Healing trauma from relationships with narcissists and borderlines, histrionics and the Cluster B variety pack can be difficult. Yes, some clients who’ve had the misfortune to become ensnared by a NPD, HPD or BPD have an easier time than others. These individuals aren’t my typical clients, however. They’re different in two respects.
People who have greater resiliency to trauma.
First, they don’t have a pattern of relationships with narcissists and other toxic people. The relationship that led them to seek my therapy services is an aberration. It’s an anomaly in otherwise history of healthy intimate relationships. In other words, they don’t have a pattern of dating and marrying Crazy.
Second, their families of origin aren’t grossly dysfunctional and pathogenic. A pathogenic family is an abnormal and maladaptive system of interpersonal dynamics that’s a breeding ground for cognitive, emotional and behavioral disorders. In other words, they weren’t raised by Crazy. Meaning, their parents were able to model well-adjusted, healthy interpersonal relationships. Mom and/or dad didn’t have have personality disorders, alcoholism, other addictions or other mental illness that leads to child being parentification, dysfunctional attachment styles, trauma bonds and codependency.
To clarify, these individuals experience grief, depression, anxiety and some other trauma symptoms. However, they typically have less complex grief, heal and bounce back more quickly. Good enough parents are better able to instill a fundamental sense of well-being. Because these folks don’t have a pattern of abusive relationship, they usually don’t become consumed by denial and bargaining rumination, shame and self-blame.
People who have less resiliency to trauma.
Most of the people I work with grew up in a home with at least one parent with un/diagnosed personality disorder, mental illness and/or addiction problem(s) and at least one codependent parent. Their families were ill-equipped or incapable of modeling healthy relationships, self-love, self-respect, self-constructs and boundaries. As such, these clients developed codependent beliefs and coping mechanism in order to survive painful childhoods.
People who have unresolved childhood trauma wounds, often recreate similarly dysfunctional and toxic relationships as adults. When these relationships inevitably break down, they often psychologically regress to a younger emotional age. This affects how they see themselves, the partner or ex and the relationship.
Oftentimes, these clients struggle with what their rational adult self and their wounded hurting child selves. The rational adult self understands and accepts that the relationship is toxic and irreparable. The hurting child self says, “But wait! I can figure out a way to hold onto the good stuff and make it work!” Hurting child self (or selves) does this through a variety of self-deceptions and other self-defense mechanism like denial, minimization, justification and intellectualizing with a dash of cognitive distortions and cognitive dissonance.
Healing trauma from relationships with narcissists and borderlines, histrionics and other toxic personalities.
Do you recognize any of the following sentiments?
- But I love her . . .
- But I love him . . .
- It’s not bad all of the time . . .
- She can be so sweet . . .
- You don’t just give up on someone you “love” . . .
- Her dad/mom was mean/abandoned her as a child . . .
- She/he was sexually abused as a child . . .
- I can take it . . .
- If only I could get her/him to see how much I love them . . .
- Everyone’s a little crazy sometimes . . .
- If I give up now, the next guy will get the amazing love bomb-y her . . .
These are the rationalizing, justifying and minimizing beliefs of a hurting, self-deceiving child who’s afraid to lose love and relationship. Or rather, what a hurting child believes is love. If it’s what you experienced in your family of origin it’s what you know as love, no matter how toxic and dysfunctional.
It’s not love, though.
No matter how cruel, unstable, crazy and dysfunctional our parents are, when we’re kids we want their love and approval above all else. When a child feels unloved or rejected by a parent, they usually blame themselves. It wasn’t your fault your parents had problems and it’s not your fault your narcissistic, borderline or histrionic partner has problems. However, it is your adult responsibility to take care of yourself and make better choices moving forward.
You couldn’t fix your borderline mom and you can’t fix your borderline spouse.
In order to cope and survive, kids need to believe they can fix, please, prove their love worthiness to their mom and/or dad. This can manifest in myriad unhealthy behaviors such as:
- Parentification. The child caretakes the parent emotionally and/or physically. For example, acting as the emotional regulator of an emotionally dysregulated parent.
- Emotional incest. This is a more extreme form of parentification in which the child acts as a junior spouse/partner substitute.
- Over-achieving. In an attempt to get approval and validation the child believes if they’re perfect mom or dad will love them.
- Selflessness. The child learns that mom and/or dad sees their feelings, needs and wants as a burdensome nuisance and the road to being a people-pleaser begins.
- Self-medicating. Drugs, alcohol, video games, social media, promiscuity – anything that releases dopamine.
- Acting out. Attention is attention.
Identifying your younger wounded self.
What ages are the hurting child part(s) of yourself who still believes the narcissist, borderline or histrionic’s lies? Who insists that there’s a happily ever after if only you’re [fill in the blank] enough to fix your abuser? What roles do they serve? For example, the fawning 4-year old or the 12-year old little professor (over-analyzer) who believes he can figure out a way to fix his partner, so he’ll be loved?
When clients are in their rational, critical thinking adult minds they’re able to clearly see the NPD, BPD or HPD partner or ex for who and what they are. In other words, highly destructive to themselves and others and unlikely to change. They understand that a healthy relationship with the NPD, BPD or HPD isn’t possible. And that continuing to try fix, save or rescue the ClusterB partner or ex only creates more pain and damage to themselves and their kids.
In many cases, reason, logic and a firm grasp on objective reality alone are insufficient to effect healthy changes. Especially when a client’s experienced childhood abuse and trauma. Healing from abuse, involves working with the younger irrational and hurting child parts of oneself. In other words, the age or ages were you when a similarly dysfunctional abusive parent created your core wounds or traumas.
Do the work or keep repeating the pattern.
When clients persevere in an abusive relationship (especially after they’ve identified it as abusive), it’s usually because a younger version of themselves is behind the steering wheel. In other words, they’re using the same rationalizations and justifications they did as a child in order to stay in the adult relationship. They engage in self-deception, wishful thinking and other codependency and trauma bond related childlike emotional reasoning in order to preserve the relationship at all costs.
Do you recognize how you revert to your hurt child roles and ways of thinking in your past or present relationship with a narcissist, borderline or histrionic partner, ex, parent, boss or sibling? How can rational, compassionate adult you help those younger selves who cling to the only love experience they know?
Why is this so important?
It is the only way I know to break one’s pattern of toxic relationships for once and for all.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals with relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. For over a decade, she has specialized in helping men and women break free of abusive relationships, cope with the stress of ongoing abuse and heal from the trauma. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. If you’d like to work with Dr. Palmatier, please visit the Schedule a Session page or you can email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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