How Society Gaslights Survivors of Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Psychopaths

3) Making the victim responsible for the actions of the abuser and failing to recognize the impact of the trauma bond.

I understand that mental health professionals may only be treating the victim, so some feel they cannot “speak” to the actions of the abuser. Some law enforcement officials may be confused as to why the victim does not “press charges” or even defends the abuser. Friends and family members may also hesitate to “judge” a situation they themselves are not intimately involved in. However, aside from guiding the survivor to leaving the abuser safely, placing a hyper-focus on what the victim must do in the early stages of healing can be detrimental.

Asking the victim to continually “look within” in the very first weeks of recovery can even cross over the line to victim-blaming. Therapists, law enforcement officials, and loved ones must acknowledge the effects of the trauma bond that survivors developed with their abuser throughout the course of the relationship. This is a bond created by the intense, emotional experiences in the abuse cycle. Giving survivors tips and tools to gradually break what Dr. Patrick Carnes calls “the betrayal bond” is essential to their recovery journey.

Victims of malignant narcissists have heard many variations of victim-shaming statements such as the following even in the very beginning of their healing journey:

“You have to let it go.”

“You need to move forward.”

“You might be codependent.”

“Let’s talk about you, not him/her.”

“Why did you stay so long? Let’s explore that.”

These statements may come from a place of wanting the survivor to own their agency. However, when said in the early stages of recovery, they can retraumatize the survivor. A survivor at this stage is usually heavily trauma-bonded to their abusers. This means that regardless of any codependent traits (which may not even apply to them at all), they have bonded to the abuser in the abuse cycle in an effort to survive the abuse.

Dr. Joe Carver (2006) notes the dual impact of this bond and cognitive dissonance in his article, “The Small Kindness Perception”:

This trauma bond is strong and demands attention. This was not a normal breakup. The survivor at this point has gone through a great deal of gaslighting and needs to work through what the abuser has done to them before they move onto actions which actively support their healing. They need to connect to a vocabulary of the abuse they experienced.  That is why they need to talk about their abuser first – to establish the tactics used and the effects of these tactics – before even attempting to move forward in any tangible way.

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