To those who have never experienced narcissistic abuse, victims of this type of abuse seem to face an easy decision: walk away or stay in the abusive relationship.
But, the truth is that leaving a long-term toxic, abusive relationship can, in fact, be more difficult than leaving a positive and harmonious one. The reason for this is that narcissists are very skilled at manipulating their victims and playing mind games. They’re also able to hide their true colors and deny the abuse through scapegoating and gaslighting. As a result of this, their victims have trouble determining if the reality they’re experiencing is really abuse.
That’s the reason why it takes a great deal of strength, effort, professional support, and validation for a victim of narcissistic abuse to become fully empowered to leave the relationship and embark on their healing journey not as victims, but as survivors.
Here are 5 reasons why victims of narcissistic abuse stay:
1. Leaving a relationship with a narcissist is a decision filled with anxiety and fear.
When ending a healthy, positive relationship, you know that the other person isn’t going to stalk you or threaten you since you left them. You know they aren’t going to verbally abuse you or wage a “smear campaign” against you since you left them first. You know they’re going to respect your boundaries as well as need for space, and leave you alone after the breakup.
But, due to the manipulation, gaslighting, scapegoating, deception, and constant put-downs that a victim of narcissistic abuse endures throughout their relationship, they may doubt whether leaving the relationship is the right thing to do. They may think that the reality they’re experiencing isn’t really abuse. And they may fear, too, that the next victim of the narcissist might be treated better than they were, which just confirms their own sense of worthlessness which was instilled in them by the malignant narcissist.
2. Leaving a relationship with a narcissist would mean that the victim has to face the trauma they’ve suffered.
As a result of the psychological and emotional trauma they’ve suffered, victims of narcissistic abuse may attempt to minimize, rationalize, or deny the abuse in order to protect themselves from the pain of the bitter reality that they are experiencing.
So, instead of ending the relationship, victims of narcissistic abuse choose to stay since this allows them to still focus on the good parts of the relationship, such as the occasional compliments and even sex, while protecting themselves psychologically from having to face the pain of it.
3. They begin to perceive themselves the way their abuser did.
The put-downs and derogatory comments narcissists subject their victims to instill a pervasive sense of worthlessness in them. They make them perceive themselves as weak, incompetent, and worthless.
In addition to this, narcissistic abusers know how to make their victims beg for their attention and love. They know how to make them seek their validation and approval. And all this makes the victim think that they must struggle to win a love that will never be selfless, honest, or unconditional. It makes them think that they should be grateful to the narcissist for being with them, although they’re not good enough.
4. Society passes judgment on victims of narcissistic abuse for staying in an abusive relationship.
A lot of people who have never experienced narcissistic abuse think that they have the right to pass judgment on those who have. How could she/he stay? Is she/he sure it is truly “abuse?” Why didn’t she/he end the relationship the first time the narcissistic abuser hurt them? they ask.
Well, this victim-blaming leaves victims of this kind of abuse feeling judged and isolated. It leaves them feeling like the abuse was their fault. It makes them think that no one cares about them or tries to understand their situation. It makes them stay in the toxic relationship, since they’d rather stay than leave it and then speak out and risk being judged, stigmatized, and shamed.
5. They aren’t ready psychologically to leave the relationship.
There’s no such advice that can convince someone who is in a relationship with a narcissistic abuser to leave them until they feel that inner transformation themselves and make a firm decision to put an end to the abuse and say to themselves, “I have had enough of this. I’m better than this. And I deserve something so much better than this.”
Until they’ve made this decision consciously, there isn’t much that other people can do to make them change their minds apart from offering them their understanding and support.