Relationships contribute in many ways to who we are and how we see ourselves. They may bring us the greatest joys or be our hardest battles. Some relationships tend to go way overboard and hang on the line of toxicity.
A toxic relationship almost always involves abuse. A lot has been said and written on physical abuse in a relationship. Domestic violence was recently again at the forefront of news when a famous celebrity was exposed for physically abusing his wife.
However, rarely do we acknowledge other kinds of abuse, as they; unlike physical abuse don’t leave marks-at least not any for the naked eye to see.
These days the Hum Tv drama serial “Khaas” has made a lot of waves. A lot of women feel they can relate to it. The writer has highlighted a form of psychological abuse, which goes unnoticed even by the victim.
The story of a newly married couple unfolds how the husband keeps degrading and belittling his wife. He makes fun of her appearance, her cooking and everything she does isn’t good enough; making her feel as a lesser being. All this while he seeks for approval and attention from others, putting up a goody two shoes act in front of everyone else. He showers her with expensive gifts but doesn’t give her what she actually needs: love and respect.
The character of the husband “Ammar” in the drama suffers from what psychologists call “Narcissism”. Such people believe that the world revolves around them and it results in a mild or extreme case of narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissists can be very magnetic and charming. They are very good at creating a fantastical, flattering self-image. It’s a disorder observed not just in men but also in women. The following are some symptoms of this disorder:
● Grand sense of self-importance.
● Living in a fantasy world that supports their illusions of grandeur.
● Need for constant praise and admiration.
● Sense of entitlement.
● Exploit others without guilt or shame.
● Frequently demean, intimidate, bully, or belittle others.
How might one develop this disorder has a lot to do with insensitive parenting, excessive criticism, abuse, trauma or high expectations.
Apart from these reasons, in a male dominated society and a love for the male child, it’s no surprise; this is, in various degrees, very common in our society. We raise our sons with a sense of entitlement. For them everything is allowed and accepted and we tend to over indulge them- as is the case with “Ammar’.
Keeping the drama “Khaas” in mind, what could Saba have done to deal with her husband? Leaving of course is an option but not all people can just pack up and walk away. Also “Saba” never realized what was going on and she was unable to communicate her problems.
Once a narcissistic person has been identified and if you realize you’ve been living with one, so now what? How does one go on to dealing with such a person? First step would be to recognize the red flags. How the cycle of narcissistic abuse goes.
Narcissists feel threatened whenever they meet someone who appears to have something they lack—especially those who are confident and popular. They’re also threatened by people who don’t become subservient to them or who challenge them in any way. Their defense mechanism switches on to the contempt mode. The only way to do away with the threat is to put such people down. They may do it in a patronizing manner or dismissive way as if to demonstrate how little the other person means to them. Or they may go on attacking with insults, name-calling, bullying, and threats to force the other person back into line.
A common form of abuse which Narcissists use is called “Gas lighting”. This is used to control the other person. The manipulation happens gradually and over time the victim morphs into someone entirely different. The most confident human being can become a shell of a person without being aware of it in the process. The victim’s individual reality diminishes and becomes that of the abuser.
How to catch Gas lighting:
1. Blatant lying
They tell obvious lies. You know that they are lying. The issue is how can they lie with such ease. They setup an abusive pattern. You start to question everything and become uncertain of the simplest matters. This self-doubt is exactly what they want in you.
You know they said what they said. However, they completely deny ever saying it. They may push the point and ask you to ‘prove it,’ knowing that you only have your memory of the conversation that they are denying happened. It starts to make you question your memory and your reality.
3. Using what you love against you
People who gaslight, use what is closest to you against you. If you love your job, they will find issues with it. If you have children, they may force you to believe you should never have had them or aren’t good enough for them. This abusive manipulation tactic causes the victim to question the foundation of them as well as what they hold close.
4. Love and flattery
A common technique of a person who gaslights is to tear you down and then build you back up with show of love and flattery, only to tear you down again. Whether you realize it or not, you are becoming used to being torn down. However, the praise may lead you to think that the abuser isn’t all that bad.
Whatever the gaslighter is feeling deep down inside; they project it on the victim. If the gaslighter is a liar and a cheater, they are now accusing you of being a liar and a cheater. Or if they are insecure about something they will accuse you of being insecure. You constantly feel like you need to defend yourself for things you haven’t done.
Interestingly, they know you are already questioning your sanity. Therefore, when they call you crazy, you believe it.
What’s more, the gaslighter may also tell other people that you’re crazy. This way if you were ever to approach them for help with your abuser, they wouldn’t believe you. You’re too “crazy” to be taken seriously. “Ammar” successfully sketched Saba as the “villain” in his life.
Having identified the cycle of abuse, means it can be broken. Realizing the problem is most of the time half the solution. The other half would include overcoming and detangling one’s self from the abuse suffered and making sure it’s not repeated and the victim doesn’t fall back into the cycle of abuse again.
A few steps that can be taken to maintain ones sanity and a healthy relationship are:
● Set healthy boundaries: Healthy relationships are based on mutual respect and caring. But narcissists aren’t capable of reciprocating in their relationships. It’s not that they are just not willing; they truly aren’t able to reciprocate. They don’t see you. They don’t hear you. They don’t take into account the fact that you are someone who exists outside of their own needs as well. As a result, narcissists regularly violate the boundaries of others. Interestingly, they do so with an absolute sense of entitlement.
● Make a plan. It’s not easy to take back control. Carefully consider your goals and the potential obstacles. What are the most important changes you hope to achieve? Is there anything you’ve tried in the past with the narcissist that worked? Anything that hasn’t? What is the balance of power between you and how will that impact your plan? How will you enforce your new boundaries? Answering these questions will help you evaluate your options and develop a realistic plan.
● Consider a gentle approach. You will have to tread softly. Try to deliver your message calmly, respectfully, and as gently as possible. Your focus should be on how their behavior makes you feel. If they respond with anger and defensiveness, try to remain calm. Walk away if it starts getting ugly. You can always revisit the topic.
● Be prepared for changes: A narcissist will feel threatened and upset by the changes being made in the relationship, since they are used to calling the shots. In an attempt to maintain the status qou, they may step up their demands in other aspects of the relationship, distance themselves to punish you, or attempt to manipulate or charm you into giving up the new boundaries. You need to stand firm.
● Don’t believe the narcissist’s version of ‘you’: Don’t let their shame and blame game undermine your self-esteem. Refuse to accept undeserved responsibility, blame, or criticism. That negativity is the narcissist’s to keep.
● Don’t argue with a narcissist. No matter how rational or how sound your argument is, the narcissist is unlikely to hear you. And arguing about the point may escalate the situation in an unpleasant way. Don’t waste your breath. Simply tell the narcissist you disagree with their assessment and move on.
● Know yourself. The best defense against the insults and projections of the narcissist is a strong sense of self. When you know your own strengths and weaknesses, it’s easier to reject any unfair criticisms leveled against you.
● Build your tribe: To avoid buying into the narcissist’s distortions, it’s important to spend time with people who know you as you really are and validate your thoughts and feelings.
● Keep busy: Pursue meaningful activities that make use of your talents and abilities. Start a hobby, sign up for volunteer work or some job.
The last three points are pretty much valid for any situation that life throws at you. These are key elements in leading a content and meaningful life.
Always remember you’re in charge and although circumstances and events may change you but don’t let them define who you are.
Keep your power in your hands. Swallow the bitterness and savour the sweetness! Life never is complete unless you experience it all.
By Dania Ehtesham Zahid
The writer is an internationally certified NLP Life Coach, who has been coaching top executives in the Middle East to founders in Silicon Valley. Based out of Dubai, she can be reached at [email protected]