Every single one of us is a potential victim for the narcissist but why then does not everyone have a story of narcissistic abuse? Why do some people stay and some people leave? Research suggests, it takes on average seven meetings with a narcissist to truly see the traits but for some, that can be too late as the love bombing is already in full flow and the addiction is becoming stronger. For instance, I know my two older sisters would never have stayed with a narcissist longer than 6 months once these traits started to become apparent, so why did I stay for 14 years??? Coincidence?? I don’t believe so.
Now I look upon the dynamics of a narcissist relationship from a trauma informed perspective. What is the root cause of a narcissist, what is the root cause of why someone stays in this type of abusive relationship? Why do these relationships last for years when we know them to be abusive and toxic? At no point is this about shaming, blaming or excusing abusive behaviour. Abuse is abuse is abuse and wrong on any and every level whether diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder or not which medicalising this term has really damaged the support for those devastated by a narcissist because a narcissist is actually a spectrum of behaviour traits and whether diagnosed or not, it is ABUSE..
I know because I was involved in a narcissistic relationship for 14 years. I consider myself to be an intelligent and ambitious woman, so why did I stay???
Finding yourself in a narcissistic relationship for any length of time is not a healthy place to be. On every level.
Two healthy individuals in a relationship with each other are interdependent meaning they respect each other, understand they may not agree on everything but invested fully in the relationship with each other.
Both a narcissist and someone who stays in a relationship with a narcissist, just like I did, have suffered childhood trauma creating wounded younger parts meaning protector parts show up in our internal system to try and continually soothe and distract away from that pain of the wounded younger part. Now when I say trauma, this does not just mean abuse and neglect. Trauma is any overwhelm to your internal system where your nervous system perceives danger and that can often be pain associated with negative beliefs from childhood.
Remember the brains job is to keep you alive and move you away from the biggest perceived pain. Pain for a child who feels worthless, not enough or unloveable for whatever reason is PAINFUL.
The nervous system perceives danger and wires in this negative belief that the brain will work hard within the internal system to try not to feel again….. enter a persons whole army of protector parts!!!
The person who stays in the narcissistic relationship will initially have been love bombed. They’d have had all their inner wounds soothed by the adept narcissist tapping into all their vulnerabilities. Suddenly those wounded younger parts don’t feel in pain!!! Hey we must be good enough now as look how wonderfully we are being treated?!?!
But as time progresses the narcissists behaviour changes and the abuse cycle starts to show up. Now an interdependent person would usually run for the hills now, recognising the toxic nature of the relationship.
So why then do people like me stay?!
Because my wounded younger part gets triggered…… I am being treated like this because it must be something I have done. This is codependency, a lack of SELF. I am being treated like this because I must be doing something wrong. I must do more, be more, love more meaning you are not living as your SELF but blended with many protector parts to constantly soothe and distract away from feeling the pain of that wounded younger part that does not want to feel the pain of not feeling worthy in the relationship so protector parts like people pleasing show up.
In my instance, people pleasing, high achieving, perfectionist parts!! A whole army that thought it was doing a wonderful job in my system because I was alive and whilst it was exhausting living like that, it was unlikely anyone could think I was unworthy if I was high achieving, people pleasing and being as perfect as I could!!!! So less triggers for my wounded younger part.Less pain in my internal system.
Codependency is NOT about shaming someone in a narcissistic relationship. It’s about actually looking compassionately and with curiosity from a place of SELF as to why someone would stay when everyone deserves love, connection and safety.
Shame, guilt and judgement are all protector parts distracting and numbing someone from feeling the pain of that wounded younger part that was created usually in childhood. Yes it’s painful to feel this BUT the brain thinks it’s LESS painful to feel shame, guilt and judgment than feeling not good enough as a young child. The brain thinks, box ticked, you are alive, and this is less pain.
BUT if we look at this from a self perspective voice and not a blended protector part voice, we know we deserve MORE.
We KNOW we are good enough but FEEL we aren’t. This is why trauma is a brain, mind and body experience. This is why talking therapy only gets you so far when healing from trauma. You can think all you like but if you don’t feel it, then those protector parts won’t be going anywhere!!!! They are guarding that younger wounded part like a warrior.
Now trauma bonding is the physiological response to the narcissistic relationship where the brain and body become addicted to the Neuropeptide release of oxytocin (bonding)), endogenous opiods (pleasure, pain, withdrawal, dependence), corticotropin-releasing factor (withdrawal, stress) and dopamine (craving, seeking, wanting). Just like an addict, we become addicted to this chemical release in this cycle of abuse. This is why it can be so hard cutting contact with a narcissist because just like a drug addict, every cell is craving those chemicals, even though you may know cognitively how bad it is.
With such strong neurophysiology in dysregulated states, it becomes extremely difficult to manage emotions or make logical decisions. Hence why we can look crazy when within a narcissistic relationship.
Trauma bonding in relationships can go right back to childhood. Love means being treated a certain way, feeling a certain way and this becomes a familiar feeling on what you equate to be a loving relationship. This becomes the norm and what is familiar. Children must have emotionally available and healthy parents in order to survive and feel safe. This attachment and connection needs to be taught. Without this, children are likely to grow up with emotional wounds of insecurity, fears, lack of confidence and the need for protector parts to show up in the system to distract, numb and soothe away from these emotionally wounded younger parts. This insecure attachment that happened in the past that leads to almost all of the relationship problems we have as adults.
My father was present physically growing up but not emotionally. I always felt that whatever I did wasn’t good enough. Not because my father was bad, but because his parents were emotionally unavailable and so the generational burdens continue. This led to a pattern in relationships in adulthood with being with emotionally unavailable men.
When we start to look at narcissistic relationships from a trauma informed perspective with compassion, we can start to see the root cause of the narcissistic relationship. A lack of SELF that comes from childhood. This can be abuse, neglect or perception of how parents and caregivers behave towards the child and how then the child has interpreted that. This can be both a codependent and a narcissist.
If we can work with a codependent to help the system unblend from the protector parts that are trying to protect the pain of the wounded younger part, then the roles of those protector parts, such as people pleasing, won’t show up. Meaning if that person then found themselves in a relationship with a narcissist, they wouldn’t people please as there wound be no need to distract from a wounded younger part that now no longer needs soothing.
Codependency is a learnt behaviour of a system lacking in living as the SELF due to wounded younger parts who feel unloved, unworthy and not good enough. Attachment in childhood has been fragmented leaving a system with an army of protector parts. Trauma bonding is a neurophysiological response to being in a relationship with a narcissist.
A trauma bond can be broken, a codependent can recover. The root cause is attachment in children. When we teach our children to live their lives as the SELF, the essence of who they are, that how worthy, enough or loveable they are is not dependent on anything….. it is unconditional, they just are, we ensure that we are building a generation of interdependent people who can thrive in healthy relationships and walk away from toxic ones.
Welcoming all parts on our system and understanding why they are there is the first step. Then going in and working deep with that wounded inner child.
Let’s change our language and start giving power back to those in narcissistic relationships. We are not victims as that gives our power away, we are victimised by a narcissist. We suffer narcissistic trauma from narcissistic abuse. Shifting language can be the first steps to start to empower not disempower. We can heal from narcissistic trauma even if we can’t change the narcissistic abuser.