run smear campaigns on you, attempt to isolate you from some sort of social group or relationship, financially abuse you in some way, play favorites with children, attempt to put you into a role with rewards and punishments, most usually give you the silent treatment and use word salad arguments to explain away their unethical and immoral treatment of you and others. Not only that, but they are retaliatory and vengeful, highly envious of others, arrogant and haughty,  not empathetic, pathologically manipulative and pretend they are victims. They idealize you and love bomb you, and then when they think you feel loved by them, seek to discard you and destroy you. They live in a world of lies (it is like they concoct a fantasy world for themselves and lies are the perfect way to do that).

Also, if you are hurt by them, it is extremely rare for them to apologize unless they have been "publicly found out" or are in danger of it, and even then they will try to cover up what they have done with dodging, deflecting, splitting hairs and excusing themselves.

They are so ingrained in these "habits" that it is unrealistic to expect them to change at all. Most abusers are ultra-rigid. They do not change, nor do they want to change. Blaming their victims is their easy way out of culpability and self reflection. If anything, by all survivor accounts, abusers actually get worse over time. Within relationships, they escalate abuse as well. This is because very few abusers seek therapy or express a desire to change (they believe their victims need to change and be punished instead, to their liking). A very miniscule number of them wake up to the fact that they are not like others, that their lives are in tatters, that many people seem to back off from them, so they seek therapy sometimes under those conditions. Even then, some extremely traumatic event usually has to take place first before they seek to understand anything at all about themselves or others beyond their own projections and hopes for live marionettes. The high majority of abusers (who tend to have Cluster B personality disorders) do not think about a thing except where their next hit of narcissistic supply is going to come from. Narcissistic supply basically boils down to attention, flattery, and their hopes and dreams of absolute power and control over someone, anyone, everyone.

Some alcoholics are abusive too. If they are abusive only when they drink, it is a sign that drinking is the main culprit. If they are still abusive during dry periods, or after being rehabilitated for a year or more, then it is likely they have a Cluster B personality disorder in addition to being an alcoholic.

One reason why most people can no longer accept Cluster Bs into their lives is because of the wounding they do. The wounds they inflict tend to be deep, because they spend a lot of time interrogating you and studying you to get a sense of how they can traumatize you, plus draw you in (mirroring and pretending to be your soul mate). They tend to be sadists who try to do the most damage at the worst times of your life.

Some survivors may live with Stockholm Syndrome until they can get away, but living with chronic or ever-debilitating PTSD is not tolerable for most people. The only people who are able to withstand relationships with abusers and not get hurt are other abusers  -- because they too have very few emotional feelings, have predatory minds and play one-ups-man manipulative games themselves (with the most cunning manipulative abusers winning).

So, the first order to heal from PTSD is getting away from abusers. Many domestic violence therapists push clients to go no contact to keep the client from getting further traumatized and further disabled from PTSD. PTSD has a way of getting worse, and it can get much worse, and faster, with continued contact.

Some therapists suggest that if the narcissist in your life is a parent, you can try very limited contact, at first, in big crowds. Big holiday events or a wedding with a lot of people around is considered to be "very limited contact." Whether your PTSD flares up or not is one way to tell if you need to go no contact. Most survivors of narcissistic parents find that even limiting contact to texting and e-mail can cause PTSD symptoms. It's your body and mind's way of telling you that you can only take so much abuse and stress. All human beings have a limited capacity in terms of exposure to abuse and sensitive empathetic people have more limitations in that regard than others.

One reason why narcs target empaths is because they seem to make the easiest prey. On the other hand, they lose that prey very quickly. So narcs, from everything I have seen and read, mostly (but not always) spend their old age with fellow narcs just because fellow narcs can endure. They do not care whether someone displays dishonesty, manipulating, stealing, cheating or displays of unethical behavior because they are that way themselves; they keep their focus on what ever prize they might get from associating with the narc (kind of like two thieves trying to out-wit each other). It is seen as a challenge to dominate or hoodwink another narc.

My comment in parentheses "(but not always)" will be discussed in another post. In short, there are narcs (the cult leader types) who actually prefer empaths to other narcs and will be a lot more careful and wily not to lose or scare away that source of narcissistic supply even while they dominate and play favorites, all the while shamming everyone by appearing humble and like an ultra-empath who only has equality and his disciples in mind. They prefer empaths because they deem them to be more exploitable, easier to brainwash. They also deem empaths to perceive good, honesty and exemplary intentions in everyone and every action. Empaths by nature are more about people-pleasing and taking care of others than any fellow Cluster B will be. Even so, empaths can be hurt by sublimating themselves and their needs so deeply that they can act like brainwashed robot zombies who hang on to every word, even wild fantasies that the narc is God (again, think of cults). Empaths can also put themselves at risk and danger too (especially if the narc ever gets paranoid and retaliatory, which a lot of narcs tend to do eventually).

While paranoia keeps many narcs from escalating abuse with "loved ones" who have defected or who are on the edge of defecting, the more defectors there are, the more risk in terms of social standing and the ability to attract more followers. Narcs and sociopaths have been known to be scrutinized and/or tracked because narcs (and cult leaders) are notorious for using child abuse, and allowing child abuse especially if "loved ones" or "concerned ones" have contacted law enforcement, social services or mental health professionals and have some evidence. They have especially been known to allow sexual abuse of minors to go unchallenged (and some of them even condone the practice). The narcissists on the malignant end of narcissism can even partake in the sexual abuse of minors.

When narcissists know their defectors are talking and they are being watched, their paranoia can go off the rails. Most put their remaining "loyal" members under greater surveillance and control, and therefor at greater risk, and some commit murder-suicide. Again think of cults and cult leaders: Jim Jones, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, Shoko Asahara, Charles Manson, Warren Jeffs and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

This is not to scare you, but to make you aware that most abusive families are like cults. In the eyes of abusive leaders of families, you are either totally loyal, a living marionette (worthwhile for them) or you are the enemy (someone to be shunned, or disapproved of, or abandoned, or hated, ridiculed, demonized). That is because abusers look at people in black and white terms.

In this Atlantic Monthly article by Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, survivor Teri Buford O'Shea talks about Jim Jones's cult, Jonestown, and tells how Jones's paranoia manifested (and you might see some parallels):

... he was very paranoid. He could not accept the fact that one person would leave him, ever. He had us all sign papers -- Jim called them compromises. They were blank sheets of paper, or typed sheets of paper that he'd cover up while we signed our name. He had something he could blackmail all of us with. One guy tried to leave and Jim said he'd use his paper against him so he'd never see his children again. So he came back. The thing was, too, that Jim would not let children off the compound. So if you were going to leave, you were leaving your child. There was no way of getting a child out of Jonestown.

And if people did defect, Jim said he'd send them things that had poison on them.

I think any survivor of abuse can relate to how abusive people go on the attack if they think you might leave their control, or dare to want to live your own life, or talk about or show people how you were treated, or how they held things in hostage: pets, children, personal property, love, belonging, birthdays, weddings, money, acknowledgement, respect, the ability to talk and get your perspectives across, etc. 

She also talks about how drugs were used to control members of the Jonestown cult (a not uncommon practice among child abusers as well):

... I learned after the massacre that he drugged people on the outpost there to keep them from trying to leave, to keep them from trying to dissent, to control them in different ways, all unbeknownst to the masses ... 

One of the ways Jim Jones tried to induce paranoia into his followers (the non-defectors) was to paint an altered reality to get the followers to comply with him even more (a not uncommon practice among domestic abusers either):

Then he would tell us that in the United States, African Americans were being herded into concentration camps, that there was genocide on the streets. They were coming to kill and torture us because we'd chosen what he called the socialist track. He said they were on their way.

We didn't know this at the time, but he'd set up people who would shoot into the jungle to make us feel as if we were under attack. And there were other people who were set up to run and get shot -- with rubber bullets, though we didn't know it at the time. So there you were, in the middle of the jungle. Shots were being fired, and people were surrounding you with guns.

A lot of us survivors can relate to this as well, of wanting to get out of the control of someone who does not have our interests at heart, all the while knowing that our escape will probably mean they will try to stage or sabotage something, or that they will want to hurt us for leaving. Some survivors report that their perpetrators tried to make them homeless, or slandered them so much that they were derided by the community of common family and friends (brainwashing):

I was fortunate that I had an opportunity to escape and I took it. Even then, I thought Jim Jones would find me and kill me. I had to get to the point where I didn't care if I died. I just wanted to have my own life, however short it might be. My goal, in fact, was that I wanted to live to be 30 so I could have a rich and full life. Now I have a daughter who's 29, and I'm 60. I've had double what I wished for.

I think it is important to think of the abusive family as a cult, even if it is not as bad as Jonestown, or only practices emotional abuse on its members instead of physical abuse (Jonestown is an extreme example, but I think it is important to look at these kinds of extremes to see where your situation fits within the scope of mild to severe control and abuse).

And by the way, many survivors of abuse and/or prejudice are attracted to cults. I will talk about communes and cults in another post, but suffice it to say that it is important to see the abusive family as an unhealthy cult with a leader. If you are from an abusive family, you will know it because they stage things, scare people, control people and rewrite history (or they rewrite your experiences, feelings and thoughts and believe they have the inalienable right to do so). They tend to have willing followers at first, and threatened followers later. Perhaps you have several narcs or dark triads in your family, all vying for dominance and hierarchical positions, which leaves you on the outside of "the cult of abuse" to live an authentic life.

Some other reasons why the high majority of survivors eventually realize the hopelessness of the situation and move on:

1. Narcs and sociopaths generally do not apologize.
If they do apologize, you need to look at the circumstances around their apology. Do they feel in danger of being exposed? Are they willing to get on-going domestic violence therapy? Are they in need of money? Are they afraid of losing your love, your adulation and control? Are they making excuses for abuse? How much do they want to change their behaviors? If all that they have to say is, "I realize I missed you and couldn't live without you" -- this is usually a sign of hoovering, which is a part of the cycle of abuse (the honeymoon stage).

2. Your children are being effected by abuse (and if you don't have children yet, they will be exposed to it if you are exposed to it, and either learning how to abuse, staying unnaturally quiet and neutral during abusive episodes through shutting down their feelings, or getting PTSD themselves). Even if just one person in a family is being abused, it effects the whole family. That family will have to deal with the PTSD symptoms of the member being abused and it puts tremendous strain on the family.

3. Abuse tends to escalate. It is rare for it to de-escalate.

4. During the escalation process, the abuse will not only intensify, but it is common for different types of abuse to surface. The escalation process happens when the abuser feels he does not have power over the person, so tries to compensate by attempting more and more control over the person.

5. Emotional abuse: you don't have to be hit for abuse to be deadly. Emotional abuse does and can cause suicide ideation. For instance, in child abuse victims (both adults and children) who receive any kind of lengthy silent treatment by a parent, roughly one quarter of them end up committing suicide. Part of the problem may be that society puts a God-like status on parents ("respect your elders", and other kinds of statements not helpful for victims of child abuse).

6. * For survivors of child abuse: If you are a child abuse survivor, your parents probably used shame and/or the silent treatment quite a bit. To count as abuse, the shaming has to be more than once or twice in your life time, and the silent treatment has to be more than a day and happened more than once or twice in your life time too. In other words, shame, isolation and the silent treatment were used on you as "misguided discipline" for your "naughty behavior" (i.e. when your parents thought they were losing control of you), and most likely it continued into adulthood too. Most child abuse does continue into adulthood, and that is a good way to tell if you were abused as a child. In other words, if you are continuing to receive shaming and long bouts of the silent treatment as an adult (and especially if you are not an addict with a violence problem, or a criminal), there is no question that this is abuse.
* Again, if you are being abused by your parents, the abuse will escalate unless they show an unwavering desire to change their behavior towards you. Promises of "I'll never give you the silent treatment again" in my experience, never works and cannot work because abusive behaviors need total rehabilitation. In that way it is like alcoholism in that it takes a concerted on-going effort. Abuse is an ingrained habit and pattern and it takes a lot of work for abusers to stop using it to solve life's problems. It seems that the only chance of a promise like that working is if they are committed to anger management classes and on-going domestic violence therapy, and even then, roughly only a quarter of perpetrators in on-going treatment can maintain it. This should show how hard this habit is to break. Narcissistic and sociopathic parents almost never go to therapy and instead try to focus their attention on smear campaigns instead, trying to convince themselves and others that you, and only you, are the problem. This phenomenon is called the identified patient. In family systems theory the identified patient in narcissistic and sociopathic families is often a scapegoat too.

Because of the escalation of abuse (and the dangers they present), combined with ever-worsening PTSD symptoms is why most survivors seek to escape and set up boundaries, often with the help of the mental health community and/or law enforcement.

When you know that you can't fix the situation and that you need to say "no" to any more abuse, it is the first step in healing. It is the first step in saying "I need to heal, and enduring continual abuse is only making my situation worse."

The majority of domestic violence therapists believe that in order to live without abuse, we need to live without the people who perpetrate it and who insist on continuing to use it. It is the way we survive most effectively from it and begin to work on resolving the PTSD symptoms that resulted from the experiences.

When our liberties are at stake, when our children are at stake for being exposed to toxic narcissism or sociopathy, and when we are treated so badly by our members or spouse, trying to live an authentic life is all that should matter.

And yes, I am a fellow survivor, so I speak of this through experience. I value the authentic life just about more than anything else (except empathy and integrity: they have a higher standing, though I do believe empaths need to be careful about who they show their empathy to and who they serve, as empaths are specifically targeted by the Cluster B personality disordered for control and abuse).