I am an avid watcher of the many well-produced documentaries on Netflix. They cover a wide range of topics from unsolved crimes through the working of the drugs trade. I find most fascinating the ones that deal with some form of psychological subject and how the mind works. Just recently, there has been a series of documentaries about cults, sects and brainwashing, everything from individual stories of manipulation, stalking through to the more famous recollections of Scientology, Manson and the Davidians in Waco Texas, led by David Koresh. It always amazes me how easily people can be manipulated psychologically to believe and do things that these monsters tell them to do. I drew a slight comparison with some of these stories and the subjects I deal with on a daily basis.
“I need validation from him and him alone, no-one else matters; He never gives me it but I wait for the day he does. If he called me now, I would go back to him.”
“I feel empty now he is gone, my life has ended and I just need contact”
“He hit me and abused me but I keep thinking that it could be worse with someone else. In the end, I believed I deserved it because I stayed”
The above statements might have come from someone who had been involved in a sect but you might be surprised to hear that they come from people in codependent recovery after narcissist abuse. Normal people who have been badly emotionally abused by a master manipulator to the extent that they are so enmeshed with their abuser that they cannot let go. They are still tuned into to the needs of their abuser. Not all codependents are affected to this extent but many are. This is where we can draw real comparisons between these and the victims of larger cases.
One of the key elements of codependent recovery is to break the fantasy that was first created in the adulation stage, the beginning of the relationship (or the beginning of the end). Even though this is often followed by abuse, devaluation and discard, the fantasy maintains itself long after the narcissist has departed.
There is an old saying that goes “something becomes more attractive if it is unavailable”. This is often the foundation for codependent thinking as they try to connect with their narcissist partner and mirrors the dysfunctional relationship had with caregivers. This need for connection means that they will sacrifice everything about themselves to gain it and especially from their “object” of desire. This leaves the door open to abuse and manipulation from somebody who is very willing to take advantage. When it all ends, breaking that bond and teaching a codependent to look elsewhere for their needs to be met (Self), is a difficult task. The concept of romanticising the relationship, however bad, drives the process along with self-blame and fear of something new. I always remind them to balance this dysfunctional thinking with facts about how they were really treated and abused but resistance is often extremely high. It is normally when in the lowest point, that they will first contemplate change. This can be compared with addiction recovery in general.
Whatever situation they find themselves in, breaking the emotional bond that ties a codependent to their abuser is essential. To the extreme, this bond can exhibit elements of Stockholm Syndrome and PTSD, where the victim finds comfort from being with their abuser and convinces themselves they are in an isolated “bubble”. Until this is done, the effects of narcissist abuse will endure longer than the narcissist.