By Shahida Arabi, Bestselling Author
As an author who writes for abuse survivors, I’ve communicated with thousands of people who have been affected by malignant narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths as partners, friends, family members, co-workers or even bosses. Throughout the course of my work, I’ve noticed a common theme: the societal invalidation and gaslighting of survivors.
This form of secondary gaslighting and invalidation is incredibly painful, especially when it comes from the very professionals, friends and family members who are meant to help support the survivor on their healing journey. Not only does secondary gaslighting from other people further isolate the survivor, it actually hinders the healing process. I can’t tell you the number of times a survivor has reached out to me to tell me the painful effects of being invalidated by a friend, a family member, a spiritual leader or even a therapist who dispensed ill-informed, sometimes even victim-blaming ideas.
This also contributes to a global Gaslighting Effect in which speaking out about abuse by covert manipulators is met with some form of backlash, victim-blaming, and victim-shaming by enablers of abusers and abusers themselves. Survivor Ariel Leve explains that this form of secondary gaslighting in incredibly traumatic to the survivor. As she says, “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.”
How Have We Harmed Survivors? How Do We Help Them?
I want to preface this by saying that there are many excellent therapists, life coaches, writers and advocates who are well-informed about the effects of being with a highly manipulative, narcissistic individual. Unfortunately, there are also professionals and laypersons out there who inadvertently retraumatize survivors because of a lack of knowledge about how covert manipulation tactics work – as well as the effects of this type of trauma. Some survivors are even misdiagnosed by therapists when they are in fact suffering from PTSD or Complex PTSD from years of chronic abuse.
It’s important to learn the appropriate ways of communicating with survivors of malignant narcissists – those who lack empathy, who exploit others for their own gain, who abuse others chronically, and who lack remorse and conscience for their actions.
Here are common mistakes people make when communicating with survivors of this type of insidious violence: