It’s a common misconception that domestic violence or abuse is only physical, but many forms of abuse are just as damaging, if not worse, when covert. Narcissistic abuse, which is a form of psychological and emotional violence, affects millions of people every year, and it’s often unrecognized by victims until it’s too late. The idea of someone we care about being abusive is difficult to wrap our heads around, and the emotional bond that forms between abuser and victim only makes it harder. In this post, we’ll explore how unrecognized toxic behaviors keep victims in the relationship, how abusers use covert tactics like gaslighting and emotional blackmail, and how to gain the clarity and knowledge you need to become a survivor.
Victims of narcissistic abuse often don’t recognize the toxic behavior as abuse, and that’s because abusers are masters of deception. They make false promises while using tactics like gaslighting, emotional blackmail, guilt trips, maltreatment, and manipulation to confuse, control and isolate victims. It’s common for a victim to stay in the relationship hoping for change and personal growth, only to realize after the relationship ends that the abuser had no real intention to change and grow. Abusers are experts at at keeping their victims confused, so they won’t talk to friends, family, or outsiders about what is going on. They use this isolation as a means to manipulate and control their victims, making them feel like they have no other option but to stay in the relationship.
Narcissistic abuse has become an epidemic because it’s such an insidious and deceptive form of psychological and emotional abuse that it goes unrecognized by the victim until they develop a trauma bond that mimics love, making it difficult to escape the relationship. When we think of bonding, we often associate it with good things, such as love, trust and companionship. A trauma bond, however, is a psychological mechanism that forms when we repeatedly seek the approval of someone who is hurting us. It’s a powerful and emotional attachment that causes you to feel like you cannot leave the toxic relationship. This emotional rollercoaster keeps victims hooked, even as the abuse continues.
The first step to breaking from the bond and freeing yourself is to learn and gain clarity. Educating yourself on the covert tactics abusers use to control, isolate and manipulate their victims is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself. Once you understand the tactics, you can start to see that it isn’t you who is responsible for their behavior, it is them. You can see through the manipulation and start to gain clarity about your own strength and resilience.
Living in reality and gaining clarity is key. First, seek out professional help from a therapist or professional coach who is trauma-informed and experienced in helping survivors cut ties. Second, confide in trusted friends and family members who can provide you with a supportive and understanding network. Finally, research and join online or local support groups that specialize in helping victims of abuse break the emotional bond with their abuser. It takes time to heal after experiencing narcissistic abuse, but it's possible.
Recognizing that you're being abused is never easy, especially if the abuser has all your trust and affection. To get clarity and start the healing process, you must first accept that the behavior that caused you pain is not a representation of who you are, it’s about the abuser’s own lack of empathy, self-awareness, and control. Sometimes, seeking the help of a professional, trusted friends, family or support groups is the best strategy to break the cycle of narcissistic abuse. Remember, above all, that you are not alone and that recovery is possible. While it is never too late to escape an emotionally abusive relationship, gaining the knowledge and clarity is the first important step toward freedom and self-awareness.
For those of us who have been in a relationship with a narcissist, the question of whether or not they can change is an ever-present one. We want to believe that people can grow and transform, but narcissism is a personality disorder that runs deep and often feels impossible to overcome. The truth is that while narcissistic personality disorder cannot be cured, it can be treated—but don’t let that fact be the reason you stay. It is much more important to focus your decision to stay or go around capability and willingness to change.
When you are stuck in a trauma bond, it can be particularly difficult to accept that some people simply cannot change their behavior or attitudes, so it’s understandable to want to believe that they can. You can learn more about breaking your trauma bond in my self-paced online recovery course. But the short answer is no—narcissists usually cannot change. Let’s look at why this is the case and what it means for those who interact with them.
What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental health condition characterized by extreme self-centeredness, grandiosity, and lack of empathy for others. People with NPD are often seen as selfish, arrogant, and insensitive—traits which can make relationships incredibly challenging. But it’s important to remember that narcissism exists on a spectrum; some people may only exhibit mild narcissistic traits while others may suffer from full-blown NPD. While there is no “cure” for NPD, it is possible to treat the symptoms through therapy and personal growth.
Narcissists and Empathy
The primary reason why narcissists cannot change is because of their inability to empathize with those around them. Narcissists have cognitive empathy, meaning they understand that someone else may be feeling sad or angered by their behavior, but their emotional empathy—the empathy we use to feel what the other person feels—is low or nonexistent. In healthy people, this would bring shame or remorse and likely result in a behavioral change, but this isn’t the case for a narcissist.
A Lack of Self-Awareness
In addition to lacking empathy, narcissists also lack self-awareness. They are unable to take responsibility for their actions and instead blame others when things go wrong. This makes it impossible for them to recognize when they are doing something wrong and leads to a cycle of repeated bad behavior without any attempt at improvement or growth. Furthermore, research has shown that narcissists often have difficulty recognizing emotions in facial expressions, making it difficult for them to understand how their words and actions can hurt others. Victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse do best when able to talk to a professional, get educated about this insidious abuse and rebuild their sense of self as this will help them leave their pathological relationship with a narcissist.
The Effects of Therapy on Narcissism
Although some therapists claim that narcissism can be treated through therapy and medication, research has largely disproven these claims. Studies show that therapy mostly serves as a way for narcissists to get affirmation from external sources; it does not lead to an actual internal shift in how they think about themselves or how they interact with other people. Similarly, medications prescribed for narcissistic tendencies only help manage symptoms like anxiety or depression; they do not address the underlying cause of the problem itself.
Overall, it appears that there is little hope for real change when dealing with a narcissist. While therapy may provide temporary relief from symptoms like anxiety and depression, it does not appear to affect the underlying causes of narcissistic behavior—namely low emotional empathy and lack of self-awareness—in any meaningful way. That being said, understanding why a person behaves as they do can help us better cope with difficult interactions with them while still maintaining our own sense of peace and well-being in the process. Ultimately, knowing more about what drives someone's behavior can give us insight into how we should behave around them so that we don't become caught up in their games and power struggles. Knowing our limits can help us stay true to ourselves even if we never see an actual change in someone else's behavior towards us or others around them . With this knowledge we can navigate these tricky waters safely while still protecting our own mental health in the process.
Have you found yourself in an abusive relationship and feel like you just can't leave it, no matter how hard you try? If so, you might be experiencing a trauma bond. A trauma bond is an emotional attachment that is created in a relationship where there is a cycle of intermittent positive reinforcement mixed with abuse and devaluation. It’s a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break—but it can be done. Let’s dive into what creates this type of bond and how to break it.
The 7 Stages of Trauma Bonding
The idea of a trauma bond was first described in 1998 by Patrick Carnes, who identified seven stages that help create this type of bond. Those stages are love bombing, trust and dependency, devaluation, gaslighting, control, loss of self, and finally addiction. I discuss these stages in my book, The Trauma Bond Recovery Journal.
Love bombing is when the abuser showers their victim with love and attention to gain their trust. They will often try to come across as perfect and kind while they are trying to win your trust. This stage can also look like gifts or compliments or anything else meant to make the victim feel loved and the relationship generally moves quickly.
Trust and dependency is the second stage which follows the love bombing stage. Here the victim lets down their guard because they have been convinced that their abuser truly loves them and cares for them. They become attached to their abuser and depend on them for validation or support which then gives the abuser power over them.
The third stage is devaluation where the abuser starts to criticize or belittle their victim as soon as they have gained enough control over them through dependency or manipulation tactics such as gaslighting (which we will get into next). This phase reinforces within the victim that they need their abuser for survival or even just simply acceptance from others which keeps them from leaving or speaking out against their abuser’s behavior.
Gaslighting is a tactic used by abusers where they will manipulate facts or reality in order to make it seem like everything wrong with the relationship lies solely on the shoulders of their victims — making them doubt themselves so much so that they believe all these false claims made by their abusers about themselves which makes leaving harder than ever before due to lack of self-worth or confidence built up over time by these manipulations tactics used against them.
Following this manipulation comes control; where abusers start controlling aspects of their victim’s lives including how they dress, who they talk to, what time they go out, etc., further trapping victims into staying in these toxic relationships because if leaving means having no one else around then why would anyone want that? You may experience a more covert type of control called Coercive Control.
The fifth part of a trauma bond involves loss of self — here victims start forgetting who they were prior to being in this relationship because everything has been taken away from them including freedom/independence as well as respect/love so victims don't feel comfortable expressing themselves freely anymore therefore losing any sense of identity prior too being exposed to these forms of abuse.
Lastly comes addiction — here victims become addicted to these cycles of intermittent rewards mixed with abuse because it creates an emotional rollercoaster making it harder than ever before for victims to break free from these bonds due psychological reasoning but also chemical reasoning. During periods of abuse endorphins are released into your brain which give us feelings similar to pleasure thus creating an addiction vibe. This leads victims back to square one, unable to break free from our abusers no matter how hard we try.
Trauma bonds can be difficult—if not impossible—to break without help; however, understanding what creates them can help survivors identify patterns in abusive relationships and work towards breaking those bonds once and for all. With therapy, coaching, education on healthy boundaries and communication skills, support systems such as hotlines or programs dedicated towards dealing with domestic violence issues, you can learn how to take back control over your life again despite any hardships faced along the way. You're not alone. Knowing what creates trauma bonds allows survivors more insight into recognizing patterns associated with abusive behaviors so that if/when faced with this situation again survivors can better equip themselves too take action sooner rather than later - we all deserve better.
Being in a relationship with a narcissist can be incredibly traumatic and leave you feeling like you’re stuck in a never-ending nightmare. As someone who works as a relationship coach, I constantly see how victims of narcissistic abuse struggle with trauma bonds that make it extremely difficult for them to get out. It’s not easy, but by understanding the six obstacles that survivors must overcome, they can start to take back control of their lives and create a path of healing.
Letting Go of Potential
The first obstacle that survivors must face is letting go of potential. It’s natural to want to hold onto the hope that things could change if you stick around long enough or if your partner promises to do better. Unfortunately, this almost never happens—even if it does, it won’t last long. The key is recognizing when something isn’t working and accepting that there is no hope for the future—it will only lead to more pain and suffering.
The second obstacle is cognitive dissonance—the psychological phenomenon where you ignore facts that contradict your beliefs about yourself or another person. For example, when an abuser says one thing but does another (or fails to do something despite making promises), this creates a conflict between what we want to believe (the promise) and what we know is true (the action or inaction). To cope with this cognitive dissonance, our brains find ways to normalize or justify these inconsistencies; however, this can lead us into dangerous cycles as we become more entrenched in abusive relationships. Watch four licensed mental health professionals break this down in detail.
The third obstacle survivors must confront is fear — fear of being alone, fear of starting over, fear of judgment from others, fear of not being able to handle life on their own… These fears can be paralyzing, but they can also serve as motivation when you remind yourself why staying in an abusive relationship means sacrificing your emotional well-being and limiting your potential for growth and success. Once you recognize why those fears are irrational and unfounded, leaving becomes easier because you know it's the best thing for you in the long run.
Guilt is another common issue survivors face when trying to break free from an abuser. They may feel guilty for "abandoning" their partner even though they are not responsible for their partner's behavior or actions - nor do they have any control over them either way. To overcome this guilt, it's important to remember that leaving does not make you selfish or uncaring; instead, it shows strength and courage because it means putting your needs first when all other options have failed. Your guilt is an illusion.
The fifth obstacle is mastering boundaries—learning to set healthy limits on what behavior is acceptable within your relationships so that boundaries aren't violated or crossed without permission or consent. This skill takes practice but once mastered makes holding abusers accountable much easier because there are clear expectations established beforehand, which makes enforcing them much simpler when those expectations aren't met again later on down the road. I talk about this in detail in the Trauma Bond Recovery Course.
Last but not least, developing self-worth is essential for survivors to break their trauma bond and find true freedom after abuse. Survivors often don't see themselves as worthy individuals who deserve better treatment from others - especially from their abusers - so building up self-worth through positive affirmations and self-care activities (like journaling) can help them gain confidence in themselves which leads directly to taking back control over their lives when nothing else has worked before now!
Breaking free from an abusive relationship requires strength and courage, but it doesn’t have to be done alone! If you're ready to take back control of your life, overcome these six major obstacles faced by abuse survivors, then journey toward healing – I am here to help! Through my coaching services, I offer guidance every step along the way so we can work together towards breaking down these biggest obstacles standing between you and freedom from narcissistic abuse once and for all! You can also learn more about these 6 topics and how to overcome them in my book, Surviving To Thriving: A Six-Step Blueprint to Narcissistic Abuse Healing and Recovery, co-authored with psychologist, Dr. Kerry McAvoy.
Three things will help you break and heal from your trauma bond: educating yourself on their tactics, learning about yourself and what got you here (free from self judgement) and building a future that includes self-love...not your abuser.
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