Mod 4: Knowledge


Iimagine right about now you may be thinking about your own abuse experiences and all the reasons why they would make any sane person enraged. However, I’m not sure if you are feeling rage yourself. My experience has shown me that many, if not most, narc victims react to the demise of their relationships with grief rather than with anger. Well, grief is much less fun than anger, and there are other reasons why both emotions are necessary in order for you to move forward.

Why you may not be angry

There’s nothing quite so destructive to the normal sense of self-preservation as narcissistic abuse. The behavior-modification tactics of the abuse change the very way in which victims attempt self-preservation. Normally, a person looks out for his or her own interests and is aggressive to some degree in negotiating their satisfaction. The person abused by a narc looks out for the narc’s interests with hyper-vigilant care and does whatever it takes to see they are met. That’s because there is less suffering when the victim does this than when he or she stands up for herself.

Abuse creates well-worn, habitual mental pathways in your brain. When you sense you’re unhappy, your trained instinct will be to seek out a way to appease your abuser, since that has always been the manner in which you reduce punishment and strive for reward.

Of course over time this perversion of human behavior warps the victim. Until you feel you are safe—a drastic change from your prior life—you will not be willing or able to even consider coming to your own defense in a normal way.

You must re-learn how to deal with that unhappiness in the way humans are designed to, and we’ll circle back to this in the Concepts for Healing.

Why you NEED to be mad

Codependent types often have certain principles ingrained deeply in their character, things like these:

  • Turn the other cheek
  • Tis better to give than receive
  • For better or for worse, till death do us part
  • The meek shall inherit the earth

There’s certainly a time and a place for these ideas. But note that you either learned them from or were taught how to apply them by a narcissist. His motivations in doing so were to make you cooperative and pliant in your ongoing surrender to him.

Every human needs a healthy sense of self-preservation. Codependents need a mega-dose, and probably repeatedly. You actually need to make an effort to be more active in your own self-protection.

You actually need to get mad.

I can make this universal pronouncement because every victim of any kind of abuse has the right to be angry. Anger is the natural, healthy response to any situation where you are taken advantage of or injured. To not feel or express any anger in such circumstances is dysfunctional and harmful.

Meanwhile, although I can’t say with absolute certainty whether you have a corollary symptom of pride, I do advise you examine yourself closely and consider it. Many codependents, myself included, come over time to actually take pride in their ability to endure tremendous levels of abuse. I theorize that this is because (1) it’s also the abuser’s standard of behavior worthy of reward, and (2) we are so downtrodden we can’t take pride in other, normal forms of success.

So you may actually be taking pride in your lack of anger, and if you are, kick that sentiment to the curb right now.

There is no award for “Best Person at Getting Walked All Over.” Time magazine doesn’t have a “Martyr of the Year” issue. Good people do kind, selfless, loving things—the classic example of Mother Theresa comes to mind—they do not submit themselves eagerly to cruelty.

One final point here: there is such a thing as righteous anger. That means responding with scorn and repulsion to the evil of the world, and it’s a good thing. Seeing as you have suffered evil, I guess that’s a sign you’re allowed to get mad.

If you haven’t done so yet, I’d love it if you got genuinely pissed off right now. Go punch a pillow if you need to…you can come back later.

Isn’t it unhealthy hang on to rage?

What’s unhealthy is the hanging on, not the initial rage.

Clinging to any emotion can be harmful, even neutral or positive ones. Forcing yourself to be happy when you are not naturally so inclined isn’t good for you, especially if you engage in shortcuts like addictions or dangerous thrills to keep the happy going.

It’s important to allow yourself to have the emotional responses your psyche wants to have. Emotions are never wrong in and of themselves, it’s what you do with them that matters. Getting mad when someone cuts you off on the freeway is a natural response when a careless person has recklessly put you in danger. Forcing them off the road into a ditch, however, is inappropriate. You can let yourself feel bitterness and anger without having those feelings dictate to you who you are or what you do.

What about holding a grudge?

As far as holding a grudge, there are manic grudges and there are passive grudges.

Manic grudges are those that grumble in the background (or foreground) of your mind, coloring all your thoughts and getting in the way of positive attitudes and emotions. Passive grudges, on the other hand, are not so much emotions as they are attitudes or knowledge. They stay in your head in the form of wisdom and experience, ready to sound a warning if you are in danger of forgetting the abuse that was done to you.

Manic grudges are a hindrance, like any negative emotion held long-term. But passive grudges are to be treasured and never discarded, as they are one powerful benefit of all the pain you’ve endured.

The $24,000 Question: Do you have to forgive your narcissistic abuser?

“Forgive” is something of a loaded word. It can mean a simple societal custom…or it can mean an immensely significant religious principle. It’s easy to talk about forgiving someone for accidentally stepping on your foot or intentionally eating the cookie that was supposed to be yours. It’s hard to talk about forgiving someone for killing your child while driving drunk, or raping you.

Conventional wisdom has it that it’s always healthier for the victim to forgive. And it’s true that raging away for the rest of your life against the person who raped you isn’t going to undo the act, nor make you feel better. But the reason that endless rage isn’t healthy is because it involves harboring and nurturing a negative emotion.  The act of forgiveness itself is an action, not an emotion.

The societal custom of forgiveness goes like this:

  • Person A commits violation of Person B
  • Person A realizes what he has done is wrong (perhaps with help from Person B or others)
  • Person A asks Person B for forgiveness
  • Person B forgives Person A

The Christian faith teaches that Jesus died for the sins of the world—all the sins, not just those for which people were sorry. It also teaches that in like fashion, we shouldn’t hold the sins of others against them, whether or not they repent and are sorry.

This diagrams out as:

  • Person A commits violation of Person B
  • Person B forgives Person A

For this reason, a lot of people live their lives feeling compelled to forgive even those who aren’t the slightest inclined to be sorry. Even people with no affiliation to Christianity or any similar belief system tend to say that this response by Person B is healthier.

Well, I disagree, particularly in the case of codependents and victims of narcissists.

We are a group of people so chronically inclined to take the blame for everything that we are like weird mutant versions of Jesus. Jesus may have died for the sins of the world, but he also knocked down all the tables of the moneychangers in a rage and campaigned loudly against the hypocrisy of the Jewish religion of his day. He is hardly a model for codependents, who dysfunctionally take the burden of guilt due to their training in how to appease their abusers.

When someone tells a narc victim they need to forgive their narcissist, I cringe, knowing the emotional catastrophe those words are provoking in someone already beating herself up for countless things and so confused by her abuse she doesn’t know yet that any of it wasn’t her fault.

So before you careen off into your natural tendency to absorb all blame for everything, listen up:

Dear survivor of narcissistic abuse,
You do not have to forgive your abuser!

Why no one should tell you to forgive your narcissist

There are at least eight reasons why, to name a few.

1. It will be a long, long time before you, as a narc victim, are emotionally healthy enough to take on the decision of whether or not to forgive your abuser. You have a lot of self-destructive baggage to unload, and until further notice (well, until forever), you are your top priority.

2. If you are addressing in the above-discussed healthy ways any persistent negative thinking or clinging to negative emotions, you are going to successfully avoid being “spiritually poisoned” by your inability or unwillingness to forgive.

3. The narcissist doesn’t care if you forgive him. If he says he’s sorry or asks you to, he’s lying and faking it—those things are not in his repertoire. Nothing could be more meaningless in his world than you absolving him of blame. He’s not sorry for anything he did to you and he doesn’t respect your opinion, so why should he care?

4. The rules of society, the secular rules anyway, do not require you to forgive acts of people who have not shown they are contrite.

5. As far as cosmic justice, do you really think God or the Universe will base judgment of your narc on whether or not you’ve forgiven him? Whether it’s the afterlife or karma or both, the narcissist alone is responsible for his ultimate fate. Leave it to the forces that are actually in charge and trust them to deal with him in the way that’s right.

6. You do not have the power by your option of forgiving to erase the evil that was done. It will stand regardless of your choice, just as nothing done in the world is ever undone.

7. You are not a bad person if you choose not to forgive. Step back and remember who is the bad person here, and who is the victim. Your withholding of forgiveness has no effect on the narc’s life (see 3#) nor his fate (see #5). As long as you don’t allow it to hurt you in any way, you need never make that declaration of forgiveness.

8. You shouldn’t ever be asked, after being utterly powerless for so long, to relinquish your right to choose how you view your abuse and your abuser. That’s up to you, and if you are ever to feel truly empowered in your recovery, you need to embrace and celebrate your power over this choice and decision.

Punishments for your narc that will fail

I’ve been speaking in this section as if most narc victims find it terribly difficult to allow themselves to be angry. Well, others do not. Some quickly find fury back in their toolkit and are more than thrilled to be free to wield it at last.

However you feel about your abuse, after you’ve recognized it for what it is, and noticed how it seems the perpetrator is going to get to move on scot-free, you undoubtedly cry “Unfair!” It is unfair. I don’t think it at all inappropriate to compare to watching your rapist set free on the street to attack again without serving a day of time.

Nearly all victims want their narcs to feel bad for what they’ve done. We want them to miss us, or apologize, or listen to a tirade of blame and admit it’s true. Victims would love to see their abusers lonely, crying, full of regret. We want these creeps exposed, for the world to know what awful people they are and what they’ve done.

Sadly—and I agree, this totally sucks—none of these things are going to happen. So if you have any ideas about forcing any of them to, I gotta stop you right now. Here’s a list of things I guarantee will not work:

  1. Making your narc feel sorry for you, see the error of his ways, and/or love you like you always wanted.
  1. Telling your narc all the reasons you despise him and all the ways he hurt you, and having it have any impact at all.
  1. Making your narc understand what a monster he is and want to change.
  1. Getting your narc to do anything—give you your stuff back, provide some money, etc.—that will make the break up easier on you.
  1. Stopping your narc from spreading lies about himself and you.
  1. Making your narc feel any shame for cheating, lying, or any of the other despicable things he’s doing since the breakup.

Not only will all these efforts fail, but they will backfire horribly, in ways like these:

  1. Your narc will pretend to be sorry and suck you back in, only to abuse you again;
    <or>
    He will not be one bit contrite and throw all the blame back on you, in a way that will probably be convincing to your codependent mind.
  1. Your narc will not care about your opinion of him, and will drown you instead in a litany of your faults, why you drive anyone crazy, etc.
  1. Your narc, no matter what he says, see himself not as a monster but a being far superior to weak, stupid you;
    <or>
    He will cop to “oh yes, I’ve been terrible, but I can do better, please stay with me!” only to fall back into the abuse in a few hours or days.
  1. Your narc will do nothing to make it easier on you because of course he doesn’t care…and if he’s feeling vengeful, he’ll use your requests to determine how to punish you more effectively.
  1. Your narc lies as a way of life, nothing will ever change that.
  1. Your narc has moved on and is thrilled with his new source of supply and his ability to rub it in your face.

Post this list on your fridge if you’re tempted. And chant the mantra: NO CONTACT.

Punishments for your narc that will succeed

The list is not so long, but it’s guaranteed:

  1. Ignore him.

As is logical, nothing bugs a narcissist more than not getting attention. He put a lot of work into being able to control you, and no doubt you were supply him with all manner of benefits. The loss of you does impact his life negatively. But as long as you have any contact with him, he’ll consider you like a ball still in play, with the outcome of the contest still very much in his control. And he’ll be right about that.

The great thing about no contact—or minimal, business-like contact—is that it removes all the power from the narc. Just like that, there’s nothing else he can do to you, only things you can do to yourself.

However, in the less-than-typical instance where your narc responds to no contact by threatening messages or visits to your home or work, get a lawyer or the police involved. In the case of physical threats, do not hesitate to call the police as well as making sure you are in a safe location. They can direct you to services that can assist.

Does he miss you? Not in a normal human way, no. But losing you is a genuine injury—know that.

Living well is the best revenge

This old adage should be set to music and be the theme song of all narc victims. Your life used to be all about your abuser. Now it can be, as it should be, all about you. Embrace every aspect of your new freedom. Return gleefully to the person you once were, the activities you once loved. Ponder the possibilities. And go out and get ‘em.

Sure, your narc won’t know, but who cares about him? Certainly not someone as at peace and free as you’re going to be very soon.

The ultimate punishments

I believe—and perhaps you do too—that when narcissists choose to be what they are, the act is the equivalent of “selling your soul to the devil.” Whatever perverse pleasures and selfish successes they get out of life, they will never know real happiness the way humans were made to.

True happiness comes from enjoying the good things in the world, making genuine connections with other humans, having a positive impact on the lives of others, being the person you were made to be. These are all things a narcissist will never know or have.

And of course, there’s karma. Each of us reaps what we sew, and living a life of selfishness, evil, and falseness will bear the resulting fruit every time. You can take that to the bank, my friend.

But before you head to the bank, let’s work on some Concepts for Healing….

Copyright © Lucy Rising