“There is a class of individuals who have been around forever and who are found in every race, culture, society, and walk of life. Everybody has met these people, been deceived and manipulated by them, and forced to live with or repair the damage they have wrought. These often charming—but always deadly—individuals have a clinical name: psychopaths. Their hallmark is a stunning lack of conscience; their game is self-gratification at the other person’s expense. Many spend time in prison, but many do not. All take far more than they give.” – Dr. Robert Hare, The Charming Psychopath
There are thousands of people who were abused by psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists and luckily, they have survived. The abuser can be anyone, friends, parents, bosses, partners, co-workers, etc. The survivors have gone through a lot of pain and sadness. They had their heart broken and their self-esteem destroyed. However, even though they have been through a lot, they are still being gaslighted from society.
“It wasn’t just that my reality was canceled, but that my perception of reality was overwritten…it wasn’t the loudest and scariest explosions that caused the most damage. It wasn’t the physical violence or the verbal abuse or the lack of boundaries and inappropriate behavior. What did the real damage was the denial that these incidents ever occurred…the erasure of the abuse was worse than the abuse,” says survivor Ariel Leve.
This kind of abuse, especially when it comes from people close to the survivor is extremely traumatic for them. Here are 3 mistakes that people make when talking to survivors of psychopaths.
1. THEY SEE THE ABUSE AS A “BAD BREAK-UP” AND MINIMIZE THE TOXIC BEHAVIOR OF THE ABUSER BY ONLY REFERRING TO THEM AS A JERK.
Malignant psychopathy and narcissism cannot be seen as an “everyday problem.” And even though narcissism exists on a spectrum, many of the survivors have met the extreme forms of narcissists. They have dealt with predators and malicious people with characteristics that go beyond vanity and selfishness. They lack remorse. They don’t succumb to social and societal norms. They have a lack of conscience and are extremely aggressive.
The abuser is not just a player or a cheater. You cannot see them as such. They are chronically deceptive, manipulative, abusive, ruthless, and violent.
2. EXPECTING THE SURVIVOR TO HEAL QUICKLY
You cannot expect the healing journey of the survivor to be fast. You can’t force them to heal quickly. Other people may assume that the survivor can’t move on because they are so stuck in the past, failing to understand that overthinking and rumination is the effects of the trauma they experienced.
To interrupt their process of rumination is extremely judgmental and harmful to the survivor who is desperately trying to make a sense of what has happened to them. And it is degrading to try to suggest to them an easy way to forget anything and move forward because that’s not possible. Healing is a process and it takes time.
3. THEY MAKE THE VICTIM RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ABUSER’S ACTIONS AND FAIL TO SEE THE IMPACT OF THE TRAUMA BOND.
“You have to move on.” “Stop focusing on the past.” “You have become codependent.” “Let it go.” “How can you not let go?” Victims of psychopaths and narcissists have heard these sentences and the variations of them many times.
These sentences, however good-intentioned, are full of judgment because they put the blame on the victim, implying it’s their fault for not being able to leave the abuser, not realizing that those bond are very deep and toxic and it is just impossible to let go. It is not a normal break up. The victim has been gaslighted and they need support and understanding.
Finally, it’s time for everyone to stop focusing on the victim and wake up to the extremely abusive and manipulative nature of these psychopaths instead.