Have you found yourself working hard to convince the person who narcissistically abused you that they were wrong to do so?
Has the effort to tell and convince them of how unjust they were to treat you this way felt consuming?
Have your best arguments and points as to why you deserve better seem to fall on the narcissistic abuser’s deaf ears?
If you can relate to any of these questions, then today’s video may be useful to you. I have found that in the early phases of recovering from narcissistic abuse, a very strong pull can be felt to speak to and confront the narcissistic abuser for what they have done to the survivor. This is an important part of recovery as it reflects a growing sense that the survivor deserved much better. And the process of navigating this phase of recovery without getting stuck in it can be tricky. In this blog post I’m going to describe some of the pitfalls that can accompany spending too much time and energy trying to convince the narcissistic abuser of the wrongness of their treatment of you. Next, I’m going to offer a strategy for how to overcome the narcissist’s refusal to believe what they put you through. And I should add that this strategy may be counterintuitive but it’s extremely powerful.
My name is Jay Reid and I specialize in helping individuals recover from narcissistic abuse in individual therapy and through my online course & facebook community. We take a 3-pronged approach to recover of 1) Making sense of what happened, 2) Gaining distance from the narcissistic abuser, and 3) living in defiance of the narcissist’s rules. Today’s blog post falls under the category of ‘Gaining distance from the narcissistic abuser’.
If you were a scapegoat survivor of a narcissistic parent or partner then I encourage you to check out my free e-book on this topic. It’s called Surviving Narcissistic Abuse as the Scapegoat and goes into other important aspects of what it’s like to be in the shoes of the scapegoat child or partner of the narcissistic abuser. From self-limiting beliefs about yourself that you must adopt to survive to why the narcissistic personality is so geared to put those closest to them down. Along with today’s blog post, this e-book can help you realize how none of this abuse was your fault but the product of the narcissist’s psychological and emotional problems.
The survivor’s desire to ‘have it out’ with the abuser to correct what they did.
Narcissistic abuse often happens in a way that subtly encroaches and becomes a tormenting dynamic for the survivor. Many clients report feeling like they are coming out of a fog as they realize how a parent or partner was narcissistically abusive towards them. Survivors can feel like the story they thought they knew of their lives is actually quite different. This is a good thing, because the old story of their lives often involved them having to believe that they were undeserving and/or defective in one way or another to make sense of the poor ways they were treated by the narcissistic abuser. As the survivor comes to see that this parent or partner was narcissistic then a whole new lens gets to be looked through to explain the survivor’s experience in this relationship. Instead of blaming themselves for not being able to make the narcissistic abuser happy with them, they grow to see that the narcissistic abuser was motivated to find them as inadequate because that boosted their own artificially inflated self-worth. The survivor can experience some relief at knowing that there was nothing they could have done to make the narcissistic abuser treat them better. It can be a very empowering experience for the survivor.
Sometimes a subtle pull can happen in the course of this revelation that prompts the survivor to confront the narcissistic abuser for what they have done. A strong hope can be felt that the dignity which was felt to have been lost due to ‘putting up’ with the narcissistic abuser’s treatment can recovered. An equally strong dread can be felt that if you don’t confront them then they will ‘get away with’ what they did to you. This hope and dread can feel very compelling to the survivor.
I want to compassionately offer that no matter how strong the pull to correct the wrongs committed by the narcissistic abuser, I have rarely encountered a time when it has proven effective for the survivor. That is, most often this experience results in frustration, invalidation, and more suffering for the survivor. No matter how much one takes the narcissistic abuser to task for their bullying treatment of you, the narcissistic abuser never offers the validation and accountability that’s so desperately sought by the survivor.
There can also be a risk to one’s own recovery in pursuing justice with the narcissistic abuser.
One of the worst parts of narcissistic abuse is the isolation and invalidation experienced by the survivor. During the abuse, one feels trapped in a dynamic where the same person who’s hurting them is who they feel compelled to go towards in order to make things feel better. And therein lies some of the power the narcissistic abuser holds and exploits over the victim. This can feel extremely lonely and estranging for the victim. In addition, survivors of such treatment often have many tales of protesting how the narcissist was treating them only to be told that they were too sensitive, too needy, and/or refused to see why they deserved it. In other words they were met with utter invalidation.
As a result, the survivor suffers not just the wound of being treated as ‘less-than’ by someone whom they hope will offer them respect and positive regard but also has no one else to bear witness to the suffering they are experiencing. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for us to find people who can bear witness to abuse we have suffered because that is what helps dispel the toxic conclusion for the victim that he or she deserved this treatment. Sometimes when you have been met with invalidation while being abused for so long, it can become challenging to know or believe you’re being witnessed when someone comes along who is actually offering such validation. As Janina Fisher talks about in her work on recovery from complex trauma, there can be a real challenge in recovery to “witness that you’re being witnessed” after the trauma.
When the survivor goes to the narcissistic abuser to get the validation or witnessing that was formerly missing the survivor risks another experience of not being witnessed in speaking of their suffering. There are a few reasons why things don’t turn out very well when the survivor confronts the narcissistic abuser in this manner. First, the narcissist does not have empathy so the survivor can feel like they are speaking but the narcissist almost literally does not hear them. Like you are speaking at normal volume but the narcissist only sees your lips moving – in an emotional sense. The feelings of other people often do not matter to the narcissistic person. Second, if acknowledging your pain would result in the narcissist taking a hit to their artificially inflated self-worth then it’s unlikely to happen. Denial would kick in because the ethos for the narcissist is that it’s better you than them when it comes to suffering.
So this is why trying to bring the narcissistic abuser to justice is understandable yet often fruitless and even counterproductive to the survivor’s efforts to recover.
How to overcome the narcissist’s refusal to believe you
The way to overcome the narcissistic abuser’s refusal to take accountability for how they treated you is to relinquish the wish that they will finally “get it”. So, it’s sort of a trick answer in that the way to win is to stop playing the game. And this can be way easier to write than to do. Surrendering the hope that the narcissistic abuser can be brought to terms can feel like the dreaded outcomes mentioned earlier are coming true. The survivor may feel like they are letting their bully ‘get away with it’. They may also feel anguished that they cannot punish the narcissistic abuser for the ways their dignity was assaulted during the abuse. These are not easy feelings to tolerate but doing so can yield a significant reward.
As the wish to convince the perpetrator of the abuse subsides, the value of others who readily offer their validation and compassion for what you suffered gets to count more. Paradoxically, the more one insists on the narcissistic abuser being convinced of their wrongdoing, the more power the narcissistic abuser holds over the survivor’s quality of life. When the survivor resigns to seeking confirmation of their suffering elsewhere, the narcissistic abuser loses that power. This process usually takes some time but can very well worth it.
As you go towards people in your life who readily offer you validation and compassion for what you’ve suffered, the anguish of not being able to convince the narcissistic abuser dissipates. You may get to reframe the ways you coped with the abuse from feeling like you let the abuser ‘get away with’ insulting your dignity to seeing how there was really nothing else for you to do but survive this treatment. By investing in the responses of safe friends and partners to hearing about your suffering, you get to experience the validation that was so hard to come by with the narcissistic abuser. In short, surrendering the hope to make the narcissistic abuser admit what they did to you can free you up to – as David Celani puts it in his book on recovering from abusive parents – “go where you’re wanted and where things work”.
Jay Reid is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). If you are considering therapy for overcoming a childhood with one or more narcissistic parents please contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation.