There are a few topics I think are worth looking into, for people generally, and probably particularly so for people who have been traumatized or are dealing with some form of dysfunction.
I am just going to name them and maybe throw in a couple of links as starting points if anyone is interested.
(I am not a mental health professional, these are just things I have personally found valuable in understanding some things I have experienced, as well as understanding some people of my acquaintance. I can’t vouch for the quality of the material I have personally found valuable in terms of how a person with a professional understanding of the subjects would evaluate them, just offer that they explain these things in pretty clear terms, from my perspective.)
The first topic is compulsive repetition of trauma (and its relationship to PTSD and CPTSD).
The first link is to a survivor’s blog with a brief piece on the topic:
The second link is to an article by Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist who has done a lot of work on PTSD. It is a little longer and more clinical in its discussion than the previous link, if that is something that might be of interest to you:
The second topic is narcissistic abuse. (In learning about it you will likely also come across information about narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder, and less often, it seems, histrionic personality disorder, which can be confusing to distinguish. They used to be categorized together as “Cluster B Personality Disorders,” but I believe that has changed recently. And depending on the source, it also seems like the term can apply to these behaviors even when the person has one of those disorders other than narcissistic personality disorder. And in my opinion, narcissistic abuse seems like a predictable set of behaviors that are psychologically/emotionally abusive, so just from one human being to another, even if a person is not engaging in the full array of behaviors, or does not fit a diagnosable disorder, it does not mean you have to dismiss the behavior as not abusive. And in any case, learning about psychological/emotional abuse more generally might also be useful. Lastly, I would add that whatever the most prevailing narratives might be, abuse is not limited to certain kinds of relationships. Could be a parent, a sibling, a child – whether a young child abusing other children, or the adult child of an ageing parent; it could be another family member, a spouse, a friend, a member of the clergy, a healthcare provider or caregiver, a roommate, a family friend, a stranger, an employer, a government official…not by any means a comprehensive list of possible relationships, but just bear in mind that abuse is about the behavior, not the person’s title.)
There is a lot of material out there, and reading pieces written by survivors is particularly illuminating, I think, but for a summary introduction, a portion of the Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissistic_abuse) on the subject seems like a good starting point. Narcissistic abuse also happens to children (“Parental narcissistic abuse is where parents require the child to give up their own wants and feelings in order to serve the parent’s needs for esteem”), but I chose the excerpt about adult relationships because it goes into motive somewhat, defines narcissistic supply, and gives examples of some of the specific abusive behaviors:
“Narcissistic abuse may also occur in adult-to-adult relationships, where the narcissistic person tends to seek out an empathetic partner in order to gain admiration of their own attributes and feelings of power and control – narcissistic supply. The narcissist creates a dynamic abuser and victim relationship through a cycle of abuse resulting in traumatic bonding that makes it hard for their partner to leave the increasingly abusive relationship.
People with codependent-type traits may seek relationships with narcissists.
The narcissists’ relationships are characterized by a period of intense involvement and idealization of their partner, followed by devaluation, and a rapid discarding of the partner. Alternatively, that scenario can loop, with ghosting (ceasing communication with the codependent) and hoovering (luring the codependent back) instead of discarding. At the beginning of a relationship (or its new cycle) with a narcissist, the partner is only shown the ideal self of the narcissist, which includes pseudo-empathy, kindness, and charm. Once the partner has committed to the relationship (e.g., through marriage or a business partnership), the true self of the narcissist will begin to emerge. The initial narcissistic abuse begins with belittling comments and grows to contempt, ignoring behavior, adultery, triangulation (forming any relationship triangles), sabotage, and, at times, physical abuse.
At the core of a narcissist is a combination of entitlement and low self-esteem. These feelings of inadequacy are projected onto the victim. If the narcissistic person is feeling unattractive they will belittle their romantic partner’s appearance. If the narcissist makes an error, this error becomes the partner’s fault. Narcissists also engage in insidious, manipulative abuse by giving subtle hints and comments that result in the victim questioning their own behavior and thoughts. This is termed gaslighting. Another common abusive tactic is underhanded public humiliation, when the narcissist says something seemingly neutral but offensive to the victim and enjoys the emotional reaction. This is called dog-whistling. Any slight criticism of the narcissist, whether actual or perceived, often triggers narcissistic rage and full-blown annihilation from the narcissistic person. This can take the form of screaming tirades, silent treatment or quiet sabotage (setting traps, refusing communication, hiding belongings, spreading rumors, etc.).
The discard phase can be swift and occurs once the narcissistic supply is obtained elsewhere. In romantic relationships, the narcissistic supply can be acquired by having affairs. The new partner is in the idealization phase and only witnesses the ideal self; thus once again the cycle of narcissistic abuse begins. Narcissists do not take responsibility for relationship difficulties and exhibit no feelings of remorse. Instead they believe themselves to be the victim in the relationship as because of their self-debasing projections, their partner can only ever fail to meet their expectations.”
There are more MedCircle videos on YouTube on this and related subjects; there is also a channel called “Surviving Narcissism” that has a variety of clips on the topic, as well:
The third topic is a strategy advocated for by some survivors (I have no idea what, if any, mental health professionals endorse the idea) of narcissistic abuse referred to as “gray rock.” Whatever its actual value or not as a survival strategy, I think its description is pretty useful in understanding some of the relationship dynamics involved around narcissistic abuse.
I hope some of this will be useful to someone, whether just in being aware of some things should they ever cross your path, or that may be relevant to someone you care about, or because you are already experiencing some form of abuse (maybe the often-hard-to-pin-down kind of abuse that is psychological/emotional), or because you might be living with a personality disorder yourself.
For those fortunate enough to have access to mental healthcare, a lot of the mental health professionals whose work I have read or watched talk about therapy both for people with personality disorders, and for people who have been in abusive or otherwise dysfunctional relationships. If you have experienced abuse or other trauma, whether or not you also engage in abusive behaviors, and the option is available, you might find it helpful to choose a provider who specializes in trauma, as such a person might be more competent in dealing with a person with such a background in a sensitive manner – whatever the profession, its practitioners are only human, and have human limitations, including some not be great at everything, and some just being bad at their jobs, or having unhelpful biases. You don’t have to give up if your first attempt is not a good fit, it is okay to change providers and find someone you are comfortable with so you have a better experience.
I am neither condoning abuse in any circumstance, nor am I condemning all people living with such personality disorders as abusers. (If there is any such data available on the overall rates of abuse perpetrated by people with these types of personality disorders, I have not come across it yet; but I have seen it mentioned repeatedly that such people are often victims of abuse themselves at some point in life. And again, the latter does not negate such behavior as abuse when committed by a person who has also been victimized.)
For those people I have known who have been diagnosed with one of the formerly-Cluster-B disorders, or those I suspect would be if they sought treatment and were honest with their mental healthcare providers, I have never gotten the impression that they are particularly happy or at peace. On the contrary, I have always felt most of those people of my acquaintance seem to be trapped in a pattern that keeps them from experiencing the very things they seem to long for.
And for those who have experienced such abusive behaviors, many seem to have a hard time naming the abuse as such (and that has seemed to be the case both in those who seem to have in turn engaged in such abusive behaviors toward others, as well as those who have not). And often people who love the people who are engaging in abusive behaviors wish to help them, as the pain behind such behavior is often obvious , though it really does seem to me that it is only a mental health professional who is really going to be of help in that regard. I believe the impulse to help and focus on the suffering of the person engaging in abusive behavior, rather than the suffering caused by the abusive behavior, as often seems to happen when the person suffering abuse has experienced such abuse in the past, often prolongs and worsens a person’s experience of being abused. And it is just damned difficult to communicate if the other person is dishonest and/or manipulative.
This is a strictly-in-my-own-non-professional-opinion bit: I have noticed, over the course of my life, that many people who engage in behaviors that fit the description of narcissistic abuse in adulthood still seem to also be susceptible to being abused in that manner, whether by those people who are presumably the source of the abuse in their formative years (and the root of developing such behaviors in themselves), often parents or other relatives with whom they maintain relationships, but also with peers or partners.
In my experience, those who engage in such behaviors seem to primarily focus them on one or a few people, and mostly maintain a facade with others; and as the abuse seems to tend to be focused around perceived disparities in power, the person tends to focus the abusive behavior on a person or persons whom they perceive as weak or vulnerable relative to themself, but when they come into contact with a person who engages in similarly abusive behaviors they perceive to be stronger or more powerful than themselves, they can revert to the role of being the person suffering the abuse. I have not seen any mental health professional discuss this as of yet, but I am just adding the observation in the event that there is a person you have a difficult time viewing as abusive when they engage in the behavior because you have witnessed them being subjected to similar abuse.
I would also add, again, just in my opinion, that I would guess that virtually everyone in this former-cluster of disorders, as well as those prone to being in relationships with such people (like sufferers of similar abuse in childhood), likely would be diagnosed as having PTSD (or, in my opinion, likelier still, CPTSD, where practitioners recognize that as a discrete diagnosis). And I take issue with some aspects of how what is defined as “codependency” is addressed, but that is a topic for another time.
I certainly wish I could offer the professional level of insight and advice here, but as one human being who has lived through some shit (and loved a lot of people who have been, too), whoever you are, whatever you are going through, I hope you will reach out and find some help, and allow yourself to believe that you can change your life for the better with the right help, some hard work on your part, and enough time.
For those without access to adequate mental healthcare, I would imagine good starting points might be some hotlines, like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY); The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (which explicitly states it is “…for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals,” so keep it in mind that if you are not actively suicidal, or you are concerned about someone else in your life who may be, it is still okay to call); and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline, 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). These calls can be made anonymously (not that they won’t appear in your phone records or call logs, though), so also a plus for those who are hesitant to share with people they know, or who might find their own possible support groups negatively impacted by a person engaging in abusive behavior of the “smearing/sabotaging” kind. These hotlines also have websites, if you prefer to look around that way, they all seem to offer some other informational resources, as well as alternate ways to contact them:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is at https://www.thehotline.org/
They offer a live chat feature, though as all organizations that deal with abuse tend to do, the first thing their site shows is a pop up “Safety Alert: Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.” So proceed with due caution if you are concerned a person who is abusing you might have access to your computer, whether physically, or remotely through some form of malware – the latter can also go for your cellphone, unfortunately. (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/05/victims-of-domestic-violence-challenged-by-abusers-using-technology.html)
(Use your judgement. Maybe a phone at a friend’s home, or get a burner phone if you are able – these are strictly my own thoughts, but I would guess a landline that does not belong to you or the person who is abusive, where they won’t see a number on a bill, possibly, or in caller ID, would be the safest bet.)
They also offer additional options: “Advocates who are deaf are available Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PST) by videophone (855-812-1001), instant messenger (DeafHotline) or email (email@example.com).”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ (They also offer a chat feature: the link is a little easy to miss, it is in the upper right hand corner of the homepage, right next to the phone number, and to the left of the search tool).
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is at https://www.nami.org/
They offer a lot of information and resources; they also have a text option, Text NAMI to 741741, or you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Whatever it is you may have suffered, or be suffering, be it the sort of abuse talked about here, or other forms, you didn’t, and don’t, deserve it. Even if you have inflicted suffering on another person, you don’t deserve to suffer (though that does not change that those to whom you behave abusively suffer because of it, and they don’t deserve it, either).
I hope you will find your courage (and I know it is there, because to behave abusively or be vulnerable to repetition of suffering abuse both suggest you almost certainly were abused yourself, and here you are, alive and kicking and reading some rando lady’s blog – or maybe not rando to you, in which case, hello, person I know, I hope you are well, and if you are not, I hope you reach out – to me, if I am a trusted person and you are someone who is, in my judgement, safe for me to communicate with; or to someone else who is trusted and to whom you do not represent a lack of safety, whether someone in your personal life, or a hotline, or a mental health professional).
In any case, you are alive.
That makes you a survivor.
You may well have been little and helpless and put through hell, and still, here you are.
That takes strength.
It takes strength to do what would otherwise be small things when your fight or flight is all fucked up and may even be kind of constantly switched on, or alternately, when you may not feel like you can feel much of anything.
It takes strength to admit you are scared or need help, especially when you may have learned early on those things meant danger. Especially when you might have to ask many times before someone helps. Especially when some people, even people in “helping professions,” might be the kind of people who seek positions of power to take advantage of vulnerable people. Use your judgement. Acknowledge when someone makes you uncomfortable. And if someone does exploit your vulnerability, know it is their wrong, not yours. Keep asking for help. Find people who will prove worthy of trust over time. Seek out support groups of other survivors. Find what works for you. Just try. There are loads of resources, and lots of survivors and resources online, too. There are blogs and discussion groups. It is okay to take small steps, to start out where you are just looking at information, not engaging with a person.
It takes strength to admit you fucked up and hurt someone else, especially if you learned early on that you were not “allowed” to fuck up in even the most inconsequential way without being subjected to intolerable pain. Especially when on some level you know hurting someone else is not an inconsequential fuck up. Especially if you have decided what happened when you got hurt was unforgivable, and that the person who hurt you deserves bad things. Hard to admit out loud that you have done the same kind of hurting, then, since by your own rationale you are unforgivable and deserve bad things. But those are feelings, not logic, not reality. Maybe the people you have hurt won’t forgive you – but you can still stop hurting them. You can walk away from the relationship without doing any more harm. You can stop putting yourself back into one role in a dynamic you probably grew up longing to escape. And you can, in that way, finally free yourself from a life with regular violence in it. And you can work with a professional who can help you – but you have to be willing to be honest with them.
If you are able to bear hearing some really specific details of childhood abuse described, and of the violence that child then engaged in as he grew up, I very much recommend Sammy Rangel’s TEDx talk, “The Power of Forgiveness.”
Or you can look up his organization, The Forgiveness Project (https://www.theforgivenessproject.com/)
He can stand as an example of a person who suffered violence, caused others to suffer – and himself to continue to suffer – by inflicting violence on others, and who found a way to leave violence behind. If you believe your experiences of being subjected to violence were too extreme – his experiences of being subjected to violence were quite extreme. If you believe you have done too much harm to change – he did a great deal of harm, and has reached a place where he can not only own it, but where he has ceased to engage in violence. Just if you need to maybe see a little evidence, some example, of hope.
It takes strength not to revert to habitual bad behaviors that are the only ways of coping with fear and pain you know – whether they are abusive of others, self-destructive, or both. There are other ways, and you can learn, and those ones don’t cause you or anyone else injury. And they don’t leave you feeling like you are divided inside between the ugly truths and the supposedly pretty lies that cover them.
And just because your nervous system got fucked up and/or you never learned how to relate to people in healthy ways, or got help dealing with your damage, doesn’t change that you are a human being, you being hurt was wrong, and you can try to get help, and learn, and heal.
Treat yourself as worth the effort.
I wish you all the best, and that you find people closer to you than a stranger, and sources of information and assistance better than some rando lady’s blog, to help you on your journey.
And it is a journey.
And the road out of hell can be unpleasantly scenic and winding, and it may bring you through similar territories (or worse ones), but traveling it truly does beat just remaining in the same ring of the inferno indefinitely.
Same pit, different day is no way to live your life.
Even if you start with the teeniest of steps, you are still on your way. Fucking up is not just allowed, it is inevitable. If you accept that, and don’t give up when you stumble, and don’t let yourself off the hook for hurting someone, and don’t blame yourself for being hurt, and get what help you can, I believe you can find your way out.
From my road to yours, I wish you good luck.